Conversation with an advanced yogi

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Conversation with an advanced yogi

Posts: 439 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
Hi Charles,

This report is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for with regard to the development practice. With this kind of clear description of your experience we can refine the language and the techniques. It also provides a platform for making a clear distinction between the instructions for development and the instructions for non-dual practice.

Please scroll down to see where I have responded to your experiences and impressions. Your comments are in italics, mine are in standard type.

Mudita,
Kenneth

Dear Kenneth:

First, I would like to report how my morning meditations have been influenced by this ongoing conversation. For a long time now, I have been mixing myself a bowl of Japanese green tea and then happily sitting for anywhere between 45 and 90 minutes doing my regular practice. What is that? Just sitting in naked awareness. Often the mind wanders and I simply notice. Happy sitting.
Tsoknyi's perspective is, when sitting "anything goes." No problems. And his initial instruction on my very first retreat with him was: "Be Happy!" He added, "not hippy happy," which I interpreted as, "Relax!"
This was a revelation for me. Teachers up to then always had some instruction: "Watch your breath," "Sit up straight," "Observe your mind," and so forth. Here was somebody who gave permission to be easy with one's self when meditating, and moreover, whatever happens doesn't matter! It's all grist for the mill of primordial awareness.


These paragraphs bring into focus the fact that development practices and non-dual practices are not at all the same. It is tempting for vipassana students to imagine that dzogchen is some subset of vipassana, e.g. Mindfulness of Mind, one of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. It is not. Non-dual practice, by whatever name, is completely outside of that

At that first retreat with Tsoknyi, there were many Vipassana practitioners, and I imagined hearing a great sigh of relief when he offered his initial teaching. I certainly had it in my own mind. Relax, Be Happy.
It was a curious retreat because in the Tibetan modality there is a great deal of teaching and a great deal of whispering when we were on breaks. Also, breaks did not include an walking practice. This was really foreign for me as I was accustomed to fairly strict rules regarding any contact between yogis: auditory, visual or touch. Everybody on this retreat seemed to be just messing around. Still, lo and behold, at the end of this first retreat, I felt very much as I did at the end of the many strict programs of Vipassana in the previous years. Yet, here in this relaxed atmosphere, something had happened.


Yes. If the object of awareness is the contents of the mind,as in vipassana or samatha (jhana) practice those contents must by carefully nurtured, even controlled. Hence, "no looky, no touchy, no talky." If, on the other hand, that which we are interested in is outside of the small mind, the contents of the mind are not relevant.

I was amazed. I had been conditioned to believe that one had to struggle, to work hard, obey the rules, use a great deal of effort, hold on tight. That was what a retreat was supposed to look like. And the payoff was great on those retreats; altered mind states and very high feelings. So I assumed that the hard work was a necessary ingredient for the results at the end.

But what if one could discover a transforming modality of practice that was actually relaxed, not so quiet, not such a struggle? This was a completely new understanding. Tsoknyi calls this (non) practice: "non distracted, non meditation."
There is nothing to do, no point of focus, and yet the key idea of "non distracted" suggests that in fact one is "not doing," which is the flip side—and in many ways the same as—doing! Not doing what? Not being distracted, that is, not falling into the trap of the grasping mind. Simply allowing whatever arises without pulling, pushing or altering in any way. This, I believe, is one of the great attractions to the non-practice of Realization.
And it works!


It works. As you say, the idea of "non distracted" is key. The mind has to be at rest, together in one place, for realization to happen. If one is frantically chasing chickens, one forgets to look up at the clear blue sky. In just that one aspect, non-dual practice is like the vipassana or jhana practices.

But in its essence, non-dual awareness could be said to be the opposite of development practice. As always, we must be careful with language. Development practices like vipassana and samatha (pure concentration leading to jhana) urge the yogi to "look inward." From the perspective of non-dual practice, however, all such practices are actually looking outward. If, as in the case of vipassana, one is carefully observing "the changing phenomena of mind and body," one is still looking away from the most fundamental aspect of experience, i.e. the knowing of said experience. It is that very knowing that is the object of awareness in non-dual practice. (And already the language has broken down, as knowing is simultaneously the subject and object of non-dual practice.) Development practices are the opposite of non-dual practice because the former focus on the contents of the mind, while the latter is concerned with pure awareness.

I was in a transcended experience of my own consciousness and primordial Awareness just simply by having this pointed out. (The transmission itself is called the Pointing Out Instructions.) With this new form, clearly in contradiction to my Vipassana practice, everything changed.

While on retreat at Elat Chaim last year, I heard Eliezer Sobel tell the story of how he went to see Tsoknyi Rinpoche. Eliezer said he was not surprised when he heard Tsoknyi say, "Do not hang out in the past." Eliezer yawned when he heard Tsoknyi say, "Do not hang out in the future." But Eliezer was completely blown away when he heard Tsoknyi say, "But, above all, do not hang out in the present."

The present, as Eliezer then explained, is still in the "time stream." The time stream is a construct of thought. The dzogchen practice is to step outside of time to notice that which is neither then nor now nor later. The moment of non-dual awareness cannot be compared to anything within time. As J. Krishanamurti used to say, it is completely revolutionary. As Ganga-ji says, it won't get you anything, but is "its own good news."

So my sitting from that time on (for at least ten years) has been relaxed and open to whatever arises. On the positive side, the ease of the practice brings with it a sense of spaciousness and freedom. Within it, a sense of liberation arises, and deepening of the wisdom of emptiness seems to grow on its own. My annual retreats with Tsoknyi over the years brought increasingly wonderful insights in the dzogchen modality, which, as I understand it, is very close to the Mahamudra teaching that you speak about.

We are on the same page. As I understand it, there is no fundamental difference between Dzogchen and Mahamudra. Both point to that which is beyond time and space, but which is present in each and every moment of experience - the simple quality of awareness. When all of the contents of the mind are allowed to arise and pass away naturally, Knowing is revealed as the only constant. When Knowing knows itself, there is nothing more to be done.

The downside of this practice is the inclination to drift away, which itself is a major distraction. Sitting with alertness allows the presence of Awareness to simply be "what is," and this works quite well. But without an anchor, so to speak, there is a tendency to graze the inner territory with realizing that one is a grazing like a cow, completely oblivious, as opposed to allowing whatever arises to happen with the essential alertness that one always has of "knowing" that one is grazing (ever alert with an observant consciousness.)
Not being distracted is not so easy in a busy world. So when I am doing my regular morning (non) meditation, I have discovered that it is ever so easy to drift away. The more free time I have throughout each day, the less I drift.


This is important for me to hear. I have to be reminded that I cannot reasonably extrapolate my experience to others. This mind doesn't wander as much as it once did. It is fairly compliant. But I remember. And you are right. One way or another, the mind must be trained. This reminds me of a nifty little saying that is attributed to the Buddha: "It is good to tame the mind, because a well-tamed mind brings happiness."

When the mind is tamed to the point where it will rest, undistracted, in primordial awareness, happiness is inevitable.

Just a few days ago, I began to follow the development instructions you are outlining (beautifully, I might add), and instead of sitting in naked awareness, I began to hold the concentration in the way I was trained many decades ago. Almost immediately, within the first five minutes, my mind said quite loudly, "Oh, I remember this!" And it was happy, joyful to remember what happens to one's consciousness when simple concentration is applied.
It was interesting to note, as a beginning meditator notes, the scattered thoughts of the chicken farm. But there was already a different quality to that experience. Whereas an untrained meditator tries to control the mind, to zero in on the chicken, my access to more advanced practice along with the depth of Realization that I have experienced, it was a delightful sit exploring the physical and emotional experiences of the first nana, the very first step on the ladder.


This is huge! The beginning meditator shoots himself in the foot by imagining that he must continue to apply effort in order to hold onto the experience (i.e. the same kind of effort that got him there in the first place). By holding onto the very mental factor which must be released in order for the next phase of concentration to arise, the untrained meditator actually prevents himself from settling into the next phase. Jhanas are defined by what is lost as you move from one to the next. It is always a matter of letting go into the next experience.

Yesterday, I put together the first nana with the first jhana (I'm still not completely sure of the difference), which for me was like an exhalation, a release, a very familiar place that I never "named." Your analogy of the pillow case has been very instructive, for my inclination is to quickly investigate and probe in a way the moves me into mindfulness. So, yesterday and today I have been more surrendered and more focused in allowing the shades of consciousness to reveal themselves as they will.

Excellent. As you continue this comparison of vipassana vs. samatha, the difference will become ever more apparent.

The first ñana is the insight that arises when the stratum of mind where the first jhana lives is explored via the vipassana technique. Same territory, different lens.

Today, I started with a meditation on the breath, and stayed with it to see what would happen. After a while, the ground shifted from a kind of symphony of sound, to clearly noticing individual instruments. I kept coming back to the breath, but it was clear that without seeking anything, I was on a deeper layer of concentration than the previous day. Accompanying this was a persistent inner glowing light that I had experienced in 1999 on a three month retreat. On that retreat, the glow lasted for hours every day for two of the three months.

I'll be interested to hear what you conclude as you continue to explore this territory via the samatha technique. This last description sounds to me more like the second jhana than the first. As you say, you were "on a deeper layer of concentration than the previous day." You can test it by grasping your nose with an imaginary thumb and forefinger, and sustaining the slight, continuous effort that is required to do that. If you can do that, you are in the first jhana. This ability to point and sustain the attention on the object in a very tight focus is one of the mental factors that is unique to the first jhana and must be left behind in order to move to the second. If it feels forced, as though the mental gesture is dragging you out of a deeper state, you are in a more advanced jhana (in this case, probably the second). If so, when you abandon the imaginary nose tweaking, you will settle back into whatever jhana you were in.

Today this felt to me like a fixation. I just sat with it for a long time for most of the sit. When it was time to move on from the meditation, I realized that if I had been on retreat I might have continued sitting for a number of hours with the inner light and the ground with its individualized sounds. But as I moved to end the sit, everything slowly collapsed, one by one, into my "mundane," everyday mind.

This is good description of the way the mind returns to its habitual state after emerging from jhana. Another way to describe it would be to say that the mind reconstructs itself, layer by layer, until all layers are present and the grossest phenomena take center stage.

It is fine that it feels like a fixation. Jhana is fixation. But that does not in any way conflict with the rigpa instructions. You can do one or the other. To paraphrase one of my favorite meditation teachers, there is plenty of room within the boundlessness of buddha nature for a little fixation.

The bottom line is that it feels very good to begin practicing concentration once again, especially with the experience I am bringing to it. It feels tremendously powerful and positive to follow what you have outlined so far.

Your concentration is obviously very well developed. Don't be surprised if you see more jhanas soon. And I am eager to hear about what happens when you practice with a kasina object, which is the best way I know of to develop "rock solid" jhana.

In your description of samatha jhana, from lightness to rock solid, I am wondering about my sense of fixation on the inner light as described above. It held rock solid steady for many hours each day for a couple of months. Since that experience, I have been able to invoke it at any time.

You have already developed that jhana at some time in the past. Now you "own it." You can access it at any time via either the vipassana or samatha technique. As such, that particular jhana, which I suspect is the second, will be an excellent laboratory for doing A/B comparisons of the vipassana and samatha technique, and for practicing the four parameters for mastery of a jhana, viz. adverting, entering, abiding (dwelling), and exiting. The inner light is called the nimitta or "sign of samadhi." More on this below.

In some ways, I identify this inner light as a gateway to emptiness. But the possibility of my clinging mind concerned me. After a number of years, I consulted with Tsoknyi, not describing the inner light but rather my question was, "I seem to be holding on to emptiness; is that o.k. for my practice?"
His response: "Stop Meditating!" His view is that is it more difficult to stop a practice than to begin one and in the dzogchen world, one never holds on to any kind of practice—one should be able to cut through (trekchod) any mind set at any time. Any kind of clinging is unskillful practice. This appears to be a major contradiction to the idea of "hard jhana." I'm o.k. with the contradiction, but just want to clarify.


It isn't possible to hold onto emptiness, if by emptiness you mean primordial awareness. That is why your teacher knew you were meditating. You were holding onto your concept of emptiness. Emptiness is that which cannot be held onto. "Hard jhana" has nothing to do with emptiness.

By the way, I think you have seen that although the object of awareness can be the breath, a mantra, or a kasina object, etc, once you enter jhana, the jhana itself becomes the object. You pay attention to the pleasant sensations or visual manifestations of the jhana, and let yourself bathe in the jhana as it becomes ever more solid.

I remembered an interesting point out of the blue this morning during my practice. A number of years ago, one of the teachers was a younger man in the Vipassana world who had just finished a period of time in Burma with U Pandita. Clearly he had been impressed with this experience, and he kept saying things like: "Get in close with the breath," "Become one with the breath," "Get tight, closer, closer with each breath."
I remember his passion and intensity. Something had touched him. I also remember that I was put off by the instruction as it seemed too pushy, too much effort. (By the way, it turned out that this young teacher ended up very influenced by Papaji, and for a while became an Advaitist, and then moved to Tibetan practice when he got one of the early copies of the Flight of the Garuda—which I have found to be an extraordinary text that most of my students are unable to understand!)
This idea of merging with the breath sounds very different from: "Relax, be with what is, etc." Again, it is interesting that many Buddhist practitioners seem to focus on releasing the clinging mind as a key factor of practice—the second and third of the four Noble Truths—while these concentration practices, on the jhanic level, seem to invite a very tightening of focus, to the point of fixation, locked in, that sounds like hard jhana.


I agree with you that "relax and be with what is," is different from "fixate on this jhana." We must be careful not to make a category error. Jhana is apples and rigpa is oranges. Anything within time cannot be compared to rigpa. Primordial awareness just is, and can be noticed anytime. Any strain that goes into the noticing will just prevent the noticing from being continuous, as the noticing mind veers away from its intended target as in the first phase of chickenherding.

At this point, if in fact I was touching the 1st Jhana during the past couple of days, it's main feature is a calmness in comparison with my ordinary state of mind. At its depth, equanimity may reside, but it is not yet identifiable. I can feel the potential for joy and bliss, but, again, they are not clearly part of the initial experience. So, the fresh baked bread of calmness (exhilaration?) is the most notable feature.

Yes, this is a good point. Equanimity cannot be seen clearly, if at all, in the first three jhanas because it is too subtle to compete with the other, grosser jhanic factors. And the first jhana only seems exhilarating in comparison with the second and subsequent jhanas. In comparison with our "ordinary" mind states, even the first jhana is supremely calm. In any case, I am interested to see whether the jhana you experienced today reveals itself to be the first or second upon continued examination.

At some point, I plan to write about the nimitta, or "sign of samadhi," which is the main visual component of jhana, and is the source of the inner light you are describing. I have left it out of the description so far, as I find that it is not necessary in order to enter and explore jhanas, but it is significant and deserves a discussion of its own. It will be interesting to see how it relates to the lights you saw during your dark retreat.

I eagerly await your next adventure in chickenherding!

Kenneth Folk

January 2009

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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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This kind of confuses me. Should I just be doing non-dual practice all the time? Is there even a point to dualistic practices like vipassana or shamatha? The suggestion really seems to be that non-dual practices are superior in all ways.
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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Hi Nathan,

I have not read the post, but hopefully I can assist your question a bit. It most likely boils down to what one's favorite method is. Kenneth obviously really likes direct realization practices the most, and so he will support that side as best he can. Daniel on the other hand seems to favor Vipassana the most. Here are two fellas that know their stuff and favor each for different reasons.

It really boils down to what works best for you, what seems most interesting, etc. Personally, I used both depending on the situation (stages of insight, etc). Sometimes one just seems to work better than the other, or get a person unstuck from a place the other type could not. Also, you may note that many people have their favorite techniques and approaches within these umbrellas.

Shamatha has use all the time, although it is not completely necessary. Insight is about seeing things clearly as they are as they arise, so the better your concentration (shamatha) is, the better you'll be able to investigate.

Best,
Trent
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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@nathan -
The question is what works for me, you, or someone else. Nondual practices (and there various strands not to be confounded under one name, due to important differences) tend to draw their power from integrating vipashyana and shamatha, and they also integrate the bottom up and top down currents, but they also provide more ways to miss the point and avoid the necessary growth. More complexity, more potential for good news AND bad news.

p.s. Yaba posted his reply simultaneously and seems to make the same point.
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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thanks for the replies.

my response was partly predicated on the comments about how Tibetan-style retreat was more fun. Nondual practices are enjoyable, but I thought that despite the minor joint pain sitting in the fourth jhana for an hour at a time qualified as "fun," too, even if you're not allowed to make eye contact or eat animals. In other words, I'm just at times confused by the characterization of Theraveda as rigid. Even Chongyam said that the "wide" path leads back to the narrow again since all the discipline etc. surronding the hinayana is totally necessary for the bigger *yanas... but I can see how someone with certain proclivities might have a different response...

I'm curious about the comment that the retreat spent Tibetan style had the same impact--the effect I notice from retreat is greater degree of samadhi until that fades away. I have trouble understanding how gossiping in the hallways as effacious as increasing samadhi--am I missing the boat here? what is the relationship between the backgroung samadhi and the nondual awareness? (w/ the understanding that nondual practices are not concentration)
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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Hi Nathan,

Actually, non-dual practice done properly requires an enormous amount of concentration. That may be one of the reasons for the Zen truism that only one yogi in a hundred succeeds. Imagine how much concentration you would need to keep the no-dog in the foreground as you chat with other yogis.

The advantage of the post-modern approach is that we can put together practices from various traditions. Here again, it must be done properly, but when it is done properly it results in a synergy where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. More specifically, if you find non-dual practice inaccessible, practice vipassana and samatha until non-dual practice becomes obvious. When even non-dual practice becomes something extra, you can do something like Goenka-style body sweeping to keep yourself grounded in your life. (I do a lot of that lately.) All of these practices work so well together that it makes no sense to favor one over the other.
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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Author: yadidb

This reminds me of something I read written by the Venerable Ledi Sayadaw from Burma.. it said something along the lines of "arahats use the 4 satipatthanas as mental nutriment until they pass away".

What do you think this means Kenneth?

Also, why do you think Goenka insists his students to choose one practice and stick with it? They have very rigid rules on who's allowed to sit longer courses (2 years without intoxicants, steady relationship or celibate, only practicing this technique , etc).
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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1) I would say that this is a very poetic way of saying that it feels natural to practice even after enlightenment. I think of arahatship as completing a circuit. Once it's complete, you don't have to do anything else in that regard, as it's done. But there is this other kind of development, the learning of how to be a human being in the world, and that never ends. Meditation helps with that. There is also the infinite exploration of the mental territory that becomes available with enlightenment. So you always continue to practice.

2) I think Mr. Goenka wants to do what's best for his students and this is his very traditional view of what is best. By holding out on the advanced courses until students meet those rigorous criteria, he is providing an incentive for students to try the lifestyle he advocates. Some, including myself, would point out that while that kind of austerity can be supportive to practice, it is just one way to make progress. That's not to encourage reckless hedonism, but one must be honest that austerity is not pre-requisite to enlightenment.

The need to stick with one practice is Mr. Goenka's preference, but is refuted by the success of many eclectic practitioners.
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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Author: yadidb

Thanks for the helpful reply Kenneth,
highly appreciated.
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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an excellent, excellent topic, and ensuing discussion, thank you to all parties involved
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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Author: msj123

I have reached a point in my practice where, after some A&P type events (shaking, kriyas, extremely fast ability to note to the point where everything dissolves into a cloud), that I cannot perform any of my usual techiques. I generally practice Shinzen Young type meditation which consists of noting different states (internal states, external states, both, noting impermanence). Now I find I can barely note anything at all. Everything seems "slippery"--- the best I can describe is it feels like my mental phenomenon are made of sand and fall apart. I find myself sinking and tending to fall asleep during meditation. My concentration is suddenly very poor. So I've been practicing "doing nothing"--- i.e. when you realize you're doing anything within your control, stop it. This seems to be the only thing I can do meditatively (I also do chi kung before I sit, but my concentration is very low here too). In many ways, I feel as though I am repeating parts of my beginner stage 6-7 years ago. My wife also tells me I have been hard to deal with lately.

(cont.)
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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Author: msj123

Now for the question: is it wrong to alternate in these situations between form and formless practice? Or is it better just to try to flub through? I don't want to be the idiot who stops digging when he's coming closer to the water. On the other hand, noting practice suddenly seems unbelievably difficult, and so does concentration.

Matt
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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Hi Matt,

Slightly off-topic for this thread, but here are my thoughts: when I was in a similar place last year, I just kept noting like crazy. In retrospect, doing more concentration in that phase might have been really helpful. Kenneth posted some thoughts on this somewhere here - how it's useful to increase concentration practice after the peaks.
As to difficulties with concentration: I experienced that, too. I found Daniel's conceptual description helpful to understand what's going on: during A&P the object is in the center, and the meditator has learned to concentrate on the center very well. In dissolution, however, the object is in the periphery, leaving a hole in the center, so trying to concentrate on the center doesn't work any more, and the meditator has to learn how to stay with the periphery in concentration (and noting practice). Depending on your meditation object, this shift from center to periphery will present in different ways.
As to "being hard to deal with" - sad, but probably true. I know I try to contain my dark stuff, but it's a huge challenge. It's almost impossible to overdo the effort of containing, and all too easy to let something ugly slip.
Anyway, I got through the last major dark night in about two weeks, meditating twice a day. YMMV, but it'll pass.

Hope that helps a bit,

Cheers,
Florian
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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Author: msj123

You know, Florian, this center/periphery may be the case: I can more clearly "see" my everyday persona when I'm going about my daily life. I've been calling it the Return of the Ordinary Mind. Perhaps I'm just seeing the periphery more clearly?

I don't feel Dark Night, with capital letters. It's more like a little moody. But she has called my attention to it--- sometimes chanting "dark night, dark night!" :-). I have her performing well--- everytime I complain about a meditation, she says "It will pass, it will pass."
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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Your report is exactly what I would expect to hear from a yogi who is navigating the Dark Night. If you haven't already, read my essay on The Progress of Insight (Part 2), along with the relevant passages in Daniel's book.

Concentration will ease your passage through this often challenging terrain, so you might want to do some kasina meditation or other pure samatha practice in addition to your vipassana. The standard (and best IMHO) advice is to spend as much time on the cushion as you can, even if it seems that you are wasting your time. You have to learn to meditate in a different way from what worked up until the A&P. If you try to force anything, the blowback is dreadful. So you don't try to DO the Dark Night, you just ALLOW it. When doing noting practice, the more gentle and flexible you can be in your noting, the better. And don't try to see anything in the middle of your perceptual field. You are a donut. There's nothing to see in the middle, so don't try. The awareness is very diffuse, and you just let everything be there at once, without trying to chase any one sensation.

It's very common at this stage to feel some echoes of the early nanas. But it's actually very different, as before the pain was solid and now everything is dissolving. Uncomfortable sensations chase each other around the body, so there is no place to rest. Don't follow anything around, just sit there like a soft mountain and let the world dissolve. The more you can learn to surrender, the easier this will be.
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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Author: msj123

Kenneth,

Thanks for the advice. I will do this. In fact, I have a Bhavana Society retreat scheduled for May, so it may be good timing.

Matt
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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I am extremely grateful for the level, type, and quality of content that is offered here on DhO. I have encountered information here, as in the article above "Conversation with an advanced yogi", that I will probably be using and benefitting from for decades to come. I appreciate this immensely. Kenneth and Daniel both show this spirit of relentless clarification. I wonder if it's an outgrowth of vipassana practice.

This discussion of nondual practice and Theravadin samatha-vipassana is extremely useful for me; the clarification of the categories. I have alot to learn.


In the past 4 or 5 months, I've been exposed to what seems to me to be very high quality, specific, practical information about yogic practice in the Theravadan tradition of mental cultivation.

It has definitely been alot to process, and there's alot of it that I simply won't process at this point.

At any rate, over the last couple of weeks, I had to take a moment contemplate on the bigger picture. I wrote the following.
(cont'd)
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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Daniel Ingram is describing a grounded straightforward approach to spiritual practice.

The focus is on Vipassana which is rigorous systematic investigation of the mental generation of sensate experience.

As one uses the method to investigate the mental generation of experience one moves through predictable stages. The Ñanas.

Now what makes the rigorous investigation of the mental generation of sensate experience a spiritual practice?

Vipassana is not the spiritual path, it’s a tool to be used on the spiritual path.It could be carried out by a non-spiritual motivation. It could be motivated by scientific curiosity.

The spiritual path is about an honoring of the truth of existence.

But vipassana is a very effective tool for walking that path. It is something to do.

But if vipassana alone were enough, there would be no need for philosophical Dharma texts. There would just be how-to manuals and exhortations.

There’s the spiritual path and then there’s spiritual practice.

Spiritual practice is about doing something that occupies oneself and orients one toward the honoring of existence.

Vipassana can do that. So can physical fitness. So can rearing sheep.

So why are mental yogas and attentional practice considered so suitable for spiritual practice? Maybe part of the reason is that they so effectively engage some of the deepest parts of us. But they are not the path itself.
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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The path itself is participation in existence. From a spiritual point of view, there’s nothing more toward which to aspire.
Then there are disciplines we can take up that can hold our lives together.
That’s how I’m coming to view the yogas.

To be practiced with vigor and with openness.

I’m coming to view the path of mysticism as somehow separate from the underlying path of spirituality. How could that be?

Well, I see the path of mysticism as about something that I do; something that “I” does. But to me, the spiritual path is not about me. It’s about something that just is. It’s already there. It’s already the case.

The mystical path is just appropriate behavior in light of what already is.

It would be ridiculous for plants to grow upwards if the sun were not already there. On the other hand, in view of the fact that the Sun is there, growing upwards is the most appropriate orientation for the plant. The plant does not grow in order to create or produce the Sun. Nor does it grow in order to arrive at the Sun.

Shamatha-vipassana is a way of orienting oneself in relation to the mystery. But the point is not you, or her, or him, or me. It’s good to remember that it’s not about you. Then the path can be truly joyful.
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

Posts: 14 Join Date: 8/26/09 Recent Posts
So, shamatha, practiced spiritually, is about a psychophysical orienting of the being toward the miraculousness of being.

Vipassana, practiced spiritually, is about regard. It is a deep regarding of the miracle of being unfolding. These are both activities of communion performed by the subject.

They are activities to be done while sitting at the feet of the miracle of being. They are not themselves the miracle of being. That is already there, which is why there is being at all.

It’s important to realize that everything that you can ever do—the most superlative, fundamental achievement—can only ever be one-half of the equation/your equation. And that equation is always perfected by the other half.

However we can honor the perfection that always already is or we can insult it. We can give it our all or we can attempt to steal from it. This choice is our birthright.

If we decide to offer our all to the perfection that always already is, then there are various practices. Shamatha-vipassana is one set of practices. But these practices will only be a cause for pride or vanity by those who have not recognized the other half of the equation – the all-encompassing mystery perfection that always already is. That’s the dignity of the entire thing-not yogic attainments.
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

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Nigel, I'm at work and can't do your comments full justice so I'll come back, read and say more later, but wanted to acknowledge your effort.. Thank you.
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RE: Responses to "Conversation with an advanced yogi"

Posts: 439 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
Thank you, Nigel, for a truly outstanding post. I feel inspired by your eloquence and clarity.

Also, your phrase, "relentless clarification," is wonderful. Relentless clarification is an ideal I aspire to in my roles as language teacher and dharma friend. Thanks for putting words to that concept.

Kenneth