Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by Alex, Feb 24, 2015.

  1. john.sundog

    john.sundog New

    Nov 10, 2013
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2015
  2. Breath! You are Alive by Thich Nhat Hanh:
    I don't see how you can identify an experience of the signless nature of ultimate reality by measuring of "sense of self, cognition, emotion, memory and perception". I think PNSE measures the effects of meditation but not necessarily the experience you have because of that meditation.
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2015
  3. Contents

    How I Practice Buddhism
    Further Reading
    Try it Yourself


    Can Enlightenment be taught? My thinking on this has changed recently. I approach the question from a Buddhist perspective. In Buddhism the term in the language of the sutras is better translated as "awakening" than enlightenment. There are stages of awakening and the final goal of spiritual practice is to end suffering for the practitioner. (In Buddhism, pain is considered different from suffering. Pain is a physical sensation, suffering is mental anguish. When I write about suffering here I am referring to mental anguish, ie unpleasant emotions.)

    My own meditation practice has evolved over time and it has become something very different from what is typically taught by Buddhist teachers. So much so that I posted on the Dharma Overground, a forum for Buddhist practitioners, and asked if what I was doing was even Buddhism. I found out that what I was doing is Buddhism but Buddhist practice is not typically taught in the way I described it. It seems to me that my approach is easier to learn and to practice than the traditional methods of teaching. It doesn't involve any abstruse philosophical concepts, the practices are easy to do, don't require intense concentration, and there is a huge variety that you can choose from.

    Buddhist practice centers around learning to let go of attachments and aversion because these mental constructs are the source of mental anguish which constitutes suffering. The key question of Buddhist practice is: How does one learn to let go of attachments and aversions? Different schools offer different solutions. They are based on traditional methods and often involve abstruse philosophical concepts.

    How I Practice Buddhism

    My answer to the question uses modern knowledge of how the nervous system works. To understand this, consider what it would be like to not experience suffering. Nothing could cause you to experience mental anguish. Anything could happen, and you would be serene and relaxed.

    The term for "suffering" in the language of the sutras is "dukkha" and if you google "dukkha = stress", you will find that stress is sometimes used as a translation for dukkha. So one way to understand Buddhism is that the end result of the practice is to end stress. If you look carefully within when you experience any type of unpleasant emotion you will see that it is a form of stress. If you can relax deeply, the emotion, the mental anguish, will dissipate. Maybe you have noticed that sometimes when you wake up from sleep you feel good and it takes a few seconds to remember a big problem you are in the middle of and then you feel unhappy or stressed again? That is because deep relaxation causes unpleasant emotions to dissipate. When you are having a big problem do you ever just want to lay down in bed? That is because when you are deeply relaxed, on the edge of sleep, you don't feel unpleasant emotions as strongly.

    So if you could understand how the body switches from "stress" to "relaxation" and learn how to control that switch you could develop a system where you cultivate your ability to turn the switch to "relaxation" and keep it there even when you are in normal waking consciousness.

    Because of this, I would say that yes, enlightenment can be taught, because people can learn to control that neurological switch between stress and relaxation.

    In modern society people experience a lot of stress. The nervous system becomes better at what it does more often, so people become unbalanced, they become stressed very easily and find it harder to relax. This process can be reversed. By practicing meditation and other relaxation techniques a person can learn to relax very easily and over time become more and more resistant to stress.

    The advantage of this perspective on Buddhist practice is that it is easy to understand. There are no complicated philosophical concepts like non-self, dependent origination, or your true nature. And it is easy to measure your progress, you know at anytime if you are feeling stress. You can tell if a practice is helping you immediately. You don't have to hope that something mystical will happen years in the future. And you can use many different relaxation techniques developed by other traditions or modern doctors and scientists. You can use the techniques that work best for you.

    (It is also important to understand that sometimes emotions are produced by biological processes. For example, in some cases depression is caused by abnormal brain chemistry and a purely mental technique will not cure it. However any secondary emotional reactions like anger at being depressed, can be helped by relaxation.)

    Further Reading

    I have several articles on my blog and web site that describe the practices I have found to be helpful:

    This article is about the neurological switch between stress and relaxation. It offers many suggestions for relaxation exercises:
    "Turning Off Stress: The Parasympathetic Nervous System And Spiritual Development"

    This article is about the type of meditation I use. You can use it just for relaxation. Even though it describes a method of producing intense spiritual experiences, you don't have to do that part. I think it helps but it is not a requirement if you want to use the meditation technique for relaxation alone:

    More here:
    "Focusing the Mind Can Help You Relax"

    "Diet and Serotonin" It is possible to increase serotonin levels in the brain by eating protein 20 to 40 minutes after eating carbohydrates.

    My posts on this topic at Dharma Overground:

    Try it Yourself

    If you want to try this type of practice, start doing relaxation exercises. The articles above offer many suggestions. Find the ones that work best for you. Some will work best when you are highly stressed, other will be best when you are only slightly stressed.

    The key to this practice is to experience how relaxing makes you feel better. Notice your emotional state after you do the relaxation exercises. Once you see that relaxing reduces unpleasant emotions and makes you feel better you will naturally turn to relaxation when you are suffering. It doesn't take will power any more than taking aspirin for a headache does. You do it because you know from experience that it offers relief

    Develop the habit of doing meditation or some type of relaxation every day. Lean how to relax. Noticing what causes you stop being relaxed will help you learn how to stay relaxed. In time your ability to relax and stay relaxed will improve. You will experience fewer unpleasant emotions, less mental anguish, and less suffering.
    Silence likes this.
  4. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

    Oct 31, 2013

    I liked that article, and I wonder just how far you have managed to take it. For example, can you avoid yourself suffering while (say) having a dental filing - even to the point of not needing a local aesthetic!

    I find that focussing on a part of my body that has a problem (e.g. a bit of arthritis, or indigestion) , often seems to fix it.

  5. When I wrote ...

    ... i meant to imply that pain would still be unpleasant and one would not want to endure it. In the sutras there is a case where Buddha suffered a physical injury and he dealt with the pain by going into a meditative trance so deep that he did not feel pain.

    I have found that pain due to illness or injury is much easier to bear when I am in a good mood. Being in pain can be frightening and demoralizing. If you can deal with those two symptoms, it is much easier to bear. So relaxation, meditation, and other techniques to elevate one's mood can help in that way. Particularly, the type of meditation I do can cause the brain to release endorphins which are natural pain killers.

    I also use self hypnosis and affirmations to change how I perceive pain. If you tell yourself you are perfectly comfortable, in some cases it can change how you experience or react to different sensations. I think if you want to convince your subconscious mind of something, you can do it by repeating it over an over until you wear ruts into the neurological pathways and it works its way into your implicit beliefs. Repetition is a technique of persuasion. You can use it on yourself.

    But I would not want to have a dental procedure without anesthetic.

    I write about the subject of meditation because I have found it to be tremendously helpful personally. I am not trying to make money or seeking personal publicity. I want to share the information because I think it would be helpful for other people, and I think the world would be a much better place if people were more relaxed and suffering less. When you are suffering, you are focused more on yourself and are naturally more selfish. When you feel good, you are more likely to be tolerant, loving, and generous.

    I don't know if relaxation can be perfected, belief that it can be would have to come from the sutras. I don't think anyone alive is believed to have reached nirvana. I asked on the dharma overground if a fully awakened person would experience the fight or flight response and I learned that this is no consensus on that question.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2018

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