Mailbag: Stream Entry, Arahant Claimants, and Ketamine
Which method will help one reach stream entry with better efficacy? I’ve tried shikantaza and felt like I was sitting in dullness the whole time allowing my mind to do whatever it wants. It was just like lounging on the couch wide awake which I’ve done numerous times before calling it shikantaza. I currently use TMI which is a directed effort system and it feels good. This kind of meditation seems reserved for stages 7+ in that system. I believe without concentration/samadhi chops, zazen is like groping around in the dark for awakening. What are your thoughts? Thanks for an awesome blog too! Just found it and it’s really fun.
> Which method will help one reach stream entry with better efficacy?
The problem with attachment to the Buddhist system is that the Buddhist system does not produce very many enlightened people. Given that, as a religion, its supposed goal is to bring liberation to all beings, and it has been around for thousands of years, we should expect to see thousands or millions of enlightened individuals, yet actually we see hardly any.
Do you know anyone who genuinely exhibits the qualities of Fourth Path Arahant? Culadasa claimed this attainment, yet his recent shenanigans have shown us that he is, at most, a Stream Enterer since, if he was Second Path or beyond, he would have overcome the “fetter” of sensual desire. Another Fourth Path claimant, Daniel Ingram, took this opportunity to heavily imply Culadasa is a psychopath, probably in retribution for the spat they had earlier this year (which, presumably, boiled down to a dick-measuring contest over who can write the longest and most incomprehensible book). Thus, Ingram is a Stream Enterer at most, as he has not overcome the “fetter” of ill-will. (List of paths/fetters: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_enlightenment)
I have nothing against those guys, by the way. In fact, I like them a lot. They’re not bad by my standards. They’re bad by their own standards. And if you go around calling yourself some exotic title from a religion that makes certain demands of that title, don’t be surprised when that comes back to bite you on the ass. As I said at the time, if Culadasa had called himself a tantric, not a Buddhist, he’d have been just fine. Then again, he probably wouldn’t have sold as many books.
The Path system is there to provide unfeasible goals in order to keep you attached to Buddhism forever. Did you ever wonder why someone who says they’re a Stream Enterer is still meditating twenty years later, trying to get to Second, Third or Fourth Path? There needs to be a point where you say “Done”, otherwise you’re just running out the clock in a temple somewhere. Those who attain “Stream Entry” are supposedly guaranteed liberation within seven lifetimes(!) Is that a bet you want to take?
That said, I do think Stream Entry is a valid concept. In fact, it is the only one that matters, because everything after that point is the fall down the mountainside towards liberation, whether you want it or not.
I will tell you about the moment I attained “Stream Entry”, and it had nothing to do with Buddhism. This was in 2009 and I’d been meditating for a few months, using some very basic breath mindfulness plus some noting of thoughts and emotions, and my sessions were not very long (maybe 15 minutes, twice a day). Far more importantly however, I had started taking MDMA every week during nights out. MDMA was an immediate revelation to me. If you have ever played the game Doom, you will know of the moment you pick up the “light amplification visor”: what was dark and terrifying before is now completely illuminated and easily navigable. It’s hard to have anxiety when you can see what’s coming a mile away. For me, on MDMA, this was literal rather than figurative: people in the bar had time-tunnels coming out of them, like on Donnie Darko, showing me their past and future actions. This was the only time I’ve ever seen something like that, and was my original Arising & Passing Away Event™. This is why I consider MDMA to be a partial psychedelic which is fully capable of triggering the A&P.
Personality-wise, I was a completely different animal. On MDMA, I was an extravert, and was now getting laid a lot – and easily. A topic for another post is how meditation doesn’t really change any core personality traits, but drugs can – in almost an instant. My personality while off the drug was just my old introverted self. So the question was, which person am I? The answer was, both and therefore neither – i.e. No-Self. If you can become a completely different person and live a completely different reality by ingesting a few milligrams of a chemical, you are no one. You are Arya Stark with a pouchful of dead-guy faces. Different drug, different face. Except there’s no one wearing the faces, just awareness itself. And your regular face is just your homegrown drugs, your neurotransmitters. This was the No-Self insight coming through, but it took me a really long time to fully understand it.
Over the next year I meditated pretty regularly, and for longer sessions. I had attained what Culadasa would call the “pleasure jhanas” and had a natural inclination towards kasina objects. I had visions regularly – of golden Buddhas, pink pyramids with eyes in them, and several premonitions of the future. A year after the above events, I was still popping MDMA, though I had taken several long breaks in between to recover. On this particular night I’d taken some MDMA, gone to a nightclub, then headed round to a girl’s house who I’d been seeing. We were getting pretty serious and I was annoyed that she still hadn’t broken up with her boyfriend back home in her own country, so we had an argument about that and I stormed off home.
At the house, my brother was still up, partying with his girlfriend. I told him the story and he offered me some ketamine to unwind. I’d never had it before, but every drug I’d taken since I said “Yes” to MDMA a year ago had been awesome, and essentially the mirror opposite of whatever the societal propaganda had to say about it. I said “Yes” and he prepared a line for me to snort, of what I later found out was an heroic dose. He took a line as well, and we talked a little while. He then lay down on the bed and ushered for me to do the same. “Let’s take off”, he said. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was gone: flying through the universe at the speed of light, with his consciousness totally palpable beside my own on our voyage through the stars. Coming out of the K-hole an unspecified amount of time later, I was totally blown away by what I had experienced. I was more blown away however by my brother’s descriptions of stars, planets and other cosmic formations we had seen, indicating what I consider to be my first genuinely telepathic event.
We then talked a bit about what we’d been doing earlier that day. Amusingly, we’d got up early that morning to go and get tested for STDs. It seemed so long ago that it could have been last month, or last year. Then I considered all the other things I’d done that day – a trip round town, buying some new shoes, then out for dinner somewhere, then back to the house for a little party, then out to the club, then over to my girlfriend’s, then back here. I had extremely clear recollections of all these events, but what was missing was a narrative structure in which to place them. It was not clear “who” these things had happened to. There was no story linking them together. Each memory seemed to last an eternity and, together, they lasted a lifetime. However, it was clear that these things had happened, and had ended. Something had experienced them. I thought back to the visions of the cosmos I’d just witnessed. Then I looked at where I was now. Suddenly, something clicked and I realized that the present moment, past memories, future prediction, imagination, regular dreams, lucid dreams, visions in meditation, and visions while tripping were all made of the same “stuff”. And the only thing they had in common was a ghostly intelligence or sense of awareness somehow countenancing it all. This was my Stream Entry.
After this, my life went into chaotic decline – slowly at first, then quickly. I lost money, jobs, friends, relationships, relatives, hope, my sense of purpose, and my future. All I learned each time is, those things are not me. Eventually, the message was received. This is what real enlightenment looks like. It’s never pretty. And it’s also why I think Culadasa’s latest fuck-up is the start of his authentic enlightenment, rather than the dress-up he’s been playing so far.
> I’ve tried shikantaza and felt like I was sitting in dullness the whole time allowing my mind to do whatever it wants.
That is 100% perfect shikantaza. Shikantaza doesn’t care about dullness. If you have dullness, it is because you need dullness at this time.
Dullness is only a problem in systems where you are trying to create dazzling states at all times, e.g. Theravada.
> It was just like lounging on the couch wide awake which I’ve done numerous times before calling it shikantaza.
Except you weren’t sitting up straight looking at a blank wall, so it’s not shikantaza. Or, if you want to call it zazen, you weren’t lying there with the intention to meditate and with full awareness of your faculties, so it’s not zazen.
You aren’t the first person to try to bullshit me that his lounging around the house in his tracksuit bottoms was somehow “Do Nothing” meditation, and you won’t be the last.
> I currently use TMI which is a directed effort system and it feels good. This kind of meditation seems reserved for stages 7+ in that system.
The Mind Illuminated is a Theravadin system and is therefore obsessed with the construction of and manipulation of mental objects. It feels good because it’s a left-brain dopamine hit. However, all objects inherently carry with them the Three Characteristics: impermanence (aniccā), non-self (anattā), and inability to satisfy (dukkha). If an object cannot satisfy, it should be dropped like a hot coal! Silence is preferable to impermanent, unsatisfying mental states.
Zen on the other hand does not emphasize the use of mental objects, but rather uses koans as a form of self-inquiry as to the nature of the awareness behind mental objects. “Just sitting” is to sit in this awareness, whatever its contents. The reason jhanas are not emphasized in Zen is that they are more baggage to be dropped.
Having practised both extensively, I can say officially that Zen is superior to Theravada in every practical way.
> I believe without concentration/samadhi chops, zazen is like groping around in the dark for awakening.
Stop “believing” things! Just try them out and keep what works. If you like TMI’s stuff and it’s working for you, keep it until it stops working for you. Really, all you have is trial and error. And I read your other message on Reddit, and three weeks isn’t really long enough to assess anything in this game. Or, we have different criteria for what “works”, which is normal between beginner level (who wants “showy” effects) and advanced level (who knows exactly what he wants and is tired of anything that does not bring permanent inner peace).
My view, having tried most meditation types out there for more than 10 years, is that all meditation systems are a marketing campaign for just sitting. If you’re left-brained and you like “things” and you like to build systems and you don’t see the point in anything unless you have direct control over it, you’ll like Theravada. If you’re artsy and you like trinkets and little books of sayings, then you have Zen. If you’re a bit mental and you like the look of what they were up to underneath the Temple of Doom, Vajrayana’s for you. Whatever you start off with, you’re going to end up just sitting still doing nothing if you want to get enlightened. All the rest is just wrapping.
> What are your thoughts? Thanks for an awesome blog too! Just found it and it’s really fun.
I know, right?