Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

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Alexei
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Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by Alexei » Wed Jan 19, 2011 10:37 am

Hello,

Rod Bucknell describe his experience:
The vipassana centre in Bangkok where I began my meditative training claimed to teach the system of practice developed by Mahasi Sayadaw of Myanma, often called Burmese satipatthana.

[...]

At the end of three weeks I was able to maintain uninterrupted mental one-pointedness for prolonged periods. During such periods nothing was present in consciousness but the meditation object, the sensations in the abdomen. The rest of the body, and the world outside it, had ceased to exist. I identified completely with the sensations: I was the sensations. Increasingly I experienced synaesthetic effects. For example, I often "saw" the pattern of sensations in the abdomen in various forms -- usually as an oscillating system of levers, or as a pulsating globe of light. On my teacher's advice I took this mental image as my new object of concentration. (The sitting practice had, by this stage, become the principal component of the meditative regime; mindful walking was now of secondary importance.) Then one day, as I was concentrating on my pulsating image, it suddenly disappeared, plunging me into a pitch-back emptiness. My teacher regarded this strange experience as an important meditative attainment, and told me to cultivate and prolong it. I followed his instruction for a time -- until I learned that the objective was to prolong the state of emptiness to twenty-four hours. The achievement of that feat would constitute successful completion of the meditation course.

At that point I decided it was time to leave the vipassana centre. I had begun to doubt the value of this state of mental emptiness, and of some of my other hard-won meditative skills as well. Thanking my teacher, I left Bangkok and moved to Chiangmai in the north of the country.

In Chiangmai I entered another vipassana centre, to find out if their methods were significantly different. There were differences in detail, but they amounted simply to different ways of inducing the same concentrated state.
It seems to be quite pointless state.

Is it really aim / way of practise of Mahasi Sayadaw technique or widespread distortion of his teaching?

rowyourboat
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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by rowyourboat » Wed Jan 19, 2011 10:38 pm

Ah the wonders of brilliant white blissful samadhi, or feelings of being connected with all beings!!!

"I teach one thing and one only: suffering and the end of suffering."

Those people who practice to gain something are going to be disappointed (nor have they understood suffering or the escape from it).

with metta
:anjali:
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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by mikenz66 » Thu Jan 20, 2011 12:15 am

Hi Aliexi,
Alexei wrote: It seems to be quite pointless state.

Is it really aim / way of practise of Mahasi Sayadaw technique or widespread distortion of his teaching?
I don't really know what he's talking about. It sounds very strange. Perhaps he had some rather strange teachers or he was confused about their instructions. Or he was projecting his own interpretations onto the whole thing.

:anjali:
Mike

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Alexei
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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by Alexei » Thu Jan 20, 2011 11:39 am

Thank you for reply Image

rowyourboat, do you have opinion what this state is (in Pali terms)?
I doubt that it's real end of suffering, there was not any transformation in his life after that experience. Except of appearing vicikicchā :)

It looks like state that Ajahn Fuang called asaññi-bhava:
The second state was one I happened to hit one night when my concentration was extremely one-pointed, and so refined that it refused settle on or label even the most fleeting mental objects. I dropped into a state in which I lost all sense of the body, of any internal/external sounds, or of any thoughts or perceptions at all — although there was just enough tiny awareness to let me know, when I emerged, that I hadn't been asleep. I found that I could stay there for many hours, and yet time would pass very quickly. Two hours would seem like two minutes. I could also "program" myself to come out at a particular time.

After hitting this state several nights in a row, I told Ajaan Fuang about it, and his first question was, "Do you like it?" My answer was "No," because I felt a little groggy the first time I came out. "Good," he said. "As long as you don't like it, you're safe. Some people really like it and think it's nibbana or cessation. Actually, it's the state of non-perception (asaññi-bhava). It's not even right concentration, because there's no way you can investigate anything in there to gain any sort of discernment. But it does have other uses." He then told me of the time he had undergone kidney surgery and, not trusting the anesthesiologist, had put himself in that state for the duration of the operation.

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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by Alexei » Thu Jan 20, 2011 12:14 pm

Jack Kornfield's reflections:
In Mahasi’s model, enlightenment—or at least stream-entry, the first taste of nirvana—comes in the form of a cessation of experience, arising out of the deepest state of concentration and attention, when the body and mind are dissolved, the experience of the ordinary senses ceases, and we rest in perfect equanimity. We open into that which is unconditioned, timeless, and liberating: nirvana. Like Zen satori, this moment brings a whole new way of knowing. But there are a lot of questions around this kind of moment. Sometimes it seems to have enormously transformative effects on people. Other times people have this moment of experience and aren’t really changed by it at all. Sometimes they’re not even sure what happened.

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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by Parth » Thu Jan 20, 2011 6:51 pm

This is Jhana alright but what about Vipassana ? and if people dont change it certainly is not stream entry.

Metta

Parth

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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by Nyana » Thu Jan 20, 2011 11:46 pm

Ajahn Amaro:
  • I’ve known people, particularly those who have practiced in the Theravāda tradition, who have been taught and trained that the idea of meditation is to get to a place of cessation. We might get to a place where we don’t feel or see anything; there is awareness but everything is gone. An absence of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, the body—it all vanishes. And then these students are told, “This is the greatest thing. That’s what there is to look forward to.” The teacher encourages them to put tremendous hours and diligence into their meditation. When one of these students told her teacher that she had arrived at that kind of state, he got really excited. He then asked her, “So what did it feel like?” and she said, “It was like drinking a glass of cold water but without the water and without the glass.” On another occasion she said, “It was like being shut inside a refrigerator.”

    This is not the only way of understanding cessation.... When we stop creating sense objects as absolute realities and stop seeing thoughts and feelings as solid things, there is cessation. To see that the world is within our minds is one way of working with these principles. The whole universe is embraced when we realize that it’s happening within our minds. And in that moment when we recognize that it all happens here, it ceases. Its thingness ceases. Its otherness ceases. Its substantiality ceases.

    This is just one way of talking and thinking about it. But I find this brings us much closer to the truth, because in that respect, it’s held in check. It’s known. But there’s also the quality of its emptiness. Its insubstantiality is known. We’re not imputing solidity to it, a reality that it doesn’t possess. We’re just looking directly at the world, knowing it fully and completely.

    So, what happens when the world ceases? I remember one time Ajahn Sumedho was giving a talk about this same subject. He said, “Now I’m going to make the world completely disappear. I’m going to make the world come to an end.” He just sat there and said: “Okay, are you ready?... The world just ended.... Do you want me to bring it back into being again? Okay...welcome back.”

    Nothing was apparent from the outside. It all happens internally. When we stop creating the world, we stop creating each other. We stop imputing the sense of solidity that creates a sense of separation. Yet we do not shut off the senses in any way. Actually, we shed the veneer, the films of confusion, of opinion, of judgment, of our conditioning, so that we can see the way things really are. At that moment, dukkha ceases.
All the best,

Geoff

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Alexei
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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by Alexei » Fri Jan 21, 2011 9:12 am

parth wrote:This is Jhana alright but what about Vipassana ?
It's certainly not a jhana. There aren't even jhana factors.

Thans, Ñāṇa. Helpful quote.

So, it seems that some traditions differ with their opinion on the goal of practise.

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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by rowyourboat » Fri Jan 21, 2011 3:37 pm

Hi Alexi

It is a very complex area of the dhamma.

Firstly- to a mind which grasps onto everything as sukha and delights in things (ie -delights in 'arising'), absence and cessation seems like a unproductive, horrible, useless thing. So the nature of nibbana is not something to be discussed with just everyone. It can be discussed with someone who has an initial understanding of dukkha (that is that every moment which arises is dukkha)- a discussion on how that dukkha comes to a cessation. Remember the Buddha said Dukkha is 'to be known', and that people do not know dukkha- here he was talking about a level of dukkha deeper than mental suffering.

Next- the person you mentioned seems to see this as a negative result- suggesting to me that he didnt go through the successive vipassana nana which culminates in such an experience, or perhaps very rarely, simply did not have the time to get his thinking organized around the insights that he had. If he could see the suffering or arising (and passing away) which he would have done if he went the whole hog, he would have seen the delights of complete cessation. It can also happen that some people do not fully integrate the experience they have with the insight conceptually- this happens during the hot-house conditions of intense vipassana retreats, when practice rather than conceptualization is stressed. So their formulation of what happened is based on the level of understanding they had before they went on retreat. You might wonder how this happens- vipssana occurs on a very deep level (sub/unconscious)- it would be correct to say the vipassana 'does you' rather than the other way around (and really no one can stake personal claim on the insights that arise in the process- even enlightenment 'just' happens- you do not do it).

It is also possible that the teacher misjudged his level of progress. This sometimes happens due to the teacher's lack of experience and also the meditators inability to appreciate and put into words what he/she is experiencing. So I believe it is very important to have a good conceptual framework of dukkha and its cessation before anyone attemptoms serious vipassana. Discussing and understanding (as much as possible) the Nibbana sermons by Ven Katukurunde Nananda is a good way to achieve this in my opinion. The Buddha mentions that Right View, discussion and learning, samatha and vipassana all play a part in final liberation.

with metta

Matheesha
With Metta

Karuna
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& Upekkha

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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by kirk5a » Fri Jan 21, 2011 3:52 pm

I read the rest of Rod Bucknell's observations at the link posted with great interest. It seemed the insight developed when he started observing how thinking mind actually functions, and examining the nature of "self." Very interesting.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by IanAnd » Fri Jan 21, 2011 5:09 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:Ajahn Amaro:
  • I’ve known people, particularly those who have practiced in the Theravāda tradition, who have been taught and trained that the idea of meditation is to get to a place of cessation. We might get to a place where we don’t feel or see anything; there is awareness but everything is gone. An absence of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, the body—it all vanishes. And then these students are told, “This is the greatest thing. That’s what there is to look forward to.” The teacher encourages them to put tremendous hours and diligence into their meditation. When one of these students told her teacher that she had arrived at that kind of state, he got really excited. He then asked her, “So what did it feel like?” and she said, “It was like drinking a glass of cold water but without the water and without the glass.” On another occasion she said, “It was like being shut inside a refrigerator.”

    This is not the only way of understanding cessation.... When we stop creating sense objects as absolute realities and stop seeing thoughts and feelings as solid things, there is cessation. To see that the world is within our minds is one way of working with these principles. The whole universe is embraced when we realize that it’s happening within our minds. And in that moment when we recognize that it all happens here, it ceases. Its thingness ceases. Its otherness ceases. Its substantiality ceases.

    This is just one way of talking and thinking about it. But I find this brings us much closer to the truth, because in that respect, it’s held in check. It’s known. But there’s also the quality of its emptiness. Its insubstantiality is known. We’re not imputing solidity to it, a reality that it doesn’t possess. We’re just looking directly at the world, knowing it fully and completely.

    Nothing was apparent from the outside. It all happens internally. When we stop creating the world, we stop creating each other. We stop imputing the sense of solidity that creates a sense of separation. Yet we do not shut off the senses in any way. Actually, we shed the veneer, the films of confusion, of opinion, of judgment, of our conditioning, so that we can see the way things really are. At that moment, dukkha ceases.
All the best,

Geoff
Excellent quote and description and answer to the OPs question.

By the way, Geoff, might you have a link to this quote to share with us?
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV

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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by Parth » Fri Jan 21, 2011 6:40 pm

RYB Wrote :
You might wonder how this happens- vipssana occurs on a very deep level (sub/unconscious)- it would be correct to say the vipassana 'does you' rather than the other way around (and really no one can stake personal claim on the insights that arise in the process- even enlightenment 'just' happens- you do not do it).
Really a nice post and definately a good quote, probably this is how it really is "Vipassana does you, rather than u do Vipassana".

Only thing am not sure how could one practise Vipassana and not observe the arising and passing away.

Regards

Parth

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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by Nyana » Fri Jan 21, 2011 9:08 pm

IanAnd wrote:By the way, Geoff, might you have a link to this quote to share with us?
It's from Ven. Amaro's Small Boat, Great Mountain.

All the best,

Geoff

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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by Nyana » Fri Jan 21, 2011 9:32 pm

Alexei wrote:So, it seems that some traditions differ with their opinion on the goal of practise.
Indeed. If the jhāna factors are not present then it isn't supramundane path or fruition attainment either. This blackout emptiness notion is the inevitable consequence entailed by a realist view of dhamma, wherein all conditioned dhammas are considered to be "truly existing things," and therefore path cognitions and fruition cognitions of each of the four paths and fruits must occur within an utterly void vacuum state cessation, which is considered to be the ultimately existent "unconditioned." This notion of path and fruition cognitions is not supported by the Pāli canon. It's largely based on an unsustainable interpretation of the first chapter of the Paṭisambhidāmagga. Also, there is nothing specifically Buddhist about utterly void vacuum state cessations. In fact, precisely this type of stopping the mind is the goal of some non-Buddhist yogic traditions. Therefore, this contentless absorption cannot be equated with Buddhist nibbāna. Moreover, there are now a number of people who've had such experiences sanctioned by "insight meditation" teachers, and who have gone on to proclaim to the world that arahants can still experience lust and the other defiled mental phenomena. Taking all of this into account there is no good reason whatsoever to accept this interpretation of path and fruition cognitions. Void vacuum state cessations are not an adequate nor reliable indication of stream entry or any of the other paths and fruitions.

All the best,

Geoff

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Re: Pitch-black emptiness and Mahasi Sayadaw technique

Post by rowyourboat » Sat Jan 22, 2011 10:21 am

parth wrote:RYB Wrote :
You might wonder how this happens- vipssana occurs on a very deep level (sub/unconscious)- it would be correct to say the vipassana 'does you' rather than the other way around (and really no one can stake personal claim on the insights that arise in the process- even enlightenment 'just' happens- you do not do it).
Really a nice post and definately a good quote, probably this is how it really is "Vipassana does you, rather than u do Vipassana".

Only thing am not sure how could one practise Vipassana and not observe the arising and passing away.

Regards

Parth
Hi Parth,

Nibbana/cessation is not something you can do - it is 'not caused'. It can only be revealed suddenly- without your specific intervention. All 'we' can do is to watch arising and passing away, with a mind of equanimity and samadhi. Having understanding into and have thought/contemplated what you are watching definitely helps in the process of attaining progressively deeper insight, through the meditation itself.

with metta

Matheesha
With Metta

Karuna
Mudita
& Upekkha

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