A&P or First Path or Jhana?

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James Kempf, modified 6 Years ago.

A&P or First Path or Jhana?

Posts: 396 Join Date: 8/23/14 Recent Posts
Hi,

I had a question about an experience I had during my first Zen retreat in 1989. Here's how I describe it in my forthcoming memoir:
By Tuesday of the retreat week, my mind had settled and my concentration had deepened. The aches and pains from sitting had disappered. The perception of time had slowed, so  that the 40 minute sitting periods seemed to last for hours. But since there was no bodily discomfort, my mind slowly settled into a deep state of concentration and mindfulness that lasted between sittings and that renewed and increased when the next sitting period started. During the middle period on Tuesday afternoon, my mind dropped into a deep state of samadhi. Sense impressions disappeared and my mind became intensely focused. When I came out of samadhi slightly, I found my mind facing a white light of such brillance and intensity I thought I was viewing the origin of the universe, the Big Bang. Shortly after the bell rang I stood up for walking meditation, but I was overwhelmed. Was that enlightenment, such as the Buddha had experienced it? What was that light? And why had it appeared to me?
During the next month, I had occasional experiences, usually around some change in the ongoing events, like the fruition described in MCTB, where sensory input would disappear briefly, usually by dissolving into emptiness, then quickly reappear. There seemed to be no separation between my mind and body and the world. There were various other unusual sensory and cognitive changes, both during and after the retreat. After about a month, it disappeared.

About 15 years before that, I had a clear A&P experience, described here:
Reality seemed to be literally dissolving before my very eyes. As soon as something arose, it disappeard. The whole universe was radically and totally impermanent - with the single exception of the Witness, myself - watching it all fall apart.
This seems consistent with the description of an A&P experience, i.e. an experience of radical impermanence but where the self is still viewed as existing and in the center of things. But I can't place the retreat experience. There was no sense of a self while it was occuring, in fact, there was no sense of anything at all. While it has some aspects of jhana, I gave up jhana practice several years ago, more than 20 years after the experience described above, after trying for about 5 years to achieve it and not succeeding.

I'd appreciate any opinions about what this experience might have been. Thanx.
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Eric M W, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: A&P or First Path or Jhana? (Answer)

Posts: 288 Join Date: 3/19/14 Recent Posts
A brilliant white light is very A&P. The disappearing sensory input is interesting, but the fact that it faded after a month means that it wasn't stream-entry. The shift in perspective that comes with attaining a path does not fade, not even a little bit. Also, A&P can mimick fruitions, so it may be related to the bright light.

Your description of the whole world dissolving before your eyes sounds like A&P as well, but it also had a Dark Night tone to it.

Five years of trying for jhana and not succeeding could be the result of being in the Dark Night. How are you sits now?
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svmonk, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: A&P or First Path or Jhana?

Posts: 396 Join Date: 8/23/14 Recent Posts
Eric M W:
A brilliant white light is very A&P. The disappearing sensory input is interesting, but the fact that it faded after a month means that it wasn't stream-entry. The shift in perspective that comes with attaining a path does not fade, not even a little bit. Also, A&P can mimick fruitions, so it may be related to the bright light.

Your description of the whole world dissolving before your eyes sounds like A&P as well, but it also had a Dark Night tone to it.

Five years of trying for jhana and not succeeding could be the result of being in the Dark Night. How are you sits now?

Eric,

Thanx. Well, the dailies are up and down. On some days, I can barely track my experience; on others, I'm right up against it. If I try to develop a little concentration at the beginning, it usually goes better. I sometimes try to track during the day as well. I use Shinzen Young's Basic Mindfulness system, since it doesn't require the meditator to make a judgement about what the particular sensation/feeling/thought is but just classify whether it is see/hear/feel, inside/outside, or static/flow/gone.

The reason I gave up jhana was that I was constantly getting so much sensory flow that I couldn't concentrate on a single sensation. I got to the point where the nimitta appeared but I couldn't stabilize it. The sensory flow actually happens now when I get a strong sit. I get sensory flow in feel space, like electricity but not strong, and sometimes when I'm not sitting. Lately I also get it in see space, when the world kind of gets a brocade overlay, like it is trying to disappear but can't quite get there. The brocade overlay seems to happen around some sort of change in events, like getting into the car. After a recent retreat, I did get the breaking up and blackness again, once right after the retreat and once a month later. After the retreat, it was associated with equanimity. A month later, it was associated with happiness.

Isn't DN usually associated with depression like symptoms and cutting off your friends like Daniel talks about in MCTB? I don't think I have any of that. Actually, I feel pretty much equanimity around my practice right now.

                
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Dream Walker, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: A&P or First Path or Jhana?

Posts: 1333 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Eric M W:
The shift in perspective that comes with attaining a path does not fade, not even a little bit.
Hmmm...that is pretty absolute...Can you describe exactly what this "shift in perspective" is?

The problem is the definition of the "perspective". The honeymoon phase/energetics/concentration faded in about a month for me and I also got familiar with the shift so it no longer was this crazy noticeable thing as you tend to forget how life was like before. (evaluate how much stress you were holding last week compared to right now) So if you include all this into the definition of "perspective" you might convince someone they never got what they got since it changed as all things do. The fundamental element of awakening to SE does not change but there are additional layers that confuse things....especially nailing down exactly what the hell a "fundamental element of awakening to SE" is. <--(insert fetter model here to make things easy)
My two cents
~D
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Eric M W, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: A&P or First Path or Jhana?

Posts: 288 Join Date: 3/19/14 Recent Posts
Dream Walker:
Eric M W:
The shift in perspective that comes with attaining a path does not fade, not even a little bit.
Hmmm...that is pretty absolute...Can you describe exactly what this "shift in perspective" is?

The problem is the definition of the "perspective". The honeymoon phase/energetics/concentration faded in about a month for me and I also got familiar with the shift so it no longer was this crazy noticeable thing as you tend to forget how life was like before. (evaluate how much stress you were holding last week compared to right now) So if you include all this into the definition of "perspective" you might convince someone they never got what they got since it changed as all things do. The fundamental element of awakening to SE does not change but there are additional layers that confuse things....especially nailing down exactly what the hell a "fundamental element of awakening to SE" is. <--(insert fetter model here to make things easy)
My two cents
~D
The reduced sense of self doesn't fade or change, though it may become more "normal" and less noticeable as time goes on
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Dream Walker, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: A&P or First Path or Jhana?

Posts: 1333 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Eric M W:
Dream Walker:
Eric M W:
The shift in perspective that comes with attaining a path does not fade, not even a little bit.
Hmmm...that is pretty absolute...Can you describe exactly what this "shift in perspective" is?
The reduced sense of self doesn't fade or change, though it may become more "normal" and less noticeable as time goes on

I tend to agree with you...generally. Trying to describe exactly what aspect of self got rewired at each step along the 4 path moments is not universal. How much of the self? compared to what? How was it perceived before? What if the reduction of self starts at 25% (arbitrary) and slowly settles in to 20% over a month or so? Would someone notice? Might different people have different arbitrary numbers? Might some notice things better? Might some people want to believe certain things even contrary to evidence....I'm totally splitting hairs here as my geekiness kicks in so please forgive me...I'm not trying to get up in your grill or anything. I also can not speak about the long term 4th path shifts....so perhaps at that level the absoluteness may be very very absolute.
Thanks for listening to my long winded ramblings...
~D
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Eric M W, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: A&P or First Path or Jhana?

Posts: 288 Join Date: 3/19/14 Recent Posts
Dream Walker:
Eric M W:
Dream Walker:
Eric M W:
The shift in perspective that comes with attaining a path does not fade, not even a little bit.
Hmmm...that is pretty absolute...Can you describe exactly what this "shift in perspective" is?
The reduced sense of self doesn't fade or change, though it may become more "normal" and less noticeable as time goes on

I tend to agree with you...generally. Trying to describe exactly what aspect of self got rewired at each step along the 4 path moments is not universal. How much of the self? compared to what? How was it perceived before? What if the reduction of self starts at 25% (arbitrary) and slowly settles in to 20% over a month or so? Would someone notice? Might different people have different arbitrary numbers? Might some notice things better? Might some people want to believe certain things even contrary to evidence....I'm totally splitting hairs here as my geekiness kicks in so please forgive me...I'm not trying to get up in your grill or anything. I also can not speak about the long term 4th path shifts....so perhaps at that level the absoluteness may be very very absolute.
Thanks for listening to my long winded ramblings...
~D
I'm speaking mostly from what the traditional Theravadins say about the three trainings. Morality leads to a happy life but all things are still impermanent. Concentration leads to blissful altered states and some degree of mental silence, but these states fade. But ultimate wisdom, when you really "get it" at a path moment, is here to stay.

As for how this is experienced, is a whole different ball-game. Is stream entry 25% enlightenment? Or 20% for Jack and 27% for Jill? Who knows.... 
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svmonk, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: A&P or First Path or Jhana?

Posts: 396 Join Date: 8/23/14 Recent Posts
Hi DreamWalker and Eric,

Interesting discussion. From my reading of MCTB, first path seems to be "ditching the split", in other words, dropping the sense of a difference between the inside/subjective and an outside/objective, and from what Eric said in his response to my original post, this feeling of the lack of a split didn't fade over time. Did you find that to be the case? Perhaps higher paths lead to more of the split being ditched, or of it being ditched in different areas? I don't find MCTB very clear about the difference between first path and second, though the distinction between third and first/second is clear. Similarly, the distinction between third and fourth isn't clear either. Daniel talks about "subtle" vestiges of self in third path that disappear in the fourth but he doesn't go into detail.

From my experience in 1989, afterward it seemed as if my mind and the outside world were actually the same, that is, there seemed to be no split or separation. Like for example, I walked up to a redwood tree and put my hands on it and I could feel its life like I could feel my own body. I think the difference was that I was viewing the outside world as being part of my mind rather than simply that my mind was part of the outside world, i.e. a kind of ego inflation. But it did disappear, and it was followed by a pretty long and unproductive DN period. So I agree with Eric that it was probably a pretty spectacular A&P event.

                    jak
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Dream Walker, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: A&P or First Path or Jhana?

Posts: 1333 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
svmonk:
Hi DreamWalker and Eric,

Interesting discussion. From my reading of MCTB, first path seems to be "ditching the split", in other words, dropping the sense of a difference between the inside/subjective and an outside/objective, and from what Eric said in his response to my original post, this feeling of the lack of a split didn't fade over time. Did you find that to be the case? Perhaps higher paths lead to more of the split being ditched, or of it being ditched in different areas? I don't find MCTB very clear about the difference between first path and second, though the distinction between third and first/second is clear. Similarly, the distinction between third and fourth isn't clear either. Daniel talks about "subtle" vestiges of self in third path that disappear in the fourth but he doesn't go into detail.

Well if you want my take on it here it is.
A&P - elimination of ownership/possession of rules of external reality (wall hard, mud squishy etc)
1st path - elimination of ownership/possession of 5 senses
2nd path - elimination of ownership/possesion of thoughts and mental echo 5 senses
3rd path - elimination of ownership/possession of proprioception- Center point, outside boarder and personal bubble
4th path- elimination of ownership/possession spatial relationships/agency/uneven priority around internal vs external sensations
None of these shifts cause any change in cognitive understanding of the sensations but eliminates "selfing" subroutines that creates the perceived "self" associated to each.
As you can see the distinction between first and second path would be hard as you are working on the same stuff. Third is different and requires different objects to be seen thru than the 6 senses. 3rd and 4th have some similarities in spatial rewiring.
I also have seen a marked release of stress at each path. Like the subroutines of self are wired thru the dukkha/fight or flight area of the brain and that center has somehow became a switchboard of prioritizing sensations----only stressful ones reach the critical threshold to get thru to consciousness and the system then adds stress to everything.
These are my current thoughts subject to change due to experience.
~D
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svmonk, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: A&P or First Path or Jhana?

Posts: 396 Join Date: 8/23/14 Recent Posts
Hi DreamWalker,

Thanx for the list. I guess by "ownership" you mean a sense that there is some agency there responsible for the doing? Makes sense that the different stages would result in increasing relinquisment of ownership as the self begins to dissolve.

It is interesting what you say about the A&P, that it results in the elimination of ownership for external reality. From my experience in 1989 (if it was indeed an A&P event as seems likely), it was rather the opposite. I ended up taking responsibility for external reality. Part of the DN period that followed resulted in my imagining that there was some kind of "other world" and that the A&P event had given me a portal into it. That "other world" was responsible in some fashion for events in this world. In the immediate aftermath, as I mentioned, it was as if my mind and external reality were one and I could influence events, but afterward, when that deteriorated, I still felt an obligation to find the portal again so I could influence events for the better. I guess you can use the analogy of an operating system in a computer. If you can get at the operating system code and modify it, you can make life much better for your users. I tried for many years to get access to that code because I wanted to make it better, of course without success because it doesn't exist. My practice was really twisted by this belief for many years.

I think this might be due to the difference between Theravada practice and a Mahayana practice like Zen. In Zen, there is a lot of emphasis on the Bodhisattva Vow: to save all beings. You chant it every week at the weekly sittings and once a day during retreats so it kind of works its way deeply into your unconsciousness mind. If you really take this literally, and in particular during an A&P event when your mind is really in a somewhat strange state anyway I think you can, it can result in very strange experiences.

I'm also wondering about something Mahsi Saydaw says in his book "The Seven Stages of Purification and The Insight Knowledges". This book goes through a traditional treatment of the stages of insight, which Daniel updates with a more modern treatment in MCTB. On pg. 52 he says:
Some meditators are unable to go beyond the Knowledge of Equanimity about Formations due to some powerful aspirations they have made in the past, such as for Buddhahood, or Paccekabuddhahood, Chief Discipleship, etc. In fact, it is at this stage that one can ascertain whether one has made any such aspiration in the past. Sometimes when he has reached this stage the meditator himself comes to feel that he is cherishing a powerful aspiration. However, even for an aspirant to Buddhahood or Paccekabuddahood, the Knowledge of Equanimity about Formations will be an asset towards his fulfilment of the perfection of wisdom (panna-parami). This Equanimity of Formations is of no small significance when one takes into account the high degree of development in knowledge at this stage
Have you heard any cases where this has happened to someone? Or is this a set of beliefs, like the traditional "elimination of defilements" at each path which Daniel indicates from his experience and that of lots of others is more a kind of wishful thinking? I guess in the absence of a belief in the rebirth, whether or not one made an aspiration for Buddhahood and the rest is kind of moot. Maybe like Brahmavihara practice, just a technique to improve one's character/psychological state? Within the logic/context/belief structure of rebirth over a hundred thousand lifetimes, stopping short of elimination of the self sort of makes sense. If you are trying to save all beings, a sense of agency might come in handy. But, on the other hand, it also might get in the way if it gets too strong.
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Dream Walker, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: A&P or First Path or Jhana?

Posts: 1333 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
svmonk:
Sense impressions disappeared and my mind became intensely focused. When I came out of samadhi slightly, I found my mind facing a white light of such brillance and intensity I thought I was viewing the origin of the universe, the Big Bang.

Read the link to the formless jhanas 5-7 and see if it relates - Then you shifted into And saw the lights

svmonk:
During the next month, I had occasional experiences, usually around some change in the ongoing events, like the fruition described in MCTB, where sensory input would disappear briefly, usually by dissolving into emptiness, then quickly reappear. There seemed to be no separation between my mind and body and the world. There were various other unusual sensory and cognitive changes, both during and after the retreat. After about a month, it disappeared.
MCTB 5. Dissolution, Entrance to the Dark Night
svmonk:
About 15 years before that, I had a clear A&P experience, described here:
Reality seemed to be literally dissolving before my very eyes. As soon as something arose, it disappeard. The whole universe was radically and totally impermanent - with the single exception of the Witness, myself - watching it all fall apart.

MCTB 5. Dissolution, Entrance to the Dark Night

These are just guesses but they tend to line up pretty good. If you were having cessations your descriptions might be a bit different...
Happy reading and good luck,
~D

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