I just recently finished reading Daniel Ingram’s, Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha. (It’s also available for PDF download on his site here.) I quite enjoyed it, and for me at least Daniel’s occasionally caustic style suited me just fine. He pulls no punches.
Part 1: The Fundamentals, is well worth the price of admission. It’s an honest, in-depth look at the basics of Buddhism by a man with lots of practical experience and a tremendously strong scholarly streak. Daniel manages to get across all the key points without losing the reader in odd minutia or archaic language. It’s a heroic effort that I am very much grateful for. That part alone truly transformed my core view of what it means to walk the Buddha’s way.
I was poking around Daniel’s website today in the Practical Essays section and enjoyed the sensitively title piece, Why The Notion That You Cannot Become What You Already Are is Such Bullshit. In it Daniel deals with the phenomenon of people on spirituality focused sites posting something along the lines of, “you can not become what you already are, awakening is not about more knowledge but instead about less knowledge, and that awakening happens regardless of study and meditation.”
I’ve come across this view point on more times than I can count. There seems to be a thread of it running through just about every spiritual community, and particularly amongst members of the “non-dual awareness” movement centered around people like Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti, and numerous modern day teachers in the advaita vedanta tradition. [SIDEBAR: I am not saying any teacher in particular is promoting this view but that the people who claim to be following them often are.]
Daniel’s piece is an excellent response, fully fleshed in his unique (and sometimes cynical) style. What it brought to mind for me was this:
There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding that this view comes from. Awakening is not about changing something about you, your circumstance, or your style/method of getting along in life. Awakening is about seeing what you actually are. There is no change implied there. You already are what you are, obviously. The people who get stuck in this particular trap seem to find that notion to be of such profound wisdom that no further effort need be made. But, that’s not the thing. The thing is to see that directly. Not just to be what you are, but to see and know what you are fully and at present.
I am not entirely sure where the idea that awakening, or enlightenment (a word which has become poisoned and abused to the point of near uselessness), involves some change in who you are comes from. As far as I have been able to tell by reading the works of those that the general public accepts as awakened, they never put forth this idea. If there is any change they speak of it’s changing the way in which you see your self, not what is seen.
In any event, if you are looking for some easy to grasp Buddhism principles I can’t recommend Daniel Ingram’s book enough. If you read it, or have read it, I would love to hear your thoughts.