Formless Realms and the Eigth Jhana?

Sha-Man! Geoffrey, modified 6 Months ago at 10/30/23 7:37 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 10/30/23 6:54 PM

Formless Realms and the Eigth Jhana?

Posts: 374 Join Date: 10/30/23 Recent Posts
Hey all,

I have two experiences, I'm hoping to get your opinion on. 

For a bit of background, my main practice has been noting/spacious awareness/choiceless awareness, and then rolling them into one. I suspect I'm naturally talented at concentration. For example, on my first retreat, I crossed the A&P with a massive kundalini awakening, and then was in a very powerful (like 3-5 tabs range) second jhana for something like 4-5 hours. Then on my second retreat I ended up in a strong fourth jhana for about 2.5 days. Then, I've also experienced some fire kasina type visuals on regular practice and on retreat (but def on the lower end of the visuals you get with that).

1. This took place on a 10 day mahasi retreat last year (third retreat). I was in the dark night. I noticed that when I walked sometimes the world around me would get very spacious, but eventually it would collapse. I had one semi-challenging sit, which I think was a re-observation sit. Then the next day I decided to play around with the contracting and expanding awareness. So I kept in expanded awareness, and when it would collapse back down, I would go back into expanded. This started to cycle really fast and automatic and the *boom*. Suddenly I was in a state where I could see the frame rate of reality. It flickered like an old film movie on a project, and you could see some frames of black, and I was holding a cup and I could tell at each moment the cup was a new object. When I looked around, the center of my vision was "rendered" but the peripherals weren't, and as I moved my head I could see reality being rendered/derendered in real time. Finally, when I went to sit, I could see chunks of my breath just like cut out, like big chunks just edited out of existence. The whole thing last maybe like 20-30 minutes? There was also no real feeling of meta or anything like that. This definitely seemed to get me out of the DN as afterward my head disappeared for a bit, came back as not super-solid as it was before but now goopy, semi-solid (sometimes), and likely to just sometimes disappear, it felt like a weight had been lifted, and my baseline awareness became spacious.

Next thing has happened a few times.

2a. The first time was on a 2-week (fourth retreat), I think I was in a DN/EQ hybrid stage (like I remember things seeming big and spacious, but space was still made out of chunks that my mind would bounce between super rapidly to construct everything in real time). Basically I was sitting there, I was grumpy at some unpleasant sensations, but there was a moment where i thought "wait why am i so grumpy they are unpleasant but it's not really bad", and then my mind just switched modes. Basically, it took a step from looking at any one object to look at the whole frame. So instead of seeing objects arise and pass, it felt like experience became a river, and every moment was teeming with life, but as quick as something came up it would pass. I remember seeing pleasant and unpleasant sensations as this tiny speaks that lasted only a moment, and suddenly the idea of clinging to any of it made no sense. The river felt like there were lots of small parts to it (maybe the size of a quarter).
2b. Similar to 2a. but around the 12-15 day mark in a 2-month retreat deeper into EQ. The main difference was I had been working with a big ball of attachment in my head. It felt like that had cracked open like an egg and was just water falling energy, but there was still only one object, this big energy field. Daniels' description of '“waves of suchness”, or “primal, undifferentiated experience”' seems to describe it well. But as a part of this unified thing, it also felt like there were big splashes of energy. The whole thing had a texture of a bonfire/whirlwind.
2c. Similar to 2a minus the whole energy stuff. But the big difference here was at this point in the retreat all my sensor data felt like cotton balls. My mind naturally inclined up the formed jhanas, it went to 5 [space expanded and became boundless, the sense of a whole body disappeared,but there were still some globs of body attachment], then 6 [the space seem to fill with a metta quality, most globs disappeared, but there was still a little attachment in my head]. And then it felt like there was nothing in my existence but the color orange. (I had never gotten 7 before, but this seems like a strong candidate). And then I got into this state described a bunch where there was just one big energy object, but this time it was the most "plain" (but a lot of the energetic stuff had died down at this point in the retreat).

Now the reason I ask about 2 is because it seems like there are different possibilities. Namely
A. The eighth jhana
B. Three doors [this experience sounds similar to how Ron Crouch describes 3 doors]
As this experience matures another important shift occurs, and it is a very subtle one: it no longer seems as if the objects alone are vibrating, but rather that the entire field of awareness itself is vibrating. When this occurs the meditator begins to take the whole field of awareness itself as the object. All the things that are normally taken as objects still pop in and out of awareness, but now they are only part of what now constitutes the object, which is the vibratory nature of the whole field of awareness itself.
C. Other

I suspect it was A for a few reasons. First the jhanic progression, second I asked the Sayadaw, and he confirmed it, third I sat a retreat with Delson Armstrong and he decribed his 8th jhanas as "you can tell there is something there, but you cant tell what it is", and this seems to fit. However, I'm hesitant to call it that because it sounds absolutely nothing like Daniels descriptions of it.
This state is largely incomprehensible. There is no reasonable way to attempt to describe it, save that it is a mind state. I am tempted to say that in it we are simultaneously focused so narrowly that we notice nothing and yet so broadly focused that we don’t notice even that, but such a description doesn’t do this state justice. Another way I sometimes think of this state is like what happens when you turn off an old, tube-driven black-and-white television when the screen goes blank and just before it shuts off there is this tiny pale dot in the middle of the screen. It is like what happens just at the moment that dot is right on the edge of being totally gone, as if you froze in time that edge right between the dot being there and not being there and had it apply to everything in your whole sensate world.
But it does sound like this random other unnamed thing he talks about
When experienced at very high levels of concentration, formations lose the sense that they were even formed of experiences from distinguishable sense doors. This is hard to describe, but we might try such nebulous phrases as “waves of suchness”, or “primal, undifferentiated experience”. This is largely an artifact of experiencing formations high up in the byproducts of the fourth vipassana jhana, the first three formless realms, as discussed earlier. This aspect of how formations may be experienced is not necessary for the discussions below nor is it necessary for stream entry. It is actually somewhat uncommon.

So thoughts?
Jim Smith, modified 6 Months ago at 10/30/23 9:15 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 10/30/23 9:08 PM

RE: Formless Realms and the Eigth Jhana?

Posts: 1735 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
"So thoughts?"

Okay here are my thoughts ... it's not what you are asking about and there is really nothing wrong with your interest in your actual question, it's just that you might consider a different perspective....
As Ajahn Chah described them, meditative states are not important in themselves. Meditation is a way to quiet the mind so you can practice all day long wherever you are; see when there is grasping or aversion, clinging or suffering; and then let it go.

I tend to agree with this sentiment. I think people get caught up in mastering a technique or attaining a stage and lose track of why they are doing that. Suppose you push through the eigth jhana and experience cessation/fruition. Despite what you might have heard, it probably won't make that much difference. Lots of people experience cessation/fruition and don't recognize it as enlightenment.

I also think that samatha often translated as tranquility or serenity is better understood as relaxation rather than concentration.

What helps people most, in my opinion, is cultivating samatha (tranquility, relaxation) and insight (vipassana) in meditation and daily life. Being relaxed helps you cultivate insight. Insight, in my opinion is when you observe the activity of the mind and notice impermanence, the arising and fading of dukkha, and how the sense of self changes how it arises and fades, and how the ego is involved in suffering. And trying to be mindful, observing these phenomena in the present moment rather than getting caught up or carried away by your thoughts, emotions, impulses, and sensory experiences. Recognizing thoughts, emotions, impulses, and feelings of self and not self are not reality they arise from unconscious processes, the five aggregates. When you do that, you are learning about the three characteristics and letting go - interrupting the sequence of dependent origination. That will make a huge difference.  You don't need perfect technique or advanced stages to do this.  In my opinion, you would benefit more from focusing your effort into this than into stages of meditative experiences.