Attacking enlightenment

I’m Cal­ling it. An as­tound­ing num­ber of com­mu­nity mem­bers are cur­rently chas­ing en­light­en­ment. That is, we are read­ing books, com­piling in­for­ma­tion and med­i­tat­ing to pull apart the in­ner land­scape of our own minds. The Bud­dhist, Taoist, Zen, spiritual, mys­ti­cal, flow state, thing that is in the cluster that forms the en­light­en­ment space. (What? Weird? I know. Why? Read on)

I did what I always do. I chart out alone, read a differ­ent book. In­te­gral the­ory, Sam Har­ris, Chade Meng Taing, zen in the art of Archery, The Gate­less Gate, PNSE—Ge­offrey Martin… And then I re­al­ised I was not alone. So was S0phia*, Aella, Sarah, Val, Aaron, Nish, Atharva, Colton, and the list goes on.

This is a list of re­sources I find rele­vant right now. With more to come:


I sug­gest start here (https://​​in­te­gral­life.com/​​four-quad­rants/​​) (with the 4 quad­rant con­cept) and be suffi­ciently con­fused to keep re­search­ing.

Ra­tion­al­ity is very good at stay­ing on the right hand side of the di­a­gram. The clas­sic straw Vul­can is a cham­pion of the right. The “emo­tional” hu­mans are on the left (speci­fi­cally up­per left). Ex­cept that the en­tirely ra­tio­nal com­mu­nity has men­tal health prob­lems 3 times higher than the rest of the pop­u­la­tion. How is is that we can be ob­jec­tive and op­ti­mised and di­rected to­wards win­ning and en­tirely hid­ing the men­tal health prob­lems we have?

Well that’s sim­ple. Ra­tional thought streams are on the right of the di­a­gram, and emo­tional ex­pe­riences are on the left. True mas­tery of the na­ture of re­al­ity re­quires walk­ing the line be­tween the two. Not just liv­ing in one and not the other.

Why am I talk­ing about men­tal health in a post about en­light­en­ment? En­light­en­ment seems to be this an­noy­ingly bal­anced thing be­tween other con­cepts. It’s one that’s par­tic­u­larly hard to point at. It causes works like the smug The tao is silent, and ev­ery smil­ing gig­gly bud­dhist to barely be able to con­tain their laugh­ter when try­ing to ex­plain why ev­ery­thing is the same but differ­ent.

“Be­fore en­light­en­ment; chop wood, carry wa­ter. After en­light­en­ment; chop wood, carry wa­ter.”—Zen koan

What does that mean you cryp­tic bas­tards! If en­light­en­ment is so great then give me some step by step di­rec­tions to it!


Three caveats:

  1. Every path to en­light­en­ment is slightly differ­ent. So even with great in­struc­tions, they are bound to be at least a lit­tle bit off.

  2. In­te­rior spaces (the left of the di­a­gram) are not eas­ily able to be trans­mit­ted. One per­son’s em­piri­cal pro­ce­dure ex­plains what they did but does not give ex­plicit di­rec­tions to oth­ers. Only the vague map of how they got there. (kind of like chakras and how they can’t be found sur­gi­cally—duh, thou­sands of years ago when they were first de­scribed, they knew they would not be found sur­gi­cally but mil­lions of peo­ple claim to be able to ex­pe­rience them)

  3. I am rather em­bar­rassed to say that I always clas­sified Bud­dhism as a re­li­gion. After all it has that spiritual, “be nice to oth­ers” thing to it. What I didn’t re­al­ise was that it’s more like (slightly gib­ber­ish) em­piri­cal in­struc­tions to fol­low, af­ter which you should find your way up the moun­tain to en­light­en­ment.

So uhh.. The in­struc­tions are some­thing like, med­i­tate while pay­ing at­ten­tion to a num­ber of key fac­tors (im­per­ma­nence, un­satis­fac­tori­ness, no-self). I’d posit the in­struc­tions my­self but I don’t ac­tu­ally know that I can do that very well com­pared to the re­sources above and ev­ery other re­source out there.

What I can say is this: Be a ra­tio­nal­ist and go do some re­search and run your own ex­per­i­ments.


Top recom­men­da­tion is Mas­ter­ing the Core Teach­ings of the Bud­dha 2.


A caveat for the whole en­light­en­ment, spiritu­al­ity “woo” space. The space is par­tic­u­larly bad at words and defin­ing their terms. I’d say that “they are us­ing words wrong” but ac­tu­ally it’s more like, be­cause de­scribing in­te­rior space ex­pe­riences are a sub­jec­tive and per­sonal pro­cess, each per­son’s de­scrip­tion of in­te­rior spaces is go­ing to be self con­tained and self per­pet­u­at­ing. Code switch­ing is worse than ever. The only way to nav­i­gate the al­ter­na­tive spaces is to get re­ally used to build­ing maps to other peo­ple’s maps of their ter­ri­to­ries. I’m do­ing it and I am find­ing sense in the gib­ber­ish that is weird ass spiritual ex­pe­riences that other’s are hav­ing. And it’s not scary, bad, dumb or ter­rible like I thought. I was wrong.


If you want to ex­plore, good luck. Send me a mes­sage if you want to con­nect and talk in pri­vate. (see also my re­cent post https://​​www.less­wrong.com/​​posts/​​dSokCMn63Wu48WX5u/​​emo­tional-train­ing-model#eWF39EfwzER­ci­aYQ6)