Message Boards Message Boards

The Dharma Battleground (DhB)

Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?

A couple days ago I saw a video where Daniel went on Michael Taft's YouTube and participated in a Q&A. He mentioned the "physiological" necessity of cessation for awakening. Traditions that don't emphasize cessations, he hypothesized, actually do produce them but don't language it properly. Since cessation is simply necessary for awakening, any awakening-producing tradition must include cessation.

I'd like to question this. It seems to me like this is only true if we use a broader definition of cessation than Daniel (and the Mahasi tradition as a whole) does. I'll call their strict definition "complete cessation." Based on the way the awakening process appears to unfold, I argue such a complete cessation is only necessary for fourth path, and the first three paths can be attained with less-than-complete cessation. To explain why I'll quickly summarize the gist of how the paths appear to work.

By default we are ignorant of the ungraspable, unrejectable nature of phenomena. This causes us to try to grasp and reject them, causing suffering. The strongest manifestation of this is grasping some phenomena as self and rejecting some as other.

The process of awakening is the process of shedding these habits and realizing the nature of phenomena as it's always been. The four paths are four levels of depth of that same fundamental realization.
- Stream-Enterers realize non-grasping ways of being are possible; this dissolves doubt in the dharma and personality belief
- Once-Returners infer the futility of grasping phenomena as objects; this weakens greed and hate
- Non-Returners realize the futility of grasping phenomena as objects and infer the futility of grasping phenomena as a subject; this dissolves greed and hate
- Arhats realize the futility of grasping both object and subject; done is what has to be done.

Path attainment occurs when the next level of depth of experience temporarily stops functioning. By watching it re-construct, or by watching what it's like to live without it, the meditator gains insight into its emptiness/impermanence/constructedness and peels away that overlay from their experience of phenomena.

These four levels of depth mean that each realization only needs to penetrate to the level required by its path. Complete cessation is a full reset of the entire system, without even bare sensory stimulus; but the first three paths don't need the reset to be so deep. They can withstand some subtle clinging to a reference point, and of course they can, because otherwise they would be no different from Arhatship. They only require a smaller, incomplete cessation, similar to Shinzen's "noting Gone." Only fourth path, where the depth of realization must be total and complete, makes complete cessation mandatory.

So my thesis is: complete cessation is not strictly necessary before Arhatship. It is helpful, but not required.

Thoughts?

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/9/19 3:14 PM as a reply to Matthew.
Matthew, is this based on your experience?

In my experience, you have it backward - the earth-shattering no-holds-barred all the lights went out cessation occurred at first path (stream entry) and the fourth path moment wasn't really a cessation unless we define cessation broadly. I know quite a few others who report the same thing. Maybe they'll weigh in here.

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/9/19 3:48 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
Matthew, is this based on your experience?

In my experience, you have it backward - the earth-shattering no-holds-barred all the lights went out cessation occurred at first path (stream entry) and the fourth path moment wasn't really a cessation unless we define cessation broadly. I know quite a few others who report the same thing. Maybe they'll weigh in here.

yup

first jump into the ocean, then describe it...

hmmm...wet...


t

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 1:19 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I agree with Chris on this. My experience matches cessation as the doorway into stream entry. One could say that the 4th path moment is almost the opposite of that experience.

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/9/19 4:56 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Yes. I didn't notice the lights out at stream entry, but it was otherwise pretty obviously a cessation, with the mind shocked at the insight, twisting through the three doors and falling into a hole, before rebooting with insight and concentration, and many permanent changes. In constrast, the last path moment I experienced was more of a shimmer, or a ripple. Or like sitting down and cracking open a cold beer after two hours in the garden. The last bit of striving went blip, and the whole thing just relaxed.

It may be possible to progress without a cessation, but how would you know? The more likely explanation is that a cessation occured, but was not recognised as such. But it there is a different experience, I think we would all like to hear about it! 

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 7:03 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Yes, this is based on my experience. I don’t want to claim attainments because I’m more Buddhist than botanist - I’m not here to get stuck in the weeds emoticon

But I will say that what I now know was SE occurred within the context of ritual magic back when I lacked any real knowledge of Buddhism. At the time it felt like a radical opening up to experience rather than a cessation of experience, but it’s possible that that opening was the reboot and I simply didn’t notice the cessation for lack of knowledge of what to look for. It’s also possible that the most recent event that felt like a path attainment was less cessation-y because that’s the natural progression, rather than because that’s the nature of all path attainments.

I still contend that it’s possible to release entirely new depths of clinging via insight without awareness disappearing, which will eventually lead to a path. But perhaps the mechanism I thought enabled that is wrong. 

I am well and truly not an Arhat, so I don’t know what it feels like to become one!

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 7:11 AM as a reply to Not two, not one.
curious:
Yes. I didn't notice the lights out at stream entry, but it was otherwise pretty obviously a cessation, with the mind shocked at the insight, twisting through the three doors and falling into a hole, before rebooting with insight and concentration, and many permanent changes.
All of that is wonderful and spot-on, but without the total vanishing of awareness, is it a cessation? That’s what I’m disputing - if things don’t totally vanish and come back without a trace, and this vanishing is tied to awakening, why is it that insight seems to be produced without it? This seems like a crucial definitional distinction if such a thing is physiologically tied to awakening. 

And yet, what is indisputable is the sudden bolt that permanently shifts your relationship to everything. All I’m saying is, in the battle between insight and MCTB-style cessation events, insight wins. 

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 7:46 AM as a reply to Matthew.
All I’m saying is, in the battle between insight and MCTB-style cessation events, insight wins. 

Battle?

Matthew, I believe this is a false dichotomy. I'm guessing that unless you know what cessation is you won't be looking for it and you won't thus see it. Or, as in my case, it's a cessation occurs that is profound but you have no idea what it is and don't thus pay much attention to it, in favor of insight. These two things are manifestations of the path and can't be artificially separated - pretty much like everything else.

emoticon

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 8:46 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
"Battle" may be a bit dramatic, you got me. What I meant was, "In the assessment of attainment, the effortless presence of insight seems like a more important indicator than passing through a moment of lights-out-no-awareness." The battle was a battle of priorities.

What I'm really trying to get at here is a phenomenological disagreement. Daniel and Michael say "the moment of lights-out-no-awareness, followed by the lights turning back on, is the culminating event of awakening." Daniel then points out a number of phenomena that occur in quick succession before and after this complete experiential gap.

When I look back at the path-defining events in practice, this doesn't line up for me. I can point to all the peripheral events that occur before and after, with permanent changes in the basic resting state of mind from then on, and can even point to a sort of gap in the middle, but this gap is not lights-out-no-awareness. It's a luminous gap. The lights are on, the room is just empty. Then as the objects phase back into the room, the light shines off of them differently, so to speak. But the experience is continuous.

This is a real dichotomy. If cessation is the culmination, a path-defining event which is physiologically tied to awakening, it's important to have criteria for what "counts." I and others appear to have the experience of something that functions as a cessation even though some sense of luminosity is still present. According to Daniel and Michael's definitions, this is not a cessation, meaning it should not have resulted in a path; and yet it is not uncommon. Even the descriptions of paths 2-4 here seem to imply this type of experience. To hand-wave this away seems like a missed opportunity to really explore what's going on and interrogate the actual, lived, non-theoretical criteria we use.

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 8:56 AM as a reply to Matthew.
I think I have heard Culadasa talking about, or maybe I read it in his book, how it is possible to have a cessation that is after the fact experienced as something continuous, and how even the experience of discontinuity the way we experience it (the silhouette of it, so to speak) is a similar construction. 

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 9:08 AM as a reply to Matthew.
I and others appear to have the experience of something that functions as a cessation even though some sense of luminosity is still present. According to Daniel and Michael's definitions, this is not a cessation, meaning it should not have resulted in a path; and yet it is not uncommon.
To hand-wave this away seems like a missed opportunity to really explore what's going on and interrogate the actual, lived, non-theoretical criteria we use.

I don't think there are definitive answers to any of this. Obviously there are meditative traditions and practices that do not include any references to, or descriptions of, cessation. Again, I'm not sure all cessations are obvious, especially if we're not looking for them because we know what they are. And it's possible that Daniel is likewise adding to the appearance of a dichotomy when none actually exists. In my version of this, it's okay to not know. Sometimes certainty is the enemy of accuracy.

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 10:36 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
There is a thorough discussion of cessation, and its different ways of manifesting, in TMI on pages 284-287. I would love to hear it discussed here by people who have actually read it.

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 11:20 AM as a reply to Matthew.
At the moment I believe was my first cessation, I did not experience anything like "lights out". I was standing in a room with my eyes open, facing the door, when I started to become lost in thought. Suddenly, I had the sense that I was seeing the door for the very first time, that things were going to be profoundly different from now on, and that everything was going to be OK. It was weird, and I had no clue what it was.

I believe I experienced cessations in meditation for a couple years without knowing what they were. Most of them did not involve "lights out". Instead, they felt like abrupt discontinuities, like getting engrossed in a TV show and then suddenly somebody comes along and changes the channel. For a long time, that really frustrated me, because I felt like my concentration was getting messed up. The worst part was that I knew it happened every time my concentration became really good, so I just couldn't figure out what the heck I was doing wrong.

I have also had experiences in meditation that felt like cessations, but had no obvious discontinuity. I'm not sure what to make of those.

The more I pay attention, the more my experience does seem to line up with what Daniel describes. His descriptions seem to be based on obsessive focus on specific moments in the process, which most people will simply not notice. And, it's also probably somewhat subjective that he (or Mahasi) chooses those specific moments to focus on.

I'm pretty sure I too went down the line of thinking that you outlined in your original post, but I think there's something not quite right about it. The way I see it is that cessation is simply the ceasing of consciousness. The mind has resolved every problem that it is currently working on, and just stops functioning until something new shows up. This does not necessarily mean that you have worked through every single issue at that layer of the mind, but only that there's nothing in the present environment that is a cause for concern. So, the cessation itself is a non-event. It's not the result of insight, or the cause of insight. However, getting to the point where you are able to consciously witness the mind shutting itself down (and starting itself back up) requires working through quite a lot of stuff, and that process is what produces insight.

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 12:33 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
I think I have heard Culadasa talking about, or maybe I read it in his book, how it is possible to have a cessation that is after the fact experienced as something continuous, and how even the experience of discontinuity the way we experience it (the silhouette of it, so to speak) is a similar construction. 

I've had experiences where it seemed like the body disappeared and there was an inconrehensible "moment" where all that was recalled was a visual static or a bright white light, followed by a bliss wave and all the effects of a complete "gone" type cessation, along with a mental reset and everything else associated with it. I've also experienced the "frames edited out" kind of cessation, and they seemed to be pretty similar in terms of what the mind took away from the experience. I had read the section in TMI on "consciousness without an object" before having those types of moments, so it's possible that whatever constructing activity happens after the fact depends on what your preconceived notions of cessation happen to be. It's all mind. 

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 1:23 PM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:
I believe I experienced cessations in meditation for a couple years without knowing what they were. Most of them did not involve "lights out". Instead, they felt like abrupt discontinuities, like getting engrossed in a TV show and then suddenly somebody comes along and changes the channel. For a long time, that really frustrated me, because I felt like my concentration was getting messed up. The worst part was that I knew it happened every time my concentration became really good, so I just couldn't figure out what the heck I was doing wrong.
This lines up exactly with my experiences in the last six months on a couple of occasions and really appreciate you sharing it. I am not tuned in/focused enough to understand/see what Daniel describes, or what you say you are starting to see. However, this description couldn't be more spot on from my meditation experiences.

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 1:55 PM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:
At the moment I believe was my first cessation, I did not experience anything like "lights out". I was standing in a room with my eyes open, facing the door, when I started to become lost in thought. Suddenly, I had the sense that I was seeing the door for the very first time, that things were going to be profoundly different from now on, and that everything was going to be OK. It was weird, and I had no clue what it was.

I believe I experienced cessations in meditation for a couple years without knowing what they were. Most of them did not involve "lights out". Instead, they felt like abrupt discontinuities, like getting engrossed in a TV show and then suddenly somebody comes along and changes the channel. 
I agree with T, this is an excellent description, and way, way more in line with what insight feels like to me than "lights out then back on again." It's almost like when someone turns off the air conditioning - you didn't notice the sound was there, but then suddenly you notice its absence.

If this "counts" as a cessation, perhaps the inspiration behind this thread is a non-issue. But if so, I wish the language that dharma educators use would reflect this! Many in the so-called pragmatic dharma world emphasize a moment of total absence of any experience as a necessary component. This is apparently not a noticeable aspect of the experiences of many here, not just myself. This clearly has the capacity to create confusion.

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 2:41 PM as a reply to Matthew.
I agree with T, this is an excellent description, and way, way more in line with what insight feels like to me than "lights out then back on again." It's almost like when someone turns off the air conditioning - you didn't notice the sound was there, but then suddenly you notice its absence.

If this "counts" as a cessation, perhaps the inspiration behind this thread is a non-issue. But if so, I wish the language that dharma educators use would reflect this! Many in the so-called pragmatic dharma world emphasize a moment of total absence of any experience as a necessary component. This is apparently not a noticeable aspect of the experiences of many here, not just myself. This clearly has the capacity to create confusion.

Cessation and a moment of insight can be two diffrent things. You can have insight without a cessation. Just as you can have a cessation without a moment of insight after it. You cannot have "SE" without knowing what a real Cessation is like. They go hand in hand. There is a lot of things that sound like cessation. 

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 2:11 PM as a reply to Michial N.
Michial N:
I agree with T, this is an excellent description, and way, way more in line with what insight feels like to me than "lights out then back on again." It's almost like when someone turns off the air conditioning - you didn't notice the sound was there, but then suddenly you notice its absence.

If this "counts" as a cessation, perhaps the inspiration behind this thread is a non-issue. But if so, I wish the language that dharma educators use would reflect this! Many in the so-called pragmatic dharma world emphasize a moment of total absence of any experience as a necessary component. This is apparently not a noticeable aspect of the experiences of many here, not just myself. This clearly has the capacity to create confusion.

Cessation and a moment of insight are two diffrent things. You can have insight without a cessation. Just as you can have a cessation without a moment of insight after it. You cannot have "SE" without knowing what a real Cessation is like. They go hand in hand. There is a lot of things that sound like cessation. 
Regarding my initial take - I have no basis to know about SE, I don't believe. Seems like I'd know, but I honestly have no idea based on all the confusing takes I read. 

That said - I would tend to agree with you on the separation. I can point out specific things that are insights I have "discovered" throughout this process that hit me like "whoa!" at the moment my mind saw the puzzle(s) clearly. Those are distinct from the experiences I'm relating to in Spatial's post. 

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 2:12 PM as a reply to Michial N.
Once more from this particular peanut gallery - I wouldn't put such a fine point on this cessation issue because we know it varies by person and by practice.

JMHO

RE: Cessation: How Necessary Is It Really?
Answer
12/10/19 2:41 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
True True.