Jhanas and Insight: Friendly Sparring with Pawel


After stream entry, says Daniel, one is basically in some manner of jhana if drawing breath.


Interesting =)


He and I are both aversive personality types. This means we don’t readily get into the intensely pleasurable states, like second, but prefer the higher refined states that are more neutral-feeling.


So I guess you won’t have anything against 4th path once you shut down half of your brain and rest of it finally “arrives.”


Instead I simply call on the jhana and immediately drop manipulation and just observe what happens.


Do you really “call” on jhana or are “jhana projectors” just getting active and casually start projecting jhanic qualities?


Um, the correct answer is B—”jhana projectors” causally start projecting jhanic qualities! Did I pass the test?

Seriously, though, yes, I know, but it was 4:30 in the morning, at which time I have Super Agency, linguistically speaking! You have indeed identified one area to try to see as more stuff that is “simply happening.” I’m quite attached to my jhanas, baby; I guess there is a reason that, in the fetters model, attachment to the jhanas is the last attachment to go!

It is funny because when I talked to Daniel by phone after path in February, he advised me to call up the jhanas, in order and out of order, and do all sorts of manipulative exercises with them, such as holding a jhana way past the point where I want to move to the next one and then suddenly “let go” into the next one to watch its factors bloom rapidly and therefore clearly. He said, “Your ability to call them up as you now can aids mastery, and mastery is good, although before, when they were sensed to be just “taking over,” you were more tuned into the no-self aspect.”

Lately, I’ve been “just sitting,” meaning I don’t call upon anything. I sit without agenda or expectation. They show up in this way, usually, more deeply, harder, than the other way, with a more intense, long afterglow. Now, however, I’m feeling like I maybe should be working on concentration per mahamudra manual in preparation for the mahamudra retreat July 24, as both Daniel and Bill advised that I strengthen concentration, although Daniel pointed out that “just sitting” doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not concentrated. I think Daniel is talking about moment-to-moment concentration, anyway, which this mahamudra is all about, from one perspective—the mindstream-of-events perspective (the other perspective is the awareness-itself perspective).

Some degree of insight is always going to show up in those jhanas.


Not that I pick on you, but what do you mean by “insight” in this context? You talk about it as it were some substance that was pouring up and filling some sort of path-cup. At least that is my impression. Could you clarify what do you mean by “insight”? For the sake of all living beings.


Sure, hahahaha! All I mean is that jhanas will be vipassana jhanas to some extent, not “pure” samatha jhanas. Daniel says that “at this point” doing pure samatha isn’t likely possible for me, although he invited me to run the experiment and see if I can do it. He said the experiment might be interesting.

When MCTB2 is posted, then it will be clearer what I’m talking about. Daniel has in MCTB2 made the jhanas, generically described, the entire framework for advanced meditation (both samatha and vipassana aspects). He states in MCTB2 that there is always some combination of samatha and vipassana—and vipassana will be quite obviously operative after stream entry, especially.

What do I mean by “vipassana”? Only that the Three Characteristics will show up in the concentration states, breaking “pure” samatha. Reality will show itself, its true nature, as it were, until even that “true nature” is undone and the Three Characteristics vanish for good.

The jhanas have furthered my insight rapidly because they are like little laboratories in which many specific variables are held at bay, or turned away from, which makes what’s left, the isolated variable, easier to see into, to investigate. I’ve had major insight in the Realm of Nothingness, for example, that I think would have taken a lot more time to come across without my having that attainment to Nothingness.

For example, why, when I’m feeling super agencyless do I also have such intense j4.j5 that I barely feel my body?


“Super agencyless”—I do not have that one yet, just normal plain old agencylessness. =(


Perhaps you need to try harder to not try harder!

All I meant was that I was aware of it most of the day, but, yes, there is no “degree” of agencylessness. That wouldn’t make sense. By the way, I’m finding that if I pay attention to whether or not there is agency, I am shifted into being aware directly that there is no agency. Should I be trying, Pawel, to tune into that all day? I mean, I don’t understand from Daniel, how “constantly” screaming obvious the agencylessness is supposed to be. He states in one of his DhO postings listing criteria for 4th path that it “isn’t always in the forefront of attention.”

Does an arahat have a “forefront,” by the way?

In the new criteria for 3rd path, by contrast, he states that agencylessness should be the dominant experience the vast majority of the time. Why the discrepancy?

I need to remember to ask him about this, but I’m trying to stop bugging him, for he has 100 hours of ER shifts to do in eight days.


Why agencylessness and not feeling body would be linked specifically to j4.j5? Body image projection does not have anything to do with “infinite space,” which is just another projection separate from projection of bodies. Have you tried to tweak this body sensation independently of jhanas as its own thing and then deepen it?


First, there is no logical reason that I can think of for why agencylessness would be linked specifically to j4.j5. I’ve just noticed that I tend to be in a pretty strong j4.j5 when I notice a sense of agencylessness as experience. As for not feeling my body, that is part of the definition of Boundless Space as a jhana: No body. It applies to j6 and j7, as well.

No, I haven’t tried that. I can’t do anything “independently of jhanas,” for they are always running, per Daniel—and per experience so far.

Daniel wrote a comment that “vibrating formless realms” refers to oscillating between seventh and eighth jhana. I need to follow up on this marginalia.

Hi, Eric! Did you see where Moses, er Daniel, brought the law down from on high and threw it before swine, er, I mean all DhO beings? He didn’t answer clarifying questions about whether he was talking about criteria for having 3rd at all, or criteria for “late” 3rd. He’ll escape my questioning only so long, for now that this cat is out of the bag, it will certainly have to go into the revised edition.


Yeah, path 3 and 3.5, that make some sense. I would still push 2nd path into 1st and make those two early and mature anagamis into two separate paths, 2nd and 3rd.


There is not a two-phase third path in Daniel’s Revised Four-Path Model or in his Simple Model. Both models are worthless to me. They say almost nothing.

I’m inclined to agree with you Pawel—First Path ought to be Fruition and cycle based. As soon as actual insights/wisdom and walking-around persistent changes in perception start up, that ought to be next (Second?). At some almost-done point, that ought to be Third.

At any rate, Daniel has a bunch of ‘spaining to do.

If one has to have luminosity and agencylessness the “vast majority of the time” to even qualify for 3rd path, then, as DW mentioned, Daniel has lot of filling in of Second Path to do in his model! Currently, Second Path has zero insight listed—just, oh, another path and fruition attained. So friggin’ what!


Understanding Awareness-Space in Advance of Mahamudra

This entry is a transcription from an audio recording I made right after the sit of June 19.

This was another sit much like the one from the night before it—I could literally see and feel fluxing, huge swaths of literal movement. These are much bigger than the “blooming nimittas” that I saw before August path [stream entry in 2014]. These are huge, and I can actually “see” space itself moving, undulating, rocking. I feel it go through me, all of one piece.

This was a great sit—judging my sits again. I set the timer for only 30 minutes, but it felt like only 10, so I set it for another 30 minutes.

The stage was definitely Equanimity. There was some mini-Dark Night components, but they were subdued under a really luscious Equanimity. I’m noting this sit as ñ11.j4.j3.

Space was moving, the walls, the carpet—big, slow, rocking movements. Yes, I could actually see space moving, which is such an odd thing to say, but it is true.

There were certain moments when something seemed to flash through everything, through it all, not making it something homogeneous but still of a piece somehow. It was not a syncing-up so that I could have a fruition. This was something different. It was almost as if something formless—something akin to the formless realms, the upper two, flashed through everything—as if it nothingness zipped through everything, was the same everywhere, yet everything in all its diversity was still there.

Even thought this was clearly Equanimity, since the formations are a dead giveaway, there is still something A&P-like about the way I am feeling. It is funny, too, because Daniel has three different subsections in MCTB2 on trying to distinguish the A&P from Equanimity and Fruition. Anyway, I am feeling massive amounts of gratitude toward Daniel and feeling High Destiny feelings—as if all this were always meant to happen, that I would meet him, that I would edit his book, that all this was predestined and is magical, that enlightenment can and will happen.

I noted in my recording that I need to document here Vince’s interview of Daniel from early Buddhist Geeks days, regarding luminosity and the Simple Model. This is the transcription of that interview portion that is Daniel’s:

And so as people start to go through more insight cycles and new territory, they may get into what I’ll call second path or the second stage [of enlightenment] which is now they’ve completed a whole new progress of insight. They’ve abandoned the previous stages and started looking at more layers of mind and re-gone-through the process of seeing the true nature of those and a new set of insight stages, vipassana jhanas or ñanas or whatever you want to call them, and has gotten a new fruition, and gone, “Okay. So now I know how to abandon previous territories, start looking at new territory, new layers of mind,” and they are now what are called second path, or the second stage in the simple model. And their experience is all about “Oh, this fractal and this territory; oh, this new thing and this experience,” particularly if they’re geeky people like myself. Now some people who are not geeky model-based people may not label it like that, but it’s what their experience may be. They cycle and they are seeing deeper levels and deeper integrations of the mind—its not doing some things it used to do and doing some new things that it didn’t do before.

Then they begin to go, “Well it still seems like the point of my practice is to get my fruition and get my hit, sort of reset my mind, but walking around I’m not really seeing what I think I should be able to see,” and that gets more and more frustrating. So people begin to incline their minds toward what I’ll call a less cycle-fixated approach and a more right-here-right-now and it’s-got-to-be-now-or-never kind of dharma-awakening approach, and they begin to see more and more of what I’ll call emptiness in real time. Whereas they go deeper into more cycles and stages and more really investigating how things are, just moment to moment, same good, old foundation technique stuff, they begin to notice, “Wait a second. The center point really doesn’t seem to be such a big deal anymore. The sense of subject seems to be becoming more integrated with the field, or it seems to become less important,” or they seem to see I’m seeing more of what I’ll call luminosity of phenomena: that they’re just showing themselves over there. Because that’s showing itself over there, maybe this is just showing itself over here, and they begin to make those connections in terms of their experience and begin to notice as an obvious living, direct, nontheoretical but just sort of baseline sense processing experience, “Wow, this field really seems to be more and more integrated. There seems to be more and more just a sense of this is just what’s happening and it’s all wide open and it’s all just part of the field of attention and the sense of subject and center-point and watcher, or me, whatever you want to call it, at that level is not such a split off thing.” So you can get to anagami stages. They tend to be a lot like that, and as you get toward the high end of the anagami territory, you start to notice, “This seems to be really pretty complete and kind of done.”

I remember when I was a late anagami, I don’t know how many stages I went through thinking I was an arhat and was so wrong. I would walk around for a few weeks and everything seemed centerless and luminous and like it was happening on its own in some completely nondual way, and then I’d cross another Arising and Passing Away and hit a new Dark Night and realize I was completely delusional, but it was kind of nice while it seemed to last, and it sort of gave me hints of what would come next.

So one begins to have more integration, and one’s experience becomes more and more completely like that, and then finally one can get to a place where one simply understands it has to be now and it has to be all the time and there must be some truth that I’m missing, and one finally begins to see through the subtle anagami traps of wanting a superspace—that some transcendent space they can come into, or wanting this to be some super-watcher or wanting everything to be luminous in a wondrous “Oh it’s all luminous, wonderful kind of way.” As the golden chains of the high levels, or mid-high levels of realization start to fall away and they end up coming back down to earth, finally they abandon even those subtle things and subjects and wanting to be the subtle watcher that is simultaneously empty and luminous and wanting to be the subtle enlightened being that is the whatever . . . the transcendent super-being or something.

And as that all finally falls away and is seen through as being just preposterous and unrealistic, one understands, “Oh. this is it,” and when one finally comes all the way back down to earth, the split can dissolve. That usually takes good work and strong concentration and all the standard supports for insight and investigation and all that. But finally one knows, “Oh yeah. This is done.” And the sense of subject-object duality does not arise again once one is stabilized in that. And the whole field is just happening and life is just going on, bodies just moving, thoughts are just coming, all aware or just manifesting where they are, and concepts like luminosity and awareness even seem extraneous. There’s just the sense field, really, at a basic, ordinary, human level. And yet there is something remarkable about that. But it’s way more down to earth than everybody thinks it’s going to be.

I wish I had time to crosswalk this with the mahamudra book I’m reading, alas, because it is toe-to-toe with Daniel on the traps, the characteristics, the wisdom-compassion level of nondual, the works.

Another King card, this time of cups, which is emotions. This card represents someone creative, intuitive, and witty. There are sexual overtones, but that appeal is through the heart nonetheless.

Signs of Readiness for the Natural State via Essence Mahamudra

What a weird sit—fascinating and far from the usual, to the extent there is such a thing in one who looks forward to the jhanas immensely. I sat for an hour and 20 minutes and had to make myself stop because of duties. I could have sat all night.

Daytime Restlessness and Impatience

Which brings up the question, where am I? I was irritable today—incredibly impatient and antsy. I was working on MCTB2 and becoming cross for no good reason. I wanted and intended to go for a long walk to work off the edginess, but then I got an upset stomach and couldn’t. It felt almost like I was in Disgust, but last night I was in Equanimity, so that wouldn’t make sense unless some fractal nesting of one stage inside another.

So I calmed myself down through reasoning self-talk and proceeded with my work. Today I have to go to the office to make up missed work there. I’m always hunched over a computer. I need to move, need to resume massage therapy, need to return to the body, need to ground, need to renounce and turn. I’ve no idea why, but some weird switch was flipped during that last big, intense cycle. It is like the magic has gone out of the dharma. Like I want to be alone. Like I’m no longer dream-seeking, thrilled, and fascinated. Maybe this is good, but it feels like loss of magic. Disenchantment. Like something is ruined now and will never be the same again.

DW says, “Welcome to third path.” Haha.

I feel like an impostor about claiming third path. But, hey, luminosity!

Reduced Fabrication in Jhāna

Oh, the sit. First jhana was distinct. Fourth was the center of gravity again. I stayed in it an unusually long time, looking for something, as it were. There was no nimitta. But there was a sense of flux—not fine vibrations, but roiling. Space roiled through body. I was aware of awareness itself roiling through the room, body, sight (when I opened eyes) and everything. I spent a long time here, waiting for something to show up, but I don’t know what I was waiting for.

Fifth, Boundless Space, which for so many months was my favorite and compelling jhana is now one I tend to rush through and find problematic to hold. Interestingly, I am lately having a really hard time telling it from sixth. Boundless Space and Boundless Consciousness—I’m trying to figure out the difference. The problem is that Boundless Space feels like consciousness to me now. Boundless Conscious does come with this subtle shift from the lower body field to the head. So my head space seems sacrosanct, radiating out.

DW says this is a problem! Party pooper!

Okay. So I tried to exert less energy in sixth, to just let the jhana be. That was interesting. When I’m not pushing my “own” consciousness “out,” it seems to be a roiling sheet of sorts, but 3D. It fluctuates more, sometimes with body fields, sometimes with vision, sometimes with subtle thought. It is less homogeneous when less forced outward, moving more. Fascinating!

Nothingness (j7) has become this really nice resting place for me. Really cool and dark, like the Underground! Just as I have had to learn not to push out so much in fifth and sixth, so here I’ve had to learn to ease into the black pockets instead of forcefully contracting a self. Forcefully contracting oneself—what a weird inny-out! Just a few weeks ago, I felt air hunger in this state. Now it is like a soft bed.

Same with eighth about relaxing and easing up on the effort. My advice, once you manage to push yourself into eighth, is this: Soon after those sits are reached, stop pushing. Just tune into Nothingness, don’t rush, don’t push, but instead just let it happen. Eighth is now a subtler thing. I’m not always even sure I got in it. It is like a black hole to memory.

The Let’s-Not-Fabricate-Jhanas P8JP Jhana

I came out and resolved for nirodha samapatti (NS(. I tried to forget about the resolution, but that will have to become so routine that I really really forget about it. Interesting—at the post-eighth junction point (P8JP), I seem nowadays to be in another state, a strange one. It is formless but lucid, pure, and restful. It is kind of like fourth, but more refined, thinner, but not as contracted and black as Nothingness, and not utterly discombobulating like NPNYNP (j8). In this state, all urge to fabricate jhanas goes. I feel I could sit forever, and it is extremely hard to end the session. At one point, I felt I might be powering down, as if toward NS, but false alarm. The body did power down—I mean completely. But mind kept going and definitely a sense of time, which was about 4 to 6 minutes. This Whatever state was so neutral, restful, and compelling that I couldn’t exit. I finally opened my eyes and could see things mildly fluxing with the turn of attention. Maybe this is what Daniel means by “attention wave”?

Watching attention “itself” is a weird experience that seems to induce that sense of immediacy that I guess is what Daniel calls “agencylessness.”

States were not vibratory, but rolling and so neutral that they were nearly numb physically and blank emotionally.

Dan Quote

I’ve gone on previously about how, when Daniel told me that “ultimate reality” is just the Three Characteristics but without the Suffering one, I had an opening that led to this path shift known as luminosity. Well, today, working on the book, I was telling him that he needed to add that to the book. He wrote back to me with this:

Want to get really crazy about it? You could actually get very, very out there and say that all three vanish, but that is likely to just totally confuse nearly everybody.


Postscript 2.5 Years Later: Guidance toward MCTB Fourth Path

This statement by Daniel indicates to me, from where I sit now, that he opened rigpa and oriented to the Mother (kunzhi) sufficient to drop the Subject. So it continues to baffle me that (1) he never went beyond the 3Cs in our version MCTB2 to explain what ultimate reality actually is, (2) he never stopped insight stage cycling whereas I and reportedly others stopped cycling when rigpa opened, and (3) he denies having experienced the affect purification from dharmakaya release. What is most dumbfounding is that dharmakaya release automatically begins upon the realization of the Ground, which is in essence MCTB Fouth Path. It certainly began for me and others I know at that same point. Why not for him? It is an interesting mapping quandary, and so far I’ve not come up with or heard from others any theory that makes sense.

This post and the one before it mention the beginning of my inability to tell j5 from j6. These days I consider j5 a conditioned and limited pointer to the kunzhi, and consider j6 the same for rigpa. Moreover, I think j7 is akin to absorption into the central channel from where masters used to practice Mahamudra, and j8 is a model for the space-time travel of a fully realized buddha. Detail on these correspondences will appear in my book.

For now, if you are practicing jhana and are in the neighborhood of MCTB Third Path attainment, I suggest paying a lot of investigative metacognition to the difference between Boundless Space and Boundless Consciousness. Can you notice and document the difference between these two states phenomenologically? Conversely, can you notice and delineate all the characteristics between the two that are identical? Over calendar time, watch for (1) the point at which Boundless Consciousness rather than Boundless Space becomes the center of gravity in your daily practice, and (2) the point at which the two states become increasingly hard to distinguish from one another.

When you have felt spaciousness in daily life and luminosity as baseline, and then you begin to notice the difficulty in distinguishing j5 from j6, then my advice is to seek out a retreat in the Essence Mahamudra methods. Note the term Essence, which is to say, not sutra and not vajrayana. Essence Mahamudra is equivalent to Dzogchen Trekchöd.