I’m going to do my best to drag this kicking and screaming back to my own practice, because that is, after all the point. Perfect mastery of insight, concentration and ‘morality’.
I have recently been scandalised by the baptists, who have evidently both become arahats in the last week or so, which, in the terminology they use, means they’ve achieved perfect knowledge of emptiness, and moment to moment insight into the three characteristics, but nothing about jhana or conduct. So I’m still safe in my tree house for awhile yet until these fucking brits start levitating and evidencing stigmata and performing miraculous healings or something like that.
But this is what I want to talk about, because I very much want to argue for what is considered an unrealistic, even unattainable standard of enlightenment, and see if we can’t reconstruct it for a more modern palate.
In my own practice I am finding that fairly extreme standards of morality training are what’s driving it right now. I have, after some peculiar distractions, that I alluded to a few weeks ago, finally settled down to my new status as a celibate renunciate. I never drank or did drugs before, and now my sex life is essentially terminated for the foreseeable future. In a larger sense, I am terminating the grosser forms of sensual lust and attachment, as well as any clinging to emotional attachments to people and their feedback. I am hoping to radically curb my use of unskillful speech in due course as well.
This is not precisely a moral stance. I do not do these things because they are ‘right’ but as a meta-programming exercise, to reformat my brain and nervous system. I find meta-programming a better description of what sila is than morality or conduct, because the idea is not just to change what you do, or why you do it, or adhere to some arbitrary standard of holiness, but reconfigure the body mind to better accommodate the cognitive apprehension of emptiness, and the energetic load of high concentration.
And here’s where we start to get a bit contentious, because in this day and age the fashionable models of ultimate realization are radically nondual. Maybe it’s due to the decline of conventional social standards, cultural relativism or whatever, but it is now quite common to hold that you can be perfectly enlightened, and not change your behavior one iota. Which, I suppose is a step up from most dharma conversation which is too timid to talk about actual enlightenment. So at least you get to be enlightened now, as long as you’re still a neurotic fuck-up like everyone else, it’s all good.
Which I don’t necessarily mind too much. It’s a step in the right direction. What does bug me a bit is the implication that nothing can or should change about the relative bodymind due to the enlightened state. This is, on the face of it, absurd, because to change from an unenlightened state to an enlightened state, something has to alter on the ‘form’ side of emptiness and form. Some people can get into semantic games and say that nothing really changes, there is only a realization of emptiness as ever present, but then you’re still changing from unrealized, to realized, and so on so forth, you can see where this is going. If you distinguish at all between being awakened and not, then you cannot evade that there is some quantifiable change that occurs and some quantifiable way of doing it. Yes the absolute remains absolute and does not change, but the relative does, unequivocally. Something does have to change, which implies that other things can change as well, even if they don’t have to.
So yes, by all means, you could be a perfectly realized arahat with flawless moment to moment understanding of the three characteristics of your nose hairs and still be perfectly capable and willing to murder hookers and molest children and form attachments of all kinds.
But really, if you are seeing what you say you are seeing, why would you argue for this position? It’s like arguing that growing from an infant to a toddler does not necessarily mean you stop shitting your pants. Yes that’s true, it doesn’t, but why argue for that? Do you enjoy shitting your pants?
The extreme nondualists like to attack such straw men as the limited emotional range or limited possible action models and dismiss them as unrealistic and unattainable fantasies, with no basis in real practice or experience. But I can prove in minutes that this is a crock of shit. It’s really just a way of evading the ongoing practice needed to raise your cognitive function to the point that it is pulling the weight of your realizations.
Let me give an example: one of the first insight knowledges is what’s called ‘mind and body’. You learn to identify and distinguish between what are internal subjective sensations and what are external and part of the body/environment. Let’s say for instance, the perception of a person ‘out there’ and the feeling about them that you experience ‘in here’. Now even the slightest investigation will disclose that these are two utterly independent things. You condition your feelings and emotions to external objects and images. They are not joined. They are not a ‘self” entity.
If you seriously, honestly, legitimately saw that, and internalized that simple, profound truth, that anyone could prove in five minutes of very easy contemplation, then you have opened the door to eradicating in one fell swoop, about 90% of the emotional problems of human beings as we currently know them. Maybe all of them. Nobody and nothing makes you feel anything. You train yourself to do it and you can un-train yourself from it as well. You are acting in a profoundly hypnotic manner, and this profound hypnosis is supported in all kinds of ways by neurological and biochemical patterns, but you can wake up from this,and alter the underlying biological patterns. Clear insight makes this incredibly easier to do , if not instantaneous.
This does not turn you into a robot, or an unfeeling stoic. If anything, it frees your range of sensation from the socially programmed pavlovian responses of emotional fixation. Lust and ill will? Gone. Just gone. They have no basis is reality, to begin with, and even the most elementary understanding of sensate experience proves it.
So what’s the deal here? Well I think our understanding of how to re-pattern the nervous system has lagged behind the technology of insight and concentration, no question about that. And certainly it’s much faster to do fundamental insight than change your complete cognitive organization. The limbs of yoga, in some sense are means to comprehensively reformat the body/mind on every level. Breathing, asana, pratyahara, these all help break up the conditioned responses and install new ones, at the same time as you develop samatha, and profound insight into the divine. it all works together. You can indeed take them separately, but why would you, and why would you argue for it? It all sounds a bit evasive.
It’s rather convenient to be able to note the three characteristics of your nose hairs and become an arahat and be ‘done’ but this is just fantasy. You see the absolute perfectly? Good for you, you have a window. What do you see, and what do you do about it? No you don’t have to stop shitting yourself and acting out the same pathetic fixations and emotional dramas, and letting the earth turn in it’s confusion and stupidity, but really…why not?
I think we can more carefully redefine the old models into something we might call a non-proclivity model. No, you never lose the ability to have certain emotions, or evidence certain behaviors, but you can from a certain platform of ultimate insight, re-program the bodymind so thoroughly that certain proclivities are essentially eradicated. Just like you don’t crawl on all fours and shit yourself, just like you tie your own shoes and don’t cry for mommy to do it, you can grow beyond the neurotic, contradictory and destructive emotional patterns and conditioning you have now. Anyone can. Especially an arahat.