Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book by Daniel Ingram. This is the finest and most practical work detailing Buddhist meditation and culture I have ever read. [Update, 29th August 2015: See the following post for my updated views on this work: Mailbag: Insight Meditation, Breath Meditation, Shinzen Young, and Daniel Ingram Critique] It covers, in an extremely comprehensive way, the essentials of meditation practice including concentration and insight meditation, morality, and Buddhist culture both in the past and its modern forms. It also touches lightly upon magick and the powers (siddhis).

The book uses the Buddhist Theravada map as its primary basis, with refinements and additions by the author from his own personal journey. This is extremely useful for finding out “where you are” on the Path of Insight, as Ingram details all the territories one must pass through on the way to enlightenment — including the stages that make up what is collectively known as the Dark Night. Understanding these stages — particularly the Dark Night — is useful for those who have done some meditation practice (perhaps without proper guidance), and also for those who have inadvertently crossed into the Dark Night via use of drugs such as LSD or mushrooms (which can “shortcut” you into later territories without you realizing beforehand what you might be getting yourself into).

Ingram also makes comparisons between his map and those of the other Buddhist schools (e.g. Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, and so forth). Most importantly, perhaps, Daniel Ingram provides a direct route from A to B to reach enlightenment, and explains what he believes enlightenment “is” and discusses other models (and ideals) people commonly hold about enlightenment.

This book is basically required reading for anyone seriously pursuing enlightenment, or indeed those wishing to learn serious, “proper” concentration and insight meditation. Many of the terms I use on this site are modelled on those used by Ingram in this book

The book is available as a free PDF on Daniel’s website, and you can also purchase the physical version from Amazon. It’s quite long, so I definitely recommend getting the physical version, and the PDF is useful to have, too, to perform text searches for specific sections and/or to make notes.

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4 Responses

  1. Awesome, this looks like the first linear method I’ve seen. SWIM Definitely had a few dark nights of the soul on shrooms, identifying as the self as opposed to the body, watching reflection and identifying as whats behind it as opposed to person in mirror, world reflectively answering my thoughts.

    • Illuminatus says:

      Hehe, you can go a little further with no-self. 🙂 Here’s what MCTB has to say about the body (p29):

      “We may begin with the obvious assumption: we are our body. This
      sounds nice until we say something like “my body.” Well, if it is “my
      body,” that seems to imply that, at that moment, whatever it is that owns
      the body wasn’t the body. Suppose someone points to our toenails.
      They surely seem to be “me,” until we clip them, and then they are “not
      me.” Is this really the same body as when we were born? It isn’t even
      made of the same cells, and yet it seems to be a permanent thing. Look
      more closely, at the sensate level, and you will see that moment to
      moment it isn’t. At the level of actual experience, all that is found is
      flickering stuff. So impermanence is closely related to no-self, but there
      is more to no-self than that.”

      It then goes on to tackle thoughts, and so on. The point is that, at whichever level of experience you identify a separate self — whether it be a body or right down to the tiniest sensation — the inference of a sense of self causes suffering. Buddhism is about directly witnessing that process via meditation.

      Self, satisfaction and permanence are the Three Illusions. They are all actually the same thing, really. Insight meditation lets you see that for yourself.

  2. M says:

    Do you still hold this book in high regard after having spent a good deal of time with it? I’m considering a more rigid practice, looking for thorough guidance.

    • Illuminatus says:

      I think the maps of the insight territories are very detailed and well explained. The problem with the Dark Night sections is that it may “script” you into experiencing severe shit, since you come to expect that. On the other hand, the Dark Night may well be baked into the cake of any insight path, no matter how carefully you tread.

      The descriptions of the jhanas are excellent. However, the method for attaining those states is practically non-existent in this book.

      Ingram, by his own admission, did not become enlightened by the insight method in this book. See:
      That means the book does not give you what you need to become enlightened by the standards laid out by the Buddha (and many since him).

      The book is a good read for entertainment value and knowledge, definitely. I recall it having a decent section on magick, too, though his later guide is much better:

      For rigid practice, the book currently in vogue is Culadasa’s “The Mind Illuminated”. A few people on this blog practise that so you could talk about it on the forum. Culadasa claims to have attained the state of non-suffering laid out by the Buddha so that is a good sign.

      Shinzen Young has a detailed system and is very knowledgeable. His YouTube talks are great. However, my red flag for Shinzen Young (even though I still love him) is that he still has to use a shed-load of mental techniques to navigate what, in my opinion, should have been solved by Enlightenment/Awakening. For example there is a talk by him on YouTube where he describes using a complicated mental technique in order to not be pissed off by a screw-up with his travel plans which caused him to miss 4 days of his own retreat:

      My immediate thought was: Interesting, but surely true enlightenment should have completely obviated the need for such mental gymnastics in what is essentially a case of bread-and-butter suffering? Can you imagine Sadhguru getting wound up by a missed flight? The guy is pure blissfulness whatever is going on. Unfortunately Sadhguru had one of these “instant enlightenment” experiences which seems difficult if not impossible to convey to others.

      So, I would recommend you go with Culadasa. I haven’t finished his book but from what I’ve read he knows what he’s doing. His YouTube vids are great too and give me confidence in him. Also, there are so many people practising his system right now all over the web that you will have no shortage of people to ask for advice or to compare notes with.

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