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 [Sitting Practice]


 

Developing Psychic Powers
and
Jhāna Practice that Leads to Awakening

Being an analysis of Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta 128
by
Michael Olds

After first having understood the goal, having trained in ethical thinking and behavior, having trained in self-control to the point where living intent on the goal is such as to be able to say of one's self that one is living carefully, ardently and self-directed [pahitattā]:

Intent on stilling, calming and tranquilizing the breath or on some other subject that absorbs the attention, at a point where one is fully alert and attention has been fully focused on that object to the exclusion of external distractions, there will occasionally appear a brilliant flash of white light [obhāsa] something like a flash of sunlight in a dark room; and there will occasionally appear clear mental visions [dassanañ ca rūpānaɱ: and seeing forms (in the mind)]. But these will quickly vanish.

To extend the duration of these phenomena it is necessary to ask yourself: What were the signs [nimitta] of the driving forces, what was it that resulted in the vanishing of the light and the perception of shapes?

Note the direction of this thinking: it is not "how do I prolong the light/visions", but "what brought them to an end?" The implied presumption is that the light/visions will be there in one who is in a state of calm impassive wakeful serene focused observation [samādhi] if what is causing them to vanish is eliminated.

They may have vanished because of doubts [Vicikicchā]. "What was that?" "Was that a flash of sunshine breaking into my hut? or was that a real vision?" "Was that a vision or was that just a daydream?" "Can I have possibly got to the point where I can see 'the Light' and see real visions?" Doubt having arisen, one's state of calm impassive wakeful serene focused observation [Samādhi] has been broken.

As one deals with doubt, the light and visions may re-appear for a time and again vanish. So one must once again examine the situation.

They may have vanished because of distraction, inattention, or lack of mental study [amanasikāra]. One must clear the decks for the development of the state of calm impassive wakeful serene focused observation that is required for the development of psychic powers, jhānas and release. Examine your environment to exclude external distractions. Meditate in a room empty of decorations, do-dads, mementos. Let it be known that you are not to be disturbed. As for internal inattention, in the early stages it will be necessary to exert energy as an act of will to bring back focus on one's object; later it will be a matter of bringing one's self to a state of recollection of what one is about.

As one deals with distraction and inattention, and doubt, the light and visions may re-appear for a time and again vanish. So one must once again examine the situation.

They may have vanished because of sleepiness and sluggishness of mind [thīnamiddha].

Sleepiness and sluggishness of mind can result from over-eating and indulging in the pleasure of sleeping. Over-eating that can result in sluggishness can be over-eating just as little as a mouthful more than is needed to sustain the body. Or eating even a very small amount at the wrong time (especially of sugary foods and drink): after one's main meal before noon. Sleepiness can be the result of regret. In that case regret must be put out of the mind by understanding and compensatory actions. Sleepiness can be a result of poor posture. Sit down sitting up straight, legs crossed, head, neck and body such as to bring the spine into alignment. Not abandoning proper posture prematurely when it has become painful will soon cause the pain to disappear and alertness return. Squirming and worming around will perpetually disturb the impassivity that is a pre-requisite of a state of calm impassive wakeful serene focused observation.

Again, as one deals with sluggishness and distraction and doubt, the light and visions may reappear for a time and then vanish and one must once again examine the situation.

They may have vanished because of fright [Chambhitatta].

At the realization that what one is about in this business of cultivating the mind to calm impassive wakeful serene focused observation that will lead to the deathless and living outside of time, apart from sense pleasures, the pleasures of existence and all the fun, joys and delights you have experienced since Time beyond recollection, there may arise sudden fear of losing all this, otherwise known as the fear of death.

The Buddha likens this state to that of one who has been travelling along peacefully who is suddenly attacked from both sides by a band of murderous thieves.

Both sides because at this point one sees the dangers in indulgence in sense pleasures on the one side and thinks that on the other side giving it all up is like death.

At this point you must still, calm and tranquillize both the body and mind and bring your attention to the idea that there is nothing there that is or ever has been stable, of enduring pleasure or that belongs to the self. In other words you must realize that this calm impassive wakeful serene focused observation leading to Ultimate Freedom from Pain, Deathlessness and Living Outside Time, is what you have been telling yourself is what you really want. You have finally come face to face with yourself. And you must prevail in this battle between giving up and self-indulgence at this point.

Again, as one deals with sluggishness and distraction and doubt and fear, the light and visions may reappear for a time and then vanish and one must once again examine the situation.

They may have vanished because of jubilance [Ubbillaɱ]. Jumping for joy (without the shouting and jumping). Eureka! I'v got it! I'm an Arahant at last! I have found Nibbana!

Calm down. You're not there yet. You've only just started.

Again, as one deals with sluggishness and distraction and doubt and fear and jubilation, the light and visions may reappear for a time and then vanish and one must once again examine the situation.

They may have vanished because of slipping into corruption [Duṭṭhullaɱ].. Those visions can be a temptation or be steared into the tempting. Indulgence in sexual fantasy at an intense level presents itself. [Lust] One may discover the ability to work revenge for imagined wrongs in ways unthoughtof before. [Hate] Power can be tempting. Ingenious ways of attaining power and wealth present themselves and before one realizes it one is off on a completely irrelevant track. Having come this far one is seeing ever higher levels of temptation and so, why not? go a little farther, see what else is on offer. [Blindness]. It's time to retrench. Take a look. You need to convince yoursel of the sincerity of your seeking Nibbana. The lasting pleasure promised by these things is an illusion. Let them go.

Again, as one deals with sluggishness and distraction and doubt and fear and jubilation and corruption, the light and visions may reappear for a time and then vanish and one must once again examine the situation.

They may have vanished because of excessive exertion of energy, drive [Accāraddha-viriyā].

They may have vanished because of too slack exertion of energy, drive [Atilīna-viriyā].

In the case of excessive energy, mind, focus the mind on developing calm; still, calm and tranquillize the breathing; Let It All Go! the three factors of self awakening: impassivity (being unaffected by the onslaught of sensations), serenity (calm impassive wakeful serene focused observation, i.e. [samādhi]) and detachment.

In the case of too slack energy, mind, focus the mind on insight; the three factors of self-awakening: investigation of Dhamma (dig around on this site, we got plenny'nuf satisfactmactory mastication factory; find something that sounds interesting and bear down on it), energy building (energy is created by the expendature of energy), and entheusiasm (dig around in your memory for examples of the benefits you have experienced from this practice; focus for a time on these benefits).

The Buddha gives two similies for the problem of balancing energy:

1. Grasping a bird too tightly will kill it; grasping it too lightly and it will fly away.

2. Stringing a lute too tightly or too losely will both distort the sound it produces.

Again, as one deals with sluggishness and distraction and doubt and fear and jubilation and corruption and excessive energy and too slack energy, the light and visions may reappear for a time and then vanish and one must once again examine the situation.

They may have vanished because of an overriding appetite [Abhijappā].

Some desires are so all-pervasive in one's life that they have become unnoticable and only come to consciousness when either they become realizable or when detachment from them becomes possible. The desire for power. "At last I have attained such an advanced state in meditation that I can say I am the best of all." Appetite for fame. Need for approval. Fear of destitution and the resulting appetite for safe refuge. Appetite for sexual gratification, gratification of the senses, at a level way beyond the ordinary. Even appetite to be evil in extraordinary ways. Strong over-riding appetites either to get or get away from. Suddenly awakening to such appetites can throw one off track and require a complete re-evaluation of one's intent when it comes to seeking Enlightenment.

Again, as one deals with sluggishness and distraction and doubt and fear and jubilation and corruption and excessive energy and too slack energy and over-riding appetites, the light and visions may reappear for a time and then vanish and one must once again examine the situation.

They may have vanished because of diverse perceptions [Nānatta-saññā]. At this level worlds open up to perception. Each of these worlds purports to be the highest and best and to provide long life and well-being and invites one to explore and abide there a while ... becoming, of course, subserviant to the powers that be there. Here the meditator needs to exert his ability to generalize. The Buddha has spoken of all things that have come into existence as being transitory, essentially painful, and not belonging to self: i.e., not what one has set out to find. If this world offering itself to one's perception is one defined as being in existence, then back off, let it go, do not risk the huge amounts of time lifetimes in these worlds takes up. You may not easily find again a world in which a Buddha's Dhamma is taught. Go as far as you can letting go of it all without thought of indulgence.

Again, as one deals with sluggishness and distraction and doubt and fear and jubilation and corruption and excessive energy and too slack energy and over-riding appetites and diverse perceptions, the light and visions may reappear for a time and then vanish and one must once again examine the situation.

They may have vanished because of excessive indulgence in knowing shapes [Atinijjhāyitattaɱ rūpanaɱ].

Perhaps you have gone too far in this business of trying to sustain the perception of light and shapes?

The problems from this point are:
Perception of light but not shapes: the result of over-focus on the light;
Perception of shapes but not light: the result of over-focus on perception of shapes;
Weakness in the perception of light and shapes; the result of weakness in ones state of calm impassive wakeful serene focused observation

At this point you have developed another practice: by the elimination of diversions [Nīvaraṇā] or the corruptions of the heart [cittassa upakkilesa]: sluggishness and distraction and doubt and fear and jubilation and corruption and excessive and slack energy and over-riding appetites and diverse perceptions, one has developed one's state of calm impassive wakeful serene focused observation in three ways:

1. Accompanied by thought and pondering [savitakka and savicāra]. SA-VITAKKA: With-re-talking; Word-thought or formulated thought; SA-VICĀRA With-re-tour-ing, turning over in the mind, wandering thoughts; and pondering situations and issues.
Accompanied by thought only — without pondering;
Accompanied by pondering only — without word-thought.

2. Accompanied by entheusiasm [Sappītika]
With entheusiasm settled down.

3. Wakeful serene focused observation together with pleasure [Sāta-sahagata]
Detached wakeful serene focused observation [Upekkhā-sahagatam].

And what more remains to be done?

Recognizing at this point that this is freedom
and in this freedom, seeing freedom
knowing that in this way one may bring about
the leaving of rebirth behind
the culmination of living the Godly Life
the completion of one's duty,
and the end of being any sort of 'it' at any place of 'atness.'


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