Gradual practice

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Zom
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Re: Gradual practice

Post by Zom » Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:38 pm

As you know in Russia we say that : one don't preclude another (одно другому не мешает). For exemple my sila practice is not deminished by my practice of formal meditation, moderation in eating etc. Or if I try to guard my senses I will week my bodily or mental conduct ? What do you think ?
It depends on how much time and effort you are spending on these things. In the beginning no need to strive much in this field.

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by Zom » Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:48 pm

First, repeated observation of something on your part makes it an inductively-derived generalisation, rather than it being necessarily true. There could well be exceptions, and it might be that anyone short of an arahant has an hypothesis confirmed due to biases inherent in how they see things. For example, I have seen many times that winters never get so cold that the sea could freeze, but does that make it true?
Of course there can be exception. Like 1 in 1 billion will succeed without preliminary stages starting right with intensive retreats. But others will fail - and this is normal that they will fail when they start doing something they are not ready for. Exactly this can be seen in all other human spheres which require long time education and practice. Give someone (who knows nothing about music) a musical instrument and tell him play improvistations only (highest stage of musical skill). After 50 years of such "training" he will be as bad as on the start. Total waste of time because of dilettantish approach.
Second, would we not need observations of the Gradual Teaching to be confirmed in a similar manner? How many "professionals" with jhanas, iddhi, and nibbana have you seen arise through following it?
You are not supposed to get jhanas or iddhi or arahantship in this very life with 100% guarantee even if you do everything correctly, that is, gradually. Commentaries even state that you might need several kalpas to accomplish that .) I don't think you need that much time, but I'm quite sure that most of buddhists will need a lot of lives to attain nibbana. I'll notice here, that even in Buddha's lifetime most of buddhists attained just stream-entry and even with live Buddha they never got to jhanas. This is how it should be, this is very normal.
I remain open-minded about this, but find that a useful working hypothesis to be that meditation helps lay practitioners in that it contributes to the mental clarity and stability required by other aspects of the practice.
There's another hypothesis - that one may completely ignore meditation and still advance well on buddhist path. Of course this goes against modern ideas of how buddhist must do his practice, but I think you can find a lot of live examples among traditional buddhists.

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by budo » Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:22 pm

Zom wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:34 pm
People should practice meditation here and now. In the moment of meditation you are not out drinking alcohol or breaking precepts, you're here meditating, and thus meditation is right livelihood and right sila. Just by sittting down and crossing your legs, you are practicing right sila because in that moment you are not breaking any precepts.
This is modern explanation, however, Buddha explained it differently.
There are also tons of stories of average normal lay people attaining stream entry and more.
You don't need jhana (that is - hi-end stage) to attain stream-entry. Actually, this is why Stream Entry is called so - you've just "entered" - and there's a long way to go still (in some cases - up to 7 life times).
You don't need Jhanas for Stream entry but that doesn't mean Stream enterers cannot enter first jhana. Only non-returners have mastered the four jhanas. It doesn't mean that anyone else can't touch the fourth jhana once in a while, or at least master the first jhana.

Not everything is black and white, as you said, there is a gradual training, and people can gradually start touching jhanas. There's a difference between touching and mastering.

Also no one said anything about becoming an arahant in this life. Just because you cannot become a non-returner in this life doesn't mean you can't enjoy some of the jhanas.

Lastly, what you attain in your lifetime is in your hands. If you want, you can stop everything tomorrow and meditate 10 hours a day and get enlightened in a few years, or stick to only one hour a day and maybe get enlightened in 30 years if you're still alive by then. Your destiny is in your hands. This is the meaning of the satipatthana quote I quoted when the Buddha says "4 years, 3 years, 2 yeas, etc..", the Buddha means it's in your hands.

I believe your view is too nihilistic and outcome/attainment oriented when instead it should be action oriented. To me it seems like just a rationalization to allow yourself to be weak and defeatist. A mind made prison.
Last edited by budo on Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by Sam Vara » Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:37 pm

Zom wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:48 pm

Of course there can be exception. Like 1 in 1 billion will succeed without preliminary stages starting right with intensive retreats. But others will fail - and this is normal that they will fail when they start doing something they are not ready for. Exactly this can be seen in all other human spheres which require long time education and practice. Give someone (who knows nothing about music) a musical instrument and tell him play improvistations only (highest stage of musical skill). After 50 years of such "training" he will be as bad as on the start. Total waste of time because of dilettantish approach....
You are not supposed to get jhanas or iddhi or arahantship in this very life with 100% guarantee even if you do everything correctly, that is, gradually. Commentaries even state that you might need several kalpas to accomplish that .) I don't think you need that much time, but I'm quite sure that most of buddhists will need a lot of lives to attain nibbana. I'll notice here, that even in Buddha's lifetime most of buddhists attained just stream-entry and even with live Buddha they never got to jhanas. This is how it should be, this is very normal.
I think there are two different models being used here. There is an assertion based upon scriptural/commentarial authority, and there is also the view that is based upon personal experience. I think it might be best to separate them.

I have every respect for people who want to use the approach based on scripture, but we need to bear in mind that we cannot with scriptural authority rule out what the scriptures do not mention. We cannot, for example, say that the success rate for those who depart from the prescribed path is "1 in 1 billion", or indeed any other odds. Why not one in 10, or one in one in a hundred billion? Nor can we say that the Buddha's contemporaries did not attain jhana based on the mere absence of this being mentioned in the scriptures. Were the scriptures to say that they definitely did not, then that would of course be a different matter.

The assertion that one is "not supposed" to attain certain states in this lifetime is again based on a particular reading of scripture, of course, but I still struggle with the idea that the scriptural sources failing to mention something is positive evidence of that thing not being possible. It is a variation on the idea that absence of evidence does not equate to evidence of absence. It means that the only defence against a counter-claim such as that posed by Budo in this thread is to argue that they are mistaken in the labels that they apply to subjective experience. That leaves us with the interesting but unresolvable problem of a claim about experience being juxtaposed with a claim about the impossibility of that experience. If Budo is wrong about his experience, the might you not be wrong about your interpretation of scripture?
There's another hypothesis - that one may completely ignore meditation and still advance well on buddhist path. Of course this goes against modern ideas of how buddhist must do his practice, but I think you can find a lot of live examples among traditional buddhists.
Yes, I'm entirely in agreement with this bit. As I said, I have genuine respect for your view on this matter, and your view is held consistently and cogently. I'm just slightly concerned that beginners who might benefit from meditation are not dissuaded from trying it, given that there are several different working hypotheses to choose from. To pick up on your earlier point about music, a great conductor from my country once recommended that people "try everything once, except folk dancing and incest"! ;)

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by budo » Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:43 pm

@Sam

For all I know I may be wrong about the label of my experience, but according to the books I read, including Henepola Gunaratana's PhD thesis, Ayya Khemas books, and Leigh Brasingtons book, my experience seems to align with the suttas. From what I hear the visuddhimagga is a lot more hardcore, so I doubt my experience aligns with the visuddhimagga. I'm waiting for Bhikkhu Analayo's anapanasati book next year.

Regardless, labels are just outcomes at the end of the day, what matters is that I am taking consistent action every day, and that I see improvement in the long run.

I will never know 100% for certain if my experiences align with the labels because I never met the Buddha, and unfortunately he's not here to evaluate me, therefore I can only rely on secondary sources.

We're all blindly walking in the dark and therefore we need to experiment while looking at the map and fill in the gaps with personal experience.

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by rightviewftw » Mon Jun 11, 2018 9:01 pm

budo wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:43 pm
From what I hear the visuddhimagga is a lot more hardcore, so I doubt my experience aligns with the visuddhimagga.
i think you will find yourself more or less alligned from what i've read of your posts but don't take my word on it, check it out.

My problem with this thread is the generalization of "a meditation retreat" there are so many teachers who teach different things... Surely some do teach gradually and a gradual development.
Last edited by rightviewftw on Mon Jun 11, 2018 9:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by budo » Mon Jun 11, 2018 9:12 pm

rightviewftw wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 9:01 pm
Surely some do teach gradually and a gradual development. Also claims like "Arahantship is impossible in this lifetime" or "1 in 1 billion", surely the latter is a made up number and the former is based on some personal belief rather than representation of orthodoxy or majority view.
Not only that, it is such a defeatist notion, like "I can't be arahant, therefore I won't meditate in this life time". This is the problem when you're too attached to outcomes and labels, you prevent yourself from persisting and experimenting. The famous psychologist Alfred Korzybyski said "The map is not the territory" - to prevent yourself from experimenting just because of suttas to me is very foolish, and not only that but arguing on the forums instead experimenting is even more foolish. It's like you have an apple in front of you and all you have to do is bite it to get wisdom, but instead you tell yourself "No, I can't bite it, this text says I am not ready yet, instead I will write about not being able to bite it, and tell other people not to bite it".. Just bite the damn apple already! Sometimes you have to sink or swim, you can't be scared and hide behind texts all day.

Anyway, I don't want to come off too harsh so I will stop posting in this thread for today.

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by rightviewftw » Mon Jun 11, 2018 9:21 pm

budo wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 9:12 pm
Not only that, it is such a defeatist notion, like "I can't be arahant, therefore I won't meditate in this life time".
I think it has been said before but discouraging people from keeping precepts and meditation is unwholesome imho.
Zom wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:48 pm
You are not supposed to get jhanas or iddhi or arahantship in this very life with 100% guarantee even if you do everything correctly, that is, gradually. Commentaries even state that you might need several kalpas to accomplish that .) I don't think you need that much time, but I'm quite sure that most of buddhists will need a lot of lives to attain nibbana. I'll notice here, that even in Buddha's lifetime most of buddhists attained just stream-entry and even with live Buddha they never got to jhanas. This is how it should be, this is very normal.
Even by your logic you should realize that the Buddha lived 2500 years ago, a human life lasts 100 years therefore it is quite likely that many Buddhists are not strating from 1st life and the notion of 1st life from this life is quite frankly non-sensical because the round of rebirths is beginningless. Secondly in regards to attainments what you are saying seems to be based on the notion of the Disappearance of the Sasana, according to which the Noble attainments are still possible and even if Arahantship is impossible one should not discourage the practice for attainment of the Path and Fruition.
Last edited by rightviewftw on Mon Jun 11, 2018 9:42 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Jun 11, 2018 9:39 pm

Zom wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:48 pm
There's another hypothesis - that one may completely ignore meditation and still advance well on buddhist path. Of course this goes against modern ideas of how buddhist must do his practice, but I think you can find a lot of live examples among traditional buddhists.
I think that this is a very important point. I believe that it's very easy to underestimate people who don't fit into a meditation model of development. I know people who seem to be highly developed who don't do much meditation. And of course I know some traditional buddhists who appear to be very superficial (I don't think Zom is suggesting that "advancing well" will come from merely ritualistic behavior, but it's not always easy to distinguish "development" from "ritual" without careful observation). And of course, I know "meditators" who are rather scattered..

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by Sam Vara » Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:05 pm

budo wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:43 pm
@Sam

For all I know I may be wrong about the label of my experience, but according to the books I read, including Henepola Gunaratana's PhD thesis, Ayya Khemas books, and Leigh Brasingtons book, my experience seems to align with the suttas. From what I hear the visuddhimagga is a lot more hardcore, so I doubt my experience aligns with the visuddhimagga. I'm waiting for Bhikkhu Analayo's anapanasati book next year.

Regardless, labels are just outcomes at the end of the day, what matters is that I am taking consistent action every day, and that I see improvement in the long run.

I will never know 100% for certain if my experiences align with the labels because I never met the Buddha, and unfortunately he's not here to evaluate me, therefore I can only rely on secondary sources.

We're all blindly walking in the dark and therefore we need to experiment while looking at the map and fill in the gaps with personal experience.
Yes, I understand the reasoning behind that approach, and it seems to me to be very creditable. :thumbsup:

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by Zom » Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:23 pm

If you want, you can stop everything tomorrow and meditate 10 hours a day and get enlightened in a few years
It won't work that way. As one very famous teacher said - mind is like a plant. You can't force it to grow fast. What you can do - is only nurture the soil, but the plant will grow on its own speed. I know one newbie buddhist meditatior who mediated all day long and listened to no one. Now he is in mental hospital - for some 3 or even 4 years. Meditation is no way a primitive physical exercise for mental muscles. This is a wrong and very dangerous perception.
Your destiny is in your hands. This is the meaning of the satipatthana quote I quoted when the Buddha says "4 years, 3 years, 2 yeas, etc..", the Buddha means it's in your hands.
As Commy notices, this sutta was given to special and very advanced audience. But some people wrongly think it is given to them too. However, no matter how hard they try, they don't get nibbana neither in 7 days nor in 7 years of such practice. Buddha didn't lie. The problem is in those people, who wrongly understand this.
Last edited by Zom on Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by budo » Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:32 pm

Zom wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:23 pm
If you want, you can stop everything tomorrow and meditate 10 hours a day and get enlightened in a few years
It won't work that way. As one very famous teacher said - mind is like a plant. You can't force it to grow fast. What you can do - is only nurture the soil, but the plant will grow on its own speed. I know one newbie buddhist meditatior who mediated all day long and listened to no one. Now he is in mental hospital - for some 3 or even 4 years.
I also know someone who went to get their driver's license and totalled their car and was hospitalized a few months. What can you do, that's life. No risk, no reward. Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith, and take considerable measures along the way. Perhaps the middle way and neither the 10 hour way nor the no meditation way.

The first time I had, what I believe, is a divine eye experience I was paranoid for a week and was scared at night, I would constantly wake up my girlfriend and ask her if she's seeing what I'm seeing. After a while I got used to it and it faded away and came back depending on how deep I went into jhanas. Metta was very useful for me. As long as I use metta for protection and follow the precepts I will not harm other beings and that to me is the most important of all. I personally have faced death already to digestive illness, I'm not scared of facing death again, I only wish to help others before I go.

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by Zom » Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:42 pm

Were the scriptures to say that they definitely did not, then that would of course be a different matter.
But scriptures do say. There's at least one text dealing with that and giving the number of deceased stream-winners in one village. They were a majority, while those with jhanas were a minority (1600 / 50 -- as far as I remember). More than that - also scriptures do say that "people are deteriorating" - and even in Buddha's lifetime less and less monks attained nibbana. Extrapolate that tendency 2500 years in the future, and here you are, with that "1 in 1 billion" .)
If Budo is wrong about his experience, the might you not be wrong about your interpretation of scripture?
Scriptures are very clear on the matter as you see. And if we take commentarial scriptures... well, they say no arahants can live in our time. Non-returners at best. This fits well with what one can see in the world now, concerning Buddhism and Buddhists.
As I said, I have genuine respect for your view on this matter, and your view is held consistently and cogently. I'm just slightly concerned that beginners who might benefit from meditation are not dissuaded from trying it, given that there are several different working hypotheses to choose from. To pick up on your earlier point about music, a great conductor from my country once recommended that people "try everything once, except folk dancing and incest"!
Folk dancing... terrible. But well, I don't say "one should not try meditation". I say "intensive retreats is not for beginners". And usually beginners do that again, and again, and again. This happens because of widely spread wrong view that "meditation is everything". Go try to find some books about gradual stages of buddhist path. I know none. And then go try to find a book about meditation and retreats... 8-)
Last edited by Zom on Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by budo » Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:48 pm

Zom wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:42 pm
If Budo is wrong about his experience, the might you not be wrong about your interpretation of scripture?
Scriptures are very clear on the matter as you see. And if we take commentarial scriptures... well, they say no arahants can live in our time. Non-returners at best. This fits well with what one can see in the world now, concerning Buddhism and Buddhists.
Good thing I'm not an arahant, nor a non-returner. I also haven't mastered the 4 jhanas. I'm still going to utilize every day I spend on this planet trying to get as far as I can get until I take my last breath.

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Re: Gradual practice

Post by Zom » Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:59 pm

Even by your logic you should realize that the Buddha lived 2500 years ago, a human life lasts 100 years therefore it is quite likely that many Buddhists are not strating from 1st life
No one knows how many today's buddhists lived 2500 years ago. May be none. And those who did practise well 2500 years ago are likely to dwell in heavens now - where 1 life, as texts say, lasts for many thousands or even millions of human years.

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