One thought on “Just As It Is: An interview with Jack Engler

  1. Tom Yeshe

    From "The 1001 Forms of Self-Grasping or … Do You Really Have to be Somebody Before You Can be Nobody?: An interview with Jack Engler":[O]ne of the things I’ve always found very credible in the Theravada tradition is that you don’t get full freedom all at once. It comes by stages or increments. There are four different experiences of enlightenment. And the earliest stages are still compatible with a lot of personal meshugas [craziness] and ways in which we can still create problems for ourselves and others. So the ground shifts, and the relationship to self and to experience shifts. But it doesn’t shift completely and all at once.In these four experiences of enlightenment, the path to each is basically the same, but what’s different are the "fetters" or the samyojanas that are extinguished in each enlightenment experience. These fetters are the root sources of inner suffering, and a different set of fetters is extinguished in each one of the four enlightenment experiences—extinguished irreversibly, permanently, according to the testimony of practitioners. No therapist, incidentally, would ever claim changes in therapy are irreversible! The progression in extinguishing these fetters fascinates me as a psychologist. The first set of fetters that are extinguished are basically cognitive in nature—what a cognitive psychologist would call "maladaptive cognitions" or "core beliefs." In extinguishing these misguided beliefs about who we are, our basic understanding and perspective changes. But simply extinguishing basic beliefs and assumptions doesn’t automatically shift the underlying motivations, impulses and emotions that can still drive us to act in ways that create suffering. Cognitively, we may relate to our experience differently, yet we can continue to act in the same neurotic ways. Not to the same extent, perhaps, but basically we can still find ourselves acting in unskillful ways that create a lot of problems. The second set of fetters reaches deeper into the psyche, into the affective or motivational bases of behavior. Motivations, impulses and affects are much more difficult to shift than cognitions and beliefs. The last set of fetters is extinguished at the fourth and final stage of enlightenment. The core of this group is called mana or "conceit." This is a remnant of the tendency to compare self with others—the root of narcissism. The last fetters really have to do with rooting out the final residues of narcissistic attachment to self from the mind. And that’s more difficult to shift than the affective or motivational bases of behavior.The same progression happens in therapy. Cognitions, beliefs, perspectives change first. Core drives, motivations and impulses are much harder to change. Hardest of all to change is narcissistic investment in the self. So when you say that ideally the realization of emptiness should free one from personal neurotic problems, I don’t think it’s that simple. I think the shifts take place in stages. What the tradition describes and what we’ve learned in therapy are exactly the same progression. That shift doesn’t take place all at once. …


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