Insight into Formless Realms

I’m not sure what is up with my fire kasina practice, but for the past two nights it has gone nowhere: I cannot even get the red dot; I’m not even getting the purple counter-image. This was all so easy back in October, and my concentration is better now than then. I can tell I’m hitting the jhanas, because I just edited the chapter on the jhanas, and I’m definitely able to see the visual presentation of each when I gaze on the flame itself. Third jhana has been particularly interesting because with other objects, third is kind of hard to discern as having particular qualities or factors other than not being second and not being fourth, which are much more distinctive. But I’m getting zero with eyes closed.

The other bright side (ha!) besides being able to check out third jhana more particularly than with other objects is that, once I give up and extinguish the flame, I land some really rich, impressive formless realms quickly. It seems that something is driving me to work on stabilizing theses, all of them. So begins insight into formless realms. Of course, last night I couldn’t get them at all, nor or any samatha, because the insight stages were pretty overwhelming. In many ways, fifth, Boundless Space, is my “favorite,” even better than fourth. Tonight I started to just indulge in it, but then I remembered a certain conversation in which it was suggested that I might lock onto this state and observe it in concentration mode, particularly any sense of permanence or “mine.”

So I let the space go out as far as possible, and I noticed that the mechanism for this is a subtle spreading out from and yet of myself. Even though my body feels “gone,” there is a sense of center where the absence is. So the spreading of “me” out in all directions is questionable. Subtle thought is definitely possible in jhanas, and I started thinking in terms of reversing this: What would happen if the field of experience were allowed to soar into the center, rather then some push o f the center out into the farthest reach of space? I did the same thing with Boundless Consciousness—figuring out how this might be felt in the opposite direction, with awareness as field moving into and through the center, however absent that center might seem.

Seventh, Nothingness—I have it. It could use some more stabilization, but I am getting it regularly now. The biggest challenge with holding this one is that it usually starts strobing or sparkling after a while, which means that insight is bleeding through, showing this state’s impermanence. What of the self is invested in Nothingness? It is an interesting question and seems to have to do with a desire for rest from the astounding me-energy of Boundless Space and Boundless Consciousness.

Eighth, NPNYN—I have it. Even though this one is also not yet terrifically stable, it feels, oddly enough, as if it will be easier to stablize than Nothingness. One bizarre thing I noticed about this state tonight is that, in contrast with the blackness of Nothingness, this state is both bright and dark at the same time. It is not black but a kind of electric gray, which makes no sense, but that’s
how it is, nonetheless.

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