The Dhamma is apparent here and now - good teachings are recognised because of there clarity and lucid description. They are not opaque and mystifying to the perspicacious listener. Reading or hearing good Dhamma teachings has an immediate effect on the and mind.
The greatest of theories is of little use if nobody can understand it without having to make a giant leap of faith - no matter how fascinating it may be.
When there is a heavy reliance on the views of a teacher without an ‘apparent’ and obvious explanation for what is actually taking place when we practice their teachings we ‘know’ we are in a situation where there’s no clear way forward.
The Buddha made it clear: his teachings are apparent, there is no reliance on awe and wonder or, strong experiences to determine there efficacy. Awakening is not an experience of any kind.
When it comes to the Buddha-Dhamma when something is unclear to us, we know it’s unclear and, when it’s clear we know it’s clear. The Buddha helps us to see our lack of clarity - clearly.
The Buddha didn’t muddy the waters! This is what makes the Dhamma so beautiful, refreshing and, liberating.
At the risk of being charged with “physicalism” or some such (horrors!), I’m reminded of the lock-and-key fit of protein receptors which can only receive/transmit messages under specific conditions? Those conditions have to be right (ripe? - increased exposure = increased receptivity? ) for the action potential, or whatever, to occur. I’ve forgotten my cell biology - apologies. Perhaps there’s an analogy in there somewhere :)
In the Sandaka Sutta the Buddha seems to suggest that a spiritual life and teaching that has strong meditative experiences as a fruit is a teaching worth following.
“It’s incredible, Master Ānanda, it’s amazing, how these four kinds of unreliable spiritual life have been explained by the Buddha. But, Master Ānanda, what would a teacher say and explain so that a sensible person would, to the best of their ability, practice such a spiritual path, and once practicing it, they would complete the procedure of the skillful teaching?”
“Sandaka, it’s when a Realized One arises in the world, perfected, a fully awakened Buddha, accomplished in knowledge and conduct, holy, knower of the world, supreme guide for those who wish to train, teacher of gods and humans, awakened, blessed. … He gives up these five hindrances, corruptions of the heart that weaken wisdom. Then, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, he enters and remains in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. A sensible person would, to the best of their ability live the spiritual life under a teacher who achieves such a high distinction, and, once practicing it, they would complete the procedure of the skillful teaching.
Furthermore, as the placing of the mind and keeping it connected are stilled, a mendicant … enters and remains in the second absorption …
third absorption …
fourth absorption. A sensible person would, to the best of their ability live the spiritual life under a teacher who achieves such a high distinction, and, once practicing it, they would complete the procedure of the skillful teaching.
I agree that strong craving for explosive or intense experiences can get in the way. I had this problem myself when I first started meditating where I experienced a strong surge of bliss blast up from my navel to the top of my head. It knocked me out of my focus on the breath when my mind diverted to thinking, “ooh, this is cool.” And then the bliss was gone. In subsequent meditations any subtle pleasure or alterations of perception would send my mind into hoping I was about to break through to some next level stuff. I have a history of drug use, including psychedelics, and basically I was hoping to get really high.
Nevertheless, there does seem to be a pleasure substitution principle at work on the path to non-craving.
‘Therein, relying on this, give up that.’ That’s what I said, but why did I say it? Therein, by relying and depending on the six kinds of renunciate happiness, give up and go beyond the six kinds of lay happiness. That’s how they are given up. - MN137
Sensual pleasures give little gratification and much suffering and distress, and they are all the more full of drawbacks. Even though a noble disciple has clearly seen this with right wisdom, so long as they don’t achieve the rapture and bliss that are apart from sensual pleasures and unskillful qualities, or something even more peaceful than that, they might still return to sensual pleasures. But when they do achieve that rapture and bliss, or something more peaceful than that, they will not return to sensual pleasures. - MN14
Non-returners themselves still have the problem of craving for deep meditative states and their associated rebirth destinations. For example:
Then they reflect: ‘Even this first absorption is produced by choices and intentions.’ They understand: ‘But whatever is produced by choices and intentions is impermanent and liable to cessation.’ Abiding in that they attain the ending of defilements. If they don’t attain the ending of defilements, with the ending of the five lower fetters they’re reborn spontaneously, because of their passion and love for that meditation. They are extinguished there, and are not liable to return from that world. - AN 11.16
So it might be jumping the gun to suggest one should not crave for meditative experiences on the path to awakening since these experiences help pry us away from sensual desires and one can’t be completely free from craving such experiences anyway until arahantship. Nevertheless, certainly toning down or placing aside active or agitating forms of craving for meditative experiences is necessary if you actually want to experience those states.
But for most of us, it’s probably best to put more focus on giving up craving for things such as ice cream or coffee. Heck, if we could all be well accomplished classical hedonists ala Epicurus that would be quite the achievement in renunciation for most of us.
– “My heart is full of fun when I have bread and water” - Epicurus
On the other hand, working to not crave meditative experiences might be useful in getting ahead of the game so to speak as long as it doesn’t lead to neglecting the development of samadhi.
Well, I’d say there’s a hierarchy of wanting. First order wanting whereby you are having actual thoughts and agitations entering the mind regarding desire for unattained samadhi is unhelpful, when meditating at least, and I have suffered from it to some extent.
On the other hand, second order wanting is more long term or abstract. It is the wanting whereby you want to attain samadhi so you learn how to calm agitation and wanting thoughts during meditation, live a lifestyle of restraint/simplicity, and consistently meditate and work on the five hindrances. This kind of wanting is necessary.
it is by relying on craving that craving is to be abandoned. - AN 4.159
It is often stated by meditation teachers that wanting is obstructive, and they say it without qualification. This is technically false, which should be clear on further analysis. The problem is that there are a lot of pithy statements that can provide a semi-helpful perception but that are technically inaccurate. People are either failing to draw out the logical implications of what they say, or they find accuracy obstructive since it makes concision harder.
It seems to have worked for the Buddha. I mean, anytime somebody doesn’t accidentally stumble into these states but purposely enters them has attained them as a result of 2nd order wanting compelling them to cultivate the qualities necessary for samadhi to arise. This is a largely trivial truth.
The only reason I study the suttas now is because I relied heavily on many teachers who invited me to consider things that were neither apparent nor obvious to me. With practice came the knowledge of how to go forward. Thanks to their teachings and much practice, the suttas are now clear. My younger self was dustier and simply walked by these truths unseeing.
Teach the Dhamma, O Blessed One:
There will be those who will understand
There was no confusion of what you actually understood and did not see clearly.
That’s an important clarity to acknowledge and live by. If we imagine we understand that something is a certain way because we read it in a holy-book or, we have faith that it must be true because it is said by ‘so and so’ then this is not a clear way forward.
If we are reliant on heresay, something that is often repeated, it is past down through tradition, it accords with reason but it has not been truly demonstrated in our lives then, it has not been lived in order to understand it - for what it is.
The Buddha discouraged a reliance on vicarious experience. It’s bumbling in the dark and forming a relationship with shadows. We may experience some pleasure in this if we feel we are in good company.
We cannot ‘get’ the living Dhamma from another through osmosis. Through hanging around, towing the line and, hoping something might rub-off like magic.
There is nothing apparent here and now about that. It doesn’t work that way. Just take a look and see.
We can seek good company or, be good company to keep. Alone or, with others. The greatest recipe is not equal to a crust of bread.
The company of the wise is a great blessing. It’s difficult for me to imagine how we could make sense of our lives without the networks of support that makes life possible. I guess it’s the same with waking up? If the Buddha woke up independently then, this is nothing short of a miracle.
It’s a great blessing if we have Aryans in our practice communities but that does not mean we are at a place in our own journey where we can clearly understand and receive the benefit of their presence and kindness.
Impermanence is a part of anicca, see Paṭisambhidāmagga Paññāvagga 3.9. Vipassanākathā at SC 20 for the 10 types of aniccānupassanā [Please note that asārakatoti is aniccānupassanā and not anattānupassanā; see Paṭisambhidāmagga-aṭṭhakathā – Sariputta]. With those 10 types of aniccānupassanā, the meaning is easily shown to be “nothing in this world can be maintain to our satisfaction/liking in the long run” and with anicca and dukkha, we are helpless (without refuge - no where can we find a place for safety or shelter) which is anatta in this 31 planes of existence. anatta also has another meaning which is essenceless as in “sabbe dhamma anatta” - all dhamma are essenceless.
We may derive some comfort in our little niche and grasp it tightly without being all that clear about what’s actually going on.
We may treasure and value that which we don’t understand in the hope of becoming like others - alive or dead. Those we believe are in the ‘know’ although we have no clear sense of what ‘it’ is that we seek or, hope to find.
Grasping teachings and clinging to a religious identity is not what the teachings point to. Any kind of identity based on false certainties, strong convictions that are not grounded in lived experience is shadow play.
Seeing this is part of getting-clear about what is actually taking place. Waking up to what is happening requires attention to details.
The pali above “Sappurisasaṃsevo hi …” is translated with the deeper meaning added as shown in the quote above: “The four factors for stream-entry are: … 1 to 4” by ariya (noble person). Is your choice to take which suit your purpose for the noble path.