Stages of Insight/DN on and off the cushion?

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Willoughby Britton, modified 10 Years ago at 12/27/11 3:58 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 12/27/11 3:58 PM

Stages of Insight/DN on and off the cushion?

Posts: 21 Join Date: 1/12/11 Recent Posts
Hi All-

In the process of trying to provide some background for the Dark Night project (http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2011/09/bg-232-the-dark-night-project/), I interviewed a teacher in the Mahasi tradition (U Vansarakkhita) who has led hundreds of meditators through the classic stages of insight.

U Vansa was shocked to hear that meditators were reporting continued progress through the stages of insight, including the dark night stages (up to equanimity), while off retreat, AND that these stages could take weeks, months or even years, and were VERY disruptive to their lives. He said that in all his years of teaching in Asia, Europe and Australia, he had never heard of this. He said the longest terror phase he had ever seen was 2 days, and generally thought that the stages faded into a dormancy when off retreat. (In the DN project, meditators report terror stages that last 9 months).

I asked Dan Ingram about this (http://vimeo.com/28182458) and there is definitely a different (prolonged, off the cushion) scenario than what U Vansa has seen. We have all heard ingram say "like thunder follows lightning, the Dark Nights follows A&P, no matter what you do, meditate or not" ... and the somewhat discouraging proclamation that "once you have crossed the A&P, you will be chronic Dark Night Yogi until you get stream entry..." (yikes!)

I also asked Ron Crouch, and he said that there were 2 simultaneous cycles: one long meta-cycle that represents the yogis "cutting edge" i.e. the furthest stage reached; and then mini cycles within that.

So I welcome any thoughts on this topic, with particular interest in the following:
Do the stages of insight/DN continue off the cushion ( and without the need for further meditation)?
How could we reconcile the Dan Ingram vs U Vansa experiences?
What factors determine how long the cycles are?
As a sleep researcher, I am prone to think these cycles (which U Vans described as "automatic and somewhat mechanical, once set into motion) resemble other biological rhythms (like menstrual cycles, or circadian rhythms, which have inter-individual differences, as well as external influences). But if they are so basic, then why aren't they mentioned in the suttas?

That's probably enough questions for one post.

Willoughby
End in Sight, modified 10 Years ago at 12/27/11 5:33 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 12/27/11 5:13 PM

RE: Stages of Insight/DN on and off the cushion?

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
Willoughby Britton:
So I welcome any thoughts on this topic, with particular interest in the following:
Do the stages of insight/DN continue off the cushion ( and without the need for further meditation)?


My experience agrees (approximately) with Ron's.

Even now, I experience Dark Night-esque fluctuations in the attention wave, despite the fact that these fluctuations seem to have no negative qualities (apart from the "haze" that comes from the prominence of the attention wave). It is clearer during meditation but it happens whether I formally meditate or not.

As a sleep researcher, I am prone to think these cycles (which U Vans described as "automatic and somewhat mechanical, once set into motion) resemble other biological rhythms (like menstrual cycles, or circadian rhythms, which have inter-individual differences, as well as external influences). But if they are so basic, then why aren't they mentioned in the suttas?


I suspect that one who practices according to the suttas (i.e. focusing on jhana) will not experience the cycles as having any important qualities that would be worth describing, even though the cycles may or may not happen.
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Nikolai , modified 10 Years ago at 12/27/11 5:47 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 12/27/11 5:31 PM

RE: Stages of Insight/DN on and off the cushion?

Posts: 1648 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
Willoughby Britton:

Do the stages of insight/DN continue off the cushion ( and without the need for further meditation)?


For me, they did in hindsight. Being in the Goenka tradition I was conditioned to think that when I experienced what Goenka calls 'bhanga' (4th or 5th nana perhaps) I was going to experience the 'sleeping defilements' that follow to play havoc with my mind. And I experienced 'bhanga' in every sit I did. So I experienced a lot of 'sleeping defilements'. But this was when i was practicing 2 hours a day and doing many courses. and living the dhamma bum life.

Then I stopped sitting so much when I went to study at uni. I then got a girlfriend and stopped completely. I went to live in Japan and didn't practice much at all. I suffered a lot. In hindsight, I would still have these sudden occurrences of the 'sleeping defilements' which would play havoc with my life. I intuitively knew that they were due to what I was experiencing as I still felt my body buzzing with vibrations even when I wasn't practicing.

Then when I got introduced to the pragmatic dharma crowd and the maps it became ever so clear I was cycling even when not sitting, as I didn't practice all the time upon coming in contact with the DhO. I cycled up and down the nanas non-stop sitting or no sitting.

How could we reconcile the Dan Ingram vs U Vansa experiences?


I don't know. I suffered crap for many years before coming in contact with the maps. It made sense that I was cycling and due to it making sense to me, I was able to come out of it forever (eventually). I still experience an extremely subtle version of dukkha nana phenomena like End mentioned. It looks nothing like a 'dark night' though.

What factors determine how long the cycles are?


If I sat with the determination not to wallow in the shitty vibrations which would trigger negative manifestations of 'me' to arise, and rather noted my arse off, in the process cutting those manifestations of 'me via detachment and dispassion, the nanas would pass by rather quickly. If I paid attention in the same way while out and about, the nanas would pass by quickly too and I'd end up in the panoramic calm of high E each time. If I did nothing about it and allowed the vibrations to trigger moods and manifestations of 'me' the nanas would linger much, much longer as, in hindsight, there was attachment to that process of misery. When I practiced diligently, that attachment was let go of for those periods thus allowing things to move along quickly.

As a sleep researcher, I am prone to think these cycles (which U Vans described as "automatic and somewhat mechanical, once set into motion) resemble other biological rhythms (like menstrual cycles, or circadian rhythms, which have inter-individual differences, as well as external influences). But if they are so basic, then why aren't they mentioned in the suttas?


Because the pragmatic crowd talk about everything that happens to them. In the suttas , the Buddha talks about what is neccessary to end suffering. Knowing about the cycles isn't really necessary if you are following the Buddha's instructions to end craving to the tee in my opinion.

Also just some wild speculation, the cycling through the nanas is based on commentaries. I don't think they are mentioned strictly in the suttas at all. MCTB 4th path didn't cure me of suffering completely like the Buddha promised. There was still a 'provisional experience of self'. It didn't appear to 'cut fetters' but make them 'sticky free'. Perhaps the nanas and cycling are a different development. Perhaps they are related to other 'enlightenment traditions' and what the Buddha of the pali canon talked of concerning stages of awakening (fetter model) was a completely different development to MCTB paths. I have had 2 distinct massive shifts since MCTB 4th. These shifts cut fetters to a much more literal interpretative degree. No forcefitting. Wild speculation just to put the idea out there.

Since edited 3 x times for flow and extra info.
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Willoughby Britton, modified 10 Years ago at 12/27/11 8:12 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 12/27/11 8:12 PM

RE: Stages of Insight/DN on and off the cushion?

Posts: 21 Join Date: 1/12/11 Recent Posts
Thanks for your reply. Very helpful.


I suspect that one who practices according to the suttas (i.e. focusing on jhana) will not experience the cycles as having any important qualities that would be worth describing, even though the cycles may or may not happen.


Are you saying that those who have mastered jhanas will not be "troubled" (i.e. have their life ruined etc) by the Dark Night stages?
End in Sight, modified 10 Years ago at 12/27/11 8:29 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 12/27/11 8:29 PM

RE: Stages of Insight/DN on and off the cushion?

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
I am saying that jhana produces such a pleasant experience, and reduces the experience of the "strobing" of objects (linked in its most bothersome form to the Dark Night) to such a large degree, that one who practices it constantly (as the suttas recommend) will likely not be bothered by any cycling through the progress of insight, whether or not it occurs.

Jhana is hard, but if one became a monk and spent a large portion of every day meditating, it is reasonable to expect success with it. (Non-monks are generally not advised to meditate apart from cultivating the brahmaviharas, so they would avoid cycling in that way.)

My opinion should be understood with this in mind: jhana as described in MCTB (and perhaps in the Burmese Theravada tradition) is not jhana according to the suttas in my estimation...not because the level of concentration is different, but because the practice is different.
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago at 12/28/11 4:38 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 12/28/11 4:38 PM

RE: Stages of Insight/DN on and off the cushion?

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Do the stages of insight/DN continue off the cushion (and without the need for further meditation)?

In my experience, yes. I spent a long time cycling through the stages of insight without ever knowing what it was, it was only after coming across the DhO and MCTB that it all clicked. My meditative practice was sporadic for several years before 1st path happened and one thing I've noticed since then is that, more often than not, the cycles took longer to go through without regular practice but they did continue regardless.

Ron's description also matches up with my own experience i.e. cycles within a bigger cycle. Dan knows a lot about fractals within the cycles so he's probably got more detailed info with regard to this side of things.

How could we reconcile the Dan Ingram vs U Vansa experiences?

Absolutely no idea. For me, U Vansa's experience just doesn't sit with how this stuff has played out for me.

What factors determine how long the cycles are?

Not sure, what's worked so far, in terms of "making" them move quicker, is strong, consistent practice while, as Nick says, refusing to get caught up in all the shite that can appear along the way. I think the length of the cycles has something to do with how well the meditator can let go of craving/aversion, for me Dark Night was always best navigated by simply accepting what was happening with equanimity rather than trying to "deal with" it.

As a sleep researcher, I am prone to think these cycles (which U Vans described as "automatic and somewhat mechanical, once set into motion) resemble other biological rhythms (like menstrual cycles, or circadian rhythms, which have inter-individual differences, as well as external influences). But if they are so basic, then why aren't they mentioned in the suttas?

I agree with the mechanical nature of cycles, and I also agree with what End says about why they're not mentioned in the suttas. I now work (almost)[1] exclusively with the instruction in the anapanasati sutta and have noticed that, although cycling does occur it's nowhere near as noticeable or intense as it was while doing noting practice. Sutta-style jhanas definitely take the edge off!

Have you looked at how other non-Buddhist traditions describe Dark Night? The alchemical model is interesting to look at as the whole nigredo stage seems to be exactly the same thing, and I know that C.G. Jung did a lot of work with that area of things.

[1] I also use "HAIETMOBA".
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katy steger,thru11615 with thanks, modified 10 Years ago at 12/31/11 2:12 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 12/28/11 7:59 PM

RE: Stages of Insight/DN on and off the cushion?

Posts: 1740 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
Hi Willoughby,

How could we reconcile the Dan Ingram vs U Vansa experiences?

This question is based on an assumption of antagonistic parties (reconciliation: to restore friendliness, to make friends), the assumption of which could be backed up with transparent accounting, and if there is no transparent accounting for this idea, then the idea could be dropped (or rephrased accurately) to prevent the creation of an unfriendly relation between innocent parties or parties that are already friendly. Obviously, all schools, students and teachers can exist: meditation and metaphysics is an activity of mental-resource (renewable), not land and water. Thus, what need is there to restore friendship (thereby asserting publicly that friendly relations were breached)? *

To technical and personal points of difference between the narrow selection for this survey (Ingram::U Vansarakkhita(Sean Pritchard)):

1. I was able to find one sample of U Vansarakkhita's teaching ("Brief Walking Meditation by U Vansa" - it instructs very closely to the text of Practical Insight Meditation and I'll call it "classical style". I am interested in reading U Vansa's other public commentary and interactive dialogues on various meditation topics. In this way, I may see what he choses to teach and how, and who may be attracted to him and his teaching. Generally, I appreciate how classical teachers preserve and pass on what written teachings do exist, and render them available through translation and publication or recital. For myself, classical teachers/teachings were my entry point and I have seen this in others.

2. I have been able to read many of Dan Ingram's writings, due to his willingness to be public and to engage impromtu with many and publicly. Unlike other traditions I've experienced, he has no taboo on discussing the pragmatic, personal effects of meditation. I find this to be very beneficial for a thorough processing of my own grasping and assumptions, a naturally encouraging way to practice, and in this way I tend to think of his style as embodying compassion through the willingness to be public and engaging with modern-day, metaphorical Nalagiris and Kisa Gotamis

3. I wonder how many people start with an instructor such as U Vansa (classical style) and move to other teachers/traditions (yoga, monotheism, magick) that can help to resolve prolonged stages of insight towards freedom. The Dan Ingram school seems to attract a significant percentage people with prior practices who are quite sincere and open in sharing and to benefit others (the ground rules provide for this, too)

4. Item 3 points to another question: I wonder what the retention time is under a classical teacher and in a school of practice like Dan Ingram's.

5. What ideas are edited from any tradition when that tradition depends upon a social structure (political) for its transmission? How new or different are any schools, but rather arising in different volumes and visibilities based on the context of their times? [indent]"What emerges from all this is that on the one hand the Theravadin tradition of exegesis claims that it stretches right back from the texts we now have to the time of the Buddha himself, a period of about eight hundred years, and I see no reason to consider this implausible. But this is entirely different from positing that over those eight centuries, while the commentaries were transmitted orally (and there is no reason to think that during oral transmission they had the fixity imparted by writing), were translated and edited, nothing of importance was added, lost or otherwise changed. For that there would surely be no parallel recorded in human history. Nor was there any cultural scruple to inhibit changing the commentaries, for they do not even have the sanctity of being ascribed to the Buddha himself. Gombrich, Gonda lecture, 1997[/indent]

This is a unique period in time wherein information is broadly and somewhat cheaply available. Thus, many ideas that would not surface due to oppressive governance, costly printing, secretive society may now surface and disperse.



What factors determine how long the cycles are?
The qualities of mind and matter of each person, no?

As a sleep researcher, I am prone to think these cycles (which U Vans described as "automatic and somewhat mechanical, once set into motion) resemble other biological rhythms (like menstrual cycles, or circadian rhythms, which have inter-individual differences, as well as external influences). But if they are so basic, then why aren't they mentioned in the suttas?
See Gombrich excerpt


________________
* I am aware that some groups have needed to reconcile (e.g., Thich Nhat Hanh's exile from monasteries, then Vietnam entirely, followed decades later by his country and churchs' reconciliation with him), and well-documented transparent accounts introduce reconciliation, versus creating antagonism.

Some persons, some times, may create a tension between an openly sharing metaphysical school like Dan's and a classical and "quiet" metaphysical school like U Vansa's which tension has a basis on personal wondering, "who has the real knowledge?" Xu Gan* called this "valuing actuality" and "verifying what is actually the case" (yan shi) (Shenyuang, 2002, Yale University Press, Balanced Discourses)



5x edit for syntax and meaning
*It seems to me misleading to define Gan as a mathematician or philosopher or astronomist/astrologist, so I removed the qualifier. Sort of a funny conundrum to have for the guy known for naming and actuality.
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C T W, modified 10 Years ago at 1/21/12 4:17 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 1/21/12 4:17 PM

RE: Stages of Insight/DN on and off the cushion?

Posts: 19 Join Date: 1/15/12 Recent Posts
Well, I don't know how much I can offer, as I am very new to the cushion. What I can tell you is from the perspective of an "accidental yogi."

I've only been practicing for a week. That week has been supplemented by my introspective nature. Within my first two days of practice, I went through the full cycle of DN phenomena, on and off the cushion. I was free of the "symptoms for 2 full days, and then fell back into them. This has pretty well convinced me that I accidentally crossed A&P at a previous time in my life, without any practice. During that time I have been looking back on life, trying to assess the origin and impact this has had on my life. I believe I have isolated the A&P event to an experience I had when I was 18 (I'll be 30 next month). The culprit appear to be a week long series of Dextromethorphan "trips" that were characterized by a deeply spiritual tone. The week culminated with an experience where I felt like I had connected to the universe in a fundamental way. As this was a chemically induced meditative state, it was very off balance. This connection, combined with a drug addled experience led me to believe I had become a divine incarnation. I don't really want to talk about the rest, but suffice it to say, I did not touch DXM for a year after that. The next time I used it was one of the most terrifying experiences in my life. I spent 6 hours being afraid I was dying. I never touched the stuff again. My answers are based on my reexamination of the last decade, and the last week of meditation.

Willoughby Britton:
I also asked Ron Crouch, and he said that there were 2 simultaneous cycles: one long meta-cycle that represents the yogis "cutting edge" i.e. the furthest stage reached; and then mini cycles within that.


Although two "formally" observed cycles is hardly a sufficient data pool, I can say that this concept certainly resonates with my experience. In the two cycles I've observed, I ave had the background theme of desire for delivery. The rest of the cycle seems like a "spike" of the specific DN characteristics, in order. The length of the cycle seems to depend on how much time I spend on the cushion, as an inverse correlation.

Willoughby Britton:
So I welcome any thoughts on this topic, with particular interest in the following:
Do the stages of insight/DN continue off the cushion ( and without the need for further meditation)?


I have to say yes. No only do they progress without further time on the cushion, but in my experience, it will progress without any formal practice at all.

Willoughby Britton:
How could we reconcile the Dan Ingram vs U Vansa experiences?


This is pure speculation, but maybe the people with more severe expressions of DN lost hope and never returned. That would leave U Vansa with students with very mild off-cushion "symptoms" that they never actually connected to DN.

In Dan Ingram's case, his open discussion on the subject would be likely to draw in chronic DN yogis.

Willoughby Britton:
What factors determine how long the cycles are?


In my case, I think the symptoms may have been drawn out or shortened based on how long after the A&P event they took place. In retrospect, I think my first cycle may have lasted as long as 4-7 years. To be fair, I that could have been prolonged by the philosophy I adopted. I had a fundamental feeling that no reality actually existed, but since the illusion of reality was all we had to work with, we had to embrace the illusion. That willful defiance of A&P understanding could intensify and prolong the DN experience if, as it has been suggested, DN is the result of the perceptions of conditioned reality hanging on for dear life after having experienced them as illusion. From that point, the cycles appear to get shorter. In the last two years I can see full cycles that run around 3-4 months each. In some instances, stress may have accelerated the rate.

2 months ago, I had a dramatic, devastating change in my life. This change threw my entire idea of the future out the window.

Since the, I have been experiencing cycles rapidly. The cycles vary in length anywhere from a few days, to a few hours.

Contributing factors as I see them: stress, time passed since A&P, and determination to grip conditioned views.

Willoughby Britton:
As a sleep researcher, I am prone to think these cycles (which U Vans described as "automatic and somewhat mechanical, once set into motion) resemble other biological rhythms (like menstrual cycles, or circadian rhythms, which have inter-individual differences, as well as external influences). But if they are so basic, then why aren't they mentioned in the suttas?


I may be wrong here, but weren't the people involved in the transcription of the suttas all monks? They would probably not have gone more than a night's sleep without regular practice. Combine that with the fact that they see life as dukkha anyway. The lay practitioners they dealt with may very well have experienced off-cushion DN symptoms, which the monks mistakenly recognized as the dukkha of unenlightened existence.

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