SuttaCentral

Finding the right path

So I found Buddhist meditation awhile ago, and it is the thing that I’ve been looking for for years. Ok great, now what.

I look around on the internet and find modern science-based teachers. The pragmatic Dharma movement. I read some books and attend some retreats, mahasi nothing and goenka body scanning. But that doesn’t seem to match up with the instructions that the Buddha gave, and a few monks are saying that isn’t the path, that some of these lay-teachers are deluded.

Ok great so now what. Is there a book you’d recommend? “Read the suttas” they say. I read some of the suttas and now I’m more confused, they don’t provide instructions that I connect with.

I look for an explanation of the suttas, but some say the commentaries are not what the Buddha taught, and that the vissudhimagga was written by a fraud who didn’t really practice much himself.

And now the anapanasati sutta and the satipatthana sutta aren’t to be fully trusted, they were most likely written or modified much later. There are discrepancies if you compare them to obscure extant Chinese versions.

Still, whatever, I’m going to put my life into it and practice and reach the jhanas, that seems to be what the Buddha taught - the noble path leading to right samadhi, from which state insights will arise on their own.

But then I read that basically nobody is actually reaching the jhanas the Buddha was talking about, right samadhi, in lay life, it’s extremely rare. I can’t ordain because there is some dogma in Buddhism and I have an injury that prevents me from staying at a monastery long-term.

So ok, great, now what? I’m going to put my life into a practice that people say isn’t possible.

I’m not placing blame in any way, I know that everyone is doing their best, from a place of compassion, but “Buddhist meditation” as a whole is a bit of a mess.

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Welcome to the forum Chris!

It does indeed feel like the frustrations you are facing, and the lack of a clear message, is putting you off meditation.

For me it was always finding a way of improving my day-to-day life. All the theory, just confuses me and I just stick to the simple stuff. Lay life is complicated as it is, the spiritual path shouldn’t be like that! That’s how I feel anyway.

This quote gives me inspiration…

“ If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will have complete peace.”- Ajahn Chah

Wish you the best in your journey :pray:t4::cherry_blossom:

And glad you have joined D&D !

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@chrism I feel your frustration! I was (still am to an extent) the kind of person who reads too many dhamma books and articles - there is a whole thread on that topic here. Fortunately (or unfortunately), because of years of training, I don’t believe much of what I read immediately, irrespective of who is saying it.

All I can say is that you probably have come to the right place. Having perused several forums I feel that here you will get the entire spectrum of highly technical, research based analysis to a very light hearted practical musings on the teachings and everything in between. While no place is “perfect”, it just has to be the best fit for you, for now.

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This is true, unless the practitioner understands the difference between the arahant perspective (unconditioned) and the path (conditioned) and is able to separate the suttas accordingly.

"the meditator must intentionally make use of qualities from which he/she wants to escape, gaining familiarity with them in the course of mastering them to the point where they are naturally stilled. There the transcendent paths and their fruitions take over. This is the sense in which even the path of right practice must eventually be abandoned, but only after it has been brought to the culmination of its development.

Many people have misunderstood this point, believing that the Buddha’s teachings on non-attachment require that one relinquish one’s attachment to the path of practice as quickly as possible. Actually, to make a show of abandoning the path before it is fully developed is to abort the entire practice. As one teacher has put it, a person climbing up to a roof by means of a ladder can let go of the ladder only when safely on the roof. In terms of the famous raft simile [§§113-114], one abandons the raft only after crossing the flood. If one were to abandon it in mid-flood, to make a show of going spontaneously with the flow of the flood’s many currents, one could drown."—Thanissaro

These suttas have been part of the practice for a long time and many have achieved awakening using them, recently for example Ajahn Chah. Until the practitioner has achieved some direct experience, such as the joy in dhamma, they must act on faith. The second thing they will experience is mental seclusion based on sila, and underlying this is the observation that wholesome thoughts have beneficial results.

“And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality (Ill-will, harmfulness) arose in me. I discerned that ‘Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.’”—MN 19

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Yes, very much so, in the sense that the research, or the traditional ‘truths’ don’t converge. They rather drift apart. Practitioners who see the complexity probably won’t just jump into a particular faith into a teacher.

But, maybe, it’s possible to reduce one’s ambitions. “Let me meditate” instead of “Let me attain the jhanas, samma-samadhi, and liberation”. And when I take ‘just’ meditation, what are the irrefutable elements I understand and agree with? … and take it from there, build one’s practice on that, with one’s own experience as a guide.

For example, it can be ‘letting go’, or ‘dis-identification’, or ‘dispassion’, or patience, or perseverence, etc. Whatever is clear to me as a principle, I can take that dhamma for the meditation practice.

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I understand your frustration but please keep in mind that great results do not come that easily.

If I may ask, do you understand the four noble truths and the three characteristics of all phenomena (impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not self)?

If your answer is yes, just follow the path without worrying about jhana or anything else because the path will lead you to its meaningful end.
With Metta

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I can suggest only how I went over the same issue many years ago. The truth is you do not need very much theory or too much study. I understood that when I spent time by myself in a monastery in Burma. No books, nothing and very few dhamma talks. Look at impermanence, lack of self and suffering (dukkha). Use the meditation to bring you to a good state of a calm mind and use your body to see these three characteristic .

Train the mind with metta towards yourself and others and start to recognise these three characteristics in your everyday life and see our mind react to impermanence and suffering and what it that reacts to them and why.
I suggest you read some of the talk by Ajahn Chah since he stressed exactly that you need “so much”.
Despite being an anthropologist and somebody who has studied religion(s) for 23 years, I learned that knowledge is not knowledge. Concepts, ideas and so on may not be at all what brings you out of the path of suffering… that stuff may entangle you in new grasping and doubts.
I do not say that studying is not helpful, but first, you need to make your mind strong and establish and remove doubts. Chanting, meditation and the simple things I have highlighted above have helped me to develop a foundation strong enough to then allowing me to explore more of the texts and opinions.
Straightforward and basic things constitute the fundamental teaching of the Buddha and its path to liberation. Focus on those and let go of all the rest.
With metta
Gabriel

Ps: of course this reply was for @chrism clearly I clicked the wrong reply. Sorry and thanks :pray:

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Maybe you can try to live as much like a monk as possible without ordaining if you have the necessary circumstances and still reach the jhanas etc. then.

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Chris, at the moment I have just a few moments to comment, but one thought I had about your question(s) is to point you to a friendly and trusted resource that can give you the kind of training, perspectives and practice you might be looking for. Join the BSWA.org online. There’s just a ton of information there, friendly Dhamma talks, explanations, forums for lay people, and a way to really go below the surface layers of the “Dhamma onion” utilizing these trusted resources. There are huge, heavy Buddhist books that make great door stops. I have found that the resources at places like bswa.org and abhayagiri.org are really helpful.

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I put together some resources here for this kind of thing. Perhaps they will be useful. Best of luck

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You have described a common problem perfectly.

Now, the assumption that certain meditation methods are modern Burmese invention, and therefore wrong, may need to be revised.

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Thanks very much for the kind replies, and for allowing me to vent my mild frustration. It’s refreshing to see the helpfulness and the civliity, and the level of practical knowledge here.

I (mostly… 97%?) believe in the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path as the way, but I’m not so sure sometimes that the path I’m following is the one the Buddha taught, I’m not attached to attaining anything in this life, my kamma might be such that it won’t happen, or it may, who knows…

I’m currently putting focus on practicing generosity and kindness, I’m meditating for hours each day just aware of the sensations at my nostrils. I’ve dipped my toes into weak jhana-y states, full body golden light buzzy states that ramp up and come on really quickly, and I have no control of and pop out of very quickly, nowhere near samma samadhi, there’s zero serenity in there. I’m not attached nor am I hoping to have any state appear when I sit.

Thanks for posting the links to bswa and to abhayagiri, and to buddhistuniversity. At some point I’d like to come into contact with a monastic teacher, who I can contact once in awhile for general guidance and course correction. In the meantime, glad to be on this forum, thanks again, :slight_smile:

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When I look at the style of teaching that the Buddha uses in the EBTs, there is a surprising amount of flexibility and range in the objects of meditation recommended (to different people with different temperaments). The Buddha did not micro-manage his students. He also often just gave general, briefly-explained meditation instructions, allowing the student to explore for themselves. For people who are uncomfortable with a lack of fine-grained details, this may leave them feeling anxious, even though “leaving it general” is often the right way to do it!

Sometimes my meditation goes best when I merely know that I’m meditating!

This ample flexibility is something which gets tightened down too much when a given teacher believes (over-confidently) that their own method is the only possible method that could ever work.

It might take you a while to find the object (or more likely, objects, plural) of meditation, which work best for you. This process could very well take multiple years. I agree it’s wise to seek out a good meditation teacher. But when too much dogmatic tightness gets asserted, that’s a warning sign!

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Ajahn Chah’s advice:

"When you first start meditating, it seems like all you know how to do is to doubt and speculate about things. The mind is always wavering and vacillating. You spend the whole time caught in agitated thinking and proliferating about things. You have doubts about every last thing. Why? It stems from impatience. You want to know all the answers and fast. You want to have insight quickly, without having to do anything. You want to know the truth of the way things are, but that wanting is so strong in the mind that it is more powerful than the insight you desire. For that reason the practice has to develop in stages. You must go one step at a time. In the first place you need to put forth persistent effort.

[…]

In training the mind, it is crucial to overcome sceptical doubt. Doubt and uncertainty are powerful obstacles that must be dealt with. Investigation of the three fetters of personality view (sakkāya-diṭṭhi), blind attachment to rules and practices (sīlabbata-parāmāsa) and sceptical doubt (vicikicchā) is the way out of attachment practised by the Noble Ones (ariyapuggalā).

But at first you just understand these defilements from the books – you still lack insight into how things truly are. Investigating personality view is the way to go beyond the delusion that identifies the body as a self. This includes attachment to your own body as a self or attaching to other people’s bodies as solid selves. Sakkāya diṭṭhi or personality view refers to this thing you call yourself. It means attachment to the view that the body is a self. You must investigate this view until you gain a new understanding and can see the truth that attachment to the body is defilement and it obstructs the minds of all human beings from gaining insight into the Dhamma.

For this reason, before anything else the preceptor will instruct each new candidate for bhikkhu ordination to investigate the five meditation objects: hair of the head (kesā), hair of the body (lomā), nails (nakhā), teeth (dantā) and skin (taco). It is through contemplation and investigation that you develop insight into personality view. These objects form the most immediate basis for the attachment that creates the delusion of personality view. Contemplating them leads to the direct examination of personality view and provides the means by which each generation of men and women who take up the instructions of the preceptor upon entering the community can actually transcend personality view."

These meditation subjects are recommended because they are external and easily accessible to recognition of their unattractive nature by the senses. This is a case where a conditioned response (sense impression) is used skilfully.

“And what is the perception of unattractiveness? There is the case where a monk ponders this very body — from the soles of the feet on up, from the crown of the head on down, surrounded by skin, filled with all sorts of unclean things: ‘There is in this body: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, muscle, tendons, bones, bone marrow, spleen, heart, liver, membranes, kidneys, lungs, large intestines, small intestines, gorge, feces, gall, phlegm, lymph, blood, sweat, fat, tears, oil, saliva, mucus, oil in the joints, urine.’ Thus he remains focused on unattractiveness with regard to this very body. This is called the perception of unattractiveness.”—Anguttara Nikaya 10.60

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In my opinion, the “samma” before sati and samadhi means that meditation must stem from an understanding or reflection.

Simply sitting down and watching the breath is not “Samma”, as Samma implies Right View.

The suttas say when one has Right View, and develops it, then joy and samadhi arise naturally.

So when you watch the mind, see the 5 Hindrances, contemplate the impermanence of the object of the 5 hindrances, and let it go, and the 5 hindrances have no fuel to burn off, then you are property meditating.

So meditation begins with reflecting and contemplating.

To establish Right View, the suttas say two things are required 1) the voice of another (referring to the true dhamma, which is the suttas), and 2) Proper Attention

So to find the Right path, as per the title of this thread, you must begin with the suttas, and contemplate the dhamma, become dispassionate, and allow the mind to settle.

Theory and Practice need to be combined and done together, and if the theory is understood properly, the practice will happen naturally.

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Getting into Buddhism can be very confusing at first. So what you’re feeling is normal. When I got into Buddhism many years ago, I experienced the same confusion and frustration as you. Back then there was no internet, though, and the number of books available in English was much smaller than today. I also didn’t have anyone near me who knew anything about Buddhism, or any way to contact someone who did. So, you have a problem that is both similar to and the opposite of mine.

As I’m sure you know, Buddhism is a very old religion, and spread to many countries. It assimilated different strains of religious thought, adapted to different cultures (Tibet, China, Sri Lanka, etc.), and unique expressions of Buddhism developed as a result. However, the core of all of these different traditions is the same: be kind, loving, compassionate, patient, easily contented, etc. Rather than worry about what is True Buddhism, decide for yourself what is right for you. That’s all anyone can do. There will always be people with different opinions about what is True Buddhism, and they will never agree with each other. So my recommendation is to ignore those people, try different practices out, and see how your mind responds. Pick whatever works for you. Even within the Early Buddhist Texts the Buddha acknowledged that there are different kinds of practitioners (e.g. faith-based vs wisdom-based). So please don’t get caught up in sectarianism. I mean, even within one school of Buddhism, like Theravada, there is a broad spectrum of opinions, as you noted in your original post.

The suttas were never meant to be studied without some form of explanation or elucidation as accompaniment. At the very least, some direction is needed for which suttas to start with. For many hundreds of years this would have happened orally. Over time, as dependence on the written word spread throughout India, those explanations (along with the suttas) were written down. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, except when people stop going to the source material. So when you have sub-sub-sub-commentaries that have started drifting away from what’s in the actual suttas themselves, and no one notices this because no one even reads suttas anymore, it becomes a problem. Most of the critiques of the Visuddhimagga boil down to that argument. Of course, for some people the Visuddhimagga approach works. The popularity of the Burmese traditions attests to that. Who am I to say that they aren’t getting results just because I don’t like that approach? I don’t have psychic powers that allows me to know that. So there’s no reason to condemn people who follow that style of practice. Even if you do, you aren’t actually accomplishing anything other than engaging in divisive speech. Also, when you watch Ajahn Brahmali teaching, for example, you could argue that he’s giving his own kind of commentary to the suttas.

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That is so true. … I too moved through various approaches before I settled close to what feels right for me; it took me a long time to find this place, and some strands from the earlier places were helpful and have stayed.

@dayunbao This is a really wonderful post. :smiley: It emphasises what is important and mentions the difficulties gently. It’s a post that shows what it is to be, “kind, loving, compassionate, patient, easily contented,” with regard to all traditions. Thank you for sharing it with us. :pray:

@chrism: Hopefully the great suggestions you’re receiving will help a lot. Take your time with them. Allow things to develop slowly and naturally. There’s no need to rush. The path can unfold quite naturally if we relax and are ready to learn. Keep on asking questions. I hope that our community here can nourish you. We’re not perfect but we do our best most of the time. :relieved:

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Here is how one of our forum participants has organized a course of sutta study so as to fit the classical gradual training…

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In my humble opinion an ounce of generosity and kindness is worth a pound of meditation technique :slight_smile:

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Hi Chris. Welcome to the forum. You’ve raised a lot of legitimate questions. I’ll address one of them. All religious traditions I can recall have very high standards that are, in principle, impossible to meet. My personal approach is to see the way towards the final/higher goals as an asymptote: first we’ll have to deal with imperfections of ours that are easily seen. Then, as we progress, we’re achieving states of consciousness that are more refined, slowly approaching our goal, but not getting there in any foreseeable time.

I am aware that this does not necessarily answer your request for texts and formal teachings. This is my small contribution.
:anjal:

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