Message Boards Message Boards

Claims to Attainments

Mysterious early attainment.

Toggle
Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/9/18 10:50 AM
I have just finished reading an abridged version of "The Path of Serenity and Insight" by Henepola Gunaratana called "The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation", available here: HERE. In Chapter 4, entitled "The Higher Jhanas", there is a section on the "The Immaterial Jhanas". He describes these by the names of their objective spheres:  the base of boundless space, the base of boundless consciousness, the base of nothingness, and the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception.

Many years ago I received a gift of a Transcendental Meditation course which I took up. It lasted one week. On the third and fourth day of the course, while meditating with the TM method, using a personal mantra that had been given to everybody at the beginning of the course, I acquired what appeared to be all four of these Jhanic states simultaneously. The episodes lasted for somewhere between five and ten minutes. I continued practicing TM for four years after that but never repeated the two initial experiences. Many years later, I attempted to begin Theravada Buddhist meditation on numerous occasions (during my late 60s). Each time, I had to stop because of a vile and very deep depressive feeling which almost overwhelmed me for the remainder of the day. It was gone the following day in each case. I have suffered bouts of moderate depression towards the latter part of my life due to bad personal circumstances.

The question I would like to ask, if somebody would be kind enough to answer is: what was going on with me in those early TM sessions many years ago? Had I made a very early jump into a higher state of "Immaterial Jhana"? And why have I never made any progress in my later-life with Buddhist meditation? Maybe the answer to the second part of the question is because I am prone to depression. Anyway, some thoughts on this two-part question would be very welcomed by me. Thanks, Paul.

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/9/18 1:14 PM as a reply to Paul Fanshawe.
Hi, Paul.

It would be very helpful if you could describe your earlier experience in detail from a phenomenological point of view. I'm not doubting that you had something amazing happen but there are many experiences meditators can have that appear to be one thing but are actually something else. So getting a better handle on what actually happened during your ten minute interlude would help folks here to help you better.

Make sense?

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/9/18 2:24 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Hi Chris. I will think about it over the next 24 hours and try to to give an accurate and honest description of it. The problem is and always has been over the years since, to try and put the experience into words. It will take a great effort on my part but I am willing to have a go. When I read the description of the Jhana in the online book I recognized it immediatly as something very similar to what I had experienced. I am going to have difficulty forming the correct English language to set it out as it happened. I'll come back online tomorrow with an answer. Many thanks for your reply. Paul.

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/9/18 3:45 PM as a reply to Paul Fanshawe.
Hi Chris, hi everybody.
I've come back a bit earlier than expected. The description of what happened to me in those five or ten minutes is based on my recollection of my initial recollection immediately after the twenty minute TM session ended. The first thing to say is that during the episode I had no awareness of what was happening but yet I was fully aware -  but aware of nothing at all and aware of everything at the same time. I remembered that my whole being was inhabiting an infinitely large space. My physical body did not seem to be reliant on gravity or supported in any way. My mind was completely empty of any thoughts or experiences. I was not aware of my body or bodily feelings, like breath or any sensory input whatsoever. I remembered that I had had a complete knowledge of everything and a complete understanding and knowledge of my entire existence and entire existence generally, yet during the episode there were no thoughts in my mind to support this understanding and knowledge. It was a nothingness and an everything-ness simultaneously. Some of this may seem contradictory but that's because of the limitations of the English language to describe it. It cannot be put into words that make sense but that's my best shot at it. Paul.

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/9/18 7:17 PM as a reply to Paul Fanshawe.
Paul, I had similar experiences early in meditation practice. They were A&P events:

http://integrateddaniel.info/the-arising-and-passing-away/

A&P events are quite often mistaken for stream entry and other states and stages,

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/9/18 8:32 PM as a reply to Paul Fanshawe.
Hey Paul, that's super interesting. I had some very intense initial TM experiences too. I learnt TM in 2010 and the most intense experience occurred in a one-on-one session with my teacher a few months after I had started to practice. The experience is essentially ineffable and extremely difficult to describe, but the best way I can describe it is as if I was actually experiencing a pure present moment. Everything except for myself and the teacher dropped away. I understood that nothing existed outside of this present moment - not my family, my loved ones, anything I was attached to - and that this was perfectly fine and that everything was ok. It was a true experience of the concept that nothing really exists outside of what we are currently perceiving in our attention and awareness. Time seemed to disappear. However the concept of "myself" and "my teacher" was still there. I remember saying to my teacher "This is all there is!" there was a sense of having figured something out. 

I assume this was an A&P event. Your event sounds more formless than mine... 

Have you practiced TM lately? I don't practice this technique anymore but maybe one day I will experiment with it again ...

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/10/18 2:39 AM as a reply to Anna L.
Anna L:

Have you practiced TM lately? I don't practice this technique anymore but maybe one day I will experiment with it again ...
Hi Anna.
No, I have not practiced TM for almost 40 years. I have no desire to either. As I mentioned in my initial post, I have had very little experience with Buddhist meditation due to depression-like effects in the immediate aftermath. I had to stop attempting to carry on with it. However, during the 10 or so times that I practiced it, which lasted about two hours each, I made good progress, that's if you could call having a feeling of supreme joy and detachment good progress. I also, during the course of my 10 sessions, experienced vivid bright coloured shimmering pulsating  lights passing in waves above my closed eye level. This happened during the majority of them. Unfortunately, the after-effects of the meditations were very frightening for me and I have not meditated again for about 6 months. If I am to go back to it, I will do so under the supervision of an experienced teacher, preferably a senior monk. I try to live by the 5 precepts. The only one I fall down on is "refraining from fermented beverages that cause heedlessness". Also, I take all the Sutta study that I have done over the internet with absolute seriousness and in good faith. Paul.

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/10/18 4:04 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
Paul, I had similar experiences early in meditation practice. They were A&P events:

http://integrateddaniel.info/the-arising-and-passing-away/

A&P events are quite often mistaken for stream entry and other states and stages,
Thanks, Chris.
I think that the linked text is from MCTB which I read several years ago but had completely forgotten about. I must read it all again. I found it to be quite disconcerting at the time, and the direct language used by Daniel in the chapter on the Dark Night made me approach meditation with caution. If you have a look at my reply to Anna you will notice the reference I made to strange coloured lights which I experienced during my only few Buddhist meditation sessions. I heard Ajahn Brahm refer to these but cannot place them in the hierarchy of meditation stages. I wonder, given all I have said about my TM and Buddhist meditation experiences, would I be capable of making very rapid progress if I could conquer the depression after-effects of each sitting? Paul.

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/10/18 7:14 AM as a reply to Paul Fanshawe.
Paul, spiritual urgency is a good thing, but it can add a lot of unnecessary pressure to your practice if you focus on making "very rapid progress". It then sets things up as a battle/conflict. You can see it in your expression "conquer the depression"... 

Both modern psychology and traditional buddhism talks about stuff "bubbling up" when you meditate. Basically, we seem to have a natural instinct to control/contain the messy aspects of our mind by kind of putting them aside and not thinking about them. When we relax the mind through meditation, these incomplete thoughts and feelings --- even "vile and depressive" thoughts and feelings --- will bubble up into consciousness.

The interesting thing is while this seems like it will open up an endless flow of more suffering... actually we only have about ten or twenty thought patterns that give us problems. There are a lot of variations to those patterns, but our mental problems are really pretty basic, childish in a way, and not very complex once you see the pattern. We basically make odd assumptions about ourselves and life and then create odd stories that we completely believe, without question.

Whether it is worth it or not is ultimately a choice, but progress in meditation necessarily means sitting with and experiencing all the dark aspects of our minds. Anger, greed, fear, lust, ambition, and pride is going to come up. Depressive thoughts like "i'm flawed", "i'm not safe", "i'm not worthy of love", "i'm a failure", "i didn't reach my potential" are going to come up -- this is the normal human mind. Given your age, all the normal age-approriate thoughts are going to come up associated with mortality: depression, regret, fear of death, doubts about various things we're told about life and the afterlife. It's normal.

My hunch is the only way you will make progress is if you can learn to accept and be interested in all the vile and depressive stuff that comes up. Basically becoming a detective, your own psychologist, and getting very interested in how the mind works. What is true and untrue about the vile and depressive stories you tell yourself? How can you accept and live with your past, yet see everyday as blank slate? 

The problem with pure "mindfulness" practices is they tend to open up the mind, but they don't really give people any tools for working with the dark stuff. Normally that's fine, because most of the time we can just explore our mind and a kind of natural intelligence leads us along... but if we are hitting roadblocks, then we need the help of a professional psychologist and/or meditation teacher to help us see that these roadblocks are >very interesting!< and worthy of investigation. Usually the roadblocks have some "message" within them that we are failing to see -- and that's why we keep hitting the roadblock. It is as if the mind is saying: pay attention to this first. 

Hidden in almost every problem is some piece of wisdom that is being overlooked. Meditation involves a lot of just sitting and exploring all the variations of greed, aversion, and ignorance. The wisdom is usually in the form "I can't believe I was thinking about X in that way! I thought X meant I had this problem, but actually X was pointing me toward the solution. I just wasn't seeing it."

And it's funny, most of the time the solution is to just >let things be<. A lot of the time, we're just making things into a bigger problem than they actually are. Sometimes the problem is in the past, which we can't change. Sometimes the problem is in the future, which we can't know. When we're sitting in normal meditation practice, we're safe and have nothing else to do... so any so-called "problem" that comes up is just the part of our mind that seems to make problems in order to feel busy and protected. That's the part of the mind that we can learn to calm down, simply by >letting it have problems<. We don't need to do anything, except notice them and welcome them and not push them away. Just let it bubble up. Simple.

You might also like the book "Wake Up To Your Life" -- it's a book that contains a lot of different meditation practices that are more detailed than just "be mindful". I'll bet at least one of them will inspire you.

Best wishes Paul!

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/10/18 8:05 AM as a reply to shargrol.
Hi Shargol.
Many thanks for that comprehensive reply; I really appreciate that you took the time to compose and post it. I will try and take much of what you said on board. Thanks also for the suggestion of reading "Wake Up To Your Life". I'll have a look for it. It's great that there are so many experienced folks on this forum. Paul.

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/10/18 11:24 AM as a reply to Paul Fanshawe.
I wonder, given all I have said about my TM and Buddhist meditation experiences, would I be capable of making very rapid progress if I could conquer the depression after-effects of each sitting?

Paul, my friend shargrol gave you a very cogent and thorough answer to this question so I don't need to add anything to this other than to say, "Please listen to shargrol."

emoticon


RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/10/18 3:34 PM as a reply to Paul Fanshawe.
Paul Fanshawe:
Anna L:

Have you practiced TM lately? I don't practice this technique anymore but maybe one day I will experiment with it again ...
Hi Anna.
No, I have not practiced TM for almost 40 years. I have no desire to either. As I mentioned in my initial post, I have had very little experience with Buddhist meditation due to depression-like effects in the immediate aftermath. I had to stop attempting to carry on with it. However, during the 10 or so times that I practiced it, which lasted about two hours each, I made good progress, that's if you could call having a feeling of supreme joy and detachment good progress. I also, during the course of my 10 sessions, experienced vivid bright coloured shimmering pulsating  lights passing in waves above my closed eye level. This happened during the majority of them. Unfortunately, the after-effects of the meditations were very frightening for me and I have not meditated again for about 6 months. If I am to go back to it, I will do so under the supervision of an experienced teacher, preferably a senior monk. I try to live by the 5 precepts. The only one I fall down on is "refraining from fermented beverages that cause heedlessness". Also, I take all the Sutta study that I have done over the internet with absolute seriousness and in good faith. Paul.
Sounds like you have good concentration emoticon The lights could be nimitta - indicating access concentration. Can you describe the lights in more detail (colour, shape, how they moved - e.g. horizontal, vertical). I am always curious to hear about people's light experiences as I experience them too. In TM it was always one single round light in the centre of my vision and it was usually purple/blue and sometimes red. 

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/11/18 5:11 AM as a reply to Anna L.
Hi Anna.
The lights were indeed purple and blue with the odd red hue. They moved horizontally from left to right, pulsating slowly from dim to bright, not in time with the breath though, which had become very slow - hardly breathing at all. They were shaped like large round circles with blurred fuzzy edges. Paul.

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/11/18 8:31 AM as a reply to Paul Fanshawe.
Ah, now that's what I was asking for - a phenomenological description of your experience, Paul. Every time I close my eyes to meditate red, purple and blue colored blobs appear. Thay can start as one shape and morph into other shapes. Sometimes they pulse with the breath, sometimes not. They come and go in familiar patterns, too. What you see (or saw) sounds quite normal to me.

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/11/18 9:46 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
Ah, now that's what I was asking for - a phenomenological description of your experience, Paul. Every time I close my eyes to meditate red, purple and blue colored blobs appear. Thay can start as one shape and morph into other shapes. Sometimes they pulse with the breath, sometimes not. They come and go in familiar patterns, too. What you see (or saw) sounds quite normal to me.
Hi Chris.
I think you have mixed up the two experiences. What I described in my original reply to you concerned my 40 year old experience with Transcendental Meditation. What I was describing in reply to Anna L was my more recent experiences with meditation in the way of the Therevada Buddhist tradition. Anna L Makes the distinction herself in her question to me and I make it in her quoted text, but I understand what you're saying nevertheless. Paul.

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/11/18 11:13 AM as a reply to Paul Fanshawe.
Yes, I did mix them up. Sorry about that!

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/11/18 11:59 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
Yes, I did mix them up. Sorry about that!
Hi Chris.
It's no big deal. Thanks for all your help. This was my first post on the forum and I have learned a lot. I might even have another go at meditation tomorrow. Thanks to Shergol, Angra and Anna as well. Paul.

RE: Mysterious early attainment.
Answer
2/11/18 10:27 PM as a reply to Paul Fanshawe.
Paul Fanshawe:
Hi Anna.
The lights were indeed purple and blue with the odd red hue. They moved horizontally from left to right, pulsating slowly from dim to bright, not in time with the breath though, which had become very slow - hardly breathing at all. They were shaped like large round circles with blurred fuzzy edges. Paul.


Interesting... you might enjoy fire kasina practice: https://firekasina.org/

The visuals are interesting and it's very tranquil emoticon 

If you do start to meditate again and run into difficulties, reach out to the forum. I also find it useful to keep a practice log (but have not updated mine for a week or so... oops)