Wow - that's a lot. I'm going to try and address everyone as succinctly as possible. So forgive me if I don't give each point a full answer.
@ retrofuturist - If you are saying that what Buddhaghosa wrote (the Vissudimagga) isn't buddhism then you're pretty much saying that most of mainstream Theravada isn't really buddhism and you pretty much have a beef with all of what is currently considered buddhism. If you don't allow any commentary and no further works by enlightened folks beyond the tipitaka, well then Theravada's out, so is Tibetan, so is Zen, Pure Land, and modern teachers like Jack Kornfield or Joseph Golstein - forget about it! I don't have much to say to that except that it sure sounds like you have some pretty serious standards for what is in or out when it comes to buddhism. Good luck with that. If it leads you to enlightenment let everyone know so they can get away from all the garbage.
P.S. - I totally dig the Hank Scorpio reference - made my week!
@mikenz66- regarding the question of whether the path inevitably leads to a dark night, the answer is, unfortunately, "it depends." The issue rests on the kind of meditation a person is doing. In classical buddhism there is a distinction made between "wet" and "dry" insight, which is the difference between the insight knowledges (nanas) experienced directly after deep concentration ("wet" = jhana) or without deep concentration ("dry" = no jhana). If you are doing it wet, then the dukkha nanas (dark night stages) seem like a breeze, a mild bit of turbulence in an otherwise smooth flight. If you are doing it dry however, then the dukkha nanas can really rock your world - and not in a good way. In the old texts and commentaries they divide it up into these two types as if they were all or nothing, but in truth almost everyone mixes it up and so the ambiguous answer of "it depends." Essentially, it depends on how deep your concentration is and how well you use it to move through the insight stages. So, while everyone will go through the insights into suffering in one form or another, how you experience it depends a lot on your concentration. Stronger concentration equals less difficulty.
Hope that helps.
@Challenge 23 - you really have two questions there - "what's up with the circular argument?" and "what's enlightenment?" The first one is easy so I'll take that one first: I'm not appealing to your logic. I may have a PhD but I don't write on my website from an academic perspective. If anyone is looking to me for that please look elsewhere! On a deeper level though, the point I'm trying to make is that the urge to become enlightened is actually an utterly irrational one to the self. One way of looking at enlightenment is that it is the task of putting the self completely out of business, firing it from its job, taking away its crown and authority, and seeing the whole self-improvement project as the joke it is.
So here is the rub - when "you" read the essay, it is actually the self that is really taking in the info and filtering through it to see if it fits its agenda (unless you're already awake). That is why soooo many essays on enlightenment appeal to the self: be a better person, be nice all the time, master your emotions, have a yoga body, learn French, have whiter teeth, etc. My point with this essay was to, in a sense, be utterly real and introduce an radically different view from all of that. When you are trying to meditate to be a better person, that's fine. But don't be fooled. That is not what it's about. When you finally get what it's about the idea of being a better person is absurd because that is a motive that only a self can have. If you are meditating to become enlightened (and I'm talking for real now, not the "idea" of being enlightened, but the reality of it) then there really is a deep yearning to be free from the self that is truly irrational to the self. The essay was an attempt to speak directly to that yearning without appealing to any self-improvement projects that people might have in mind.
Also - as regards Dr. Britton's research at Brown: I'm collaborating with her on this research and we presented on this topic together at the Buddhist Geeks conference in Los Angeles last year. For the project I've interviewed many well-established and mature practitioners (some teachers themselves) from every buddhist tradition that I know of (literally) on their experience of the dark night. The similarities between their accounts is striking. I've also talked informally with people in the Christian contemplative tradition who describe a very similar process. My suspicion is that this isn't a "buddhist thing" or "christian thing" but rather it's a human thing. I believe Dr. Britton is putting together a grant proposal for NIMH and wants to get the word out about this.
That's part of where I come in - I want to get psychologists more aware that the meditation that they are having so many clients practicing (in DBT, MBSR, ACT, and a bunch of other therapies) might not be as harmless as it first appears. As it stands, it is being given out to people like aspirin. And some of these clients learning it are suicidal. There needs to be more warning about the destabilizing effects for psychologists. And more information for practitioners in general, and that is where the essay (and this reaching out to people) comes into play.
I won't go into numbers, but I've been contacted by many people who were introduced to meditation through therapy or some self-improvement group, who started doing it sincerely, found that it helped a lot at first, and then became destabilized. Some to the point of hospitalization. A lot of them get referred to me for meditation teaching from other teachers and psychologists who think my background in psychology might help. Most psychologists have no idea what to do about this and are shocked that it could even happen, so these folks are usually cut adrift without any real help for years. They wander in and out of dharma scenes and therapy circles where they hope to get relief but no one really talks about the dark night or normalizes the experience. I cringe to think about how many people are out there going through that right now. So yes, maybe warning people away from meditation may seem a bit over the top in the essay, but man, if you had seen what I've seen you'd really understand.
@Travis - that's it exactly. First noble truth in action. As it is felt rather than "believed."