The integrative practice approach to Dharma is one the Buddha first teaches in its full context in the Canki Sutta of the Pali canon. As we have come to experience it, it is more of a way of life, or vocation, than simply an approach to study or practice.
The crux of integrative practice is the progressive development and refinement of prajna, a Sanskrit term we translate as “precise knowledge.” Having encountered a trustworthy teacher of the Buddhadharma, we develop an ongoing teacher-student relationship with them, and work with the words of the Buddha in an increasingly personal, even intimate, inward dialogue with our own views.
Earlier posts here discuss each of the three components of integrative practice per se—first comes listening, which gives rise to its particular prajna, or precise knowledge, here consisting of semantic understanding. Contemplation consists of a diverse range of ways to essentially digest and incorporate this semantic prajna coming from listening, yielding the prajna that comes of contemplation, or intellectual understanding. This contemplative prajna becomes the object of a unique style of meditation that refines and absorbs clear knowing—a sharp cutting through of superimposition—until it takes shape as the prajna coming from meditation: an experiential understanding.
Thus, there are three degrees of prajna, arising from listening, from contemplation, and from meditation, or more colloquially, semantic, intellectual, and experiential understanding. All very neat in theory, but in practice, these three are in continual dynamic interplay, with contemplation occurring while listening, for example. They each mutually enforce one another, building from one to the next in a multidimensional dance rather than linear progression.
How so? On the one hand, each prajna is employed as the raw material of the following step, so the semantic precise knowledge of listening is the stuff of contemplation, and the intellectual precise knowledge arising out of that process is the object of meditation. Those prajnas also relate to the particular topic of the integration: mortality, impermanence, kleshas (emotional that disturb mind's natural tranquility), karma (volitional action), or dukkha (discontent), for example.
Thus, listening yields the “prajna that comes of listening,” a basic understanding of the meaning of the words in Buddhist context. This listening prajna, or semantic precise knowledge, becomes the material for contemplation, which yields a conceptual understanding of the principle in question. That intellectual precise knowledge in turn becomes the raw material for meditation, in which the intellectual is integrated into our experience through a unique style of analytical meditation that incorporates shamatha (tranquility) and vipashyana (insight) styles of meditation. This process gradually refines contemplative prajna, until it yields the prajna arising from meditation—an unmediated direct experience of whatever the topic in question may be.
Ultimately, Buddhist practice works towards refining this experiential prajna fully, in particular with respect to a direct experience of shunyata, emptiness, or the non-self nature of individuals and phenomena. This is prajna to the max—the leap from even subtle intellectual knowledge of emptiness to a nondual and unmediated meditative experience that burns through even dualistic precise knowledge and the ignorance that it neutralizes. This unflagging and unmediated meditative experience of shunyata is termed realization.
But wait. How is that even possible? Realization is direct, unmediated, in a word: nondual. Prajna is knowledge. Whether in its semantic, intellectual, or experiential forms, however precise, prajna is dualistic in character. How is it capable of upending ignorance of the true nature of reality to such an extent as to yield a nondual realization? Isn't there a gap, a leap necessary between dualistic knowledge and nondual experience.
Well, yes, there is. And right there is the beauty of the thing, to our eyes. In the context of the buddhanature teachings, prajna is natural to mind, intrinsic. Ignorance is superficial, an adventitious or opportunistic obscuration of the unimpeded knowing character of mind. The two are direct antagonists; their relationship akin to the two arms of a scale. To the extent one is strong, the other is weak, vice versa.
As we sharpen prajna, even before attaining direct realization, our habitual ignorance of the true nature of things weaken. The classic example is that listening, contemplating, and meditating functions like rubbing two sticks together. Prajna is one stick, ignorance the other. As our integrative practice continues with assiduous dedication, the friction caused by our prajna rubbing against our ignorance grows stronger, until the critical point where the sparks fly, the flames ignite, and both sticks are burnt away in the prajna fire.
Out of the conflagration of dualistic conception rises nondual wisdom, or gnosis (Tib. ye she), the direct realization of emptiness beyond realizer, realized, and realizing.
EMAHO! How marvelous!