The Mind Illuminated, a journal: Day 2

TMIIntro

Introduction: page xviii, The Mind Illuminated

These are reflective notes on my experience of practicing Culadasa’s 10 stage meditation system. The notes in this post are from my second day of practice in the system. For an introduction to this project, see this page. Occasionally I will post edit the journal. Any post editing is [in square brackets like this].

The note in the margin of the introduction above, “separateness is not an illusion or a mistake…” expresses my own view. This is reflected in some strands of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, in which I’ve practiced. In Buddhism ‘ego’ is usually a translation of ‘atman’ which is, historically, a concept in Sutra. Generally in Vajrayana view the ego is irrelevant and not problematized.

Day 2

[I chose the Mind Illuminated system to practice because I thought it would be a good system to deepen my capacity for concentrative focus.

In Stage 1 of TMI the suggestion is that having your eyes either slightly open or closed will work. I started the practice before having read the chapter on stage 1 and then decided to keep sitting with my eyes closed because it was, indeed, proving interesting and useful in contrast to my norm. So from here on, unless I state otherwise, I practice this system with my eyes closed for meditation.

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The Mind Illuminated, a journal: Day 1

Life_is_a_distraction

Foreward: Page xvi, The Mind Illuminated

These are reflective notes on my experience of practicing Culadasa’s 10 stage meditation system. The notes in this post are from my first day of practice in the system. For an introduction to this project, see this page. Occasionally I will post edit the journal. Any post editing is [in square brackets like this].

Day One

“I’ve already read the forward and introduction of the book. Started reading the overview today. 

Walking meditation (described in TMI appendix 1)

Mind mostly thought free during this exercise. I found the attention to physicality made it very easy to let thought go.

10 mins ordinary speed, walking around the house:

  • Before starting, I noticed mild resistance. Thought I’d rather sit. 
  • Noticed the different sensations moving from carpet to hard floor and back. 
  • Started with noting, this happened unintentionally, noting sensations in soles, legs, body.
  • Soon dropped that & focused attention on soles of feet. Maintained attention for the ten minutes. 
  • Noticed slight boredom at some point, concentrated harder on sensation in soles and it was superseded by enjoyment.

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Journaling a staged path

My_mind_illuminated

Over the past month I have been practicing the staged system outlined in John Yates (a.k.a. Culadasa)’s book The Mind Illuminated. I kept a journal of my daily practice, which I will publish here.

To navigate chronologically through this series scroll to the bottom of the page and use the ‘next page’ and ‘previous page’ links. There is a summary of the series with page content and links on the site overview.

My most recent posts were about the renunciative worldview associated with the Buddhist path of Sutrayana – and yet Vajrayana has been my chosen practice and primary worldview for twenty-five years. Inevitably my ideas about Sutra are embedded in Vajrayana perspective. I regard detachment, renunciation, purification and equanimity (all Sutric descriptions of meditative experience) from an etic perspective. That’s not to say that I haven’t had and appreciate some of those experiences. However, ‘inside’ Vajrayana, they have distinct, different functions. They may even be described uniquely using the language of Tantra or Dzogchen.

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The structure of Buddhism

my Buddhist structure chart

George Box: “All models are wrong. Some are useful.”

Culturally, I have the impression we’re leaving post-modernism behind and that it hasn’t worked. Anecdotally I hear expressions of confusion and lostness. It’s like we’ve come adrift from the past; we’re floating around in a sea of debris trying to make sense of it all. We’re confronted with multiple mashups without reliable tools for discerning which to engage with and which to discard. Approaching Buddhism, mindfulness and meditation can be like this. How do we know what will work and what won’t?

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Living contradictions

contradictions

Image by Nicolas Nova: flickr

The contradictions of Sutra

Practices that derive from Sutra center on liberation from Samsara, the cycle of habitual grasping to attraction, aversion and indifference that causes suffering.

The Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and the cessation of Samsara (the cycle of death and rebirth, causing ‘dukkha,’ in Pali, dissatisfaction, often translated as suffering) are core Sutric teachings. Our patterned habits of attraction, aversion and indifference cause us misery. Our attachment to ego makes us self-serving. We are habitual ego-reinforcers, but we can develop detachment and equanimity through concentrated meditation which will enable us to further let go of striving and grasping. Then we will see that our desires and habits cause us unhappiness at a deep level. We can begin to erase even the most subtle traces of conditioning, perhaps even achieving states of cessation, eventually becoming an arhat or experiencing nirvana.

Different presentations may use the language of mindfulness, jhanas, stream entry, no-self, detachment, loving-kindness, compassion, emptiness. Sutra-derived worldviews have in common the theme that if we follow a correct path we can develop virtues in a self-reinforcing cycle of purity or wholesomeness. We will find it incrementally easier to detach ourselves from impurity, misdemeanour and ill-intent. We can develop a release from our grasping self to the point that we no longer experience desire. We might even achieve a state of nirodha and have all sensation cease. In Sutric systems, these experiences are highly desirable. States of intense desire, negative emotions, bad thoughts, are undesirable.

A system that advocates separation from one side of a polarity to achieve its opposite is dualist. Examples of such polarities are ‘good vs bad’, ‘pure vs. impure’, ‘right vs. wrong’. Dualism fixes the meaning of polarities and our selves in relation to them. Sutra is dualist in practice. Some versions simultaneously extol nondualism.

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Not all Buddhism is about liberation from suffering

Dharmachakra
Dharmachakra, the wheel of dharma
wikimedia commons

Sutra dominates

When most people say ‘Buddhism’, what they are referring to is Sutrayana, the path of Sutra.1 I use ‘Sutra’, for short. Sutra is the dominant form of Buddhism available today. It is so dominant that it might be fair to say it has a monopoly on Buddhism. The majority of Buddhist practitioners do not know about alternatives.

Sutra centers on the idea that complete liberation from suffering is possible. By doing the right things, being the right way, eventually, we can extricate ourselves from a cycle of perpetually self-inducing misery. Many secular presentations of meditation have adopted this underlying framework. The language is the same, barring removal of the most prominent forms of magical thinking.

Is this realistic? The only way to eliminate suffering is to cease sensation. This is the purpose of meditation practices intended to achieve no-self and liberation from Samsara. Is this what you want?

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