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TOPIC: Is it necessary to articulate insight?

Is it necessary to articulate insight? 08 Mar 2019 17:27 #110752

Just a useless time killer for the evening, but something I do wonder sometimes: Is it necessary to be able to articulate (explain, write down, recount) an insight in order for there to be an insight? Is it 'lost' if not articulated? Can you have an insight and misunderstand it, and thus explain it incorrectly? Can a person with minimal articulation skills or poor interpretive skills also be enlightened?

I think the answer is: no, no, yes, yes

Musings?
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 00:22 #110753

One of the things I always found mysterious about MCTB was that "insights" was used without really defining it. Each stage was described with this offhand "and see whatever insights this stage has to reveal".

WTF?

And then many of us know someone that used "insights" to describe facial knots and twitches, which is about as off-the-wall as it comes. So "insights" to me has always been elusive, which I guess makes them hard to articulate. Can we try and articulate at least some of them, or would that be giving away the secret to the koan?
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 04:40 #110754

Tom Otvos wrote:
One of the things I always found mysterious about MCTB was that "insights" was used without really defining it. Each stage was described with this offhand "and see whatever insights this stage has to reveal".

WTF?

And then many of us know someone that used "insights" to describe facial knots and twitches, which is about as off-the-wall as it comes. So "insights" to me has always been elusive, which I guess makes them hard to articulate. Can we try and articulate at least some of them, or would that be giving away the secret to the koan?

LOL!!

Yes, I remember someone asking me once "well, what insight am I supposed to have this week?" and the question makes no sense, because each person realizes things in different times and sequences. But in the way I use the word they are realizations (intellectual-experiential) about how reality works. So for instance Chris' favorite one about sensory data being one thing, and your reaction to it being another. Calling this a 'fact' is one thing. To call it an 'insight' would mean that at some point during a sit or daily life you had a moment of "DUH!" where you suddenly really felt/saw/knew that for yourself, based on your own experience, rather than knowing it because someone told you it was true. Or an insight regarding impermanence might be noticing how you can be sitting there watching tv, and one minute you are just angry at the world, and a minute later, though nothing external has changed, you just have such a gentle friendliness towards the world, and then it switches back again a few minutes later. So your mental states are vivid evidence of impermanence in a concrete, personal way. Or noticing how you have a bodily feeling of anxiety, and a moment later start to tell yourself 'reasons' for it (relates to Chris's example above). Or, in a Christian context, you might have an insight (they use the word here, too) about the reality of God's mercy, when you have some supernatural grace arise that you did not merit by your own efforts, and in fact are undeserving of; or a realization of God's love for you. I think some schools of Buddhism have lists and maps about what you are supposed to realize, but I think generically, across traditions, the experience of realization/insight is a human experience.

So it's not 'secret' at all, but there's an important distinction between being able to say it because you read/heard about it and having a moment where it suddenly sinks into your bones, or feels like a bucket of cold water, where you realize it REALLY IS TRUE for YOU, now, always and forever. When an insight arises like that, personally, it usually results in changes in behavior, attitude etc. One feels more humble, grows in generosity, patience, compassion etc. Because the insights all (gradually! chip by chip!) diminish the sense of self-importance, selfishness, self-centeredness, etc etc.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 04:44 #110755

Ona Kiser wrote:
Just a useless time killer for the evening, but something I do wonder sometimes:
1. Is it necessary to be able to articulate (explain, write down, recount) an insight in order for there to be an insight?
2. Is it 'lost' if not articulated?
3. Can you have an insight and misunderstand it, and thus explain it incorrectly?
4. Can a person with minimal articulation skills or poor interpretive skills also be enlightened?

I think the answer is: no, no, yes, yes

Musings?
I think I'd agree with 1, 2 and 4, but for 3, is having an insight and misunderstanding possible? I mean isn't an insight essentially understanding something, and therefore a misunderstood insight would not be an insight? I'm writing this with a definition of insight in mind as "experientially understanding something about reality as it is", whatever that may mean... But I'd agree that it's possible to explain an insight incorrectly, especially since lots of people seem to say that enlightenment is impossible to explain.

Good point on the MCTB insights Tom, but maybe there's a definition hidden somewhere in the bezillion pages of MCTB II, but I didn't do too well with the search function on my pooter.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 04:46 #110756

Junglist wrote:
Ona Kiser wrote:
Just a useless time killer for the evening, but something I do wonder sometimes:
1. Is it necessary to be able to articulate (explain, write down, recount) an insight in order for there to be an insight?
2. Is it 'lost' if not articulated?
3. Can you have an insight and misunderstand it, and thus explain it incorrectly?
4. Can a person with minimal articulation skills or poor interpretive skills also be enlightened?

I think the answer is: no, no, yes, yes

Musings?
I think I'd agree with 1, 2 and 4, but for 3, is having an insight and misunderstanding possible? I mean isn't an insight essentially understanding something, and therefore a misunderstood insight would not be an insight? I'm writing this with a definition of insight in mind as "experientially understanding something about reality as it is", whatever that may mean... But I'd agree that it's possible to explain an insight incorrectly, especially since lots of people seem to say that enlightenment is impossible to explain.

Good point on the MCTB insights Tom, but maybe there's a definition hidden somewhere in the bezillion pages of MCTB II, but I didn't do too well with the search function on my pooter.

An example I was thinking of for #3 was if a person has an experience that feels like they are united with God, and they come away from it thinking "I AM GOD!!" So the experience of momentary oneness is true, but the over-interpretation of it is not true (and goes to their head).
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 06:14 #110757

Ona Kiser wrote:

An example I was thinking of for #3 was if a person has an experience that feels like they are united with God, and they come away from it thinking "I AM GOD!!" So the experience of momentary oneness is true, but the over-interpretation of it is not true (and goes to their head).

Yes indeed, so maybe then we could say that the thought that resulted from that insight are not an insight? I wonder if one could say from your example that insight is just one thing, and that the experience revealed it to some degree, but that it was still obscured. So then yes, I'd have to agree with all four. :)

On a similar note, I've often wondered about how important it is to remember an insight (I'm suspending any precision in terminology for a second...), i.e. if I forget what it was that I experienced, does that mean that it's lost and would be of no benefit anymore? I suppose it's difficult to know, because forgetting means not knowing, therefore I wouldn't. Unknown unknowns and all that. Maybe friends, teachers etc. might need to answer that.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 07:37 #110758

I'm certain it doesn't matter if you remember the 'verbalization' of the insight. The change sticks by itself. The sense of 'the insight not sticking' or 'backsliding' is part of the longer process of development, not due to your failure to remember.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 09:46 #110759

I've been leaning toward the idea of insights being 1) non-verbal and 2) "tipping points" not complete 100% understanding. So basically, I think that you can have insight into something without being able to describe it or completely understand it. I've had to come to that conclusion based on the fringe cases out there -- people who only partially awaken and are still dumb fuck-ups in terms of insight, morality, and concentration and are horrible and damaging teachers :D.

But that said, I would be very wary of saying that anyone really "got" an insight unless they could do a pretty good job at articulating it in some semi-intelligent and poetic way.

The big challenge here is that unless I have got the insight myself, I won't be a good judge of whether someone articulating it is doing so in a semi-intelligent and poetic way. If I don't have the insight, I might say "oh, that guy is just talking nonsense." So it's a tricky situation.
Last Edit: 09 Mar 2019 09:46 by shargrol.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 12:25 #110765

I see a spectrum from little things like, "Oh, yeah, that" to "Holy effing shit, that's the way things are and I can never go back!" I don't know how to name a spectrum. I do know that for most of my own "insights" they start as non-verbal experiences. I have to invent descriptions to explain them to other people.
Last Edit: 09 Mar 2019 12:26 by Chris Marti.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 13:53 #110769

Late to the party - I posed on this yesterday but the system didn't save. :(

Anyway, I agree that many or most insights are non-verbal, but my experience is that if you dig in to them and elaborate them in some way (including with verbal formations), you can get more out of them. Not sure I totally agree with Shargol given the vast semi-impenetrable mystical literatures that all spiritual traditions produce - or maybe I agree to the extent that you need to be able to articulate to people witha common frame of reference, but that others without that insight might not understand. Chris' comments are also my experience.

But wouldn't be interesting to vipassinize insight? I intuit that there is an insight nana - a sense of sudden understanding. Presumably this like other nanas - a sense of fear, a sense of disgust, a sense of confusion, a sense of insight. We get overwhelmed by the insight nana and wallow in it, but I wonder what lies beneath? Some kind of crystallisation or pattern matching in the neural network?
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 14:01 #110771

What if mysticism and complicated spirituality are signs of unfulfilled awakening?
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 14:07 #110772

Spiritual insights cut deeply into the fabric of how the mind (world) works. For me they have been keys to visualizing or grokking the fabric of experience as it plays out. They're simplifying, not complicating. They solve mysteries, not create them. They bring calm, abiding understanding. They lead to revised views, which lead to shifts in behavior.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 14:17 #110775

I agree with all of that! :) But that doesn't necessarily make them easy to communicate.

No sure if people like sutta quotes ... but here we go "It's amazing, lord, it's astounding, how deep this dependent co-arising is, and how deep its appearance, and yet to me it seems as clear as clear can be." [The Buddha:] "Don't say that, Ananda. Don't say that ..."

{edit} - and I agree with the previous comment too. Seems to me that a lot of mysticism is written by people on the road to third.
Last Edit: 09 Mar 2019 14:19 by Curious Malcolm.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 14:30 #110776

I've always admired Zen for getting the descriptions right. Dogen in particular. Zen koans are like little quizzes about insight. Before you have insight X a koan that speaks to insight X is inscrutable. After you have insight X you laugh at the koan. It's clear why Zen uses these devices. It's another way through the door and into the room, whereas vipassana uses the Sherlock Holmes technique. It's sort of like the difference between learning by doing and learning by observing.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 09 Mar 2019 15:21 #110777

What I would call insights seem to sometimes start as something pretty vague and incomprehensible and then gradually start to get more clear and always present. They change the way experience unfolds. I like the saying that verbal teachings have as much to do with meditative experience as the finger pointing at the moon has to do with the moon.

For me expressing meditative experience verbally comes after familiarity with the particular insights, maybe it can be part of the process. The tricky thing is that these things seem to be endlessly evolving and gaining depth, so along the way I might be kind of "misinformed" about the insight or at least have some notions on the matter that later turn out to be not-true.

But of course I do think there's enormous value in learning to articulate this stuff, in order to share it with other people more efficiently. In my opinion this is also one of the big plus-sides of various traditions that have at least somewhat coherent vocabulary to describe various insights and experiences.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 10 Mar 2019 09:07 #110781

Chris Marti wrote:
What if mysticism and complicated spirituality are signs of unfulfilled awakening?

!

:whistle:
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 12 Mar 2019 03:10 #110811

Chris Marti wrote:
What if mysticism and complicated spirituality are signs of unfulfilled awakening?

So after rushing into an unskilled answer, I've been thinking about this more. What do you mean by unfulfilled? That is very interesting word.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 12 Mar 2019 08:07 #110817

Chris Marti wrote:
What if mysticism and complicated spirituality are signs of unfulfilled awakening?

I'd say that intensive spiritual practices are a response to the sense of seeking (that there's something one needs to find, namely 'awakening'). People who don't have that sense of seeking don't bother doing intensive spiritual practices.

I always notice here something that isn't obvious to me in the US: since the 'baseline' tends to be 'being religious', if people adopt an intensive spiritual practice, it's added to that. So in a typical religious community (parish, monastery, etc.) you may find many people who are just lifelong adherents of the religion, and then a smaller number who are seekers. But people who find a satisfaction and stop seeking don't necessarily drop the religion: they just drop the extra intensive spiritual practice, or change the way they were relating to prayer, or something like that. Because the overall participation in the religious life/community was the default. I used to think all monastics, for instance, entered because they were spiritual seekers, and then would therefore have to quit once they woke up sufficiently. But that's not how it seems to work at all.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 12 Mar 2019 09:31 #110818

Curious ---
What do you mean by unfulfilled?

I was wondering when this would come up :P

You could substitute either unfinished or incomplete for the word unfulfilled. The comment was based purely on my own experience. As things got farther along after a certain point, they got more and more clear. You could substitute the word simple for the word clear. So my theory is that complexity and mysticism may be looking through the murky stuff. Again, this is just my personal experience but it has been a powerful experience that deeper means simpler, clearer.

YMMV, of course.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 12 Mar 2019 09:31 #110819

I used to think all monastics, for instance, entered because they were spiritual seekers, and then would therefore have to quit once they woke up sufficiently. But that's not how it seems to work at all.

This makes sense to me, Ona.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 12 Mar 2019 14:06 #110820

Chris Marti wrote:
Curious ---
What do you mean by unfulfilled?

I was wondering when this would come up :P

You could substitute either unfinished or incomplete for the word unfulfilled. The comment was based purely on my own experience. As things got farther along after a certain point, they got more and more clear. You could substitute the word simple for the word clear. So my theory is that complexity and mysticism may be looking through the murky stuff. Again, this is just my personal experience but it has been a powerful experience that deeper means simpler, clearer.

YMMV, of course.

Yes indeed, I agree. For me the metaphor of the murk doesn't quite work on a personal level, as things seem pretty clear other than a little murk around the karmic knot/residual self. It's more like assembling furniture. I got the flat pack, threw away the instructions (they're just an opinion right?), went round and round a bit but finally managed to pull it all together, and it looks great and works well. Except one of the corners is oddly skew, and I have some leftover bolts and struts ... :whistle: So maybe I should just stick those bits in the basement before my wife sees them. :)

.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 13 Mar 2019 06:28 #110821

That last corner and leftover bolts/struts is the most interesting part of the project! No need to banish it to the basement. :)
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 13 Mar 2019 09:42 #110822

Yeah, small effects, huge rewards!
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 13 Mar 2019 16:37 #110823

Curious Malcolm wrote:
Chris Marti wrote:
Curious ---
What do you mean by unfulfilled?

I was wondering when this would come up :P

You could substitute either unfinished or incomplete for the word unfulfilled. The comment was based purely on my own experience. As things got farther along after a certain point, they got more and more clear. You could substitute the word simple for the word clear. So my theory is that complexity and mysticism may be looking through the murky stuff. Again, this is just my personal experience but it has been a powerful experience that deeper means simpler, clearer.

YMMV, of course.

Yes indeed, I agree. For me the metaphor of the murk doesn't quite work on a personal level, as things seem pretty clear other than a little murk around the karmic knot/residual self. It's more like assembling furniture. I got the flat pack, threw away the instructions (they're just an opinion right?), went round and round a bit but finally managed to pull it all together, and it looks great and works well. Except one of the corners is oddly skew, and I have some leftover bolts and struts ... :whistle: So maybe I should just stick those bits in the basement before my wife sees them. :)

.

I remain fascinated by the analogy. Not sure it holds up for me. If I try to apply it I'd say at some point I realized the table I was struggling to assemble and formerly quite proud of was actually an utterly worthless piece of self-involved poopoo and the instructions were the wrong ones anyway besides actually being in Chinese, and I chucked it out the window and happily watched it fall ten floors and smash to smithereens on the pavement. But I don't know what happened after that, nor if that really happened or I just made it up.
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Is it necessary to articulate insight? 13 Mar 2019 20:05 #110824

Ona Kiser wrote:
Curious Malcolm wrote:

Yes indeed, I agree. For me the metaphor of the murk doesn't quite work on a personal level, as things seem pretty clear other than a little murk around the karmic knot/residual self. It's more like assembling furniture. I got the flat pack, threw away the instructions (they're just an opinion right?), went round and round a bit but finally managed to pull it all together, and it looks great and works well. Except one of the corners is oddly skew, and I have some leftover bolts and struts ... :whistle: So maybe I should just stick those bits in the basement before my wife sees them. :)

I remain fascinated by the analogy. Not sure it holds up for me. If I try to apply it I'd say at some point I realized the table I was struggling to assemble and formerly quite proud of was actually an utterly worthless piece of self-involved poopoo and the instructions were the wrong ones anyway besides actually being in Chinese, and I chucked it out the window and happily watched it fall ten floors and smash to smithereens on the pavement. But I don't know what happened after that, nor if that really happened or I just made it up.

Ah, that's what the Thai Forest Path tradition would call 'letting go.' A very useful and sometimes quite advanced practice. Not sure they had your Wile E. Coyote method of letting go in mind though. :) That is perhaps more of a tantric practice!
Last Edit: 13 Mar 2019 20:56 by Curious Malcolm.
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