Kensho, crazy, both, or neither?

Mike, modified 5 Years ago.

Kensho, crazy, both, or neither?

Posts: 2 Join Date: 6/4/16 Recent Posts
This post was copied and pasted from a word processor on my android phone, so I apologize if there are any peculiarities with the formatting).  I don't mean to bore readers with my life story, but I feel some context could be helpful for understanding and "diagnosis" (if the reader should wish to bypass this setup for potentially more relevant information, they can skip to about the fourth paragraph or so). So, I'm a 33 year old Caucasian male who was raised catholic (in what I now understand to be a severely dysfunctional family) and became a disillusioned atheist in my early teenage years, started smoking pot in my mid teens through early twenties until I again became disillusioned with that way of life.  At some point around that time period I learned the term mysticism, and I decided (about 11 years ago now) that I wanted to seek the Truth for myself, which motivated a change in my undergraduate major from English to Religious Studies (with a minor in psychology).

From there I learned about the so-called "gnostic" and apocryphal gospels, and surveyed the other Abrahamic religions, before devoting my studies to understanding the spirituality of the East - Buddhism in particular, in whatever variety I could access reading materials. Having been used to the seemingly abstruse writings of the western religious traditions, after a brief learning curve, the Buddhist teachings were refreshingly clear and profound (of course, I don't mean to imply that I really understood them).  It was also during this time that I took an interest in transpersonal psychology and integral philosophy.

After graduation I of course foundered for some time (though perhaps intellectually stimulating, a bachelor's in religious studies may not be the best choice of degree for establishing a lucrative career). During this period I continued to read fervently, and practiced meditation (mostly mindfulness of breathing and body scans, whilst listening to brainwave entrainment audio tracks on occasion) off and on (much more off than on), never "attaining" much more than a sense of relaxation and subtle swirling colors appearing in my field of vision (similar to some experiences I've had during what I believe was the beginning of hypnagogic sleep).  Eventually (starting about 4 years ago now) I went back to school to earn my master of social work degree, started working as a mental health therapist, got engaged and married, moved a couple times, and would probably describe my life as a bit of a whirl wind which only seems to have started to settle a bit recently.  During this time, I largely fell out of practice with the dharma, focusing my energies on learning how to conduct therapy.

But approximately 3 months ago, I attended a training workshop on grieving and spirituality - while I would not say that I learned much from attending this presentation, it seems to have reignited my interest in matters of the spirit. I then felt compelled (for some reason I'm not sure why) to return to reading about the Gospel of Thomas, and while contemplating its meaning, had some unusual euphoric experiences of kinship and connection, where the appearance of those around me (my in-laws) and the room where we were located appeared almost as if made from stained glass seemingly illuminated by a light radiating from within.  The first of these experiences seemed to peak within 5 to 10 minutes and waned over the next half hour or so, and for the next few days would occasionally experience similar episodes of brief duration with rapidly diminishing intensity.

From there I decided to re-engage in some form of spiritual practice or mind training.  While doing research on therapy techniques for my job, I came across a particular attention training program called Open Focus (created by Dr. Lester Fehmi based on his research in neurofeedback) that was said to help slow one's brainwaves to the alpha wave length, which can help improve focus, relieve distress, and generally enrich one's sensory experience.  So for some reason I decided that this is what I wanted to practice.  So for a couple weeks I practiced a "general open focus" exercise in the morning and before bed - with impressive results (i.e. increasingly expansive, panoramic, and vivid sensory perception).

During this time I continued to read about the Gospel of Thomas, as well as the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Dogen, and Adyashanti.  At some point (probably a month or so ago) I decided that I should try combining my open focus practice with the "opening" (which I think maybe similar to shikantaza) and self-enquiry (potentially akin to vipashyana) practices taught by Adyashanti in his book True Meditation.  So, one morning (I think it may have been on a day when I was working in the afternoon), I put on some isochronic tones ("Christ Consciousness") and got started.

And so I examined my sensory experience (including mental sensations) with the aim of either finding that which is unconditioned and changeless, and/or resolving the question as to "what am I" or "what/where is mind?" During this exercise, different teachings I've come across through my studies (such as "in the seen, there's nothing but the seen..." and "that which cannot be returned to anywhere, if it is not you, what is it?" - but not verbatim) went through my mind, before a bizarre but seemingly familiar (like deja vu) image of a figure with a mirror for a face (hence my screen name) flashed through my awareness, which directly preceded a shift in experience.

Now, this is the part of the experience that has left me puzzled ever since.  I'm not sure how great of a description this will be for the reader, but hopefully it can approximate what happened.  What had appeared to be in front of me in my field of vision almost seemed to wrap around my head, and there was the thought "THIS is your Original Face." Then, for what in retrospect may have lasted about a minute, it was as if my surroundings (that just moments prior had been taken to be a room filled with objects separate from "me" or some homunculus subject in my head) were arising within "me" or "my mind" (although these words are of course misnomers - while there was no awareness of limitation, there was nothing beyond the raw energy of sense data, and therefore there was no longer any apparent "me" or self superimposed onto experience, while the concept of mind is meaningless when there is nothing to distinguish it from - and cannot be found when sought).  To put it another way, in this "state," there was no distinction between the space in which seemingly external phenomena (such as colors, shapes, sounds, body sensations) manifest, and the space in which thoughts or imagination occur - the ticking of the clock was not only experienced as sounding within the stillness of this mind/space, but to emerge from and be of the same essence as this space.

In addition to intense tactile sensation, there was a sense of awe and wonder - although I don't remember any obvious emotional tone along the lines of joy, there was no sense of displeasure whatsoever.  As this experience progressed, some cryptic verses I had been reading from the Gospel of Thomas ("when you make the two into one, and when you make the inner as the outer...then you will enter [the kingdom]") played through this awareness and actually made sense at the level of experience.  I believe I then began increasingly trying to understand the experience in terms of concepts learned through my religious studies, and shortly thereafter shifted back to what was pretty close to my usual sense of self separate from the world and experience (although this sense has been taken with some suspicion ever since).

Since then I have continued my daily contemplation, but have not experienced anything close to what I went through that day, though seemingly at random (and outside of formal meditation practice) had analogous experiences over the following days which paled in comparison, again waning in intensity and not occurring for the past couple weeks.  But I have continued to think about it all the time.  What did I experience?  At the time I was sure that this was the true reality to which the teachings point - nirvana, rigpa, big mind; it was ever so subtle of a shift, but so profound - if this was not what the wisdom traditions refer to by the term "nondual," what was it?  I know they say that some people can fall into enlightenment without deliberate effort (such as Ramana Maharshi - not to imply that this potential experience of wakefulness puts me on a level anywhere near this sage), or that it actually requires the relinquishing of effort, and that the nature of reality is intrinsically nirvanic - just misconstrued through the habits of ignorance and delusion.

But can such an experience, however fleeting, happen for a novice?  I wouldn't consider my "self" as  "possessing" much meditative stability (in fact a psychologist last fall diagnosed me with an "atypical" mild form of attention deficit, although my wife thinks that this resulted from my poor hand eye coordination during testing - I've scored in the 11th percentile for hand eye coordination in my early twenties), and am not the best at staying mindful throughout daily life.  But if that was indeed a glimpse of the ultimate nature (or whatever you want to call it), wouldn't that indicate "attainment" of the first bhumi, or was this an experience of acute delusion, and my problems are bigger than I thought? If the former, how can this be built upon so as to not go to waste (as noted earlier, there have not been any experiences really holding a candle to that since, and I wonder if I'm maybe subtly trying to force it to recur, and/or I'm being too conceptually minded about it, and so maybe I should shift focus to shamatha and compassion training).  If the latter, how should I proceed?  I don't really live in an area with easy access to teachers.  Also, could the experiences of kinship and connectedness be related in anyway to what I'm calling "nondual" (e.g. have such experiences been precursors or harbingers of awakening for anyone else)?

I apologize for the long winded story, but any help or guidance would be much appreciated.
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Laurel Carrington, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Kensho, crazy, both, or neither?

Posts: 442 Join Date: 4/7/14 Recent Posts
Hello, Mike, and welcome. This is a good place to post about your own practice, read about other people's, and get advice. First, I don't see anything in your report to indicate mental illness. On the other hand, I don't feel ready to make a diagnosis of stream entry, kensho, the first bhumi, or anything else so specific. The one thing I can suggest is that you had a powerful unitive experience. How things are for you as time goes on depends on what you practice, how you practice, and factors that are too complex to know at this point. 

Your background has a lot in common with my own (minus the marijuana), especially the early interest in religious studies followed by a powerful opening of some kind. I also have had years of focusing on other things, only to return to spiritual practice. What prompted me was stumbling on Daniel Ingram's Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha (commonly called MCTB around here), and then finding this site and Kenneth Folk's site, which no longer operates as an independent forum. You should browse this site for links to other good places to investigate on the Internet, as well as spend some time reading. Also, find yourself a teacher, in spite of the fact that there are no teachers where you live. Many of us have Skyped with teachers that are recommended on this site. Do some searching and see who might be a good fit. 

The most important thing is to settle into a practice and work at it systematically. People often dabble, but it's best in the beginning at least to get some momentum and maintain it over time. Experiences such as the one you describe are marvelous, but we can't really know where we are except by maintaining a practice and giving it time. A common pitfall is to become so overwhelmed by an experience that we keep trying to get it to come back. This response is understandable, but it doesn't help with progress. 

All the best to you, and keep posting. 
Robert, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Kensho, crazy, both, or neither?

Posts: 100 Join Date: 5/8/15 Recent Posts
If "I" wasn't present in that (non-)experience then how can it get back to it? That "I" which I refer to is not the actual sentience/silence/emptiness which Ramana Maharshi spoke about for example. That "I" is apparent phenomena happening in that so-called unified field of indescribability (not really though since there's nothing inside the Self, that's just the only way I can think of to point it out...). Anyway, it's just thoughts coupled with a contraction in the body. Nisargadatta points out that sense of false phenomenal separate self pretty well imo.

The subject which claims this so-called experience is what is seemingly fracturing the view. Maybe hearing/reading about how the thing plays is enough to actually see the mechanism, after which it is no longer taken to be "you" but seen as just thoughts coupled with a physical, usually a tight and a dull sensation, in the body. Or as a static, which is usually noticed to have been there only retrospectively when it already has dropped. Beyond that false subject there is the experience of the Self, which is Love onto itself. It is deeply felt, but not as a subject feeling an objective sensation... The sense of it is, if it can be put into words, sweet and nurturing silence.
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jhana sais quoi, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Kensho, crazy, both, or neither?

Posts: 28 Join Date: 11/10/15 Recent Posts
Hey Mike.
 
I really enjoyed reading your post, especially considering it came from your phone.  You’ve obviously read pretty far and wide in religious studies, but have you read Daniel Ingram’s book Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha? (pdf, 1.3 mb or html with several broken links)   It’s sort of a synthesis of a few different strands of Buddhism, but relies primarily on Therevada Buddhism, especially in the vein of the contemporary, late Burmese meditation master Mahasi Sayadaw’s Progress of Insight and Buddhagosa's much earlier Visuddhimagga (neither of whom is the Buddha ; ) ).  It’s written very informally, so for someone with a background in religious studies and some genuine insight into how reality is constructed by the mind, it’ll be a quick read (although worth savoring).
 
I’m going through a similar conundrum as you, in that I’ve had a few big openings that’ve left me scratching my head.  However, there were a few things in your post that seem like clear pointers to stages on the progress of insight.  First, you wrote:

I ... had some unusual euphoric experiences of kinship and connection, where the appearance of those around me (my in-laws) and the room where we were located appeared almost as if made from stained glass seemingly illuminated by a light radiating from within.  The first of these experiences seemed to peak within 5 to 10 minutes and waned over the next half hour or so, and for the next few days would occasionally experience similar episodes of brief duration with rapidly diminishing intensity.

Does Daniel’s description of the Arising and Passing Away resonate with you?  I think there’s a pretty wide range to how a particular practitioner will experience the various stages of meditation as it unfolds, but A&P seems like a good mile marker (or kilometer marker for my metric friends) because it’s usually so intense.  Feelings of euphoria and internal light suggest the A&P.  I hit the A&P when I was meditating infrequently and casually, without any idea what formal insight practice was about, and it knocked my socks off and lit a fire under my ass to figure out just what was going on.  Next:

What had appeared to be in front of me in my field of vision almost seemed to wrap around my head, and there was the thought "THIS is your Original Face." Then, for what in retrospect may have lasted about a minute, it was as if my surroundings (that just moments prior had been taken to be a room filled with objects separate from "me" or some homunculus subject in my head) were arising within "me" or "my mind" (although these words are of course misnomers - while there was no awareness of limitation, there was nothing beyond the raw energy of sense data, and therefore there was no longer any apparent "me" or self superimposed onto experience, while the concept of mind is meaningless when there is nothing to distinguish it from - and cannot be found when sought).   To put it another way, in this "state," there was no distinction between the space in which seemingly external phenomena (such as colors, shapes, sounds, body sensations) manifest, and the space in which thoughts or imagination occur - the ticking of the clock was not only experienced as sounding within the stillness of this mind/space, but to emerge from and be of the same essence as this space. 
 
If you haven’t already, check out Daniel’s description of the three doors.  Your description sounds like a dead ringer for one of the doors.  Whether or not it was what Therevadin’s call sotāpatti or stream entry isn’t something I’m qualified to answer, nor can I even speculate about how sotāpatti matches up with kenso or first bhumi.  Regardless, it sounds like you have pretty deep understanding or perhaps insight into what Buddha called anattā (not-self) and suññatā (emptiness).  In my own case, I’ve learned to live without drawing a firm conclusion, to find equipoise in uncertainty.  One thing is certain in my case, which I suspect we share in common:  there’s still plenty of suffering, plenty of time is spent in dis-ease, which compels me to keep practicing.
 
In my own thread from a few days ago, u/ mind over easy posted something you might find worth reading. 
 
Best of luck in your practice!

JSQ
Mike, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Kensho, crazy, both, or neither?

Posts: 2 Join Date: 6/4/16 Recent Posts
I want to thank everybody for the thoughtful feedback. It has taken me some time to respond, as I have been digesting what has been said, which is still in process.

But I did also want to clarify what may have been confusing in my original post - I had thought my screen name (which is mirrorFace00) would have been associated with my post, which is why at one point I said "hence my screen name." However, apparently my posts are associated with the name "Mike" (my given name), which may have led some people to scratch their heads upon reading the aforementioned quote.  

Anyways, thanks again for your replies, and I will be back at some point in the not too distant future to post a more "substantial" response.