Attempt at exhaustive list of contemplative abilities

Avi Craimer, modified 7 Years ago.

Attempt at exhaustive list of contemplative abilities

Posts: 114 Join Date: 10/29/13 Recent Posts
Okay, I know that this is a fool's errand, but I went for it anyway. This is an attempt to categorize all the contemplative abilities in all traditions (of which I'm aware) into a single list. I went for a fairly high level of abstraction since it's obviously impossible to list all the micro skills of every tradition. I tried to get away from specific techniques or even whole schools of techniques and focus instead on the basic processes that these techniques aim to accomplish. Even with a high level of abstraction it's a pretty long list, and I'm sure with your comments we can make it even longer!

Spiritual Direction
List of Contemplative Abilities


Sensation – Vibrating fluctuations that display the three characteristics.

Structures – Mental concepts and apparently non-mental concept-like stuff that bind fields of sensation into objects (i.e., that which creates aggregates). These cannot be consciously experienced apart from sensations. Structure is responsible for all the meaningful content of reality.

Objects – An object is some sensation plus structure to bind it together.

The Void – What we experience when all sensation ceases. Structure might remain by we can’t be aware of it without sensation. It’s possible, however, that during encounters with the Void we are able to experience structures, which would account for the phenomenon of spontaneous crystallization coming out of the void (see below).

Awareness - That which knows sensation and objects. It is not itself either sensation or object.

Reality – Everything except the Void and awareness.

Experienced Reality - Those aspects of reality of currently known by awareness.

Dissolving Abilities
Dissolution (Characteristic 1) – Turning objects or the whole of experienced reality into impermanent flux.

Disenchantment (Characteristic 2) – Turning meaningful content into an unsatisfying chaos of raw sensation. This includes de-personification and de-narritivization, although in theory these could be listed as separate skills.

Merger (Characteristic 3) – Temporarily removing the structural boundaries between two or more objects, thereby creating the possibility for re-combination (see below).

Fruition – Stopping all experienced sensation so as to enter the Void.

Concentration/Magickal Abilities
These deal with using intention or acts of will to deliberately modify reality or awareness.

Focusing – Contracting or expanding the scope of awareness to one or more objects or fields of raw sensation.

Separation – Sorting raw sensation into categories according to concepts.

Re-combination – Creating new deliberate combinations of sensations to make new objects.

Purification – Removing unwanted structures or sensation from an object without completely dissolving it.

Absorption (Jhana) – Merging awareness with a single object for an extended period of time, i.e., making a single object the whole of experienced reality.

Invocation – The ability to call objects or sensation into experienced reality through an intention or act of will. For example, manifesting compassion in response to suffering, enhancing the bliss sensations in a concentration object, or visualizing a chosen object. This would also include the ability to manipulate normally autonomous physical responses like body temperature.

Re-Expression (Evocation) – The ability to translate objects or raw sensations that present initially in one modality into another modality. For example, transferring vibrating body sensations into the visual field, or expressing an emotion with a physical movement or a song.

Abilities of Revelation/Discovery
These abilities deal with allowing something to manifest in reality without pre-determination of the end result through an intention or act of will. Many of these abilities are like inverse functions to the dissolving abilities. It strikes me that some Buddhist traditions neglect or even denigrate the development and exercise of these abilities, but in most other wisdom traditions they are regarded as central to spiritual development.

Observation/Exploration - Moving through a physical, imaginal, or conceptual space while watching what meaningful content shows itself naturally. One tries one’s best not to let one’s mind’s biases distort what is being experienced (which is never entirely achievable). On a mundane level, this is the basis of science. On a contemplative level this includes things like divination, astral travel, and shamanic journeying.

Inquiry – Asking questions of reality or the Void and seeing what they reveal in response. This differs from observation in that the content and pre-suppositions of the question create an intention that makes the response more directed. So for example, inquiry in vipassana will always show the 3 Characteristics. Not because this is the total nature of reality, but because the questions one asks presuppose that all things display those characteristics.

Crystallization (Inverse of Characteristic 1 and 3) – Allowing new structures to reveal themselves spontaneously out of dissolution or the Void. Although they emerge spontaneously, they can be partially directed through general intentions or questions one sets going into and out of the void or dissolution. This is similar to re-combination, but without fully determining the outcome through intention or will.

Personification (Inverse of Characteristic 2) – The revelation that an aspect of reality previously experience as impersonal a sentient ensouled being. When this is done intentionally and artificially by a shaman/magician it falls under re-expression (above). Note, the revelation a personal God comes under this skill, as well as spirits, demi-gods, angles, devils, ishta-deva, etc.

Narrativization (Inverse of Characteristic 2) – Allowing a narrative of the past or future to give structure and meaning to the present (e.g., mythology, fairy tales, past lives, messianic/apocalyptic narratives.)

Guidance/Prophecy - Revelation of soul’s purpose, moral teachings, esoteric spiritual teachings. This may be a linguistic form of crystallization, but I listed is separately because it is so significant in many spiritual traditions.

Transformational Abilities
Note that by transformation, I mean something more than just “change”. It’s hard to say exactly what that something more is, but it has something to do with the fact that transformation is internal and organic, whereas change can be external and technological. I admit, that’s a vague distinction, but it seems to be a relevant one, so I’m sticking to it.

Emotional Shift – Taking some action within the field of emotional experience that changes those emotions in a permanent way. Examples include, forgiveness, grieving, anger expression, venting, bringing love or understanding to an emotional wound, etc.

Contracts/Agreements/Commitments/Resolutions - Using words, intentions, or pure will to bind ourselves to some course of action.

Ritual – Symbolic actions that make lasting changes in reality. This often works together with resolutions, healing vibrations, and emotional shift, as well as various other abilities, but it is more than the sum of the parts. At its best, ritual co-ordinates and choreographs numerous other abilities in an integrated way and powerful way.

Dialogue – True dialogue takes place when both parties to the dialogue are genuinely open to being changed by coming into contact with another being. If one or both parties come to the exchange only to exert power or influence over the other, then it is not truly transformational.

Healing Vibrations – The use of special, skillfully manipulated frequencies of impermanent flux to bypass concepts and create transformational shifts. The vibrations can be in any modality (light, color, movement, tactile, timbre, syllables, rhythm, shaking movements, melody, scent, etc.). This includes a lot of energy work and other spiritual healing modalities.

Healing Structures - The skillfull use of special structures to trigger or encourage transformational shifts, bypassing intelectualization of these structures. This includes sacred geometry, sacred architecture, yantras, mandalas, idealized god-forms, sacred names, alchemical diagrams, tarot cards, archetypal images, etc.

Living - This is perhaps the most important and easily overlooked transformational ability. It is the most non-contemplative seeming, yet very important for contemplatives to remember (I forgot it until the end!) . That's just giving oneself over to life, to one's instincts, desires, and environment, and letting the lifeforce move one according to it's endless dance.