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The Science of Enlightenment

SHINZEN YOUNG
2016

Take the mist out of mysticism

My Journey
  • Meditation has vastly deepened my sensual fulfillment and allowed me to see that my happiness need not depend on conditions.
  • Meditation elevates a person's base level of focus. By focus, I mean the ability to attend to what's relevant in a given situation.
  • You can dramatically extend life—not by multiplying the number of your years, but by expanding the fullness of your moments.
  • You can think of enlightenment as a kind of permanent shift in perspective that comes about through direct realization that there is no thing called "self" inside you.
  • Equanimity is the ability to allow sensory experience to well up without suppression and to pass away without identifying with it.
  • Any positive state that you experience within the context of silent sitting practice, you must try to attain in the midst of ordinary life.
  • One of the most common methods that tribal cultures use to obtain visions of gods or spirits is through prolonged exposure to extreme hot or cold.
  • Deity Yoga: replace your self-image with that of an archetype, you replace your usual mental talk with the mantra of that archetype, and you take on the physical and emotional body experience of that archetype through making mudras—ritual hand gestures.
  • Mindfulness is a threefold attentional skill set: concentration power, sensory clarity, and equanimity working together.
The Most Fundamental Skill
  • Using the systematic practice of meditation, you can train yourself to be in the zone whenever you are doing anything. In the zone is a high level of effortless focus.
  • By developing an extraordinary degree of focus and presence, it allows you to live your life two or three hundred percent "bigger."
  • Growth in meditation is a progression: your alertness gets brighter and sharper while your relaxation gets deeper and broader.
  • Meditation causes reduction in skin conductivity.
  • The electrical activity in the back muscles of an experienced meditator who has been sitting bolt upright for many hours will appear to be as relaxed as those of someone who's lying down asleep.
  • Meditation is not just something that is practiced on a special cushion or in a special posture; a meditative state can be entered during any ordinary activity.
  • The four subskills to concentration are:
    • learning how to restrict attention to small sensory events
    • learning how to evenly cover large sensory events
    • learning how to sustain concentration on one thing for an extended period of time
    • learning how to taste a momentary state of concentration with whatever randomly calls your attention
  • Happiness independent of conditions occurs whenever we have a complete sensory experience - to experience something in a state of extraordinary concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity.
  • Complete experience is a kind of metapleasure, a pleasure that both unifies and transcends pleasure and pain. It is extraordinary and paradoxical.
  • When an objective problem presents itself, it produces uncomfortable subjective mental and emotional states, and you suffer. A salient feature of suffering is that it distorts behavior.
  • Meditation allows us to experience pain without suffering and pleasure without neediness.
Mysticism in World Culture
  • There are three aspects to religious or spiritual experience around the world:
    • The spirituality of thought: religious experience centered around concepts, belief systems, prayer, dogmas, faiths, credos, and so on.
    • The spirituality of feeling. It is characterized by devotion, piety, and what we might call the heart.
    • Mysticism: What sets mysticism apart from the spirituality of thought or feeling is that it involves the cultivation of high concentration.
  • According to the Catholic Church, there are two kinds of prayer:
    • Discursive prayer: meaning prayer in the nature of a discourse or a conversation.
    • Non-discursive prayer or the prayer of quiet. It is a state of very deep peace and high concentration that is without words. Also known as recollection: it means "to gather back together," in other words, to become concentrated.
  • In the Raja yoga system, ther eare three steps in the concentration continum:
    • Dharana: You take some object and attempt to concentrate your awareness on it. The breath, a sound, a visualization, a flower, a person. When your attention wanders, which inevitably it will, you gently bring it back to the object.
    • Dhyana: the attention doesn't wander, but stays put, gently resting on that object. Our attention is like pouring a steady stream of oil upon an object, without any breaks or gaps in the stream.
    • Samadhi: We actually become the thing we are concentrating on.
  • In samadhi there are two kinds of merging: In samadhi with a seed, all sense of self disappears, and only the object of concentration remains. Samadhi without a seed takes the concentration to an even more extreme level. There is no time to fixate that object as something rigid, opaque, and extended in time and space. It ceases to be a something.
  • Shamanic ceremonies build concentration power and force equanimity - a kind of detached, gentle matter-of-factness within which pleasure and pain are allowed to expand and contract without self-interference. The combined effect over a lifetime can bring enlightenment as a byproduct.
  • In native cultures no technical vocabulary or intellectual model for enlightenment. People just experienced it.
  • There are individuals who, through performing arts - like playing the piano, or dancing, or martial arts - spontaneously enter states of very high concentration. ie "to be in the zone".
Calming and Clarifying
  • Coffee is a natural complement to meditation, because it helps to keep you alert. It can make your mind clear.
  • While concentrating and calming down is certainly a part of meditation. The other half of the process is clarifying, that is, observing, analyzing, and deconstructing sensory experience.
  • One way to think about meditation is as a dialectical interplay between a calming-concentrating aspect and a clarifying-dissecting aspect.
  • There are subtle, fleeting, restful experiences available to anyone during the day: physical relaxation, an absence of body emotion, a brief pause in mental talk, and the darkness/brightness behind your closed eyes. If you use them as an object of concentration, then the small pleasure they produce becomes more pronounced, creating a feedback cycle.
  • There are two main traps that prevent people from reaching their fullest potential on the meditative path:
    • The first is mistaking the map for the journey. Thinking about and debating about the paths becomes a substitute for systematically practicing a path.
    • The second common trap is getting caught in a good place: The problem lies in an overemphasis on the calming aspect without enough of the clarifying aspect, not bringing enough sensory clarity into that experience.
  • The Buddha discovered an entirely new attentional skill. He found that you could use it to get deep insights into yourself, even the profoundest insights of enlightenment - a whole new dimension to meditation: the dimension of clarifying and untangling. Clarifying and untangling fosters insight into fundamental issues—the nature of self, the nature of suffering, the nature of oneness, perhaps even the nature of nature.
  • The clarification/insight side of meditation involves analyzing sensory experience into components and then tracking how those components interact.
  • The three basic components of any emotional experience, then, are mental imagery, mental talk, and emotional-type body sensations.
  • The more equanimity you bring to pain (or pleasure!), the more it purifies consciousness.
  • Equanimity refers to a relationship to sensory experience, the letting go of craving and aversion around each experience, the ability to allow any and all experiences to expand and contract, without interfering.
  • In Pali, samatha combines the notions of both high concentration and blissful calm in a single word.
  • In Pali, vipassana refers to the clarifying side of meditation. First, vipassana means to break things apart or separate them into their components. Second, vipassana means to soak your awareness into these components until you see their deepest nature, which is that they are nothing other than the vibrations of space.
  • Buddhism traditionally characterizes meditation in terms of two contrasting but mutually complementary aspects: samatha versus vipassana. Samatha is a calming and relaxing aspect of meditation, technically known as absorption. Applying vipassana without a preceding attempt to develop samatha is sometimes referred to as "dry" vipassana. It's not watered with the soft pleasure of calm.
  • Remember that the main goal in meditation is not to get to certain good states, but rather to eliminate what gets in the way of those good states.
  • There is a complementarity between samatha and vipassana. If you do the samatha practice and experience wonderful, tranquil states, these represent a porous and attenuated self that can be relatively easily penetrated with vipassana. If you can't get to the restful states, that's okay. You do dry vipassana, and as a result, the blockages get deconstructed into their elements, and they lose their gripping force. After that, you automatically find yourself dropping into pleasant, absorbed samatha states. Samatha helps vipassana, and vipassana helps samatha.
Insight and Purification
  • Some advice on how to optimize the experience of dying, facing five distinct types of challenging body sensations: pain of the tumor; sensation of exhaustion; nausea; irritability; and fear. Never lose track of these five qualities of sensation. Whichever one or combination of them was arising, be precise about where they are in the body. Note where the primary location is and whether it spreads out through the body. Keep infusing each one of these qualities with concentration, clarity, and equanimity. Allow them to get intense or mild, to shift and spread, to expand out and contract in, whatever way they wish. This would reduce his perceived suffering.
  • The clarity aspect of mindfulness practice has several facets. One facet of clarity is discrimination skill, the ability to separate. Another aspect of clarity is detection skill, the ability to pick up on what's subtle.
  • At some point, surface pictures and explicit words tend to die away. At that point, you begin to detect a subtle undercurrent, a sort of subterranean stirring in image space and talk space. That's your subconscious mind!
  • Two basic qualitative categories of body sensations: physical and emotional.
  • To be happy independent of conditions, you'll need to learn how to have a complete experience of each basic type of body sensation. That is, to develop an ability to discern the components of the experience.
  • If you don't have the skill of keeping track of the components, then you get this mixture, this tangling together of the feeling body and the thinking mind. The first undesirable consequence of tangling is an illusory intensification of the experience. This is a quantitative effect. The second undesirable consequence of tangling is a qualitative effect - an illusory quality of "thingness" to the experience of self.
  • The basic model for the mindfulness-based spiritual path is to take some type of experience and infuse it with concenration, clarity, and equanimity. Concentration means to focus attention on just what you deem relevant. Sensory clarity involves discerning the components that constitute an experience and detecting their subtle essence. Equanimity means that we give permission for these components to expand, to contract, or to be still—to do whatever they naturally would do.
  • All human beings are involved in the path to enlightenment by virtue of living daily life. The main difference between a practitioner and any other person is the speed at which they are intentionally moving along this path.
  • The Fundamental Theorem of Mindfulness is: Concentration + Sensory clarity + Equanimity + Time = Insight + Purification
  • Purification: we store influences from the past in the subconscious, those influences inappropriately affect our behavior and perception in the present, and our job is to somehow remove those distorting influences. Once you learn to taste purification, your growth goes exponential.
  • Consciousness is by nature pure. But we are subject to three fundamental impurities: craving, aversion, and unconsciousness. Meditation can clean out stored materials without necessarily requiring that you recall specific memories, traumas, and such. This is the "trickle down" model. In the dredge up model, we reach down and explore a specific complex. This leads to a specific personal insight. These are mutually complementary processes.
  • As we infuse clarity and equanimity into our sensory circuits, their internal friction lessens.
  • In the rheological paradigm of purification, the goal is to remove this microscopic, ubiquitous, and invisible coagulation from the substance of consciousness itself.
The Many Faces of Impermanence
  • We suffer because we count on impermanent things for our happiness. Ironically, the dimension of happiness that does last is itself a facet of impermanence.
  • The sense of self is not a particle that never changes, but rather a flow, a wave of thought and feeling that can increase and decrease and is therefore not permanent.
  • Impermanence is simply the changing-ness of experience, and everybody has contact with the changing-ness of experience. However, most people have not developed an intimacy with the changing-ness of experience.
  • At first impermanence may present itself in a kind of trivial way. You are just aware that something previously present is now absent. A deeper appreciation of impermanence comes about through continuous concentration. Eventually, your concentration and equanimity skills mature to the point where your experience of change is not only continuous, but smooth as well. At some point, you may experience impermanence as a kind of energy that has been activated within you and helps you along with the meditation. This is called "The Flow".
  • The main forms of Flow I like to distinguish are undulatory Flow, vibratory Flow, and expansion-contraction Flow. Flow corresponds to taking the "time derivative" of sensory experience.
  • When you let impermanence work on you, the energy in its waves and vibrations softens the substance of consciousness, works out knots in your soul. Impermanence is a purifier.
  • When we develop body mindfulness, we attempt to be very precise about the locations of sensations, and we try to have equanimity with them. We take the ordinary aches and pains we experience while sitting, and convert them into a kind of acupuncture stimulus. They start to flow and vibrate.
  • The taste of purification is very hard to describe, but in essence, it is a kind of joy. You may be in great pain, but there is a deep joy because you feel blockages being worked out each time you greet the pain with equanimity.
  • During the first few hundred milliseconds of preconscious processing, every experience is a flow of pure spirit.
  • There are two sides to spiritual training. One side involves developing clarity and equanimity. Clarity reduces nebulosity and equanimity reduces viscosity. The other side of training involves detecting the momentary primordial perfection that's always there.
  • When you start to experience Flow and energy, and are not equally interested in watching ordinary solidified, objectified sensory events, then your spiritual path will be self-limiting. Then you will be unable to go any deeper.
  • The Flow of impermanence functions without any will or desire. As we encounter this it begins to inform our entire being, and we begin to take on some of its qualities. At a microscopic level of observation, the mental images, internal talk, and emotional feelings that constitute the "I" can all be experienced as being made of the same stuff, the vibrating Flow of impermanence. This realization integrates your personality at a profound level. When we tune in to the impermanence deeply enough, there is no fundamental distinction between mind and body, or between inside and outside.
  • A person on a mature spiritual path becomes familiar with both empowering distinctions and empowering unifications. The unifications break down the distinctions, paving the way for detecting even finer distinctions, which are then broken down to create an even deeper unification.
  • At the deepest level, impermanence is none other than the activity of our spiritual Source. Flow is the peristalsis of a formless womb. That formless womb gestates time, space, self, and world into existence moment by moment.
  • Freedom lies in being able to live in both of these worlds—the normal paradigm and the enlightened paradigm—and to know when to go to which, and to be able to do so anytime.
The Realm of Power
  • We can look upon consciousness as having layers to it. Our ordinary experience of self and world arises on the topmost layer. Our spiritual Source is the deepest layer. The path is really not so much a journey from surface to Source as a clearing away of what lies between surface and Source. One view of the intermediate realm is that it is where the blockages lie.
  • A real sensory experience of phenomenon such as spirits and entities can be extremely vivid and tangible. But sensory vividness is not the same thing as objective existence. The really important question is how to harness these phenomena toward optimal growth. We need to become somewhat indifferent to what they mean but utterly fascinated with how they move.
  • The intermediate layer could paradoxically be described as either the realm of power or the realm of blockage.
  • The spiritually mature person treats all events encountered on the path from surface to Source in exactly the same way: greeting them with concentration, clarity, and equanimity.
  • In relating to the Realm of Power, we can classify an individual's spiritual journey based on how they react
  • There are three extreme cases: Freak-Out, Diversion, and Plumb Line.
    • The Freak-Out: experience is so uncomfortable that you decide to never risk repeating it. Too scared to go back down.
    • The Diversion: you encounter phenomena of the intermediate realm, and you like them. You end up traveling horizontally out into that realm, rather than vertically down to the Source. There is no end to the new and interesting stuff you can experience: encounters with angels or entities, psychic abilities, out-of-body experiences, bright lights or colors, past lives, weird internal sounds. The problem comes when you start putting all of your spiritual energy into them. If you're interested in this stuff, it's okay to put a lot of time and energy into it after you have contacted the Source.
    • Plumb Line: no matter what arises, you greet it with concentration, clarity, and equanimity.
  • The usual way that people view these Power phenomena is to see them as a conduit that carries messages from the deep mind to the surface. I suggest that the Power phenomena represent a conduit that can carry clarity and equanimity from the surface down into the deep mind—giving it what it needs to untie its own knots, to self-purify. This is called "skillful means".
  • Some people have experiences of intense pleasure or ecstatic bliss during practice. The goal of meditation is subtly but significantly different: it is to transform your relationship to pleasure, so that any kind of pleasure brings profound fulfillment.
  • The way to deal with phenomenon is to break it up into body sensation, mental image, and internal talk, then break those up into waves of impermanence, and then watch where the waves go to when they cease. You are directing attention toward the Source where things come from when they arise.
The Real No Self
  • The Buddha taught there is no thing inside us called a self, but every adult human has a sensory experience of self. It arises from a mixture of thought and feeling. Enlightenment is the ability to form a clear see-hear-feel representation of that which precedes each arising of see-hear-feel.
  • Transfinite I-am-ness is an I-am-ness that is simultaneously boundlessly large and boundlessly small. You continuously eyeball the I-am-ness that's behind your I-am-ness that's behind your I-am-ness that's behind... until you come to an I-am-ness that's not limited to mind-body. This is the method called "self-enquiry."
  • An alternative approach to self enquiry is to carefully observe the body-mind experience, breaking it into its components, subcomponents, and sub-subcomponents until you come to the realization that mind-body experience is literally made out of expanding-contracting space.
  • Self in the ordinary sense of the word is an illusion; The new self is not a noun, it is a verb. It is the activity of personality that arises effortlessly from the Nothingness moment by moment.
  • In the Buddhist tradition, we usually choose to call this experience insight into no self.
  • Enlightened people often have expressive, engaging, and charismatic personalities. That's because their internal fluidity manifests as external spontaneity.
  • Deeply attained masters are totally comfortable with the fact that the world no longer exists as an object. Despite that—indeed, because of that—they are incredibly happy, incredibly self-expressive, and incredibly efficacious in influencing the world around them.
  • You must learn how to let go of self, and you must learn how to manifest self. Don't fight this arising of the self overtly, and don't fight it subtly. When it arises, let it arise. Don't resist it. But do try to bring clarity and equanimity to it. The quicker and louder you can say "Yes" to each new arising of self, the deeper and clearer will be the "No"—the no-self state that inevitably follows.
  • The most powerful version of no self comes about when you are able to experience your selfhood being loved into and out of existence moment by moment as you go about the activities of your day. This involves resolution, the ability to separate the components and subcomponents of a sensory event, and sensitivity.
  • Detection skill is the ability to pick up on subtle sensory events. Temporal sensitivity is closely related to the ability to detect the instant when something arises. Each moment of self is born as a wave of pure space simultaneously spreading and collapsing.
The Power of Gone
  • Most people are aware of the moment when a sensory event starts, but are seldom aware of the moment when it vanishes.
  • Flow is any change. Gone is a special case of abrupt Flow.
  • Factors that facilitate having a clear and deep experience of Gone are the totality of your momentary focus and equanimity, and the quickness of your momentary focus and equanimity.
  • The more quickly and completely you affirm each arising, the deeper and clearer will be your experience of its passing.
  • The Source can be indirectly contacted through the vanishing moment of the senses, even though it, itself, is not strictly speaking an experience.
  • Relief and tranquility are a natural consequence of the nature of vanishing. The vanishing of a neutral or pleasant experience can result in something delicious, a sense of satisfaction in its wake.
  • As an adult meditator you have techniques you can apply to work through that primordial level of infantile freak-out.
  • All emotional freak-out is based in this original, primordial freak-out of the infant, and you can work through it by loving it to death, knowing it to death.
Return to the Source
  • Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness. Then and only then does the true observer abide in its true nature.
  • Tensions that we cannot intentionally relax represent, in an observable way, deeply held limiting forces within us. It's about two impersonal forces eventually learning how to mutually interpenetrate without mutually interfering.
  • Everything comes about through a polarization of expansion and contraction. Any particular thing that you experience in these terms is linked to all things.
  • Zero is made up of everything, it has the possibility to create anything.
  • The actual moment of Gone is not experienced by anyone; what you experience is afterglow.
  • In meditation practice, we learn to follow the senses back to where they come from, which reveals where we ourselves come from. Sometimes it can be somewhat destabilizing.
  • When the body cannot get comfortable and the mind cannot get answers - a new ordering principle, which is much deeper, is in the process of revealing itself.
  • The soul's dissolution in the intermediate stages of their practice. The student is encouraged to greet both the rocky tension and the luscious bliss with the same response - equanimity. This optimizes progress.
My Happiest Thought
  • There are things that are true and important about enlightenment that neither any of the great masters of the past knew, because to know them requires an understanding of modern science.
  • A Buddha is a deeply enlightened being who discovers something new about the nature of enlightenment and whose discovery leads to a dramatic increase in enlightenment in the world.
  • The Buddha took the spiritual technology that existed in his time, reformulated it and refined it, and added new elements. He also reformulated the ascetic paradigm of "the more it hurts, the more it purifies" to "the more equanimity you apply, the more it purifies." Called the Middle Way.
  • Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor gives a vivid and moving description of how a hemorrhaging in her brain's left hemisphere caused a radical and permanent shift in her state of consciousness. It is a clear example of an enlightenment-like experience arising due to losing something at the neuroanatomical level.
  • Athymhormia: the effects of this condition is that the victim essentially loses the ability to bootstrap selfhood from the inside. They are fully conscious of their surroundings, apparently without any thoughts or desires or sense of suffering. They can often respond normally, without cognitive impairment.
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) works using a precisely placed changing magnetic field that creates a pulse of current in a person's brain, causing the functioning of that region of the brain to be temporarily impeded.
  • The word trishna refers to Grasping. Trishna is a characteristic of consciousness, but consciousness arises in the physical matrix of the brain. Is there a necessary physical condition in the brain that in turn is a necessary condition for the existence of trishna in consciousness? A region of the brain known as the anterior insular cortex. It may represent a physical center for trishna.
  • The Buddha is, in essence, saying: There is a primordial well-being but it is blocked by a habit of consciousness.
  • There is a distinctive body language of the great masters, a kind of graceful, "it just happens" quality to their movements, their gaze, and their speech.
  • Neuroscientists have come to identify a physical parameter they call "stickiness," which essentially refers to how long the brain hangs on to an experience before moving on to the next.

It is not unreasonable that in contact with modern
science, and inspired by the spirit of history, the original
discoveries of Gautama, rigorized and extended, will play
a large part in the direction of human destiny.

SHINZEN YOUNG, 2015 based on H. G. WELLS, 1920.

These notes were taken from Shinzen's book.
See more at his website www.shinzen.org


© 2020 Cedric Joyce