What is insight?
Insight as used in this text, and in the Buddhist traditions, entails a knowledge gained about oneself and the nature of being and existence, that arises through direct experience. This knowledge frees a person from habitual tendencies of mind that cause suffering and sorrow. Therefore, insight reduces suffering and enhances life. If a knowledge gained through contemplation does not create a lasting behavioral effect on the person, and a clear reduction in suffering, then the insight is not Insight.
This book attempts to reach both Buddhist practitioners, and practitioners from Abrahmic traditions such as Christians. I have a special place for Christ in my heart due to my upbringing, and it is a guiding principle of this text that the Buddhist methods of developing insight, are not incompatible or contradictory to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and often are perfectly confirmatory of the insights described in the Bible.
The Buddhist method is especially useful and profound because of the clear, stepwise, pragmatic nature of the Buddhist path, and the clear elucidation of specific techniques and habits that lead to specific results – that is, insight into the nature of mind and reality and the end of suffering. The author ascribes no magical or supernatural reasoning for why the Buddhist path is so effective, and the author has nothing conclusive to say about the ultimate Truth of reality. This may seem to contradict the previous definition of insight, but sas we will see, insight that frees a person from suffering has no dependence whatsoever on “untimate truth” – only the truth of our experiential reality. This is a point which many Christians may be wary of, but as we will see in the development described and enabled by this book, there is nothing we are asked to believe on blind faith alone- rather, the ethos of this book assumes that a person has some say in the way they experience the world and the ability to change it if it is not working for them. This is perfectly compatible with Christianity and most other religious beliefs. If anything, this book simply asks the reader to put aside belief for the moment, and instead focus on practical skill building and knowledge gained as a result.
Buddhist Framework for Awakening
The Therevada Buddhist model of awakening that was originally described by the Buddha himself is the model I use to describe the initial awakening process. Awakening in a Therevada Buddhist sense ultimately delivers the end of suffering and strain. There is more beyond that, but for this section of the book, that is a good definition. This book is practical, for the modern man or woman, and is not concerned with unanswerable questions or pointless debate and side-taking. I am not particularly keen on an academic comparison of the different sects of Buddhism, so for further reading on this topic, please see the many books available on such topics. The Therevada Buddhist model has 4 levels of awakening, involving stepwise release of attachment to different facets of self. These attachments are described best as “fetters”- mental habits which limit and afflict the mind of a worldling- quite literally like a ball and chain for the mind- confining and imprisoning the mind. Awakening involves freeing ourselves from these shackles, and the suffering inherent in them.
“There are these ten fetters. Which ten? Five lower fetters & five higher fetters. And which are the five lower fetters? Self-identity views, uncertainty, grasping at precepts & practices, sensual desire, & ill will. These are the five lower fetters. And which are the five higher fetters? Passion for form, passion for what is formless, conceit, restlessness, & ignorance. These are the five higher fetters. And these are the ten fetters.”
The Ten Fetters:
- Self-illusion (self-identity views; belief in personality) – an intellectual view of self as a permanent, unchanging essence that is inherently existing outside of and apart from the world.
- Scepticism (uncertainty) – specifically regarding the efficacy of the buddhist method, the existence of an enlightened state, and the faith that others have attained such a thing and it is available to me as well
- Attachment to rules and rituals (grasping at precepts and practices) – the mistaken notion that supernatural or magical causes free a person from suffering and self-imposed limitations.
These first three fetters are “uprooted” with the attainment of the first level of awakening – called Stream entry or Sotapanna. They are uprooted because direct experiential knowledge proves them to be false in a compelling, impossible to ignore sort of way. A stream enterer- therefore – exhibits unwavering confidence in the Buddhist method (which really is just a methodical system of actual deliberate practice), the possibility of awakening for themselves and others, and the critical role of actual intentional deliberate practice in the attainment of awakening. They are simply unable to ever believe in a permanent eternal self because their direct first hand knowledge has decisively, completely, irrevocably, proven in their minds otherwise. The uprooting of these mental habits- fetters- directly erodes certain causes of suffering, and therefore, a stream enterer can never suffer in the same way as before- and they will be much better off in multitude ways than not having attained stream entry. The main fetter that reduces suffering for a stream enterer is identity view- since they no longer hold onto a notion of themselves as a permanent autonomous entity, they no longer suffer from perceived threats to that identity. They also have a clear path and unwavering confidence in the end of all suffering, which gives a stream enterer much solace in the fact that they are on the path to full and complete awakening and ending suffering for good, permanently.
- Sensual lust (craving)
- Ill-will (aversion)
Fetters 4 and 5 are the main sources of suffering for a stream enterer. They have loosened a large aspect of self-attachment, however, they are still compelled and afflicted by craving for pleasant sensual experiences derived from the world, and they experience a resistance, or strain in negative unpleasant experiences. They still experience the suffering of enemy-making – in subtle and gross forms. Imagine how much enemy-making and self-other side-taking is involved in a typical 30 minute news program. The fetter of ill will is a function of mind that creates an enemy out of groups, individuals, and unpleasant experiences of the senses. The attainment of the second level of awakening – called Sakadagami- involves a significant weakening or attenuation of these two fetters. The Sakadagami has loosened their grip on self-attachment considerably, and has started to become dispassionate toward things of the senses and the world.
The third level of awakening – Anagami- is attained when the practitioner sees through sensual craving and aversion to such a complete degree, that attachment to pleasant and unpleasant experiences ends completely- there is no resistance to unpleasant experiences and no clinging or grasping toward pleasant experiences. This affords the Anagami a wonderfully profound freedom from self- attachment, and the destruction of most all sources of suffering and sorrow. The state of mind of the anagami is nothing like the typical uninstructed untrained worlding. The Anagami knows a freedom so sublime that experiences of the world pale in comparison to the blissful, detached, transcendent state of the Anagami.
- 6) Craving for fine-corporeal or material existence
- 7) Craving for incorporeal or non-material existence
- 8) Conceit
- 9) Restlessness
- 10) Ignorance
The last five fetters are uprooted with the Attainment of Arhatship. Until then, the Anagami has uprooted most all sources of suffering and generally lives in blissful contentment most of the time. But there is still the felt sense of being a separate entity on a simple moment-by moment perceptual level. It is hard to know how these last 5 fetters color our experience until they are uprooted and we can look back and compare what things are like before and what things are like now. The last fetters involve subtle mental habits like before- but these basic fetters function to create a residue of the felt sense of some permanent essence, despite the utter knowledge of the illusion of that perception.
The Anagami is no longer attached to the world or the senses, but still maintains some attachment to subtle mental experiences – they are so blissful they would rather it not end. Or conversely, they are so independent from and dispassionate toward the world or the senses, that they crave non-experience. The Anagami will routinely oscillate between these two subtle states of craving and it colors perception from the ground up. The last three fetters- conceit, restlessness, and ignorance, are the subtlest of mental habits that create a sense of a separate self. Conceit arises in the mind of an anagami- simply because they are aware they are different from people without this knowledge, and that creates a sense of disconnect from the world, and can be very isolating. Restlessness is a simple residual habit of mind to reach for typical things, despite knowing there is no point in doing so. It’s not directed at sense objects but rather at subtle mental manifestations of residual clinging to self -identity views. These clingings are known, almost painfully, until this learning process completes itself. This residual habit simply exhausts itself on its own due to the keen mindfulness and insight ale=ready developed.
And finally, ignorance- any moment when the insight they have gained is not being employed and realized- creates a subtle strain. They are ignoring what they know about themselves for whatever reason- may it be worldly obligations with good cause, or very subtle resistance to the reality of their insight and the world they are enmeshed in. It’s a very unique type of suffering that is very isolating- simply because not many people are familiar with such insights and keeping things to oneself is often the prescribed antidote. The attainment of arhatship is the destruction and uprooting of these last 5 fetters, and as such, an Arhat no longer even feels like a separate entity on a perceptual level. They have attained an ongoing state of non-dual perception- experiences are no longer processed fundamentally in terms of a subject and an object- and instead, there are only things happening, experiences happening – to no one, done by no one. It is freedom at last, and a very worthy and rare accomplishment.
The Buddhist attainments described at brief in the preceding pages are available to monks. The context within which these attainments were formulated and the criteria are really more relevant for monks, but a similar process is available to lay people as well.
Insight Attainments in the SigmaTropic Systematic Practice
- Meditator makes a lasting turn, away from the world of sensuality and accumulation, toward a spiritual solution
- Often involves a personal crisis or tragedy
Many people from all backgrounds attain this insight in the midst of daily life, even without practice. For some people it can take a long time and a lot of suffering to truly turn away from the world as a refuge. Mosty people go through a process of systematically getting things and becoming disillusioned with them. The last thing most people arrive at is spiritual practice.
- Meditator has a spectacular jhana experience or a bliss experience – they know now for sure, that meditation is powerful, might be the answer, and they know the outer world does not lead to fulfillment, one must build their inner resources.
- This experience or series of experiences gives a person faith that they should undertake a serious contemplative practice.
This insight milestone is an experience in meditation that gives the meditator great faith in the power of meditation and in the untapped potential of their mind and the mental training possible. They experience a totally new perceptual mode- and with that they see how illusory their perceptions are.
- This perception comes about when the mind has the seven factors of awakening. This initial insight into transience is compelling and spectacular enough that the person begins to notices more fine-grained aspect to all of perception.
- This insight is often brought about by spectacular and profound experiences of unity, bliss, or divinity brought about in various ways, including but not limited to prayer, meditation, psychedelic drugs, sex, and other ways.
This insight is a key turning point whereby the meditator learns to systematically dismantle all the self-fabrications that keep them in bondage. They deconstruct reality at such a fine and complete level that their illusion of being an autonomous agent with free will is shattered in spectacular fashion. It may not be extremely obvious for most people, but most people will have a phase of meditation being much easier and pleasurable, followed by a peak experience and a subsequent drop in concentration. This can be extremely challenging for some folks. They are trying to see the constituent ingredients of suffering and they are confronted with the nature of the craving, suffering mind.
- The mind is confused and desperate and futile. Nothing the meditator attempts to do to subvert reality works and the meditator is forced to give up control
- Meditator exhausts self-clinging tendencies that obscure the meditative process, leading to the ability to sit temporarily without expectations or clinging
- The meditator again attains to a beginner’s perspective, and can sit as they are, in a state of profound equanimity.
- Fundamental emotional/heart-based knowledge
This insight is unfortunately won by repeated and continued trying to subvert reality and control their meditation and mind, to a point of exhaustion and indifference. Often meditators have persistent energetic blockages and anxiety, and some meditators deal with shame and repressed guilt and other very unpleasant mind-states. They are disillusioned with themselves as a meditator and lose any faith that they can be saved by meditation or spirituality. They simply give up and forget about getting awakened. This is a heart-knowledge that can’t be forced but it can be encouraged.
- Given the transience insight, the meditator now finds their self-image and all other self- related topics registering in their mind as looser, not them, and there is a distance from self-attachment that makes all the difference
- There is a spacious and wide sense of acceptance and receptivity
- Reality happens along on its own and it is seen clearly that mind and reality are not separate.
- Self and mind seen to be interconnected process with everything else, self still assumed to exist apart from everything else
- There is a spacious and wide sense of acceptance and receptivity
- Reality happens along on its own and it is seen clearly that mind and reality are not separate.
- The mind ceases completely all fabricating activity in a moment of pure lucid awareness. This moment shows the mind that all of reality is its own creation.
- It shows the mind that the even consciousness is impermanent and so it cannot be a self.
- Direct knowledge that reality and mind are a selfless process.
- Stage 1 –with the Seven Factors Present, the mind comprehends in a experiential, direct, compelling way that reality and mind are process. This leads to an unfolding of energetic physiological processes that re-wire the energetic system of the meditator, jhana ability is suddenly increased, and the meditator enters a new paradigm of meditation practice. The meditator now has increased perceptual abilities and tools but most of the same attachments and mental patterns. There is an increased ability to notice the constituents of self-fabrications, i.e. craving, clinging, liking, and other transient fast mental phenomena.
- Stage 2 – The constituents of self-fabrications are perceived directly in the form of dependently arising thoughts sensations, urges, emotions, and mind moments, in such a compelling way that suffering and self-attachment lessen in a considerable fashion. Direct experience of dependent origination reduces clinging permanently. There remains a default self-based perspective – “I am better now” – suffering is significantly loosened and craving and aversion are distinctly lower.
- Stage 3 – The mind accesses a state of automatic vipassana whereby self-attachment and contraction is seen as is, in real time, with the seven factors present, in daily life. The fetters of sensual desire and ill will are permanently uprooted. The meditator can no longer become attached to objects of the senses but is attached to identities and subtle mental experiences.
- Stage 4 – The meditator profoundly releases attachment to all identities, and the meditator no longer experiences or creates a subjective distortion in the field of manifestation that is thought or felt in any sense to be an autonomous self.
- The initial non-self insight and perceptual basis begins a process of the development of Bodhicitta, whereby the meditator accumulates increased abilities toward the helping of other beings. This profound laying down of self interest can begin only from a non-dual perspective and subsequent abilities are developed on this basis.
How to get the insight attainments
- The Attainment of level 1 selfless perception
- The attainment of level 2 selfless perception
- The attainment of level 3 selfless perception
- The attainment of level 4 selfless perception