Message Boards Message Boards

Kasinas

Dark Night and Jhana

Toggle
Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/8/18 11:05 AM
 As we all know, developing concentration first helps to keep one out/mute the dark night. But I was curious as to those of you who do noting, and subsequently developed jhana, how jhana practice and that level of concentration effects your dark night and or subsequent cycles through the progress of insight? 

Is there a difference in dark night symptoms between these two paths..both practitioners have developed insight and jhana, but in 2 different orders.

1. Insight first then jhana
2. Jhana first, then insight

Thoughts?

 

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/8/18 4:04 PM as a reply to Jinxed P.
I started meditation practice in 2011 with a concentration technique (transcendental meditation), experienced jhana (though didnt know what it was at the time) and stream entry a few months later. I had a horrendous dark night and came across DhO and MCTB after googling adverse effects of meditation/spiritual crisis etc. In my case, working with insight practices (noting) then helped to get me through the difficult stages. I think that concentration, insight and metta are all neccessary to help one recognise and navigate cycles post stream entry. In my case, not practising all three would lead to imbalance.

My practice now is samatha (formal sitting), insight (informal noting throughout the day) and metta (informal; developing moments of love, compassion and gratitude throughout the day). This current balance seems to work well, but sometimes I will find I need more of one particular practice depending on what is coming up in life.

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/8/18 5:16 PM as a reply to Anna L.
Anna L:
I started meditation practice in 2011 with a concentration technique (transcendental meditation), experienced jhana (though didnt know what it was at the time) and stream entry a few months later. I had a horrendous dark night and came across DhO and MCTB after googling adverse effects of meditation/spiritual crisis etc. In my case, working with insight practices (noting) then helped to get me through the difficult stages. I think that concentration, insight and metta are all neccessary to help one recognise and navigate cycles post stream entry. In my case, not practising all three would lead to imbalance.

My practice now is samatha (formal sitting), insight (informal noting throughout the day) and metta (informal; developing moments of love, compassion and gratitude throughout the day). This current balance seems to work well, but sometimes I will find I need more of one particular practice depending on what is coming up in life.
How are you defining jhana and stream entry? The one's you got after a few months of TM. 

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/9/18 3:07 AM as a reply to Jinxed P.
I’m defining stream entry and Jhana based on MCTB and conversations with teachers. In terms of Jhana, I know there is a debate regarding “depth” and I don’t know if I’ve gone as “deep” as other practitioners. I always see a nimitta when entering Jhana so that’s another defining point in my own practice. I don’t think I’ve experienced formless Jhanas (or if I have, I haven’t known what they were). I can say with some certainty that I’ve experienced the first 3 Jhanas. My current goal is to get a more detailed understanding of these states via fire Kasina practice. emoticon 

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/9/18 5:23 AM as a reply to Anna L.
Anna L:
I’m defining stream entry and Jhana based on MCTB and conversations with teachers. In terms of Jhana, I know there is a debate regarding “depth” and I don’t know if I’ve gone as “deep” as other practitioners. I always see a nimitta when entering Jhana so that’s another defining point in my own practice. I don’t think I’ve experienced formless Jhanas (or if I have, I haven’t known what they were). I can say with some certainty that I’ve experienced the first 3 Jhanas. My current goal is to get a more detailed understanding of these states via fire Kasina practice. emoticon 
Yes there is a huge variance in how people define jhana, which is why I ask.  Ranging from more traditional descriptions on one end, like Ajahn Brahm's, where when one is so absorbed in jhana that another person could pick you up and drop you and you would never know, to others describing jhana as just some mild feeling of pleasure. Given this variance in definition, it's obviously important to clarify terms and standards. 

Even the term nimitta is vague. Some people use the term nimitta to mean any light generated by the mind. Others, very specifically to a diamond-like, mentally generated object distinct from the diffuse mind generated light-show. Others use it to refer to the after-image from staring at at a kasina. Obviously when talking nimittas and fire kasina, this can be confusing. Also, I'm not sure how the fire kasina jhanas as Daniel and Shannon describe them translate with jhanas from the breath. 

When I said jhana in my OP, I meant the pleasure jhana as described by Culadasa/Brasington. These jhanas are accessible from Culadasa's stage 7, meaning one should have mastered stage 6.  In stage 6, one has mastered exclusive attention to the breath. Exclusivity means that your attention is fully with and never wavers from the breath. You are not distracted by thoughts, bodily sensations, sounds, etc for duration of your sit (minus a brief settling in at the beginning, you should be able to hang on to this level of attention for an hour). You notice every instance of the breath coming in and out, although at this point the breath will likely dissolve into even finer sensations, such as intense pulsations and you may not be able to tell whether there is an in or out breath at all. 

Perhaps I should use that as my standard for what constitutes baseline good concentration in my OP. 

Out of curiosity Anna, did you have a cessation experience from TM? By cessation, I mean fruition, the shutting off and turning back on of consciousness that can occur from the stage of equanimity. Like a computer rebooting. I haven't heard of anying getting that from TM before. 

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/9/18 6:22 AM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Jinxed P:
 As we all know, developing concentration first helps to keep one out/mute the dark night. 
 

I disagree with the premise. Stuff always comes up no matter what you do. It's important to notice this.

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/9/18 11:20 AM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Fwiw , I have about five local friends who have been practicing TMI for over a year.  They all go through difficult territory which I could map to the way I've been trained to understand the dukkha nanas.

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/9/18 12:00 PM as a reply to Noah D.
Noah D:
Fwiw , I have about five local friends who have been practicing TMI for over a year.  They all go through difficult territory which I could map to the way I've been trained to understand the dukkha nanas.


Interesting.

If you are able to share any more details, I'd love to hear them. 

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/9/18 1:52 PM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Jinxed, I would tend to describe Jhana more along the lines of what Ajahn Brahm describes - very deep absorption and loss of bodily awareness. A defining factor for me is the complete lack of bodily pain - I can sit for an hour without noticing any of the usual aches, pains, cramps etc. - along with a loss of time. Time flies by when absorbed. 

In in terms of nimitta, in my case it is a very distinct mentally generated, high definition and reliably stable light show. It’s nothing like the normal “visual snow” lights that I would get when normally closing my eyes. The first time I saw it I was in awe. I became fascinated by it. When practising TM the nimitta has only ever been purple (90% of the time) or red. When practising fire Kasina the nimitta is far superior in terms of granular detail, definition, colours (I’m currently seeing a consistent colour pattern in every sit that includes red, yellow, fuschia, dark green, indigo, purple). I can still see this nimitta with eyes open during fire Kasina sits. 

Interestingly, in fire Kasina, the retinal burn after image seems to be a red dot. In my initial fire Kasina practices I used to see this. About 18 months ago I stopped seeing the afterburn red dot altogether and now immediately see a yellow nimitta with a red halo. This is how I define 2nd Jhana commencing. 

Im a big fan of fire Kasina because it gives so many concrete visual cues. 

I have not done much Meditation on the breath, however I’ve beeb a regular yoga practitioner since 2009. I would consider this to be a form of concentration practice utilising the breath. Particularly the Ashtanga style, which I’ve been practising since 2013. I think all of these disparate techniques work together (how exactly ... is open to debate!).

Interesting you mention Culadasa, as I have become very interested in his work recently and have just been accepted into his dedicated practitioner course this year. It’s 9 months of practise and study based on The Mind Illuminated. I’m keen to see how this maps up with my current experiences of practise and whether it deepens the Jhana experiences. 

In regards to cessation with TM ... I had all sorts of “unusual” experiences with TM. However, at the time I was learning meditation as a relaxation technique. I was working in a corporate job and had no idea about pragmatic Dharma or any of this stuff. I wasn’t seeking it (consciously, anyway). So I am one of those people who found pragmatic Dharma after searching for explanations of their “unusual” meditation experiences. I haven’t really practised TM now for a few years. My current practise is fire Kasina (which I find personally is much stronger), noting and TM.

Hope this helps! 

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/9/18 3:11 PM as a reply to Anna L.
Anna L:
Jinxed, I would tend to describe Jhana more along the lines of what Ajahn Brahm describes - very deep absorption and loss of bodily awareness. A defining factor for me is the complete lack of bodily pain - I can sit for an hour without noticing any of the usual aches, pains, cramps etc. - along with a loss of time. Time flies by when absorbed. 


There is a huge gulf between not noticing usual pains,aches (which is itself a great accomplishment) and not being capable of bodily awareness or sense awareness. To reiterate, in Ajahn Brahm's jhana if someone screamed near you ear, you wouldn't be capable of hearing it. They could knock you over and you would never know. There is also no possibility of thought, no decision making process is available, and time does not fly (there is no perception of time). 

Now don't worry if you haven't reached this level of Jhana.Very few people have emoticon

And that's really great you are doing the Mind Illuminated dedicated practitioner course. Let us know how it goes!

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/9/18 8:33 PM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Well by time flying by, I mean that time disappears during the sit. Then at the end I’m surprised that 20 mins has gone by in what seemed to be only a very short period. However I must say that my perception of time has changed a lot since meditating in general - but this could be due to other factors too ... 

In regards to someone screaming in my ear or knocking me over - perhaps they are but I wouldn’t know, would I?! Just joking - as far as I can tell I have not been that deep! I don’t notice body or environmental sensations, however at times discursive thought will occur, I note it and it passes. 

Yes, I’m hoping the Culadasa course will help me go deeper into some of these states and also give me some more experience with vipassana. I’ll keep you posted emoticon 

With Metta,
A

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/9/18 9:05 PM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Jinxed P:
 As we all know, developing concentration first helps to keep one out/mute the dark night.
We all know that? Really? Is that your personal experience? Did it work for SE as well as second path? Please give details.
Thanks
~D

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/9/18 11:47 PM as a reply to Dream Walker.
Dream Walker:
Jinxed P:
 As we all know, developing concentration first helps to keep one out/mute the dark night.
We all know that? Really? Is that your personal experience? Did it work for SE as well as second path? Please give details.
Thanks
~D

I didn't realize I was saying anything controversial. Especially considering how often the "wet" vs "dry" debates have happened on this forum in the past. 

Here's Culadasa on the topic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5He0q5u5yY

As for my experience, I've followed Culadasa's method for the last few years and my experience has mapped perfectly onto the stages he outlines in his book The Mind Illuminated.  Since I don't follow the Mahasi's progress of insight, I did not cycle through the nanas on my way to my first cessation.  My concentration simply got better and better (this is an oversimplification of Culadasa's method) until I could do the jhanas, was able to get to the fourth jhana, and then while coming out of the fourth jhana, but still in some good equanimity, I had my first cessation.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
This isn't to say there are no difficulties with this path. I spent more than a couple retreats dealing with "purifications", which is Culadasa's term from repressed personal stuff that bubbles to the surface. But these purifcations weren't related to no-self/impermanence or any other Insights, so I don't consider them dark night.  And in later stages I dealt with all sorts of strange piti that was weird and on occasion even frightful. So my meditation hasn't always been peachy and roses, and I could even post-hoc script all the nanas on to some experience I had at one point or another over years,but those events were rather rare and did not come about in any order like in the Progress of Insight. So if I dark nighted, I certainly didn't dark night to the extent that Mahasi noters seem to. And my negative symptoms were generally not related to insights I was gaining from meditation.

There are plently of far better, more accomplished, and famous meditators than me who claim that samatha decreases, or altogether eliminates the dark night/ or have never even heard of the dark night (the dalai lama seemed baffled when Willoughby Britton brought it up to him). Shinzen, Culadasa, Alan Wallace, some of the monks at retreats I have gone on, just to name a few.

If you don't believe samatha, and the resultant joy, equanimity, etc, is beneficial to any dark night, do you think all these people are lying? Or do you think they are having dark night symptoms but they are just oblivious to it? Or maybe, just maybe, doing a practice that brings lots of joy, happiness and a calm-mind can help overcome psychological difficulties related to insight?

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/10/18 12:45 AM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Jinxed, you raise an interesting point. I am writing a research paper on the dark night for a masters thesis because I find this issue so fascinating. My own dark night came about as a result of TM practice (which is concentration on a mantra) and it was pretty awful. Shinzen Young's "pit of the void" video describes it pretty well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zIKQCwDXsA

To me, it was a shock to the system and I think a major factor is that I was not seeking any of these cognitive or perceptual changes, and as such, they were quite unwelcome. (I learned to meditate as a lifestyle/stress reduction practice).  So, in my case, dark night was precipitated by a concentration practice.

You will find descriptions of "dark night" symptoms and events across all the major spiritual traditions (kundalini crisis, Zen sickness, Qi Gong sickness, Tibetan soklung). It's not unique to Mahasi. 

There seem to be many factors at play - type of practice, practice intensity, practice intentions (some people aren't practising to "wake up" but accidentally do), psychological factors (depression, anxiety, psychosis, PTSD), health factors (psychosis can be triggered by something as simple as sleep deprivation on retreat), support of a teacher and support of a community of like-minded practitioners.

Some people will be lucky enough to have a really mild dark night. E.g. some of the people you mentioned above might just cruise through the dukkha nanas without too much trouble. Others will experience the dark night more intensely because of some of the reasons outlined above (and probably other reasons I have not thought of).

And I believe you are correct in that samatha is a fantastic antidote to the dark night, however in some cases it is neccessary but not sufficent - some people will also need grounding practices, loving-kindness practices and/or psychological support in the form of therapy. 

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/11/18 8:17 AM as a reply to Anna L.
Agreed Anna, great post.

I don't think dark night symptoms are unique to Mahasi noting, but cycling through the progress of insight, and those specific dukka nanas, in that particular order, might be unique to dry-vipassana paths. IIRC, Culadasa has said as much. 

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/11/18 9:19 AM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Part of the issue may be differentiating between 'the dark night' and the "dukkha nanas".  My impression is that Culadasa usually uses the term the dark night to refer to something like Shinzen Young’s pit of the void or St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul.

He does also talk about the progress of insight including the dukkha nanas (though admittedly not much in the TMI book which presents his concentration stage focused map).  For example see the Insight and Meditation retreat audios and handouts on the dharma treasure website (part 3 of the handouts goes through the progress of insight).

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/11/18 11:24 AM as a reply to Jinxed P.

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/11/18 12:49 PM as a reply to Ward Law.
Ward Law:


Great find!

For those wondering what that video is, somebody basically asked Culadasa all the questions brought up regarding dark night/dukka nanas/cycling, etc.

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/11/18 2:29 PM as a reply to Ward Law.
Ward Law:


Awesome

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/11/18 3:08 PM as a reply to ivory.
Later in the video he mentions the fire kasina practice (including credits to Daniel) and gives an interesting neurophysical explanation for the inner visual phenomena.

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/11/18 3:40 PM as a reply to elizabeth.
elizabeth:
Part of the issue may be differentiating between 'the dark night' and the "dukkha nanas".  My impression is that Culadasa usually uses the term the dark night to refer to something like Shinzen Young’s pit of the void or St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul.

He does also talk about the progress of insight including the dukkha nanas (though admittedly not much in the TMI book which presents his concentration stage focused map).  For example see the Insight and Meditation retreat audios and handouts on the dharma treasure website (part 3 of the handouts goes through the progress of insight).
Agreed, I am guilty of slipping into using the terms “dark night” and “dukkha nanas” interchangeably. 

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/11/18 4:39 PM as a reply to Ward Law.
Ward Law:
Later in the video he mentions the fire kasina practice (including credits to Daniel) and gives an interesting neurophysical explanation for the inner visual phenomena.

Fwiw, Bhante G cautions against doing the fire kasina practice for the same reasons Culadasa mentions, that it can be damaging to your vision. 

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/12/18 4:30 AM as a reply to Jinxed P.
I have done hundreds of hours of candle-flame meditation over 17+ years and my 48 year-old retinas check out fine. It is not that much light. From Wikipedia on candles: "The light produced is about 13 lumens, for a luminous efficacy of about 0.16 lumens per watt (luminous efficacy of a source) – almost a hundred times lower than an incandescent light bulb. The luminous intensity of a typical candle is approximately one candela."

As to the question of can one bypass the difficult insight stages with very strong concentration and still make progress in insight, the answer is a definite "yes".

In particular, it is possible with, say, candle flame meditation, my personal favorite kasina, to get concentration so strong that one cycles throught the vipassana jhanas to Fruition in realms of light and color and sacred geometry and tantric beings and vast landscapes and hyper-real psychedelic fluxing patterns and the like with nary an adverse bodily feeling or emotional upheaval of any kind. I got to this level of practice on a 17-day retreat at Bhavana Society over Christmas break in 2001.

This level of strong practice typically requires a mix of great conditions, enough time, and talent. Easy to do? No. Can it be done? Absolutely.

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/12/18 11:24 AM as a reply to Jinxed P.
I am the meditator Culadasa was talking about. I don't believe he was suggesting in the Patreon talk that fire kasina was dangerous. 

I was doing a fire kasina retreat at Cochise Stronghold and getting visual changes - mostly things like increased vividness and increased imax 3D like things.  I'd also started working on some Daniel and Shannon inspired things like trying to see light coming off my fingers and drawing with it.   

I wasn't having full on hallucinations - much to my disappointment.  I could barely fingerpaint with pale maybe light.  And while I was spending time in low light conditions and my vision sometimes seemed different or odd, there was no visual loss or damage. 

I wondered if there was anything in the medical literature that might explain what was happening in the visual cortex. A very brief search turned up Charles Bonnet syndrome which is characterized by visual hallucinations that can occur with loss of vision. Not the same but intriguing and we were sort of geeking out over it. Please don't allow our speculations to derail any interest you might have in kasina practice.   

I continue to work the fire kasina. (there will be a summary of my retreat on the firekasina site as soon as I give the final version to Daniel)

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/12/18 11:53 AM as a reply to Jinxed P.
I havent really followed either path in any usual way, but I think that developing Jhana implies an insight into agency and emptiness at least of mental phenomena that is what gets one out of dark night.  It must be true that a strong Jhana practice will lessen the urgency and "realness" of a dark night period. 

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/12/18 7:44 PM as a reply to seth tapper.
I think jhanic practice does lessen the DK symptoms,  however in my current personal experience it seems to only sweep the material under the rug temporarily. At the beginning of my sessions, I've been using a hybrid of TMI style strong central focus but with a tad more attention to peripheral using noting. This has worked as a great way to get some energy and  momentum going up a path somewhere between the jhanas and nanas. Starting the session with dry vipassana doesn't seem to give me much "umpf". On my best sessions I'll be screaming into the 4th jhana but will get snagged by something on the dhukka nana side. At this point I switch to a more vipassana approach and investigate what I've been calling my "abdominal pit of self". This has been throwing me out of 4th jhana into some really nasty re-observation / low equanimity state which I accept fully as part of the process. This technique made me rethink the model of jhana vs nana a bit and how the line is a little more blurry between them than I initially envisioned. At least for sake of developing techniques and strategies. 

RE: Dark Night and Jhana
Answer
1/13/18 9:13 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:

In particular, it is possible with, say, candle flame meditation, my personal favorite kasina, to get concentration so strong that one cycles throught the vipassana jhanas to Fruition in realms of light and color and sacred geometry 

Hi Doc! Off-topic question, what is the cessation like? Is it still the same unconscious blackout or different?