Discussing Meditative Experience vs Spiritual Attainment

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Discussing Meditative Experience vs Spiritual Attainment

Postby AdvaitaJ » Tue Oct 20, 2009 1:55 am

Hello All,

I've found that I've been "censoring" myself with regards to questions about my practice because I don't want to "cross the line" and discuss meditative experiences that are considered improper. I'm thinking in this case about the monastic rules against discussing attainment. Certainly, I'm no monk and those rules don't strictly apply, but I still feel the rules were established for a good reason and that reasoning may apply equally well here. Let me be equally clear and state I don't feel I have any "attainment" to discuss, either.

To the point, is there a delineation between say, describing a meditative experience on the one hand versus claiming to be a sotapanna? How are monks able to describe their experiences to each other so they may share their knowledge and advance their practice? Likewise, where do the "interviews" during a retreat fit in to these communications? Are they considered "privileged" like a conversation with a doctor? With little to no access to a teacher or formal retreats, Dhamma Wheel is the only venue where any sort of discussion about what happens during mediation is possible. Comments?

Regards: AdvaitaJ
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Re: Discussing Meditative Experience vs Spiritual Attainment

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Oct 20, 2009 2:25 am

Hi AdvaitaJ,

Monks can talk to each other. What you are referring to is monks claiming achievements to lay people.

I don't see anything intrinsically bad in sharing experiences, but there are some possible problems with discussing things with people who you don't know and who are not doing a similar kind of meditation at a similar (or higher) level. I think that some of us who perhaps are doing a few things right don't want to say too much because: (a) we are not real teachers and don't want to mislead others if we are wrong (b) we don't want to get into an embarrassing and possibly demoralising argument (c) we don't want to create anticipation.

In particular, my teachers have often warned me of the pointlessness and dangers (basically (b) above) of discussing experiences with people who have probably not had similar experiences.

My experience with my teachers on a retreat sometimes goes something like:
"I saw X, is that normal?"
"Yes, did you also see Y?"
"Umm, yes, I think so..."
"OK, you're doing fine, try looking for Z next time..."
I.e. basically anything I see they have seen before and have talked to other students about.

I don't have anything like that depth of experience, and certainly not in the variety of approaches that people bring to this board. However, sometimes I see someone asking about something that I think I know about. In that case, unless it's really simple, I'll often try to quote something from a reputable teacher that says what I wanted to say, so they can examine it for themselves and so it's not just my opinion.

There are some here who do have that depth. :anjali:

Metta
Mike
Last edited by mikenz66 on Tue Oct 20, 2009 4:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Discussing Meditative Experience vs Spiritual Attainment

Postby Ben » Tue Oct 20, 2009 3:23 am

Hi AJ
I suggest you identify someone on board that you may wish to confide in. someone who, ideally, has been doing the same practice as yourself for the same length of time or longer, and someone who you are fairly confident will provide you with reliable information. Even if you don't find someone who shares the same practice, you should still go for someone who will provide reliable information and someone who is willing to listen and provide you with some one-to-one support. Sometimes, its beneficial both parties to be able to have that kind of mentoring relationship - just to be able to talk about one's experience or doubts or concerns in a mutually supportive and respectful environment.
And my opinion is that sort of discussion is best done in private. One's meditative experiences shouldn't be up for public discussion for exactly the reasons that Mike has pointed out. Ideally, it should be about providing support, and guidance. And in the absence of a teacher - we need to rely on each other.
metta

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Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Re: Discussing Meditative Experience vs Spiritual Attainment

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Oct 20, 2009 4:31 am

Ben makes some extremely good points. Having someone you confide in is probably best if you have some tricky problem.

I think there are some times where just generally asking opinions is OK. If you were just starting then the collective "board" can probably provide some good advice (though it can sound contradictory because different people have learned from different teachers so emphasise different things). Or if you want advice on posture. Or if you have some reasonably specific technical question. For example, you might have spent a while just figuring out how to watch the breath with some stability. Now you want to move on to include feelings and mind states. What are some useful approaches?

What I would personally be careful about sharing too widely is where something is really going wrong or something really odd is happening (after you're well past the common beginner things of having strange thoughts, memories, lights, sensations, etc come up as you get some modicum of mindfulness and concentration going). To pick an example I have not personally had a problem with, if I had some unbearable fear and distress I'd want to talk to someone I really trusted, not just broadcast it.

I guess what I'm saying above is that questions about "how could I try doing X?" are likely to be relatively harmless. You can take or leave the advice because you're not putting your experience on the line. Questions like "I have problem Y" can be potentially more problematical.

Metta
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Re: Discussing Meditative Experience vs Spiritual Attainment

Postby pink_trike » Tue Oct 20, 2009 5:20 am

I'm pretty old school about this. I rarely ever talk about cushion experiences beyond the general. The practice path is formulated, but experienced very subjectively...so I talk about my cushion experiences and my understanding of suttas to my teachers and a few long-term practitioners who know me well and that I know well.

I also never suggest suttas to others or offer my understanding of them, as this was once something that teachers did skillfully at the appropriate time in a student's development and in consideration of the student's quality of mind and circumstances. I know the Google God and Amazon.com changed everything - and I too indulge widely (though after decades of practice) but I detected an effective method in this old way. I often see widely-read newbies (I consider, with good reason, anyone who hasn't practiced for at least 5 years to still be a newbie) debating and holding forth on the meaning of a sutta that a teacher likely would have never exposed them to so early on the path - and not knowing that after some years of practice they'll one day be surprised when a deeper, clearer meaning suddenly leaps out at them that makes their surface understanding look like the first thin coating of ice on the lake as Winter begins...inviting, slippery, and treacherous.

I mostly talk in the forums about the effects of practice off the cushion and the application of Dharma principles in 'real" life. I do this because most people in forums are newbies - keeping in mind that most people who visit forums rarely post. They are in the background, but they are still at the effect of whatever is being said in the forums. And also keeping in mind that there are always children in the room who shouldn't be exposed to certain Dharma principles and subjects until they are older and more formed.
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Mind is Empty
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Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

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Re: Discussing Meditative Experience vs Spiritual Attainment

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Oct 20, 2009 7:13 am

My own degree of old school thinking is such that if anyone claims any attainment in meditation practice I assume its false. This might be another extreme, and it might be to the way that I have been socially encultured, and to my early Buddhist influences which very much took the view that you only talk about your own inner life with close mittas and teachers. I take your point PT about the kind of exposure that newbies now have due to the rise in IT. I am reminded of hothouse plants that grow swiftly but do not always have the kind of resistance to adversity of a plant that grows in a more " natural" environment.
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Re: Discussing Meditative Experience vs Spiritual Attainment

Postby zavk » Tue Oct 20, 2009 7:19 am

I totally agree with what Mike, Ben and Pink have said.

As far as I am aware there's nothing intrinsically 'bad' about discussing these things. In my view, what is of concern is not so much the 'truthfulness' or 'falseness' of these attainments (how can we ever establish a ground of 'pure' evidence to objectively evaluate them?), but the ethics or the skillfulness of discussing these attainments.
With metta,
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Re: Discussing Meditative Experience vs Spiritual Attainment

Postby AdvaitaJ » Wed Oct 21, 2009 1:23 am

Ben wrote:Hi AJ
I suggest you identify someone on board that you may wish to confide in. someone who, ideally, has been doing the same practice as yourself for the same length of time or longer, and someone who you are fairly confident will provide you with reliable information.
Ben,

An excellent suggestion, but beyond the basics of vipassana, metta, and samadhi, I don't think I can identify with a particular named "practice style" or teaching. Is there a thread somewhere that helps to categorize the teachings into styles or am I missing the obvious somehow?

Regards: AdvaitaJ
The birds have vanished down the sky. Now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.
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Re: Discussing Meditative Experience vs Spiritual Attainment

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Oct 21, 2009 2:02 am

AdvaitaJ wrote:An excellent suggestion, but beyond the basics of vipassana, metta, and samadhi, I don't think I can identify with a particular named "practice style" or teaching. Is there a thread somewhere that helps to categorize the teachings into styles or am I missing the obvious somehow?

If you study people's posts it will probably become obvious that some have written things you've found useful, and some haven't. Some you'd trust and some you wouldn't... And there are a few people here who have decades of experience...

Metta
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Re: Discussing Meditative Experience vs Spiritual Attainment

Postby AdvaitaJ » Thu Oct 22, 2009 12:31 am

mikenz66 wrote:If you study people's posts it will probably become obvious that some have written things you've found useful, and some haven't. Some you'd trust and some you wouldn't... And there are a few people here who have decades of experience...
Mike,
Thanks for that, don't be surprised if you see a message from me soon! :tongue:

The thing behind my earlier post is that I think there are some "styles" that I should know about but don't. I've seen references to things like "Mahasi" style and others that many people here seem to know about that I haven't learned yet. For all I know, my practice is Mahasi and I just don't know that's what it's called. :shrug: I guess these things are knowledge that I'll pick up with more experience and exposure.

Thanks again!

AdvaitaJ
The birds have vanished down the sky. Now the last cloud drains away.
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Re: Discussing Meditative Experience vs Spiritual Attainment

Postby Ben » Thu Oct 22, 2009 1:24 am

Hi AJ
AdvaitaJ wrote:Mike,
Thanks for that, don't be surprised if you see a message from me soon! :tongue:

That would be an excellent choice!
metta

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR
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