Experiencing the Whole Torus: Vipassana, Samadhi, and Content

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Avi Craimer, modified 7 Years ago.

Experiencing the Whole Torus: Vipassana, Samadhi, and Content

Posts: 114 Join Date: 10/29/13 Recent Posts
First, look at this triangle:

Now, seen in a normal “non-meditative” way, the triangle is a bit of content. It has some sort of meaning within the visual and intellectual sphere, connecting naturally with other images and ideas. You might associate it with the number three, with the Trinity if you’re Christian, with any number of organizations that use it in their logo, with Euclidian geometry, and so on. The key thing is that this content/meaning level perception of the triangle rests partially on it’s sensory appearance, partially on it’s form (i.e., what your mind “knows” the sensory inscription is supposed to be instantiating), and partially on it’s associations with other images, objects, and ideas. These are the sorts of observations about meaning made by Western phenomenologists like Husserl and Merleau-Ponty.

Suppose you take a jpeg image file of this little triangle and zoom into it in Photoshop. If you zoom a little bit, the pixels will start to show and become jagged. You’ll start to see that the triangle is made up of little particles, but you’ll still see the overall shape of the triangle as well. Zoom in even further and the object’s content disappears altogether and you’re left with nothing by little black dots on the screen. If you were using a monitor with a slower refresh rate, you could also see the dots appearing and disappearing continually. This is something like what happens in vipassana, when we see the three characteristics of objects.

Note, however, that it is only our experience of the triangle that changed. The triangle still means what it meant even if we choose to view it at such a fine-grained level that we cannot see that meaning. Merleau-Ponty has a great quote about this in Phenomenology of Perception. To paraphrase, “Just like there is a proper distance from which to stand from each painting in a galley in order to see that painting’s artistic meaning, similarly, every object has a precise distance and manner in which it must be observed in order to see it’s meaning as an object.” Thus, I assert that it’s false to claim that the chaotic flux of particles one perceives during vipassana meditation is somehow “ultimate reality” or the real truth. That’s like saying that you get a truer perspective on your morning newspaper by viewing it through an electron microscope. In philosophy we’d call this the reductionist fallacy, the fallacy of assuming that knowledge of the parts gives the truth about the whole.

Rather, I’d like to say that the 3 Characteristics view of reality shows us one truth about reality, but not the ultimate truth. It shows us the truth of what raw unstructured sensation really looks like. That’s highly significant, because Western philosophers have argued for centuries about whether raw unstructured sensation even exists (and continue to do so even today!). What’s even more significant is the fact that spending a lot of time viewing reality at the level of unstructured sensation seems to have profoundly healing effects on our perceptual systems. Yet, in my view, the Buddhist religion makes a little too much of this startling discovery by generalizing it into an ultimate path to salvation. In contrast, we might choose to view sensate meditation as one useful tool among many for engaging with our lived experience.

Okay, so that’s content in relation to vipassana. What about samadhi/jhana practice?

Let’s go back to our triangle:

Now, rather than viewing the triangle as a set of pixels, as in a jpeg file, let’s view it as a vector graphics unicode character (which it actually is). The thing about vector graphics files is that they are mathematically perfect. No matter how large you increase the font size of the triangle character, it will always be perfectly smooth, within the limits of the monitor you are using to display it. This is something like the point Plato made, in talking about the Forms versus sensory particulars. He argued that all sensory particulars are imperfect (read, display the 3 Characteristics). However, he also recognized that somehow we can perceive a perfect non-sensory reality that lies within/beyond the sensory particulars.

I assert, that in jhana practice we are attempting to perceive something as close to the perfect Form that lies behind the sensory particular as we possibly can. For every jhana object we start out with some imperfect simple sensory object (breath, a coloured circle, a circle of earth, etc), and by focusing on it and refining our perception of it toward perfection, we experience something that comes closer and closer to the Form of the object. The nimmita is a sensory image that appears spontaneously in jhana practice once the object has been sufficiently perfected and stabilized. When the nimmita is perceived visually, it is very often seen as a yantra-like geometric form that somehow seems to embody the essence of the perfected object. There is no obvious conceptual link between the way the nimmita looks and the nature of the object being meditated on. Rather, the nimmita is the mental image that approximates the mind's direct, non-sensory perception of the Form itself. It is striking to me that Plato always compared the Forms first and foremost to geometric shapes, and I seriously wonder whether he was inspired by perceiving nimmitas himself. However, even the nimmita, which is our mind’s best sensory representation of the perfected Form, is still not the Form, but only a sensory approximation of it. The Form itself is super-sensible, much like Nibbana...

Which leads me to the last, and perhaps most controversial piece of this essay. Buddhist doctrine asserts that Nibbana can only be experienced through insight practice and not through jhana practice. This is true, as far as it goes, but it may not be the whole truth. Since in Jhana practice we are always focused some sensory object, however subtle, we will never experience Nibbana through it. However, since I started cycling through fruition on a regular basis, I’ve been actively exploring different methods of triggering cessation. Tonight, in order to test this theory about the Form being a super-sensible reality, I began with fairly light concentration on a complex polyhedron shape (a stellated icosahedron nested inside a dodecahedron). Once the image of the shape became clear in my mind, I did not increase concentration to the point of absorption, nor did I focus on the particulate nature of the mental sensations that made up the mental image. Rather, I simply asked myself, “what is the true Form of this shape that is more perfect than anything that could be perceived through sensation.” A few moments of lightly holding this intention together with the shape, triggered a clear cessation. I repeated the experiment an hour later with the same result.

Of course, I’ll have to try doing it lots more times to be sure that I’m not fooling myself, but this at least strongly suggests that there are more gateways to the void than the Three Doors. If you’re passed stream entry, try it yourself and let me know the results.

These findings fit with the toroidal model of reality (the axis mundi, world tree, etc). If you go down far enough into the chaotic flux of sensation, you can slip through the cracks to enter the void, sometimes coming back around through the top into bliss and energy. On the other hand, if you go up high enough toward orderly and perfected perceptions, and then seek to go beyond even that, you enter the very same void through the top, sometimes coming back around through the bottom into dissolution. Both ends of the torus wrap around the outside and meet.

The life-world, the world of ordinary human meaning, is the thin hollow tube that runs through the center of the torus. Within this tube, human life unfolds as the unending dance of dissolution and crystallization. Meaning, purpose, myth, narrative, transformation, and growth, can only occur when dissolution (vipassana) and crystallization (samadhi) are in balance and we when we allow ourselves the freedom and flexibility to weave our perceptions into a rich tapestry of associations.

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Avi
Toronto Spiritual Direction
x x, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Experiencing the Whole Torus: Vipassana, Samadhi, and Content

Posts: 122 Join Date: 8/18/13 Recent Posts
This sounds preachy, sorry, but I'm hoping to kinda open up your considerations... It might be helpful, or not.

It seems like you are on a search for the ultimate truth. Have you looked at that urge? It seems like something to build quite an identity around if you can actually find the ultimate truth. It could also be a way to run away from all the relative truths that make up the actual experience of life.

For what it's worth, I've found it very important to be clear about when I'm thinking about reality (developing metaphysical models) versus actually experiencing living (the mundane experience of this life, which isn't so mundane when you actually experience it). Enlightenment models fall apart over time, no matter how descriptive the maps are for explaining theory or some aspects of practice. The models fall away and you find yourself back in the place you started. As you are looking for that ultimate truth, be sure to appreciate all the truths you meet along the way.

Many teachers offer their models and ultimate truths as answers to all our problems. Some teachers discourage any attempts at modeling and ultimate-truth-finding and say they are the root of all of our problems. They both could be right.
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Avi Craimer, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Experiencing the Whole Torus: Vipassana, Samadhi, and Content

Posts: 114 Join Date: 10/29/13 Recent Posts

Many teachers offer their models and ultimate truths as answers to all our problems. Some teachers discourage any attempts at modeling and ultimate-truth-finding and say they are the root of all of our problems. They both could be right.


Hey, you were right, that did sound preachy! I sort of thought that this website in general, and this section of the discussion board in specifically, was precisely the place to develop and discuss models of ultimate reality. Not everybody is into that sort of thing, and that's just fine with me. But, I'd appreciate it if those who aren't interested in the project of modelling reality would stop bashing those who are. I mean, why are you even reading this section of the discussion board if you think projects like these are unhelpful?

Ultimately, I think models of reality are useful because they help orient us in our contemplative practices. Whether one chooses to admit it or not, everybody carries around some kind of tacit model in their heads about what the heck they are doing when they try to meditate. For some people thinking about complex models might just get in the way and interfere with their meditation practice. So I say, more power to such people for embracing their simple models, or even a no-model ideology. For other people (people like myself) developing and articulating maps and models is profoundly useful project that guides and empowers my spiritual practice. What brought me to this site was reading Daniel's book, and I was simply blown away with the clarity and depth with which he articulates the model presented there. For me, that model is ultimately only part of the story, but it's an important part of the story. This essay was an attempt to integrate Daniel's model with a broader set of meditative experiences and philosophical insights.

So again people, let's try to have some actual dialogue here. If you don't like thinking about this stuff, go meditate rather than posting a response!
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sawfoot _, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Experiencing the Whole Torus: Vipassana, Samadhi, and Content

Posts: 507 Join Date: 3/11/13 Recent Posts
Avi,

You asked people for discussion. If they/we didn't like thinking about this stuff and want to engage in dialogue, then they/we wouldn't be reading and responding. A discussion like this involves not just developing and discussing models, but critiquing them, and offering up our own unique perspectives. This is an important part of what makes the DhO the DhO. These perspectives may be very different from your own, but all have some value.
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Avi Craimer, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Experiencing the Whole Torus: Vipassana, Samadhi, and Content

Posts: 114 Join Date: 10/29/13 Recent Posts
Hey Sawfoot,

I couldn't agree more. Bring on the critiques!
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Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Experiencing the Whole Torus: Vipassana, Samadhi, and Content

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Avi Craimer:
Tonight, in order to test this theory about the Form being a super-sensible reality, I began with fairly light concentration on a complex polyhedron shape (a stellated icosahedron nested inside a dodecahedron). Once the image of the shape became clear in my mind, I did not increase concentration to the point of absorption, nor did I focus on the particulate nature of the mental sensations that made up the mental image. Rather, I simply asked myself, “what is the true Form of this shape that is more perfect than anything that could be perceived through sensation.” A few moments of lightly holding this intention together with the shape, triggered a clear cessation. I repeated the experiment an hour later with the same result.


I'd be extremely wary with using the fact that you triggered a cessation as confirmation of anything at all. It's possible to trigger a cessation doing just about whatever. If you use the cessation as a marker that you figured something out, or that something you think is true, you can lead yourself to believe just about anything. After stream entry I read a bunch of zen koans, and with each one, took whatever was the most immediate train of thought about them, then I'd get a cessation, with the bliss after, and I'd figure I had solved the koan. Woo! Now I don't know if I really understood any of them.

Here's an experiment: fill in this mad-lib and then contemplate it and see if it triggers a cessation:

"Consider the <thing noun> contrasted with the <thing noun>. Have you ever seen them both in <place noun> <time marker>? Yet what does that say about <concept noun>?"

e.g.:

"Consider the rabbit contrasted with the palm tree. Have you ever seen them both in Alaska yesterday? Yet what does that say about emptiness?"

"Consider the cheese contrasted with the water bottle. Have you ever seen them both in Burma at the same time? Yet what does that say about relativity?"
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Dream Walker, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Experiencing the Whole Torus: Vipassana, Samadhi, and Content

Posts: 1312 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
I like what your doing here. I love a model. The only problem is the the mixed metaphors between the object △ and the process. Ignore the object for a second and focus on the process difference between vipassana and samandhi.

The other thing I would have you do is look to the moments right before cessation...What is happening right before the click out? Once you see this I would then try your graphic/samandi approach and see if there is a difference in the moments leading to cessation between the different approaches and then model the differences/sameness from there.

Have you looked into Nirodha Samapatti as a jhana style fruition?
Good luck
~D
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Avi Craimer, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Experiencing the Whole Torus: Vipassana, Samadhi, and Content

Posts: 114 Join Date: 10/29/13 Recent Posts
Thanks Dream Walker for your reply to this post and my other one. Both were very helpful.

So I looked into the moments before cessation as you suggested (using one of my more standard vipassana objects, not the geometric shape). I saw something like a wormhole open up and swallow me whole. When I hit the centre it was like a black hole and then everything stopped. It reminded me of the torus shape, but instead of coming out from the center as I imaginatively suggested in my essay, I went in toward the center. Shows the need for caution with poetic licence!

Does this fit with your experience? Is there anything more specific I should be doing or looking for as I watch this stuff?

Another, interesting thing. I have met quite a few people, who have no formal meditation practice, who are really obsessed by the torus shape, or something resembling it (e.g., two pyramids or cones point to point). Could it be that they have glimpsed this aspect of reality sponteneously? Of course, a similar theme recurs in world mythologies (the axis mundi) so it likely that it can be seen even without meditation training by those naturally inclined.

Do you have any thoughts on what the heck this shape is all about? From your sigpic I imagine the shape has some significance to you.
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Dream Walker, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Experiencing the Whole Torus: Vipassana, Samadhi, and Content

Posts: 1312 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Avi Craimer:
Another, interesting thing. I have met quite a few people, who have no formal meditation practice, who are really obsessed by the torus shape, or something resembling it (e.g., two pyramids or cones point to point). Could it be that they have glimpsed this aspect of reality sponteneously? Of course, a similar theme recurs in world mythologies (the axis mundi) so it likely that it can be seen even without meditation training by those naturally inclined.

If you are into sacred geometry you might try reading "The ancient secret of the flower of life". Page 191 Torus
It really gets into the shapes and really explains them. I am not too much into this but did read the two books and they had some interesting points in them, as well as a lot of stuff that did not interest me.
It looks like from your other thread that you have started your next cycle...that is going to interfere with playing with fruitions and the modeling of them. Here is a link to some of the mapping I did when in that mode...Selfing process...wow...i've not looked at it for a while...needs more work...lol
Good luck,
~D
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Jason Snyder, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Experiencing the Whole Torus: Vipassana, Samadhi, and Content

Posts: 186 Join Date: 10/25/13 Recent Posts
The triangle is training in morality. The pixels are training in insight.
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Avi Craimer, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Experiencing the Whole Torus: Vipassana, Samadhi, and Content

Posts: 114 Join Date: 10/29/13 Recent Posts
Jason Snyder:
The triangle is training in morality. The pixels are training in insight.


Yes, and you could add that the vector graphic is samatha training, although I think there's a little more too this last one that Buddhism sort of misses out on. My point is that that there is a super-sensible no-thing that guides and orients us toward ideals. This super-sensible guide to ideals is what many religions have called God, and what Plato called the realm of the Forms. Now my claim would be that the best morality training involves a balance of idealism and acceptance of sensory reality, as well as a healthy does of free expression of lifeforce. Hence, developing the spiritual basis for strong morality requires both God-type mystical experiences and Nibbana-type insight experiences. These are the upper and lower super-sensible realms respectively (although ultimately they are connected through the torus).

I also believe that Life, which is really what morality is all about is a third principle. Life is a dance of constant transformation of incarnate meanings. It is neither atman nor anatman, but a beautiful messy zone where the two get together, and well...you know. Buddhism calls Life "samsara" and thereby pathologizes it as a disease to be cured through enlightenment. But I think life is a wondrous gift, and I hope to be born and reborn as many times as my Creator sees fit to give me the chance to live again.

It's interesting to look at how morality comes out of balance when a religion or individual puts to much emphasis on one of the three realms. Put too much emphasis on God/Forms and you get puritanical religions: obsessed with the constant purification of sin, hatred of the body, hatred of sex, regulation of diet, regimentation of life activities, etc. Put too much emphasis on Nibbana/Emptiness, and you get hatred of the intellect, hatred of natural human emotion, obsession with more and more stringent models of enlightenment, obsession with absolute freedom, desire to eliminate the soul-self (i.e., the authentic individual expression of each human being, which is distinct from the perceptual-self and is untouched by the elimination of the latter). Put too much emphasis on Life, and you have hedonism, debauchery, obsession with striving after the next hit, and the inability to experience peace.

It's not easy being truly balanced. But my ideal spiritual path is one that does try to coherently balance all three of these elements. So far the traditions that comes the closest holding all this in balance are shamanism and Western Alchemy. But of course, Buddhism has lots powerful techniques and wisdom, which I am very grateful for even though I reject the overall Buddhist ideological framework as too one sidedly focused on Nibbana/Emptiness.

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