Thursday, November 28, 2013

HfM:Ch8 Insight by Formal Training

This is part of the Handbook for Mankind series, a review of Buddhadasa's book by the same name.  Read the full text of Chapter 8: Insight by Formal Training here.
See an index of my posts in this series here.

The first part of this post will be a summary of Buddhadasa's words in this chapter.  The second part of the post, the "My Take" section, will be my opinion and commentary on the chapter.

Summary - Chapter 8: Insight by Formal Training

Formalized training methods were developed by later Buddhist teachers. Enlightenment of the Buddha and others came without such training. However, some people believe that formal training makes Buddhism accessible to people with a wider range of innate attributes.

Buddhist training systems are divided into two complementary aspects; gantha-dhura (study) and vipassana-dhura (insight wisdom development). These practices were developed by asking fundamental questions about the path of enlightenment.

Vipassana, meaning clear insight, comes as a fruit of the Seven Purifications. They are:

  1. Moral Purity - Have upright behavior and speech.
  2. Mental Purity - Develop a concentrated, focused mind which is calm and ready to think.
  3. Perspective Purity - Eliminate false views which are inconsistent with the true nature of things. Know the Three Universal Characteristics, the Five Aggregates, etc.
  4. Confidence Purity - Doubt is eliminated by the understanding of the true nature of things.
  5. Path Vision Purity - Discernment is made of what is and what is not the Path to enlightenment. (There are several levels, or stages, of development, which are sometimes mistaken as the pinnacle of achievement, and sometimes there are other ancillary developmental benefits which people chase after because they mistakenly believe them to the purpose of development.)
  6. Progress Purity - With the Path clearly identified, progress is achieved along that Path.
  7. Insight Purity - The true nature of things becomes inherently intuitive in all circumstances, leading to Nirvana.

Later Buddhist teachers identified the progress (referencing the sixth Purification above) one makes along the Path in nine steps as follows:

  1. Concentrated introspection develops the insight that everything is involved in a perpetual cycle of arising and decaying.
  2. The decaying aspect of all things is focused on, such that it can be seen in its complete depth, recognizing that all things are in a state of perishing and disillusionment.
  3. Seeing the decay in all things at all times leads to an intense apprehension, or fear, of all things.
  4. This apprehension leads to the recognition of the emotional danger of becoming involved in things.
  5. Seeing the inherent danger of all things leads to complete disenchantment with them all.
  6. With that disenchantment comes an intense desire to be free of all things.
  7. That desire leads to an internal struggle to further weaken the bondage of the mind to things.
  8. Ridding ourselves of the bondage to things, we become imperturbable and achieve equanimity.
  9. The mind is then ready to perfect the progress and achieve Nirvana.

Following this system, vipassana can be gained. In turn, the mind can be freed from all dukkha because all cravings and desires will cease. Such a status is Nirvana, and it is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.

One final note: Be wary of teachers who have distorted the meaning of vipassana for the purpose of making a profit.

My Take

Reading Buddhadasa's words here, and combining them with those from the previous chapter, I got a sense that he has a level of disdain for formalized systems, but he recognizes them as a "necessary evil" that helps some people. This view is likely born from his own experience, where his own will and determination led him to become a self-taught "enlightened" individual, without the aid of a professional teacher.

On the other hand, while Buddhadasa didn't care for these formal systems, his language appeared to indicate an agreement in principle with the Seven Purifications and the nine steps of progress along the Path.

With the Seven Purifications and the nine steps of progress laid out clearly for examination, we can get a sense of what it takes to become enlightened. It's an extreme form of mental reprogramming where you get broken down to nothing and rebuilt with "right" views:

  • See how nothing lasts.
  • See that everything causes some form of dissatisfaction
  • See how "you" are nothing more than the summation of causes and their effects.

Meditate and focus on these "facts" until nothing is desirable. Then you won't care what you have or what you are, so you'll be fine with whatever happens to you.

It seems that, in a manner of speaking, the goal is to become the ultimate pessimist. Come to accept how broken and imperfect everything is, because none of it really amounts to anything anyway. Not only accept it, but relish in it, because such a view creates a certain level of freedom in that you can do what you want to do without the distraction of worldly desires, and without the fear of failure.

Can it "work"? Can someone really achieve the imperturbable equanimity, the calm bliss of Nirvana? I have no doubt; as surely as the mind can be programmed and reprogrammed.

The more important question is this: Is it worth it?

It you think that you are fated to a perpetual cycle of birth, life, death, afterlife, birth, life, etc., and this is your only way of getting out of that cycle, then, maybe. It seems like a truly rational goal, if you are totally committed to eliminating your dukkha once and for all.

Yet that perspective is challenged by other questions, such as:

  • Is all dukkha really undesirable?
  • Is there an optimal balance to be had between disenchantment and engagement that falls short of enlightenment, yet yields a truly rich (depth, not wealth) and rewarding life?

I wager that the answers to these questions, contrary as they may be to Buddhist philosophy, hold the attainable and desirable truth to leading a fully satisfying life.

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