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Re: Dangers of Meditation
Date: September 05, 2013 01:08AM

My last post for the day.

More scrambling people seeking ‘mindfulness’

December 10, 2009. 5:54 pm • Section: The Search

Posted by:
Douglas Todd

Avoid traffic jam on way to work. News says two more Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Forty-four e-mails in my inbox. Make that “To-go.” What was the score in the game? Send text message. The chit-chat is boring. Need to catch my boss’s eye. Jessica has to get to dance practice by 5. Is there anything in the fridge for dinner?

We are scrambling fast indeed in this electronic age–of global communication, endless distractions, financial pressures, productivity demands and mounting deadlines.

It has become a source of twisted pride in the beginning of the 21st century to complain to anyone who’ll listen about how we are so tremendously “busy.”

People feel stressed. Exhausted. Anxious.

A lot of frantic people are looking for a deeper way to live. Tens of millions are recognizing they are desperate to slow down, develop an inner life, build a calmer heart.

Help has come to many via an archaic-sounding word — “mindfulness.”

This spiritual practice, popularly associated with eastern meditation, has captured the North American public’s mind, so to speak.

People everywhere now talk about the virtues of mindfulness; in higher education, health care, yoga classes, self-help advice and corporate offices.

For so-called “secular” people who do not find inner peace through Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other organized religions, the admonition to be “mindful” has become an acceptable way to taste stillness.

Known in the past as “contemplation” or “awareness,” mindfulness, unbeknownst to most people, has been integral to Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other western religions for thousands of years. But now it is popularly associated with Buddhism.

Despite its origins in religion, mindfulness has penetrated almost all facets of society in the past decade: public education, emotional and physical health and big business.

Perhaps the main reasons it’s spreading flows from its breakthrough into academia, which has in the past prided itself on being rigorously non-spiritual.

Psychologists, neuro-scientists and other researchers have won scores of grants to study the measurable benefits of this form of meditation.

When Time magazine in 2003 did a major cover story on the “science” of meditation, particularly mindfulness, it was effectively capturing what would go on to become this new millennium’s spiritual zeitgeist.

As a way to promote inner peace and personal effectiveness, mindfulness echoes the hip series of books of the 1990s with titles such as The Zen of Golf and the The Tao of Leadership.

What, exactly, is mindfulness?

It is one of many diverse kinds of meditation, others of which emphasize focusing on specific sounds, images or values. Mindfulness involves being fully present “in the moment.”

Often accomplished by concentrating on one’s breath or body sensations, mindfulness calls for non-judgmental awareness of each thought or feeling that arises, without attempting to change them.

Psychotherapists such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is often associated with sparking the mindfulness movement, says the practice is “simple, but not easy.”

Academic acceptance

Vancouver spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle basically outlines mindfulness concepts in his immensely popular books, such as The Power of Now.

Mindfulness is being studied up the yin-yang. In the U.S. alone, the National Institute of Health has handed out more than 50 major grants to explore mindfulness’s favourable effects.

Researchers are discovering mindfulness is useful for countering compulsive behaviour. It’s also said to promote curiosity.

For the most part, secular university scholars have in the past felt barred from studying religion or spirituality in any way that might suggest it has something positive to offer.

But mindfulness meditation has broken through that traditional barrier, since it is said to be available to anyone regardless of religion, or lack thereof.

The fact many of the academics researching mindfulness think of themselves as Buddhists has been ignored. For some reason, the scholars who would normally oppose their colleagues digging into the possibly good aspects of a spiritual discipline do not mind when their colleagues might be Buddhists.

As a result, some Jews, Christians and Muslims who would welcome research into practices associated with their faiths (such as prayer, chanting, spiritual healing or peak religious experiences) would like the same treatment from academics. Maybe that will become a trend in the next decade.

Last year, I attended a conference of psychologists in Seattle at which Alan Marlatt, a Buddhist academic, talked about studies he’d conducted into the benefits of mindfulness for alcoholics and prisoners.

What scholars such as Marlatt, Daniel Siegel, UBC’s Kim Schonert-Reichl (left) and scores of others are finding is that regular mindfulness meditation can reduce the effects of depression, stress, anxiety, chronic pain, substance abuse and more. (SFU education professor Heesoon Bai, right, teaches meditation to help her often-anxious students focus.)

Paying attention

Beyond higher education, researchers have found mindful meditation can also improve grades among kindergarten to -Grade 12 students. As well, it’s moving deeply into health care and organizational management.

General Mills Foods has been among those giant companies actively promoting mindfulness training among senior staff to “cultivate the brain’s ability to be present, to be focused, to be less reactive and listen deeply.”

In the face of mindfulness’s expanding influence, the head of Vancouver’s Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education reminds the public that it should not be associated solely with Buddhism.

Mindfulness is common to all religions and even to many secular activities, says Victor Chan.

Mindfulness can be part of everything from writing in one’s journal to slowly washing dishes.

“You do not have to sit in the lotus position and say ‘Om’ all the time to practise meditation or mindfulness,” Chan says.

A former tennis instructor, Chan says he was basically teaching mindfulness, or being in the flow, to his students when he was helping them learn how to concentrate on hitting the ball.

Chan says his daughters also practise mindfulness when they play the piano, draw, practise martial arts or recite or memorize poetry.

“I would basically define ‘mindfulness’ as ‘paying attention,’” Chan says. “It is a form of doing something simple over and over. It puts one in a state where he or she is focused, centred or grounded.”

Despite all the positive claims being made about mindfulness, some have picked holes in it.

Zen Master Muho Noelke, a prominent Buddhist abbot, says concentrating on “being mindful” creates a separation between one’s self and reality. “Don’t be mindful, please,” the abbot says. “When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk talk.”

As well, even those who believe mindfulness is generally a good thing warn it can have a dark side.

A pervasive force

In the book, The Psychoanalytic Mystic, Michael Eigen says he has seen mindfulness meditation be used by clients to deny their own pain, and even accentuate their narcissism.

As well, since advocates of mindfulness say it helps people “accept things as they are,” some critics say it can lead to passivity and lack of concern for social justice.

Despite such concerns, mindfulness meditation continues to seep into almost all aspects of secular culture.

Along the way it’s also prodding some Jews, Christians and Muslims to try to revive their tradition’s once widely ignored meditative and contemplative practices, such as “centring prayer.”

Now that this ancient spiritual practice is being enthusiastically studied by researchers, it’s clear it will continue to make a strong impact on many walks of life.

The two most powerful forces in society, some say, are religion and education.

The current fascination with mindfulness meditation is bringing both these spheres together, with far-reaching consequences.

{Read my introduction to the 20 Big Ideas series. It highlights 20 major trends of the first decade of this millennium.}


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Refugees from Mindfulness Based Mediation--an article
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 16, 2013 12:31AM

(quoted from below)
"Despite the limits of mindfulness meditation, there is a problem. A small number of people in clinical settings are unexpectedly good at meditation. With the barest instruction, some people are able to launch themselves deep into the rabbit hole of insights that vipassana is intended to produce. It is an experience that can be troubling and even destabilizing, particularly if one has no idea that it is coming.

"As third wave CBT has boomed in the past decade these people have become a significant minority in the meditation community. Introduced to meditation through therapy, they find themselves on an emotional ride to which they never agreed, encountering upheavals and difficult truths at the very moment in their lives when they are least able to handle them. That is bad enough, but much worse is that many of the well-intentioned clinicians who teach these techniques have no idea that anything troubling could occur."

The site of Ron Crouch, Hawaii-based meditation teacher

This essay offers an important alternative perspective.

Corboy has attended 3 to 4 week long meditation retreats using either Zen or vipassana. On all those retreats many people were heard weeping. Both retreat centers daily discussions, with teachers to ensure that participants could check in and get assistance in case tough stuff came up.

Corboy had some early memories surface, long with some heavy emotional material. And another effect of these retreats was that many people slept less and woke up progressively earlier each morning.

Mindfulness meditation is like any other medicine.

Anything powerful enough to provide benefit has the potential to bring upset or harm.

Every drug or technique, whether meditation or aspirin has a risk benefit ratio and not for everyone. Some should avoid aspirin; that has nothing to do with moral worth--it has to do with health history and phsyiology.

And some should approach meditation cautiously, if at all.

The Refugees of Mindfulness: Rethinking Psychology’s Experiment with Meditation
Jul 23

Posted by Ron

“Jill” is 32 and works as a lawyer in the southwest. She wrote to me explaining that during her meditation she sometimes feels a panic attack coming on and has disturbing mental images. She cannot control it and does not know what she is doing wrong. When we talk for the first time I ask her when it began. “It started a few months after my therapist taught me mindfulness…”

file000351809409Third wave Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the marriage of modern psychology and ancient buddhist meditation.

It has grown rapidly in the past decade, and many psychologists and meditation teachers are enthusiastic about the development, seeing it as a blend of the very best of eastern wisdom with western psychological science. Third wave CBT goes under a variety of names such as Mindfulness-Based CBT (MBCBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). There are also less structured approaches and informal sitting groups springing up in clinics across the country. It is the rare hospital or clinic that does not have a meditation group these days.

This has resulted in a historically unique situation. Psychologists, medical doctors, social workers and counselors are rapidly becoming the vanguard of meditation in the west, introducing people who may have never meditated to the practice.

All these approaches have the common elements of CBT (recognizing and challenging maladaptive thoughts) and a version of meditation that goes under the moniker “mindfulness meditation” or sometimes just “mindfulness.”

A review of the treatment manuals for DBT, ACT, MBSR and MBCBT suggest that “mindfulness meditation” is something close to a “soft-vipassana.” The person doing meditation in these treatment protocols is instructed to watch thoughts and feelings come and go on their own without judgment. This leads to the insight that one does not need to believe in, or act on, thoughts or feelings. This is perfect for CBT, which emphasizes the importance of thoughts and beliefs as the drivers of mood disorders.

I call mindfulness meditation a “soft” version of vipassana because it stops short of instructing the person to see that everything in awareness is coming and going and is not owned. It also does not emphasize the kind of intense or rapid momentary concentration that marks some vipassana techniques.

Instead, clinical mindfulness focuses on relaxation and gentleness (but not samadhi) and points the person to watch thinking and emotional reactions. I would argue that these differences are a very good thing because, despite popular opinion, traditional vipassana would be terrible medicine for a person who is emotionally distraught, unstable, and unable to cope.

That last sentence may be a bit shocking to some. If you are like most people, you associate meditation, all types of meditation, with happiness, relaxation, and maybe even bliss. The idea that it could produce difficulty is not only counter intuitive, it is anathema to how meditation is presented in the west.

If anything difficult does occur during the meditation the meditator is likely to feel that they are doing something wrong. If he or she goes to a meditation teacher the advice will likely be to just “let it go,” “drop it,” or my favorite, “thank your mind for it.”

This is patronizing.

It gives the false impression that if anything distressing does occur during meditation, the problem is one of technique or reactivity on behalf of the meditator. In reality difficult experiences in meditation, ones that are remarkably similar to the symptoms of many mood disorders, are so normal that the most ancient surviving meditation manuals in Buddhism go into great detail about them, categorizing them into six distinct types that occur in a specific order.

Far from being a sign of poor meditation, they are actually described as a sign of deepening insight. In other words, the most ancient manuals not only affirm that difficult experiences occur during serious meditation, they posit that these experiences are supposed to happen. They are a definite sign of one’s movement along what the famous Burmese meditation master Mahasi Sayadaw coined The Progress of Insight, and are known as the “dukkha nanas” or “insights into suffering.”

This might sound bad, but the good news is that these more distressing insights only occur when one is well on the way and down the path. Meditators usually have to go through a lot of sitting time, develop strong concentration, and become very equanimous before they can enter into the later insights. For this reason it is unlikely that a soft-vipassana approach can get one very far beyond the initial insights and into the dukkha nanas. So in a clinical setting if you stick to the instructions and don’t overdo it, nothing unsettling is likely to occur.

I do not believe mindfulness meditation is intentionally designed for this, but if it was it would be a damn clever modification of traditional vipassana.

Despite the limits of mindfulness meditation, there is a problem. A small number of people in clinical settings are unexpectedly good at meditation. With the barest instruction, some people are able to launch themselves deep into the rabbit hole of insights that vipassana is intended to produce. It is an experience that can be troubling and even destabilizing, particularly if one has no idea that it is coming. A

s third wave CBT has boomed in the past decade these people have become a significant minority in the meditation community. Introduced to meditation through therapy, they find themselves on an emotional ride to which they never agreed, encountering upheavals and difficult truths at the very moment in their lives when they are least able to handle them. That is bad enough, but much worse is that many of the well-intentioned clinicians who teach these techniques have no idea that anything troubling could occur.

Many of the developers of these approaches received their training in meditation through Zen, which eschews the more old fashioned stage-models of insight, and therefore does not formally recognize the predictable difficulties that arise (though every Zen teacher I’ve met is cognizant of them and is well-prepared to handle them).

Additionally, for reasons too complex to go into here, traditional vipassana teachers in the west have elected to present the practice without much emphasis on the traditional stages of insight. And so, without intending to, they often leave the simplistic impression that there are no difficulties associated with insight, and that more meditation equals more happiness.

The inspired psychologists who learn from these teachers come away greatly impressed with meditation, but with little to no knowledge of the dukkha nanas. They return to their clinics, offices and hospitals and find novel ways to integrate meditation into the treatments of unstable people. Most of these people get great benefit. Some have a different experience, one that is unsettling. And while many meditators may object to this characterization, pointing out that their own experience of dukkha nanas was not so difficult, I would argue that most people who go through it with little trouble are not in the midst of therapy or suicidal.

People who have had this unexpected experience are growing in numbers and are starting to share with each other and with more traditional meditators. They have come to call the dukkha nanas the “dark night” after the Christian experience (some teachers believe they may be in the same mystical family if not the same thing).

They are sharing and seeking advice on internet forums and in settings such as the Cheetah House and Dark Night Project where they feel they will not be told to simply “drop it” but will be supported in gaining understanding. They are an unseen, and as yet unrecognized, growing minority of western meditators. Many have no sangha, no formal teacher, no texts or canon, no philosophy or anything resembling “faith.” They are frequently alone, searching the Internet for anyone like themselves, trying to sift through the overwhelmingly positive pitch for meditation for some nugget of information that can illuminate their experience. Like refugees with no home, they do not understand what is happening to them or why, and they often do not know what to do or where to go for help.

This issue is not abstract for me and perhaps my own experience will shed light on why I care so much. Two years ago I received the green light from my teacher to begin teaching insight meditation. I put up a website, told those who knew me what I was up to, and waited to see who would be interested. While I made an effort to write in my own voice, which can be irreverent, what I presented was right down the middle vipassana.

However, I did do one thing that was unusual and for which I am very grateful. I went against the common practice of downplaying the insight stages and instead put them front-and-center on the site. I did this because my teacher was clear about them with me, so I followed suit and was candid about them in my teaching. I made sure to include a rich description of the dukkha nanas and cautions to those who may be about to plunge into them. Unbeknownst to me this one gesture of understanding came to define my experience of teaching for the next two years, as the great majority of people who contacted me, and continue to contact me, are in the dark night.

Most got into it through formal practice (amazingly, it doesn’t seem to matter much which technique or tradition). But I was alarmed when it seemed that a significant number, perhaps a third, learned to meditate from their therapist or from a group in a clinical setting. Sometimes they were actively suicidal at the time they learned to meditate. Interestingly, the majority never discussed their negative experiences while they were in therapy. Like the therapists themselves, they wanted to believe that meditation was helping, and so they dismissed what was occurring or blamed it on the thing that brought them to therapy in the first place.

As a psychologist this is more than a bit embarrassing, it is troubling. It is one of the ethical principles of psychology that no intervention is done without fully explaining the risks and benefits of the treatment. If an intervention could possibly cause distress, even mild distress, psychologists are ethically obligated to inform the person of this possibility and gain their informed consent before proceeding. Psychologists are not doing this when it comes to mindfulness meditation, chiefly because they do not know there are risks. But more and more people who have participated in it know that there are.

This is not a situation created by malice, but by ignorance. Psychologists simply were not told this could ever happen, and were given the impression that the results of meditation were exclusively happiness, calm, and increased wellbeing. They are not to be blamed for this situation, as they have merely borrowed a problem that already existed in the way meditation was being taught to students in the west. It is a problem that continues and in some ways defines what “mainstream” meditation teaching is in the west.

While this is not psychology’s fault, it is only a matter of time before the consequences lay squarely on the shoulders of psychologists who teach mindfulness meditation.

Sooner or later, those who teach it will learn about the progress of insight and the dark night. Either from writings like this or from patients themselves. When they do they will face an ethical dilemma about whether to continue teaching meditation in clinical settings.

While meditation teachers can essentially “get away” with not telling people about the dark night, psychologists do not have this luxury. Ethically, we are obligated to acknowledge the risks and be cautious. This is not happening yet, but it is my sincere hope that those enamored of third wave CBT will examine not only the manuals and the studies, but look deeply into the descriptions of insight in the pali cannon.

Even better, talk with meditators who have experienced a dark night, researchers who study it, or best of all dive into it and see what it is like. Psychologists might benefit most from going beyond mindfulness meditation, breaking loose of the manual, and seeing how far this practice can go. Then there might be more respect for the powerful, and sometimes life-shaking, changes that vipassana can create in the heart and mind. It is my hope that psychology will soon lose its infatuation with meditation, and begin to evaluate it as a tool for change in a more mature light, seeing both the promise and the dilemmas. Until this happens I expect the community of mindfulness meditation refugees to grow.

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A Traditional List of the Stages of Insight -- Some Scary
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 16, 2013 11:03PM

The author of the article above referred to states that many instructors in Mindfulness Based Meditation may be unaware of. They may thus be unable to inform students that this practice may actually trigger stressful experiences.


Even if one considers this set of catagories to be arbitrary, what is important is that as originally taught, vipassana had an ethical foundation. One had to practice ethics as a way to create a way of life in which one could cultivate deeper observation of ones own body speech and mind -- and social consequences.

Two, some of the states that arise in meditation are not stress relief--they can be upsetting. And it only adds to a meditators stress and suffering if an instructor assumes meditation is one and the same with stress relief, and assumes any problems are caused by a practitioners mistakes or bad attitude.

Anything powerful enough to bring benefits has the potential to bring hazards.

What one does is tell people a drug or a meditation practice has benefits and can also have adverse side effects and what those are. If one experiences those side effects, it isnt one's fault--its a signal to call for help and decide whether to stop the drug or practice, or continue at a lower dosage or shorter time period.

We have looked at Satipatthana vipassana in terms of one central principle, three universal characteristics and seven purifications (or seven stages of purification).

Now we will subdivide these seven stages of purification into 16 nanas, or (insight) "knowledges". Notice how we are looking at the meditation practice from the point of view of what we see when we do this practice. This complex construction of 16 nanas (or 17 nanas if we subdivide maggaphala-nana into magga-nana and phala-nana) is not found in the Tipitaka, the early Buddhist texts. They seem to be an invention of the medieval Theravada tradition, and you can find a complete analysis of them in Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga. Now we will confine our attention to the first three of the nanas.

The 16 nanas constitute another way to categorise our experience. There are any number of ways we can analyse our experience; there are a potentially infinite number of categories we can invent into which we can classify our experiences. What is important is that we remember the difference between category and experience, and avoid becoming lost in the category. Our tendency is to get lost in the categories, and in doing so, lose touch with experience. When we create a system of categories we freeze the process of living experience and create a solid something in which our experience must now conform. We now divide our experience into two basic divisions: those experiences which we can fit into our system of categories, and which is therefore valid, real and useful; and those experiences which we cannot fit into our system of categories. Of course, in the act of meditating, we put more attention to our valid, real and useful experiences than we do to the other type. In brief, we become stuck in attachment and aversion, and instead of investigating our experience, we revert to manipulating it. We take the practice of freedom and turn it into a prison. This is inevitably the case when we project reality into the categories of analysis - whatever system we use - and not into the actual, living, stream of experience. Hence we must treat this system with great caution. We must learn to use it, and not be used by it.

Note that purification of ethics (sila-visuddhi) is prior to meditation practice. Buddhism assumes an ethical foundation to any form of meditation. Note also that while meditation begins with the second stage, purification of mind (citta-visuddhi), this is prior to the manifestation of insight. Purification of mind in this system is simply the development of a certain amount of concentration. The meditator becomes so focused on the mind-body process that thinking is significantly lessened, or even ceases, and when thinking does manifest the meditator can notice it immediately, and then it usually subsides. This is the samadhi which is foundational to the arising of insight. The samadhi in this technique, of course, is khanika samadhi: a continuous flow of attention directed to the ever changing succession of discrete mental and physical experiences.

The lower nanas

1) Knowledge of the distinction between mind and body - nama-rupa paricheda-nana

When khanika samadhi is established, the meditator notices that experience break up: Breathing and walking break up into distinct, separate events of rising/falling; lifting/moving/placing;etc. The distinction between physical experience (rupa) and the quality of the knowing of the physical experience (nama) becomes apparent.

Further divisions may become apparent - e.g., "seeing" consists of the interrelation between the eye, a visual object, the act of seeing, and the knowing of the act of seeing.`The attention may fall on any or all of these aspects. For example, sound in the form of "hearing a bird" may become sound as just sound; or sound as the knowing of sound.

In brief, the meditator sees there is just experience and the knowing of experience.

2) Knowledge of conditionality - paccaya-pariggaha-nana

The meditator first sees the apparent solidity of himself and his world break up into a series of discrete experiences, either mental or physical. He then begins to see the relationships between these discrete experiences. He sees how one experience conditions another. For example:

Mind conditions body: Without consciousness, there can be no physical experience. Without an intention to move, there can be no movement. Without consciousness of seeing, there can be no visible object.
Body conditions mind. Without visible objects, there can be no consciousness of them. An initial glance at a visual object conditions a series of thoughts about it.
Mind conditions mind: An initial distracting thought conditions a storyline. If the initial distracting thought is noted, the storyline does not manifest.
Body conditions body: What appears to be one movement of the arm, for example, is seen to be a whole series of discrete movements; each movement conditions the next.
The examples may seem mundane when they are stated baldly like this, but they represent a new, much more subtle way of seeing oneself and one’s world. Solid things have broken down into flows of experience. The way our experience of the world is created and maintained becomes much clearer. The meditator does not take things for granted quite so much as before. He becomes much more responsible for his own experience, because he sees how he is continually constructing his own experience.

At this stage the meditator sees the arising of experiences but not their cessation. Notice the development in the practice. Normally we do not see either the beginning or end of any given experience. We tune into the movie after it has already begun, and then switch to another movie after its beginning, and so on. For example, I know my moods change. I may be talking to someone about satipatthana and feeling calm. He tells me I don’t know anything about meditation, and I get angry about being contradicted. Later I calm down. What I know of this process is that I am calm; then later I notice I am already angry. Then later I realise I have already calmed down to some extent. What I do not do under normal circumstances is notice the actual moment of the arising of emotion; and the actual moment of the cessation of emotion. This is noting the middle, but not the beginning or end of experiences.

During the knowledge of conditionality, the meditator’s attention is becoming sharp and he is seeing the actual moment of the beginning of experience, and its middle; but he is not yet seeing its end. The attention is drawn to experience a; as he examines this, his attention is then drawn to experience b; as he examines this, his attention is then drawn to experience c; and so on. He is moving from one experience to another before the first has disappeared.

Also at this stage, meditators who are inclined to visual images will tend to see a lot of images. Often they will report a lot of physical pain

3) Knowledge of mastery - sammasana-nana

As the meditator continues to practice, mental images and physical pains fade. His attention is becoming sharper and more subtle, and he now sees clearly the beginning, middle and end of the experience he is examining. This stage is called knowledge of mastery because the meditator acquires mastery in his understanding of impermanence. For the first time he can see this complete process of arising, manifesting, and cessation of experience. In seeing the complete process of impermanence, he also has more insight into unsatisfactoriness and not-self. The extent to which these latter two of the universal characteristics will become apparent depends on the individual. For some people, they become obvious at this stage; for others they don’t.

4) Knowledge of arising and passing away - udayabbaya-nana

This stage is central to the practice. As you can see on your chart, knowledge of arising and passing away includes three purifications: purification of overcoming doubt in its early stage; and both purification of knowing and seeing the way in its mature stage. In practical terms, for most meditators it is a hard slog to get this far; it can feel like climbing up a steep and rocky hill. In certain respects it gets easier from here on, because now that the meditator can clearly see the arising and cessation of experiences he knows he is on the right path. Whatever he has done to get this far is all he has to do is continue. Often meditators feel a surge of confidence in themselves and the practice.

For many meditators, this is the nice one. They may see light. They experience faith (saddha), rapture (piti), tranquillity (passadhi) and bliss (sukkha). The arising and passing away of experience is very clear. They can notice anything easily, and it seems that the meditation is going on by itself. All the meditator has to do is sit back and enjoy the show.

This ease, enjoyment and sense of fulfilment, however, carry a danger. As I said before, the practice is about process, once we begin to hang on to anything, process stops, and the practice bogs down. This stage of the practice is both enjoyable and dangerous. It is easy to give up and settle for pleasant, even spectacular meditation experiences, rather than pushing on. It is this early, immature stage of knowledge of arising and passing away which is the mature stage of purification of overcoming doubt, characterised as it is by the clarity of meditative experience and by the arising of faith.

If the meditator merely watches these blissful phenomena, they pass. The sense of clinging and attachment to blissful experience passes, and the meditator enters into the purification of knowing and seeing what is and what is not the path. He understands more clearly the importance of just seeing experience as experience; not getting stuck by projecting any ego or judgements on to it. As he continues to practice, the process of arising and passing away becomes faster and faster, until it becomes almost instantaneous. The attention is moving very rapidly, but always with clarity and penetration. As soon as something arises, it is seen; as soon as it is seen, it ceases. At this point, which is the high point of a meditator’s sensitivity to impermanence, the sixth purification, purification of knowing and seeing the way, begins. And again things change.

5) Knowledge of dissolution - bhanga-nana

Now we enter an interesting stage of the practice characterised by a series of nanas known as the dukkha-nanas. Remember that the meditator has already attained the purification of overcoming doubt and the purification of knowing and seeing what is and what is not the path. The essentials of the practice have already been revealed, and in the process the meditator has experienced faith, rapture and bliss. What is essential to this practice is seeing the arising and passing away of experience. In attaining to knowledge of arising and passing away, the meditator has already done this.

What happens next? The meditator’s awareness and concentration continues to develop. As a result, he now sees only the passing away of phenomena. It is as if his awareness is so fast, it is faster than the experiences he is examining, As soon as he places his attention on some aspect of his experience, it disappears. This is the knowledge of dissolution (bhanga-nana). In a weak aspect, this can take the form of the meditator apparently losing his concentration. It seems like he can no longer focus on anything; his attention keeps sliding off whatever he tries to look at. It can be lie trying to grasp something that slips out of your hand the moment you touch it. In a stronger aspect, it can be like falling into the black hole of Calcutta. Wherever you look, there is nothing - only blackness. The meditator is shocked, because he used to be able to focus on anything. Now, it seems, he can focus on nothing at all. All his good work has dissolved into nothing.

Another thing that meditators report at this stage is the disappearance of the form of the body. Before, the meditator saw experience break up into specific and discrete experiences, but he always knew that they were experiences of something. For example, the experience of the rising movement of the abdomen when breathing in breaks up into movement, pressure, tension. But there was always the sense, while examining these sensations, that they belonged together, as different aspect of the same thing. But now movement is just movement; pressure is just pressure; tension is just tension. There is no sense of what part of the body these sensations belong to. The sense of the body disappears; all that is left is a series of apparently disconnected individual sensations. There is no "body" as such.

6) Knowledge of fear - bhaya-nana

This gives way to the knowledge of fear, (bhaya-nana). In the disappearance of everything examined, the mind at some level begins to realise: there is nothing beneath this parade of changes. There is no foundation. At a fundamental level, there is nothing at all. The result is existential anxiety. In its strong form this can manifest as panic. In its weak form, it can be merely a sense of existential unease, a sense of nothing going right, a sense of helplessness, a sense of loss of control. At this stage of the practice, the meditator’s insight into anatta, not self, usually takes the form of a sense of loss of control. The realisation that "I am not in control of ‘my’ life".

7) Knowledge of danger - adinava-nana

Next comes the knowledge of danger, (adinava-nana). The meditator realises there is no rest, no security, in anything. Notice that the emphasis here is on anything. The meditator by this time is fantasising about escape from, the meditation centre. He is wondering why he is not in some comfortable job making a comfortable, secure living. But the power of the insight-knowledge is such that he knows there is no escape. He knows that this danger, this disadvantage, remains. Because he knows this is the nature of experience as such.

8) Knowledge of disenchantment - nibbida-nana

Hence the knowledge of disenchantment, (nibbida-nana). Nibbida, or disenchantment, is simply the opposite of enchantment. Normally we are enchanted by experience. A man sees a beautiful woman and instinctively is drawn into her circle of charm. He is "charmed", enchanted. He feels there is real satisfaction to be gained by possessing her, and so pursues her to gain that satisfaction. This whole movement is based on the notion: if only I possess that, then all my problems will be solved. The essence of the knowledge of disenchantment is that, even in the very fantasy itself, the meditator knows that the object of his desire will not solve his problem. He knows that even if he leaves the meditation centre and attains his most heart-felt desire, this too is unsatisfactory. There is no situation that he can imagine which is satisfactory. All his desires and fantasies are like ashes in his mouth.

9) Knowledge of the desire for liberation - muncitu-kamyata-nana

Closely allied to this knowledge is the knowledge of the desire for liberation (muncitu-kamyata-nana), known by some meditators as the "get-me-outa-here-nana". And of course, this knowledge includes the understanding that, whatever situation the meditator escapes to, that too will be unsatisfactory, and the urge to escape will still be there in that new situation. Symptoms of this stage of the practice can include a great deal of physical pain and restlessness. The meditator may be unable to hold any posture of the body for any period of time - any posture is painful. Sometimes meditators retreat to bed to sleep for long periods of time, just to escape the pain involved in being conscious.

10) Knowledge of re-consideration - patisankhanupassana-nana

These dukkha-nanas culminate in the knowledge of re-consideration (patisankhanupassana-nana). This is characterised by two things. Firstly, the meditator may be assailed by all the kinds of suffering he has gone through before, as well as some new experiences. He may feel as if he has lost all insight he may have had before. He may feel he has lost the ability to concentrate. He may even go through periods when he "forgets" how to do the practice itself!

11) Knowledge of equanimity regarding formations - sankharupekkha-nana

Progress through the knowledge of re-consideration is marked by the development of equanimity. At some point, a subtle but fundamental shift takes place, and the meditator enters a stage of the practice called the knowledge of equanimity regarding the formations (sankharuppekha-nana). This is the reward for all the work he has done and the suffering he has endured up to this point.

Now the dominant factors in the meditator’s mind are awareness and equanimity - as in the fourth jhana. All forms of pain either disappear or are minimised. There is little or no sense of mental disturbance. The meditation carries on by itself, with little or no conscious effort on the meditator’s part. He finds he can sit and walk for long periods of time, and needs little sleep. The attention rests naturally on a few experiences, staying on the same experience for long periods of time.

At this point the meditator feels he understands the practice as if for the first time. It is so simple and so obvious! This attitude of clarity and simplicity carries over into everything else. Life itself is so simple and so obvious! How could he ever have got himself tangled up in big problems! Everything is fundamentally OK. A meditator at this stage of the practice is very difficult to upset.

The knowledge of equanimity regarding formations may continue for a long time, gradually becoming more subtle and refined, or it may end fairly quickly. If the meditator relaxes his effort and just cruises along, enjoying and clinging to the pleasant aspects of the nana, then unknown to him his awareness declines, his equanimity turns into indifference, and he may, with a sense of great shock, find himself back in the dukkha nanas. It can be difficult to convince some meditators to maintain the momentum of the practice. If they do maintain the practice, then at some point they fall through the trap-door.

Stages 12 to 15

The knowledge of insight leading to the emergence (vitthanagamini-vipassana-nana) is the slide into the trap-door. It lasts only a few moments, during which time one of the three universal characteristics becomes dominant in the meditator’s mind. This characteristic is the "door" through which he enters nibbana. The universal characteristic which predominates during knowledge of insight leading to emergence will condition the meditator’s understanding of the dominant characteristic of nibbana.

The next two stages, knowledge of adaptation (anuloma-nana) and knowledge of connection (gotrabhu-nana) are momentary in the extreme. They may just be theoretical constructs to explain the sudden manifestation of the next stage, knowledge of path and result (maggaphala-nana). In practice, what happens is that the meditator is practicing, every aspect of his meditation is subtle, clear and bright, and then suddenly there is a sense of falling-into (knowledge of insight leading to emergence) and then the lights go out. There is a momentary sense of nothingness, and then the lights come on. If the meditator checks the watch, he realises some time has passed - depending on the strength of his concentration, this could be anything from a few minutes to a few days and he has "awoken" suddenly into a situation in which the practice is continuing, but the experience is much less subtle than before. The meditator is now in the knowledge of arising and passing away (udayabbaya-nana).

16) Knowledge of review - paccavekkhana-nana

What happened? Has he fallen asleep? No, because of the suddenness and clarity of the beginning and end of the experience of unconsciousness, and because there has been absolutely no physical movement. What the meditator has experienced is the total cessation of the mind-body process. He did not "know" this while it was happening., because there was no sense of a mind to know it. All he "knows" about the experience is his reflection on what has just happened. This reflection is the final nana, the knowledge of review (paccavekkhana-nana).

The journey of Insight: from normal experience, to increasing subtlety of experience, to the most subtle experience of all - the cessation of experience.

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I need the depth of my suffering witnessed by someone
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: November 01, 2014 10:25PM

New article on Psych Central -- how meditation can be used
to muffle awareness of pain needed for actual growth.


Something contributed earlier:

The website no longer exists but her comments are interesting.

"To me missing aspects of what spiritual teachers discuss are EMOTIONS and healthy relationships with day to day reality or important people in one's life. Head nods are given to keeping some order in one's life, like cleaning one's personal space but that seems to me as if life is supposed to be lived pretty much ROBOTICALLY and the 'really important part' of life is sitting on the meditation cushion contemplating suffering or zoning out into 'enlightenment'.

When attending the Richen Ter Dzo wangs in Clement Town in 1979 I met Teacher X

He joked frequently that what he liked about dzogchen (a nondual practice) was that when life got to be difficult he could just press the dzogchen button and nothing would mean anything painful any more. When in doubt just zone out, sort of thing.

It aggravated me that he advocated side-stepping facing reality, facing moral or emotional challenges or dealing with emotional ambivalence. It seemed to me grotesquely morally slippery and emotionally dangerous.

It's true he was a young whipper-snapper then, he might be a plain old raging narcissist now or a more mature adult. I don't really know. But he seemed to have gotten his ideas from his TB teachers, so I wonder how sane he could be when all around him has been moral slipperiness.

"Emotions seem to be something denigrated by all these people who are into the enlightenment thing. Either emotions are overlooked because of dazzling intellectual prowess or something to transcend or to transform into non-emotional awareness states. Emotions seem to me to be the core of what is perceived to be bad about samsara and that is where I think these spiritual teachers have proven to be the most disturbed, emotionally.

"There is also an entitlement issue going on it seems. There are those who opt out of samsara and then there are supposed to be the drones, like the serfs in Tibet, who are supposed to pay for and caretake those who zone out of ordinary, practical life.

J"une Campbell talks about the history of the thinking process as valuing so-called facts and not valuing emotional reality because emotions have historically been relegated to being merely female.

"I do think that people who go into 'enlightenment' states, non-dual states or bliss states need to have both healthy emotional lives and practical lives and that enlightenment states would otherwise be unhealthy and dangerous to the person who experiences that and to the people around who might be put in the position of caretaking a 'reality-handicapped' individual.

(Corboy notes: If dzogchen is done as this guy did to 'beam himself up' and away from painful feelings, his use of Dzogchen would have been at the expense of Karuna--Compassion.

This is why it is of the utmost importance that practitioners have solid grounding in the Foundations of practice. If you are not taught the 4 Brahmaviharas and understand how to balance them within yourself, you could indeed risk using an advanced nondual practice like Dzogchen as a way to sidestep painful emotions, or worse, suppress insight into one's own patterns of harm-doing.

If abused in this manner, a nondual practice can be like a self administered narcotic, like having a dope dealer living right between your ears, giving it to you for free.

This is one of the gravest temptations for those seeking the advanced practices and why such practices must never be taught before people have solid grounding in the foundations and demonstrate mature character.

The trouble is, a new student who trusts a teacher lacks the discernment to know whether that teacher is secretly using Dzogchen as Valium.

If a person reaches this level of skill in practice, ideally,
he or she must have the commitment to remain aware of the
pain as well as the joys, both in personal life, and in the
lives of other persons and in the world.

This is analogous to being prescribed a powerful analgesic by
one's physician. We are trusted to use it only as needed,
just enough to keep our pain manageable, while still being
able to stay aware and in relationship with ourselves and

What is difficult is discerning whether someone skilled in
practicing meditation based equanimity is using this
to remove himself from the pain of responsiblity, the
pain of human life, or is responsibly using this
equanimity to face and stay steady **with** the pain
of personal responsiblity and the grief of this world.

The smile of calm insight, or the smile of dissociation?

If you ever get a sense that someone is in the room with
you and yet that person feels as though he or she is
thousands of miles away, looking not with you but *at*
you, with bemusement, allow yourself to trust your misgivings.

There is such a thing as a well rehearsed 'default smile' that
is just a mask.

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Re: Dangers of Meditation
Posted by: knotty ()
Date: January 04, 2015 06:01AM

This happened to me. I was in a cult and met a member of another nearby cult that our cult was an affiliate with. He did strenuous meditation exercises with me for hours and I just nutted up. My moods swung wildly,first I went into full blown mania saw light surrounding my body and was tingly all over and believed I was the incarnation of Jesus. I felt as if I was floating when I walked. I ran for 5 miles, which I usually can't do due to joint pain. I felt as if I reached another dimension. Then the elation turned to terror, I became very anxious, felt as if I was falling, had vivid frightening hallucinations of my body flexing between very large to impossibly small...I saw a river of shadows plunge into my chest area and was convinced I was possessed by a legion on demons. I began screaming and crying non-stop for help. My cult leader blamed me for this "frustration" because I was seeking attention and told me I was outside the will of god and the church. I then became mother rescued me and I was hospitalized and put on meds. I have to take anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers to this day which have bad side effects or else I go insane again. I used to be very goal oriented and focused, now I just float and am rather aimless unless I really hyperfocus my attention on what I am doing. I found fiber art is very healing for me. I had to go on disability income because of the severity of my problems and the expense of my meds. I feel as if my brain is broken.

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Brain chemistry can be manipulated by cults
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: January 06, 2015 03:27AM

Susan Farber in her book, Hungry for Ecstacy:Trauma, the Brain and the Influence of the Sixties. The book is solidly based on medical research.

What Knotty is describing seems similar in some places to what is described
in Farber's book:


page 72


To sum up what is ecstasy is, Marghanita Laski concluded that ecstasy is an altered state of consciousness with greatly reduced external awareness and expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness which is often accompanied by hallucinations.

W.T. Stace described the core sense of mystical oneness as existing in two forms. There is the extrovertive mystical experience which looks outward to the world through the senses and finds unity , as everything that can be heard, seen, smelled, tasted or touched is melded into one. In contrast, the introvertive mystical experience turns inward, often shutting out the senses, transcending them into a pure consciousness.

Sudhir Kakar, thought to be the father of Indian psychoanalysis, used Sri Ramakrishna's life as a case study of extreme ecstasies and published a fiction study of Ramakrishna, called Ecstasy. So many of Radhakrishna’s visions and fantasies seem quite bizarre and pathological when taken out of context by become much less so when one relates them to Bengal as it was in the 19th century. From psychoanalytic point of view, Ramakrishna could be diagnosed as a secondary transsexual and psychotic, he was more interested in a meta-psychological non-pathological explanation that connects Ramakrishna's mystical realization with creativity.

“The soul should always stand ajar
Ready to welcome the ecstatic experience - Emily Dickinson”

Until the recent interest in Western culture in Eastern meditative and yogic practices, Western culture tended to regard these practices as pathological, partly because of the Cartesian dualism in Western medicine, which regards the mind and body as separate entities. And when psychoanalysis at the beginning, recognized that a dissociative response was a consequence of trauma, the emphasis was on dissociation in relation to psychopathology.

In some Scandinavian countries, sneezing while driving a car is a violation, because one can lose control of the wheel (Clement 19940.

In order to understand the increase in spending after 9/11, it helps to understand that women who are compulsive shoppers go into an altered state when shopping. The anticipation of finding, then buying or stealing the most perfect pair of shoes is exciting, transcending thoughts of their mortality and destructibility. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, the need t to escape the terror of being annihilated can lead many to excitement at the prospect of acquiring beautiful apparel and some may even have gone into a ecstatic state in obtaining it.

The 3rd eye and altered state of consciousness:
Imagine the possibility that your own brain can manufacture psychedelic experiences without the use of psychedelic drugs. DMT a chemical derived from plants is also manufactured by the human brain. Psychiatrist Rick Strassman, who has done cutting-edge research on DMT, believes that DMT is involved in a variety of altered states, including near-death experience and mystical experiences. He believes it also exists in the brain’s pineal gland, a small endocrine gland, located between the two hemispheres, deep near the center of the brain. Strassman tells us that the pineal gland is unique in being the only brain site that is unpaired; all other have left and right counterparts.

Eastern and Western visions may have experiences with symbolic or religious content, which, may become transformed into this dazzling light. The pineal gland has been called the 3rd eye or the spirit gland. Hindu regards it as the site of the sixth chakra, while Descartes devoted a good deal of time studying it, calling it the seat of the soul.

Oddly, the third eye, like the two seeing eyes, is sensitive to light and has a lens, cornea and retina. It helps regulate the body’s temperature and skin pigmentation. It produces melatonin, a derivative of serotonin, which affects how wake/sleep patterns and seasonal functions are modulated. How much melatonin your body produces it depends on light. During the winter when the days are shorter, your body may produce melatonin earlier or later in the day than usual, a change that can produce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called winter depression. The pineal gland contains more serotonin than anywhere else in the body and can convert serotonin to tryptophan, a crucial step in forming DMT. The pineal gland sits strategically close to the crucial emotional and sensory brain centers, because it is surrounded by the limbic or emotional brain. The pineal gland has direct access to the brain's emotional centers.

Page 75

Many runners and ballerinas experience a high during or dancing because extreme stress on the body causes dopamine levels to rise, thus increasing the threshold for pain. Smell and taste create distinctly intense memories and that memory depends upon the moment and mood of the person remembering.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/06/2015 03:30AM by corboy.

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Re: Dangers of Meditation
Posted by: healed ()
Date: February 19, 2015 02:53AM

This has been interesting reading.

I went through these stages while being heavily involved in Landmark. Like @knotty I remember one summer when I was very involved in landmark when I started to feel shooting sparks of energy throughout my body. I lay on my bed shaking as if parts of my body were being electrified. I had no idea what was happening. Everything seemed very light, it was as if my body had disappeared/dissolved and I was just a spirit and it was like being in a heady yet very strange and unnatural state of bliss/ecstasy.

After this, however, I would then plunge into a deep frightening mental darkness, where I would feel so depressed and down and cry with such gutteral pain as if someone close to me had died suddenly. Afterwards, I would feel so afraid, and when I looked at people I thought they were either demons or angels. People's eyes started glowing and such things. Terrifying stuff especially as it was never what I would have anticipated/expected to happen just from doing a few landmark courses.

I think these states mirror what happens when someone has a near death experience. It is as if one is leaving one's body and going to heaven or something. If you read the literature surrounding people who have had near death experiences, they probably read pretty similarly.

I have no trouble being present or being 'in the zone' in my normal life. I'm a creative person so times of zen/being in the flow are normal to me - but achieved through my art and when in a state of intense concentration on what I'm doing.

This was on a totally different level though. This was like - and not to exaggerate - dying. It is a space I could imagine a person is when they have received the prognosis of a terminal illness and are on heavy medications, drifting in and out of consciousness and perhaps close to death. I literally felt as though I was dying. Or that I was actually dead. I couldn't tell which.

It is a terrible place to be, especially when you are fully alive and actually physically healthy. There's nothing 'nirvana' like about it in the end. On the contrary, it's pretty hellish.

One thing that strikes me while reading all of this is exactly what is the point of all of this? Why does one need to separate from one's body, or to realize that life is 'pointlesss' or 'nothing'? Why does anyone need to get to any stage where they need to realize that they are 'not in control of their body'? Don't the buddhists know about the involuntary systems of the body? That, yes, there are indeed many parts of human life that we do not consciously control? Why go through all this madness to get to the 'insight' that you're not in control? It's warped.

What does any of this achieve? Perhaps if you're training to be a buddhist monk who has to sit and do nothing all day these are ways of getting you to accept that you are no longer living a normal life, but for a modern person in the real world, what does any of this achieve, except for a person to feel like they are going insane??? It incenses me!!!!! It's nothing but psychotic.

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Re: Dangers of Meditation
Posted by: LaurenRose ()
Date: February 26, 2015 06:03AM

I think it is important to consider that there may have been some underlying mental illness or brain problems that would explain the seizures in these people.

The meditation may have just uncovered it. Like because these people, presumably, cleaned their lives of other vices and distractions and were focusing primarily on these gurus and their mediation practice, this extreme change and pressure maybe caused these symptoms to come to the surface.

Like another poster mentioned, maybe for really intense people, who tend toward obsessiveness, this may be the result. Because a lot of people claim to see results in terms of feelings of peace and relaxation but maybe they aren't really delving as deeply as these people did.

Very interesting read. You don't hear about this aspect.

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Re: Dangers of Meditation
Posted by: LaurenRose ()
Date: February 27, 2015 05:46AM

In case anyone still sees this thread, I know it is old...I am working on a paper for a modern spirituality course. I'd love to hear more sources of information if there is anything new out there. Thank you.

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Re: Dangers of Meditation
Posted by: whatevahs ()
Date: February 28, 2015 02:10AM

yes, an interesting read indeed!

I have never even considered that there might be "danger" in meditation. I mean consider the monks who spend endless days and years practicing this with nary a word...

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