Questions about Dark Night, Kasina practice, and shamantha jhanas

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Ben H, modified 10 Years ago.

Questions about Dark Night, Kasina practice, and shamantha jhanas

Posts: 16 Join Date: 8/10/11 Recent Posts
Hi all, I'm a bit confused concerning where I'm at and what I should be doing.

Yesterday I started off with candle flame kasina practice, in attempt to attain 1st jhana. After 10 or so minutes of staring at the flame, I close my eyes and see a red spot with a yellow blob inside it. The first few times I did this it was very hard to stay focused on the dot (it would drift out of my vision). This time it was fairly static, so I was able to focus on it pretty well. The red dot tends to fade away and reappear every few seconds, when it is gone, there is a blue spot with a black center where it was. If I keep paying attention, eventually it sort of stabilizes, and I will see a sort of rainbow shell around the red dot. Is this 1st jhana? From what I understood of the Visuddhimagga this sounds a lot like the "learning sign" as opposed to the counterpoint sign, which means I have only achieved access concentration. Does this sound right? This seems to differ from how Daniel describes his experience in MCTB. I have also noticed that the dot slowly shrinks over time. After maybe 20 minutes it is so small I can no longer make it out. Am I doing something wrong?

I was a little frustrated with kasina practice, so I switched to concentrating on my breath. After several minutes I was able to focus on it for several full cycles without another thought intruding - I assume this is access concentration. I kept at it, and soon I felt a very pleasant sensation in my throat, which spread to my neck and shoulders. I assumed this was a sign of 1st jhana, so I tried to focus on these feelings instead of the breath, but I wasn't able to. Frustrated with this, I switched to noting practice where some very interesting things happened:

When noting the breath, I soon noticed that my breathing was quite jerky and that it was following my noting, if I stopped noting my breath would stop. I think this was Cause and Effect, Daniel described something similar in MCTB. I then started noting the pleasant feeling in my neck area, and noticed that it was actually quite unpleasant. I felt a strong disgust at the feeling in my throat, and soon this feeling permeated my whole experience. It was very strong, but I kept noting diligently and soon the feeling turned into one of utter sadness. I don't think I've ever felt that sad in my entire life. Still, I noted it, and it disappeared. After that, there wasn't much of anything going on, but I kept noting. Due to the intensity of those two states I thought I must have successfully gone through the Dark Night and that I must be in Equanimity. Then something interesting happened: my cellphone vibrated across the room. I noted a strong craving to get up and check who had called me. I kept noting this feeling until it dissolved and suddenly intense waves of bliss started flowing over my entire body. I noted this for a while and decided to get up. Afterwards, I felt very joyful and a bit blissed-out, for lack of a better term. One interesting experience: I had set my cellphone down in the bathroom and forgot about it. I was washing my hands or something and it vibrated. The sound of it vibrating triggered an intense wave of pleasure that felt as strong as an orgasm, and it lasted for several minutes! After consulting MCTB I realize that this is probably A&P and not Equanimity and the disgust and sadness I felt were probably Three Characteristics. That said, I'm still confused:

Ever since then, my meditation has generally sucked. I'm not getting any more bliss or good feelings. I'm sort of able to concentrate and note, but nothing seems to come of it besides frustration. However, when I read other's descriptions of the A&P and the Dark Night, they don't seem to fit my experience. I can't recall any particular event where I specifically noticed the arising and passing of phenomena (unless the experience noticing my craving of checking my cellphone counts) AND my meditation and daily life don't seem to suck nearly as bad as other's descriptions of the Dark Night.

So, am I in the Dark Night? Or have I not crossed A&P yet? Is it possible to reach A&P and then revert back to 3Cs?

(Sorry for the long post, I appreciate any advice.)

Edit: Thought this might be noteworthy - After what I think was the 3Cs, I became pretty obsessed with my posture - I had hunched over quite a lot during the sadness phase and after that I straightened up much more than usual (I'm pretty inflexible) with almost zero pain or effort. That seems like a very A&P thing to do.
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tom moylan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Questions about Dark Night, Kasina practice, and shamantha jhanas

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
Whoa Cowboy!
first of all welcome. i'm not the professional here but first i think it would be good for you to be specific about what you want: namely too deepen the jhanas or to progress along the insight path as from your post you seem to be hopping around a bit.

please describe your goals, practice history and sits and them i'm sure that someone much more competent than i will help you out.

as one who has often mistaken some meditative experiences for places along the progress of insight where i couldn't possibly have been, i would advise sober analysis over the long term. in my opinion one should know that while the maps are an enormously beneficial guideline one should be more focused on the practice and its momentary unfolding instead of turning a temporary sideache into the dukka nanas.

best of luck and keep it up!

tom
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Ben H, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Questions about Dark Night, Kasina practice, and shamantha jhanas

Posts: 16 Join Date: 8/10/11 Recent Posts
Thanks, I guess I do sound like I'm a bit mixed up about what I'm trying to accomplish, I will try to be more clear.

My main goal at this point is to obtain Stream Entry as quickly as I can, so progress along the path of insight I guess. I've been practicing shamantha as well because I was under the impression that it is necessary (or at least quite helpful) in passing the later stages of insight - I remember reading something by Kenneth Folk that said this.

As for my history, I only quite recently started seriously meditating. I've done a good deal of concentration and just general "mindfulness" meditation over the last few years. It's been about a week since I re-discovered MCTB and started practicing vipassana. Since I have a lot of free time, I've been meditating for several hours (3-5) each day, and for the first few it felt like I was making quick progress. Perhaps I'm just expecting things to go faster than is reasonable.

For details about my sits, I thought the above post was pretty detailed, I'm not sure what else I could add. Here's another post I made a few days ago about another experience: http://dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/2141840

Daniel's response seems to indicate that I'm in A&P territory, and I think some of my further experiences confirm that, but since I'm no longer having bliss, rapture, energy, and so on, I feel like I must logically be past the A&P. Is that correct? I understand that there is a danger to spending too much time worrying about where one is, but that doesn't really stop my curiosity. I'm only thinking about this stuff in between breaks of practice. emoticon

Anyhow, thanks for your insight!
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tom moylan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Questions about Dark Night, Kasina practice, and shamantha jhanas (Answer)

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
Hi Ben,
i just read your earlier post too. i think daniel was right then and now. it could be that you passed the A&P. i personally had several energetic events directly after the big A&P event. it COULD be that the reason your sits "suck" at the moment is that you are in dissolution and are finding it difficult to follow the sensations as compared to your recent sits leading up to A&P.

this is all speculation as i dont know exactly why your sits are not going how you want them to be going.

since you are doing noting practice, note that too. that will be the advice for almost any stage you are in.

heres is a bit of wisdom i stole from a post of Bruno Loff about where to place ones effort:

Effort until A&P,
bliss and focus-on-vibrations-in-the-center-of-attention until Dark Night,
acceptance of the discinchronization of the periphery until equanimity,
panoramic see-it-all-clearly-at-once-again-and-again until stream-entry.

It's a different mode of attention for each stage, actually...

well have fun, but note it!

Tom
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Ben H, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Questions about Dark Night, Kasina practice, and shamantha jhanas

Posts: 16 Join Date: 8/10/11 Recent Posts
Hey Tom, thanks again for the advice.

After a few more days of practice, I was still a bit confused, but I just came across this thread: http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/2028774 and some similarities have led me to conclude I'm solidly in Dissolution.

The advice Bruno gave sounds great, so I will definitely try that next.

Here are some excerpts from my meditation notes (written after each session):

It's not that I'm not able to focus or note, in fact today I found myself one of the most concentrated I've ever been, perhaps 2nd or 3rd jhana. The main thing that is different than before is I find it very hard to notice when my mind gets off track. Previously it was obvious and a little effort was all it took to put my mind back on the object; now I will just stop noting without realizing it, or start thinking about other things while sort of going through the motions of meditating.

I noticed that I was getting much more concentrated, like my concentration was wide instead of focused (2nd jhana?). I did sort of feel like there was a black spot in the center of my attention, but I'm not sure if this was 3rd jhana or just a visual effect.

(Note: this session was from yesterday. I'm certain I reached 2nd jhana today, and maybe early 3rd. I've been making a lot more progress in my shamatha practice, so I've been spending a decent amount of time with that.)

One very interesting thing happened that I'd like some input on:

As I switched between noting the breath and the tingling in my right temple, I started to notice a pointlike awareness following each note. I could sort of mentally sense the location of it, especially in between notes, where it would sort of swoop into the next one. I started to feel like I was behind both my body AND my mind. I focused on this simple awareness and a really cool thing happened: it was like my normal mind continued doing the noting practice on its own without me even trying anymore. I think there was effort, it just wasnt me doing it. I was watching the whole process. Unfortunately, this state only lasted maybe a minute because I started analyzing it and thinking it was a cool achievement, etc.

And one final question: I sometimes find it hard to focus on the breath without consciously controlling my breath. Is this something I should avoid? Or is it fine to be controlling my breath while I'm noting it?
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Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Questions about Dark Night, Kasina practice, and shamantha jhanas (Answer)

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Ben H:
Yesterday I started off with candle flame kasina practice, in attempt to attain 1st jhana. After 10 or so minutes of staring at the flame, I close my eyes and see a red spot with a yellow blob inside it.

from what i understand, this is already 1st jhana

Ben H:
The first few times I did this it was very hard to stay focused on the dot (it would drift out of my vision).
lack of concentration, 1st-3rd nyanas

Ben H:
This time it was fairly static, so I was able to focus on it pretty well. The red dot tends to fade away and reappear every few seconds, when it is gone, there is a blue spot with a black center where it was.

3 chars (dot fading in + out - impermanence) going into A&P (blue spot)

Ben H:
If I keep paying attention, eventually it sort of stabilizes, and I will see a sort of rainbow shell around the red dot.

sounds like 3rd jhana/dark night - getting to the edges of things as opposed to the middle

Ben H:
I have also noticed that the dot slowly shrinks over time. After maybe 20 minutes it is so small I can no longer make it out. Am I doing something wrong?
just need more concentration/practice. when you get to the rainbow shell territory, focus on the edges more, get used to attention going in that way (donut-shaped attention), and relax (don't try to poke at the center forcefully - i think that's what causes negative effects during dark night)

for what it's worth, candle kasina stuff only picked up for me after 1st path - meaning i didn't get stream entry via it - but i did find it to really help concentration
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Ben H, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Questions about Dark Night, Kasina practice, and shamantha jhanas

Posts: 16 Join Date: 8/10/11 Recent Posts
Thanks for your input and advice!

I'm still doing some candle kasina practice, but I've been having better luck with using the breath as an object. I definitely hit 2nd jhana today, and I feel like I'm getting close to 3rd jhana, still having trouble focusing on my periphery!

I tried focusing on the rainbow shell like you said, but since it's still sort of in the center of my vision I'm having trouble seeing it as a peripheral thing. With breath as the object, in 2nd jhana my focus changes from a point to becoming quite wide, but I don't think the periphery is part of it. In that state I attempted to focus on what was outside of that wider center zone, but there was never a definite switch. I felt like I could only focus on one half of my periphery at a time, mainly the left. Any tips?

(Interesting side note: In a small lapse of focus during 2nd jhana I noticed there was a subtle rainbow pattern in the center of my vision, very similar to when doing flame kasina practice. Good sign?)

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