16 February 2015

The Deep Experiences of Samadhi and Insight

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Samadhi or real jhana practice is a very deep thing. It’s not simply something that you just work through one day after the next following formulaic steps. Real mastery of jhana is profound mastery, it is rare and requires real commitment and a long time. This notion of one day I am practising first jhana, I stay with it for three hours and then the next day I am on to second jhana etc. is simply not realistic. This is not how it works. Once someone has had a genuine experience of absorption then I would get them to keep going into that for a long time so it becomes really stable and reliable. If immediately they were to go on to try and practice second jhana then the first jhana experience will never have the time to mature. If you also fill someone’s mind up with stuff to do at this delicate stage of the practice it can also be a hindrance.

These states are not ordinary, they are extraordinary and they have a profound transformative effect on us in the way that they prompt in us our letting go of our attachment to states. So actually that is as significant in breaking down our attachment and clinging as the insight that comes from seeing impermanence. To turn away from the gross to the subtle, and then to keep turning away from the subtler and subtler, is how we realise that there is no resolution there in clinging to states of any kind. It’s only in the seeing them get subtler that we see, “Ah, the less that is there, the less oppressive it is”. One who has come to truly know the subtle and seen into the processes that underpin our lives in ways we may previously not have known, will come to a sure knowledge that there is no refuge to be found through clinging to the gross. Have no doubt that this will be every much as compelling an experience upon our path as is the insight that is born of witnessing the momentary arising and passing away of phenomena within our practice of vipassana.

[groups_non_member group=”Registered”]This effect that serenity has upon breaking our attachment to all this variety of stuff is as important as seeing impermanence. With not enough concentration or not enough mindfulness or reflecting upon impermanence it quite often doesn’t perform the function of causing us to turn away.

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This effect that serenity has upon breaking our attachment and all the variety we crave is as important as seeing impermanence. With not enough concentration or not enough mindfulness or reflecting upon impermanence it quite often doesn’t perform the function of causing us to turn away.

You’ve got to understand that through the samatha process you become aware of and abide in gradually, the realm of subtle materiality, and realising that actually, that as an abiding, it is not that reliable. Then you move to immaterial states, with the mental states that are required to uphold it, and realise that’s not reliable. It’s like you are coming through to cessation in a way, gradually in stages, through the relinquishing of the grossest aspects of your experience.

It’s so integrated into the experience that transforms us, this gradually dropping the gross, and gradually simplifying the state of mind and realising that only in the simplifying does the refuge deepen. Less to cling to, less involved, less engaged. Until the eighth jhana is not like a profound, deep energetic experience like fourth jhana is, or like fine material jhana, it’s letting go the experience, a little bit at a time, to find a deeper place of refuge, until we realise that there is no place of refuge, until we let everything go.

The mechanics of going through the experience of Samadhi is just as transformative, prompts in us just as much relinquishing as through the practice of vipassana. So the point is that that profound effect that samadhi has upon us, it needs to be pointed out. It’s not just a mechanical process whereby the jhana factors appear. “Now I am in first jhana, let me review, yes that was first jhana. Right, what if I was to try and develop second jhana. Yes, now I am in second jhana. That is more satisfying than first jhana. Why is that? It is because of the absence of this and that. OK, so why don’t I relinquish this and simplify it further.” I have read far too many dry expositions of the mechanics of jhana practice that belie the real depth of experience that unfolds as we do truly and deeply enter into samadhi.

So to any of you who have followed this mechanic step by step approach and not found yourself at a profoundly moving and paradigm shifting experience, I suggest you revisit these practices for you may have missed something. There is nothing hinted at in these dry and formulaic expositions of the actual experience which, have no doubt, will transform us and move us in the direction of a deep letting go of clinging every bit as much as will our practice of vipassana if followed in a similarly formulaic way. Remember above all else, that the gradual and unfolding process of awakening and freeing ourselves from bondage is in no way something that goes on as a series of joining the dots in our mind and coming to ever more refined views. It is entirely an experiential process that transforms us, and if we are not transformed sufficiently by it, then it would be prudent of us to review our own practice and experience before coming to any conclusions about the efficacy of the path.

That is why eventually when we get that true experience of awareness itself, where there is no deliberate inclining of the mind towards anything and there is no holding of anything deliberately, it is just a coming to a state of rest. We see that Samadhi itself or deliberate concentration is also unsatisfactory and we turn away again. It is the experience always that is transforming us. I just think that we need to hint at that. I don’t think people know what it is that they are looking for in their practice, what it is that is actually going to transform them. So they ask, “Have I seen arising and passing? Yes I have seen arising and passing. Tick that box.” But wait and ask yourself: Has it actually had a transformative effect? What is the transformative effect upon you? What should you actually be expecting to happen to you at the point at which you experience arising and passing? What has it prompted you to relinquish, and can you feel deeply the unfolding of that relinquishing process and the lightening of your heart that it brings…or are you fighting still telling yourself to let go. Know for sure that once we have past through the experience of nibbida the genuine meditative experience brings with it a choiceless and blissful letting go, not a battle of the will.

Because if this transformation is not happening to you then your experience is not deep enough. It’s simply not deep enough. It’s not performing the function that it would perform if it were, which is to cause a deepening willingness to relinquish and a deeper relinquishing. It is important to make this point. And if this is not happening, and you find yourself returning again and again to the texts for hints, return instead to the cushion and further deepen your experience there.

The danger is that it always becomes formulaic. Even in the books we publish, where we have tried not to put all the formulae and structure in so that people don’t get lost in trying to join the dots up, there is still a tendency to keep relating it back to the formula rather than the experience, completing the formula. “Ah, now I understand the entire path to Nibbana”. OK, it is very helpful in elucidating but it doesn’t equate to transformation. Understanding what Jhana is doesn’t equate to transformation, and more than understanding what Nibbana might be, but truly experiencing these things does. So keep going, until it happens for you. [/groups_member]

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