Balanced Effort and the ‘Chronic Yogi’

Balanced Effort and the ‘Chronic Yogi’

“There’s no jhana for one with no discernment,
no discernment for one with no jhana.
But one with both jhana & discernment:
he’s on the verge
of Unbinding.”-Buddha

KENNETH FOLK: I was thinking, at the very most basic level, the questions to answer are: “What is enlightenment?,” “Why does it matter?”, and “How do you get it?”

JOEL GROOVER: Yeah. I love that, and one thing, too, I wanted to mention: One thought that occurred to me is the importance of somehow conveying the depth of these practices, because I’ve read Wilber and I have heard his point about objectifying, for example, but it just did not stick. For me the witness practice, for example, has seemed just like this kind of mantra that some people that I know repeat to themselves. I’ve seen people saying, “I am the witness” as they do light yoga, for example. Not that there is anything wrong with that! But I did not get it. One thing that has helped me get the depth of these practices is, for example, reading the case studies that you have posted, particularly that one with Monica, for example.

You get a real sense of what people are doing at a higher level of yogic attainment and just the depth of the actual practices. It is easy for people to just gloss over practices. They see so many potential things that you can do mentioned in books that they read. So I do not know how to convey that, but I certainly get a sense of it from the case studies.

I would add that the deft way in which you guide students through the jhanas and help them understand the Progress of Insight—that really comes through in the case studies on your site. This is not “just open to it” or “just be with whatever arises.” This is very specific and high-level instruction.

KF: I see what you’re saying—for example, you can read how Wilber describes this process of objectifying and dis-embedding and “OK, great.” It sounds very heady and disconnected from humanity. But when you read how Monica describes what that feels like, that depth of emotion that she expresses so well … Wow. People can relate to that on a human level.

That is one of the reasons I think that this hardcore dharma movement does not attract women generally. It is because we have left that out and we keep thinking that people are just going to know without us telling them how profound this is at every level.

JG: Yeah. Right. Right. And it has got to be conveyed. Another thing that conveys it is descriptions of experiences. What does progress look like, experientially, to a yogi who is actually moving through the states and stages of developmental enlightenment? It is neat when other practitioners are describing having experiences per your instructions and seeing the results.

KF: OK, right. So that is verification that it actually works, that somebody was really doing the technique I suggested and look what happened. Now this is good for me to hear because one of the things that I worry about with Daniel [Ingram’s] book [Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha] is that people will read his own personal idiosyncratic process and think that they are supposed to have exactly that, and of course it does not happen that way.

People respond to this in their own way but that does not mean that it is not enormously valuable to tell those stories and explain that there is great variation in how it can come about.

JG: Yeah, the caveats are maybe kind of important but, you know, where are most practitioners? I don’t really know, but my guess is that many are “chronic yogis.” So they are probably like me, many of them, where they have had opening experiences. Those have gone away. They do not know how to get them back and they just kind of—they do not really know whether meditative practice can progress in the ways that you and Daniel have made clear. So, they do not see that happening much because of the “mushroom culture.” So I think it is important.

KF: Now that you have just said “chronic yogi”—that initially comes from Sayadaw U Pandita, and that is something that Bill Hamilton talked a lot about. The chronic yogi is my target audience.

JG: Yes. Right.

KF: I love the fact that we are back to that phrase because people are asking me, “What is your target audience?” Well, it is the chronic yogi—somebody who has got the arising and passing away, has had some opening, as you say, in the past, and yet is floundering. Nobody has clearly expressed what can happen from here, so they have kind of hunkered down: “All right, I’m just going to have to accept my lot. I will be like this for the rest of my life and this is really what awakening is all about—it is about being a complacent slug.”

I want to say, “No! That is not what it is at all!”

JG: That is what it is viewed as. People learn to say, “States, they just come and go.” The ironic part is, there is a truth to it. You do not want to be attached to having things go one way or the other, but we are missing something, right?

KF: That is right. This is one of those near-enemy teachings. The near-enemy of understanding that progress can be made by properly applying the technique is, of course, becoming a gung-ho achiever and thinking that meditative achievement is just like any other category of achievement. “I’m going to become the CEO of Meditation Inc.”

JG: One integral teacher calls approaches based on doing, or having techniques, “hyper-masculine.” And so the teaching is “You are perfect the way you are,” because if you engage in hyper-masculine approaches, it is just a loop.

KF: Interesting. So here we have the reaction to hyper-masculinity—the pendulum just goes all the way to the other side and pegs over there where “I’m not going to do anything.”

JG: Yes.

KF: The interesting part about that is, as always there is this razor’s edge between heaven and hell. They are right. Once you get it, that is exactly right. This is fine exactly the way it is. It is perfect. But if you don’t see that and if you are just mouthing off about it, why bother?

So there has got to be a scaffolded approach where you can say—you ring the non-dual bell first and you say, “OK. It’s fine. Do you see that?” And the answer is yes or no. “Yes I do.” Then OK, fine, don’t do anything else. You have done it. But for a lot of people the answer is “No. I don’t see that and any amount of mind-fucking doesn’t help.”

So then you say, “Let’s give you a practice now.” Now it is time for a technique, and then you find that as you go through those three practices of objectifying or investigating the objects of awareness, which is First Gear, then turning the light around and investigating the subject, which is Second Gear and then at times just giving up the entire self-improvement project as Tsoknyi Rinpoche or Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche would say—I can’t remember which—which is Third Gear, they all reinforce each other and they can all be done in their own season.

JG: And now interestingly, too, surrender seems to play a role in all of the gears, doesn’t it? For example, with the Pa Auk Sayadaw system [First Gear] it is a situation where at a certain point you cannot be doing it. They say “the practice starts doing you” and you surrender. And yet surrender has to be a part of Third Gear, right?

KF: Yes, in fact surrender is the entire program in Third Gear.

JG: So you hear at least some conservative Theravadins talking about surrender as the thing, and then you’ll hear it from non-dualists as well. Is there anything to say about the way surrender fits in at all stages or all levels of practice?

KF: In First Gear, surrender is seasonal, as I like to think of it. So you’re moving through these seasons of the Progress of Insight. In the first part of the Progress of Insight, there is effort. And so in my story “The Boy Who Found the Great Ocean,” when the mother says, “Let me give you my blessing. May you work hard and achieve your heart’s desire,” well, that is the first part of it. You have to arouse some energy/effort. The Pali word is viriya. So that is a season, because if you do not arouse that energy/effort to get over the hump to look carefully at the changing phenomena of mind and body you end up just staying embedded in your experience.

OK, you crest that hill of the arising and passing away of phenomena—the fourth Insight Knowledge—and at that point, as Shinzen Young says, you have been rubbing two sticks together to catch a fire and it sparks and it does catch fire. All of the potential energy contained in those sticks is released. And so now all you have to do is find a way to go with the energy that is spontaneously arising anyway.

So you very quickly, after the arising and passing away of phenomena, come to a place where anything you do is just messing you up. So that is when you’re in the dark night and, by the way, as long as I’m on the theme of the story of “The Boy who Found the Great Ocean,” the father’s blessing, which comes right at the crest of the hill, which is the arising and passing away, the father says, “May you realize that you and your heart’s desire are one.” It is already done at that point. This is the unitive experience that is so common there.

But when it gets to the point in “The Boy Who Found the Great Ocean” where Mighty Medicine Woman finally gives her blessing to Putujjana, she says, “May you give up your heart’s desire and so realize a much greater gift.” Well, you have to surrender there.

And so I like to say about the dark night, which is what we are talking about now, this is a season in which you cannot go forward, you cannot go back. What are you going to do? You just lie down on the cold earth for seven days and seven nights and surrender. So that is surrender as it pertains to First Gear. It is situational. Sometimes you surrender and sometimes not. You have got to understand something about this practice to know what is appropriate and when.

JG: In Pa Auk Sayadaw’s system, surrender in First Gear comes about as the meditator places all of the attention on the anapanasati spot or kasina, to the exclusion of everything else, and regards personal thoughts, feelings and other distractions with a “benign disinterest,” returning to the object again and again and again and thus “knowing the self by forgetting the self,” as in Zen. And since the meditator, in Second Gear, is returning again and again and again to the witness as object, we might say that there is a Second Gear sense of surrender as well—it is a more limited sense of surrender … maybe a run-up to the ultimate surrender of Third Gear?

KF: In Second Gear, I’m investigating the subject, turning the flashlight of awareness back around on itself to look right down its own pipe and light up the subject. In this moment, I’m not seeing that the concept of surrender has much to offer there. Because you are deliberately taking this perspective; you’re looking at this sense of “I.”

At first it appears to be a transpersonal witness that is not Kenneth but includes Kenneth, and it does not have a stake in Kenneth’s life. So this is what I call the “no-dog.” It has no dog in this fight.

JG: So maybe the surrender is when “the stick is consumed by the fire,” as Ramana Maharshi put it, right? And is that the transition to Third Gear?

KF: Yes. Yes. That’s right. Surrender comes at that moment of transition from Second to Third Gear.

JG: Someone could freak out and not go with it at that point and not surrender, couldn’t they?

KF: I think they could, and so it is really useful to know that the stick is being consumed by the fire because in practice what happens is you have gotten to the point—and this is, again, seasonal—you are going through one of the circuits, one of these cycles and you have gotten to the point where everything that is arising in the field of experience is seen, so it is all objectified; it is all Teflon mind. And you have gotten to the point where even the knower, the sense of knowing, is objectified. So you’re just looking at that and you are saying “OK. I see it. Who am I? Knowing. There is a sense of knowing” [Kenneth’s tone of voice here conveys that the meditator is, at this point, regarding the process as blasé or casual or mundane.]

And yet this has gotten really subtle and even in this place called sat-chit-ananda, “being-consciousness-bliss” that the Advaitists talk about, which is wonderful, but you’re still going—there is something that still isn’t right. There’s something missing. And that is the question: What am I missing?

So actually there is nowhere to go from there. When you get to the subtlest levels of noticing this sense of knowing itself, you cannot get behind that. I can’t get behind that, because the only thing that is behind that does not include any sense of I. So then you have to surrender entirely. So it is a discontinuity. It could be seen as a linear development up until that point: Every time I objectified something at one stratum of mind I was kicked upstairs to the next stratum of mind. I could look down and go “Ha, look at all that stuff down there.” You keep getting kicked upstairs until finally there is nowhere to get kicked. I cannot get kicked upstairs; I just have to go away.

JG: You use another term, which is uncompounded.

KF: Uncompounded. Good. So everything has been compounded all along the way, even including this sense of subtle knowing. All of those—even sat-chit-ananda—are conditioned phenomena, and then suddenly, the discontinuity: You surrender even that, the subtlest possible thing, and then there is the uncompounded, just the absolute of awareness recognizing itself without me to evaluate and report on it. That is why it is ineffable and cannot be expressed—because I am not there to see that.

It is one thing to be a radical non-dualist, a ruthless practitioner of Third Gear and say “All I have to do is surrender to the absolute and I’m good.” Well, right.

And yet, as a human being if you’re not objectifying the content of the mind at every level—if it is not all seen to arise and pass away—then you are embedded in it. So it is fine to say “Oh, 100 times a day I’m able to see that it is perfect.” Yeah, but for the rest of the day you’re a jerk and embedded in your experience, acting out, because you haven’t developed Teflon mind, which is what we want. We want Teflon mind so that things don’t stick.

It is interesting and relevant that, as I understand it, some of the Tibetans who are teaching Third Gear also spent many years of their lives developing what they consider to be the lower practices before they even began practicing Third Gear.

This is often taken out of context in the West. Tulku Urgyen was a real pioneer here. He just went out there, sort of an anti-mushroom guy, and said, “This is the highest practice that we know about and so here it is.” He taught to just surrender to awareness, but he was teaching it to people who had no training in all of this other stuff leading up to it—the stuff that would normally lead up to it in the traditional Tibetan approach.

In order to realize our potential as human beings, I think we really need the whole package. Whether you teach Third Gear first and then come back and teach First and Second I do not think is so important. It is just a matter of all of it has to be done.

JG: Do you mind talking about concentration a little more?

KF: Sure.

JG: My dharma practice started, I was in journalism school and had a professor who had been a correspondent in the Vietnam War for The New York Times, and he was standing next to one of these monks who self-immolated. He said to us, “This man burned away to nothing and he never flinched, and I will never understand it. There are things in this world that we don’t understand.” And I just thought, “Wow. I’ve got to find out about that. What is going on?” It just seemed to open up my mind—this whole other potential that I had not thought about before.

If you think about the level of concentration, if that story is true, that would be required to do something like that, and then I was reading about Dipa Ma. Apparently when she first went to Mahasi Sayadaw’s meditation center, at one point in her walking meditation she was stopped and she did not realize why she could not keep going. It was a stray dog that had gotten her leg. Her concentration was so strong that she didn’t even notice that. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is this level of concentration that is understood in parts of Asia but that I don’t think we fully comprehend here. You made this point that it was a problem for the Burmese yogis because their concentration was so good that they weren’t really doing vipassana, and so could you talk a little bit about that and how we are missing something about concentration?

KF: There does seem to be a cultural component, and it does seem that Asian yogis have, generally speaking, better concentration than western yogis. It seems logical that it would happen that way because we have so many distractions and our lifestyle is based on changing gears every few seconds. So the only kind of TV that we can be engaged in is something where the scene changes about every second and a half. So if you’re in a culture where it makes sense to be with something for some period of time—like let’s say your job is cutting down trees with a handsaw.

I actually saw this at a monastery in Burma. This one skinny old man cut down a tree that was enormous. The trunk must have been 10 feet in diameter, and he got out there with one big two-man saw but it was just him and for days he just cranked on that saw until he had finally cut down this big tree. And then he cut it into chunks all by himself. This was a guy who should have been retired and watching football on TV if he were an American.

But just look at how that job in that culture reinforces concentration. But what else are you going to do? For one thing, presumably he was not a Harvard grad. Maybe he did not have a lot of complex ideas floating around in his head. He went out there, stood there, squatted there and cranked on that saw. What was he doing with his time? Maybe he was concentrating. So the culture supports that.

Now there are pros and cons to it, I suppose. Or at least depending upon whether you have a lot of concentration or a little, you are going to approach your meditation differently. So it is very common for the Burmese monks, Sayadaw U Pandita for example, to really want to arouse a lot of effort in the yogis because, for one thing, if you are a poor Burmese person and you get to go to the monastery for the weekend and just sit there and concentrate, what a break! What a wonderful treat that is, because probably your life is working from sunup to sundown on something really difficult every day.

JG: And in a society that is full of ethnic conflict and can be chaotic and dangerous, right?

KF: Yes. Right. And so now you are relatively safe. You’re getting good food. Your only job is to sit there on the ground for some period of time. Well, you might be tempted to just enjoy that, but the vipassana technique demands that you not only enjoy it, but that you pay careful attention to what is going on.

So the Burmese monks will say, “You need more effort. Don’t just sit there like a lump. Investigate your experience and”—here I’m not using words that they would use—“objectify these phenomena and dis-embed from them.” Well, now these Burmese monks who are very experienced at teaching Burmese yogis come to the United States and they say, “You need more effort!”

Now, Americans don’t need more effort, generally speaking. We probably don’t have the ability to concentrate for more than about a second and a half. We know about striving. We are the masters of striving. It is all we ever do. What I find with American and Western yogis in general, I can be on the telephone with somebody and I can lead them through the vipassana technique and very quickly people can objectify the sensations of the rise and fall of the abdomen; they can move on to pleasant and unpleasant; they can see mind states. That is not particularly hard for them.

Those are very important things to be able to do because once you can do that you get the arising and passing away of phenomena pretty quickly, if you have not already had it. But what they cannot do is access deeper strata of mind that also have to be objectified. And this is so important. This is why effort alone ends up not working—it ends up creating chronic yogis.

So in order to make your way through this sequence of paths—the four paths of enlightenment and the sub stages that make up those paths—you have to access and deconstruct various strata of mind. Now, we know just logically that you cannot deconstruct something that you cannot access. And some strata of mind require concentration: You just can’t get there and stabilize in that stratum of mind without concentration.

So you can be the world’s best de-constructor, but you’re not getting there in the first place. So concentration becomes a very important thing, and concentration is not McMeditation. I can’t say, “OK. I have been concentrating for a week now and I’m getting pretty good at it.”

You will be getting pretty good at it when you have been doing it for decades. This is something that we don’t want to hear. That is not part of our culture at all, but it is analogous to learning to play an instrument. Now, if you have been playing piano for 20 years you might be good. But if you have been playing it for a year, let’s face it. There is no way you are good.

JG: This is where B. Alan Wallace says, “Look. It’s 10,000 hours.” He says, “Look at the Tibetan yogis that are at 50,000 or 60,000 hours.” He has a different map. I guess there have been some efforts to try to draw parallels, and he was a Theravadin for some period of time, but he really talks about intense concentration states and how that has been lost in the Tibetan tradition. He describes talking to the Dalai Lama about what he calls “attaining shamatha”—I’m not sure where that fits on the Theravada map—and the Dalai Lama says, “Yeah, nobody does that anymore.” So it is interesting to note that maybe in the Mahayana world the role of concentration is not what it was.

KF: Yeah. I suppose it is human nature to always want to get rich quick. So you see it in all traditions. Every once in a while some charismatic teacher will come around and say, “I have got a better way. You do not have to work so hard, just do what I tell you to do.” They tend to be pretty popular teachers. They often have something really good to say. There often is some priceless nugget there that gets misunderstood. I’m thinking specifically of 17th-century Japanese Zen master Bankei, who said, “Just live in the unborn Buddha mind. That is all you have to do.”

Well, that is exactly right. But most people probably don’t know how to do that without some scaffolding. Well, what he is not saying is “It would be really conducive to living in the unborn Buddha mind if you had practiced samatha meditation for some thousands of hours.” And that is what needs to be said.

JG: Right. Right.

KF: One of my dharma friends the other day, I was talking to him and he said, “I don’t think I have enough patience with people on the [Kenneth Folk Dharma] forum because often when somebody asks a question what I want to say to them is ‘Just practice for another thousand hours and see if you still have a question. Just do what I did.’ Why do you want me to just give you something that cannot be given?”

Again I think of playing a musical instrument. I used to be a music teacher, and this would happen all the time when I was teaching guitar. People would say, “Can you tell me something that will help me play better?” Every week I tell you everything I can to help you play better but that is not what helps you play better.

JG: Yeah, it’s building a neural network.

KF: Right. And there’s just no free lunch.

JG: The Dalai Lama also says something like this, which is, I think, it is either five or 10 years that you should take before you evaluate the effects of, or your progress in, any particular practice.

KF: Right. So here is the dark side of what we do in the so-called hardcore dharma scene, where we are saying, “Look. You can get enlightened. I did it and you can too. Here’s how.” And we are saying, “You can have measurable progress literally within a few days.” And so I’m not kidding when I say I have talked to people on the phone and they can get the arising and passing away within a few days as soon as I model the technique for them and talk them through it, walk them through it in real-time.

They are getting measurable progress within days. That is very exciting. And yet it is tempting for people to think, “OK. Then I should be an arahat next week.” Highly unlikely.

That was one of the reasons I moved away from the Dharma Overground because we had, with all good intentions, created this McMeditation culture. There were a lot of problems. One was that every 20-year-old kid thought that he was an arahat. The other thing was that we had—there was this kind of snarky culture where everybody was saying, “Well, you don’t even know what you’re talking about. I’m an arahat now and I…” All right. We’ve got to take a deep breath. [laughs]

JG: And that’s the thing, there will be a shadow side to anything that is here in our human realm. It is just knowing what that is and being clear about it I guess—the near enemy or the shadow or whatever you want to call it.

KF: Right. And on that same theme let’s look at the shadow of overemphasizing concentration. There is a group of young men who live in the desert out West. They call themselves “The Blessed Brotherhood of the BMX” and they ride bicycles all day and that’s their whole job. They are supported by their adoring fans. All they have to do is ride these bikes. They can do incredible tricks. They can do 360s, 720s, back-flips on a bike, and all kinds of remarkable things. To them, unless you can do a back flip on a bicycle you have never even ridden a bike. And yet all around the world there are billions of people who ride bikes every day to get to work and do the shopping and go visit their friends. Are they not riding bikes?

The Blessed Brotherhood of the BMX has a kind of skewed idea of what bike-riding is. What they do is wonderful, but we don’t want to define something in terms of the extreme. So some people have taken an extreme view of what jhana is: “You haven’t even gotten into jhana unless you can sit there without thinking in some particular jhana for four hours.” Well, by that definition I have never in my life entered jhana. So I do not find that to be a helpful definition of jhana. I find that to be like the Blessed Brotherhood of the BMX. People have a reason for saying what they do and it generally has to do with justifying their own existence.

What I care about with regard to jhana is, how does it support awakening? If you can awaken without learning how to be in jhana for four hours at a time—and you definitely can—then being in extreme jhana is interesting and wonderful, but let’s not make a big deal out of it. Let’s not tell people that they are doing it wrong if they cannot do that.

So if the mountain is analogous to enlightenment, I want to be able to get to the top of it and be able to walk up and down it and have full access to every point of altitude. Let’s divide the mountain up into bands. Let’s say that every 1,000 feet of altitude there is a habitat band and as I’m walking up there, up and down each day, I go a little bit higher each day. I’m eventually going to get to the point where I am enlightened. I am at the point where I can just walk up and down the mountain in each sitting and see virtually everything that is there. Enlightenment is actually much better than that because you can move to any point of the mountain at the speed of thought.

So how much time do I want to spend becoming a master of any given habitat band? Let’s say I get to the first band and my teacher says, “OK, but I don’t want you to go on to the second band until you have identified every animal and every plant in this habitat band.” Well there are a lot of bands and I just don’t have time. In one lifetime I cannot spend a lot of time in any given band. It is not that I’m not interested and it is not that I will not investigate and explore. But that exploration—every habitat band is infinite.

There are four parameters that I like for people to have some facility with as they develop jhana. You want to be able to advert to the jhana, which literally means to look at it. So you are sliding around in access concentration and you can go to the particular stratum of mind where that jhana is and you are looking in, but you haven’t entered it. And then you want to be able to enter the jhana, which is the second of the four parameters. You want to be able to dwell in it, which is the third parameter. And you want to be able to exit it, the fourth.

JG: So you are saying “know the terrain of the mountain that you’re going up and down, but you do not have to be a biologist and classify every single species.”

KF: Yes. That’s right. We can see the parallel in biology where if you really want to be good at reptiles and amphibians you had better specialize there. If you want to be really good you had better forget about reptiles and just do amphibians, and you had better get more specialized. You had better look at a particular species of newt and make that your life study so that you really understand that critter.

Well, it is infinite how many creatures there are and what aspect of it you want to study. The question that I would ask the people who are the proponents of what I think of as extreme jhana is, ‘Are you getting the balance right? Are you getting enlightened? Are your students getting enlightened?’ If not, maybe it is time to tweak the balance.

Yes, it is interesting and it is very valuable. But what is the priority? If the priority is awakening, then you might have to spend a little less time in each habitat band and get really good at going up and down the mountain.

JG: With an extreme form of jhana mastery, very few students might be able to do it.

KF: You might not live long enough to awaken if you spend so much time at each level and that is a problem because in my priority system, awakening is much more valuable than being able to spend four hours doing anything.

JG: But I suppose anything can be taken too far and this is the primary argument, I suppose, that the dry insight workers make, which is that you might die tomorrow. Do not bother with jhana or concentration—just do vipassana and understand the three characteristics because that can lead to awakening and enlightenment. And you might get stuck—you might get attached if you focus on concentration.

KF: Yes. And I think for some people, dry insight works. It also has its dark side. You can get the striving, over-amped, anxious yogi. I see a lot of that. People come to my forum who are actually doing it right and they are making good progress, but they think it should be faster and if they were really doing it right it would be going faster. They are hindering themselves because they are not adding any concentration to speak of into the mix. So they’re just trying to do it through effort. It is messing with their lives because they have turned themselves into balls of anxiety and so you have to find a balance.

Most chronic yogis are probably at that stage because they do not have enough concentration. Western yogis tend to be good at investigating their experience once they get the hang of it, and the fact is, once you get the first arising and passing away, your mind knows how to do that. It is going to spontaneously deconstruct whatever stratum of mind you can access. The question is, are you accessing the relevant strata of mind? The answer is, no, obviously not, because if you were you would be enlightened already.

So concentration becomes the trick. The caveat here, there is something called khanika samadhi, which means momentary samadhi, whereby you become concentrated moment by moment as you’re noting. I will demonstrate here in real-time. If I look at just whatever arises in the mind: pressure, warmth, coolness, pleasant, annoyance, tension, pleasant, unpleasant. Well if you just keep doing that you develop khanika samadhi and you can access all of the strata of mind by doing that. Some people can get away with that and some people can’t.

If you do that and you access all of the strata of mind at once, you become an arahat. But then the question is, where does that lead? Do you then become an anxious arahat who still has no ability to concentrate because you have not developed it? Would you be better off if you had taken a little more time and had developed platforms of proficiency all along the way so that you could revisit everything that you saw all along the way? Would you be a better teacher if you really understood the way your mind is set up in this stratified structure?

JG: Yes. Otherwise it seems like it would require some kind of hypervigilance to maintain—if you had not built the scaffold.

KF: So teaching is a balancing act with every individual student. You are trying to find the right ratio of concentration to investigation to make optimal progress and not drive that person insane.

JG: And isn’t this just right concentration: balancing samatha and vipassana, the Buddha’s basic teaching.

KF: That is exactly right.

JG: And so we just have to ask, “What are our issues in the Mahayana world and in the Theravada world in terms of the balance of concentration and insight?”

KF: It is complex because you’re dealing with individuals and you’re dealing with different priorities on the part of the teacher and student. You’re dealing with a dynamic situation. At any given moment, the right balance of concentration changes, from one moment to the next. One of the things I teach is to understand that it is dynamic and let your mind find its level in each moment.

JG: Yeah, as Richard Shankman said on Buddhist Geeks, meditation is an art.

KF: Yes. All of this is really just becoming this great artist of the mind.