There is a recurring theme that I have encountered in my participation at places where dharma practice is discussed – mostly in online fora concerned with awakening.
It is very clear to me that what people commonly refer to as “4th path” is not the same thing as realization. They are related, sure, but I have noticed ideas and notions about awakening, coming from meditation practitioners, that seem to be at odds with the Buddha’s description of awakeing, as described in the Suttas and the Fetter Model of Awakening. There seems to have been a re-defining of attainment in the modern western dharma scene that is quite sad, honestly.
The sentiment I see again and again, goes something like this:
There is such a thing called “4th path” that is used by meditators to describe a certain permanent perceptual shifft into a more open, more holistic, and more “centerless” or “agentless” perception that people refer to as technical 4th path. I will defer to Daniel Ingram’s description of it, pasted directly from here:
“What I mean by 4th path. Let me state here what I mean by 4th path, regardless of what anyone else means by it. It has the following qualities:
- Utter centerlessness: no watcher, no sense of a watcher, no subtle watcher, no possibility of a watcher. This is immediately obvious just as color is to a man with good eyesight as the old saying goes. Thus, anything and everything simply and obviously manifest just where they are. No phenomena observe any others and never did or could.
- Utter agencylessness: meaning no agency, no sense of doing, no sense of doer, no sense that there could be any agent or doer, no way to find anything that seems to be in control at all. Whatever effort or intent or anything like that that arises does so naturally, causally, inevitably, as it always actually did. This is immediately obvious, though not always the forefront of attention.
- No cycles change or stages or states or anything else like that do anything to this direct comprehension of simple truths at all.
- There is no deepening in it to do. The understanding stands on its own and holds up over cycles, moods, years, etc and doesn’t change at all. I have nothing to add to my initial assessment of it from 9 years ago.
- There is nothing subtle about it: anything and everything that arises exhibits these same qualities directly, clearly. When I was third path, particularly late in it, those things that didn’t exhibit these qualities were exceedingly subtle, and trying to find the gaps in the thing was exceedingly difficult and took years and many cycles. I had periods from weeks to months where it felt done and then some subtle exception would show up and I would realize I was wrong yet again, so this is natural and understandable, and if someone claims 4th as I define it here and later says they got it wrong, have sympathy for them, as this territory is not easy and can easily fool people, as it did me many, many times over about 5 years or so. However, 4th, as I term it, ended that and 9 years later that same thing holds, which is a very long time in this business.”
Without saying anything about the realization of the author, I have noticed in my own practice and in talking with and interacting with advanced practitioners (by that I mean in person interaction – hanging out with monks, sitting with monks, and picking their brains) that there is a clear disconnect between the realization described by the Buddha, vs. the technical attainment described above. Realization seems to have the technical attainment as a prerequisite- but encompasses more than the teachnical perceptual details.
In the description above and in general in the pragmatic dharma scene, there is a gross assumption acrosss the board that awakening is about the way we perceive reality on a sensate level- which I would not disagree with- there are certainly the aspects of experience that seem less centered, less effortful, and less 1-dimensional, but I think realization goes far beyond this. Others agree- Ken Wilbur introduced the idea of a separate axis for “waking up” and another axis for “growing up”. The insights realized in meditation don’t just lead to a state of perceptual non-duality on the personal level and it stops there and doesn’t change. The non-dual basis has far reaching implications for how a person approaches life and will manifest in behavior, or else there is a very shallow understanding. Non dual perception on a personal level is great and can nice to dwell in but it’s not the end-all be all state of spiritual practice – it can be seen really as a new beginning from which more profound spiritual fruit takes root.
How perception changes after MCTB 4th path- Realization
It is possible for a person’s perceptual basis to be rooted in not-self on a seemingly deeper level. I seem to experience the totality of everyone and everyhting around me as a basis. By that I mean everything in the conscious experience- including people I interact with- feel exactly like one big process, and me myself is really directly seen and felt/experienced as a part of the bigger whole. This leads to a real felt sense that I am a part of something bigger than me- and this is confirmed again and again frequently on a first-hand level.
It seems woo woo but I have what would be normally referred to as synchonicities – happen as a continuous experience. Everything is synchonous in a very satisfying and quite mystical sort of way. I am literally not rooted in my body- the people around me and other beings around me- there is no perceptual separation between us.
Time behaves differently for me, like every moment is perfectly “on time” and in rythum, and there is this direct sense that every moment contains the totality of everything in the universe, and this makes it feel spherical in a way, like very clearly time is not a linear phenomenon.
Realization that goes to the core will change every single aspect of a person’s life- 24-7 – every thought I have is related to helping people in the dharma, there are no self-referential thoughts whatsoever. All the thoughts and discursive activity in my mind is related in a direct clear way to a process of energy dissipation that can be crudely considered
People with some good insight will describe their technical experience the way above- and it’s not a bad attainment- it’s technically non-dual but the insight has not done the work of changing the person – they will start acting different with realization – whereas with immature insight there are holdouts and reservations. A realized person has no sense of anything happening with any effort whatsoever, the mind and body simply move in an energetic process and really nothing is filtered through the mundane mind- everything is spontaneous. There is a sense of the dharma knowledge moving through me. There is a sense of spontaneous compassionate action as the only experience- this is where true self and no-self converge- everything is seen as being of the same nature. Things get very simple and direct and with realization there are no personal holdouts like holding onto anything that stifles the one mission.
I sometimes spontaneously elaborate dharma concepts that I haven’t really organized in my mind beforehand or thought about when I’m talking to students. It comes out organized, personalized, and appropriate to the student. It just moves through me. There is a lot more to say- namely psychic powers, and other “siddhis” that begin to occur as mere artifacts- there is a sense of reading people’s thoughts that is as clear as if they were my own thoughts. There is a conviction and no-holds barred attitude that a realized person has- they are not even rooted in the self as a baseline assumption to begin with- they experience themselves as an energetic process. Realization looks so much different than what normal society says, that if the person is not significantly apart from normal society- well they are clinging to the many facets of self-attachment which pervade society. Realized people often are not well known and can be found living in tents and caves around retreat centers, or they are hermits in the middle of nowhere in plain sight.
It’s just my personal opinion, but people with realization behave differently, perceive emptiness directly, all the time, and as such their insight is more “through and through” than with the technical insight. People seem to stop and not investigate their attachments further once they reach a perceptual state like the one descibed above. But there is a whole other path beyond (beyond) this. Logically if a state like the above was attained with 20,000 hours, and the person is still alive and does the math, they should reckon that another 20,000 hours will change them more- make them less self-centered- more enriching to the whole.
Realization imparts a person with unconditional joyfulness, presence, and virtue. They are more concerned with the collective rather than the personal me. They will leave society or have already left society to attain such a state. But I see that trajectory for myself. Full realization only occurs when every person in existence is a Buddha, there is utter peace and harmony. A person who perceives emptiness does not view their own suffering as any different than another person’s suffering. If there exists a thing called suffering- they suffer- just not in the same way as on the personal level as caused by craving. Now they suffer due to compassion. Their realization is measured by their enrichment and benefit the whole. This is truly a different way of thinking and operating, and a natural development of the insight path beyond non-duality on the first-person level.