Reply to Daniel’s Advice about Attaining to Nirodha Samapatti
Very interesting. And, incidentally, you mention much here that you don’t where you have written on NS publicly (although I’ve not run a search on the DhO archives, and maybe I should). Anyhow I think I’ll copy what you’ve written above and dump it into the advanced concentration practice chapter file for you to use or edit down as you see fit.
I have the formless realms, but the older texts say “mastery” of them is required, and I’m not sure how far or not far I am down the road of “mastery” of the jhanas in general, or at least in terms of what bare minimum is required to land nirodha samapatti. Some nights my practice is super-strong, the states are all blowaway hard, and the afterglow is heavy and lasts about 2 hours. Other times, not so much, and usually during those times it is because some insight stage is insistently bleeding through for attention, which is the case right now. I will say that I have Boundless Space and Boundless Consciousness down, although even they can be explored much, much more. They are easily attained, and I can stay in them with quite a bit of depth and endurance.
I can call the jhanas up out of order; however, I think I would do well to spend more time in each one, really exploring its bloom and factor progression. Nothingness has been hard to stabilize, and sometimes I feel oxygen deprived in it, but I’m still pretty new to it, too. I’ve gotten better results by learning not to try to stamp out or extinguish all the vibratory/strobing elements that I somehow sense in Nothingness even though it is also so cold and black, and its name makes you think it should be more like, well, nothing.
Eighth jhana (NPNYNP) still needs quite a bit of stabilization, if it even makes sense to refer to “stabilizing” such a state; I fall out of it pretty quickly most of the time because I start noticing it, which seems to reify it out of access—so, as with Nothingness, what seems to be needed for stabilization, paradoxically, is a letting-it-be-however-it-is rather than my being fascinated by it and how it is presenting. As soon as I’m fascinated, I’m outside of it. That in itself is an interesting insight: If something is super special, you have taken up a position on a posited outside.
I’ve read stories of how Pema Chrodron, when she was Trungpa’s student, would run up to him to excitedly tell him of some special insight or meditative experience she had just had. He would just wag his finger and say, “No Big Deal—remember?” I so relate to that story, in that I relate to Pema’s childlike excitement and fascination. The path is so darned fascinating; who would want to give it up to be awake to everything else? (Exception: Reobservation, which is maybe part of the lesson of Reobservation?).
The surprising thing to me about seventh and eighth jhanas are how fluctuating they somehow seem to be, how much they move. In Nothingness, with so much stuff tuned out, fluxing itself can be more easily seen, even strobing at times. With eighth, well, it is somehow moving and stationary at the same time; or rather, one can’t decide which it is: You are always already not really constituted for observing it. It is an extremely altered, very, very, very removed-from-reality state as I’ve experienced it. When I come out of it, I truly feel I was gone, in some kind of otherworldly timeless trance. Nonetheless, it somehow reminds me retrospectively of a colorless, or light electric gray, very refined, very thinned out boundlessness that is also a singularity, a collapsing.
In general, for many months, I’ve found that the concentration states are not just recreational or psychologically healing, but can and do spontaneously toss up insights, which I’m guessing is either vipassana breaking through, or simply intellectually understanding a pointer from them that then feeds back into vipassana practice. Do I even practice vipassana anymore, haha? Not deliberately. Therefore, I strongly suspect that mastering the samatha jhanas supports insight progress somehow, at least in the middle paths. In fact, in my conceited presumption, I would almost go so far as to say they seem required. Steph said the same thing during our Apr. 24 Hangout, her growing suspicion, based on experience, that the jhanas are crucial to awakening, somehow.
One other observation I’ve made in my practice: Despite texts’ advice to the contrary, instead of mastering one jhana before attempting the next, I have found that working with the next higher jhana “prematurely” automatically strengthens, hardens, stabilizes the one below it. I’ve also found, and I think you say this in MCTB2, that going back down from eighth to the formed jhanas makes the factors of the formed jhanas pop to a greater extent than they do on the way up.
The news that attaining nirodha sampatti is no walk in the park, even with the preparations in place, is good to know. It sounds like a pretty extreme attainment.