Some Answers to Questions Regarding
The Personal Experience of Ecstasy (Jhana)
October 2, 2004
By the contemplative recluse monk Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)
(copyright 2004 all rights reserved)
Please, as I know many people have excellent meditation experiences, I therefore do not assume that my subjective experiences are any better or different from anyone else's, however I have recently received a few questions regarding my experiences during sleep and meditation. Here are some answers regarding those subjective experiences. I hope this writing will help even one or two people in any small way.
1) "What types of kamma, actions, behaviors, practices, when done, lead to long-term happiness and welfare?"
I have found no evidence to support a belief that any ritualized devotional practice will do anything other than entertain an individual, therefore I do none. I do not seek to accumulate positive merit, because I cannot see how enlightenment can come in the future. Something put off into the future never comes. Enlightenment can therefore only come in the present. Thus, I have been intent upon enlightenment in this very lifetime not accumulating merit for a future that never comes.
The "method" I followed was to lead a simple contemplative life. A contemplative life is one that is based upon introspection and selfawareness in every moment, as well as a formal daily meditation practice.
2) "What meditation object do you now use?"
My meditation object(s) are the breath (at the tip of the nose), the body (inside and out), the 6 senses, and the cognitive processes (mental states and mind objects). And, I practice "sensitive to bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha). Through many years of this practice I have developed a lucid awareness domain that can hold all of these "objects" within it as one multidimensional "object," while the mind remains tranquil and the body remains relaxed. I practice this way because the historic Buddha taught meditation (sati) this way, and I have found it is a very effective regimen.
3) "What practice regimen do you follow?"
I follow the practices outlined in the three suttas on mindfulness (sati).
Kayagata-sati Sutta (MN 119) “Mindfulness of the Body"
Maha-satipatthana Sutta (DN 22) "the Great Discourse on the Four Cornerstones of Mindfulness"
4) "How often do you meditate, and how long have you been meditating?"
I have a formal meditation practice in which I sit to meditate 3 times a day for no less than an hour each sit. I have sat in meditation almost everyday for the last 30 years. Please understand that even though I have been practicing for a long time the charisms (jhana-nimitta) began to emerge in the first year of practice.
5) "What happens during your meditation sits? Do you go into absorption? If you do get absorbed how long does it take for that to happen generally?"
What happens during my sit is within a few minutes the body and mind settle to tranquility, and the pleasant sensations of a "pleasure not born of sensory input" (jhana-nimitta) that is with me all day long, becomes much more intense (lucid). These charismatic signs, symptoms and manifestations (jhana-nimitta) become my meditation objects, as I have practice "sensitive to bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) all along.
I define bliss and ecstasy in terms of the charismatic phenomena. I meditate thus filled with a pleasant abiding (ecstasy/jhana), as though it is my last act in life. So, I just sit with no predetermined length of time.
There is no unpleasant sensation during these meditations due to the length of the sit. After about an hour and a half the sensations diminish a little, so I get up and go about my day, or rest the body depending at what end of the day it is. I sit this way three times a day, upon arising (4:30 AM), noon, and just before bed (9 PM). At night sometimes several hours goes by before I rest the body. When I sit to meditate, I do not pay attention to the clock at all, although occasionally I see the time before and after a meditation, so I know roughly how long my typical meditation is.
6). "Why do you limit your sitting to about an hour and a half at a time? Is it because the body can't take anymore?"
Since I sit as though it is my last act in life, then I let the session dictate when it is over. I do not force the session to be longer, through a craving for absorption, nor do I sit less due to a craving for sense experience. I also do not end the session because of bodily discomfort, because I rarely find bodily discomfort during meditation, or at other times.
7) "Do you experience ecstasy, joy or bliss (jhana) during your meditations, and if so how often?"
During most of my meditations for several years now some degree of pleasant sensation arises. These sensations were not typical of my daily experience before I became skillful in meditation. These pleasant sensations are a "pleasure not born of sense contact," which means they are not caused by sensory input. I believe these charismatic signs, symptoms and manifestations (jhana-nimitta) are what mystics call ecstasy (jhana), joy (sukha) or bliss (piiti).
8) "Does this ecstasy, joy or bliss remain with you throughout the day when you are not meditating?"
Yes, the various charismatic signs that I associate with ecstasy, joy or bliss that arise during my meditations remains with me all day long. However, these manifestations are not as intense or lucid as they are during meditation. And, part of this moment-to-moment reality for me is I am simply more happy and fulfilled in every moment than I can ever recall being. This has been true all day long every day for several years now.
9) "Have the pains of sickness, old age and injuries been diminished in any way by this bliss?"
Yes, I used to have chronic arthritic joint pain, which is now gone. This body has advanced tooth decay, but there is little pain from it. This body on occasion still becomes ill, such as passing kidney stones a few years ago. This body has a crushed disk, and occasionally the body sustains an injury. However, I rarely experience suffering due to pains of any kind. When pain does arise it has only become an interesting arising of sensations, and not unpleasant.
10) Have you found these bliss states reduced the hindrances in any way, or have you found they only "suppress" the hindrances.
I have found the five hindrances to enlightenment: sensual desire, ill will, restlessness, sloth and torpor and doubt, etc., have slowly diminished through the years as the ecstasy has saturated my daily life. I now do not seem to experience sensual desire, ill will, restlessness, sloth and torpor, or doubt, therefore I believe it is reasonable to say, cultivating the ecstatic states, as I have done, leads to cessation of the hindrances to enlightenment.
Jhanasamyutta SN 9.53"Bhikkhus, there are these five higher fetters. What five? Lust for form, lust for the formless, conceit, restlessness, ignorance. These are the five higher fetters. The four absorptions (jhanas) are to be developed for direct knowledge of these five higher fetters, for the full understanding of them, for their utter destruction, for their abandoning."(Samyutta Nikaya tans. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom, 2000)
11) Have you found these bliss states have reduced your level of unhappiness or dissatisfaction in any way, or have you found they only "suppress" dissatisfaction (dukkha).
For several years now I have found, all day long everyday, I am more happy, content, fulfilled and empowered than I can ever recall being. I can only assume this happiness and contentment is due to a saturation effect from spending so much time in the ecstatic states.
Samadhanga Sutta (AN V. 28)"He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the ecstasy (piiti) and bliss (sukha) born from withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body un-pervaded by ecstasy (piiti) and bliss (sukha) born from withdrawal."
12) "During your sittings do you sometimes leave the body and start flying up into the universe?"
No, I do not astral project while in seated meditation. I am only mindful of the charismatic phenomena that arise during these meditations, and I endeavor to relinquish the grasp of self identification upon all sense objects. However sometimes a powerful energy rises up the spine (kundalini) which forms a wave front that collapses the psyche upon itself in a kind of annihilation in a brilliance and ecstasy. I just submit myself to that naturally arising process with no resistance. However, I do have a lucid sleep state in which I have out-of-body experiences and other nonmaterial world experiences.
13) "If you do not lose awareness when the body sleeps, how do you know that you are sleeping?"
When I lay the body down at night, I am observant of the progression of sleep. I have observed this every night for quite some time, so I am familiar with the manifestations of sleep that this body and mind experience. At times I have also heard the body snore during the early stages of sleep.
During my daily sleep cycle I typically pass through about 3 stages of progressing relaxation of the body and stilling of the cognitive processes, then a blackness overwhelms the sense fields. Eventually another world that is as lucid, well more lucid, than this world opens up to me. During my sleep often it seems like a whole lifetime, and sometimes even great expanses of time seem to pass.
Eventually when the rest period for this body comes to an end at about 4 AM I become aware of this time/space domain where this body that is now typing this message resides. This is rather remarkable to me each time, because so much time passes there that this life becomes a tiny fragment of the ancient past, then all of a sudden I am back here again. It is a mystery that I cannot explain.
Things happen in this "sleep" domain that are too numerous to say. Sometimes I travel across the landscape, birdlike. Sometime I fly through space to other planets. I often relive whole lifetimes. Sometimes I visit infinite domains of existence where a galaxy of beings, like a brilliant scintillating ocean of infinite love-beings, sings to each other the sweetest love song. And, of course I am singing with them. Sometimes I become that whole ocean of beings, so that each point of light is a cell within my organism, and I am fully conscious of each and every cell, which is a being.
I have read in Buddhism that this place is called, "Indra's Net of Jewels." I have found the same place referred to in Vaishnava Hinduism as, "Krishna's Ocean of Milk." And, in Kabbalah I believe this is called "Devakutt with the Shakina."
Sometimes I fly all over the world like a fairy touching each and every being with a touch of love and light, almost like the myth of Santa Clause, or Mercury and his caduceus, or in Hopi culture they call this one, Kokopele, the "water sprinkler." There is much, much more that occurs in my "sleep" domain. Every night, there is no break in awareness that I can detect, and I do much, much more there than I do here.
How do I know "I was sleeping?" Well, my awareness seems to be continuous, And therefore there appears to be no unconsciousness, however I was not aware of this body that is now typing this message. And, when I once again become aware of this body after "sleep," the thing feels rested. Then I get it up and sit it in meditation again for an hour and a half or so.
14) "Do you remember doing any kind of religious or spiritual practices before this lifetime?"
As I said I have recalled many thousands of life times. Most of the ones that come to mind at present were engaged in some kind of spiritual practice behavior. From these recollections it appears that I have incarnated in pretty much every culture on this Earth, as well as other planets. I have recalled at least 2 previous lifetimes as a North American medicine man. At least one as a South American medicine woman. At least one as an African tribesman medicine man; a medieval European monk. I have also been a farmer, and engineer, and many other occupations.
15) "Is it true that one wanders through the various realms, sometimes in heaven, sometimes in hell, over and over again?"
I have entered many, many heavenly planes in this lifetime, as well as many, many hellish planes. I am certain everyone intent upon enlightenment must pass through all of the planes from hell to heaven and beyond.
16) "Is it true that the human birth is rare, hard to obtain, and also the best state in which to practice Dhamma?"
There are over 6 billion people on this planet, and most of them are not intent upon enlightenment. I have recollected many thousands of lifetimes. Therefore it does not seem reasonable to say "the human birth is rare, or hard to obtain." I have also recalled numerous lifetimes as an animal. I cannot say that the human life is superior in anyway. It does seem reasonable to say that one must practice as a human to make "progress" through the spiritual domains.
17) "How can one practice so that they will not fall away from the true Dhamma?"
I practiced as if each time I sat was my last act in life. And, I have lived every moment with the intention of becoming enlightened in this very lifetime. I am confident if one practices thus, one is likely to become enlightened.
18) "Can you give us non-jhana people a sense of the QUALITIES of these past-life recollections. Most of us are familiar with the ranges of the "feeling-qualities" from deep-sleep through dreaming through lucid- dreaming through waking (and SOME of us through waking hallucinations). Do these recollections have ANY of these normal qualities about them, or would you consider them mostly UNIQUE states of mind that are genuinely difficult-to-describe, yet as-real-as-real (or MORE than real)? Are they MORE powerful than lucid dreaming? "
The jhanic states and past lifetime recollections are as lucid, if not more lucid, or even hyper-real, than this waking reality that I share with you. The experiences during sleep are the same as lucid dreams, however some of my dreams are lucid dreams, and some times they are past life recollections, and sometimes they are travels to other planets and domains. One simply knows in the moment what it is.
I did not use to speak of these things, because I did not think people much cared to hear about them, or that they were any different from anyone else's meditation or sleep who is a skillful meditator. Now, I just speak, those who want to hear can listen, those who do not, need not listen.
I hope this message has helped at least one of you on your journey to enlightenment.
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