Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey did a vipassana retreat

Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey went on a 10-day vipasanna meditation retreat in Myanmar, and described some of his experiences in a Twitter thread. The thread is interesting both for its perspective on Dorsey’s views of meditation, and for the many diverse responses of Twitter users.

Dorsey is receiving much criticism in the global press for seemingly ignoring what is going on in Myanmar with the Rohingya.

But I was struck by something Dorsey said about meditation, impermanence and suffering. It’s a kind of statement that is very common in the “insight meditation” tradition, and is in turn influenced by the Theravada abhidhamma tradition, I think.

The idea is that the point of meditation is to break down experience into its smallest temporal components, so that one can understand that each episode of suffering consists of little atoms of suffering that arise and pass away in a nonce. Somehow recognizing that all of these little temporal atoms of suffering rapidly come to an end is supposed to be connected with the goal of reaching the end of suffering.

I have heard this kind account so often that I have forgotten how little sense it makes to me, and to my own understanding of the path and the goal. Suppose I am feeling some intense aversion toward, or hatred of, some person or thing in the world, and my hatred lasts for a long time. If, through “insight”, I come to see my hatred as consisting of a very long sequence of transient “hate moments”, each coming to an end before the next one begins, how does that help me conquer my hatred or bring it to an end? A long temporal river of hatred can keep flowing on, even if one sees it as composed of a bunch of itty bitty droplets of impermanent hate.

There is another line about the importance of impermanence in Buddhist thought that seems similarly off the mark to me. It is fairly common to hear some meditator/therapist in a dhamma talk in effect telling people that they should cheer up because the Buddha taught that their troubles are impermanent. If you get some bad news today, there is no point in getting down in the dumps about it, because tomorrow you are bound to get some good news that will turn that frown into a smile!

This seems like some simplistic and bad advice, at least for some people, because they might be subjected to a long train of bad news, with little relief. If someone’s life partner dies, I don’t see how it helps them to be told that they should cheer up, because they are bound to get some good news any day now.

My understanding is that when the Buddha recommended reflecting on impermanence, he was focussed on the objects of desire, aversion and attachment. We crave and cling to things, and suffer as a result, because we systematically ignore their transience. So when we begin to fill our minds with the impermanent nature of what we cling to, our mind naturally finds them less suitable objects for desire, and lets go.


The rationale to such decomposition of experience that I’ve heard is that it’s related to being able to see the workings of paticca-samuppada (dependent co-arising or such) in finest detail, and hence getting into position to discover how ingrained, conditioned mental habits might be altered from the ground up, and so training the mind to overcome it’s own generation of “suffering”.

Mr Jack mentions this in his 2nd tweet there, but also ties it into anicca, which I don’t get either.


The paradox of Myanmar is that genocide could arise in a Buddhist land. Perhaps Jack went to understand this dilemma personally. Perhaps he went for himself. However, living as I do in the valley of drunks cradled in self-driving Tesla’s, I am grateful for Jack’s study of restraint and awareness. Perhaps he can help in Putting the Sīla in Sīlacon Valley without needing to travel quite so far or dramatically.


If you look at Buddha’s second discourse Anattalakkhana sutta it shows how the five aggregates are anicca, dukkha and anatta. This is considered a major thread of the practice on which entire chapters of the Samyutta are dedicated to. The Buddha says that conquering anger won’t be enough to reach Nibbana. Overcoming defilements are obviously part of the path but that only leads to samadhi and not to wisdom (though the path properly practiced leads to both). A Swift Pair of Messengers by Ahjan @sujato delves into the need for both tranquility and insight practices in the path. Those who say Buddhism is no different from psychology practices are possibly only practicing tranquility. The concept of Delusion and its opposite wisdom, requires a different perception from the practitioner and therefore aggregates, sense bases etc last less than a second.

"Monks, these four types of individuals are to be found existing in the world. Which four?
“There is the case of the individual who has attained internal tranquillity of awareness, but not insight into phenomena through heightened discernment. SuttaCentral

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Ah. Thank you. I had assumed that extinguishment (of defilements) was the end of the path from MN44:

What is the counterpart of extinguishment?”
“Your question goes too far, Visākha. You couldn’t figure out the limit of questions.

I think what you are saying is this subtle point from MN77:

Furthermore, I have explained to my disciples a practice that they use to realize the undefiled freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom in this very life. And they live having realized it with their own insight due to the end of defilements.

Even the Buddha went away and meditated after his Realization.

1.9.34To never be content with skillful qualities, and to never stop trying.

One might be tempted to abide in the gaps perhaps? Maybe that would help?

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Abiding in the gaps is craving formlessness and avoidance. We would be hiding in the gaps. However, if we observe the gaps, something interesting happens…

Seeing the gaps, one sees rise and fall of a grasping aggregate.
Seeing rise and fail, one can search for the root of arising.
Seeing the root of arising, one can let it go.
Letting it go, it no longer arises.

Just sitting in meditation we can do lots of this work. We eventually reach a complacent point, however. We bliss out. Getting off our butts and carrying on the work in our daily lives is critical. And the exact same techniques apply.

The gaps are not the way to progress. They are possibly akasa the gap around phenomena. No mindfulness of gaps exists in EBTs. It’s like asanni samadhi states.

I don’t even think EBTs recognize the existence of gaps or mind moments.


At that stage of insight (seeing experience as granular or pixellated), every aspect of one’s experience disintegrates as soon as it arises. This should cause a realization of the futility of trying to hold on to any part of experience. So it should weaken craving, and thus dukkha.

During that kind of insight experience it becomes clear that there aren’t really any “things” to hold on to anyway (except as conceptualized in one’s mind), but just experience rapidly arising and passing. This should also weaken craving, by displaying anicca (the rapid change) and anatta (what one previously saw as “things” are just rapidly changing experiential phenomena conceptualized as “things”).

I think the greatest value, though is in observing consciousness (the awareness that’s experiencing all these rapidly changing objects) in the same light. Since consciousness almost always has an object, it seems like a single, persisting entity that’s been around as long as we can remember. That’s why it’s often the last bastion of self view. But during this stage of insight, when observing consciousness itself, it can be seen to be arising and passing with each sense contact. So one might start to get an inkling that it can’t be the self, since it’s changing so rapidly.

But even that still might not be enough to overcome self view, so it usually requires that first experience of nibbana, in which there is an experience without any sense of an “experiencer” or any other constructions.


If by disintegration you meant bhanga in the stages of Insight the self view is discarded earlier.

If you mean that anatta is seen earlier, I agree. It’s seen as early as the first insight knowledge (namarupa pariccheda nana). But I wouldn’t say that self view is discarded until stream entry.

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Suppose I’m in love with my dog. Now suppose I achieve this supposed abhidhammic insight into my dog’s persistance through time, and I see how that existence is made up of a sequence of very briefly existing temporal parts. Will I therefore love my dog less?

Also, it seems to me that if I have various beliefs about myself, such as the belief that I own a nice car, or the the belief that I am trying to solve a chess puzzle, and then I achieve deep insight into the nature of my persistance as a temporal sequence of impermanent elements, then all that does is add some detail to my self-conception. I will think that I am a temporal sequence of impermanent elements existences that owns a car, and I am a temporal sequence of impermanent elements that is trying to solve a chess puzzle.

It’s hard to say. I would tend to doubt it, unless you were unusually spiritually apt. These types of insight experiences still have to be integrated into one’s everyday perspective, which can take a long time and may require experiencing the same kind of insight many times. It may also depend on how entrenched one is in one’s current perspective.

In my opinion, I don’t think it’s necessary to experience the granularity or the “mind-moments”, which, as you mentioned, are not found in the EBTs. But it seems necessary to see change on a deep enough level that the futility of holding on to something as it is becomes clear. Unfortunately, even though it’s clear during the insight experience, ignorance and craving are very strong and habitual, so the mind tends to revert back to its old habits after the experience ends. That’s why these insight experiences have to be integrated into one’s life by frequently resurrecting them, even if only in memory. Otherwise, they just remain a peak experience one once had.

When you refer to loving your dog less, I’m understanding “love” to mean the usual sense of affection and attachment. I think if practice is proceeding properly, attachment should lessen but the kindness and compassion for your dog should actually become more established.

Perhaps. But these insights are progressively deeper experiences of anicca, dukkha, and anatta. If the insight is genuine, then, by definition, it should undermine the self-conception. If “all it does is add some detail to my self-conception”, then I don’t think it should be considered insight.

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That’s why I’m a bit doubtful of the efficacy of the modern insight tradition. It seems to me that it puts too much weight on metaphysics and the cognitive aspect of experience, and identifies the causes of thirst and attachment as a cognitive or perceptual error. There are some places in the suttas where you get that picture, namely in the longer versions of paticcasamuppada, which start with ignorance. But there are other early accounts that put more emphasis on craving itself, and don’t suggest that we only crave because we are deluded and ignorant of the deep nature of the ontological constituents of reality. The emphasis is more on direct transformation of our affective responses to the world by, in the first instance practicing mindful discipline and restraint in the way our heart responds to what we are attracted to and averse to, and then cultivating levels of absorption that at the same time break the fetters that attach us to things.

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When I see pretty, delight arises. Simply glancing away to something else, delight disappears. This is what I mean about a gap. Delight for pretty is not continuous. So by simply glancing to and away, it is very easy to follow the delight in the DO chain and see where it arises. This is not esoteric and I am not making it up. I do this regularly while walking and seeing two people with different appeal. I alternate glances between the two until they look the same. It is very simple and very effective. I call it the “bag of bones” exercise. There’s a Zen parable that gave me the idea.

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So we’re observing consciousness - but observing with what?

Yes, it shows how delight is an illusion, and a mental creation as opposed to the ‘bare’ rupa and that delight can be rubbed away.

We don’t usually see the world that way- we think the rupa is attractive rather than seeing the delight is a mental preference. This splitting the form from the mental component, is the initial step of insight. It’s not esoteric. When I see cooked frogs legs or something similar I get an unpleasant feeling. Others might find it quite pleasant. The label namarupapariccedanana might have arisen later. Its however about the incremental deconstruction of reality to a point ontology becomes debtable, where’s without it, that’s not an option anyway.

The Buddha say without samadhi there’s no wisdom.
He also says:

“Mendicants, develop immersion.
“samādhiṃ, bhikkhave, bhāvetha;
[samādhi: meditation; one-pointedness of the mind.]
1.5 A mendicant who has immersion truly understands.
samāhito, bhikkhave, bhikkhu yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti.
1.6 What do they truly understand?
Kiñca yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti?
1.7 The origin and ending of form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness.

Or to put it in another way without observing closely with samadhi these phenomena can’t be sensed.


With consciousness (and nama-rupa).