One of the questions yogis most often ask is “Where am I on the Theravada Progress of Insight map?” This is a legitimate question and there can be real benefit in knowing the answer. If you are able to align your own experience with the traditional descriptions of the 16 insight knowledges, it helps you to have faith that this practice works, which in turn can motivate you to practice more. Furthermore, your teacher may suggest different practices depending on how far along you are in the process.
Below is a simple guide, designed to be “idiot-proof.” It only includes the most obvious landmarks along the way. Familiarize yourself with these diagnostic criteria and use them to place yourself on the map.
Case Study # 1:
Report: “My meditation used to be good, but now there’s nothing but solid pain when I sit. I sometimes feel nauseous and I want to leave the retreat.”
Diagnosis: 3rd ñana, Knowledge of the Three Characteristics.
“But I also have all kinds of cool insights about this and that.”
Doesn’t matter. If you have persistent solid pain, you’re in the 3rd ñana.
Case Study # 2:
Report: “I had this incredible energy coursing through my body, tingled all over, saw white lights, and had unitive experiences.”
Diagnosis: 4th ñana, Knowledge of the Arising and Passing Away of Phenomena.
“But I had it while on drugs (or in a dream). I never even meditated.”
Doesn’t matter. 4th ñana. Have a nice day.
“But it was so real. I saw God. I know it was enlightenment.”
No, it was the 4th ñana.
Case Study # 3:
Report: “At some time in the past, I had white lights, unitive experiences and delightful tingles. Now my meditation sucks and I hate everything.”
Diagnosis: Dukkha ñanas 6-10, aka Dark Night of the Soul.
“But I feel super enlightened.”
Doesn’t matter. Dukkha ñanas. Thanks for asking.
Case Study # 4:
Report: I went through the 3rd, 4th, and dukkha ñanas (as described above) and now I feel fine every time I sit.
Diagnosis: 11th ñana, Knowledge of Equanimity.
“But I’m not having any insights.”
Right. Knowledge of Equanimity.
Case Study # 5:
Report: I went through the 3rd, 4th, dukkha ñanas, and Equanimity ñana, (as described above), and then one day I was just sitting (or standing, or walking), there was a little blip, and I knew that something was different. It was as though a weight had lifted from me. I felt light and wanted to laugh for a couple of days. After that, my practice was noticeably different than anything that had gone before.
Diagnosis: 14th and 15th ñana, Path and Fruition (1st Path).
“But it was no big deal. More like an anticlimax. But it’s clear that some cycle was completed.”
Exactly. Path and Fruition.
Kenneth Folk 2009