The great Pan Asian spiritual quest - Stream entry at Wat Rampoeng [LONG]

Hello my dear brothers and sisters in Dharma.

As I have benefited immensely from the MCTB book and the DhO community, I would like to return the favor by humbly sharing with you the story of my spiritual search which eventually and fortunately culminated in stream entry this spring at Wat Rampoeng, in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

All my life I’ve been a passionate lover of all things extreme, and as soon as my legal age allowed I’ve jumped head first into skydiving, bungee jumping, kite surfing, snowboarding, skiing, motorcycles, intrepid world travelling, and anything else you might imagine that gets the good old adrenaline flowing. You can guess then how excited and euphoric I was when I first stumbled upon Foods of Gods, a.k.a. psychedelics! That was a truly a changing point in my life, akin to falling into Alladin’s cave of insight, euphoria, bliss and otherworldly pleasures that were until then unimaginable to me. I soon proceeded to ingest vast quantities of any psychedelic that I could get my hands on(and I could get my hands on a lot of them), and took as much as possible in a single session. Usually If I wasn’t at some point thinking “omg I took too much”, then I knew I didn’t take enough. As it usually goes with high-dose psychedelic experiences, you break the fabric of time-space, tear down your reality and you cross the A&P many times over with no hope of ever coming back the same person. And we all know that after the A&P the dark night follows as day follows night, in all its suckyness, crappiness, existential angst tinged with good old misery and fundamental dissatisfaction with all worldly things. What initially seemed like Alladin’s cave now turned out to be Pandora’s Box instead.

At this time my interest in meditation grew rapidly, and soon I did a Goenka retreat, and then another. Although very valuable and inspiring, I soon realized that 10 days is not nearly enough for serious progress, as the course ends just exactly when my concentration and insight actually start working.

Along  with my newfound interest in meditation, I’ve started reading truckloads of non-dual literature day and night, mostly Advaita, Buddhism, and assorted mysticism. After a while I’ve learned to separate the wheat from the chaff, so I focused on techniques that were more scientific, repeatable and pragmatic(inborn anti-mushroom tendency), with main emphasis on Theravada, and then I stumbled across MCBT. Some Daniel dude claiming Arhatship on the cover was something completely different, I though who does this deluded and preposterous ignorant think he is? Arhat? Yeah right. But I always had a thing for iconoclasts and straight-up raging lunatics, so I decided to give MCTB a try and only then I realized I’ve struck gold!

At that point in my life I felt like being lost in a dark forest and then coming across very kind, warm and fuzzy teachers like Dalai Lama and Thitch nhat Hahn speaking about the good stuff, compassion etc, feeling nice and glowy for a while but then realizing I’m still lost. And then comes this Dan Ingram, a neurotic attack-on-the-senses kind of guy and actually shows me the map and the way out of the forest, complete with a lamp and a small survival kit! Whoah. Thank you would be a huge understatement for saving anyone from a dark night territory like that.

In any way, soon after reading and then re-reading MCTB I’ve realized that embarking on a spiritual quest and undergoing rigorous and grueling intensive vipassana meditation retreats for as long as necessary is the only way out of the miserably devastating dark night, so embark on the Pan Asian meditation trip I did.

During my flight to Asia I’ve wisely engaged in reading a particularly hardcore dharma book by Bodhidharma, along the lines of “vast emptiness – nothing holy”, which as you can imagine plunged me ever deeper into the abyss of the dark night and reobservation stage. Word of advice – don’t read bodhidarma book if darknighting, unless you’re a masochist - then please go ahead.

First stop then was MBMC in Penang, Malaysia as recommended by Daniel in his book - my first crash course on mahasi noting technique. MBMC is actually amazingly good place to practice, the food is incredibly good and plentiful (almost to a point of sensory pleasures kind of hindrance), the instructions I received from Venerable Sayadaw Pannathami during the 21 day retreat were very compassionate, useful and valuable, and the meditators, mostly women, were serious and dedicated to the practice, so excellent environment all in all. My practice improved, and soon I felt dark night lifting with equanimity prevailing my waking hours, and the light at the end of the tunnel started to shine, however dimly.

However, the retreat ended, the sayadaw left and I was on my own again, back on the chase. The wise Sayadaw estimated my situation very accurately, so on a couple of last interviews he mentioned “go to Burma” hinting I can and should get this over with on a longer retreat. And me being a wise student, I listened to my teacher and to Burma I went.

Next stop Burma. I’ve been to Burma already and I knew what to expect, so straight from the airport I went to panditarama forest refuge with strong determination to meditate as if my life depended on it. Because it did. Once there, I realized I was in heaven. The forest refuge is every serious meditators wet dream. A huge forest sprinkled with little wooden huts-kutis, with nothing but crickets, birds chirping and hardcore dharma to boot.  The place is incredibly conducive to meditation, the food is tasty, and the other meditators were all serious practitioners, no jokers, whiners, socializers and other retreat pests that we all know. No wonder my practice started reaching orbital heights, and soon after few days I’ve found myself in wonderful equanimity, sitting for 2+ hours straight, sometimes running into incredible bliss, raptures, smiling like a chesire cat from the sheer unbounded joy and happiness. I’ve found meditators Vallhalla at last! Alas, nothing is permanent. One morning a strange and impossibly loud Burmese folk musical assault started coming from the nearby village. I thought it would stop, but it didn’t stop the whole day, and the following night, and then tomorrow the same thing. The meditation hall was shaking with vibration, and there was no sign of this horrible 200Db Burmese music noise stopping any time soon. Even my high quality silicone earplugs were completely useless here, the noise was literally skull-penetrating. Later in the evening, the village chiefs, likely encouraged by alcohol, would take over the microphone and literally scream and wail for hours on end. And as the noise torture reached an all time high my concentration crashed and burned, I plunged back into the dark night. By the 2nd day of this 24 hour noise torture incredible irritation arose, and I realized that I have to get out of here asap and find a quiet place to meditate, somewhere, anywhere. Sleepless, reluctant and again darknightishly depressive I’ve packed my bags and left this incredibly noisy hellhole that just until couple of days ago I thought was heaven on earth. Later after googling I found out that this is the norm in Burma, blaring super-loud music everywhere and anywhere is just a Burmese way of being, this is a way they celebrate festivals, birth of a baby or just a good old happy Tuesdays. Quickly and most desperately I went to Thai embassy in (again very noisy) Yangon, got myself a visa and hurriedly left Burma, never to look back.

After landing in Chiang Mai, the desperate search for a monastery continued, but fortunately I was at the right place. After reading favorable reviews on Wat Rampoeng here and on the web, the next day I crossed my fingers, called them and fortunately the next group was starting tomorrow so I jumped at this and soon I was in Wat Rampoeng, hoping that there I could finally meditate in peace.
After registration the course started with a couple of hours of group demo practice of mindful prostration, sitting and walking meditation, after which it was every person for him or herself. The schedule is 4 am wake up call, then 1hr walking meditation, followed by 1hr sitting and so on until the end of the day, with breakfast and lunch breaks, and the daily interview with the instructor. There is also a lot of bowing to do– 3 times to the Buddha image, and then 3 times to the teacher at the start of the interview and the same at the end of the interview. A bit peculiar but not a big deal, one gets used to it in a day or two.

The temple grounds are beautiful and most importantly silent, again very much conducive to serious and dedicated practice. One can meditate everywhere on the temple grounds, in a meditation hall/library or in your own little apartment. There are fortunately no dorms, and the private apartment accommodation is spacious, clean and very suitable for meditation, so for the next month I almost didn’t leave my apartment except for food and daily interviews. I cannot describe the peace, contentment and happiness when I finally started to seriously practice again, but this time with no added Burmese discofolk music background. What happiness, what bliss!

The technique is an adapted mahasi style with added touching points all over the body to focus upon after the out breath. E.g. note rising, note falling, note the sitting posture of the body and then note the touch point 1 which is left side of your lower back. Then again rising, falling, sitting, touching pt 2., etc. Every day you get assigned a new touching point, of which there are 24 or 26, can’t remember exactly, they cover all parts of the body, and you incorporate them into your practice. Walking meditation starts with 1 step - noting left and noting right step, then in the next days progresses to 2 step – note lifting and stepping, then to 3 step, lifting, moving stepping, then 4 step, heel up, lifting, moving, stepping, then 5 step, heel up, lifting, moving lowering, stepping, and finally 6 step heel-up, lifting, moving, lowering, touching the ground, and stepping.

As the days flew, my concentration grew exponentially and I have reached the heights of equanimity again. Oh my happiness!

What also helped is that after a while I just accepted the fact that I was a meditation basket-case and it will take me many months to reach SE. fine. Making peace with that just ended my endless frustration about almost everyone else seeming to get SE easy (some even on 10 day goenka retreats!) while I was still struggling in DN for what seemed like ages, and meditating to no avail. Very well, let it be. I am a vipassana dumb-arse and not ashamed to admit it. Lets carry on now, note, note, note.

Another very helpful thing was being strictly silent, introverted and keeping to myself almost pathologically. Unlike mahasi centers, Wat Rampoeng is unfortunately not a strictly silent retreat center, so in every batch of new meditators there will inevitably be a couple of loudmouth socializers who just seem unable to keep their mouth shut. I have found that even the smallest, most innocent chit-chat can reverbate in your head for hours, and is thus deadly for mindfulness. Therefore it is best to keep to yourself, not even establishing eye contact with anyone, especially the loudmouths, sit away from the crowds and groups that inevitably form in the dining hall, keep the silicone earplugs in your ears at all times (an international sign for keep away, I don’t want to talk to you), and basically just focus on noting the hell out of your every day sensate experience at all times. No worries, after the retreat you will have all the time in the world to go to bars, socialize, chit chat about the finer points of dharma, geopolitics, technology and the future of the human race, but leave that for until after the retreat. The best thing on the retreat is to be at the retreat and note like crazy every waking second. It’s totally worth it.

Due to all this soon I was again sitting for hours on end with very good concentration, noting every second, practicing diligently from the time I woke up, until bedtime, noting every second of my waking experience, trying to catch every little mundane event, until now completely overlooked. It soon paid off, and my concentration grew more and more, along with equanimity and weird energetic phenomena started happening. The trigger points in my back started vibrating wildly every time I would focus my concentration on the touching points on my upper back. New trigger points on my left upper back also got activated, vibrating wildly and causing pain and discomfort, sometimes even feeling like I have a bunch of tense and strongly vibrating spaghetti in my trigger point infested back.

As the concentration deepened, weird and bizarre unconscious material started coming up, early childhood memories long ago forgotten, strange feelings, visions and emotions emanating from the deepest layers of unconscious started surfacing. I also started again hearing very loud pitching noises in my left ear, same as I had in A&P phase when I started embarking on a spiritual path. Couple of days before stream entry I had an unusually long and loud pitching sound session in my left ear again, this one lasting for more than a minute and being all in all very unusual. I knew something big is going down. After 20ish days of my retreat, having implemented all the touching points and 6step walking meditation, the instructor just looked at me and said – time for strong determination. for the next 3 days no sleeping – meditation for 24 hours straight, no leaving your room except for the daily interview, food will be delivered to your doorstep. I was also handed a leaf of paper with the instructions for the following 24 hours. I was to begin the first day with a mindful prostration, then wishing and chanting metta for all sentient beings in pali and then firmly resolve:

“may the gross perceptions of the three characteristics of phenomena cease, and may more subtle characteristics of these realizations be attained within 24 hours”


I’ve heard about the resolutions and setting intentions like this before, but being a sceptic I dismissed them as new-agey kind of fairytale, because it can’t possibly be that easy. Yet I obediently followed the instructions, resolved to attain stream entry in the next 24 hours, and the first day of strong determination began. I’ve stocked up on coffee and very strong green tea offered to me by a very helpful and angelic older lady in charge of the foreign students, and successfully meditated through the first night, thinking it wasn’t that bad, and even feeling a little pride for my successful all-night meditation vigil. I continued meditating throughout the morning, concentration got decidedly stronger, with me entering ever more bizarre and interesting head-spaces, had breakfast after which I had a sudden and very strong attack of re-observation, meaningless, lust and bunch of other accumulated stuff, akin to Buddha being attacked by Mara on the night of his enlightenment. It was pretty nasty, so had to lay down for a while, then just kept noting throughout it all, and after it subsided I reluctantly got back to practice. “Let’s just get this 3 day determination over with” I thought to myself and just kept practicing amidst all these weird states of mind when suddenly my whole body involuntarily kind of nodded/jolted in the direction of my right knee. This was a bit disconcerting as I never before had any kind of involuntary shaking, jolting or movement of this type. I forgot all about it, and then around noon similar thing happened, the body nodding away involuntarily, then a moment of no-experience, sort of like falling unconscious, accompanied by a loud banging noise, like doors being shut. Boom!

WTF. All of a sudden, peace almost impossible to describe flooded over my whole being, I couldn’t help but to smile and asked could that be it? It can’t possibly be it! Too good to be true! Whatever this is, it’s awesome! I hope it sticks and doesn’t leave. Then I realized I can voluntarily stop the flow of my thoughts on demand. Look ma, look what I can do! No thoughts! This must be it! I was exhilarated and out of my mind with happiness, contentment, peace, joy. Never felt this good in my whole life! This is it, yesss! I tried to continue my meditation, just in case I am deluding myself, but couldn’t find the motivation. Why meditate, what’s the point? Just being with my breath, doing nothing, felt amazingly blissful and perfect. No more chasing, nothing to attain, nowhere to go, nothing to do. I finally got it. In a couple of hours I’ve reported to my instructor what happened, he gave me a long inquiring look and then gave me the instruction  leaflet for the next day of meditation, along with a rosary type of thing for keeping track of the “nodding off”, or arising and ceasing phenomena as they call it.
For the day two, before meditation I was to resolve

during X minutes of my meditation session may the phenomena of arising and ceasing appear as often as possible

then I was to meditate, and using the rosary keep count and write down the number of times I have nodded off, and experienced the phenomena of arising and ceasing during each meditation session, with each session lasting progressively shorter amount of time.
As I have just entered the stream, my mind was amazingly and exceedingly strong, so much so that in my first session after SE the mind stayed one-pointed and glued to the meditation object with no interfering thoughts and distractions whatsoever. The only few thoughts that appeared occasionally were “wow” or “this cannot be possible”. For a short while after SE, I had the concentration of a meditation master, and I still cannot believe to this day that that such a thing was possible. Just wow.

The third day of strong determination was intended for practicing fruitions, whereby I was instructed to perform the mindful prostration as usual, then practice 6-step walking meditation for an hour, after which I would resolve:

“May I find bliss. May all sentient beings find bliss. If any sentient beings have thoughts of revenge on me I forgive them. If I have thoughts of revenge on any sentient beings may they forgive me”.


Then resolve:

“Within this hour may I experience the fruit of meditative attainment (phalasamapatti) for 5 minutes”


Progressively increasing the duration of fruitions each following session, until reaching an hour. My first few attempts at fruitions were wobbly at best, but once concentrated enough, suddenly I felt as if in an elevator heading in an unknown, undefined direction, with reality slowly and gracefully fading out in a most spectacular and blissful fashion, and then a complete release, a fade out of existence. Wow, what a blessing, what a privilege to experience this kind of true relief from suffering. Nibbanic bliss at last! My euphoria was impossible to contain, and because of all this excitement, I couldn’t muster up enough concentration to consistently repeat or significantly lengthen the fruition experience. Spontaneous fruitions would appear throughout the day though, when I kind of dozed off after a meal or practice, quite normal as this was a 3rd day with almost no sleep. Sometimes I would just collapse while meditating and wake up in the middle of the night not knowing what happened, who or where I am, what’s happening, but then I would diligently continue the practice once I remembered where I am and what am I to do.

After the 3 day strong determination was over, I just chilled out blissfully for a day or two, meditating and enjoying the amazing beauty of the monastery, the trees, flowers and the whole wonder of this existence we are in.
Stream entry is truly and completely worth it.

After that I decided to stick around for another 10 day retreat to do a proper review, with each day resolving to experience a particular stage of insight. This was a great chance to familiarize myself more intimately with each nana and the specific feel each one has to it. I am still amazed at the fact that firmly resolving to enter a particular nana or some kind of meditative state oftentimes really works, as if by magic.

After the retreat was over, I proceeded to travel around Thailand and enjoy the full extent of my stream entry honeymoon, which lasted for a couple of months and was such a relief from the previous years of angst and misery. During this period I almost completely lost the urge and desire to meditate, to read dharma/nondual books, but just chilled out and enjoyed the moment, as is, whatever it is. Also the desire and urge for psychedelics was significantly attenuated as stream entry is that good.

The mind now is much more stable, lot less negativity, reactivity and much more resistant to negative states of mind which no longer stick much, and if they do are quickly seen through and so they leave on their own accord. In a way I have effectively “teflonized” my mind, so my “stuff” sticks less, and I am very happy that this is just a first stage, with much more progress and good stuff ahead of me!

Interest in the affairs, passions and ambitions of this world has also dropped significantly, as I realize that oftentimes just Being is perfectly spontaneously complete and sufficient in and of itself.
Some days I just take peaceful walks in the forest all day long, just admiring the trees, autumn colors, and leaves falling to the ground. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. This is it, right now, this moment. It’s that simple.

Now the honeymoon period is over, the amount of leftover suffering in me is starting to contrast and stand out against the peaceful background of SE, so I see more work ahead of me. Stream entry brought a huge relief from DN and fundamental suffering, now I am a much more chilled out and life is much better, yet there is still more work to be done, I am definitely not off the ride.

Nowadays I am focusing on improving my concentration and soft Jhanas, reading books again, and planning for my next Pan Asian retreat in a month or so, hopefully starting in Lumbini or MBMC again.
I will satisfy with nothing less than 2nd path.
Now I know how this works, there is no doubt about the technique and the teachings anymore, and I am aiming for the stars.  

I have all of you to thank for my progress, especially Dan for his book that has saved me and I believe many others from debilitating DN by expounding a clear, pragmatic path with attainable goals. And I am immensely grateful for that, and looking forward to MCTB2 for even more wisdom.

In conclusion, my Pan Asian meditation adventure was by far the best, most useful and sane thing that I ever did in my life, and to anyone still in doubt, long retreats and breaking through to SE I cannot recommend strongly enough!

The taste of dharma truly excels all the other tastes, May all beings well and reach liberation in this lifetime!

With metta,

FranKo
Jinxed P, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: The great Pan Asian spiritual quest - Stream entry at Wat Rampoeng [LON

Posts: 346 Join Date: 8/29/11 Recent Posts
That was an exceptionally well-written account.  Congrats bud. Perhaps I'll run into you somewhere in Thailand next year. 
shargrol, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: The great Pan Asian spiritual quest - Stream entry at Wat Rampoeng [LON

Posts: 1484 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Very cool, thanks for writing all of that. Congratulations!

Looking backwards, what advice would you give to yourself?
Looking backwards, now I realize that I had it moderately easy - my chronic dark night period lasting only 2-3 years (many people here reporting many years if not decades of darknighting/spiritual search pre-SE). 

Still, the advice I would give to my old self, and others in a similiar situation is to get out of DN ASAP, muster up the courage and dedication to do a serious long term retreat, for as long as necessary until SE, and just do it.

I remember my very first 10-day Goenka retreat was quite a challenging experience both physically and mentaly, so I naively assumed that an extended retreat is a proper long-term torture, thus eliminating it as a possibility.
This is actually not so.
In reality, a long term retreat can be challenging, but once you reach equanimity, the mindfulness is almost automatic, everything is more manageble, pleasant, chilled and quite awesome overall. Practice becomes your second nature, like a song, and then BOOM, path moment occurs - the icing on the cake.

I understand and accept that the DN has a very important lesson to teach you, and it does that very very well. It turns out I simply had to have my butt kicked by a seriously nasty DN, enough to accumulate enough despair and motivation to dig out of the hole.

My point is that it could to be wiser to start digging out of the hole sooner, rather then later when your life is already a ruinous mess.
Here I would like to echo Daniels advice: "STAY OUT OF THE DARK NIGHT!" and start digging out right now.

Looking back, another issue I had was trying too much to "read into enlightenment". Nondual literature was (and still is) like a hard drug to me, but overindulging in it wont get you too far, at least it didnt for me. Voraciously reading everything and anything on the topic is not a bad idea, and can offer some amount of comfort, insight and relief, but in my experience there is simply no substitute for serious, dedicated and sincere practice. It blows everything else out of the water, absolutely no doubt about that.

To sum it all up, the main flavor of all this would be to "just do it", an advice I will myself follow on pursuing the path that lies ahead.

With metta,

FranKo
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Doctor Avocado, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: The great Pan Asian spiritual quest - Stream entry at Wat Rampoeng [LON

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That was a well-written and magical read. Thanks for sharing Fran
Jinxed P, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: The great Pan Asian spiritual quest - Stream entry at Wat Rampoeng [LON

Posts: 346 Join Date: 8/29/11 Recent Posts
Hey Fran,

You said you were in Chiang Mai this spring. How was the air? I've heard the pollution in March and April is unbearable do to the burning season. Were you  there during those months?
I was in Chiang Mai from mid February until beginning of April, and havent' noticed any significant pollution/smog issues at all. The quality of air in Chiang Mai being a typical Southeast Asian city is not exactly fresh and sparkly, but It is pretty clean when compared to Chinese or Indian cities. IMHO I had zero smog/pollution issues.
Also, Wat Rampoeng is somewhat outside of city limits, there is a lot of trees and greenery, so air quality was pretty good. 

If you're  worried about the air quality though - I've also visited Wat Doi Suthep as my potential next retreat location. 10kms away from the city, it is situated on a top of a hill, cca 1000m altitude, in a forest, with awesome views of the city and crystal clean air - overall excellent and serene surroundings. I liked it very much, although I just visited it for a couple of hours, and would also consider that as a possibility.
Btw April can get quite hot there so 1000m altitude definitely helps temperature-wise as well.

I hope that was helpful.

With metta,
Franko
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: The great Pan Asian spiritual quest - Stream entry at Wat Rampoeng [LON

Posts: 3166 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Hey, that was a great writeup, an inspiring story, and nice phenomenology. Very glad to have helped. Thank the people who were kind enough to have taught me all this stuff. Nice to hear the reports about the centers: always helpful.

Best of luck with 2nd path and the rest of them! Let us know how all that goes,

Daniel
Thanks everybody for your kind feedback.

It was a pleasure writing all this, motivated by my sincere desire to inspire other seekers (especially darknighting psychonauts like I was) to go out, do some serious practise and break through to SE. It is completely possible, doable and totally worth it - I am a living proof for that.

@Dan: Thank you again, and all the people kind enough to teach you this stuff.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants indeed - the shoulders of The Buddha and his contemporaries, Mahasi, Pandita, Hamilton and yourself. I also hope that one day my fragile shoulders will also be able to bear some of this weight as well, even if it is just writing a forum post for now.

with metta,
FranKo
Hey S., I'm glad that your long road to such a simple result was successfull after all. It really is worth it though, no matter how long or strenous the journey.

Just to clear thing up about the rosary thing: I am not entirely sure what these "nodding away" events were, but they were not full blown fruitions.
I assume they were more of a cessations, as in the instruction paper they called it "arising and ceasing" events. What would happen in meditation is - whenever I focused on a particular touching point (especially around solar plexus and anywhere in the back), the body would involuntarily and automatically start nodding/leaning in the direction of the that touching point, as long as concentration on that point is maintained.
Most of the time the body would just start leaning, nod, after which I would straigten up, and focus on the next touching point.
I suspect that during some of these nodding occurances, a cessation also occured, but I am not entirely sure.
I also don't know why exactly was I instructed to count these nodding away events with a rosary, and note down the number of occurances for each session. the monk in charge wasn't able to  provide much info on this, and i'd really like to know more.
I also know for a fact that few moments before stream entry my body involuntarily started leaning and nodded away in an identical manner.
In any way one feels refreshed after this kind of practice, but I am not entirely sure what to make of it, so I was hoping if someone more knowlegeable here on DhO could cast more light on this?

The fruition practice came the folowing, 3rd day, and then there was none of this nodding away business when entering fruition, so I don't think it is the same thing.

In any way I'd love to know more about these arising and passing events as they call them. The monk there was not able to provide much information, except that it is meant to be refreshing and makes one feel rested afterwards.

With metta,
FranKo
junglist, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: The great Pan Asian spiritual quest - Stream entry at Wat Rampoeng [LON

Posts: 232 Join Date: 1/25/17 Recent Posts
Hey Fran Ko, thanks for a very interesting write up, which was indeed surprisingly readable.

I was interested especially in a couple of things:
- the specifics of the noting practice you did – would you mind elaborating a little on the technique, in particular the "touch points" thing?
- the strong intentions you were told to formulate – can you remember many more and at what point you were told to do them?

Hope that's not too much to ask! emoticon

Also, I wonder if the counting noddings-off on the rosary was another form of noting them?
junglist:
Hey Fran Ko, thanks for a very interesting write up, which was indeed surprisingly readable.

I was interested especially in a couple of things:
- the specifics of the noting practice you did – would you mind elaborating a little on the technique, in particular the "touch points" thing?
- the strong intentions you were told to formulate – can you remember many more and at what point you were told to do them?

Hope that's not too much to ask! emoticon

Also, I wonder if the counting noddings-off on the rosary was another form of noting them? 

-The specifics of the noting practise with touching points:

"Touching Points" are basically just designated spots on your body, about the size of the coin, to which you should shift and focus your attention, after first noting rising, falling, noting the entire body(be aware of the whole body sitting ), and then shift the attention to the current touching point.
Something like goenka's body sweeping technique, but this time focused on a precise small spot on the body, that you "touch" with your mind/awareness, and then continue onwards to the next round of noting rising,falling,sitting,touching point no2.

there are cca 26 or so of them, mostly in pairs(left and right), starting with right lower back, then left lower back, right and left buttock, then pair on the lower hamstring, pair under the knees, two pairs on the foot, pair on the knees, hamstrings, hips, solar plexus, front part of the shoulders, back part of the shoulders and center of the back, closing the full circle. 

in this way you shift your attention and basically sweep the entire body, step by step. unlike goenka though, you don't focus on on the entire limb/body part, but only on the small touching point the size of the coin, somwhere on that part of the body.

In daily intreview you will be shown the precise location of the touching point(s) on a small buddha statue. it's quite simple.

If your awarenes on the area of the touching point is faint and its kind of a blind spot, then not a big deal, because the whole point of these touching points is actually constant shifting of your awareness, and being mindful of where you're currently at.

It gives you more work to do, so mind has less time to wonder, and drift away into distractions, which happens to me more often if my concentration is weak and i'm doing pure mahasi technique with no touching pts.

In a way, it keeps you on your toes because you must keep track of where you're at with the touching points, and if you lose track then you have to start from point no 1. all over again.
so this techinque is a bit more work then pure mahasi, but you get the hang of it quickly, and these added touching points are really a good thing, in that you have to exert more effort, energy and concentration.

So to make this very clear and explicit, a sample noting meditation on the 1st day would be:
note stomach rising, note stomach falling, note sitting position of your whole body, and then note/focus your attention on the touching pt no1, which is somwhere on your right lower back. after this again, rising falling, sitting, touching pt no1.

on day 4 you will have more touching points to do so it will be:
note rising, falling, sitting, touching point 1 - again right lower back. then rising falling, sitting, touching point 2 - left lower back.
rising, falling, sitting, touching pt 3 - right buttock. rising, falling, sitting, touching pt4 - left buttock.
and so on until you progress to completing a full body circle, once you cover all the touching points. 

-Strong intentions, I was instructed to do these only in my 3 day strong determinantion session, where each day has a clear goal (SE, cessations, and fruitions).

after completing the determination, i stayed for another 10-day retreat, whereby I was going through all nanas, one day per nana, starting with A&P and ending with equanimity.

Everyday I was instructed to resolve something like

"May the knowledge of Udayabbaya Nana occur within this hour" 

This one is A&P, but the same goes for the other nanas, that we all know from MCBT:
Bhanga Nana, Bhaya Nana, Adinava Nana,  Nibbida Nana,  Muncitukamayata Nana, Patisankha Nana, Sankharupekha Nana.

the last 2 days of this 10 day retreat is again strong determination, gunning for a new path IMO, but I am not sure. 
when I asked the monk, is this actually a way to attempt a new path, or just going through and reviewing the insight stages and fruition of the previous path, he looked at me with confusion and didnt quite get my question. I get the feeling they are not used to discussing these things pragmatically with the students, so I quickly backed off, and pretended to not know anything at all, like the usual.

It was quite remarkable the way my mind obediently entered these nanas, and during the three days exploring very sucky dukha nanas, I kind of felt like a mazochist, thinking "why exactly am I doing this to myself? didn't I already suffer enough of this DN crap?". It felt a bit stupid, but also had a really good look into these stages, useful if you want to acquaint yourself with the territory.

- counting the noddings off on the rosary as way of noting them, is an interesting possibility, it never occured to me.. might as well be that,
but that still doesn't answer the questions of what exactly these nodding off events are? My best bet still is that they are attempts at a cessation, but still not sure. 

I hope that answeres your questions, and clarifies the meditation technique from my OP a little better. 

With Metta,
FranKo




 
junglist, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: The great Pan Asian spiritual quest - Stream entry at Wat Rampoeng [LON

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Wow! Thank you so much!

Using touching points like that seems just a necessary morsel easier than the technique I've understood from Mahasi's "Practical Insight Meditation", as well as not being too different and therefore easy to adapt to my practice. I've generally felt a bit awkward with the touching bit in the Mahasi style, and this one sounds a little easier to clarify. Thanks a lot for sharing it!

I'm getting the feeling that the actual point isn't of such paramount importance, because in Mahasi's it just seemed to allow you to choose about 7 points, so I guess if you can't quite remember the exact points I could make them up more or less in line with what you mentioned, just making sure I stick to the same ones?
junglist:
I'm getting the feeling that the actual point isn't of such paramount importance, because in Mahasi's it just seemed to allow you to choose about 7 points, so I guess if you can't quite remember the exact points I could make them up more or less in line with what you mentioned, just making sure I stick to the same ones?


Yes, exactly - the actual touching point isn't of such a paramount importance at all. When encountering a blind touching point, I mentioned this to the monk, and he mentioned something along the lines that it is all about constant shifting of attention and remembering where you are. The precise location of touching point is not that important, it is all about keeping track of where your're at, thus improving concentration, mindfulness and keeping distractions at bay.

Having this in mind, I think you can adapt this to your liking, and make them up in a way it makes sense to you. I just recommend that the points cover the entire body, and eventually close a full circle, or a loop in a way that I mentioned above. In fact, the 28 points model is a not a bad way to go, it may seem daunting at first, but it becomes second nature in no time, you get used to it quickly.

Because an image is worth a thousands words, I did a bit of googling right now and stumbled upon a wonderful blog explaining the whole technique and much much more, complete with the illustration of the touching points.

The blog can be found at:
https://suvacobhikkhu.wordpress.com/meditation-manuals/

and the touching points are:

You will also notice the front and back torso "cross", in which you go trough the touching points in a way that they make up a cross(X). I didnt want to explain this earlier as it seemed too complicated, but now with this image map it is very easy to see the flow and order of the touching points.

I hope this completely clarifies the technique, and for more info please refer to the blog mentioned.

With metta,

FranKo
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A picture! Amazing! You are an absolute star. 

I tried to have a search as well, but quickly found I had idea where to look.

The fact that you only added one extra touch a day makes it sound really very easy to remember - I've tried body scans before, and by the time I'm a quarter of the way through I stumble on what's next. I also like that sitting is about noting the whole body, which isn't what I understood from Mahasi's book
So I found that the coin is a Ten-baht coin – Wikipedia says it's 26 mm in diameter! emoticon

Just one last small question! When exactly do you move attention from falling to sitting and then touching?
I've been more or less doing it so that once I can't sense any abdominal movements I move to sitting, and when I've perceived the sitting posture more or less clearly I move to touching. Is that about right?
Also, I'm assuming you don't try to control your breath, so what do you do if "rising" comes again before you've got to "touching"?
junglist:
Just one last small question! When exactly do you move attention from falling to sitting and then touching?
I've been more or less doing it so that once I can't sense any abdominal movements I move to sitting, and when I've perceived the sitting posture more or less clearly I move to touching. Is that about right?
Also, I'm assuming you don't try to control your breath, so what do you do if "rising" comes again before you've got to "touching"?
These are all good questions, as I was having the exact same issues for the first few days when starting this way of practice.
Yes, you got it right - as soon as you exhale, and there are no more abdominal movements, you move your awarness to the sitting position of the entire body just for a second or two, and then move to touching point for another second or two, before the next breath comes.

You are also right in that the breath remains natural and you don't control it, so if the need for fresh air comes too soon, and you're not already done with the "touching" part, simply do the same touching point again from the start - rising, falling, sitting, touching. no need to dwell for too long on a particular touching point though, a second or two is plenty, and same goes for noting the sitting position - just a second or two.

It's all about the constant and mindful shifting of attention.

as the meditation session progresses, your breathing will become more slow and refined, giving you plenty of time to do "sitting" and "touching" part. I'm sure that you will nail this down in just a couple of sits, you will get to know the feeling of things and balance of how much time to spend on noting the sitting and touching part. easy peasy.

Good luck with your practice,

With metta,

FranKo
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RE: The great Pan Asian spiritual quest - Stream entry at Wat Rampoeng [LON

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Tickets to Thailand Boooked!

Fran Ko,

I am assuming you did the 26 day basic vipassana course? And then the 10 day insight course following it? That's what I'm seeing on their website. I see that they don't want you mixing practices during the course , which makes sense.  What do they recommend for practice after completing the course?

I'm not usually a Mahasi noter, I follow the Mind Illuminated. I'm wondering if it would be fine to do the vipassana course and then go back to TMI (shamatha practice) or if mixing techniques isn't the way to go. 
Jinxed P, modified 3 Years ago.

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Hey Fran Ko,

I'm currently planning an Asian journey of my own. How much money would you recommend budgeting for such a quest? Coming from East coast USA flights are about 1,000 round trip (or booking one way and then return), but how much are you spending getting around (visa runs, food, hostels, trains, ) etc?
Jinxed P:
Hey Fran Ko,

I'm currently planning an Asian journey of my own. How much money would you recommend budgeting for such a quest? Coming from East coast USA flights are about 1,000 round trip (or booking one way and then return), but how much are you spending getting around (visa runs, food, hostels, trains, ) etc?
I have backpacked extensively through most of SE Asia, and I can tell you it's quite cheap. For a backpacker staying in hostels or cheap motels ($5 dorm, $10-$15 budget private room), eating in cheaper restaurants, or very tasty street food for couple of bucks, renting a scooter ($5-$10/day) you can easily get by on 30-40 USD/day in Thailand and most of SE Asia. buses, trains and even budget flights are also quite cheap if not travelling in peak season (cca xmas, newyear, festivals, etc).

If staying in a monastery and meditating then it becomes almost impossibly cheap, as the whole thing is donation-based, and I believe that average donation is a couple of hundred USD, which is peanuts if staying for month or two.
 
BTW, in SE Asia never once have I experienced the "dana talk" about the importance of donation that you oftentimes get in western dharma centers, goenka, etc, at the end of the retreat, and in SE Asia you will never feel any pressure to donate whatsoever. Technically if you're broke, you could live in a monastery for a couple of months and meditate for free, nobody will ever ask you for a donation, zero pressure in my experience.

Because Thailand is a buddhist country, the amount of support the monastery and the monks receive is huge, and I got the feeling that many of the monasteries are doing quite fine financially, a lot of building, construction and renovation going on, decent food and amenities, etc. 
Dharma centers in the west definitely do not enjoy that kind of financial support, so the need for Dana talk at the end of the retreat is understood.

Because I had awesome results, and was quite a happy camper, I gave a larger then usual donation, as much as I could, but everyone should donate as much as they can afford, again, no pressure or questions asked whatsoever.

In a nutshell, if you're going to SE Asia exclusively to meditate then you can do it for the price of the air ticket, taxi to the monastery (couple of bucks), and couple of hundred USD donation at the end of your retreat. Life doesn't get any cheaper then that.

BTW my experience is if you land a new path you will want to donate as much as you possibly can, so prepare some extra money just in case emoticon

With metta,
FranKo
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Fran,

Cheap, buddhist masters, Thailand sounds like an incredible place for my long-term retreat..There's just one last thing that's bugging me (pun intended).

Mosquitos.

I'm chocolate cake to those little  buggers. They love me and my body has quite an aversion to them and I get huge welts when I get bit. I've heard horror stories about how bad they are in Thailand including the high incidence of dengue fever. How did you find them?
Jinxed P:
Fran,

Cheap, buddhist masters, Thailand sounds like an incredible place for my long-term retreat..There's just one last thing that's bugging me (pun intended).

Mosquitos.

I'm chocolate cake to those little  buggers. They love me and my body has quite an aversion to them and I get huge welts when I get bit. I've heard horror stories about how bad they are in Thailand including the high incidence of dengue fever. How did you find them?
Yes, Thailand being a tropical country, there are mosquitoes.
Usually they're most active around sunset, so then I would usually retire to the safety of my quarters and meditate there(there are good mosquito nets on doors/windows). Sometimes, I've also applied the ancient wisdom of applying a healthy amount of deet-based anti-mosquitoe spray/creme, it works wonders!

During the day there are no mosquitoes. I also didn't contract dengue or malaria, so can't say about that, but usually in urban areas you should be safe. These mosquitoe-born disases are more of an issue in rural and jungle areas, with some notable exceptions.

It's not a big deal really, I have travelled most of SE Asia, and haven't had any issues, the trick of applying mosquito spray at dusk works like magic, and Thailand is somewhat developed country, it's not Somalia, really. Despite mozzies, people still live there, and most of them quite healthy and comfortably too.
 
Anyway, instead of listening all kinds of horror stories (mosquitoes, air pollution, kim jong pushing the wrong button,etc), I suggest you just book a flight and see for your self. And while you're at it, do some intensive practise, you will not regret it! emoticon

Be well,
FranKo
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Fran Ko:
 
Anyway, instead of listening all kinds of horror stories (mosquitoes, air pollution, kim jong pushing the wrong button,etc), I suggest you just book a flight and see for your self. And while you're at it, do some intensive practise, you will not regret it! emoticon

Be well,
FranKo


Hahaha. Touche.
Mettafore, modified 3 Years ago.

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Hi Jinxed P,

I concur with Fran Ko. SE Asia is a heaven for tourists. Cheap but good quality lodgings and food. Most people are friendly and helpful. Bangkok has a couple of small time scams. But, just read about it and you'll be fine. I remember you'd released your book on DhO and you had an Indian name. If you've done India, then SEA is really a cakewalk.

I've backpacked SEA for almost half a year. I've been to Thailand almost half a dozen times. If you need any help, feel free to reach me.
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Mettafore:
Hi Jinxed P,

I concur with Fran Ko. SE Asia is a heaven for tourists. Cheap but good quality lodgings and food. Most people are friendly and helpful. Bangkok has a couple of small time scams. But, just read about it and you'll be fine. I remember you'd released your book on DhO and you had an Indian name. If you've done India, then SEA is really a cakewalk.

I've backpacked SEA for almost half a year. I've been to Thailand almost half a dozen times. If you need any help, feel free to reach me.


Hey metta,

Thanks man, I'll hit you up if I think of any questions. I'm sure I can handle SEA. I've never done India, but I have done worse (at-war hunter-gatherer tribes in the Amazon). My hesitation right now is mostly the various logistical/financial problems that inevitably occur when you want to leave home and work for 3-6 months that I'm sure you are familiar with. 

P.S. That's funny you thought I was Indian, I get stopped by Indian people all the time, in the supermarket and stuff asking me if I'm Indian. Because I do look a bit Indian, and my name is very close to the Indian name Jeevan (my name is Jevan). But I'm not actually Indian and my name is a made up hippy name that my bohemian mother gave me. 
 
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Haha! Too many coincidences. Maybe, you were Indian in a recent life. Anyways, all the cool kids are Indian including the Buddha and Santa . emoticon

Sure, will be happy to help a Dharma bro emoticon .
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Fran Ko:
Hey S., I'm glad that your long road to such a simple result was successfull after all. It really is worth it though, no matter how long or strenous the journey.

Just to clear thing up about the rosary thing: I am not entirely sure what these "nodding away" events were, but they were not full blown fruitions.
I assume they were more of a cessations, as in the instruction paper they called it "arising and ceasing" events. What would happen in meditation is - whenever I focused on a particular touching point (especially around solar plexus and anywhere in the back), the body would involuntarily and automatically start nodding/leaning in the direction of the that touching point, as long as concentration on that point is maintained.
Most of the time the body would just start leaning, nod, after which I would straigten up, and focus on the next touching point.
I suspect that during some of these nodding occurances, a cessation also occured, but I am not entirely sure.
I also don't know why exactly was I instructed to count these nodding away events with a rosary, and note down the number of occurances for each session. the monk in charge wasn't able to  provide much info on this, and i'd really like to know more.
I also know for a fact that few moments before stream entry my body involuntarily started leaning and nodded away in an identical manner.
In any way one feels refreshed after this kind of practice, but I am not entirely sure what to make of it, so I was hoping if someone more knowlegeable here on DhO could cast more light on this?

The fruition practice came the folowing, 3rd day, and then there was none of this nodding away business when entering fruition, so I don't think it is the same thing.

In any way I'd love to know more about these arising and passing events as they call them. The monk there was not able to provide much information, except that it is meant to be refreshing and makes one feel rested afterwards.

With metta,
FranKo

FranKo
Thanks a lot for this gripping write up! I’m usually skeptical of claims of attainment on DhO, but it looks like you’ve done the hard work and possibly gotten the results.
 
Last winter, I spent 4 months in Panditaramas Nepal, including three months in Lumbini and one at lower profile center in Kathmandu, and I had a lot of those nodding pseudo-cessations too. 
 
Following a harrowing DN and another month in the immature EQ stage, meditation was getting really strong and I started having the nods. It was like a little morsel of energy was released somewhere in the body—usually in a limb—and it would work its way up the body to the head in 0.1 to 2 s and then there’d be a jerk and, if I was really paying attention, it would seem like I’d lose consciousness for a brief flash.  I thought this was it. I mentioned it in my report to Sayadaw Indaka, and he just said it was the nature of phenomena to arise and pass away, to arise and pass away. I thought he was playing it cool, not wanting to drop the confetti while congratulating me. I kept having these jerks/nods and they did seem to leave me feeling lighter, but not always very much.  Toward the end, I had these nods during walking meditation, sometimes during general activities (like after lunch doing chores).  They tended to come in waves during periods of very high concentration. There were also a few times where my mind very convincingly shut off, went blank (ie no experience, nothing) then turned back on with a flash and wondering if that was it, but this only happened a few times, and it seemed quite different—but I still don’t think it was path/fruit.
 
At the last interview, the Sayadaw confirmed that I had reached a very high nana. I asked if the nods were magga. He looked at me confused, like I hadn’t mentioned them before, and just said that it’s the nature of phenomena to pass away. He made it clear that I hadn’t, in his estimation, attained path on the retreat.
 
I think there are a few parts of the path that endings become predominant—in dissolution nana, in the later stages of reobersvation nana (from personal experience & a Dhamma talk by 11Sayadaw Vivekanada, possibly in the Visuddhimmaga), and in EQ nana. Mindfulness is strongest, by far, in the mature EQ stage, and all the path factors are present, so maybe that’s why these quick cessations seem so vivid and convincing. This is speculation. I’d love to hear from other people about this!
 
After I got home, I reached out to Ron Crouch—who I’ve had a few sessions with in the past and has softly confirmed some previous attainments.  He was quick to discount that the nods/jerks were path, especially after I mentioned that the Sayadaw didn’t think too much of them. He said they were probably a result of very clearly seeing the endings of phenomena, of sort of butting up against the anicca door but not quite going through. Bummer! Once the nods/jerks got some momentum, I figured I was done the path, and relaxed a little bit (while still meditating 16+ hours a day). I wonder if a strong resolution would have helped get me over the last hump.
 
 On a somewhat related note, I’m not sure that the strong intention
“may the gross perceptions of the three characteristics of phenomena cease, and may more subtle characteristics of these realizations be attained within 24 hours”
refers to attainment of path. This could just be pointing to a more mundane refinement of practice.  But this:
“Within this hour may I experience the fruit of meditative attainment (phalasamapatti) for 5 minutes”
seems like a pretty damn clear teacher acknowledgment of attainment. But I remember reading somewhere in Mahasi Sayadaw's writings that confirmation should be delayed until a practitioner masters the fruition practice.

Congrats, and thanks again for your clear & compelling post!
Mettafore, modified 3 Years ago.

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Hi Fran Ko,

That was a really well written account. Than you for sharing. It very much reminds me of my story. I attained Stream Entry from the parent monastery of Wat Rampoeng i.e., Wat Chom Thong which is around 50km south of Chiang Mai. Do meet the 90+ years old Abbot if you get the chance. I have a feeling he is highly attained.

Unfortunately, I had two horrible DNs after SE. But, I've gotten over them and doing much better.

Yeah... I think Soft Jhanas are definitely the way to go. Metta and other Brahmaviharas, in particular are doing wonders for me. Check out posts from Bern the Broter on Metta. They helped me a ton.

Just curious: Do Psychadelics pale in comparison to Vipassana?
Mettafore:
Hi Fran Ko,

That was a really well written account. Than you for sharing. It very much reminds me of my story. I attained Stream Entry from the parent monastery of Wat Rampoeng i.e., Wat Chom Thong which is around 50km south of Chiang Mai. Do meet the 90+ years old Abbot if you get the chance. I have a feeling he is highly attained.

Unfortunately, I had two horrible DNs after SE. But, I've gotten over them and doing much better.

Yeah... I think Soft Jhanas are definitely the way to go. Metta and other Brahmaviharas, in particular are doing wonders for me. Check out posts from Bern the Broter on Metta. They helped me a ton.

Just curious: Do Psychadelics pale in comparison to Vipassana?

Yes, i've also visited Chom Thong briefly, and I do like the place. Maybe I will go and do some practice there as well and hopefully meet Ajahn Tong himself. As an aside, the abbot of Wat Rampoeng, Ajahn Suphan is also the real deal. Highly attained, and a beautiful human being as well. Just being in his presence is a nice chillout session, like having a drink with a old good friend you havent seen in ages.

Regarding Brahmaviharas, they are on the top of my todo list, seeing that after SE my mind naturally inclines towards metta, and every day in the morning, throughout the day, or whenever I remember, I chant a portion of metta sutta i learned in MBMC, to start the day in a proper way.
https://www.wildmind.org/mantras/figures/sabbesatta

I have also read couple of Bern the Brother's post on metta - good stuff right there, and i've found his teachers website to be pure gold, esp the section on metta in daily life. I have automatically and spontaneously started implementing metta in daily life in a most natural way after SE, and found it to be very beneficial.
http://visuteoh.net/teachings/metta-in-everyday-life.html

As far as psychedelics go, they have definitely lost much of their allure, and they do fade in comparison to Vipassana, no doubt about that.

After SE, my baseline of contentment, happines and peace in daily life has increased dramatically, sort of like being on a permanent psychedelic microdose if you will. 

However, after my SE honeymoon period, I did proceed to indulge in psychedelics on couple of occasions, and found that my mind naturally inclines to metta while high. so I would remember to send out metta, feel a bit mellow, then expand my metta even more, really really mean it, after which a most blissfull metta meltdown would occur.

This also works wonders on psytrance festivals I attended this summer (old habits die hard), and while meltingdown with metta towards all the sentient beings and particularly people around me, I would sometimes open my eyes and realize people were smiling back at me and glancing in my direction in a most kind and pleasant way. 

I can't imagine a better thing to do while under the influence, it kind of opens you up and familiarizes with the territory, making it easier to get back to that space once you're back on the cusion or in daily life.

Working on my concentration also diminished my interest in psychedelics, as getting into highly concentrated Jhanic spaces on your own power is in so many ways better then psychonauting, but you have to see it for yourself to believe it. 

The psychedelics can be a very useful tool in the early phases of the spiritual search, but once you get your dose of vipassana insight and highly concentrated states strong enough, psychedelics kind of naturally fall off. 

Nowadays the insight I get from the psychedelics is almost none, so I use them mostly for exploring highly concentrated states, and an occasional bliss-out.

But as my natural concentration and insight develops through practice, the psychedelics slowly lose their meaning and purpose, same way the training wheels on a bike are removed once you learn how to ride the bike on your own.  

Hope that answers your question.

With metta,
FranKo
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Thanks, Fran Ko. That was very detailed. Glad to get the confirmation that we are humans and capable of indulging in less than exemplary habits emoticon. I had very high expectations of things from myself when I first attained; as if whatever I do shall be effortless and succesful. Alas, there are no free Kamma Vipakas.

Do check out, the Ratana Sutta. It has some realistic insight into the Stream Enterer, like this para:

Although he may do an evil deed, whether by body, or by word or by thought, he is incapable of
hiding it. The Buddha has declared this fact that such a person who has seen Nibbāna with Path
Consciousness is not capable of hiding his wrong-doings. Also in the Saṁgha is this precious
jewel. By this utterance of truth, may there be happiness.
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Thank you for this post Fran! 
I am going to SE asia for three months to meditate this winter, leaving in a few weeks. I got into Panditarama Lumbini for the second half of the three months, and was trying to get into MBMC for January, but it looks like I'm going to have to go Chiang Mai instead for January.

I wasn't really happy about that, but after reading about your experiences there I am feelin much better about the quality of Wat Ram Poeng!
I also might try out Wat Doi Suthep instead, it will depend on which place I can get into earliest. 

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