Toxic Evangelism

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Found this at Dharma Overground.


It's an essay by Daniel Ingram and it really hit me. The day may come when I will need to heed his advice.


I post it in case others might find it helpful or interesting.




Toxic Evangelism, Hardcore Dharma and Relationships

9/15/09 9:59 AMspacer.png


Most meditation cultures, and particularly those that are more hardcore, and that includes the culture here, have something like the following assumptions:


  • Knowing the Dharma is good.
  • Meditation is good.
  • Meditation and knowing the Dharma leads to changes in the mind, insights and abilities that are good.
  • Once one has changed the mind in this way, things are better in some way than they were before.
  • Thus, meditation mastery makes one better than before.


The problem is not that these are bad assumptions, but their very close shadow sides emerge in relationship to others along these general lines:


  • I have meditated or meditate and achieved whatever, and so I am better than before.
  • As you don't meditate or in my judgement haven't meditated as well as I have or in the specific way I do, I am better than you.
  • You can be great like me also, so long as you follow the path that I do as well as I have done it, which anyone with half a brain obviously would.
  • Until then, you are not as good as me, and I'm gonna let you know that in subtle and overt ways until you get with the program.


This is essentially relationship poison, destructive, counter-productive, toxic, and even small amounts of this sort of self-righteousness and arrogance leads predictably to profound resentment, dysfunction, communication breakdowns, and anger, which in turn often lead to the end of relationships, be they those with friends, family, girlfriends or boyfriends, and spouses/partners.


We, The Great Practitioner, may be so convinced that what they perceive as arrogance is just understandable confidence, and what they perceive as misguided pity is really just natural compassion, but regardless of who is right, the effect is the same.


I know about these things in excruciating detail as I have lived them for years and been caught in these traps many times, so hopefully those reading can benefit from the countless mistakes I have made over the years on these fronts. As is my style, I will tend to describe things in somewhat extreme terms, but realize that they don't tend to be far off most of the time, which is sad but true.


Those in certain stages are particularly prone to toxic evangelism. The Arising and Passing (A&P), aka the 4th ñana, aka the 2nd Vipassana Jhana, is notorious for making people very excited about practice. They have seen amazing things, have profound insights, and are all excited about practice. It is only natural that they will wish to share that with others, and they have a hard time imagining that everyone won't naturally share their enthusiasm right then. This tends to lead to reactions like this:


  • While we can see you have had some interesting experience, you seem a bit crazy right now and we are concerned
    (Material Toxicity)
  • We don't know what to make of your change in behavior and religious zeal.
  • You are creeping us out.


The Dark Night states (aka the Dukkha Ñanas, the 3rd Vipassana Jhana, the 5th-10th ñanas, particularly the last two: Desire for Deliverance and Re-Observation), can cause all sorts of problems, particularly coupled with the residual evangelism of the previous stages. The unfortunate practitioner caught in this stage tends to lack the enthusiastic happiness of the A&P, may be somewhat tortured in their practice, may be having problems keeping their career and relationships functioning well, and may yet be very caught in the tendency to evangelize. As they themselves try to muster the internal courage and force needed to get through the Dark Night, they may try to drag everyone around them with them. I call this Dark Night Bleed-through, and it should be avoided like the plague. Unfortunately, the Dark Night by its nature can make avoiding it difficult.


Clearly, those observing them from the outside may not be impressed at best and may be really turned off at worst. Most people simply want to have their ordinary life untroubled by a the vortices of a Dysfunctional Spiritual Quester, and this leads predictably to the following reasonable reactions to all this on the part of the Significant Other, friend or family member:


  • You clearly are doing worse because of the Dharma and are screwing your life up.
  • You are a pain in the ass to be around.
  • While we may love you, we can't stand it when you are like this.
  • Get your life together and stop ranting about the Dharma.
  • Your arrogance and evangelism is simply pissing us off.
  • Shut up about it or go away.


These reactions may have the combined effect of pushing someone who might have been a little into meditation away from it, causing a further widening in the relationship.


Those who have gotten into High Equanimity may have problems related to those who have crossed the A&P, as they have really seen something profound and good, but it rapidly fades, and they tend to fall back into the Dark Night, with the above problems arising again.


Unfortunately, everything is not necessarily better past Stream Entry or whatever you wish to call the first stage of awakening. They REALLY have seen something amazing, suddenly have all sorts of understandings and abilities that they may have a very hard time imagining everyone else wouldn't suddenly want if they were just encouraged and supported in the right way, and yet the reactions tend to be basically the same as above. This can cause understandable frustration in the Stream Enterer, but if people are not into this stuff, they are not into this stuff, and it is the rarest spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend that makes a good teacher or even tolerable zealot from the point of view of their significant other.


The Stink of Enlightenment that can begin to develop around here and into the middle paths can really up the ante on the whole process. As the practitioner becomes more and more powerful in the dharma, this can have the paradoxical but predictable effect of seeming to crush the life out of the spiritual side of their significant other. This is not always the case, and it does happen sometimes that significant others do find something good in the accomplishments of practitioner, but there is absolutely no guarantee this will occur, and reactions tend to vary with time to these things and be a mixed bag.

This can even occur when both people in the relationship are strong practitioners, as they may progress at different rates, describe and think about their practice differently, and, as they both cycle through A&P events and Dark Night stages and these may have significant effects, instability can still and often does occur.


Even Arahatship, which does a lot to bring things back down to Earth, having ended some aspect of the practitioners spiritual quest and brought some higher degree of realism and normalcy to the life of the practitioner, can still not always free one from these sorts of difficulties, as labels, titles, teaching, and that sort of thing inherently can cause comparison and the related difficulties.


Further, once the "I am better than you" paradigm is locked in, it can be very difficult to undo.

Thus, my advice in these matters is some appropriately applied and adapted version of the following:


  • Avoid evangelizing to your family and significant others. If they are not into it, the chances of your saying anything making them into it are low and the chances of causing bad reactions is high.
  • If you are having weird or unusual experiences and able to compensate for them, keep your mouth shut or speak in very simple, safe terms if people are not really receptive to these things.
  • If you are in territory that you can't compensate for, keep your descriptions down to Earth and ordinary when speaking to people who are not hardcore practitioners and seek the guidance and support of those who know this territory.


Most people can handle statements like:


"I am feeling a lot of free-floating anxiety lately. I am sorry if this is affecting our relationship, but I am going to work on this, and help me remember to be kind and functional, as I am trying my best and really want things to work out and for us to be happy. I am so grateful for your support in this and let me know how I can support you."


much better than they can handle statements like:


"I am plunging into the Dukkha Ñanas, headed for Stream Entry, and thus we should sit 3 hours every day together doing strict vipassana technique and the rest of the time planning for our long retreat!"


Last, and perhaps most importantly, let others do their thing whenever possible. Everyone doesn't have to be into the same things you are, and relationships are often more interesting when people aren't.


I am not saying let them do terrible things or crazy things, but so long as their thing is ok, let them do it and support them in it whenever possible, and do your very best to avoid the dark sides of the Spiritual Quest outlined above. If and when you are successful in your practice, you and everyone around you will appreciate you having done so.


I am not saying that there won't be times when we need to end relationships that no longer fit. I am also not saying that the above advice can always be perfectly applied and you are bad if you can't do this, as most of the best practitioners here have probably had some of these difficulties despite their best efforts. However, there is hard-won wisdom in these basic principles and if you are having a hard time in relationships due to your dharma practice, see if something above might help.


I hope that there will be skillful discussion so that we can figure out good ways to grow in our practice while avoiding these difficulties.






I know first hand that many of us here, including myself, have run into some or all of these issues, and thus, as they are so common and can cause so many difficulties, I though we should bring the light of wisdom from the community to help figure out ways to promote hardcore practice that doesn't cause relationship difficulties whenever possible.

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Thanks for posting this. As usual great stuff written by Dan.


It is my belief that for highly committed spiritual practitioners seclusion or practicing alone in a remote location would allow them flourish and reach the final goal without any distractions in mind. Basically get in, do it and get out. Many great masters succeeded by following this approach.


Society as large doesn't either have the understanding nor the interest in the Dharma; this can drive mad those who are serious about reaching enlightenment and trying to help others alongside. Unfortunately as the essay clearly shows in real life it's far from being like that. I myself have directly experienced attacks and mocked at for giving advice or talking about my spiritual practice. Keep it to yourself or you'll be burned at the stake!.


Final, what are your true motives for opening this thread?

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Very helpful SB! Thanks!

----presently somewhere in or around very messy but still meditating, realising how awful I am and how much I suck but not like 'seriously' suck, so according to someone else (Dan) well, there's a thing.... Opinion alert---

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Keep doing so, dealing with the dark night is not easy, in some instances can last for years. It also can show up at times even after stream entry is attained, as in small bouts of activity. Overcoming the control of the mind is a difficult task but a very worthwhile effort.


Maybe this reading would boost your practice as in keep your motivation level up and overcome the dark night episode.


Here's a post written by Dan (last on the following page) in regards to "right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration" from his personal experience:





The greater the effort, the greater the result. This principle never fails.



Best of luck.

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Thanks Gerard!

I did read the story.

You of course know what's going on, the thinking mind has gone into stealth mode pretending that more control and suppression is what's required when it's painfully obvious the opposite is the case. How do I know? Through simple deduction. Oh and the actual internal constriction caused by too much 'wrong technique' (note that even a great technique can end up in the wrong service).


Unlikely it will go on for years.

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