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TOPIC: easy, hard, open, closed

easy, hard, open, closed 26 Oct 2013 05:04 #15770

I woke up this morning and was thinking about mushroom culture, open discussion of awakening, how many/few people actually ever wake up... and there was Kirk's thread about looking for journals from people who had documented their practice through 4th path.

I was thinking this in part because of being around the Carmelite nuns and seeing the conditions at play in their spiritual practices. First, that no one becomes a nun who is not willing to have a very structured day; to listen to a teacher (since it is a hierarchical structure); be interested in hours of prayer and near constant silence; be on the higher side of literate (they do a lot of reading and study; monks, nuns and priests generally tend to be geeky); be open to the idea of loss of attachments and giving up agency (since the lifestyle already requires they give up their friends and family, fashion and 'I'll do what I please' life); and most of all they come to it with the intention/knowledge that this life will bring them into union with God to some degree or other, so they anticipate and want the equivalent of waking up, mystical experience, and surrender. They have as a role models Christ and Mary as well as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, who left "practice journals" of their spiritual paths (albeit in a more poetic form than pragmatic dharma uses).

So right there you have filtered for people who are dedicated to having an intense spiritual practice and going for it. So that most of them, after some years in the system, have some progress of insight, so to speak, is not too much of a surprise.

So if you take a lay-people's practice, like pragmatic dharma, you get the advantage of "this can be done by anyone". But the fact is that it can't, really, because 'anyone' has to bring to the practice dedication, discipline, intention, consistency. How many people muddle around trying to get a practice started but never keep it going because it requires that discipline and consistency? How many people get it going, but then run into unpleasant stuff and quit? How many people even get past 1st path, but then enter some even heavier unpleasantness as they encounter their own 'crap' coming up and can't deal with that, so switch to bad practice and stall out? (Bad practice being practices which sustain avoidance of unpleasantness or constant attempts to manipulate your experience to meet your preferences and expectations).

So when mushroomy teachers say 'you'll be lucky to get stream entry in this lifetime, maybe' or 'only a very few people actually wake up' or 'it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle' they aren't actually lying, I don't think. Whether that gets misunderstood or misused as a way of saying 'don't bother' versus 'this is going to take real dedication'....

Anyway, something I've mulled for a while. Thoughts and ponders?
Last Edit: 26 Oct 2013 05:19 by Ona Kiser. Reason: clarified bad practice
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easy, hard, open, closed 26 Oct 2013 07:46 #15772

I see a difference between saying, "You will probably never get there" and, "Anyone can get there if they are dedicated and motivated."

One version is almost guaranteed to de-motivate or attract folks who really aren't all that dedicated (a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy) and the other is more honest (to my way of seeing this) and almost guaranteed to attract those who are truly dedicated and motivated. Maybe it's not so amazing that so many of us that are attracted to a pragmatic approach, regardless of the tradition, get somewhere.
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easy, hard, open, closed 26 Oct 2013 11:25 #15776

You may be comparing what is told to the "professional religious" -- across religious traditions-- and what is told to the "faithful flock" that supports the opportunity for the few. Don't you think?

What is truly new at this juncture is a willingness to muddle those old roles and boundaries. And it is necessarily secular, not religious, because it isn't dedicated to supporting an institution.
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easy, hard, open, closed 26 Oct 2013 12:32 #15779

is it possible to know the answer to this so soon? I don't know if there's enough exposure to the idea that like Chris said it's definitely possible and even expected given motivation and dedication.

how many things in life take similar dedication? a big fat chunk of it all... any long term relationship, any graduate level education, a whole gamut of careers, any long term social organization. even things that seem more indulgent, like being Prince, take dedication

the real question is what's preventing it from being appreciated?
Last Edit: 26 Oct 2013 12:34 by Femtosecond.
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easy, hard, open, closed 26 Oct 2013 15:41 #15781

James F wrote:
is it possible to know the answer to this so soon? I don't know if there's enough exposure to the idea that like Chris said it's definitely possible and even expected given motivation and dedication.

how many things in life take similar dedication? a big fat chunk of it all... any long term relationship, any graduate level education, a whole gamut of careers, any long term social organization. even things that seem more indulgent, like being Prince, take dedication

the real question is what's preventing it from being appreciated?

I suppose that's my point, really. I mean, if I go to a body builder's convention I'm unlikely to meet the folks who gave up body building because it was too much work, who don't have any interest in body building, who think it sucks, or even those who don't have the capacity to do it due to some disability or other condition, etc. I'm mostly going to meet people who are dedicated and I'm going to meet many who have stuck out the practice for a good while.

It's not a question of whether it works or not. People have been waking up for millenia. It's more a matter of finding a practice that is appealing enough and makes enough sense to you (based on personality and needs, etc) that you actually apply it and then having the dedication to continue through the hard parts.

Dedication to anything is hard. Of all the people who start taking piano lessons, which is really straightforward and non-mysterious and widely available, how many reach a level of basic competence, how many stick it out until they are really, really skilled?

It's just something I've mulled over now and then, what is it that makes a dharma practice "work" or not? I think it includes both the design of the practice and the design of the practitioner, and the intersection of them.
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easy, hard, open, closed 26 Oct 2013 20:34 #15787

I was thinking in another direction: what is it that would make more people give it a real shot?
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easy, hard, open, closed 26 Oct 2013 23:11 #15796

What made me do it was coming across Daniel's book at the very point when I was utterly sick of samsara, which, I've been told, literally means something along the lines of a carousel, going around in circles of desire, aversion, and delusion. And I thought, I don't know what will come of this, but I'm going to put everything I've got into it because I've tried everything else and I've absolutely had it.

I read a poor yogi's thread over on DhO the other day who was knocking around in the dukkhas, and he was honestly wishing he'd never done this. I can relate. It's not like all you have to do is a bit of work and put up with some unpleasantness and then you're set for life. I can see this practice being a really hard sell for anyone whose life is not so bad the way it is. What is it Jesus said about the difficulties for a rich person getting into the kingdom of heaven? Even once I started I didn't really think I wanted to go the distance. All I really wanted was to get to equanimity, and the first time I did, I thought, this is as good as it needs to be. And so I was body-slammed back into the dukkhas.

Now all I can say is I am beyond amazed that I did go the distance. Also humbled and grateful.
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easy, hard, open, closed 26 Oct 2013 23:35 #15798

Agree, Laurel-- I had to be so very much at the end of my rope that there was no way to deny it anymore; I had to own my desperation. It was an inner thing, a personal thing-- I could look around and see others' more difficult circumstances, but the clock had run on evading the reckoning for me. Sort of like that AA thing about making a clear-eyed inventory of what I was, what I'd done, and what I was avoiding.
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easy, hard, open, closed 26 Oct 2013 23:50 #15799

but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be attempted, I don't think?
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easy, hard, open, closed 27 Oct 2013 01:38 #15801

Evidently I wasn't clear: I was talking about the juncture where "there is no try."-- only the obligation to practice, all the alternatives exhausted.
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easy, hard, open, closed 27 Oct 2013 04:27 #15802

It's easy to evangelize about awakening at certain stages (wow! amazing! dude! worth every painful moment on the cushion! come on, I'll teach you to meditate, end of suffering, endless bliss, come on!) and it's easy to think you should talk everyone OUT of doing it at other stages (like when every sit is a blinding grinding tension and you can't think straight and can't sleep and are dragging through work and study trying to make ends meet while your mind just goes waa-waa-waaa-waaa in the background and you have random twitches in your arms from energy imbalances...and it lasts for weeks....)
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easy, hard, open, closed 27 Oct 2013 13:31 #15818

oh, no, you were clear - I wasn't

what you say withstanding, I think its still valuable to persuade people towards it.

Then, if that happens with it becoming more common, maybe even the landscape of insight will change a bit. more awakened people, more encouragement, more support, ect
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easy, hard, open, closed 27 Oct 2013 14:42 #15819

James F wrote:
oh, no, you were clear - I wasn't

what you say withstanding, I think its still valuable to persuade people towards it.

Then, if that happens with it becoming more common, maybe even the landscape of insight will change a bit. more awakened people, more encouragement, more support, ect

I think that's largely because you are in a phase of practice where you are seeing some momentum developing and feeling a growing enthusiasm. :D
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easy, hard, open, closed 27 Oct 2013 15:08 #15821

Hm maybe. I wouldn't say momentum is the right word for it - but you'd be right in saying that my practice is happening in a more visible way than it was before. I could actually do with more momentum than I have right now...

I can't help but think more people being awakened would have a positive boon on contemporary life. I'm not sure if the fact that at times people feel like roadkill means that it's not altogether better for everyone.

maybe it's because I have no reference point like they do, having some kind of positive fixation on other people. maybe their dark night would be a hiccup for me
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easy, hard, open, closed 27 Oct 2013 17:59 #15825

Ona Kiser wrote:
So when mushroomy teachers say 'you'll be lucky to get stream entry in this lifetime, maybe' or 'only a very few people actually wake up' or 'it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle' they aren't actually lying, I don't think. Whether that gets misunderstood or misused as a way of saying 'don't bother' versus 'this is going to take real dedication'....

Anyway, something I've mulled for a while. Thoughts and ponders?

There is an ethical quandary to this stuff, for sure. Does it even make sense to teach meditation and not expect awakening?

I'm not trying to be offensive, but the most direct way I can say it is the problem with mushroom culture is similar to most other churches: they give you half the goods and that supports the institution. It really makes no sense to sell meditation unless you are selling awakening, just as it makes very little sense to talk about religion if you just keep the followers in a spell of desiring (I think that's the magickal term).

Here's a question: would the world be empirically better if people stopped meditating and stopped going to church and spent that same time with a psychologist. I think statistically, yes.
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easy, hard, open, closed 27 Oct 2013 19:59 #15829

"would the world be empirically better if people stopped meditating and stopped going to church and spent that same time with a psychologist. I think statistically, yes."

That seems unlikely to me, Shargrol-- there are many inept and uninsightful therapists, and/or poorly-matched therapeutic relationships. The world would for sure be a different place, but one of the ways it would be different would be that its address to matters of spirit/mind would be narrowed down to the current beliefs about psychology. I, for one, would not find that anything like an improvement. :(
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easy, hard, open, closed 27 Oct 2013 20:06 #15830

shargrol wrote:
Does it even make sense to teach meditation and not expect awakening?

I guess I'm just seeing this as less than black and white.

There are teachers who teach meditation and don't expect awakening.
There are teachers who teach and DO expect awakening.
But
There are students who meditate and don't expect awakening.
There are students who meditate and DO expect awakening.
And
There are the life conditions which contribute to both how and when any of the above intersect.
And
There are life conditions which contribute to even the outcome of the intersection of both the teacher and student who are expecting awakening.

So it's not a purely mechanical process, where if every teacher were teaching meditation for awakening, every student would wake up or wake up quickly.

There are so many moving parts in the universe, that controlling for a few doesn't resolve a problem that has myriad causes and conditions. At least that's my current perspective.
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easy, hard, open, closed 28 Oct 2013 06:50 #15853

Yes, I totally agree that's the reality of the world and isn't likely going to change. I'm definitely approaching this as a thought exercise, not as a "if I really could change the world, this is what I would do."

I've thought a lot about this in terms of martial arts, it's very similar. Many people take martial arts but don't want to train to fight. (I'm not saying fight right away, but training to fight -- that mentality and intensity.) At this moment in time, I tend to think that's really a waste and really can't even be called martial arts. It should be called something else. Tai Chi for not fighting and Tai Chi Chuan (fist/hand) for fighting, something like that. If it is health and fitness that I actually want, there are better modalities than martial arts that will be of greater benefit. The fighting and the training for fighting will actually detract from pure health and fitness (the way the mind must be to actually be a fighter -- always training --- and the wear and tear that comes from reality testing your skill --- not just fighting but sparring will always result in accidental injuries).

I just came off a very short retreat and at times I thought about the ethic of putting people into the void/pressure cooker of a retreat without clear training or descriptions (i.e., you will be left on your own for about 24 hours, limited opportunities for questioning, and you have to ask questions in a public group)... As awakening is less and less of a focus, it seems that a retreat has more and more potential to be the kind of injurious training that you get from martial arts when you don't want to really learn to fight. It's wear and tear without much benefit.

Similarly if people who meditate and don't expect awakening, I think at this time that psychology is probably the best modality for them. Psychology can get pretty deep, so it isn't a wimping out, it's just calling it what it is. If they are led to believe that awakening is better and you get a golden balloon at the end, then they should be shown examples of awakened people that are screw-ups and told that there isn't a golden balloon, not even an invisible golden balloon.

If teachers are teaching meditation, they should expect and speak of awakening --- even if it is just the awakening that a student does encounter. By that I mean the insights/disenchantments that happen along the way that are a flavor of awakening. Obviously I'm coming at this from a particular meditation tradition which has more "milestones" to talk about (the nanas, so-called paths, the fetters, etc.) which isn't a big part of all traditions.

The reality is that we aren't always clear on what we want. We might want martial arts but not in our heart of hearts. We might want to be a painter but not really want to learn color theory and modeling. We want awakening, but we really don't want to face the rawness of experiences or practice in a way where that's a possibility. We usually don't figure any of this out until we try. It's good that we get these opportunities to try.

But there is a bit of a conflict of interest from the schools offering the opportunities --- it's in their best interest to keep accepting students (or members, etc.) even if they really aren't capable of doing the work. There are many organizations with a group of hanger-ons that are part of the scenery, but not really getting much benefit from being there. My heart goes out to those people.

Sure, maybe they deserve the right to hang out and spin their wheels, but also life is short and there are many things to do and explore. So it's not like I have a real answer to any of this, but maybe some distinctions that might or might not be useful.
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easy, hard, open, closed 28 Oct 2013 08:25 #15855

In a general sense, I totally agree, but I'd add that a lot of people seem to get a lot of benefit from a meditation practice that's not awakening-oriented - for example, a lot of TMers.

I used to think it was a shame that these kinds of people couldn't believe or didn't want to see what meditation can actually do, but increasingly I think that there's this element of karma, or grace, or however you want to understand it, which will draw you to awakening-oriented practice if and when it's right for you.

How would this have been in the pre-internet days when that was much harder to access? I'm not sure... we may have all had to go to India or whatever and even then, being in one tradition with little exposure to others can be quite limiting, though not necessarily for everyone...

And that note ties back to Laurel's point, " I can see this practice being a really hard sell for anyone whose life is not so bad the way it is." Certainly for me I don't think anything short of suffering that I wouldn't wish on anyone would have made me a seeker in the way that led me to awakening-oriented practice.
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