I believe that a lot of people think they will progress the path (i.e. the 4 stages of awakening) while meditating. Someone called this approach: “spiritual bypassing”.
For me the job at hand is to break down the fetters that maintain us in the cycle of samsara.
If one look at the fetters carefully he/she will realise that breaking them down is better done outside the meditation cushion. For example (fetter number 5) eliminating ill-will is for me, using modern terminology, a psychological work that includes (but not only that) making complete peace with one’s past such that one does not continue feeling, thinking and acting as result of unresolved issues of the past. Meditation/contemplation may help but may not be sufficient. What do you think?
Now, why are there no serious talks (and dhamma books) by monastics and lay teachers on the 4 stages of awakening and dealing with the fetters? After all these 4 stages (progressive end of suffering) are all why we are practicing the Buddha’s path.
I wholeheartedly agree with you about making peace with my past as part of removing ill will. Making peace with all others I see and meet, past, present and future are also part of that. I also wholeheartedly agree about the psychological aspect of it. For awhile, I was practicing as though if I could just get stream-entry, or attain some state, mundane psychological problems would disappear. It’s like I was thinking: “If I could jump to the end, everything in the middle can be solved.” But I’m thinking now that they really aren’t mundane at all. Working with and through those things and coming to understand them is part of the path. I can’t just shove half my problems to the side in pursuit of some nebulous goal: that’s not respecting myself.
I’m not sure of the second question, but I suspect that part of it is to avoid giving students too many concepts to grasp upon and seek to attain. One of my favorite secular quotes is from Korzybski: “the map is not the territory.” The fetters and stages of enlightenment are only a map until one actually arrives at their destruction and attainment, respectively: the territory. Giving people too many maps could lead us to searching for the goal on the map and coming to think we’ve arrived at the real thing, when all we’ve done is increased the resolution of the map, at best!
I believe there’s a fine difference between practice for the sake of not clinging and practice for the sake of getting. Mind you, I haven’t found that myself, but that’s the way I think it is anyway.
My point about the fetters and stages is yes about having some very precise “goals” in our practice.
Having a goal or a vision or a resolve or a firm intention does not imply you are clinging to them.
It means you have a bit of an idea what to do (i.e. creating the right causes and conditions, the stages will occur on their own when the conditions are met but we don’t know in advance when they will be).
The Buddha-to-be had a very clear goal: discovering that suffering could end and then reaching it.
Then he generously made the method available to us. I believe working the fetters (or the asavas) is the practical way to progress as found in many suttas.
doubt or uncertainty, especially about the teachings
attachment to rites and rituals
desire for material existence, desire for material rebirth
desire for immaterial existence, desire for rebirth in a formless realm
For me the fetters are mainly issues to be addressed in our daily-life.
Meditation topics such as the ones listed in the satipatthana sutta are a good support but by themselves alone won’t do the job of eliminating the fetters.
I wish someone write a Dhamma book that will explain how to practically deal with the fetters (e.g. a mixture of learning specific aspects of the Dhamma, personal psychological work, meditating/contemplating, practicing sila, analysis/decomposition of the fetters, etc.).
This is a good discussion and I think people who call meditation spiritual bypassing will change that attitude as a result of this.
In my opinion people meditate for various personal reasons like improving concentration, as a way of overcoming depression, overcoming ill will etc but how many do it because they understand the four noble truths is questionable. The Buddha said there is dukkha caused by tanha the cessation of which can come about by following the eight fold path. The Buddha said in brief the five aggregates of clinging is dukkha. Note here the word “clinging”. The arahant has no clinging so the link between dukkha and lack of it ie: nirvana is clinging. So the place to start a meditation practice is the five aggregates itself and progress on the spiritual path will be commensurate with that same understanding of the five aggregates. Meditation done with other objectives will be successfull only to that extent.
Resources to understand the five aggregates and proceed prograsively on the path are abound throughout the canon and only a genuine seeker will find them.
In AN 8.19 Paharadha Sutta the Buddha says the ocean deepens gradually and so is the dhamma.
"Now, if anyone would develop these four frames of reference in this way for seven years, one of two fruits can be expected for him: either gnosis right here & now, or — if there be any remnant of clinging/sustenance — non-return.
"Let alone seven years. If anyone would develop these four frames of reference in this way for six years… five… four… three… two years… one year… seven months… six months… five… four… three… two months… one month… half a month, one of two fruits can be expected for him: either gnosis right here & now, or — if there be any remnant of clinging/sustenance — non-return.
"Let alone half a month. If anyone would develop these four frames of reference in this way for seven days, one of two fruits can be expected for him: either gnosis right here & now, or — if there be any remnant of clinging/sustenance — non-return.
“‘This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of pain & distress, for the attainment of the right method, & for the realization of Unbinding — in other words, the four frames of reference.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.”
That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, the monks delighted in the Blessed One’s words.
This extract of this Sutta is not from the Buddha. This Sutta has been heavily modified by the Theravadins. The Chinese corresponding Sutta does not have this. Banthe Sujato has done a in depth study of this Sutta and came out with a much simpler text.
Hope you are having a great vassa. Great question. But I’ve heard lots of excellent talks by Ajahn Brahm, Bhante Brahmali and Bhante Sujato on how to deal with the fetters (you’d have to just listen to all their talks). I don’t think a lot of people are ready for or really want to hear blitzkrieg type of Dhamma talks, because their minds aren’t ready yet. Please think, how many years have have they been teaching the Dhamma? And how many people have really understood what they’ve been pointing to? How may times have you heard Ajahn Brahm say you’re in prison? With a guard named “Will”? Do you really understand what he is talking about? Please contemplate that.
If you really want to “deal” with the fetters, then all you need to do is start really letting go and get into the jhanas. Only then would you really be able to understand for yourself how to “deal” with the fetters. That’s why the three bhantes I mentioned always promote sila, samadhi and pañña with the emphasis on just following the eightfold path. That is the only path that can liberate your mind.
What else do you really need? I may sound harsh, but what it all really amounts to is each individual’s desire to let go. The Dhamma have been laid out for us, well expounded, well taught. All we really gotta do is apply it to our life. What the problem I see is, people mistake it that they can apply themselves to the Dhamma. But is has to be the other way around. Even the Buddha, worshipped the Dhamma. If we can just really surrender to the Dhamma and stop depending too much on the monastics, and acknowledge that we are responsible for our own “progess”. Just my thoughts.
As brought out in your thoughtful reply the ‘deal’ is sila, samadhi and pañña and no part can be left out. It strikes me that reflection on the manifestation of the fetters in daily life (as alaber proposes) could serve as a helpful tool in exploring sila (although I myself might sooner take up the defilements list of eg. MN7).
As part of Sila and fetters 4 and 5 (sensual desires and ill-will) we have to let go of the suffering accumulated during the 1st 17 years of our life. Suffering that causes us to go into automatic reaction mode most of the time of our adult life.
In order to work on in this and other areas of the Dhamma I have developed a spreadsheet with dated tabs. By colour coding each item in the current tab, I know which Dhamma component needs attention (some may need help from psychology) and I can monitor my progress/regress over the years by comparing from tab to tab.
Anyone interested to get a copy please send me an email (email@example.com).
Yes letting go is the key.
Now about the Jhanas.
There is no correlation between attaining Jhanas and attaining Awakening Stages.
Bhikkhu Bodhi studied the role of the Jhanas and proposed that Jhanas become useful tools to reach Stages 3 and 4. So we have to use other tools to reach Stages 1 and 2 such as studying, analysing, discussing, letting go of negative imprints, preconceptions, desires, etc…