Samatha and Vipassana as a Continuum
Ubiquitous Misuse of the Term “One-Pointed”
At noon I sat with Barry and we listened to some exquisitely detailed instructions on the Elephant Path, Stage 7 through 9. Something new I learned is that, apparently, almost everyone is misusing the term one-pointed with regard to concentration practice. It doesn’t mean to be absolutely fixed on a single narrow object; on the contrary it means one has crossed over into vipassana, for the breath becomes a gazillion bursts of mind moments, pixilated, vibratory. Concentration is on these gazillion single points, the flow of them. Once again, I’m fascinated by the fact that concentration (jhana) and insight practice (vipassana) are not separate practices at all. The Thai Forest guys know this; Ingram knows this; and the Elephant Path is this continuum, although the Tibetans refuse to explicitly call what is involved jhana or even vipassana.
Those Obfuscating Super-Sophisticated Tibetans
The Tibetan Buddhists have the most sophisticated, intense, and thorough system of awakening, even though they also just love, love, love secrecy, intrigue, gossip (oops on one of the folds of the eightfold path!), and obfuscation. It can be so exasperating. Just reading a text and trying to sift the grain from the fools gold can try the patience of a saint. I read last night that the Togal visions are presented in the Book of Living and Dying–except they reversed the order of the four visions as a way of encrypting Togal against common use!
The Deeper Channel of Automaticity beneath Vibrations
The meditation Barry and I listened to was interesting for its guidance on “easing up” off the concentration intensity by tiny increments and finding that sweet spot where the meditation runs itself, is effortless, and is vibrant. This is second jhana and the Arising and Passing Away insight stage. How to blend and module out the Thai Forest masters, the Elephant Path, and the Burmese on all this will be a fun challenge toward writing my book. I especially appreciated today the guidance toward a deeper channel beneath the vibratory dissolution experience. This is interesting because it is calming and seems already to be pointing to the very subtle level of mind: rigpa.
King of Samadhi and the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination
I asked Barry why it was mentioned that King of Samadhi is key to Buddha training. He said because it is an entry to the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination. I’m very familiar with the Twelve Links because of my stream entry experience, and I have been practicing King of Samadhi, but I don’t know what Barry means. He mentioned atiyoga and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which apparently it it time for me to reread.
My Old Friend Violet Nimitta
The practice was only 16 minutes (very hard to stop there). My characteristic violet nimitta arose, spread through the visual field, and stabilized. I became momentarily distracted by a thought, but as soon as I intensified a bit (the prescription when thought elaboration intrudes) a white nimitta arose. Nimitta was like an old friend. It was so wonderful that I suddenly felt I was going into the light – like actually, proprioceptively, into it.
As there is Gandalf the Gray, so there is Nimitta the Violet.
As there is Gandalf the White, so there is Nimitta the White.
Science on Meditative Experiences of Light
Here is an interesting paper that Dr. Britton is coauthor of; it is on meditation-induced experiences of light: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3879457/
Concentration on Fluidity
I just had a wonderful sit: 12 minutes of concentration and then 12 minutes or so of a form of King of Samadhi called Clear Light Body.
Concentration on Energy and Grounding
I began the first 12 minutes by feeling the whole body energetically on the in-breath, and concentrating on the stability of gravity, dropping into the ground, on the out-breath. This practice is effortlessly engaging. At one point, I had a flash memory of Reggie Ray’s saying to send the energy of the body all the way down into the center of the earth – actual grounding. I found this variation at least as interesting as focusing on the ground as holding and stabiltiy, the way John instructs. It was pleasurable to feel the energy coursing along sinews of the body during inhale, and then to feel it blasting down into the earth on exhale. Rapturous is the momentum of continual arising and release.
At a certain point, I dropped the focus on the breath altogether and focused on continual releasing into gravity. Then vipassana arose: I started noticing how my body simultaneously had weight and did not have weight but floated, as it were. You see, there was no solid substrate beneath my body at all. It is all energy: body and ground. This can be clearly experienced as truth if one simply notices.
Thai Forest Relationship between Samatha and Vipassana
I’ve always preferred concentration practices that use movement and give me something to do. Concentration does not have to be on something that seems “solid,” nor does one have to artificially solidify the object and the body to stillness. The Burmese separate samatha and vipassana into two separate practices; however, the truth is that, if one is any good at concentration, then solidity will break up and insights will arise soon enough anyway. The Thai Forest masters did samatha and vipassana in tandem, in the same sit, but even if that oscillation isn’t deliberately set upon, it will happen anyway.
Tibetan Elephant Path as Mixture of Samatha and Vipassana
I keep having this argument with one of my dharma friends because he insists that the Tibetan Elephant Path is concentration only. Then he says nonsensical things like “all nine stages are simply to gain access concentration, no jhanas,” and “the Elephant Path is the whole path.” Both of these statements are dead wrong. Why would there be nine entire stages to getting access concentration alone, which is a very low level of accomplishment? And what is the access to if not to liberating insight, vipassana, which this person denies plays any part in the Elephant Path. I’ve sat in retreat with many absolute novices who experienced Arising-and-Passing-Away (A&P) phenomena on the second or third sit per Elephant Path concentration. It is therefore quite evident that the Elephant Path encompasses samatha, vipassana, and a fluid movement back and forth between the two. It is therefore correct, if too cryptic for my own taste as far as maps go.
Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, Second Edition
Interestingly, Dan Ingram, in draft MCTB2, moves completely away from the Burmese tradition in this regard, as beloved as that tradition is to him. He restructured MCTB to yoke everything – vipassana and samatha – under the jhanas as map. This is, he said to me, really how he’s always thought of things. It is also how I experienced and experience them. Having one simple map – the jhanas – as one in which to elucidate the 16 ñāṇas (cyclic insight stages), concentration states, and the dynamics between them is a welcome improvement over the division into two separate practices. He also no longer recommends “dry” vipassana, which is vipassana without the easeful lubrication of the concentration states (samatha jhanas).
Clear Light Body
Well, I put off finishing this post so long that I now don’t remember anything about the specific CLB meditation session, except that it was wonderful. This is a King of Samadhi practice, which means that it is done from the natural state, groundless ground, the vast expanse of awareness. Rigpa-Mother goes (how can it not at this point), and inside that the practitioner takes the body as a whole as concentration object. The body is visualized as a glass floating in space and filled with light. This is a deeply healing, blissful meditation that obliterates any acute pain in my body, including my migraines. It is not vipassana; instead, it is a concentration practice from within the vast awareness. You have to have awakened awareness and, as a state, groundless ground to practice it.
My Book versus Ingram’s
My book will one-up Ingram’s unification of samatha and vipassana by bringing in awareness practices sometime shortly after what he calls stream entry, or first path. I reject his four-path model, and even he rejects it in the narrative of what actually happened to him along his path. Why hold onto an inadequate model of awakening? Why work within four paths borrowed from Theravadin traditions when the ten fetters that define each path in that tradition are rejected as impossible?
Actually, Ingram is wrong on both counts, for the four paths as distinct stages with definable characteristics and signs breaks down into nonsense right after stream entry. No one can say convincingly what second path is, and his book says only that another cycle of the insight stages has happened and that a lot of emotional stuff comes up on second path. So? A lot of emotional stuff comes up right after any new realization, cyclically, as the being is trying to integrate realization with individuation and actualization.
What he calls third path is really a mess: He and his favorite teacher speak jokingly of Twelfth Path because Third to Fourth contains innumerable cycles and no clear aha! In fact, what happens in that territory is a bunch of aborted half cycles, and stages out of order. There is a clear sense of cycles within larger cycles. It becomes so very complex that Daniel has created a complex notation system for pinning down stage and substage daily. Why? What good does it do to keep dwelling in the misery of noticing stage progressions that go nowhere new?
Enter awareness practices. The someplace new needs to throw off the shackles of states and stages emphatically. So soon after MCTB second path, I advocate a move to Indo-Tibetan essence practices. I’m absolutely convinced that this makes the most sense, is the most pragmatic and efficient path. I would say more, or could, but wait for the book.
Sweet-Spotting the Sweetness
I just finished a 45-minute Sunday-night sit, or rather Monday morning because it is past 1:30 a.m.
This sit was rather involved because I spent a while lying on my back and resting behind all organs, into the ground, and then noticing that the boundary between body and ground was open. It sounds strange to say so, but I wasn’t sure about rigpa. I wasn’t dull or sleepy, and the ceiling became almost ultraviolet transparency, but It is hard to feel the reach of rigpa somehow in this position. As soon as I sat up, it was definitely flaring.
I let awareness rest into the first, root, chakra. Later I rested into the third chakra, which I already worked on for months. The highlight of this sit, though, was the second, sacral, chakra–called Svadhisthana, which means sweetness. I learned this meditation on the recent embodiment retreat, and at that time focus on this chakra was a bit like being tickled or hitting the funny bone. There is a fluttering, like a delicate flower, and then it shuts again. However the last time I did this meditation, and again tonight, it stayed open with fewer closings. It was sweet, all right, and warm. Like the head and the palate, it could spread open. And when the Infant Consciousness is found there, the subtle primordial body, that is for me rigpa blazing.
It is a little strange that this chakra would require opening. It is the center for sensual pleasure, sexuality, intimacy, connection, creativity, and feeling–and those are proclivities for me. Anyway, the subtle body is what is surfaced by resting into the layers surrounding the chakra. Here it is vulnerability–sweet, liquid, delicate, and warm.
A Meditative Sit without Techniques
As some of you know, on Fridays at lunchtime, I sit with my workplace sangha, usually in a conference room beneath the cafe. Afterward we ascend to eat lunch together. Stream entry happened during one of these sits, August 8, 2014. This past Friday, after a few days of feeling dull and vaguely hopeless, I went into the Friday sit with only the plan to rest in the natural state, without doing Lion’s Gaze, Liveliness practice, or any other exercise.
I sat upright in a conference chair, naturally, with my eyes open. I set motivation and simply took my body as the ground, as Mother, letting awareness go wherever it chose. It quickly gathered intensity at the heart center, in the middle of my chest. It was then that I started spontaneously populating the room with my retinue of ancestors and all the masters who ever walked this path, from across the three times and all directions and universes. I had an unusually vivid sense of their presence and that they needed my support as I needed theirs. I gave it, and this overwhelming bliss and compassion arose.
A kind of shaking spread over my body, and I was weeping. I let the tears run, and just continued to sit in silence, naturally. When this emotional intensity subsided, rigpa flared up intensely, making everything vivid yet dreamy from the inside out, and radiating or responding, it seemed, at heart center.
When the bell sounded, everyone else opened their eyes and began stretching. To the right, in my peripheral vision, I saw my friend Barry staring intently at me, like a blue-eyed ghost. I turned my head to look at him directly. He was staring at me with his own hands joined at heart center. Barry often reads my mind. When I confront him about it, he laughs and says, “It is all one mind, Jenny.”
This sit confirmed for me that I need to take a very simple way to groundless ground, from the Mother side of it, barely inclining to rigpa. Preliminaries such as calling in the retinue seem to help make the naturalness work well.