Second Path

In Buddhism there seems to be a lot of lists and steps and stages.  We have the Three Principal Paths, the Ten Bodhisattva Bhumis, The Seven Step Method to achieving Bodhichitta, etc.  There are also two other ways, besides the Three Principal Paths, to organize the realizations needed for enlightenment that are called the Five Paths and the Four Paths.

The Four Paths or Four Stages of Enlightenment are an organizing structure that is part of Theraveda teachings.  The first path is stream-entry.  The second path is a once-returner.  The third path is a non-returner and the fourth path is an arahant or enlightened person.  Sometimes people consider obtainment of first path, enlightenment, so you have to watch your terms.

I’ve been thinking about second path a lot lately.  The task of the second path is ending all craving especially:  1) the desire for sensual pleasures and 2) the aversion towards unpleasant things.  Although I have not had a direct experience of no-self (or emptiness), which some people consider a requisite for first path, I am intrigued by the possibility of ending all cravings.

It is clear to me that my gross cravings for my drug of choice are unpleasant, but I am becoming more and more aware that all of my subtler cravings are also tiring and useless.  And, unfortunately it is most likely that these subtle cravings are in control of much of my behavior.  How can I possibly get rid of them all?!

I was talking to Master Culadasa of the Dharma Treasure Buddhist Sangha about this just last month.  First, the task of getting rid of cravings is a task of someone that has already achieved, and perhaps solidified, their first path position.  It is not a task of someone in an earlier stage of spiritual development.

(Ahhhh, yes, I need to be able to walk before I can run and dance. Never mind that I feel ready to fly.)

Let’s take a peak into the future.

Once you get the realization that the only acceptable state of mind is one free from craving, Master Culadasa, says that you will then seek to eradicate craving by putting yourself into situations where it arises and turning your mindfulness on it. For instance, you go for ice cream and watch craving arise when you enter the store and as soon as you take the first bite you watch craving arise for the second bite, etc..

Now this is the opposite action that people with addiction are advised to do.  In early recovery you want to avoid your drug of choice and the people, places and things associated with it in order to avoid uncontrollable cravings. Unfortunately, this can be very hard to do and it is not unheard of for people to relapse due to cravings arising from a trigger.

However, the idea of seeking out triggers when you have the proper support is an idea supported by the information in the Pharmacology of Addiction class I’m taking. If the sight of something associated with your drug use gives you cravings or a physiological change, then it is better to desensitize yourself before you encounter that something without support.  This means actively putting yourself in situations that trigger cravings and not using  – so the body can establish a new predictable reaction to the trigger.

In dog training language this is called extinguishing a behavior.  Lets say your dog likes to bark and you don’t like the noise.  The trick is to teach your dog to bark and consistently reward it whenever it does.  Then, to extinguish the behavior all you need to do is never reward the dog again and the behavior will die out.  However, if you are inconsistent and reward it one more time or intermittently, the behavior will persist, perhaps forever.

Once again we see that addictive cravings may be on the same continuum with regular everyday cravings given the same advice is offered to eliminate them.  The idea is to not react when craving arises, but to turn mindfulness upon it. Mindfulness leads to wisdom and wisdom is the tool that cut all dysfunctional behavior.

I find that not feeding my cravings only makes them stronger:  what I resists persists.  This perhaps supports Master Culadasa’s point that the task of removing cravings is appropriate after first path has been reached.  I feel like I am weak-willed, but the truth is I’m simply powerless to make the change at this stage.  The power to make the change is given by the wisdom obtained in spiritual practice leading up to second path.  Not only are we given power at that time, but also the motivation and desire to eradicate cravings.



There are five obstacles to spiritual progress.  These obstacle were originally taught to me as the obstacles to meditation, but they can equally apply to anything we want to achieve in our lives.

  1. Doubt
  2. Not wanting to do it (aka laziness)
  3. Attraction to other things like drug of choice or worldly things
  4. Resentments, ill will, aversions
  5. Worry, restlessness, distractions


Doubt can take two forms.  First, it can be doubt as to whether what you are going to do is possible.  For instance, is enlightenment really possible? Does this method really work?  Or on a more mundane level – is it really possible for someone to start their own business and succeed?

Second, one can have doubt regarding their personal capabilities.  For instance, will it work for me?  Others have gotten enlightened, but I am capable of doing it too?  Or, others are successful at business, but maybe I do not have what it takes.

The remedy for doubt is to get more information.  Read about what you are going to do.  Talk to people that are doing it and/or have done it.  Try it as an experiment to see if it might work.  Also consider other options.  If you don’t do it, how will your life be?

Considering your other options is also a good antidote for not wanting to do what would ultimately be for your highest good.  If you want to be healthy, but keep eating food that makes you fat or sick then you encountering the obstacle of “laziness”.  The antidote is to contemplate what you really want in your life.  Think about what will happen if you get what you want as compared to the result if you don’t make the change.  When it comes to healthy eating think about being vibrant in your later years as opposed to having a stroke, heart attack and lying in bed recuperating.  (Post on death meditation may be helpful.)

The remedies for the other obstacles are similar.  Focus on what you want and what will bring you what you want.  Turn your back on the activities and things that will not bring you what you want.  Keep your resolve strengthened by contact with people with similar goals and by reading about what you want.

Finally, be gentle with yourself.  Sometimes knowing is not the same as doing.  We are not our subconscious mind, but the habits and beliefs that reside in our subconscious are influencing everything we do.  Part of the path is loving ourselves without judgment.  We move to take right action without making anyone or anything wrong – including ourselves.