What Good Is It?

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I have a couple friends with meditation in their backgrounds, but who nevertheless have been swept away by “real life” for a period of time and are likely to say, “Yeah, I need to get my practice going again.”

While I would not say the following to just anyone, I say it to these friends on occasion: “To make it truly worth it, you’ll want to become saturated in meditative absorption, and if you want to do that, your whole life must become a meditation retreat. Three hours a day, minimum — with the intention of extending it through the sleep domain every night.”

Sometimes they throw things at me at this point.

Still, the idea of arranging one’s entire existence around sustaining a rigorous and skillful meditation practice (which actually persists through every minute of every day when we throw in the imperative of practicing mindfulness between formal sits)… this seems like too high a mountain for them to climb, at least all at once… at least right now… at least until they get their lives a little more together… at least until… at least….

A couple days ago I said to one of these friends, “I’m getting a little grouchy. Time for meditation.”

She wheeled on me with the speed and power of a Chupacabra

chubacabra

…and said, “Ah, ha!!!!! What good is a three-hours-a-day meditation practice? You’ve sat meditation for all these years, and you still get grouchy?”

She shook her head and ran off to do something important.

In a way, she’s got a good point. Total “perfection” has eluded me, even after some 10,000 hours on the mat.  (This is an estimate I just did in my head, having not logged every minute over the years… but we’re in the ballpark….)

Have I been wasting my time?

Truth is, anger still lurks beneath the meditational tranquility and equanimity, and there are lapses from time to time. If I manage to step around an emotional expression, it just gets more intense for the next time, when I may not be able to head it off.

But that’s not the point, is it?

We rigorous ecstatic contemplatives do not sit for hours and hours with the idea that perfection has already been achieved.

We sit precisely because there’s more work to be done in resolving the hindrances to final Liberation.

We enter and sustain the jhanas because this is precisely the divine energy that, through time, resolves hindrances to final Liberation.

“Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters and remains in the first absorption (jhana): bliss (piti) and joy (sukha) born from withdrawal, accompanied by applied and sustained attention (vitakka and vicára). He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the bliss (piti) and joy (sukha) born from withdrawal. Just as if a skilled bathman or bathman’s apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water, so that his ball of bath powder — saturated, moisture-laden, permeated within and without — would nevertheless not drip; even so, the monk permeates… this very body with the bliss (piti) and joy (sukha) born of withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body not pervaded by bliss (piti) and joy (sukha) born from withdrawal.

“This is a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, more excellent than the previous ones and more sublime.

“Furthermore, with the stilling of applied and sustained attention (vitakka and vicára), he enters and remains in the second jhana, with bliss (piti) and joy (sukha) born of tranquility (passaddhi) and unification of awareness free from applied and sustained attention (vitakka and vicára) — internal assurance. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the bliss (piti) and joy (sukha) born of tranquility (passaddhi). Just like a lake with spring-water welling up from within, having no inflow from the east, west, north, or south, and with the skies supplying abundant showers time and again, so that the cool fount of water welling up from within the lake would permeate and pervade, suffuse and fill it with cool waters, there being no part of the lake not pervaded by the cool waters; even so, the monk permeates… this very body with the bliss (piti) and joy (sukha) born of tranquility (passaddhi). There is nothing of his entire body not pervaded by bliss (piti) and joy (sukha) born of tranquility (passaddhi).

“This, too, is a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, more excellent than the previous ones and more sublime.

“And furthermore, with the fading of joy (sukha), he remains in equanimity, mindful & alert, and physically sensitive of bliss (piti). He enters and remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous and mindful, he has a pleasurable abiding.’ He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the bliss (piti) divested of joy (sukha). Just as in a lotus pond, some of the lotuses, born and growing in the water, stay immersed in the water and flourish without standing up out of the water, so that they are permeated and pervaded, suffused and filled with cool water from their roots to their tips, and nothing of those lotuses would be not pervaded with cool water; even so, the monk permeates… this very body with the bliss (piti) divested of joy (sukha). There is nothing of his entire body not pervaded with bliss (piti) divested of joy (sukha).

“This, too, is a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, more excellent than the previous ones and more sublime.

“And furthermore, with the abandoning of joy (sukha) and anxiety (dukkha) — as with the earlier disappearance of elation and anxiety (dukkha) — he enters and remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity and mindfulness, with neither- joy (sukha) nor anxiety (dukkha). He sits, permeating the body with a pure, bright awareness. Just as if a man were sitting covered from head to foot with a white cloth so that there would be no part of his body to which the white cloth did not extend; even so, the monk sits, permeating the body with a pure, bright awareness. There is nothing of his entire body not pervaded by pure, bright awareness.

“This, too, great king, is a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, more excellent than the previous ones and more sublime.

Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2)

When we manage to become saturated, able to call forth pulsations of samadhi even in the midst of a typical day, we see clearly that our practice is bearing fruit. We see that we do not become grouchy as frequently as we once did. Our level of reactivity calms to a ripple, often completely absent. Bliss, joy and ecstasy vibrate in our being, no matter what’s happening in the vaporous drama all around us.

After a while, we notice that old resistances to life drop away. It may take years (as it has for me), but there comes a time when — due to the cleansing and healing activity of meditative absorption — we are not so concerned about our own aspirations, but are more and more interested in helping others. This becomes the new motivation for getting out of the house, for connecting with others, for seeking out living beings who are interested in doing something serious about their suffering.

* * *

What good is it?

The Buddha may well have asked the same thing, just before the entire Dhamma fell into his lap beneath the Bodhi Tree.

He acknowledged that there is suffering, that there is a definite cause to our suffering, that there is a way out of our suffering… and then he gave us that way, formulated through the Noble Eightfold Path.

Without spending a thousand words on each of the eight folds laid out by the Buddha, let us just skip to the culmination, which is Samma-Samadhi.

Where have we heard that Pali term before?

Samma-Samadhi. Right Absorption.

The Buddha, in fact, described the eighth and final fold of his program to eliminate suffering… in terms of meditative absorption.

Yes, make sure to surrender yourself fully to the first seven folds, as they are essential for the contemplative in giving rise to absorption… but absorption you must give rise to, as this is what you need if you’re going to get rid of suffering completely, forever.

This is what you need if you want to replace suffering with bliss, joy and ecstasy, every moment of every day, right up until your last breath.

This is what you need if, having been mindful and meditative, you want to see all those nagging hindrances dissolved at their roots, so they’ll stop bothering you and causing you to be reborn into this realm of suffering.

* * *

I didn’t say any of this to my friend, but she’s heard it all before.

She knows.

We’re just waiting for that perfect moment to arrive, when something clicks and she realizes at the deepest level of her being (in her heart of hearts, not in her head) that there is nothing more important than a rigorous and skillful practice, one that leads to bliss, joy and ecstasy… every moment of every day, so that she really can’t wait to get back to the mat… and just may get grouchy if she’s kept from it another moment…..

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6 responses to “What Good Is It?

  1. Guy Johnson

    Hello, Thank you for this link. Jeffery does not allow me tc comment on his web sights. I had a powerful kundalini awakening over 35 years ago and have come to this state after an endless process. Life is our meditation and our practise. Seperating that practise from every other moment is an avoidence Being, Knowing, The energy of every moment saturates me. I do not worry about teaching or pleasing others. I choose to sail for a living as it brings me joy. I take people on week long journeys sailing and if they choose to surrender their beiefs in seperation they experince oneness with me. Their choice and their destiny. Life is a beautiful journey and let the divine plan unfold. let go the illusion of trying the joy is here and now. Peace and long life Guy Johnson

  2. Hello Guy,

    I, too, experienced the onset of samadhi (kundalini) without having engaged a formal meditation practice (although I did do a lot of “trance work” in pursuit of OOB experiences). In fact, I had an early-life experience of Oneness that stayed with me for about 30 years, at which time the seed planted at age 4 or 5 began to grow into the tree that I am today.

    On the other hand, what we are talking about here (in this post) is not the idea of adopting a particular teaching or dogma — after all, this stuff is reflected in more than just the Buddha’s teachings on meditative absorption, but also in many an ecstatic mystic’s writings down through the ages, from all traditions.

    No, what I’m putting forward here is a sort of “life line” to serious, committed contemplatives who wish to attain what you received spontaneously 35 years ago. Most are not as fortunate as you and me, in that the kundalini has not seen fit to arise in them spontaneously. Also, once it happens (as you know, I’m sure), there is usually a profound lack of support from spiritual teachers who have not, themselves, had the experience.

    “Life is our meditation and our practice. Separating that practice from every other moment is an avoidance of Being, Knowing.”

    This is something we hear all the time, and probably this is the point of contention that got you banned from Jeffrey’s lists. It’s not that you are a bad person or that your heart is not in the right place. It’s not even that what you say is untrue, since we all agree that saturation continues beyond formal sitting periods. It’s just that we profoundly disagree with the idea that meditation practice is an “avoidance” of some higher realization. We affirm that a rigorous and skillful meditation practice is absolutely essential for anyone wishing to live in the saturation of meditative absorption, which is what you say that you have.

    The fact that you and so many others feel that we are wrong in our affirmation of a rigorous and skillful meditation practice just begs the question, what is your motivation for invalidating our approach? Please allow us our “illusions,” Guy… and enjoy the bliss, joy and ecstasy of your spontaneously arising saturation.

    Peace and ease,
    Michael

  3. Guy Johnson

    Hi Michael, Please forgive me if I gave you an ipression that I considered your practise wrong. From your writings I gathered that you also have come to a place of constant samadhi in that daily life becomes a meditation and that the discription of that stae is beyond discription. After my awakening I was not satisfied with experincing only while sitting. I therefore saught to maintain silence at all times. I also found that the experince of oneness happened when I di repetitive precise body movement such as throwing a hatchet or precision boat crpentry as well as sitting which I primarily did at night in stead of sleeping and still do.The product of time and emotional freeing or healing is that the experince of oneness is constant no matter what I am doing. The intensity is not constant. Sailing or sitting still give me the most powerful experinces. I support any technique that promotes experincing self as the Godd energy. I have never adopted Eastern wording prefering to explain to the best of my ability using my native language. Peace and blessings Guy

  4. Thanks for the clarification, Guy, and for adding to what you’d previously said. I see that I may have misinterpreted your take on meditation, and that you are, indeed supportive of every seeker’s quest for 24/7/365 saturation in God energy. We’re on the same page!

    Blessings,
    Michael

  5. Hello Michael, I very much enjoyed reading, “To make it truly worth it, you’ll want to become saturated in meditative absorption, and if you want to do that, your whole life must become a meditation retreat. Three hours a day, minimum — with the intention of extending it through the sleep domain every night.” I agree with you. I too have found if we want to make the practice of meditation really work for us then we really do need to arrange our lives around it, not arrange meditation around our lives. You also said when you tell your friends this they feel like throwing something at you. I get insults thrown at me my Buddhist priests, so it appears that they have just as much trouble arranging their lives around the practice of meditation as well.

    You also make a powerful point that even after attainment, we may have the occasional manifestation of anger or resentment, or depression, etc. nonetheless, as you say, we must meditate until all of these hindrances are gone. However, I would argue, even if/and/or when we are free of the hindrances of the mind, I am sure we will continue to meditate into absorption to sustain that liberation, because I am sure that enlightenment is not just an attainment, but a lifestyle that sustains that attainment.

    I am very impressed Michael with how confident you have grown in your meditation attainment.

    “Surely, Great King, this is a fruit of the contemplative life, visible in the present, and more sublime than the previous ones.

    “Avarice flows out of one’s own body like seafaring fish”

    Love to al, Jhananda

  6. “I am very impressed Michael with how confident you have grown in your meditation attainment.”

    I guess “confident” is one word for it, Jeffrey. We could alternatively say “surrendered” or “resigned,” or even “acclimated.” The years of hours in absorption and saturation have altered this human experience in ways that cannot be described. Sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. In some way, the world “out there” is losing its ability to manipulate the world “in here,” leaving a tranquil and steady perspective that carries peace wherever it goes.

    There’s nothing threatening or dangerous about it, nor does it detract from the unfoldment of spiritual growth. Truth is, this platform of bliss, joy and ecstasy clears the unfoldment of detractions, leaving a single-pointed attention on the present moment.

    Warmly,
    Michael

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