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What was it?
Answer
1/15/13 11:49 AM
A bit of introduction first. I have been practicing zen for about 10 yeas now. As usual I started with breath practice and after a while my teacher suggested a koan practice (sound of one hand). At first I didn't know just what to do with it and my practice felt like wandering aimlessly with my koan, not quite knowing what I was supposed to do with it. During this time I attended many 3 to 7 day retreats. After a few years of working on the koan my determination to see in to this question grew to the point where I was working on it continuously during my normal everyday life.

My first unusual experience came about during work. I always struggled with aversion (due to anxiety?) in general and being self employed it is at time very difficult to keep going especially if I don't feel like doing the work at hand. At times I would give into it and just go home but this day I decided to push through it and kept going, constantly inquiring in to the koan. It was very difficult to keep on going, even walking seemed like a struggle. I just wanted to run away. I had out all my energy on just that next step, that next stone that needs to be picked up all the while all kind of fears and anxieties kept assaulting my mind. I can't remember how long this lasted for but it seemed like eternity. It felt very chaotic and quite unpleasant. I can't say with certainty that my mind was focused on one thing alone. All I can say is that the the determination to continue was unshakable. I kept observing my thoughts and than suddenly they started speeding up in rapid succession to the point where it seemed that the thought would arise and in the very next instant dissolve, like rain drops hitting a hot stove top, impact and evaporate, than the next one and so on. It was like my mind was made of Teflon and nothing could "stick" to it. Again I can't recall the duration of this stage but all I can say is that it felt very liberating and quite joyous. All those fears and anxieties lifted and I felt at ease and could do whatever needs doing without impediment.

Another unusual experience occurred some 3 years ago during one of the retreats. It was the last evening of the retreat and having spent days questioning my koan it seemed like no progress was made. My big issue at the time was the "need" for sleep especially during after hour Zazen where it seemed like I was making some progress I would always give in to this feeling that I should go and rest and that I can continue tomorrow where I left off which never really worked. So on the last night of the retreat feeling very frustrated and desperate I vowed to myself I will not give in to this and carry on. Again all manner of fears and anxieties assaulted my mind coupled with the pain of prolonged sitting but I kept coming back to the koan. I felt utterly desperate to resolve this question. At this point i just decided to stay with the koan regardless of what might come, even death itself. I can only describe this as stepping off the cliff and letting myself fall in to the great unknown. Than there was just koan and great uncertainty of unknown. After some time I had an experience of what I can only describe as dying. Everything was gone even the koan. I was peaceful but not much else was going on after which I finally went to sleep.

The next morning I woke up tired and somewhat confused and dazed. I can't recall much more about my state of mind. It was the last day of the retreat. My job during this period was working as a prep cook in the kitchen and we were preparing the final lunch of the retreat. One of my tasks was to peal and slice the apples for the apple crumble. Just as I started to peal and cut the first apple the head cook approached me picked up a slice of apple to show me how to clean it. As I watched him pick it up and cut in to it everything just dropped. What followed was quite extraordinary. I can't remember the exact sequence of experiences but I will name the ones I remember. There was a great joy and a feeling of a man waking from the nightmare, and seeing it was all just a dream. A feeling of being open and boundless and one with the world. I remember picking up my rakusu and being in wonder and awe that I am putting it on with these hands. There was also an understanding that this mind could just as well been a fly, frog, fox or any other form but miraculously it was in this human body for some reason. Death itself was not something to fear because this "mind" I stumbled upon was something death could not touch. Another thing I remember is this feeling of having "read and understood" all the sutras in this one instant and they all made perfect sense.

However, during all this my discursive mind was in overdrive. The "I" was quite happy and wanted to analyze and categorize and own it.I felt like I could write tomes on this subject, now that "I was enlightened". I went in to my last dokusan with the teacher thinking I have finally cracked this nut, and he started with the barrage of probing questions, but by this time the discursive mind was in full gear, overjoyed and full of myself, my answers were muddled by it. My teacher rang the bell without saying much more and I left the room disappointed that he did not confirm my breakthrough. Than after a while I was called back in to the dokusan (quite unusual) and I had a conversation with my teacher in regards to what I just experienced. I told him about all the experiences I had bit he only replied that I came really close to a kensho. As he put it there was just this very thin sheet of ignorance left that I didn't manage to get through.

I left the seshin still very much ecstatic. I remember coming back home and seeing my 3 year old daughter and just bursting in to tears of joy. This elated feeling continued for some time (3-4 days maybe) and than it gradually wore off. My teachers advice was to keep on working on my koan but the problem was it seemed to me a as if the koan didn't "work" anymore and it has somehow lost it's effectiveness. In retrospect I think I fell in to a trap of my ego and let it take over the show and claim this experience for itself. After this period my whole practice was focused on getting that high again and I felt like i "knew how to get there" now. But that proved to be a futile endeavor, it didn't matter how hard I tried I could not repeat this. Consequently my teacher told me that the experience was an important one, but just that an experience, it comes and goes, and that the real work is putting that what I learned in to my every day life. Yet, for a long time, I found it very hard to let go of it, but s of late I have realized that all it is now is just a memory.

Since then my practice and my daily life has become quite a struggle. I have gone for up to a year without meditation, but I never gave up on it and keep coming back. During these times of not practicing I find myself going through bouts of depression and anxiety which keep bringing me back to zazen when I can't bear it anymore. During these dark times I seem to fall back to my old crutch of smoking pot to find some relief, but that never seems to really help just pushes it back under the rug untill it reappears again. Last few months were difficult, I felt like coming apart at the seems. On the positive note I am in the zendo more often but now it all feels like a pendulum and I can't seem to be able to snap out of it all. The cycle of pot smoking and hiding from the world and responsibilities then of intense practice and some semblance of normalcy. Anxiety is still very much present and the lack of drive to do what needs to be done. I know that should do my best to sit everyday but I am still too easily swayed not to which leads to the next bout. The next retreat starts soon and I am attending.

Any insights and advice would be very much appreciated.

RE: What was it?
Answer
1/15/13 5:49 PM as a reply to Seimyo SK.
Yes, you were close. The thin layer was your mind trying to own the experience, and being discursive, etc... You may have forgot to turn your clarity to the mind and observe through that.
Trying to recreate it is part of the illusion. It is already the case in this moment, if only there were no such things as obscurations. The good news is there are no such things as obscurations, they are part of the illusion as well. Don't be in despair that you lost it, you didn't lose it. Enlightenment is not a special state, it is present in every state, even this one. Even when you are stoned, lol. Yes but I don't recommend getting stoned on a regular basis.
A meditation that might be helpful is to not try to alter or change this present moment as it is right now. And smiling always helps! "I sincerely pray that this moment be exactly as it is!"

RE: What was it?
Answer
1/16/13 8:29 AM as a reply to Dannon F.
Thanks for the reply Dannon. At this time I understand that chasing this experience is a futile endeavor. At the time of the experience I understood full well that this ordinary mind is Buddha mind but as the effects of it wore off I found myself falling back in to the old way of thinking about these things. Lately my main problem is this constant arising of strong anxiety that is really preventing me to go about my daily life. is this a part of the cycle described in MCTB? I am trying to understand where to go from here because I am not sure I can continue like this much longer before my life (or me?) falls apart. I feel stuck in this loop and unable to break out of it all.

RE: What was it?
Answer
1/16/13 3:58 PM as a reply to Seimyo SK.
The anxiety may be part of the cycles, I don't know. Sounds like you may have had a A&P. The rug is being pulled out from underneath you. I would recommend investigating this anxiety with full mindfulness and presence, especially at night before bed as when that seems to be when anxiety is the strongest. Meet anxiety on your own terms, don't run from it and have it chase you. Ramana Maharshi was sure that he was going to die, so he went to meet it. He didn't expect to become enlightened.

RE: What was it?
Answer
1/24/13 2:08 PM as a reply to Seimyo SK.
Hi Seimyo, welcome to the DhO.

What you describe fits nicely with the progress of insight. Below, numbers refer to sections from the chapter "The progress of insight" from Daniel Ingram's [url=]Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha.


Seimyo SK:
A bit of introduction first. I have been practicing zen for about 10 yeas now. As usual I started with breath practice and after a while my teacher suggested a koan practice (sound of one hand). At first I didn't know just what to do with it and my practice felt like wandering aimlessly with my koan, not quite knowing what I was supposed to do with it. During this time I attended many 3 to 7 day retreats. After a few years of working on the koan my determination to see in to this question grew to the point where I was working on it continuously during my normal everyday life.

My first unusual experience came about during work. I always struggled with aversion (due to anxiety?) in general and being self employed it is at time very difficult to keep going especially if I don't feel like doing the work at hand. At times I would give into it and just go home but this day I decided to push through it and kept going, constantly inquiring in to the koan. It was very difficult to keep on going, even walking seemed like a struggle. I just wanted to run away. I had out all my energy on just that next step, that next stone that needs to be picked up all the while all kind of fears and anxieties kept assaulting my mind. I can't remember how long this lasted for but it seemed like eternity. It felt very chaotic and quite unpleasant. I can't say with certainty that my mind was focused on one thing alone. All I can say is that the the determination to continue was unshakable.


Nanas 1, 2 and 3.

Seimyo SK:

I kept observing my thoughts and than suddenly they started speeding up in rapid succession to the point where it seemed that the thought would arise and in the very next instant dissolve, like rain drops hitting a hot stove top, impact and evaporate, than the next one and so on. It was like my mind was made of Teflon and nothing could "stick" to it. Again I can't recall the duration of this stage but all I can say is that it felt very liberating and quite joyous. All those fears and anxieties lifted and I felt at ease and could do whatever needs doing without impediment.


Nana 4, the Arising and Passing Away aka A&P.

Seimyo SK:

Another unusual experience occurred some 3 years ago during one of the retreats. It was the last evening of the retreat and having spent days questioning my koan it seemed like no progress was made. My big issue at the time was the "need" for sleep especially during after hour Zazen where it seemed like I was making some progress I would always give in to this feeling that I should go and rest and that I can continue tomorrow where I left off which never really worked. So on the last night of the retreat feeling very frustrated and desperate I vowed to myself I will not give in to this and carry on. Again all manner of fears and anxieties assaulted my mind coupled with the pain of prolonged sitting but I kept coming back to the koan. I felt utterly desperate to resolve this question. At this point i just decided to stay with the koan regardless of what might come, even death itself. I can only describe this as stepping off the cliff and letting myself fall in to the great unknown. Than there was just koan and great uncertainty of unknown. After some time I had an experience of what I can only describe as dying. Everything was gone even the koan. I was peaceful but not much else was going on after which I finally went to sleep.

The next morning I woke up tired and somewhat confused and dazed. I can't recall much more about my state of mind. It was the last day of the retreat. My job during this period was working as a prep cook in the kitchen and we were preparing the final lunch of the retreat. One of my tasks was to peal and slice the apples for the apple crumble. Just as I started to peal and cut the first apple the head cook approached me picked up a slice of apple to show me how to clean it. As I watched him pick it up and cut in to it everything just dropped. What followed was quite extraordinary. I can't remember the exact sequence of experiences but I will name the ones I remember. There was a great joy and a feeling of a man waking from the nightmare, and seeing it was all just a dream. A feeling of being open and boundless and one with the world. I remember picking up my rakusu and being in wonder and awe that I am putting it on with these hands. There was also an understanding that this mind could just as well been a fly, frog, fox or any other form but miraculously it was in this human body for some reason. Death itself was not something to fear because this "mind" I stumbled upon was something death could not touch. Another thing I remember is this feeling of having "read and understood" all the sutras in this one instant and they all made perfect sense.

However, during all this my discursive mind was in overdrive. The "I" was quite happy and wanted to analyze and categorize and own it.I felt like I could write tomes on this subject, now that "I was enlightened". I went in to my last dokusan with the teacher thinking I have finally cracked this nut, and he started with the barrage of probing questions, but by this time the discursive mind was in full gear, overjoyed and full of myself, my answers were muddled by it. My teacher rang the bell without saying much more and I left the room disappointed that he did not confirm my breakthrough. Than after a while I was called back in to the dokusan (quite unusual) and I had a conversation with my teacher in regards to what I just experienced. I told him about all the experiences I had bit he only replied that I came really close to a kensho. As he put it there was just this very thin sheet of ignorance left that I didn't manage to get through.

I left the seshin still very much ecstatic. I remember coming back home and seeing my 3 year old daughter and just bursting in to tears of joy. This elated feeling continued for some time (3-4 days maybe) and than it gradually wore off. My teachers advice was to keep on working on my koan but the problem was it seemed to me a as if the koan didn't "work" anymore and it has somehow lost it's effectiveness. In retrospect I think I fell in to a trap of my ego and let it take over the show and claim this experience for itself. After this period my whole practice was focused on getting that high again and I felt like i "knew how to get there" now. But that proved to be a futile endeavor, it didn't matter how hard I tried I could not repeat this. Consequently my teacher told me that the experience was an important one, but just that an experience, it comes and goes, and that the real work is putting that what I learned in to my every day life. Yet, for a long time, I found it very hard to let go of it, but s of late I have realized that all it is now is just a memory.


Ecstatic experiences are Nana 4. Feeling a bit dazed, and having the feeling that things are starting to come apart (most especially the things that made up the ecstatic experiences), Nana 5, dissolution (entrance into the dark night).

Seimyo SK:

Since then my practice and my daily life has become quite a struggle. I have gone for up to a year without meditation, but I never gave up on it and keep coming back. During these times of not practicing I find myself going through bouts of depression and anxiety which keep bringing me back to zazen when I can't bear it anymore. During these dark times I seem to fall back to my old crutch of smoking pot to find some relief, but that never seems to really help just pushes it back under the rug untill it reappears again. Last few months were difficult, I felt like coming apart at the seems. On the positive note I am in the zendo more often but now it all feels like a pendulum and I can't seem to be able to snap out of it all. The cycle of pot smoking and hiding from the world and responsibilities then of intense practice and some semblance of normalcy. Anxiety is still very much present and the lack of drive to do what needs to be done. I know that should do my best to sit everyday but I am still too easily swayed not to which leads to the next bout. The next retreat starts soon and I am attending.


This is dark night.

Seimyo SK:
Any insights and advice would be very much appreciated.


Going on retreat is great. What you want to do now is get to equanimity and then get stream entry. Probably this will involve you going through the cycle again, going through A&P again, and going through the dark night with enough determination and momentum to eventually reach equanimity, at which point you are in the position to get stream entry.

In order to do this, I recommend you re-read the MCTB chapter "Stages of Insight" and go from there. You will recognize your experience in those pages, if you read them attentively.

A good technique for someone in your position to progress all the way to stream entry is mahasi-style noting (Mahasi Noting in DhO wiki).

Feel free to ask any questions.

RE: What was it?
Answer
2/7/13 6:27 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Very lucid reply!