Everything just winked out...

Tejananda John Wakeman, modified 12 Years ago at 3/20/10 5:26 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 3/20/10 5:26 PM

Everything just winked out...

Posts: 7 Join Date: 12/1/09 Recent Posts
This is my first post here after being introduced to Daniel Ingram's superb MCTB, which I'm currently reading through for the second time – so many thanks to Daniel if you are reading this. The resources on this site & quality of the discussions are pretty amazing too. I thought I'd recount an experience I had at the age of 20 (that is, 40 years ago) as it's always had the nature of 'what on earth was that?' about it. At the time I was a practicing Christian, of the Anglo-Catholic sort, and I'd become interested in Christian mysticism, and perhaps in a small way had started doing some kinds of 'spiritual exercises' (from a book by F.C. Happold). In fact, I wasn’t brought up a Christian – I became one from my own conviction at 16 and ceased being one at 21.

Anyway, I was out for a walk in the fields one rather misty morning and was pushing through a thicket of bushes when I happened to look up and saw the end of a twig, on which a water droplet was hanging ... and everything disappeared. No world, no me, no space, no time – nothing that can really be said about it. When everything 'winked back on' a moment (I assume) later, I knew without the slightest shadow of a doubt that I'd had an enormously significant 'spiritual experience' (to call it that), but I didn't have any idea of what it was, or where it had come from. Well, being a Christian at the time, I naturally assumed that God had something to do with it and that it was some sort of 'mystical' experience.

Within a year or so I was no longer a Christian - I was at college, into sex, drugs, rock & roll & radical politics and 'religion' had dropped away. At the same time, due to this experience, I was still completely without doubt that there was a ‘spiritual dimension’ to life. Anyway, to cut a longish story short, after a few years I moved towards Buddhism, which attracted me initially exactly because it wasn’t a ‘religion’ and offered method rather than belief.

I still didn’t have much clarity, though, as to what this ‘experience’ may have been. I began to guess it may have been something to do with formless jhanas (which I had no immediate experience of), and later I supposed it might have been some kind of insight experience. For quite a number of years I did a lot of samatha and devotional practice, with a relatively small amount of rather discursive ‘insight’ reflection-on-the-Dharma type stuff; not very effective to be honest. It took a horribly long time for it to really sink in that I was not getting anywhere – in fact, I realised that on some level I’d lost confidence in the possibility that any kind of insight, let alone enlightenment, was at all likely to arise ‘in this lifetime’, beyond what had happened when I was 20.

Ten years ago, I did a long solitary retreat, on which for some reason, and using a book, I did a lot of Mahasi-style vipassana practice (I'd never practiced in this way before). In the end, with no guidance, I got myself very freaked out, thought I was about to have a heart attack, and had to cut the retreat after 2 months. But it did somehow get me out of the rut, though it left me with a bit of an aversion to that approach for the time being. So I pursued my parallel interest in Dzogchen/ Mahamudra and got pointing-out and some very good teaching. I ‘got’ nature-of-mind (or ‘self-recognition’ of rigpa) and in the wake of this, noticed that self-view, had vanished, confidence in the Dharma was unshakable and there was a clear understanding of what was & wasn’t the path. Again, I wondered whether my ‘experience’ at age 20 had anything to do with mind-itself / pure awareness, but it didn’t seem to relate in any obvious way.

Now, of course, at long last, I’ve come across Daniel’s description of fruition – as on p. 241 of the printed book, and that first paragraph fits my experience more clearly than anything I’ve previously come across. So the question remains – if it was a fruition, how did it arise without any previous stages or methodical practice? I don’t know much about this, but the main possibilities that occur to me include: 1) it wasn’t a fruition 2) it was and arose ‘spontaneously’ 3) it was the completion of an insight cycle started in a ‘previous life’? (I do have some intimation from childhood of what may be a ‘previous Buddhist life’) 4) other possibilities that I haven’t thought of.

Sorry this got a bit longer than I intended, but maybe the extra detail adds some valid info. Anyway, I’d certainly much appreciate any comments or perspectives anyone can offer on this.

Cheers! Tejananda
Nikolai , modified 12 Years ago at 3/21/10 6:57 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 3/21/10 6:57 AM

RE: Everything just winked out... (Answer)

Posts: 1648 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
Hey Tejananda,

Since you said you are reading Daniel's book for the second time pay close attention to the chapter Was that Emptiness? Posted in part below.

Found here http://bit.ly/93y7uz.

My question for you is can you repeat it? If not it probably wasn't fruition. My best guess is that it was an A/P event but I am not experienced in Dharma diagnosis. I am sure Daniel will weigh in shortly.

Welcome to the DhO! Hopefully it will give your practice a big boost.


Was that Emptiness?
Often it is not possible to make a clear call about what was what, even if it was actually Fruition. While what follows is routinely considered to be dangerous information, I am happy to go to the far extreme of telling largely taboo secrets if it helps to balance the pervasive “mushroom” culture. These are some basic guidelines that may be used when trying to answer the question, “Was that emptiness?”:
• If there was any sense of an experience, even of nothingness or something that seemed incomprehensible, particularly anything involving the vaguest hint of the passage of time during it, write it off as something other than emptiness.
• Similarly, if there was any sense of a this observing a that, or a self of any sort that was actually present for whatever happened, write it off as something other than emptiness. If you were there, that wasn’t it.
• If there was not a complete sense of discontinuity and if it makes any sense to think of time or memory continuing across the gap, write it off immediately as something other than emptiness. On the other hand, if the only way to remember what happened involves remembering just forward to the end of the particular door that presented and then remembering back to when reality reappeared, well, keep reading.
• If there was even the vaguest hint of space or perspective during it, write it off as something other than emptiness.
• If on continued repetition of the unknowing event over days or weeks it fails the above tests, write it off as something other than emptiness.
• If continued repetition of that particular kind of unknowing event over days or weeks fails to give any clear experiences of the Three Doors and to reveal something very paradoxical and profound about the nature of subject and object, be very skeptical.
• If there was a double-dip into unknowing events with a few profound moments of clarity and altered experience between them, as is characteristic of the A&P Event, with one shift happening half-way down the out-breath and a second shift at the end of that out-breath, write it off immediately as more likely having been that or maybe the early stages of Equanimity.
• If the event cannot be repeated, write it off. Those who have attained a path will attain more Fruitions naturally, maybe one to many per day.
• If there is not a rather predictable pattern of stages and perspective shifts that begins to become clear (specifically following the course of the progress of insight listed above in some way, particularly as regards shifts in perceptual thresholds), write it off as something other than emptiness.
This brings me to the Cardinal Rule when trying to sort out what all experiences or attainments actually were: try to repeat it again and again and be honest with yourself. It literally took me many of thousands of times through these cycles and experiences at many levels and over many years to get to the point where I could even begin to think about writing a book like this one. I am still quite cautious about hanging my hat on interpretations of my experiences or what seem to be non-experiences until I have attained them 50, 100 or even more times. If you don’t have the necessary level of clarity and mastery to repeat the experience of interest again and again, either do enough clear and diligent practice to attain the required mastery or don’t ask the question. Studying theory can only be so useful for this. In the end and always, it is practice and continued direct experience that reveals and clarifies. While it is somewhat true that with clarity comes mystery, this maxim can easily be used as a cop out.
Tejananda John Wakeman, modified 12 Years ago at 3/21/10 11:13 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 3/21/10 11:13 AM

RE: Everything just winked out...

Posts: 7 Join Date: 12/1/09 Recent Posts
Thanks for that & the welcome Nick - useful perspective in that quoted section. As for DhO, in conjunction with Daniel's book, it's given my practice a huge boost already!

Tom Tom, modified 12 Years ago at 3/22/10 12:33 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 3/22/10 12:33 AM

RE: Everything just winked out...

Posts: 466 Join Date: 9/19/09 Recent Posts
Tejananda, that sounds familiar. I read a book you wrote a couple years ago. It was quite good.
Tejananda John Wakeman, modified 12 Years ago at 3/22/10 10:52 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 3/22/10 10:52 AM

RE: Everything just winked out...

Posts: 7 Join Date: 12/1/09 Recent Posts
Thomas Allen Vitale:
Tejananda, that sounds familiar. I read a book you wrote a couple years ago. It was quite good.

Yes, people have found it useful as an introduction, but the whole damn thing was written from my head! Still, I hope it's helped to bring some people to actually practice Dharma.
Daniel M Ingram, modified 12 Years ago at 3/22/10 2:24 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 3/22/10 2:24 AM

RE: Everything just winked out... (Answer)

Posts: 3231 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Good questions and thoughts. Thanks for your descriptions and I am glad you like this place.

A few thoughts:

If it was stream entry, you should be able, perhaps with some practice, to be able to sit down and call up the insight stages in order and, just by willing the mind to go back there, to re-attain a Fruition. Interestingly, not everyone who is actually a stream enterer who got it outside a meditative tradition and who never re-attained it can do this as easily as I implied in the book, but you should be able to do it if it actually was Fruition. Just sit down, remember that day, and incline your mind that way, and see what happens.

The A&P is an extremely common mimic, and if you have no peak experience before that one, and it didn't repeat, and even after long retreats you still look back 20 years and find no comparison with that, then it was probably the A&P, which can really change lives, blow people's doors off and is very memorable for many.

Interestingly, you talk about getting rigpa and some related high attainments: what were those like?

Glad to have you here. Let us know how this shakes out, if you wish.
Tejananda John Wakeman, modified 12 Years ago at 3/22/10 10:47 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 3/22/10 10:47 AM

RE: Everything just winked out...

Posts: 7 Join Date: 12/1/09 Recent Posts
Thanks for your thoughts, Daniel – useful and pertinent. By coincidence, before I saw your message this morning I did attempt to call up the insight stages in order. Amazingly, given how long I’ve been practicing, I’m very unfamiliar with this material, i.e. the 16 stages etc., as it’s simply never taught or referred to in my sangha (we’re pretty good at cultivating mushrooms, though)! So I’m still trying to get a clear conceptual grasp of the nature of each stage and find whether I can relate that to stuff that actually happens in my practice. This morning, I rapidly cultivated samatha up to (just) first jhana then ‘launched’ and found mind and body right away – I recognised that this is a ‘given’ in my practice. I also straightforwardly recognised Cause and Effect & the 3 characteristics. I then started to ‘contemplate’ thoughts/ mental states in the sense of noticing ‘where they come from’ before they actually form as thoughts and watching the kind of proto-thought energies vibrate and break up within a ‘perspective’ or ‘atmosphere’ of not-self. This led to minor energy effects (limb movements etc.) and a sense of everything opening out and becoming ‘at ease’. This mirrored a much stronger episode yesterday morning, when I was attending in the same way, where my body twisted strongly to the left as I ‘penetrated’ these proto-thought energies as not-self, which also involved a marked opening of the heart and sense of relief, together with tears. I’d guess these were probably both A&P episodes(?). Today this lasted for a while and then I found myself in dark thoughts & painful feelings. I twigged what was going on and continued to be aware of the sensations, including the thoughts-as-sensations. This continued for a while and then calmed down & the session ended.

Later (after reading your post) I tried going through this again, but had a suspicion I was somewhat forming my experience to expected results. I did try your suggestion of remembering that day – but that didn’t lead to any tangible effect, possibly for the reason just mentioned. I’ll try again. I’ve got less of a conceptual sense of the later ñanas than the earlier ones at the moment, so not quite so clear what I’m looking for apart from, possibly, the fruition itself ... if it is.

My experience with rigpa / pure awareness is of ‘stepping back’ to use Dogen’s evocative phrase, where Awareness or Suchness is ‘self-known’, the sense of ‘me here’ disappears and everything that appears is appearing in / as a field of sort of equal awareness everywhere with no ‘inside’ or ‘outside’. I first noticed this after a period in which ‘the watcher’ became very evident and seemed to have a quasi-location just behind my head. At some point, the watcher simply disappeared, and has never returned, and there was just the availability of this field of equal awareness as I just described. As far as I can ascertain, the dropping away of believing in ‘me’ as a fixed ‘self’ came in the wake of this becoming ‘available’. I’m not absolutely certain though – I just thought to ‘check’ one day and noticed it wasn’t there. It’s possible it hadn’t occurred to me to check in this way before. I made the connection with the first 3 fetters & sure enough there was no doubt and a clarity as to what was or wasn’t the effective path, together with a much clearer sense ‘from inside’ of how all the different wisdom teachings and perspectives in different Buddhist and (to the extent I’m aware of them) non-Buddhist traditions were in harmony with each other. That said, my habit energies (sankharas) still give me a very rough ride and my predominant experience of life tends to be rather painful.

Anyway, again, I can’t say how grateful I am to find your book and this site – it seems to be exactly the right thing, at the right time!