Dark Night and Jhana

James William Mitchell, modified 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 3:00 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 3:00 PM

Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 8 Join Date: 7/11/10 Recent Posts
Hi All,

I have almost finished reading 'Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha' and I am just so happy to finally find a HELPFUL dharma book! I find the book to be simply amazing. Anyway, I have a question which I didn't see directly answered in the book, only hinted at: Can attaining the jhanas, at least the first jhana, ameliorate or at least hasten the dark night period?

You see, I have been stuck in the dark night for years, yes YEARS! I began vipassana meditation with S.N. Goenka's book and technique (which really should contain some words of warning about where the practice will take you!). I attended some retreats and practiced daily and everything was great at first...just what I expected. But then I got into the dark night territory. I experienced all of the symptoms described in the book plus an intense fear that I might die (a feeling like I was about to fall off a cliff) if I continued to meditate in the fashion I was doing. So, I stopped, and that was about 10 years ago. Since then, I have been reading the discourses of the Buddha, the Vism. and participating in discussion groups trying to figure out what happened to me and desperately wanting to proceed. Finally, I have come across a book which speaks directly to what I am going through!

I have been thinking that perhaps my mistake was not accomplishing any of the jhanas prior to insight practice. The Goenka method requires access concentration at the most and doesn't call for the jhanas. Maybe if I had accomplished at least the first jhana the dark night period wouldn't have been so severe?? Or maybe it doesn't matter??

So, I don't know how to proceed. Should I try to accomplish at least the first jhana before I proceed? (Which I am not sure is possible since my mind is not in such a good place). Or, should I just push through the dark night and aim for stream entry? I know I need to do something because I can't continue to exist in this limbo phase! It's awful! So, if anyone has any advice I would appreciate it.

Metta,
James
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Bruno Loff, modified 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 4:33 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 3:25 PM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

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James,

I really empathize with what you're going through. Dark night is worst thing ever. Things got better for me after stream entry, which I have reached on the fifth day of my second retreat, using mahasi style noting.

I also felt that going for concentration was pointless, even reading and understanding a full sentence was a challenge in those days emoticon The good news, I guess, is that this gets way better after stream entry. Although the sensation that something urgently needs resolution will apparently remain until arhatship.

Best of luck,
Bruno
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Florian, modified 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 4:45 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 4:45 PM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi James,

Welcome to DhO.

That's an old debate, the dry "vipassana first" approach vs the juicy "jhana first" approach.

Here's a secret: you don't have to adopt either opinion. Opinions are mostly useless and make many people miserable. Find out for yourself.

You are surely familiar with the parable of the raft? The purpose is to get across (the dark night, the flood of rebirth, whatever). Note how it's not the parable of the ocean liner. It's not the parable of Getting The Steps All Exactly Right. A raft is something make-shift, just good enough, single-purpose, built out of whatever floatable junk was found lying around, used to scrabble across.

So, does that raft float? If you are stuck in the dark night, maybe it doesn't float that well. Maybe doing a bit of concentration practice will be useful and provide the lubrication to get un-stuck. Try 15 minutes of light, fun concentration a day, in the morning, for a week or so, and see what happens, while keeping up your vipassana practice of course. Kasina practice works great for many people - saucer-size grey disk cut out of a cereal package, for example, or a candle flame, or a knot in the wood panelling. A meditation word or mantra can be useful to get the discursive thoughts to settle down and let a concentration state arise - really any word will work, and there are lots of traditional recommendations. The breath is nice and portable, but can be tricky to get into at first, but it can be combined with any of the other ones in fun ways. Formal resolve works surprisingly well: think "let a concentration state arise" before meditating, then don't worry about it and just do the concentration practice lightly and for fun - no staring down of demons in this sit. emoticon

If you'd like a more formal way of framing the concentration/vipassana-first discussion, there are teachings like the five spiritual faculties, which in essence recommend a balance of vipassana and concentration - they have an entire chapter of their own in MCTB - or models like the "limiting factors" in disciplines like biology: growth of a plant is limited by the availability of the scarcest resource.

Cheers,
Florian
James William Mitchell, modified 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 8:51 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 8:51 PM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 8 Join Date: 7/11/10 Recent Posts
Hi Bruno,

Thanks for the reply. So I guess you are suggesting that I carry on with the vipassana, as before, and not attempt to backtrack and attain jhana. That makes sense to me....but it wasn't the answer I was hoping for. :-) I wish there was an easier way to get out of this funk. Thanks again for the reply.

Metta,
James
Trent , modified 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 8:56 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 8:55 PM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 361 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi & welcome,

James William Mitchell:
So, I don't know how to proceed. Should I try to accomplish at least the first jhana before I proceed? (Which I am not sure is possible since my mind is not in such a good place).


There's a specific, hard-to-quantify strength of concentration necessary for most peoples to access any specific attainment. Whether getting stream entry, attaining Nirodha Samapatti, the 1st jhana, or whatever. There are a few ways to strengthen your short-term, base-line concentration strength. If you stick to vipassana in a highly focused, attentive way, your concentration will strengthen, and may eventually become strong enough to allow you to sense the phenomena (quantity of sensations, as well as clarity) necessary for attaining your insight goals. Faster, however, would be doing some sort of samatha practice (not necessarily attaining jhanas, although it is likely they will naturally arise anyway) at the beginning of your sessions, then switch to vipassana for the remainder of your sit. In simple terms, samatha practices increase one's concentration strength faster than vipassana because the focus of the techniques are primarily on cultivating concentration strength and skill, whereas vipassana is more about utilizing those skills to investigate one's moment-to-moment experience. Doing samatha prior to insight will also usually give a per-sit boost, as compared to not doing it (priming the stage, so to speak). Also, samatha practice can be interesting and inspiring, which I would argue is very important for gathering the determination necessary to push into stream entry.

Lastly, your mind not "being in a good place" won't necessary keep you from attaining 1st jhana, though believing so most likely will.

Peace,
Trent
James William Mitchell, modified 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 9:05 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 9:05 PM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 8 Join Date: 7/11/10 Recent Posts
Hi Florian and all,

Thanks for the input. Believe me, I don't want to debate and I don't have an opinion. I am just tired and I want to get out of this dark night. But I don't think you understand because you haven't reached the dark night yet or it was very mild for you. Let me explain, I went from meditating almost every spare moment and when I was out somewhere wishing that I was back at home meditating, to not wanting to meditate at all, to where the thought of meditation made me uneasy, fearful, and revolted. I couldn't sit for even five minutes without my mind screaming to stop immediately (and yet, in the background, knowing that there was more to do). I cannot sit and "play" with concentration or "play" with vipassana to see which works best- I must KNOW NOW which one is best to proceed with. So far, from reading the book, it seems that I must proceed with vipassana and push through the terror. (I am still a bit unsure, though, because the suttas don't speak of this dark night, just the Vism.).

Metta,
James
James William Mitchell, modified 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 9:24 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 9:24 PM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 8 Join Date: 7/11/10 Recent Posts
Hi Trent,

Thank you for the input. I think it makes sense to start the session with some samatha and then continue on to vipassana. That is what I am used to as that is the Goenka method as well. When I say that I am not sure if my mind is in the right place for attaining jhana what I mean is the meditation terrifies me. You can't really calm and steady the mind on an object to the level of jhana when you are terrified. It has been ten years and I am still terrified! (Though with not as much intensity now). I guess I just have to trudge on.

Metta,
James
Trent , modified 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 10:08 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 10:08 PM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 361 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi,

Well, it may be useful for you to take care of the fear first then. It is not outside of your control to do so. Question yourself honestly to discover, and then sincerely resolve away the source belief of the fear and both trigger and feeling will disappear...as if they were never there to begin with (...and perhaps they weren't).

Trent
James William Mitchell, modified 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 10:45 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/11/10 10:45 PM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 8 Join Date: 7/11/10 Recent Posts
Hi Trent,

"Knowledge of Fear" is one of the 16 stages of insight. When one sees clearly that all phenomenon arise and fall away, not just the body but the mind also, that is fearful! I don't think that you have experienced the dark night or you wouldn't advise me to "question the source of the fear". I don't need psychoanalysis; I need good meditation guidance.

Metta,
James
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Florian, modified 12 Years ago at 7/12/10 1:17 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/12/10 1:17 AM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi James,

James William Mitchell:
I couldn't sit for even five minutes without my mind screaming to stop immediately (and yet, in the background, knowing that there was more to do).


Note the screaming. Use "resisting?" as a note - giving it a questioning tone works well for me, ymmv. This is dukkha characteristic. btw.

Note the background knowledge of more to do. Use "hearing".

Note the fear, at the level of sensations. If there is a ball of fear in the stomach region, is it hot or cold? Does it expand or contract? Is there some rhythm to it? Note all that. This is not psychology, just noticing how it is to be a human being meditating in the spot you are in.

The suttas don't refer much of the dark night explicitly, but it's there in the Buddha's story, for example. Broke up his relationship, ran away, got into a strong renunciation trip, had falling-out with two teachers, then with even his closest friends, wanted to starve himself to death because he saw no other way out. How's that for a dark night?

That's what I meant by opinions making people miserable, btw. "It's not in the suttas, now I'm unsure how to proceed, which opinion is better, now I'm doubtful..." this stuff can and should be noted like anything else, of course.

You don't have to play with pure concentration practice. Like Trent wrote, you're already practicing concentration by doing vipassana. Dedicated practice, or starting a sit with concentration, will be a bit of extra training, that's all.

Going for a light, fun attitude in concentration training just helps, that's all. There is absolutely no extra merit in being extra miserable. The dark night isn't some kind of punishment we have to bear, it's just the discovery, at a very immediate level, of things like fear and misery within one's being, just like the A&P was the discovery of where joy and elation are to be found within one's being. Again, this is not psychology to explain something away, just observation of how it happens.

In short, it sucks, and you're not being naughty or anything for looking for a bit of temporary relief and just plain lubrication in the abrasive place where you're now. And you don't have to hit a jhana for the juice to show up, either, though chances are, as Trent points out, that jhana will arise anyway.

Cheers,
Florian
Trent , modified 12 Years ago at 7/12/10 2:31 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/12/10 2:00 AM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 361 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi,

James William Mitchell:
"Knowledge of Fear" is one of the 16 stages of insight. When one sees clearly that all phenomenon arise and fall away, not just the body but the mind also, that is fearful! I don't think that you have experienced the dark night or you wouldn't advise me to "question the source of the fear". I don't need psychoanalysis; I need good meditation guidance.


To be more precise, "that" (seeing clearly that all phenomenon arise and fall away) is not "fearful," it is you whom *is* fear, and to an intensity enough which you decide to describe it as "full," as opposed to a condition of relative absence; hence: fear-full. In another way of saying it: "I" am "my" fear and "my" fear is "me." Which means that if "you" are "fear" and "fear" is "you," then "you" are fully capable of deciding whether or not to arise as "fear" (or as anything else). Since this fear seems to be a hindrance to your progress, it would be wise to extinguish it, whether via methods you dub psychoanalytical or meditative.

And by the way, my time spent crossing the territory called the "knowledge of fear" was indeed scary, but paltry in comparison to the atavistic reactions one experiences when sincerely considering the extinction of being in favor of oblivion. (To choose for those "phenomena" mentioned above--minus the flesh and blood body; it remains-- to never again "arise" at all) I mention this as a head-nod to the fact that these experiences may-- at the time of experiencing them-- seem to be extremely powerful and important, but in retrospect, they may prove to be only the tip of a very big iceberg. Hence the cool demeanor of your well-traveled correspondent(s).

Best,
Trent
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Bruno Loff, modified 12 Years ago at 7/12/10 2:27 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/12/10 2:19 AM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Actually James,

You remember the whole concept of "samskaras" in the Goenka style vipassana? Well, that actually still is true. General unpleasantness is generated by accumulated tension; as "energy" or whatever passes through these blocks, you will feel the nature of the tension, which manifests itself in different ways depending of where it is located; as that tension is released, things such as fear can go away without a trace.

Indeed the whole enlightenment thing seems to work (at least for me) by cleaning up tension, and then bringing consciousness very near the root process in the mind that causes this tension to appear in the first place. And guess what: it's craving and aversion. In one word, desire is the root cause of all that mental pain you are experiencing right now. More specifically, desire caused you to tense up, and dark night is all that tension (accumulated over dozens of years) manifesting very clearly all at once, causing you to become blocked and disabled.

With regards to fear you can try to work directly with the fear when it shows up. You can do vipassana, for instance, or you can get your hands on the book "Focusing" by Eugene Gendlin, to have some idea of how to do that using a (very effective) psychoanalytical-meditative style technique.

One point to remember is that you don't need to deal with it all at once. You can approach it slowly each session, with the intention of dissolving it at its root. If it gets too bad, stop and go take a walk, and try again some other day. No matter what happens, DON'T REACT violently; if you do it will only make it worst. Even if you have a panic attack (I guess you know what those are emoticon), just go take a walk and let it dissipate as non-reactively as you can (i.e., with equanimity). Eventually you will learn to think reasonably in spite of fear, and eventually you will even get bored by it. At last, you will come to the root of the problem (likely some tension in your belly and intestines), and you will dissolve it.

In any case, I am wishing you the best of luck. May you soon be relieved of that dreadful condition!

Bruno
James William Mitchell, modified 12 Years ago at 7/13/10 11:58 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/13/10 11:58 PM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana....attention Daniel Ingram

Posts: 8 Join Date: 7/11/10 Recent Posts
Hi All,

First, I want to thank everyone who has given me some advice about the Dark Night. That really wasn't what I was asking about, but I appreciate it anyway. Also, I must say, that I am starting to wonder if anyone in this group, other than Daniel Ingram, has really experienced the Dark Night. The advice to "just be aware" of the fear and it will go away is pure tripe. Everyone seems to be giving advice about how to handle the fear, misery, and disgust while doing the sitting meditation, but THAT IS NOT WHEN THE DARK NIGHT REALLY STRIKES! The dark night is felt most keenly when one isn't meditating. Bad mood, depression, anxiety, anger, fear, hopelessness, confusion, etc. are all occurring during the day, when off the cushion. Daniel quite accurately goes on for page after page of this in his book, most deservingly so. NOTHING that one does during the insight meditation will stop this side effect of the practice during daily life. One has to either stop meditating (and then the effects become less severe but still remain for years) or continue and get to the equanimity phase. Daniel details all of this in his book and yet I am getting advice from members here who seem like they haven't read that part, haven't read it closely enough, or have no idea what he is talking about because they haven't experienced it.

Now, enough is enough, I am done with hearing the psyobabble about the Dark Night. I don't mean to be bitchy but I just want to know one thing: Would achieving a jhana first, before insight practice, make the Dark Night more easy to tolerate in daily life or does it not matter?? This is what I want to know, nothing else. Thank you.

Metta,
James
Trent , modified 12 Years ago at 7/14/10 2:26 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/14/10 2:23 AM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana....attention Daniel Ingram

Posts: 361 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hello,

James William Mitchell:
Would achieving a jhana first, before insight practice, make the Dark Night more easy to tolerate in daily life or does it not matter??


Your DarkRambling is pretty comical, as the answers to your original question and this new one are actually already on display above. The answer is not so simple: maybe; try and find out. Really, it might and it might not. As I already said, the fear (as well as other feelings) are related to a trigger, so you can either surrender to it (the traditional enlightenment route) and get over it, or dissolve it completely (as I instructed above) and get over it. As the samatha jhanas are barely (if at all) related to the reason you're darknighting, messing with them would only be a good idea for the reasons I already mention above, which may or may not help you pass through the territory you currently are in, and may or may not help you "tolerate (the darknight) in daily life."

Later,
Trent
James William Mitchell, modified 12 Years ago at 7/14/10 5:27 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/14/10 5:27 AM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana....attention Daniel Ingram

Posts: 8 Join Date: 7/11/10 Recent Posts
Hi Trent,

[quote=Your DarkRambling is pretty comical,

James: Well I am glad that you find my suffering so comical. That's very compassionate of you. :-(

as the answers to your original question and this new one are actually already on display above. The answer is not so simple: maybe; try and find out. Really, it might and it might not.

James: That is not an answer. The 16 Stages of Insight occur with each practitioner who practices insight meditation- it is not a maybe yes and maybe no. So, how jhana would affect these insights should also be standard. The Vism. presents these steps as those of a "dry insight worker", but perhaps they are the same with jhana workers as well. There is a specific answer to my question.

As I already said, the fear (as well as other feelings) are related to a trigger, so you can either surrender to it (the traditional enlightenment route) and get over it, or dissolve it completely (as I instructed above) and get over it.

James: Who says that the fear of "Knowledge of Fear" is related to a trigger?? Is that in Daniel's book? Is that found in the Vism.? Why are you assuming such things about my practice when you don't even know me? Are you really qualified?

As the samatha jhanas are barely (if at all) related to the reason you're darknighting, messing with them would only be a good idea for the reasons I already mention above, which may or may not help you pass through the territory you currently are in, and may or may not help you "tolerate (the darknight) in daily life."

James: The jhanas are not responsible for the Stages of Insight. But, you cannot stay in the jhanas forever if you want to achieve enlightenment. What I want to know is if the jhanas make any difference at all to the Stages of Insight, or not-- and NO it is not an individual thing!

Metta,
James
James William Mitchell, modified 12 Years ago at 7/14/10 5:42 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 7/14/10 5:42 AM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 8 Join Date: 7/11/10 Recent Posts
Hi All,

Daniel replied to my post off-list. This thread is now settled and finished. Thanks for your replies.

Metta,
James
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Adam F, modified 11 Years ago at 9/17/10 12:18 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 9/17/10 12:18 PM

RE: Dark Night and Jhana

Posts: 48 Join Date: 9/9/10 Recent Posts
FWIW, I've found that insight meditation, particularly noting practice, leads me to have much better concentration if practiced prior to switching to samatha meditation (in the same session).

If I sit down to follow the breath I might spend an hour in distraction waiting for the mind to settle. If I precede it with some noting, on the other hand, I find that my mind is much better prepared for a period of samatha.

I should add that I use noting to sort of shine a light on whatever content is distracting me in my sit prior to samatha. For example, if I'm upset about work, I'll note "work stress" a few times and then just lump it under "thinking" if it continues to arise. Doing this for a while seems to get my mind quiet and ready for samatha.

Just my $0.02. Has anyone else found this to be the case?

Adam