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RE: What are formations?
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What are formations?
3/8/11 6:38 PM
I realize this is probably a hopeless request, looking for a clearer explanation of something I haven't experienced. But I thought there'd be no harm in asking.

I've been reading MCTB. I recognize what it's talking about up to the Re-observation section, then in the Equanimity section, it stops making sense when it starts talking about "formations." The description is too abstract for me. Is a more concrete description available?

I suppose if the book is correct, I will progress along the track it outlines, or else wallow in the Dukkha Ñanas for the term of my natural life, and if I progress, I will find out for myself. But if that's the case, it would be good to know what's coming, so I know it when I see it.

There's been some other stuff in MCTB up to this point which seems to be outside my experience, like the 40 Hz "vibrations." How the hell do you note stuff at 40 Hz?? Increase the time resolution another 50%, and you'd be noting individual frames of a television display! I must admit, I'm extremely skeptical, but I've only been trying this noting stuff since I started reading the book. Perhaps it'll become clearer with time. I maybe note three or four things a second. In any case, it's a very useful practice for breaking things up when attention collapses down on something like an emotional reaction, so it's a valuable practice, no matter what macho speed I end up reaching.
RE: What are formations?
3/8/11 7:56 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
fivebells .:
I realize this is probably a hopeless request, looking for a clearer explanation of something I haven't experienced. But I thought there'd be no harm in asking.

I've been reading MCTB. I recognize what it's talking about up to the Re-observation section, then in the Equanimity section, it stops making sense when it starts talking about "formations." The description is too abstract for me. Is a more concrete description available?

I suppose if the book is correct, I will progress along the track it outlines, or else wallow in the Dukkha Ñanas for the term of my natural life, and if I progress, I will find out for myself. But if that's the case, it would be good to know what's coming, so I know it when I see it.

My understanding of formations is: they are what happens in High Equanimity, they will happen on the way to Stream Entry, however, you don't necessarily have to perceive it as such - be aware of it with the level of clarity described in MCTB - to get Stream Entry. I haven't pinpointed exactly what a formation is, and I think I am 3rd path by now... so basically do not worry about it =). But perhaps someone else can give a more satisfying answer.

fivebells .:
There's been some other stuff in MCTB up to this point which seems to be outside my experience, like the 40 Hz "vibrations." How the hell do you note stuff at 40 Hz?? Increase the time resolution another 50%, and you'd be noting individual frames of a television display! I must admit, I'm extremely skeptical, but I've only been trying this noting stuff since I started reading the book.

Can't really note at that speed, as in make a verbal note, but you can sure notice that many sensations per second for a particular object. It's very particular to the A&P nyana. I've done it (and noticed it as such) with: the ringing in my ears, a knot of pressure in my head, the background hum of a computer, general sensations on my body...

To describe it w/ ringing in the ears. First it arose, relatively solid-sounding [Mind & Body]. I don't remember the Cause & Effect stage so much, but then it kind of starts flickering so I hear gaps between them [Three Characteristics]. I wonder if the gap is related to the "unknowing event" described in MCTB. Anyway, next the mind really kind of hooks into it/picks up on it, so it becomes clear again, but not solid as in Mind&Body. Instead you feel like you can perceive every little sensation that makes it up.. instead of sounding like a pure, clean sine tone, it's a bit rough, like I could hear all the peaks in the sine wave [A&P]. This gets more & more intense until the mind kind of "loses its grip" on it and it fades away a bit and becomes more complex [Dissolution].

Similarly with the background hum. With body sensations, you just really observe that many separate sensations happening per second.

Note this hasn't happened with every time I've been in the A&P, so it's probably just a fortuitous confluence of concentration, energy, mindset, mood, whatever, that makes it happen.
RE: What are formations?
3/9/11 8:12 AM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
Thanks for the response, Beoman. Actually, I think I might have a handle on what formations are, and have experienced them as a result of the practice I've been doing lately. (I described the practice over here, and this audio file 13m45s to 19m30s describes it in more detail.) I would welcome critical feedback on this speculation.
RE: What are formations?
3/9/11 8:39 AM as a reply to fivebells ..
It's not a hopeless request, it's actually something which is worth asking about as formations are notoriously difficult to discuss. Dan's descriptions of formations in MCTB are very difficult to follow since he's had a lot of experience with this and has examined formations at a level which is difficult to fully understand so I think, and no disrespect to Daniel, that it's easy to get confused by this. I know 3rd & 4th Path yogis who say that they've got no idea what he's describing but I think much of this has to do with Daniel's technical approach and efforts to give as much detail as possible.

So, my (quite possibly incorrect) understanding and experience of formations is this: Formations contain all sensory information (at the six sense doors) of a single moment of experience. They're like the building blocks or basic templates of dualistic experience since they contain all sensation from space and time, to the breath in the body. They occur constantly but this dualistic perception sees a "break" between each formation which creates the sense that each moment is somehow seperate from the last. Basically, formations are what occur all the time and contain all potential sensations which you could possibly note. Examining them closer allowed me to experience a gestalt of the moment i.e. all sensation at once in a unified sense field.

I don't know if that's any clearer? It's the way I've come to understand it so don't take this as the absolute answer.

I suppose if the book is correct, I will progress along the track it outlines, or else wallow in the Dukkha Ñanas for the term of my natural life, and if I progress, I will find out for myself. But if that's the case, it would be good to know what's coming, so I know it when I see it.


If you're practicing well then you most certainly will not wallow in the dukkha ñanas! You'll encounter them again and again though until you hit stream entry, and then you'll hit them again, and again, and again 'cause it's just a natural part of the process so learn to negotiate these stages. There's a lot to learned in Dark Night, a lot of cleansing and purification which is painful and difficult sometimes but it's worth every second although this may not become clear for a while. Get y'er head (or your arse in this case!) down and note, note, note. Work on your concentration and note some more 'cause it's the only way to get through these ñana.

There's been some other stuff in MCTB up to this point which seems to be outside my experience, like the 40 Hz "vibrations." How the hell do you note stuff at 40 Hz?? Increase the time resolution another 50%, and you'd be noting individual frames of a television display! I must admit, I'm extremely skeptical, but I've only been trying this noting stuff since I started reading the book. Perhaps it'll become clearer with time. I maybe note three or four things a second. In any case, it's a very useful practice for breaking things up when attention collapses down on something like an emotional reaction, so it's a valuable practice, no matter what macho speed I end up reaching.


Been there, thought that and realized that, although commendable to be able to note at these speeds and something which will come with time, it sets up a really high marker for newcomers and could be rather off-putting. By the sounds of things, you're doing fine with 3-4 s.p.s., as long as your being accurate with the noting and consistent in practice. Personally I don't even try to count how many s.p.s. I'm noting anymore, it fluctuates as you go through the ñanas anyway and when you get to Equanimity it's more about a balance of concentration and gentler noting rather than going hell for leather, in my experience anyway.

The frequencies of vibration is another thing which I tend to avoid getting too caught up in, unless I'm specifically trying to identify the stage e.g. the really harsh and choppy vibration in Re-Observation. Vibrations will appear anyway, you'll be able to feel the difference between each stage after a while with practice so don't worry too much about this for the moment. Daniel's book is amazing and I rarely put it down for more than a day or two, but after a while you come to realize that this dude is a seriously skilled practitioner and he writes from this level which, to many, can seem incomprehensible without practice.

My only advice on this front would be, note as you are able to and don't get caught up in the content or processes of figuring stuff out during practice. What Daniel says in his book is totally spot on in my experience, and more importantly it sets incredibly high standards for yogis which, although possibly discouraging at first, become essential to good practice and keeps people striving. Others may disagree, I can only speak for myself.

Macho meditation will probably make quick progress but at the expense of integration of these insights into our lives which, regardless of attainments, we still need to be able to handle skillfully and compassionately. There's also a risk of burning yourself out with that which you'll pay for at some point, so go at your own pace and remember that there's no timescale for attaining enlightenment.

Hope that helped a bit.
RE: What are formations?
3/9/11 8:59 AM as a reply to fivebells ..
fivebells .:
Thanks for the response, Beoman. Actually, I think I might have a handle on what formations are, and have experienced them as a result of the practice I've been doing lately. (I described the practice over here, and this audio file 13m45s to 19m30s describes it in more detail.) I would welcome critical feedback on this speculation.

Hmm thinking more about it, maybe the following are formations: during a few sits, I've been sitting there and observing all sensations, then somehow I feel like the sense of self is 'off' from everything else. Like there will be pulses of stuff, and the sense of self slips in between the pulses, latching onto those more poorly perceived sensations. Or there will be stuff, and a sense of self will arise only afterwards and be felt to lag behind. Perhaps that is also that territory (I'm fairly sure that happens in High Equanimity). Anyone have comments on that?
RE: What are formations?
3/9/11 9:01 AM as a reply to Tommy M.
Tommy M:
Hope that helped a bit.
Yes, I have a much better sense for these things, now. Thanks, Tommy.
RE: What are formations?
3/9/11 10:51 AM as a reply to Tommy M.
I like Tommy's articulation of formations.

One further way of thinking about the experience:

Have you ever had one of those experiences when you saw something -- whether a photograph or an assemblage of things or a close-up of a particular body part from an unusual angle or whatever -- that your mind wasn't able to immediately recognize? And then as you looked more closely at whatever it was, you suddenly figured out what it was? Something "clicked" and you got it? That clicking is an experience of a formation arising. The mind shifts from experiencing unconceptualized sensory information flows to experiencing the concept.

As I practice seeing one formation arise and then the next and then the next, with time and patience it becomes possible to perceive the mind doing each formation's "click," which is a kind of clinging, a kind of attempt to lock in on some aspect of the constantly changing flow. Once its seen as a kind of clinging, it can be released. (It can also be interesting to discern the mind-patterned karma that leads the mind to create a particular formation out of a data set that might yield a different formation to a differently-configured mind.)
RE: What are formations?
3/9/11 1:21 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
Does "formations" in this context translate the word "samskara," as claimed here? If so, I at least know where they fit in the standard theoretical framework, now.
RE: What are formations?
3/9/11 2:46 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
Hello fivebells - Formations are difficult to communicate about, not exactly because of of the nature of the sensations perceived, but because of the different relationship of awareness to them during that time.

Often one is perceiving the field of awareness from a particular position which involves sensations in the background which are in some sense regarded as one's-self. In this circumstance, those self-sensations are not properly in the field of awareness, though one is oftentimes referring to them semi-consciously. The sense of self relies on not having the whole field of sensations in awareness. It 'leans on' those sensations which are kept aside in the background. If these 'semi-conscious' sensations are also fully in the field of awareness, with the implication that therefore now ALL sensations in the current moment are in this field of awareness, then formations become apparent. All sensations are freed from awareness, and self-view is in serious danger of being undermined. Awareness is 'cleaner' and 'freer', in that it is not bound up with, or constantly referring to, a particular group of poorly-acknowledged sensations.

What happens for me during the phase of formations is that all sensations become as if they are 'seen', even if they are nominally sounds, or body-based sensations, or whatever. Awareness is not identified with any sense or type of sensation, because it is not currently 'leaning on' anything unconsciously. Or it like having a seventh sense, which takes in all sensation-types equally. It is often the case that one is in a pretty wordless state as well while perceiving formations, which adds to their slightly eerie quality. One becomes mirror-like.

Daniel often encourages the practitioner to pick up on all those subtle aspects of our experience which can hang about in the background creating a sense of self. In each moment I believe there is a limit to what is going on at the conditioned level, and bringing these aspects round enables a full appreciation of the present moment. Seeing the moment completely at the level of basic sensations requires this 'freeing'of awareness. One has a sense during formations of seeing all there is to see, right here and right now.
RE: What are formations?
3/9/11 4:51 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
Hi fivebells,

There have been many conversations about "formations" at this site. Just about everyone seems to adopt the Ingramian definition, which I haven't been able to find anywhere else. Daniel's take on formations is purely his own (no disrespect intended).

He and I had a chat about formations some time ago in the following thread...

http://dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/489198

I have since come to learn that "sankhara" can refer not only to conditioned things in general, but more specifically to the habitual intended responses to phenomenal appearences or other stimuli. The intended reactions perpetuate and deepen the kinds of habitual responses that result in suffering.

In my opinion, this is why the 11th ñana is officiall titled something like, "Knowledge of Equanimity with Regard to Formations." In this stage we are able to see these habitual impulses to respond, but refrain from acting on them or despairing over them. It has nothing to do with attention waves, or the syncing up of awareness and objects within awareness, or 3D luminous anything. Again, this is my opinion.

My best advice is to not worry about "seeing" formations. It is, for the most part, a superfluous exercise.

Jackson
RE: What are formations?
3/10/11 9:19 AM as a reply to Jackson Wilshire.
Thanks, Jackson. That's familiar territory to me, and I see how it relates to Daniel's description, now.
RE: What are formations?
3/13/11 12:43 AM as a reply to Sean Lindsay.
Sean Lindsay:
Have you ever had one of those experiences when you saw something --


Sean, it helps so much when someone refers to an experience we might actually have had. Thanks. In fact, I was recently sitting within earshot of a radio playing music in another room. I almost got up to shut the door but then got quite interested in this "distraction". The sound was quite a distance away and I was aware that I couldn't make musical sense of it even though (especially as a musician) the mind was trying really hard to do so. It was fascinating just to be with that sound, to realize that as many times as the mind would make an attempt at constructing music out of it (where is the beat, what key is it in), in the spaces we could hear it as just sound, or just sensation. So it was "click" - space - "click" - space, and the spaces would get longer.

It's also fascinating to notice what kind of sensations the conceptual mind is most tenacious about hanging onto. Some years ago this came to me:

Talk on the T.V.
Disturbs my meditation.
Better a chainsaw.
RE: What are formations?
12/22/11 2:58 PM as a reply to Vajracchedika Ian Vajra.
Hey Vajracchedika Ian Vajra. I thought your formations post was BAD-ASS. Thanks!