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MCTB Formations
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10/7/11 11:21 AM
Let me start by quoting from MCTB

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/dharma-wiki/-/wiki/Main/MCTB%2011.%20Equanimity

Phenomena may even begin to lose the sense that they are of a particular sense door, and mental and physical phenomena may appear nearly indistinguishably as just vibrations of suchness, sometimes referred to as “formations.”


Several months after SE, I re-read some of MCTB, and the definition of formations is now suddenly making a lot of sense to me. I'm not saying it is necessarily the same thing the Pali Canon would call sankhara; nor am I saying it is not. So this question is NOT going to be about whether or not we should define "formations" as Daniel does in MCTB.

What I want to ask those who have been through this stage, is this:

Have you ever wondered why after SE we just "know" (i.e. assume) that reality is basically a sequence of formations? I used to call these formations "events" until today, simply because every event in the 11th ñana seems to be of that type (a formation). Intuitively, the whole point of SE seems to be that you see all the events that make up reality clearly enough to discern the truth that none of them have an intrinsic property/quality of self or "selfness." However, analyzing exactly what happens in the 11th ñana, one could put it this way:

Reality is perceived as consisting entirely of formations, and each formation is eventually seen with sufficient clarity to know it is not self nor "of self." Therefore reality is perceived as entirely devoid of self.

Here's the catch, though: If we simply "do not see" which sense door an event/phenomenon appears at, then we have to admit that we are not seeing all of reality. So what if there is a "sense of self" that is similar to the six senses in that you simply don't see how to attribute it to certain phenomena/events while in the 11th ñana?

To put it another way: Each phenomenon can be attributed to one of the 6 sense doors. That's because the six senses are ultimately real. Seeing is real. Hearing is real. ... In the 11th ñana the meditator loses the ability to determine which sense any given phenomenon belongs to.

Now, playing devil's advocate, the hypothesis is: Each phenomenon can be attributed to either self or not self. That's because self is ultimately real. In the 11th ñana the meditator loses the ability to determine whether any given phenomenon is self or not self. Therefore, the delusion arises that there is no self in ultimate reality.

I'm not sure how to prove that this hypothesis is wrong or whether that is possible at all. If you have experienced the 11th ñana, please feel free to chime in!

One last thing: I have no intuitive doubt that there is no self, but intellectually I have no idea how to iron out this conundrum. At this point, I'm chalking it up to language being generally inadequate to describe ultimate reality, but I have a feeling someone may have thought this through and be able to clarify.

RE: MCTB Formations
Answer
10/8/11 7:34 AM as a reply to Dauphin Supple Chirp.
I've been thinking about this, and given that no one has responded, I'll try to respond myself:

During the progress of insight, it becomes clear that the sense of self is not within seeing, hearing, etc., but is hiding somewhere within the realm of mental formations, so the meditator focuses more and more on those formations. Once it becomes clear that all of them are entirely devoid of intrinsic self, this completes the search, and the meditator knows there is no self anywhere within reality.

Compare the very first words of the Dhammapada:

Manopubbaṅgammā dhammā manoseṭṭhā manomayā.
All "dhammā" are preceded by mind, headed by mind, produced by mind.

I guess the key here would be to understand what "dhammā" are in this context: Phenomena, things, mental formations, "thruths", elements of reality, fundamental events?

RE: MCTB Formations
Answer
10/8/11 10:22 AM as a reply to Dauphin Supple Chirp.
Dauphin Supple Chirp:
During the progress of insight, it becomes clear that the sense of self is not within seeing, hearing, etc., but is hiding somewhere within the realm of mental formations, so the meditator focuses more and more on those formations. Once it becomes clear that all of them are entirely devoid of intrinsic self, this completes the search, and the meditator knows there is no self anywhere within reality.


This is my take. You indicated that perhaps the mind loses the ability to see certain things in High Eq. But how do you get to High Eq? Tons and tons of concentration and looking everywhere at once. The mind is seeing more things, really. As the mind sees more + more it sees that not even formations constitute a self. formations are the 2nd step in D-O, right after ignorance. almost the subtlest layer of that process which leads to suffering (aka mistaking things for a self).

RE: MCTB Formations
Answer
10/9/11 10:57 AM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem:
formations are the 2nd step in D-O, right after ignorance. almost the subtlest layer of that process which leads to suffering (aka mistaking things for a self).


I don't think that the formations you're referring to here are the same ones referred to in Equanimity towards Formations. The formations in D-O are often known as volitional formations which are mental structures having to do with habits and intention. As such they're at the very basis of how we see things and react to things. The formations in the Progress of Insight are things that were put together, or everything really (including volitional formations and anything that's conditioned). There's also a third sense of sankhara where it is used as a verb meaning 'puts together' or concocts. It's important to pay attention to which of the first 2 senses is being used because they refer to distinctly different things. The 3rd sense I only remember seeing in teachings from Ajahn Buddhadasa and his lineage but it may be used by others as well.

All that said, I'm glad that the OP posted this under MCTB formations because as far as I know, Daniel's description of Formations in unique to him. At some point I came close to seeing how this description makes sense from an experiential point of view but I still don't know if this description actually jives with what is usually referred to in the suttas.

RE: MCTB Formations
Answer
10/9/11 11:09 AM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran G:
I don't think that the formations you're referring to here are the same ones referred to in Equanimity towards Formations. The formations in D-O are often known as volitional formations which are mental structures having to do with habits and intention. As such they're at the very basis of how we see things and react to things. The formations in the Progress of Insight are things that were put together, or everything really (including volitional formations and anything that's conditioned). There's also a third sense of sankhara where it is used as a verb meaning 'puts together' or concocts. It's important to pay attention to which of the first 2 senses is being used because they refer to distinctly different things. The 3rd sense I only remember seeing in teachings from Ajahn Buddhadasa and his lineage but it may be used by others as well.


my take is that "MCTB formations" refers to the way formations (of the D-O sense) are perceived in high EQ.

RE: MCTB Formations
Answer
10/9/11 11:34 PM as a reply to Eran G.
The mode of perception that causes a Fruition +/- a new path is the mode of experience that comprehends the field of experience at the level of formations.

If you perceive the formations that include space and those things that area part of it, those qualities together as a package, as a formed, complete, merged, volumetric thing, and comprehend the Three Characteristics of those formations, then that is how the Three Doors arise.

As one first perceives formations, then finally, if skilled, comprehends effortlessly the truth of them, then this is the level of "On ignorance depends volitional formations. With the cessation of ignorance, volitional formations cease."

Those who have stream entry or above who also have a clear understanding of the shifts in perceptual threshold that allowed that to occur (which is a much smaller subset), and, if they have them, subsequent Fruitions to occur, and, if they have them, subsequent paths to occur, will know what that level of perception is like, the level of exactly how things are in the three or four rapid moments before the Fruition occurs, and will know how, in those moments, things come together, converge, are unified, and happen effortlessly, in a way that shows clearly that it is due to ignorance that we believe that the elements that before we though were separate and partly in the control of something are, in fact, part of the same fluxing, transient, empty, ephemeral, volition-free, causal, complete whole, and on their ending, we know: Ah! That is wisdom. For that moment, ignorance ceased! Comprehension was in Conformity with the way things are! There was true and perfect mindfulness born of Equanimity that naturally knew the truth of things. More of that, please!

This is what I mean when I say "Formations", and it is that coming to complete and comprehensive (both meanings meant) Equanimity regarding them that causes deep wisdom.

Thus, I believe this definition is not at all unique to me, or, if it is, then it is only because I am the only person that knows it, which I hardly believe, or perhaps the only one who has articulated it this formally and this completely, which I also doubt very much, and is more likely the relative ignorance of those who either haven't been exposed to the words of those who also understood these things and articulated them, or they didn't understand it when they were exposed to it.

This whole old, confused, tired "MCTB Formations" debate is based on people not paying attention, not reading carefully, buying spin and distortion without examining things for themselves to confirm or deny them, not comprehending things with the blazing force of a bright and clear mind, not recognizing when they actually knew things as they were, not remembering how that was, not coming to the conclusion, "Ah ha! That is how it all fits together! How elegant! How skillful the teaching of the Buddha! How remarkable the commentaries! How profound the Abhidhamma! How nice to see this comprehensively explained and confirmed by my own clear comprehension of the stages of insight and the entrance to Fruition!", and in general due to weak phenomenology and weak scholarship, says I.

Daniel

RE: MCTB Formations
Answer
10/10/11 2:05 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thank you, Daniel! I have saved your post because I have a feeling in a few years I'll want to re-read it, and then I will say, "Ah, this is what he meant!" Right now it sounds to me like the descriptions of the ñanas in MCTB did a year ago: Everything seemed to make sense somewhat, but I basically had almost no idea how the words would relate to the actual experience. It actually seems that, when I experience any of these insights, they are always different from what I thought they would be, no matter how much I have previously heard or read about them.