Open Practice: Demystifying and Secularizing the Path to Enlightenment

Prologue

clouds passing by

I am sitting in front of my computer staring at a blank page. A faint recollection of a dream I had last night bubbles up in my awareness. I dreamt of a black expanse where everyday reality is projected. It was like watching a movie in a very dark theater where the only thing you can see is the movie screen. But the movie screen was not the typical rectangular wide screen. The screen filled my entire field of vision but I was somehow still aware of the background. I was disoriented. I was not in the movie but the movie is inside me, and I couldn’t even remember what was playing. Then I attempted to analyze—“is this the nondual?” There was no answer. My awareness dissolved in the abyss of slumber, and all that was left was the impression of the experience.

Just like web pages, our awareness comes and goes within the vast expanse of cyberspace.

I wrote the above account during my early days of blogging. It was from a lucid dream I had a few years back. It serves as a reminder why I continue to blog my heart out.

A lot has happened since I started blogging five years ago, in my personal sphere and in the global stage. In the technological domain of cyberspace, the explosion of social media–social networks, photo-sharing, video-sharing, lifestreaming applications–is happening so fast that it’s virtually impossible to catch up with all of them. To adapt to these changes I decided to take the opposite route. I slowed down with my blogging and shifted to what I call (hyper)streaming.

Like blogging, I consider (hyper)streaming as part of my “spiritual” practice. I do my best to infuse it with passion and compassion. However, regular and long-time readers would have noticed by now that I rarely post about my actual practice. This is simply because I didn’t have any consistent practice, in the traditional sense of the word. It would’ve been hypocritical of me to talk about meditation without actually doing it. That’s why, for the most part, I just link to helpful information and reliable sources. But, obviously, linking to information about practice is not the same as actually doing the practice. Information is helpful to understand concepts, develop intelligence, and inform my philosophy, but by itself it won’t get me “there.”

What do I mean by “there”? In my very first blog post, I wrote this:

the past and the future are amorphous, the present is an illusion, to “awaken” is the goal, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t have fun in the process. this blog site is all about that… awakening while having fun.

So what I mean by “there” is none other than the ultimate prize: satori, moksha, arahatship, liberation, awakening, enlightenment.

Now that I got that out of the way…

I’ve been a student of “spirituality” for more than two decades now. I still remember picking up my first esoteric booklet, Easy Journey to Other Planets, when I was in high school. Yes, I was that gullible 🙂 That was my first time to read about meditation, chanting, mantra, and other esoteric teachings. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time (and money) reading books, listening to different teachers, trying out different practices, while keeping a healthy dose of skepticism. It felt good to know a lot of information regarding the concepts and process of awakening. However, one very important thing I lacked was the discipline to pick and stick with a practice. For years I would just dabble with different practices. My practice was on and off, but for the most part it was off. I’ve been chasing too many rabbits and I still haven’t caught one.

The bottom line is: Intellect is no substitute for actual experience. That’s why I made this affirmation a month ago:

Change begins with me. I commit to investigate and understand the true nature of the sensations that make up reality, so clearly, that I become awake and compelled to take action with passion and compassion.

Since then I’ve been consistent with my meditation practice. Previously I could only endure sitting meditation for no more than thirty minutes, but for the past month I’ve been sitting in meditation for more than one hour per sitting and more than two hours a day. This positive feedback rekindled my passion for sitting practice. I realized that all I needed was proper technique, excellent teachers, and good motivation to pick and stick with a practice. It took me years of intellectual pursuit to really understand this. I’ve been a slow learner. Then again, I’m also a believer in the old Zen saying, “When the student is ready, the Master appears.” I’ve never felt more ready. I now understand that my path is Theravada, and my practice is Vipassana.

I credit Daniel Ingram for reminding me the importance of correct practice (see my review of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha), Shinzen Young for secularizing the dharma and developing user-friendly and uber-scientific techniques (see my review of The Science of Enlightenment), Ken Wilber for his lucid articulation and development of Integral Philosophy, and my fellow dharma geeks over at Buddhist Geeks and Dharma Overground for their encouragement and open-sharing of knowledge.

This leads me to the main topic of this post. Starting today I’m introducing a new category which I call, Open Practice.

What is Open Practice?

Open Practice is a journal of my “spiritual” practice, or simply, practice. In the spirit of Open source and active learning, I will attempt to share as best as I can, my approach, techniques, information, and subjective experiences, in a matter-of-factness way, as I undergo the process of awakening. My goal is not only to awaken, but also to demystify and secularize the path to enlightenment. This sounds like a lofty and arrogant goal. It is. But it’s better to shoot for the moon than to get lost in its reflection.

Open Practice is a work in progress. I’ll flesh it out as I go along. But for starters here are some of its concepts.

What Open Practice is:

  • A matter-of-fact reporting of empirical subjective experiences. From this perspective Open Practice is an experiment. I’ll be playing the role of the”subject” of study. Readers play the role of science researchers who are gathering data points of subjective experiences. These data points can then be compared with religious, spiritual, psychological, and medical literature and used for further research on the “science of enlightenment.”
  • Active learning. A good way of learning and embodying a practice is to talk about it and be proficient with its language and terminology. Creating a journal of my practice is one way of active learning.
  • Open-sharing of techniques. I believe that there’s no one-size-fits-all awakening technology. We groove with what tickles our fancy. Meditation techniques that work for other people don’t work for others. I’ll do my best to document the techniques that work for me and share it with others.
  • Increasing serendipitous understanding and meetings. One thing I learned in my years of blogging is that open-sharing leads to targeted serendipity–attracting other people who are openly sharing knowledge and information. This is a beneficial feedback loop that results in adding to our understanding of concepts through healthy dharma discussions and meeting other people online and offline, which then could lead to other serendipitous discoveries. Trust me on this. It’s the law of karma 🙂
  • Inspiring others to pick up a practice. Hopefully, this would inspire people to question religious dogma and explore the deeper dimensions of the mystical core of their religious traditions. “The kingdom of God is within.” The doorway is practice and the fruition is Grace.

What Open Practice is Not:

  • Bragging about attainments. This is not about showing off and proclaiming how good we are in our practice. There’s no place for our delusions of grandeur here.
  • My teacher and method is better than yours. See open-sharing of techniques. But if you really think and believe that your method is the best, don’t tell. Show and prove it.
  • Useless lemon-eating debates based on parroting and hearsay rather than experiential knowledge. If you’ve read this far, then this should be self-explanatory 😉

Who are invited?

Everyone. If you have a blog (or lifestream), you’re a dedicated spiritual practitioner, and you don’t mind openly sharing your practice to everyone, then I encourage you to participate and start your own Open Practice. Let’s all step out in the open as we tread the path of awakening. And if along the way people raise their eyebrows and ask us what the heck are we doing and what this path is all about, here’s something we can tell them:

If anybody asks you what the Path is about,
It’s about generosity.
It’s about morality.
It’s about concentration.
It’s about gaining insight through
focused self-observation.
It’s about the cultivation of subjective states
of compassion and love based on insight.
And it’s about translating that compassion
and love into actions in the real world.

~Shinzen Young

Godspeed to all of us. Now let’s get it on!

Comments (15)

  1. Vince wrote::

    I like it buddy. Here’s to open practice!

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 1:14 am #
  2. This is BEAUTIFUL and very helpful… I’ve done something similar when my relationship was about to break (and just before my father died; but that’s another story) some months ago. http://www.mushin.eu/en/2008/11/exploring-feelings-experiment-day-1/

    One of the beauties of an open, shared practise – however long it is going to last – is it’s helpful and encouraging character. AND what’s really great is that – since it’s out in the open – it is vulnerable to correctives from outside.

    And please, be sure to mention new contributions to “Open Practise” in your twitter stream…

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 6:33 am #
  3. Dan Bartlett wrote::

    Sounds promising! I think this kind of approach is a really big step towards a modern empowering elucidation of dharma. Ingram’s book appears to have been one of the first great leaps in such a direction.

    Fortunately, I have diary entries for every sit I’ve done since I begun meditating some time last year. When I get stream entry, I’m going to compile & summarise it all and publish it so others can see what it takes, the ups downs, experiences, mistakes etc. “Stream entry for dummies” maybe? 😛

    Best of luck, Dan

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 7:16 am #
  4. c4chaos wrote::

    @Mushin

    “One of the beauties of an open, shared practise – however long it is going to last – is it’s helpful and encouraging character. AND what’s really great is that – since it’s out in the open – it is vulnerable to correctives from outside.”

    exactly. that’s one of the main reasons why i started this: to put it out there and open it to correctives from outside. and yea, however long it takes! 🙂

    @Dan: looking forward to your Stream Entry for Dummies.

    @Vince: thanks for all your help, bro. you’ve been instrumental in all of this.

    ~C

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 7:25 am #
  5. gary gach wrote::

    yes, to read about practice without practice itself is like being a spoon that never tastes the soup: yogi berra says, “there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is!”

    i’m so happy to hear you have entered the stream — and are sharing your faring with us — and infiting us to do so likewise

    question: what is lifestream(ing)?

    question: how would i formally create an open practice space within gaia?

    (you are the first person to be my friend in what’s still called i believe a social network (how could there be an a-social network?) so thank you again

    & by the way, i love the vipassana tradition. my root teacher is ven. thich nhat hanh, whose root tradition combines theravada & mahayana; natural, since vietnam is equidistant between india & china.

    _/|\_
    palms
    joined

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 9:04 am #
  6. c4chaos wrote::

    @Gary: good to hear from you.

    lifestreaming is basically an aggregation of a person’s online activities. see: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/lifestreaming_primer.php

    if you want to create an open practice space on Gaia, you can start with your personal blog and just tag your entries with “open practice”. you can also start a group if you feel like it.

    “how could there be an a-social network?” hah! good point!

    thanks again, and see you around.

    ~C

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 10:10 am #
  7. gregorylent wrote::

    couldn’t read it, so i don’t know what you said, but a always enjoy your enthusiasm for the subject

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 10:37 am #
  8. jackson wrote::

    Hey ~C,

    First, your resolution is spot on. Never underestimate the power of intention when it comes to meditation practice.

    Second, I think that your Open Practice idea is great. It sounds like a great antidote to the “mushroom culture.”

    Monday, February 23, 2009 at 9:56 pm #
  9. c4chaos wrote::

    Jackson,

    great to hear from you, bro! thanks for the encouragement.

    btw, for those who are wondering about what “mushroom culture” means, it’s from Ingram’s “Mushroom Factor“.

    see you around DhO 🙂

    ~C

    Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 10:52 pm #
  10. Eric Blue wrote::

    ~C, excellent post! I really like the idea of the open practice.

    As a nubee to Buddhism, any personal experience or good advice on formal mediation techniques? I’ve been meditating off an on for the last couple years, but it’s mostly been basic breath-counting.

    Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 8:06 pm #
  11. c4chaos wrote::

    @Eric,

    basic breath-counting is a powerful meditation technique. if you stick with it, it would greatly improve concentration.

    that said, i can only confidently recommend to you what worked for me.

    first, you have to be very motivated. understand what you really want to get out of meditation. to this i suggest checking out Shinzen Young’s “The Science of Enlightenment”. it’s one of the best (if not the best) explanation on why we should practice meditation.

    second, i find Shinzen’s style of meditation to very helpful. it appeals to my temperament. all you need to know regarding his teaching style and meditation technique can be found on http://basicmindfulness.org

    give it a shot and let me know.

    take care and stay lucid.

    ~C

    Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 6:53 pm #
  12. Eric Blue wrote::

    Fantastic, thanks for the tips! I just downloaded “The Science of Enlightenment” from Audible.com.

    Sunday, March 1, 2009 at 9:32 am #
  13. Zaskoda wrote::

    Huge kudos…

    Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 2:40 pm #
  14. omnipleasant wrote::

    Very nice indeed! It’s for similar reasons that I’ve started to twitter and blog a couple of days ago.

    The stuff that works for me so far is:
    – reading books by all kinds of teachers, while looking what resonates and what doesn’t
    – practicing self-observation in the present moment, both formally (sitting meditation) and informally (in daily life)
    – trying to be totally honest (with myself at least)

    Monday, March 23, 2009 at 7:56 am #
  15. Arlen wrote::

    kogoś takiego niby Wart podkreślenia budowa. Frodo. Obszerne kraty
    w
    oknach, bujdowa (Arlen) trudje silne dtewi. Rabowanie prowincjonalnych banków było nim
    konkurencją niemalże sportem narodowym. Poniekąd w
    odmiennej niewielkiej ekspozyturze zrobiono
    wówczas jakiemuś, by się zabezpieczyć.
    Frodo potrafił kimać taktownie. Jego drogocenny przybory był sprawdzony,
    powolne
    złodziejaszki dodatkowo szabrownicy nie wywierali okazzyj się ddo
    niego sięgnąć. Z.

    Wednesday, January 1, 2014 at 9:03 am #

Trackbacks/Pingbacks (12)

  1. Open Practice #hashtags < ~C4Chaos on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    […] been a while since I posted my proposal for “Open Practice.” I have yet to it follow up with a detailed post. Don’t worry, I haven’t been […]

  2. […] I felt that it was a good idea to join a group of virtual meditation practitioners as part of my Open Practice to keep my momentum going. I’m glad I […]

  3. Open Practice: Fierce Compassion < ~C4Chaos on Monday, August 3, 2009 at 1:07 am

    […] the spirit of Open Practice, I tweeted during retreat (but only during breaks and before actual meditation practice begins). I […]

  4. The Science of Enlightenment: The Pathless Land < ~C4Chaos on Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    […] whenever I say that the ultimate “goal” of my Open Practice is enlightenment, I’m very well aware of the contradictory nature of that statement. […]

  5. […] was originally inspired by this post in which the author coined the phrase ‘Open Practice’ to denote the sharing of […]

  6. Shinzen Young On Lucid Dreaming and The Five Ways < ~C4Chaos on Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    […] of it. It had dramatically improved my sitting meditation, relieved my migraine headaches, made me consistent with my open practice, and most importantly, it gave me a general sense of happiness and contentment in life. In […]

  7. Why Shinzen Young is My Main Dharma Teacher < ~C4Chaos on Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 12:31 am

    […] made a connection to a geeky dharma teacher. Since then I’ve made significant progress in my meditation practice and still going strong. In fact, I’ve made meditation as integral part of my lifestyle. I owe […]

  8. Up to our necks in Augustine | In Otherhood on Saturday, October 2, 2010 at 5:32 am

    […] I’ll be incorporating my own practices into this schedule. In the spirit of #openpractice: […]

  9. […] been a while since I posted on my blog about my “Open Practice“. The truth is, I have suspended my sitting practice since I became a new dad this year. My […]

  10. #OPENPRACTICE | Buddhist Geeks on Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 9:01 am

    […] a popular and passionate blogger named ~C4Chaos wrote an article outlining a concept he termed Open Practice. It was essentially formalising an approach of journaling, openness and sharing that he’d […]

  11. […] have been following my blog, you might wonder why I’ve categorized this entry under “Open Practice.” Two reasons: First, my own psychological development has been in a sort of quantum […]

  12. Art Monastery Project » Up to our necks in Augustine on Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    […] Our daily schedule:[3. I'll be incorporating my own practices into this schedule. In the spirit of #openpractice: […]