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 Post subject: Sensation
PostPosted: Fri May 24, 2013 10:21 am 
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Hi fellow dharma followers,

Bit of an odd thing happened today. Wasn't really sure whether to discuss it with anyone, but then thought 'what's to lose'?

Anyway, my usual day starts off with some surya namaskar and various other stretches, followed by an enthusiastic rendition of the Heart Sutra in Mandarin - I singalong to a YouTube video as I am trying to learn some Mandarin (partner is Chinese, see) - although when I do sing small birds fall from trees stunned, so I am a favourite with the local cats but I digress. After this I sit and meditate for a while. I am a breath watcher. This morning, about 8 or 9 minutes into the sitting part my mind was drifting along nicely with the tide of inhalations and exhalations when it suddenly snapped into acute focus on the shape my body occupies in space. This lasted I am sure for less than a second and was immediately followed by an incredibly detailed image of a seated buddha figure, backlit with a strong though soft light, that seemed to exist right in front of my face and just sat and smiled. This too lasted probably less than a second and then was gone.

Some points:

1. The experience, whatever it was, held no sense of fear, loss, or longing.
2. This is the first time this has happened to me.
3. I never use visualisation because I've never been any good at it - and this buddha image was not wholly familiar to me, but could have been a composite of what I know, I guess.
4. I follow no specific tradition, instead have incorporated some Pure Land and some Chan into my practice - which I understand is quite acceptable.
5. I have no local sangha or teachers - although there is a Tibetan group in my city (though I am not drawn to Tibetan cultural stuff personally).
6. It is only in the last few months that I have really knuckled down to some serious practice.

My over-riding feeling from this experience is that I was pleasantly startled by it. I realise that it might just be one of those ephemeral whimsies the mind sometimes throws up, but thought I would ask on here if anyone has had any similar experiences?

NB: please don't laugh too hard, I am the least likely person to have anything like a label saying 'scholar' attached to me.

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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Fri May 24, 2013 11:11 am 
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Quote:
I realise that it might just be one of those ephemeral whimsies the mind sometimes throws up, but thought I would ask on here if anyone has had any similar experiences?


Yep that is what it be - ephemeral whimsies
:popcorn:

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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Fri May 24, 2013 11:15 am 
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That's what I thought.

My main concern was whether it should or shouldn't happen, i.e.that I was doing something wrong or encouraging an incorrect practice that might be detrimental later.

Whimsy I can live with! :D

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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Fri May 24, 2013 11:20 am 
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As far as I see there is nothing to lose since you write it was/is already gone. Already gone, that is probably the nature of all experiences?

Metaphorical: Nice steps under mind's feet, made from clouds which dissolve by themselves, so mind doesn't grasp them and smoothly practice continues. This your post seems to tell me.

:namaste: :thanks:

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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Sat May 25, 2013 12:36 pm 
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Monsoon wrote:
That's what I thought.

My main concern was whether it should or shouldn't happen, i.e.that I was doing something wrong or encouraging an incorrect practice that might be detrimental later.

Whimsy I can live with! :D


Heart sutra and breath meditation sounds great, and good on you for 'knuckling down' with your practice!

If the experience gives you some inspiration to keep going, or perhaps a nice image for you to visualize, then it's all good.
Just treat it like a dream (ie: don't pay much mind to it - it's perfectly normal) and keep going.


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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Sat May 25, 2013 11:30 pm 
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Yes, it sounds like a good dream.

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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Sun May 26, 2013 12:47 am 
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lobster wrote:
Yep that is what it be - ephemeral whimsies
:popcorn:


Not necessarily. It may also have not been a dream.

It is possible that it was a sign that can arise during meditation that is a sign of strong concentration and appears just prior to jhana attainment. This is discussed in the Theravadin tradition but is universally dismissed (or at least not discussed) in the Mahayana. Here is a link that may be helpful. When a different kind of sign appeared to me years ago during a Zen seshin I had no idea what had happened and read the suttas looking for clues. Actually in the suttas (so the Pali translations) there is explanation of this. And there are explanations online as well like this one.

However it could have been a fantasy or projection as well. Basically you'll need to look up a Theravadin meditation teacher to figure it out. But in the best case it just means that your concentration snapped into focus (using your words) briefly. When this happens, the sign that arises itself can be used as an object of meditation in order to deeply develop concentration.

Kirt

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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Sun May 26, 2013 4:58 am 
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Well, I had to look up a few of those terms... jhana for instance.. because I have had no formal training, and am only now starting to thrash around in the literature.

Perhaps I should also mention that as a long term taijiquan practitioner I am fairly comfortable with energy work, and I also indulge in a practice called zhang zhuang (standing like a tree) using 'Sung' breathing in which the breath is centred on the dan tian area and all the joints and non-postural muscles are allowed to relax into their natural positions. This is the breathing I utilise when I sit and meditate.

Unfortunately there are no theravadin teachers anywhere near me, so no luck there.

On the up side though, I feel no particular desire associated with the experience: it was just what it was, in effect. If it happens again then fine, if not then so be it. I just thought it was a curious thing.

Thanks for all the input. I'm learning as I go.

:namaste:


Edited:

If I may add, I am not following any particular path - which may or may not be a problem in itself. As it is I have a bit of a mix and match approach. When sitting I alternate breath watching or mala/mantra (not in the same session though). My only texts are: The Diamond the Cuts through Illusion (TNH), The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching (TNH), The Heart of Understanding (TNH), Finding Our True Home (TNH), Lessons from the Lotus Sutra (TNH), The Zen Teachings of Huang Po, Treasury of the True Dharma Eye - by Dogen (in PDF), Peace is Every Step (TNH), and Zen Keys (TNH). As you can see I am a bit of a fan of Thich Nhat Hanh!

When I visit my home temple (Longhua, Shanghai) I tend to be drawn to Sakyamuni, and Guanyin. In the last few years (especially stemming from a bitter divorce 6 years ago) I have found it increasingly difficult to be angry or irritated with people - a kind of watered down version of tonglen perhaps. I certainly feel quite kindly toward pretty much everybody, although it is disappointing how many people take advantage of that.

Anyway, I find all the buddhist practices to be interesting, but I am put off by any that smack of overt institutionalism such as is displayed by (for instance) the Catholic church. Ritual is fine as long as there is no overtone of clerical control.

I am a bad practitioner I suspect.

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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Sun May 26, 2013 7:54 pm 
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Quote:
Perhaps I should also mention that as a long term taijiquan practitioner I am fairly comfortable with energy work, and I also indulge in a practice called zhang zhuang (standing like a tree) using 'Sung' breathing in which the breath is centred on the dan tian area and all the joints and non-postural muscles are allowed to relax into their natural positions. This is the breathing I utilise when I sit and meditate.


That is good, that is grounding.
I think your attitude to the experience is fine. It is of no import one way or another. If you have experiences that need a teacher, you will seek one. What you are doing sounds fine to me. Standing like a tree is a practice I have done and it is a perfect example of 'standing meditation'. You might find your tai chi chuan teachers have sufficient meditative advice for you. :twothumbsup:

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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Sun May 26, 2013 8:45 pm 
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I have weird experiences, both extremely positive and extremely negative in meditation, stuff that is so bizarre, beautiful, ugly I likely can't even verbalize it - I think this is normal.

The advice i've received is not to attach importance to them, and just keep chugging. After the 100th time they don't seem so special, nor so terrible - they are going all the time it seems, i've been told by teachers and others I listen to that it's very important not to get caught up in any kind of story about your experiences.

I've actually done Zhan Zhuang for years also as part of martial arts practice too, I have a hard time with meditation focused on breath because of this..so personally I tend to use an object other than breath most times. When I use the breath for meditation when I first started, the excitability was too much, normally of course one couldn't think of Zhan Zhuang sensations as excitability, but I think that in comparison to Buddhist Shamatha they may be just that.

I dunno, I mean I love to be ecumenical and whatnot, but personally I found bleedover from Zhan Zhuang to not be that useful at all for Shamatha (though I still love Zhang Zhuang for what I use it for, health and martial arts), your experience may vary...but if you are getting overexcited, caught up and bombarded with stuff when focusing on breath during Shamatha, maybe it's woth practicing a technique that uses a different object (visual for example) and seeing how that goes. Remember the purpose of Shamatha is not to have certain experiences, nor to avoid them.

Of course the best thing is a Sangha and/or teacher that knows you to put these questions to.

Quote:
Anyway, I find all the buddhist practices to be interesting, but I am put off by any that smack of overt institutionalism such as is displayed by (for instance) the Catholic church. Ritual is fine as long as there is no overtone of clerical control.


You said you did not practice with a Sangha so:
There might be some truth to the criticism, but is it really worth entertaining a bias in one direction or the other like that without direct experience? If you don't understand the rituals, nor their purpose, you don't have any real way to draw a conclusion like this.

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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Sun May 26, 2013 9:38 pm 
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Fair points. As far as Zhan Zhuang is concerned I don't find I get any bleed over into my sitting meditation - with respect to excitability that is. I simply use the methodology to induce a relaxed body.

Quote:
If you don't understand the rituals, nor their purpose, you don't have any real way to draw a conclusion like this.


Yeah, nah, it's not that I don't understand the rituals... I utilise quite a few already... it's hard to explain. As an example (perhaps a poor one): When a man/woman prays to God, this a personal action between that person and God, and it brooks no outside interference in my opinion. When a priest says "I'm sorry, you cannot pray to God without my authority", that's the kind of clerical control that I find off-putting, as well as artificial.

Maybe I will have a change of perspective in time. Who can say? :)

EDIT: just to reiterate, there is no sangha where I live that attracts me. There is a Tibetan one, and there is a branch of the Diamond Sangha (Robert Aitken Roshi, founder), but neither of these are really what I am looking for, although I may be tempted to at least visit the second.

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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Sun May 26, 2013 10:00 pm 
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Monsoon wrote:
Fair points. As far as Zhan Zhuang is concerned I don't find I get any bleed over into my sitting meditation - with respect to excitability that is. I simply use the methodology to induce a relaxed body.

Quote:
If you don't understand the rituals, nor their purpose, you don't have any real way to draw a conclusion like this.


Yeah, nah, it's not that I don't understand the rituals... I utilise quite a few already... it's hard to explain. As an example (perhaps a poor one): When a man/woman prays to God, this a personal action between that person and God, and it brooks no outside interference in my opinion. When a priest says "I'm sorry, you cannot pray to God without my authority", that's the kind of clerical control that I find off-putting, as well as artificial.

Maybe I will have a change of perspective in time. Who can say? :)

EDIT: just to reiterate, there is no sangha where I live that attracts me. There is a Tibetan one, and there is a branch of the Diamond Sangha (Robert Aitken Roshi, founder), but neither of these are really what I am looking for, although I may be tempted to at least visit the second.


I'm not sure how the "Infallible Word of God" analogy would work here, there are examples of similar things in Buddhism..but at least as it exists in The West, I don't think they are all that common. If anything many Sangha (IMO of course) can go too far out of their way to expunge anything seen as "religious" just because it might make people uncomfortable.

Anyway..Buddhism was passed down through people, you either believe there are people who are more qualified than others to transmit Dharma, ( whether officially recognized or not) or you don't. If you don't though, how are you supposed to learn Dharma, only from scripture? There are possible big problems there too.

Not advocating being uncritical, nor putting unquestioning faith in anything, you should test and question it all, but if you are not ready to open yourself up a little to "Buddhism" including aspects of it that might be less savory to you, I'm just not sure you can get definitive answers to questions like what you've posed about meditation to any level of satisfaction...I mean we can write on here, but it's not the same as someone who knows you and knows what you need, nor are many of us qualified teachers - keep that in mind, including the advice i'm giving here!

Most Sangha i've seen do not require any sort of "faith", acknowledgment of doctrinal agreement, or anything like that to receive basic meditation instruction. So if it's your impression that in order to receive help with the questions you are asking you need to go declare yourself fully dedicated to the three jewels and do 1000 prostrations to teacher..I would say you are mistaken, many, many, places offer Shamatha and Vipassana without any care whether or not you label yourself Buddhist or whatever, sutra teachings are there for everybody.

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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Sun May 26, 2013 11:14 pm 
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Just reread my posts and I may have come off sounding preachy.. if so, sorry. Trust me, i'm a very non-traditional, kind of self-motivated learner, have some anti-authoritarian tendencies and such myself.

It's just that in my own experience finding a tradition to practice in that suited me made all the difference in quality of meditation practice, and having real people that you know and interact with to ask questions of is invaluable, in fact the feeling of being supported and supporting others is invaluable. I know it may be different for others, and i'm not trying to say that you will get nowhere ever without going to a center or finding a teacher, or being an "official Buddhist", it's certainly not for me to make claims like that.

Just saying...at least give a local Sangha and Buddhism itself a chance to answer your questions.

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 Post subject: Re: Sensation
PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 12:25 am 
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Oh, I didn't think you sounded preachy. Honestly!

I probably am not explaining myself very well - possibly because I am not 100% sure of exactly what I want to say. Perhaps what I am talking about is shying away from people who say 'this is the one and only way'. However, I totally get the part about finding a teacher/sangha/other people with similar interests to work with.

"preciate the guidance. :namaste:

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