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If This Doesn't Change Your Destiny, Nothing Else Will.

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha

This is not your daddy’s Dharma book! (Your mommy’s neither.)

The distinctions start with the cover, and no, I’m not speaking about the flaming man with a chakra wheel for his heart. I’m speaking about the author’s title: Arahat. Now, Ingram does have a routine title– he’s a medical doctor (M.D.) concentrating on emergency situation medication–“Everything from hangnails to cardiac arrest” he informed me in a telephone call. As you should know by now (if you read this blog site routinely), an arhat (there are alternative spellings) is one who has completed the Buddhist course as laid out in the Pali Suttas. “Done is what needed to be done and there disappears of this to come!” goes the basic refrain by those who have actually attained such. Plainly Ingram is, as the suttas say, prepared to “roar his lion’s roar” in the spiritual market. He spells the distinctions out further in the “Forward and Warning,” wherein he puts you on notice he does not mean to compose a “good and friendly dharma book”; you know you remain in for it when an author informs you he comes from a family tree of “dharma cowboys, radicals, rogues and outsiders” (16 ).

That said, the books continues usually enough through part one. Ingram begins his conversation of dharma in terms of the standard “three trainings”: morality (sila), concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (paññā). I particularly found his conversation of morality illuminating. Going substantially beyond the basic list of things we should not do (the five precepts etc), he says

“Training in morality has as its domain all of the regular ways that we reside in the world. When we are trying to live the great life in a conventional sense, we are working on training in morality. When we are attempting to deal with our psychological, mental and physical health, we are operating at the level of training morality … Whatever we carry out in the ordinary world that we believe will be of some benefit to others or ourselves is an aspect of working on this first training” (24-5).

He goes on to point out that while outright mastery of concentration and knowledge (insight) is possible, overall proficiency in the worldly sphere of principles is not. And so he calls it, rightly, the “very first and last training.”

Chapter 4 (strangely, the chapters are not numbered, only the parts) lays substantial emphasis on seeing the three characteristics (tilakkhana) of phenomena– impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and not-self (anatta); undoubtedly, this is a basic tenet of Ingram’s approach to meditation, derivable in part from his experiences in the Mahasi tradition which has a similar focus. His discussion of anatta is clarifying: it indicates, merely, that when phenomena are examined carefully (as in vipassana), no representative, controller, or subject can be found; the things of the world are, in impact, ownerless. This, too, is a substantial part of Ingram’s dharma discussion, and comes up repeatedly later in the book. Ingram likewise talks about the spiritual professors, the factors of knowledge, and the 4 truths.

Most of the above can be found in other dharma books. Where things actually start to get fascinating remains in the section entitled “Practical Meditation Considerations.” Here Ingram’s wealth of experience in formal retreat centers comes to the fore and makes for very informative, even entertaining, reading. For instance, he lists the important things retreatants tend to get neurotic about, such as wake-up bells (“too quiet, too loud, somebody forgets to ring it at all”), roomies (“those that snore, smell, are noisy or unpleasant, and so on”), as well as “problems of corruption, romances, cults of personality, affairs, crushes, miscommunications, vendettas, scandals, drug use, money issues, and all the other things that can in some cases appear anywhere there are people” (94 )– suggesting whatever and anything!

This is a section that demands numerous readings. Not since it remains in any way challenging, just because the nuts and bolts of doing a retreat, of day-to-day practice, are frequently the very things that beat us. I consistently found Ingram’s guidance to be forthright, informed, and practical. Many people, for example, get consumed over posture, but Ingram states just “we can practice meditation in just about any position we find ourselves” (96 ). He keeps in mind, for instance, how “Lots of traditions make a huge deal about precisely how you should sit, with some getting paricularly macho or particular about such things” (97 )– making me remember my experience in a Zen monastery in Japan. He composes how the four postures of sitting, standing, strolling, reclining each have plusses and minuses, the concept distinctions being in the energy level and impacts on concentration. He further talks about concerns such as meditation things, the crucial function of willpower, and uses some very illuminating remarks on instructors. One plainly gets the sense Ingram knows what he states from direct experience.

The fireworks begin in Part II, “Light and Shadows.” Little lightning bolts– the indication of something questionable ahead– adorn several chapters. This is where Ingram gets up on his soapbox. Normally, I would say that in a bad way, meaning somebody was simply spouting. But here, I believe, what Ingram does, even if you want to call it spouting, is all to an excellent point, and that is to draw attention to some of the unconstructive shadow sides of Buddhist spirituality in America. For example, in the section entitled “Buddhism vs. the Buddha,” he criticizes the spiritual features the Buddha’s mentor– in its original type a used psychology– has actually been buried under, and how Americans have actually contributed to rendering the master’s innovation of awakening into dogma or comfort food.

However, Ingram’s function here is not debate. He speaks likewise about having a clear goal, and encourages asking oneself questions like “Why would I want to sit cross-legged for hours with my eyes closed, anyhow?” It’s important you know what you’re looking for, after all, and Ingram hammers this point throughout the book. (It was likewise among the first questions he asked me in our telephone call!) This section likewise describes the critical difference in between dealing with one’s “stuff”– i.e. the content of your life– and seeing the real nature of the phenomena that constitute that stuff. For example, if you’re depressed because your loved one dumped you, attempting to figure out why he/she did that to you is reflection on your “things,” however patiently observing the feelings of anger or anxiety as they develop and die– i.e. attempting to see the fundamental qualities of those experiences– is insight. The difference here, as Ingram makes clear, is night and day.Part III,

” Mastery,” forms the heart of the book, and this is where Ingram’s starkly non-dogmatic, vital, and practical intellect reveals its best. This is likewise the part more than likely to upset and where it becomes clear that if you want spiritual pabulum, you have actually come to the wrong guy. Ingram is all about “states and stages,” about attaining precisely what the old dead masters attained. We each have our purposes in our spiritual lives– and he acknowledges this– but he is not aiming to convenience or console anybody, or make things appear easier than they are. Ingram’s vision of the Dhamma is, rather, extremely goal oriented and effort driven. It is a path of achievement, of unique and discernible achievements. If your mentality does not incline towards in this manner of believing and acting, now is the time to bail out!This area reviews in terrific, maybe unmatched detail, 3 unique topics: the concentration jhanas( 1-8 ), the progress of insight, and the multiplicity of designs and meanings of knowledge. There is plenty here to produce argument, but likewise to educate, caution, coax and cajole. In other words, this is some of the most stimulating, revealing and academic dharma reading I’ve ever done. You could check out a hundred dharma books and still not create this things. And while Ingram is not an especially terrific (or even great) writer (more on this below), he is at times eminently quotable. I can’t resist using a few bits here. These give you a great idea of what you’re getting into with this book.

You may have heard, for instance, about those teachers who say “there is nothing to obtain, no place to go, no one to get enlightened, your seeking is the problem.” Or, even more intriguingly, that “you are already enlightened.” You find these mentors in some Buddhist schools, J. Krishnamurti, Adi Da, and others. Here’s Ingram’s take on this take on knowledge:

[It’s] “like stating: you are currently a show pianist, you simply have to understand it, or you currently are a nuclear physicist, you simply have to recognize it … [It’s] like saying to an extreme paranoid schizophrenic: you currently are as sane as anybody and do not need to take your medications and must simply follow the voices that inform you to kill individuals, or to an individual with heart problem: simply keep smoking and consuming fried pork skins and you will be healthy … or saying to a greedy, corrupt, corporate-raiding, white-collar lawbreaker, Fascist, alcoholic wife-beater: hey, Guy, you are a like, beautiful perfect flower of the Now Moment, already informed (insert toke here), you are doing and not-doing simply fine, like wow, so keep up the good work, Man” (360 ).

I read this while on the train to work and delighted in an unrestrained guffaw– a number of times!However … to double back to my criticism of Ingram’s writing: he’s badly in need of an editor, and the people at Aeon Books let him down. Ingram grossly excessive uses the word “that”– it is among the most overused words in the language, so he is not alone in the bad habit of thatting this and thatting that– and after a while it started grating on my delicate literary nerves. He also does not appear to know the difference between “phenomena” and “phenomenon,” and, on a different note, sometimes comes off sounding rather immature. There were celebrations, too, where he went on needlessly about whatever, and a bit more self-control would have helped the text out a lot. Once again … where were his editors?But this is small stuff, mere bitching on my part. Ingram is in fact a quite enjoyable read, and the book is exceptional and distinct in so many ways, I/we can and must forgive him. He has much knowledge to offer and we need to be grateful for all the hard work he’s done on and off the cushion. I leave you with one nugget of insight that stood out for me:”When I think about what it would take to achieve liberty from all psychological stuff, the action that comes is this: life is about things. Things belongs to living. There is no chance out of this while you are still living. There will be confusion, discomfort, miscommunication, misinterpretation, maladaptive patterns of behavior, unhelpful psychological responses, unusual characteristic, neurosis and perhaps much worse. There will be power plays, twisted psychological video games, individuals with major character disorders(which might include you ), and craziness. The injuries continue right in addition to the healing and eventually the injuries win and we pass away. This is a basic mentor of the Buddha. I want the entire Western Buddhist World would just get over this concept that these practices are all about getting to our Pleased Location where absolutely nothing can ever hurt us or make us neurotic and proceed to really mastering real Buddhist practice instead of chasing some perfect that will never ever appear”( 330). You have your marching orders. Source

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