Buddhist four phase map of awakening

[…] After a while, and it can vary for different people, one will have gone through many cycles—with what will appear to be an underlying cycle beneath these surface cycles. When the underlying cycle comes to completion, the surface cycles and deeper cycle converge with a fruition, and there is a dramatic shift in perception where one begins to see what is meant by emptiness, now in real-time. This shift, which is the 3rd stage of enlightenment, has to do with seeing the empty, selfless nature of reality upon mere reflection. Where once emptiness was contained in the discontinuity experience at the end of an insight cycle, it now permeates all of experience. It comes obvious, for those of 3rd path, what is meant by the lines from the Heart Sutra, “form is emptiness.”

The time between 3rd path and 4th path tends to be the longest yet. Ingram breaks 3rd path into early and mature phases. In the early phase one is still looking for the cycles to bring further progress, whereas in the mature phase emptiness is so ordinary and integrated into one’s experience that the inquiry turns away from the cycles and toward the last subtle hints of duality, which remain.

Finally, there is another radical shift in perspective, in which the sense of a separate center-point, observer, or doer is completely undone. Apparently this realization can occur and then fade for some time, until finally the shift is permanent (i.e. nothing can interrupt this centerless perspective). This is the opening of the “wisdom eye”, the attainment of arhantship, and as Ingram says is the end of insight path: “For the arahat who has kept the thing open, there is nothing more to be gained on the ultimate front from insight practices, as ‘done is what is to be done’.” It’s also interesting to note that it’s difficult to predict how long it will take from 3rd to 4th path. It tends to be the longest path, though I have so little data (even anecdotal) that it’s really hard to say. […]

A great overview from Vince of a four-phase model of awakening, drawn from Daniel Ingram’s book Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, in turn drawn from traditional Buddhist teachings.

I am especially intrigued by this part:

Finally, there is another radical shift in perspective, in which the sense of a separate center-point, observer, or doer is completely undone. Apparently this realization can occur and then fade for some time, until finally the shift is permanent (i.e. nothing can interrupt this centerless perspective).

From my own (always) limited experience, it seems that an aspect of this phase has to do with recognizing even the remaining sense of a center/I-other as a gestalt, and also as emptiness/awakeness itself. When attention is brought to it, it is recognized as a gestalt made up of sensations (for me, in the head area) and a set of mental field images (center-periphery + a “doer” in, around or above the head), and the sense of substance or reality of the gestalt fades or falls away. Also, even at the gestalt level, it is all directly recognized as emptiness and awakeness itself.

And in that recognition, the tendency to resist it tends to fade or fall away as well. It is all seen as OK as is, even if there is a sense of center there, because that too is emptiness itself.

This also fits what Mike Snider said about his own path in one of his talks. For many years, there was a oneness state, recognizing all as God yet with a sense of “me” (center, observer, doer) hanging around. Then, a period of shifts between this sense of me falling away and returning. Then a recognition that it is all emptiness/awakeness itself, whether there is a sense of me there or not. And finally (he didn’t say this, but I assume this is what happened), a clearer recognition and more familiarity with this.

2 thoughts to “Buddhist four phase map of awakening”

  1. I have a very limited experience of completely dropping center, but it happened the same each time. Hard to put into words, of course, but I sort of project my awareness into “other bodies” (such as my girlfriend) and try to empathize as deeply as I can with what their “I perspective” would feel like (which is the same as “mine”). I do this with as many people as I can, including my past memories– simply imagining their “I sense” as my own; seeing through “their eyes” with their “I.” As I move through that process, my center seems to scatter upon a subtle realization that everyone’s core “I am” is the exact same feeling.

    I take it as sort of an intellectually facilitated shift by subtly pointing to the truth that we’re attempting to integrate. By mocking the “I am unique” thought of the ego, the silliness of a separate self becomes apparent, thus a temporary cessation of such. I guess one of these days it’s supposed to be permanent!

  2. Hi Per,

    Yeah, thanks for your comments on this. I should have been more clear in my description and said that the mature phase of 3rd path is often described as non-duality being nearly complete, so complete that it can often seem like it is done. Ingram told me that for a long while he would go through periods where he couldn’t sense any duality left, and then a subtle sense of duality would emerge and he’d go through another cycle and then he’d think he had it. This went on for a while until there was the event where the centerpoint vanished.

    The fading of that realization was a different kind of fading, which only happened for a couple days where the whole the whole thing would flip back and forth (between absolute centerlessness and relative non-duality). I don’t quite get how to describe it differently, as I haven’t been through this shift (that I can tell) but from the way I’ve heard it described there is a difference. That being said, when I read the descriptions of your path, I very much hear what sounds like a mature 3rd path description.

    I also love the description from Mike Snider. That descriptions seems to totally fit for what I’ve gone through. The first awakening into emptiness as being completely ever-present had a much stronger sense of “me” involved with it. The sense of “me as emptiness” which then was ripped away. Now, I feel that that emptiness is very much more normal, though I’m not sure if the sense of me falls away and returns (which is what I would call mature 3rd path). Early 3rd path is the sense of recognizing God but having a sense of “me” hanging around.

    I’m really interested in hear how it unfolds for more people, particularly this final shift. I checked in with a couple of insight teachers and asked them if there was an end to the insight path. Both of them said “yes” and one of them (Jack Kornfield) described it as disidentifying with various bandwidths of experience until there is just the play of consciousness left. I thought that was a different, yet highly overlapping description of the final shift.

    Anyway, keep me updated as to how things unfold. 😉

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