If you’ve ever wondered what happens after you die, how the world looks when you’re enlightened, or can’t understand why you’re spending all this time meditating but still seem to get anxious and angry, then you absolutely, positively, 100% have to tune into this episode of the Monk on a Motorbike podcast
This time around I’m talking to former critical care doctor, Daniel Ingram, who very controversially claimed he was an arahat or fully enlightened a number of years ago.
Here he talks about how being enlightened isn’t all its cracked up to be, the uproar his announcement caused, why he did it, magical powers, life after death, psychedelics and pretty much anything else connected with this long and winding spiritual path we are all walking
Daniel knows more about meditation and other spiritual practices than practically anybody I’ve met and he’s articulate and funny and explains things in a way that are really easy to relate to
We ended up talking for a long time and I’ve divided the episode into four parts so do yourself a favour, whether you’re stuck at home on lockdown or wondering what the f*ck is going on in these dark days, use your time well and tune into some of this awesome wisdom!
The first time I heard about Daniel was over ten years ago when a fellow meditator told me about an American doctor who claimed he was fully enlightened. It sounded so incongruous that I had to know more. I associated that sort of thing with monks and mystics and exotic hermits from Asia, not middle-class American doctors.
I had a look at Daniel’s website Dharma Over-Ground and liked what I saw. Then, later on I read his book Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, whilst I was doing a series of long retreats in Asia.
The retreats weren’t going particularly well for a few reasons but the main one being that I was pretty hung up on the idea of being some sort of perfect meditator-being able to sit for hours with no thoughts and no pain, wafting around in perfect bliss and equanimity and so on.
Daniel, in his book, was really explicit about the fact that no amount of meditation was going to turn me into a ‘vapid bliss junkie’ who would never experience anger or craving again, and that the practice was about learning to relate skillfully to our humanity
I learned to relax and be ok with being me – a deeply flawed but remarkable being, like every other human out there. It changed the way I practice which in turn changed my life
I reached out to Daniel about a year ago to thank him for his book and his website and to let him know that reading his stuff had been a gamechanger for me. I figured if it was me, I’d like to know I was actually making a difference.
I didn’t expect (nor need) a response, but Daniel said hi and that he was coming to the UK to meet a bunch of people who use his website and would I like to join?
I said yes. Met up, suggested the podcast and have stayed in touch ever since
We recorded the podcast in my kitchen in my apartment in west London in the middle of a heatwave in August 2019 so we had to have all the doors and windows open which means there is a fair bit of background noise Including drills and planes
Daniel’s websites: https://www.dharmaoverground.org/
Daniel’s Book. Mastering the Core teachings of the Buddha. An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book. See the Integrated Daniel website for more info.
Intro. Finishes at 3.12
Introduction up to the first ten minutes or so Daniel talks about:
the experience of being an arahant and gives a very specific definition of the term- ‘Sensations know themselves as they are, where they are and happen naturally’-and how it relates to his own experiences
‘in some ways it’s a radical change and in some ways, it really isn’t’
‘A lot of the models that got associated with the term (arahat) that we get from the old traditions and texts are just fantastic and don’t hold up to reality testing today’
8.30 mins) Some of the standard models of enlightenment and how they often don’t hold up to reality) e.g.; the perfect behaviour model’, that realized people will be always be really nice.
11.30 mins) The idea that full enlightenment means an end to all psychological issues is not true
12.40 mins) why people can be highly attained and still behave unethically, including some thoughts around people becoming enlightened with underlying personality disorders.
that enlightenment doesn’t mean an end to all desires
18.30 mins) ‘Some of the old advertising (about full enlightenment) just doesn’t hold up……. but it’s still vastly better……although it didn’t change all the things I wished it would’
22.10 mins) Is there always bliss? Yes and no
25.00) Daniel elaborates on the idea of sensations knowing themselves
30 mins) Is there an end to suffering in enlightenment? Yes and No. Daniel goes into some detail about this with references some of the Buddhist Suttas and describes different ways in which suffering can be greatly reduced
43 mins) Is arahatship ‘the highest happiness?’ ‘It’s a substantial upgrade!’
‘as much as I debunk it (the myths around arahatship) I also wish to sing its praises. This is a fuck ton better! In fact, it’s about as good as I could imagine and still have a body! It’s pretty frigging great!’ Daniel explains why
I mention descriptions of enlightenment from teachers like Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj and how they talk about being the Supreme Self and Daniel talks about this with a discussion of True self and no-self from various philosophical standpoints
7.15 mins) Daniel talks about the idea that various ‘unwholesome’ emotions such as anger disappear as we progress along the path, and the pros and cons of this model
17.15) Daniel elaborates on the disappointments of realization
20.25 mins) Other arahats have reported there are disappointing elements to the experience
24.10 mins) Why people should consider being open about their spiritual attainments
25.57 mins) The response to his claims to being an arahat
30.48 mins) D talks about his experience of ‘the powers’ or siddhas-psychic phenomena that are often mentioned in the traditional texts
45.00 mins) Any downsides to realization? Some
Break for tea
Opens with D Talking about the neurobiology of enlightenment and his own experiments with fMRIs and EEGs
9.00 mins) Daniel has started a research project looking at the data around mindfulness and ‘what can go right and what can go wrong’, including how the stages of insight can be useful to modern day psychiatry
22.00 mins) I ask Daniel why he (or any enlightened people) continue to practice?
26.24 mins) Can arahatship be reversed/lost?
32.58 mins) Are there further stages after arahatship?
35.50 mins) More about practicing after enlightenment with personal stories
47.34 mins) Daniel talks about his current practice (mostly fire kasina)
55.47 mins) Some advice on how to practice without craving or striving for attainments
59.20 mins) And how to navigate craving for a good job and other worldly stuff and not increase craving
1 hr.08.20) Is strict asceticism necessary for enlightenment?
1 hr.18) Daniel talks about his own past life experiences
1 hr.21) Is there an afterlife? Hmm!! Make of this one what you will! 😊
Daniel talk about having been to Breaking Convention the week before -a gathering on London of all the big names in psychedelic research, and there ensues a conversation about the benefits of psychedelics and how psychedelic research is already a lot more advanced than the research into mindfulness
19.30 mins) McMindfulness! Daniel talks about some of the issues with the modern secular mindfulness movement and that mindfulness should come with a health warning!
35.24 mins) what advice would you give to yourself aged 19?
42.45 mins) Why Daniel encourages discussion of all paths on his website, Dharma Overground
47.45 mins) Daniel gives his contact details
52.40 mins) I ask Daniel to recommend good books
54.40 mins) I ask D to give advice for anyone having strange/unpleasant meditative experiences
1 hr.08.10) Can modern technology improve our knowledge and application of the Dhamma?
1 hr.14) Climate change and the Dhamma