Analayo: "Meditation Maps, Attainment Claims, and the Adversities of Mindfulness"

I had a listen to this interview. “Guru Viking” seemed to have done his homework (obviously had read the Bhikkhu Analayo article and related papers) and generally seems like a good interviewer. He made a passable attempt at representing the Analayo viewpoint. However, overall it wasn’t IMO very satisfactory. I’d reckon the interviewer has a broad knowledge of spirituality but I don’t think he had the specific depth here to act as a really effective devil’s advocate. Daniel Ingram is articulate and was well able to talk in response, but some of his answers seemed a bit weak to me. I don’t think he was really properly put over the coals! As @Viveka said above, I think only some kind of exchange (IMO preferably written) actually between Ingram and Analayo would really be informative. I see mention that Ingram (and some of academic collaborators I think) had sent a letter to the journal in response, but the journal chose not to publish it or hasn’t yet anyway. Some kind of back and forth written exchange would tease things out, but hopefully not as long as that mammoth sequence of articles and responses between Thanissaro Bhikkhu and Analayo on bhikkhuni ordination! :slight_smile: (see the thread here).

The general field is such a large and confusing overlap of different academic areas: a strange blend of the study early religious texts and multiple layers of later Buddhist developments and accretions, mixing in areas like mindfulness that somewhat overlap with Buddhism and bring in clinical practice and some degree of empiricism (though mindfulness seems mostly full of small-scale convenience studies whose true utility might be a bit questionable). Plus Daniel Ingram definitely falls into the mould of spiritual teacher (seems intelligent and relatively charismatic; it generally needs someone like that to form the nucleus of a group). Follows the typical profile of a person a long experience of different systems and meditation practices who was dissatisfied in some ways with what he found, and so developed his own system, attracted followers, who with similar techniques and map seem to arrive at similar experiences to what he had. It doesn’t sound much out of keeping with various non-Buddhist schools and teachers in the Buddha’s time (even the Buddha himself would generally follow this pattern). There was a lot of talk of empiricism in the interview, but I’d wonder how much of Ingram’s MCTB book has been empirically investigated (mostly it seems to have arisen out of his own experiences). Of course, followers seem to have replicated his experiences. That’s a kind of empirical replication, but that would realistically not be unexpected for any spiritual teacher who develops his own system (serious followers should really be ending up in similar spiritual territory).

The talk of raising funding to academically investigate all of this is heading in an empirical direction:

More broadly, I’d tend to think that perhaps some of phenomena described in his book, dark nights, arising and passing and cycling through phases of these might well be a phenomenon that arises with a degree of frequency in a percentage of people who do some heavy duty mediation and retreats. This continual cycling doesn’t sound terribly appealing tbh (or even always being an arahant in terms of how Ingram would understand it). I suppose Ingram’s group is probably a useful resource and reservoir of knowledge for people doing intensive retreats (connected with the group or not) who find themselves in this difficult territory. Chicken and egg though; maybe others find themselves in this territory in the first place because of Ingram’s book? :man_shrugging:

A proper scientific study of this cycling phenomenon could be interesting. It has occurred to me previously that this phenomenon sounds awfully like some kind of milder version of bipolar disorder (the rough duration of cycles and the ups and downs and high energy and low energy periods does sound rather in a similar place). Can some types of prolonged intensive meditation rewire the brain so as to trigger a neurological pattern rather like in bipolar disorder but evidently milder with practitioners usually relatively functional (though not always)? I’d be fascinated to see any brain imaging studies etc. comparing and contrasting the two phenomena (are similar brain areas or neurochemicals involved?).

A push back from more traditional Buddhist viewpoints isn’t exactly unexpected (if any movement anywhere gets big enough that’s pretty much inevitable from competitors). The Buddha himself wasn’t averse to criticizing other competing spiritual schools in his day. Ingram has also well able to dish it out himself; e.g. several paragraphs in his book in the section MCTB The Theravada Four Path Model and the first paragraph in MCTB The Action Models come to mind.

As pointed out earlier in the thread by @mikenz66 , his progress model clearly departs from traditional understandings of path stages and what an arahant is. Part of the defence in the interview was that Mahayana does this and that Analayo himself didn’t even quite agree with every single criterion of arahantship in the Pali texts, e.g. a lay person having to ordain immediately on becoming an arahant or otherwise attain parinibbana.

Am not sure I buy this argument. Mahayana’s broad understanding of what an arahant is does not greatly depart from the early texts. It’s just that they set up an alternative and what they consider a superior goal, that of Buddhahood (and at times can denigrate and pick holes in the arhant ideal; though I think they still agree that an arahant transcends the mundane world, including sexual desire, and is morally fully developed). The early texts are still there, it’s just newer ones arrived along later that they consider to mostly supersede the earlier ones. Ingram has done some radical redefining of some of these ideas but still borrows some of the traditional clothes and draws on traditional terminology. I don’t think he can be surprised if some who are more traditional take issue if he’s not putting clear water between his system and theirs.

As I’ve said earlier in this thread, I thought Analayo in his article was often a bit too personal and I didn’t particularly like how he used quotes from Ingram (at times when reading the article I wondered were some of the quotes being used in context). I generally am a big fan of his work but I’m not sure if this was his finest. Nonetheless, there are some decent questions posed and points made in the Analayo article. IMO some of the responses to these in the GuruViking interview were a bit weak. IMO there’s generally a bit too much playing to the converted in that (will play well with those steeped in his system I guess), a general vibe about the unfairness of the Analayo article, an attack on a good man etc. :slight_smile: Analayo could I think have approached the writing of the article better, but recalling various sections of the MCTB, I’m not sure Ingram can exactly claim the high ground here either. A person who is well able to dish it out should also be well able to take it too, and then just step up and vigorously defend his viewpoint without too much complaint.

I’d rather like to see Ingram respond in a much more rigorous and measured way to the points in Analayo’s article. Some considered public back and forth between Ingram (and his academic collaborators) and Analayo, points and counterpoints, IMO preferably written, could be very interesting (and perhaps generate a bit more light than the interview). I’d be rather surprised if Analayo agrees to some kind of head-to-head public debate (I can’t recall him ever doing this and I don’t imagine it’s his style). However, he definitely has done the public academic article-based tête-à-tête before (a pity the journal in question didn’t publish Ingram’s letter in response but no doubt there would be other venues, even putting a preprint up on a website if nothing else).