Sankhara eruptions

Michael Taylor, modified 8 Months ago at 2/1/22 12:21 AM
Created 8 Months ago at 1/31/22 11:09 PM

Sankhara eruptions

Posts: 10 Join Date: 1/31/22 Recent Posts
Hello all,
I was considering adding to a separate thread about Sankharas but being my first post I decided I would not take over another's process. 
I wanted to share an experience I had and see what others think about it. I understand that no one here knows my meditation history so I will do my best to describe any relevant details of importance.
I have sat a dozen or so Goenka courses and a few other Satthipittana courses around the world. During this time I practiced exclusively Goenka style Vipassana. This particular experience happened on my fourth 10-day retreat on day Six during the afternoon sit. 
I had experienced a free flow of subtle sensations since the day before and was simply scanning, scanning, scanning. My leg began to fall asleep and became a heavy, dull gross sensation and what I would call extreme Aversion arose in me. I would label the sensation as Pain, but the mental reaction became unbearable. I steadied my attention on the large, gross sensation and determined not to react, just observe. It dissolved into finer, subtler sensations as they tend to do, and then everything changed. I would say I became Equianimous to sensation. I simply observed sensation arising and passing away and in regards to this strong leg sensation, I simply observed. This caused my entire sphere of sensation to become awareness of what I would call Sankharas arising and passing away rapidly. It became like my entire body was covered in little volcanoes erupting what I "thought/sensed" was kamma or Sankharas. Sort of like zits popping or a bubbling up and popping on the surface.
The "thought" came to me to just stay there and release all I could, as this was past Sankharas and the more I released, the less I would have to relive it.
When I'm honest with you, it felt like I released lifetimes of karma.
​​​​​​​True Purification
Looking back at it, I wish I had better relationships to the ATs at the courses. I never told anyone about it, nor spoke to the AT. Just kept practicing. I would assume my practice could have been furthered if I had reported it.
Anyway, that's what my experience with Sankharas.
Thanks for allowing me to voice on this platform.
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Smiling Stone, modified 8 Months ago at 2/2/22 4:11 AM
Created 8 Months ago at 2/1/22 3:35 PM

RE: Sankhara eruptions

Posts: 275 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
Hello Mick,

Thanks for sharing your report.
It is a valuable contribution here, and I am very interested in getting more details, as I'm looking for more data about other people's experiences in this tradition.
I've written a bit about sankharas on this thread, if you dig in (maybe you already have).
I have a few questions for you:

About your experience, did you overreact to the numbness with extreme aversion, or was the pain already there? Did the pain come after the reaction? Did you feel elated by the free flow when it started the day before? How would you define free flow? Did it evolve?

These questions are not made in order to provide an informed assessment but out of sheer curiosity!


"and then everything changed. I would say I became Equanimous to sensation. I simply observed sensation arising and passing away and in regards to this strong leg sensation, I simply observed. This caused my entire sphere of sensation to become awareness of what I would call Sankharas arising and passing away rapidly. It became like my entire body was covered in little volcanoes erupting what I "thought/sensed" was kamma or Sankharas. Sort of like zits popping or a bubbling up and popping on the surface."

That's a nice description, kind of textbook "sankharas coming up to the surface"... Do you think you could have conceptualized that in another way? It sounds like you were equanimous to generalized painful body sensations. What happened on subsequent retreats, did you feel like an enduring lightening of the burden of the physical body?

"The "thought" came to me to just stay there and release all I could, as this was past Sankharas and the more I released, the less I would have to relive it.
When I'm honest with you, it felt like I released lifetimes of karma.
​​​​​​​True Purification"

Can you see how much this interpretation owes to a certain belief system? (I heard Ayya Khema say something very close, I will post a link soon in the other thread). I am coming to terms with this theory myself, as I agree there is some kind of purification going on, and that it's quite precious...


"Looking back at it, I wish I had better relationships to the ATs at the courses. I never told anyone about it, nor spoke to the AT. Just kept practicing. I would assume my practice could have been furthered if I had reported it."

To my (very limited) knowledge, the general advice from an AT would be to keep practicing the same technique, and not to forget to vary between free flow and part by part if you've got regular access to the former. And aim for the subtler sensation if you have a wide array to choose from. The "purification" (of reactive patterns), unlike pure insight, seems kind of endless...

Last question: what's your practice like now?

I like to ponder my answers more, but I wanted to throw a few thoughts today so you know somebody's reading you...
Welcome on the Dho!

with metta
smiling stone

(Edited the link to the Goenka thread, which I had forgotten)
Michael Taylor, modified 8 Months ago at 2/1/22 7:38 PM
Created 8 Months ago at 2/1/22 7:38 PM

RE: Sankhara eruptions

Posts: 10 Join Date: 1/31/22 Recent Posts
Thank you Smiling Stone, I really appreciate a response. 

"About your experience, did you overreact to the numbness with extreme aversion, or was the pain already there? Did the pain come after the reaction? Did you feel elated by the free flow when it started the day before? How would you define free flow? Did it evolve?"

I'd answer by clarifying that the sensation arose and my mind had a strong reaction. I'd call the reaction Aversion but there is Fear and Desire in there as well. So I believe it was a sort of a "do-or-die" moment and I made the strong determination to lean in and observe.
I don't remember ever feeling elated about free flow. It came naturally and is still present during many or most sits. I would define free flow as unobstructed observation of the entire sphere of subtle body sensations. Kind of a tingling or electric feeling. Energy. This last autumn I observed a tree with leaves fluttering in the wind, about to fall. I thought... "that's what meditation is like." Not sure if that clarity's anything.

"What happened on subsequent retreats, did you feel like an enduring lightening of the burden of the physical body?"

There were many other experiences in subsequent retreats which I could describe here or later, depending upon interest. Experiencing dull mind, inability to concentrate some retreats and others extremely peaceful free flow and one-pointed "non-thought" spaces for hours or days. I have had experiences of my "body" diss appearing and one life-changing experience where my awareness telescoped completely away from all six sense bases and I was observing the sensations of a sphere around me. The idea of "Me" is defined by my skin, physical sensations, and I dropped that definition which is what allowed this transition. I was able to expand this sphere with full awareness through the meditators near me and "saw" them. Eventually Fear kicked in and I wondered if I would find my way back and sunk back into my physical sensations. I was in Peru and told the Spanish speaking AT about it in broken Spanish, but she just said be aware of sensation. I thought... what if there is no sensation??? Anyway... you asked.

"Can you see how much this interpretation owes to a certain belief system?"

Absolutely I can. For better or worse, this is the only method I have experienced and the only meditation words I know. I am just recently discovering Mahasi Sayadaw through MCTB2 (Thank you so much Daniel) and then this forum and how the whole Dhamma world has changed around me without me knowing it. I feel like I'm in the dark ages just discovering a new way. I appreciate any patient guidance for a naive breath gazer. But to me, it felt amazingly purifying. Just releasing.

"what's your practice like now"

Since unable to retreat in a center, I have been practicing at home two or three hours a day. Usually in the morning. I do try noting now, but find myself just observing sensation cause I'm better at it. I do want to attempt more noting or other practices, especially after discovering others exist. I'll claim myself a victim of the mushroom culture. Though so grateful for what it has offered.
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Smiling Stone, modified 8 Months ago at 2/6/22 10:26 AM
Created 8 Months ago at 2/6/22 10:26 AM

RE: Sankhara eruptions

Posts: 275 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
Hello Mick,

Thanks for expanding on your first post and answering my queries.

"Experiencing dull mind, inability to concentrate some retreats and others extremely peaceful free flow and one-pointed "non-thought" spaces for hours or days. I have had experiences of my "body" diss appearing and one life-changing experience where my awareness telescoped completely away from all six sense bases and I was observing the sensations of a sphere around me. The idea of "Me" is defined by my skin, physical sensations, and I dropped that definition which is what allowed this transition. I was able to expand this sphere with full awareness through the meditators near me and "saw" them. Eventually Fear kicked in and I wondered if I would find my way back and sunk back into my physical sensations."
Nice quick report... a teaser?

"I don't remember ever feeling elated about free flow".
Aha, this tears to pieces most of my attempts to make sense of the practice...

"Absolutely I can. For better or worse, this is the only method I have experienced and the only meditation words I know. I am just recently discovering Mahasi Sayadaw through MCTB2 (Thank you so much Daniel) and then this forum and how the whole Dhamma world has changed around me without me knowing it. I feel like I'm in the dark ages just discovering a new way. "
You arriving on this forum reminds me of myself a few years ago, and you can find how interactions with fellow dhoers made me reassess my understanding of the path (or not) on a few threads (here and here for example as well as in the first link above). I've opened my views a bit but mainly kept to my original practice. Re-reading the first posts of the Goenka thread now (written almost three years ago), I don't like my vibe too much, to be honest, but I still stand to (almost?) everything I said. Maybe I was still believing there was the one way to experience the world (mine!)... I think I was a bit defensive at first and slowly moved toward being more soft and mellow (hopefully, also grew more confident obviously). I would be curious if any of it resonates with you.
Anyway I, for one, am interested in anything you choose to share here! I find it endlessly fascinating how each path is unique in its own beautiful way...
All the best with your practice
with metta
smiling stone
Michael Taylor, modified 3 Months ago at 7/4/22 10:09 AM
Created 3 Months ago at 7/3/22 11:54 PM

RE: Sankhara eruptions

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Reading "Dharma: the Basis of an Ideal Life" by Goenka and I come across this passage...

"The wise men saw that whenever they remained aware at those depths of the subconscious mind - whenever they remained vigilant, free from unknowing, ignorance, and delusion, seeing this impermanent flow with a feeling of impartial detachment - at those moments new craving and aversion would not arise in the mind stream. As a result, the old discharge is exhausted, and the previously accumulated defilements are cleared away."

This to me resonates profoundly with my experience spoken of above. What would you all characterize this experience as? And how does it fit into other Path Models?
George S, modified 3 Months ago at 7/4/22 11:59 AM
Created 3 Months ago at 7/4/22 11:56 AM

RE: Sankhara eruptions

Posts: 2559 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
The bubbling feeling of sankharas burning off is A&P in the Progress of Insight model, or piti in the classical jhana model.
Michael Taylor, modified 3 Months ago at 7/4/22 2:13 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 7/4/22 2:09 PM

RE: Sankhara eruptions

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Thanks George. Just reading through Smiling Stones thread on the Goenka tradition and getting more insights into the distinction.<br />Being brought up in that tradition I find I have zero to little ability to label or define what's going on for me. Seems always so difficult to hear others report of "Equinimity" or "bare sensation" or "dissolution" and translate it into my (this) experience. Thank you for helping to clarify.<br />I need a teacher....

From what I'm seeing though it seems that cleansing experience is to some extent the goal of the Goenka tradition. To keep purifying mind until defilements do not arise. Interesting how it contrasts with other path models
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Smiling Stone, modified 3 Months ago at 7/4/22 5:45 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 7/4/22 5:45 PM

RE: Sankhara eruptions

Posts: 275 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
Hey Michael,
Being brought up in that tradition I find I have zero to little ability to label or define what's going on for me

It's nice that you are here now, with practice, patiently and persistently you will develop this ability as well (I think you're already quite good at describing your experience, really).
The line between labeling and scripting is very thin, labeling is a kind of solidification which one might use to quickly shelve experience in a particular recoil of the mind, always the same with solid walls, when each experience is ever so slightly different... Also, by reading the experience of others, we tend to weigh and compare our own, and with time transform it (I say this because you said in your first post that you were aware of the power of scripting). Just to say I believe that labeling is second to your true experience of the moment. Well, an old question of mine: which one is better, the marvel of a night sky, full of stars, to an innocent look, or the same firmament for a mind who has learnt all the constellations, the stars and the galaxies... There is a pleasure born of knowing which enables one to read more in the sky, but the pure wonder is not so easily reached after extensive study... (I've learnt the constellations, and forgot them again, depending on my way of living, so it's a true question that does not have an easy answer for me)...

My take on your question:
"The wise men saw that whenever they remained aware at those depths of the subconscious mind - whenever they remained vigilant, free from unknowing, ignorance, and delusion, seeing this impermanent flow with a feeling of impartial detachment - at those moments new craving and aversion would not arise in the mind stream"

Well, for me that's the establishment and deepening of equanimity.
"As a result, the old discharge is exhausted, and the previously accumulated defilements are cleared away."

Here, we have a quantum leap where all the karma (all the asavas, all the "impurities" in Goenka parlance), have been washed away by this equanimous attention ("as a result"). I'm not qualified to say if it's arahathood etc., but I don't think it matters, that's a pretty cool goal, and I'm pretty sure it's a pretty long way from 1 to 2... I'm not sure anybody would claim 2, to be honest, and there is a good chance that they are still heavily deluded if they do. Who knows?

From what I'm seeing though it seems that cleansing experience is to some extent the goal of the Goenka tradition. To keep purifying mind until defilements do not arise. Interesting how it contrasts with other path models

Yes, indeed... The question, as stated above, is: is it possible to come to the end of defilements? Other paths propose to transform the relationship to one's defilements, which is definitely possible but not totally satisfying...

My late night two cents, to take with a grain of salt, as some wiser than me could say...
metta
smiling stone
Michael Taylor, modified 2 Months ago at 7/11/22 11:53 PM
Created 2 Months ago at 7/11/22 11:44 PM

RE: Sankhara eruptions

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George: thanks for your reply. I've been doing more research on both of those terms and find that neither of them really fit the experience for me. I am cautious to state this though having once seen a video of Mr Ingram basically stating "all the crazy stuff you experience is an A&P event". But I've seen pitti translated as "Rapture" which definitely does not fit for me. However I have little experience with jhanic practices. I also hear you say "the bubbly feeling of sankharas burning off" which does describe it well.
And while purusing this forum I just came across a thread of Shargrols where he states

"Stream-entry happens when the pervasive non-reactivity of equanimity (not grabbing at objects, not searching for objects) allows for momentary non-grabbing. The meditator doesn’t “do” anything. It’s like when a sun runs out of fuel, and it collapses into itself."

To me this description fits the experience. And I say that cautiously, as I have spoken to no one outside this forum about this experience. However, I remember no "blip" that has been spoken of. No "cessation".
And I definitely have fetters... although I will say they have changed and when things occur I am able to see why they occurred. 
I will also publically state for the first time that I often get waves of the feeling of inherent suffering of all phenomena. The feeling of climbing a cliff and realizing there is nothing to hold on to.
But this experience began with strong equanimity of suffering.
I will also say that the term "stream" describes the sensation well. I witnessed the stream of sankharas arising and passing extremely  rapidly with no opinion or labeling. Objectively.
just realized I wrote the words arising and passing in that last sentence.
I also am feeling that the answer I get to this question will always depend on who is answering. Does one seek a teacher who tells him he is already enlightened, or one who tells him nothing at all?
Makes me imagine the Tower of Babel and wonder if the Buddhas message has already been lost... do any of us actually know?
Michael Taylor, modified 2 Months ago at 7/11/22 11:50 PM
Created 2 Months ago at 7/11/22 11:50 PM

RE: Sankhara eruptions

Posts: 10 Join Date: 1/31/22 Recent Posts
Smiling Stone:
I always appreciate when you respond. Thank you.
Reading your post again helps me settle into a place of not knowing and not caring. Back into this moment and noticing craving and desiring and reacting.
peace to you
​​​​​​​and me
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Sigma Tropic, modified 2 Months ago at 7/12/22 12:54 AM
Created 2 Months ago at 7/12/22 12:54 AM

RE: Sankhara eruptions

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My postdoctoral advisor's name was Michael Taylor. Fun Facts. 
George S, modified 2 Months ago at 7/12/22 10:40 AM
Created 2 Months ago at 7/12/22 10:40 AM

RE: Sankhara eruptions

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Piti is a hard word to translate. There is no single word in english which captures all the different ways piti can be perceived. Off the top of my head I can think of: tingling, vibrating, prickling, buzzing, humming, fizzing, hissing, crackling, sizzling, static, electricity, sparkling, bubbling, effervescing, exciting, rushing, swarming, sizzling, goosebumps, thrilling, exhilarating, uplifting, invigorating and refreshing. The sensations can range from barely perceptible to almost overwhelmingly powerful, from blissfully pleasurable to almost painful (although it can't physically hurt you). The Visuddhimagga, which is one of the oldest detailed meditation manuals, contains the following description, which gives you some idea of the possible range of effects:

Vsm IV 94-98: “Happiness and bliss: it refreshes, thus it is happiness (piti). It has the characteristic of endearing. Its function is to refresh the body and the mind; or its function is to pervade (thrill with rapture). It is manifested as elation. But it is of five kinds as minor happiness, momentary happiness, showering happiness, uplifting happiness, and pervading (rapturous) happiness. Herein, minor happiness is only able to raise the hairs on the body. Momentary happiness is like flashes of lightning at different moments. Showering happiness breaks over the body again and again like waves on the sea shore. Uplifting happiness can be powerful enough to levitate the body and make it spring up into the air … But when pervading (rapturous) happiness arises, the whole body is completely pervaded, like a filled bladder, like a rock cavern invaded by a huge inundation.”

When people first experience piti, it can cause them to become extremely excited and construct all sorts of wild narratives around it (e.g. "kundalini awakening"), which accounts for the vast range of experiences possible in the "A&P nana". However if you keep practicing then these experiences settle down and you can basically be aware of piti as a kind of energetic background whenever you turn your attention to it. It can still be very powerful, but you don't let it excite the mind in the same way and it's just a predictable stage you pass through in the Progress of Insight (or jhana development in samatha practice).

Seeing the inherent suffering in phenomena is one of the "Three Characteristics", which is another stage in the POI. Actually it's not the phenomena themselves which cause suffering, it is the reaction to them (clinging or resisting). As you let go of the reactions then you get into a state of equanimity, which is where actual awakening events can happen. Definitely read the section on the Progress of Insight in MCTB if you haven't already, as it puts all of this in a clear perspective:

https://www.mctb.org/mctb2/table-of-contents/part-iv-insight/30-the-progress-of-insight/

What would be the point of a teacher telling you that you are already enlightened if you are still suffering? Your own suffering is the real teacher, and if you keep studying that and figuring out what causes it and how to let it go, then enlightenment will take care of itself. The Buddha's message is pretty straightforward: pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional and is caused by clinging to pleasant experiences and resisting or ignoring painful experiences. Of course that cuts deep into some very subtle levels of suffering connected with the sense of being an independent observer or agent in the world, but every time you practice you get to test it out and see for yourself whether it's true for you in your own experience.