The Simple Model
In some very early versions of this work, I had a model called “the heart sutra model”. The simple model is the less mysterious, stripped-down version of that earlier model, though it is essentially the same. While in one sense it is also rephrasing the revised four-path model, as it has no numbers and is free of the traditional names, it has some advantages over that terminology.
I present this somewhat novel model here because it focuses on real insight directly and treats any emotional benefits of this as side effects. Further, there are often too many cycles of insight before arahantship, making the four-path model troublesome. The phenomenon of too many cycles between each of the four paths gets worse as we work towards final awakening. As Bill Hamilton put it, and I learned the hard way, “The arahant fractal is vast.”
The simple model does not reinforce fascination with content, nor with life-denying ideals or with limited emotional range models in the way that the traditional four-path model often does. It hopefully does not tempt us to count paths. It keeps the focus on precise inquiry into the truth and into our experiences in all their richness and complexity.
This model basically says that awakening is about direct insight that progressively reveals something different in the relationship to the field of experience and gradually allows all qualities of manifestation in it to be held in their natural, intrinsic, proper proportion. It is a progressive non-duality model.
The first understanding is that sensations are sensations, thoughts are thoughts, and this forms the basis of further inquiry. When we begin to see the universal characteristics of these sensations, our understanding grows. Knowing the whole sense field directly and completely can cause an entrance into Fruition through one of the three doors, which represents the first stage of awakening.
When we appreciate the cycles of the process of awakening and have completed at least one more new progress cycle, we are at the next stage. When we begin to appreciate the emptiness, luminosity, centerlessness, agentlessness, etc. of phenomena in real time and this becomes the focus of practice rather than Fruition, this is the next stage. When the sense of the watcher, observer, subject, controller, doer, etc., is seen completely as it is and the knot of perception untangles, that simple, fundamental way of perceiving things is the next stage of awakening. When that untangling stays untangled, that is the next stage. As we integrate that understanding into our lives, we are at the next phase, though it is more an ongoing process than a stage.
The problem is that some of the purveyors of the traditions seem to want to make this understanding into so much more than it is and thus to add ideals of emotional perfection onto this righting and untangling of perception. There is some truth in the models dealing with emotions, but it relates to emotions moving through us faster and more fluidly, as well as being perceived more clearly and spaciously. It does not have anything to do with “bad” or unwholesome emotions not arising. I am reluctant to go there, as my goal is to give the emotional models the bashing they richly deserve, but I also do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Thus, here it goes.
As the deep-seated perceptual sense of a separate, continuous, permanent, observing agent stops being extrapolated from the same old patterns of sensations that appeared to be an agent, there is a broader, more inclusive perspective that can come into the consciousness of the awakened individual, depending on their level of awakening. There is also a slowly growing directness of perception that comes as reality is not filtered so heavily through thought. There is a growing sense of immediacy rather than a sense of temporality. There is a growing appreciation of ephemerality. There is a growing sense of spaciousness and openness to perspective. There is more softening and less contraction.
These perceptual upgrades can combine to give the emotions of awakened beings less sticking power, so that they may move through them more quickly than those who are not awakened. Those emotions also may be seen more quickly and clearly as they arise and vanish. There also may be less reactive or blind contraction into thoughts and emotions and a broader perspective which sees these normal, human, mammalian processes as just parts of a broader process like the textures of space, thus giving other parts of the brain more of a chance to create moderated responses to the emotions. That said, even when seen through, there seems to be a biological component to how emotions move through humans which can only be expedited so much. Still, the more that emotions arise in an awakened mind, the more something in the habitually conditioned reactions can change, lessen, soften, and relax due to having arisen in that improved perception. The more this goes on and the clearer and more awake the mind is, the stronger this effect becomes.
However, anyone who thinks these highly qualified statements are anything like a vision of emotional perfection or the elimination of all negative emotions is not paying attention! That is the last thing I would want to imply. I merely wish to say that there is some increased clarity about our basic human experience, and this clarity can help, but that is all. That said, you would be amazed how angry, lustful, or ignorant some technically awakened beings can be, and they can still do all sorts of stupid actions based on these emotions, just like anyone else.
Here I would like to tell a little story, a summary and simplification of a situation that unfolded over a few years. I knew four people, three were friends of mine before all this began, and two were people whose practices I knew quite well. They all began following a teaching in which a person claimed to have eliminated all emotions entirely. These four were good people, strong practitioners, and appeared honestly inspired by a practice that seemed straightforwardly helpful: notice feelings as they arise, see what causes them and how they function, and notice how they seem to relate to a sense of a self, with an emphasis on bodily awareness of those feelings and a commitment to being very present all day long and enjoying being here now.
The interesting thing is that all four of these people within a year or so of having started this practice claimed to have done it, and by “it” I mean eliminated all emotions entirely, replacing them with a perpetually wonderful perception of the freshness of the sensate world, a lack of time pressure, a reduced need for sleep, and some other benefits and odd side effects. This caused quite a stir in my community, but I was totally intrigued and impressed. Being willing to keep an open mind and revise my impressions as needed in the face of the seemingly honest reports of my fellow adventurers, I spent a reasonable amount of time with some of them trying to figure out exactly what they had done and how they did it, as well as adopting the basic practice of deeply embodying feelings as a focus all day long, and appreciating the sensuous beauty of the freshness of the sensate world; basically mindfulness of emotions and emphasizing rapture. I must say, it was in general a fun and interesting practice that seemed grounded on sound basic principles. I experienced various beneficial relative effects, but the elimination of emotions wasn’t one of them.
Time passed, however, and one by one, the four renounced their claims to have eliminated all emotions, with each stating something along the lines of having realized that their model had caused them to be in denial of what they were actually feeling to some degree. All four later arrived at the conclusion that the people who had inspired them were also clearly not free of emotions. One of the four ended up with some long-lasting psychological complexities, though the remaining three did better, and two of them did say that they did change something useful in the way that emotions were experienced, though the elimination of emotions was not that something.
So ended an interesting saga, but the end result, at least from my point of view, has led to four conclusions:
1) Beware of the limited emotional range models!
2) Investigating the sensuous beauty of reality, emphasizing rapture, and tuning in to the freshness of the sensate world, the body, and its feelings can be a fun and rewarding practice.
3) Be careful with claims of having done something final before really giving reality time to show you what subtleties and complexities remain.
4) Strong, dedicated, intelligent practitioners can be led astray and confused by golden promises of the spiritual marketplace, just like anyone else, so keep reality testing your practices to see how they hold up.
I know of a few other people (some of whom I have met, some by reports of good friends who have met them) who still claim to have eliminated all emotions (as well as nearly all thought), though those who have spent time with them all say that they still appear to have emotions, and can be moody, snippy, arrogant, and the like, just as anyone else can. Can I be certain I know exactly what is going on with them regarding their internal experience? Obviously not. Am I very skeptical? Yes, I am. However, in the interest of fairness, I present these examples just so that you can do your own research and realize that there is still controversy about this. Best of luck sorting it out for yourself. Regardless, the ability to modulate responses to emotions skillfully can sometimes give the impression that these emotions have been attenuated or eliminated, but that ability and emotional elimination are not the same thing.