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.


20 thoughts on “Soul of a New Machine

  1. Can you ever go uncelibate now? If you free yourself from the proclivity to be attracted to women can you reinstall it? Would it seem tawdry to do so?

  2. well part of it so innately biological, I’m not sure you could entirely eliminate it. even if I uproot the patterning up till now, I’m sure there is enough memory and experience to reinstall it pretty easily if it were appropriate to do so.

  3. Well that’s cool. I was wondering about that because celibacy seems pretty universal with all these different spiritual traditions, so to me that seems to point to it being part and parcel with what you are talking about, with the moral aspect of insight and so forth.

    Its like if Hindus, Buddhists, Christian mystics etc. seem to have arrived long ago, at the same conclusion, independently, than there must be something to it.

    But at the same time celibacy is so at odds with Western culture. With me, I’m not officially celibate, but haven’t been interested in dating for as few years, sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with me.

    But really what I think it is is that a lot of people just follow biological programming without thinking about it.

    Its the consequences that I am more aware of maybe…

  4. well that’s a big part of it is consequences. when you lock into an emotional pattern with someone, you’re essentially locking yourself into their karma, and that shifts the direction of the whole unit. it’s fine if you’re on the same page, but if you’re not, or your direction is especially demanding or uncommon, you’re asking for problems. the way most people do relationships is a kind of pathological co-dependance where everyone is deluding everyone about where the fulfillment of the needs is coming from, and/or the validity of the existence of the needs to begin with. it’s a real mess potentially.

  5. Yeah. I’m with you there. I see the potential mess. So then internally, I decided at some point, without officially deciding it, that I’m not going to date for a while. So in a way that’s good I guess. Because its having self control. Its better than seeing the mess and then hanging out and getting involved in relationships, anyway, knowing that is not the place I want to be at now.

    But I like having a context of other spiritual traditions of people that decided to be celibate, including even reading your post just now. Its good to have confirmation.

    Its not just left over fundamentalist Christian programming.

    I think its mostly pragmatic, this conduct stuff you are referring to. I think its about internal organization.

  6. “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.”

    I’ve been having some similar thoughts about morality itself. That what is morally “good” isn’t supposed be understood as just being nice or considerate because it’s what’s “right” or “holy”. That’s dogma, that’s not wisdom.

    What morality is supposed to be, I think, is a set of standards that allow for the best way to get your needs met while still meeting the needs of other people. That is, morality is the best way to communicate with others to achieve the maximum positive result for all involved (synergy, in the Bucky Fuller sense of the word). If the result’s not positive for everyone then the action was not as moral as it should have been.

    It ties right into no-self practice, because it requires the realization that your needs have has been cultivated in you by both your actions and the universe, and that the exact same thing is true for other people’s needs. There’s nothing inherently different between the two, they’re both the result of an (al)chemical process. And so there’s no need to create a false duality there.

    In practice though, it’s not always easy to figure out how to best benefit everyone involved, and I think that most morality teachings are attempts to do this, to give people practices and ways of looking at situations that help to create harmonious growth on an interpersonal scale.

    This does requires a lot of concentration on the other person and seeing exactly where they’re coming from. You can’t have insights for another person, but through skillful means, you can try to bring certain things to their attention, I suppose.

    Of course, this comes mainly from theory. I don’t want to imply I have developed any such skillful means of my own!

    And this: “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?” really cracked me up…

    But then, toilet training is a kind moral teaching (don’t shit everywhere, it’s not nice for other people). And how many people are messed up by their parents mis-using this exact moral teaching? Freud called them anal-retentives for just this reason, they can’t let go. That’s what happens when moral teachings becomes dogmas.

  7. I just read this:


    Here are a couple thoughts I had. Do I belong to myself? I think a lot of morality stuff comes down to this for me. Plus enlightenment sort of hinges on this question for me.

    First of all, here is how this “holy Guardian Angel” concept makes me feel. It makes me feel like I am a contestant on American Idol or some other reality show, and the Holy Guardian Angel is the judge I need to impress. Is it about jumping through hoops to impress a gatekeeper that finally lets you in?

    So back to the celibacy thing. This is related to the belonging to myself or not thing. There is such a thing as fornication. That is the feedback I am getting from whatever guide or some such being I have guiding me. I feel like I have a guide helping me out quite a bit. Almost too much.

    I don’t appear to have total free will to do whatever I want. I feel almost like its my destiny to become enlightened. There is only so much I can fight it. Existentialism would seem to be the opposite extreme of whatever path I am on. It doesn’t seem like existentialism at all. The Universe doesn’t seem indifferent at all. Sometimes I wish it were more indifferent, but then other times not.

    Its not so much like “God doesn’t want me to have casual sex, what a meanie” its just that it seems to be really part of the package of the path I am on and its almost like there is nothing much I can say about it. The you said thing about shifting the direction of your Karma, really rings true to me. I am really aware of that. I guess its like I wish I were stupider sometimes. I dunno. I probaly should join a group maybe, to be around people on a similar path.

  8. Maybe the best way to look at it is My Holy Guardian Angel is me. A smarter part of me and I can’t really go back to acting stupider, once I learn certain things, and feel happy about it.

    Do you feel a lot of pressure, Zac? I feel pressure. Not like, pressure to catch up to anyone else but pressure to do what I am here on Earth to do. It never goes away.

  9. Ted: I hear that the scientologists are recruiting. There may also be a couple of fundamentalist christian sects looking for new meat.

    But seriously, you are not special, there is no pressure. Really, no one is.

    I have a feeling that traditions like magick are not necessarily the safest as a beginning practice. I would hugely recommend getting into meditation, maybe joining a Buddhist center for some weekly meditation classes – and returning to read what you wrote in a month or two (and carefully noting the change in your perception).

    As for relationships, in my opinion they can be a huge vehicle for self-change and self-transcendence if used wisely and skillfully. While it is most definitely correct that most relationships operate on some twisted co-dependency level (forgetting completely about lust and dominance, which are the main factors when it comes to sex, at least from the male side), it does not mean that this can not change. I view my relationship as another area of practice, I attempt to be more skillful and self-less (not spineless) in the way I carry it out, which brings very solid and quite beautiful improvements. When you stop looking for someone to complete you, someone to make you feel safe, whole and happy, someone who has to agree with you, then you are left with the one thing that you two happen to share, which is love and presence. Being present with your partner, with no particular agenda, is what it’s all about.

    There is no right way to live, we are not meant to be celibate, or not. There is no universal pressure (apart from a biological imperative, which we are free to choose to ignore) to make a choice in the matter either; we are free. We are also free to make a choice to live our lives, in all of their aspects, skillfully.

  10. Well, IMO, no one can totally speak for anyone else. Some people might have pressure on them others not.

    For example, there is an account Buckminster Fuller gave where he tried to commit suicide and was prevented from doing so and told that he didn’t belong to himseld, that he belonged to “universe.”

    As far as biological imperatives, I think some people have to have them to continue the human race, but I don’t think a simply biological level is the highest level to operate on. I sense you getting a little pissy in the first couple lines of your response. But the beauty of this thing about fornication is that fundamentalist Christians didn’t make it up. Its in all traditions. Because all traditions come from the same source.

  11. You will always find what you are looking for, do not let me keep you from it. (just to get some perspective you may want to have a look at taoist yoga, high-level tantra yoga, sacred sexuality, sex magick; there is quite a lot of controversy among practising Buddhists too).

    My first few lines had nothing to do with your views on sexuality (I too like to rationalize my issues to make them seem acceptable, real, or what’s worse desirable), I was rather trying to gently point out your emotional intensity, which always terrifies me in members of the above mentioned organizations.

    Best of luck on the journey (sexfull or sexless).

  12. Well, tantric yoga is really popular at Barnes and Noble. My impression is that in India it never was that popular. It was a small off shoot. But sex sells so its really popular in the West.

    I mean sure people can contract herpes or get pregnant out of wedlock or get some one else pregnant when neither wanted that, and learn lots of lessons from that.

    Reinvent the wheel and so forth. Its a learning process. Learn the same lessons other people learned before you over and over again.

    To me it just seems like following these really old fashioned guidelines , that Americans find so draconian and oppressive, chastity basically, just avoids lots of these problems. That’s how it looks to me anyway in my personal life.

    It seems to me that simply “letting nature take its course” is not the path to spiritual development. My impression though is that that’s how to get laid. Relax, go with the flow, go dancing, drink some alcohol, go some place like a bar, and don’t overthink everything. Just go with it.

    To me that’s how people end up with kids from a couple different mothers that they no longer live with. Just my personal observation.

  13. hmm. well I guess sex is a loaded subject, particularly in the overstimulated west. to me, it’s one more aspect of conditioned or imprinted behavior to examine, and the strong feeling, sentimentality or taboos around it only make it more important to examine carefully, which is hard to do when you’ve got your nose in it ( or other parts, as the case may be). I just noticed I got to a point in my life that I had to quit just going from one person to the next as if it was interchangeable and disposable, which is not really the way to perceive other human beings, I think. That’s part of what disturbed me about my recent experiences with dating; you just start to diminish and trivialize yourself and other people in the hopes of…what? fulfilling some set of programmed behaviors. enough of that, I say. No need for any hand wringing or anguish, just a little objectivity.

  14. Yeah, I don’t think hand wringing or anguish is needed its just that my problem is I struggle to find the right context while living in a culture that so inundates me with messages from the media and just regular people saying I need to be out there having sex. Because that’s whats normal.

    Anyway, glad to hear your observations.

  15. Yeah, I’ve been reading that guy. I checked out the Baptist head after you mentioned them becoming arahats and found a link to the “dharma overground” and listened to a Three part series on meditation called “Doing it vs. Getting it done” I was most impressed with one speaker in particular that ended up being that guy you just linked to.

    Anyway, I guess I am not enlightened yet, but this is not unfamiliar territory, I guess. What I do is I read, then take a walk. I read the Bagavad Gita and stuff from Alan Watts, or the Tao, then walk and meditate on it.

    Where I am at now is that…well its like this…You know how Gurdjieff talked about the need to first be a “good householder” before beginning the Work? So this reminds me of this guy Dan. Dan is a doctor. I am not. So a little trap I get into, is thinking of some career thing that I can feel happy about, but then on these walks I am often struck with the realization that none of these things will ultimately satisfy. Not that I shouldn’t do it. But ultimately its not what I am really looking for

    I keep getting smacked in the face with this. Not that harsh really, its a type of grace I think. So then recently I asked what am I looking for then? Over and over again I asked that question. There isn’t a word for it but the question led to a lot of the insights talked about in the article you ust posted.

  16. Hey Ted, I think that the “householder” thing is actually pretty important. I can tell you personally that if I hadn’t been grounded with a job I would have freaked the fuck out years ago. Like “Dark Night” anxiety: if you feel like you’re going to have a heart attack, it kind of doesn’t matter if you’re facing a deadline. Etc. I gave up “being normal” a long time ago but there are a lot of “normal” things that can be helpful. The downside being that a it’s hard to keep one’s priorities in order, and a lot of times those around you won’t understand or believe.

    Also the good thing about Ingram is that he suggests having a very sane approach to “finding,” not “seeking”: actually learn what it is you’re trying to do and then things get a lot clearer. Otherwise you’ll end up a space cadet going to reiki sessions. That said it’s a careful line to walk keeping a “goal-oriented” practice while accepting “grace” or “devotion” or whatever you call it; my own suggestion would be to just keep doing the practice you’ve been doing over and over and over regardless, and only have some familiarity with the concept of progressive practice so that you can recognize when you’re moving into certain spritual weather formations.

  17. ” just noticed I got to a point in my life that I had to quit just going from one person to the next as if it was interchangeable and disposable, which is not really the way to perceive other human beings, I think.”

    Jacques Lacan, total charlatan (Duncan is a fan), thinks anything else is psychologically impossible.

  18. well, sorry you missed the boat with Ted, but I turfed his ass out of here ( again). Believe it or not, I actually didn’t think he’d be dumb enough to come back here and start shit again under the same name. so I didn’t think to check if it was the same guy. but it was, and he did. so I had to erase like a dozen of his comments yesterday.

    I hope I don’t have to deal with this every few months when he goes off his meds or something. He just can’t seem to help going where he isn’t wanted and getting himself agitated by things he clearly doesn’t understand, and hasn’t got he patience or mental equilibrium to figure out for himself. the poor dear.

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