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Dealing with the Dark Night

What's the difference?

What's the difference?
8/22/10 10:27 PM
There is a great deal of talk about the Dark Night, about entering the Dark Night at some earlier time in ones life, and about the specific Nanas experienced on the path of insight we call the Dark Night. I ask, how does the dark night differ as a specific meditation state, vs. as an existential state experienced through life?

This ties into a broader more general question regarding contradictory reports regarding the difficulty, and the accessibility of various insights and attainments. By this I mean that in some cases the jhanas, the nanas, path knowledge ect. are held to be difficult to attain, difficult to enter, and evaluated with great scrutiny. In others, insights and attainments are spoken of as having been experienced at mundane times of ones life, that is to say, before a person really began practicing.

Thus, my question is: What is the difference between insights and attainments experienced casually, in life, when one is not really practicing vs. insights and attainments experienced specifically through meditation?

RE: What's the difference?
8/23/10 6:21 AM as a reply to Michael D. Kaup.
Hey Michael,

This will not be a very thorough answer to your question so it would be great if someone else was to tackle it a bit better.

The thing about the stages of insight (Dark Night included) is that while they are symptoms of insight practice (which may or may not be meditation based, since for example the A&P is easily accessible through other means such as drugs), they too have emotional, perceptual, psychological, even physical to some extent, symptoms themselves. In the case of the Dark Night the best method of illustration is to compare it to a strong and persistent case of depression (even though different people experience it differently but this is often-times a common feature). The problem with this is that some people may then believe that they are in the Dark Night whereas in fact they are simply having psychological difficulties. Equally, I have met a fair share of people who were almost certainly in the midst of a Dark Night but did not believe that such a thing was possible, existed, or could possibly be happening to them, blaming it instead on their psychology. The problem with this is that therapy can not resolve what is being presented by the Dark Night, the only thing that goes through this is insight. This results in what is here referred to as a chronic Dark Night yogi (someone more or less permanently suffering from Dark Night symptoms).

So to return to your question, Dark Night is brought about through the practice of insight (conscious or not), but it hits all aspects of ones life and experience, same as the other stages. There are some common features to some of these stages that make diagnosis possible.

As for a difference between insight gained through meditation or through daily life, there are a lot of differences in how they manifest and in how one relates to them (but they are the same thing). It is, for example, very easy to believe the A&P to be something it is not, or it is easy to blame the Dark Night on outside influences or psychological makeup, if one is unaware of what these things actually are. Also, I would argue that it is very near impossible to get good at this stuff, or to get a couple of paths, let alone getting enlightened, without a very serious and determined practice, I do not think that this stuff is easily achievable in daily life (unless one was to do insight in daily life, which may be very difficult early on).

Was there a specific reason why you asked this question?

All the best,


RE: What's the difference?
9/9/10 11:08 AM as a reply to Pavel _.
Appreciated. Most definitely helpful. My reason for asking: For my own progress on the path of insight based on my experience on the cushion, I place myself in the A and P. Yet I feel that Dark Night like symptoms were what brought me to practice in the first place. Does this make sense? Is it possible in cases our sitting practice has to play catch-up with our life practice, or that our life practice has to play catch-up with our sitting practice? I wonder how these kind of phenomenon effect each and influence each other through the path of insight.

RE: What's the difference?
9/9/10 4:01 PM as a reply to Michael D. Kaup.
You can fall back, this is pretty normal me thinks (I went through the A&P 2 or 3 times before I started practicing). Also, the stage before the A&P can be quite unpleasant (and could be mistaken for the Dark Night). Lastly, depression hits a lot of people, I think that it could be mistaken for the Dark Night quite easily (ie. it's more likely that it is a Dark Night if there is a huge mystical experience of the kind described in MCTB preceding it). But once you start permanently practicing there should be less falling back (and it never happened to me that I would fall back from the Dark Night anyway).

There are lots of great discussions on this map stuff here on the Dharma Overground (some of which answer your questions in great detail), rummage around and you should find them.

All the best.