[ Sitting Practice ]
Personal Experiences During Jhanic Meditation
TMT: "I am very interested in the personal experiences of others and in the instructions they received in Jhana (up to the fourth Rupa Jhana). Would anyone care to provide a little personal narrative?"
I would highly recommend that anyone interested in this subject find and read the Carlos Castaneda books. Start with The Teachings of Don Juan and read the books in order. In these books Carlos is given instructions in meditation technique and he describes in minute detail what it is he experiences. One can equate what he calls "The Second Attention" to the First Burning, the ending of the Inner Dialog to the Second Burning, and The Stopping of the World to the Fourth Burning. Not only is this series of books very helpful in terms of comparison to jhana practice, it is one of the great literary works of our age. Towards the end of the last books it is revealed that Don Juan and crew were trained in Chinese Buddhism (probably Shambala).
There are a number of descriptions of the personal experience of Jhana out there. Some people see it (think of it like seeing a simile) as an imaginary string, strung like the string of a musical instrument, made of imagination, that one twangs with one's deeds. The greater the twang, the greater the racket, and the vibrating string turns to colors and paints pictures.
Some people see it like a body, the reclining body of the Buddha, and life goes on, for the most part, on the inside (most of it in the digestive tract, and much of that in the lower intestines...almost all of them worshiping another organ system), much as you might imagine it if each cell were a living being.
A common description of descending into trance by shaman of today is of entering a "cave" or "tunnel" down into the heart of the earth, much like Alice's Rabbit Hole.
I suggest a maelstrom.
Imagine a maelstrom, made of imagination, swirling
round and round and round and round
open at the bottom end
open at the top end
Bounded on all sides, inward and outward, by Nibbāna (Nibbāna is the Unimagined)
and A Certain Beggar, imagining himself sitting, becoming aware that he is sitting on the inside wall of this maelstrom, looking inward, at the swirl
Then imagine he imagines himself able to discern beings as they rise up and slide down the inner walls of this maelstrom. Each rising and falling in accordance with the weight they are taking on or letting drop.
At the very bottom he sees beings as they suffer the Dukkha of Hell.
Then, up from the bottom, Demonic beings,
Up passed human beings he sees beings that take shape as a consequence of powerful mental forces they have released either through great good deeds or jhana, (powerful deeds of objectless letting go; aimless, pointless, empty)
Depending on their understanding they become lessor or greater gods, or dwell in mind in lessor or greater elevations of perception.
But you can imagine, since this is a swirl and made of the same imagination, that there is a place where one sort of existence merges into the next. There is no clear boundary, but beings of one sort reaching the realm of beings of another sort imagine themselves as having died, and then, of having been reborn again ... back and forth and up and down.
Beings whose time was spent in jhana may reach the top edge of the maelstrom. The place where the current can be seen to both end it's upward journey and begin it's downward journey. The ending of perception and sense experience.
From there they can see: Ah-Ha! This was never made of anything but imagination in the first place! I can just let it go from here. Or I could have just let it go from anywhere, even the very bottom is open to Nibbāna. The inner is open to Nibbāna. The outer is open to Nibbāna. The whole thing is permeated with Nibbāna. What bound me up in it was my way of imagining it. How about if I let go of ways of imagining it?
And he does that. And having let go of even the Jhana known as the ending of perception and sense experience, he is free. And in Freedom, seeing Freedom, he knows: This is being Free! Left Behind is Birth. Done is Duty's doing. Lived is the Best of Lives. No more hither and further shore. No more being any kind of an It at any place of being At for Me!
The Buddha speaks of this as being like a man standing at the banks of a clear pond high in some mountain crag. He sees stones and pebbles. Shellfish and small fish. And once in a long while some larger fish moving around.
One factor to consider in this matter: much of what is experienced by a beginning meditator is considered in this society as mental disorder.
An individual may experience prolonged periods of sadness, sorrow, weeping, regret and lamentation. Such a thing is easily classified as clinical depression.
An individual may experience visions of other realms and other beings, hear voices, and have other experiences classified by that miopic symptom of the disease it perports to cure, modern psychology, as hallucinations; schizophrenia, clinical depression, delusions of grandure and even diseases such as alzheimers and dementia.
An individual may experience prolonged periods of fear. Paranoia
An individual caught midway in a recollection of a previous life may have experiences easily classified as "possession" (and I have mentioned many times that it is a virtually inevitable experience, at lest here in the west for an individual to experience Pajapati's Problem...the overwhelming conviction that one is absolutely alone in the world and is God Himself) "delusions of grandure".
An individual may experience physical phenomena such as what is clinically known as "shelving" where parts of the body seem to be separated from "the self" in imagry similar to that used by cubists to represent people.
And there are many other such experiences all of which, if spoken about openly would subject the individual to numerous conflicts and an endless battle in the mind with those who would consider him crazy.
This is one reason a relationship with a teacher or a knowledgable "dhamma friend" is very helpful. Short of that, consider Freud's advice to himself: "Sometimes it is better to keep quiet." At least exercise caution with regard to whom you speak of these experiences; later there will come a time when you have experience enough to balance both worlds -- live in the sane one and be able to communicate with those remaining behind in the mad one...ahum.
Pay Attention, Understand, Let Go
Questions asked by Ānanda, answered by The Buddha:
"...may it be that a monk's winning of concentration is of such a sort that in earth he is unaware of earth, in water unaware of water (. . . fire . . . air . . . akasa . . . vinanna . . . akincanna . . . in the n'evasannanasanna) realm of neither-perception-nor-not-perception unaware of it; that in this world he is unaware of this world, in the world beyond unaware of the world beyond; that whatsoever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, thought over by mind -- of all that he is unaware, and yet is conscious? (Saññā = Perception, perceives, also aware)"
"It may be so Ānanda. A monks winning of concentration may be such..."
"...in what way...?"
"Herein, Ānanda, a monk is conscious thus: This is the real (santaŋ) this is the best, namely, the calming of all activities, the rejection of every substrate, the ending of craving, the fading of interest, stopping and nibbana."
Ānanda hears the same and asks the same of Sariputta and receives the same answers in the same syllables and remarks at this similarity.
Again, asked in a slightly different way:
"may it be . . . of such a sort that, though he pay no heed to eye or object seen . . . ear. . .not this world nor the world beyond; though whatever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, thought out by mind -- to all that he pays no mental heed, and yet does so?
The Buddha's answer is the same.
Oops...going backwards, to the Book of the Tens, #6 [AN 10.6]
"May it be...in earth he is unaware of earth . . .that in this world he is unaware of this world, in the world beyond unaware of it -- and yet at the same time does perceive?
The Buddha's answer is the same as above.
The Tens #7 [AN 10.7]
Ānanda takes the question to Sariputta and gets the same answer, but asks a further question:
"... in what way may that be?" And gets a recounting of a personal experience of Sariputta:
"Once on a time, Ānanda, your reverence, I myself was staying near this same Savatthi in Dark Wood, and on that occasion I attained to concentration of such a sort that in earth I was unaware of earth and the rest . . . in this world I was unaware of this world, in the world beyond I was unaware of it, and yet at the same time I did perceive.'
"Pray what did you perceive on that occasion, Sariputta, your reverence?"
"One perception arose in me: 'To end becoming is Nibbāna.' Another perception faded out in me: 'To end becoming is Nibbāna.' Just as, your reverence, from a fire of splinters one spark arises and another spark fades out, even so in me one perception arose: 'To end becoming is Nibbāna', and another perception, 'to end becoming is Nibbāna' faded out in me. Yet at the same time, your reverence, I consciously perceived.
In the book of the Elevens there are an additional 4 identical suttas with different settings.
This group of suttas is important when considering the issue of the state of the Arahant, and, additionally, at a somewhat earlier stage ... ahum ... it prompts the question: If that school of Buddhism (that will remain nameless here) advocating practice of the Satipatthana sutta method to a high degree, is interpreting the fundamental principle of that method to be "paying attention or awareness" without what I am saying is the other side of the Satipatthana, namely, letting go, release; then how does it square with these suttas and the final goal?
From Digha Nikaya III.33: The Compilation: The Effort to Retain
The Effort to Retain:
And what, beggars, is the effort to retain?
Here friends, a beggar on the occurrence of an auspicious thing, a sign of getting high, suchas perception of bones, perception of maggots, perception of blackish-blue, perception of spongiformity, perception of inflation, sets a guard over it.
This is the effort to retain, say I.
Katamañ c'āvuso anurakkhaṇā-padhānaṃ?
Idh'āvuso bhikkhu uppannaṃ bhaddakaṃ samādhi-nimittaṃ anurakkhati aṭṭhika-saññaṃ pulavaka-saññaṃ vinīlaka-saññaṃ vicchiddaka-saññaṃ uddhumātaka-saññaṃ. Idaṃ vuccat'āvuso anurakkhana-padhāna
Walshe: (preservation)"...keeps firmly in his mind a favourable object of concentration which has arisen, such as a skeleton...";
Rhys Davids: (safe-guarding) "...keeps pure and genuine an auspicious object of concentrated imagination when it has arisen [such as] one of the contemplations of foul things."
Walshe and Rhys Davids (and pretty much every other translator) go to the "devices" from these terms. I am asserting that the devices are later developments. There is a situation in this Dhamma where the idea that everything boils down to being Dukkha, and the practice of Samadhi (getting high) result in having certain perceptions of an extraordinarily disagreeable nature. Absolutely repulsive and more than a little disturbing. But also highly stimulative of energetic effort, wakefulness and dispassion. These images can come in the form of visions in meditation, dream images, daydreams, and seeing something in "real life". These are not practices, but results, and the images are not restricted to things like human corpses or the degradation of human corpses. I have been for years repelled by a certain Austrialian bush in my garden called the bottle-brush which creates "pocks" on it's stems when it sheds its flowers. The other night on Animal Planet there was an image of a frog that gave birth to it's infants from pores in it's back which "I cannot get out of my mind". I mentioned here a peresistant dream image of removing garlic cloves from between my toes. There are states in which one can see "all this" as a skeleton, or where one sees the skin peel back revealing the bones, or where one sees the rot of the body in a variety of ways. There is an image where everything everywhere appears to be dying. There is an image where it is all seen as shit (I'm not talking about 'knowing it is shit' I'm talking about seeing it as shit.) I have seen images of my arm filled with maggots. Many of us have had dreams of running or being chased through a land filled with holes into which we are liable to sink. Allowed to generate fear and without context these can be psychologically damaging phenomena. In the context here they are very valuable in generating effort (this is a tool to keep in mind during periods of sloth...viriya-sambojjhanga: the science of energy building), and, in addition, familiarity with these states produces a sort of immunity to repulsion when the highly repulsive is encountered in one's ordinary life.
I say it is because these visions have been recognized for their usefulness that "devices" were made from them. I have tried a number of these for myself, and I am not at all convinced that approaching this in an artificial manner is of any use whatsoever. The trick is to meditate using letting go as your technique. The High that results will bring certain things of benefit. Bringing the mind again and again to these things (when one is not in meditation, or as a stimulus when beginning meditation, or when energy in meditation is flagging) is the way to make use of them.
For more on the perception of the Foul, see: Vesali
For example, this quote: "There seems to me one undeniable fact about the Buddha which all accounts stress: at some crucial point in his life he was severely depressed. He gave a kind of distorted recognition to this fact when he made _duHkha_ (sorrow, suffering, sadness, pain) the cornerstone of his ethical teaching. This is projection, the attribution of dimly perceived psychic states of feeling to the outer world, but it is in an advance from other religions where supernatural revelations from god serve as the cornerstone of ethical teachings. The Buddha was able to perceive a basic fact of human experience correctly, even if he erred in seeking a direction for its provenance. Yet it is no diminution of the greatness of his achievement (nor even of our ultimate evaluation of this achievement in philosophical, ethical or historical terms) if we recognize that the Buddha suffered from a melancholia, and any attempt to gain some deeper, human understanding of him as a man must come to terms with his depression. It is true that before this task can be accomplished, we must acquaint ourselves as fully as possible with whatever is known about the life of the Buddha. This means reading through a vast, complex and often technical literature. Doing this will make one sensitive to the more problematic area of mania. It is then possible to recognize that much within Buddhism is a manic defense against depression. Mania need not be tied to its more agitated external manifestations; mania can betray its presence by a calm but unrealistic happiness, an emotional isolation from the only real source of happiness there is, other people, so that the Buddhist insistence on sealing off one's emotional and sexual responses to other people is a denial. The mania is then manifest in the calm and happiness this produces. It is therefore valuable to study in some detail the psychoanalytic literature on depression, which is no less large than that on the life of the Buddha."
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson; The Oceanic Feeling: The Origins of Religious Sentiment in Ancient India; 1980; pp 6-7.
The arogance of this man is stupendous. Not one thought that it might be his analysis that was off. What he is saying here is that if I see a sick man on the road and say anything about it, I am the sick one. If I suggest a solution that works I am in denial. This is Freud's old Catch 22: You are a sick man. No I am not. You see! That's denial, denial is a symptom of sickness.