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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

No-self experience... give me a label to stick on this please

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Hi, I'm pretty new here, hello!
Help me find a label to slap on this experience. A category to file it under. A box to put it in.

I had my very first encounter with anatta! I didn’t know, I kinda thought it was sort-of a myth and everyone who talked about anatta was weird, but no!

In every meditation and often in daily life I do observe anatta on some level… seeing clearly and experientially that the anger is not mine, the laughter is not mine, the pain is not me, the happiness is not me… but this was a whole different level of anatta experience.

It went like this:
I was doing a 1 day meditation retreat, near the end of a five-month stay at a monastery (Thai Forest Tradition).
I had meditated hard all morning, too hard really – a bad habit. I had just finished a light lunch and was relaxing, sitting in the sun. I turned my attention towards the sensations, arising and passing..

Suddenly it dropped away… in the seen was just the seen. In the heard, just the heard.
My sense of self was absent. It was as if my brain was still processing everything, but the little guy in my head, the homunculus, had gone to sleep or something.
Somehow sensory information was still being processed, everything else was normal, it was just that the sense of self was not there. There was still some kind of recognition that this was not normal, that it was very quiet and restful… but no sense of self. Freakin cool!

It lasted, oooh, um, about ten seconds.

Yeah, only ten seconds.
But still, ten seconds was a taste, was a revelation. I finally understood how an arahant can get enlightened and still exist in the world, but be totally released from all suffering, from ego/self/whatever you call it. They can still think and act and teach, but there is no self there. Pain, but nothing to suffer. Happiness, but nothing to grasp it. Thoughts and awareness, but no ego or self, just a cool unfolding of natural events.

And that was that. It hasn’t happened again since. But a bit of it has remained with me, the vivid experiential realisation that the self is not “me”, the self is a non-permanent, non-continuous thing, that can be shut down somehow.
Encouraging!

So, now I am asking for advice from more experienced folk… what to do with this?
Is this somewhere on the map? Or is it a generic insight into anatta, and nowhere in particular in the stages of insight?

Cheers
From Jamie in New Zealand

RE: No-self experience... give me a label to stick on this please
Answer
10/30/11 7:11 AM as a reply to James Hamana McEwan.
James Hamana McEwan:
Hi, I'm pretty new here, hello!
Help me find a label to slap on this experience. A category to file it under. A box to put it in.

I had my very first encounter with anatta! I didn’t know, I kinda thought it was sort-of a myth and everyone who talked about anatta was weird, but no!


Hi James,

I saw your post at the DW.

In every meditation and often in daily life I do observe anatta on some level… seeing clearly and experientially that the anger is not mine, the laughter is not mine, the pain is not me, the happiness is not me… but this was a whole different level of anatta experience.


How do you see that all of that is not yours? What gave their anatta characteristic away?

It went like this:
I was doing a 1 day meditation retreat, near the end of a five-month stay at a monastery (Thai Forest Tradition).
I had meditated hard all morning, too hard really – a bad habit. I had just finished a light lunch and was relaxing, sitting in the sun. I turned my attention towards the sensations, arising and passing..


How did you observe those sensations? Objectively? Contemplating some characteristic of them? Bare attention at the point of contact as they arose? Was there any emotion that overlayed them? Or was it sort of emotion free?

Suddenly it dropped away… in the seen was just the seen. In the heard, just the heard.
My sense of self was absent. It was as if my brain was still processing everything, but the little guy in my head, the homunculus, had gone to sleep or something.
Somehow sensory information was still being processed, everything else was normal, it was just that the sense of self was not there. There was still some kind of recognition that this was not normal, that it was very quiet and restful… but no sense of self. Freakin cool!It lasted, oooh, um, about ten seconds.


Was there any of the following in the 10 second experience?

A mentally felt sense of :

self-obsessing chatter / being / presence / location in the world / subject to objects / duality / inner world / me-ness / instinctual passions / any affectively felt mind state / moods / being of any kind / being the absolute / being one with everything / being one with anything / being connected to everything / being space / being infinite consciousness / being no-thing-ness / being the void / being anything / imagination / the flow of time / existing

Yeah, only ten seconds.
But still, ten seconds was a taste, was a revelation. I finally understood how an arahant can get enlightened and still exist in the world, but be totally released from all suffering, from ego/self/whatever you call it. They can still think and act and teach, but there is no self there. Pain, but nothing to suffer. Happiness, but nothing to grasp it. Thoughts and awareness, but no ego or self, just a cool unfolding of natural events.


Sounds like the temporary abeyance of all mental suffering, no?

And that was that. It hasn’t happened again since. But a bit of it has remained with me, the vivid experiential realisation that the self is not “me”, the self is a non-permanent, non-continuous thing, that can be shut down somehow.
Encouraging!


Indeed. Will you let it fuel your practice from now on?

So, now I am asking for advice from more experienced folk… what to do with this?
Is this somewhere on the map? Or is it a generic insight into anatta, and nowhere in particular in the stages of insight?


It seems a lot like the infamous PCE (pure conciousness experience).

It might even be what Ayya Khema pointed to:


All of Us: Beset by birth, decay, and death by Sister Ayya Khema.

"The path moment doesn't have any thinking or feeling in it.It is not comparable to the meditative absorptions (jhana). Although it is based upon them because only the concentrated mind can enter into a path moment, it does not have the same qualities. the meditative absorptions have — in their initial stages — the ingredients of rapture, happiness and peacefulness. Later on, the mind experiences expansion, nothingness and a change of perception. The path moment does not contain any of these states of mind."

"It has a quality of non-being. This is such a relief and changes one's world view so totally that it is quite understandable that the Buddha made such a distinction between a worldling and a Noble One. While the meditative absorptions bring with them a feeling of oneness, of unity, the path moment does not even contain that. The moment of fruition, subsequent to the path moment, is the understood experience and results in a turned-around vision of existence."

"The new understanding recognizes every thought, every feeling as stress (dukkha). The most elevated thought, the most sublime feeling still has this quality. Only when there is nothing, is there no stress. There is nothing internal or external that contains the quality of total satisfactoriness. Because of such an inner vision, the passion for wanting anything is discarded. All has been seen for what it really is and nothing can give the happiness that arises through the practice of the path and its results."

"The Nibbanic element cannot be truly described as bliss, because bliss has a connotation of exhilaration. We use the word "bliss" for the meditative absorption, where it includes a sense of excitement. The Nibbanic element does not recognize bliss because all that arises is seen as stress. "The bliss of Nibbana" may give one the impression that one may find perfect happiness, but the opposite is true. One finds that there is nothing and therefore no more unhappiness, only peace.
To look for path and fruit will not bring them about, because only moment to moment awareness can do so. This awareness will eventually culminate in real concentration where one can let go of thinking and be totally absorbed. We can drop the meditation subject at that time. We need not push it aside, it falls away of its own accord, and absorption in awareness occurs. If there has to be an ambition in one's life, this is the only worthwhile one. All others will not bring fulfillment."

"The initial fruit moment needs to be re-lived, one has to resurrect it over and over again, until the second path moment can arise. It's like repeating what one knows and not forgetting so that one can build upon it."


What do you want to do about it? There are many here who are working towards the PCE. Do you wish to work towards the freedom you experienced and flip it to a permanent baseline?

RE: No-self experience... give me a label to stick on this please
Answer
10/30/11 10:10 AM as a reply to James Hamana McEwan.
James Hamana McEwan:
what to do with this?
Is this somewhere on the map? Or is it a generic insight into anatta, and nowhere in particular in the stages of insight?

hi James,

from your limited description of it, it's hard to say if that experience was some specific stage on the map of insight stages, or which one. maybe, maybe not. your answers to Nikolai's questions might help sort it out. but stage or no stage, it sounds like some solid anatta insight, and clean and clear enough that it should help guide you well regardless of where you're at. but is it what you want? do you want your life to become more and more that way? because it is certainly possible to head in that direction.

it would be beneficial to try to recall all the characteristics of the experience that you possibly can before the memory becomes too distant--maybe you could write it all down.

-what were you doing/seeing/hearing at the time?
-what event/condition/activity/feeling led to it?
-what about: the body, will, intention, feelings, decision-making, thoughts, characteristics of awareness, effort, identity, alertness, equanimity, recognition, level of relaxation etc.
-how does recalling it affect your current experience/attitude/perspective?

it's good to remember what it was like as much as possible because the more you set your general attitude to mirror that perspective, both in your daily living and in meditation practice, the more your default mode will become like it. in formal meditation, the insight can help you discern whether something is constructive or a waste of energy/effort. even when daily life perception isn't that clean and pure (yet), you can still live life from that mindset and keep cultivating more of it, which means constantly paying more and more attention to the actual sense data and giving less importance to personal stories, beliefs, judgements, opinions, etc.

some people report being able to make drastic progress by just paying attention in daily life, but others (myself included) need formal meditation techniques to access and see clearly all the subtle levels of the mind and its problems. one challenge for you may be the fact that your experience didn't last very long, so you probably didn't have time to notice all its characteristics and implications. for this you could read around to find what else fits and makes sense to you.

what's your current meditation practice? you stayed at a monastery for five months and meditated for one day?

jill

RE: No-self experience... give me a label to stick on this please
Answer
10/30/11 3:06 PM as a reply to James Hamana McEwan.
Hi Nikolai and Broccoli, good answers, thanks. I'll have a think about your posts, and write some stuff, and get back to you in a few days. emoticon