A very gifted ecstatic contemplative in the American Midwest — a “natural” who has engaged me through an email mentorship for the past year or so — is also the possessor of a brilliant capacity for engineering alternative-energy facilities, and is thus in great demand in the world.
Recently (but not for the first time), he brought up the subject of a rigorous and skillful meditation practice. With his busy schedule, wherein he is often on the road and living out of motel rooms, it is difficult to structure his days for the purpose of sitting a solid three hours (in three sessions), let alone spending each night lucid in the non-material realms.
For this young man, however, the main difficulty is not lack of time.
It is the fact that, when he eventually finds time to sit, he quickly merges into ever-deepening meditative absorption states (jhana/samadhi), and when a given session ends, his desire for engaging the outside world in any way has completely evaporated. He just wants to sit in a cave somewhere, content to be saturated in bliss, joy and ecstasy while the world floats by just beyond.
Many meditation teachers would hear this and say, “You see? This is why meditative absorption (jhana/samadhi) is to be avoided at all costs — it is too enticing, to readily desired, just another object to which we are liable to become attached. Just ignore it! Pay it no mind at all….”
These teachers, of course, either have no experience with jhana/samadhi, or they have been conditioned to suppress the phenomenon. This, despite the undeniable fact that the Buddha himself encouraged his students to develop and sustain — throughout their earthly lives — the various stages of absorption (jhana/samadhi).
Truth is, Gautama described the 8th and culminating stage of the Noble Eightfold Path in terms of meditative absorption — thus bestowing on us the name of this blog!
8. Right absorption (samma-samadhi)
“And what, monks, is right absorption? (i) There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental states — enters and remains in the first absorption (jhana): bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) born from withdrawal, and applied and sustained attentions (vitakka and vicára). (ii) With the stilling of applied and sustained attentions (vitakka and vicára), he enters and remains in the second absorption (jhana): bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) born of absorption, unification of awareness, applied and sustained attentions (vitakka and vicára) — internal assurance. (iii) With the fading of pleasure (piiti), he remains in equanimity, mindful and alert, and sensitive to bliss (piiti). He enters and remains in the third absorption (jhana), of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous and mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’ (iv) With the abandoning of pleasure and pain (sukha and dukkha)– as with the earlier disappearance of elation and anxiety — he enters and remains in the fourth absorption (jhana): purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain (sukha and dukkha). This, monks, is called right absorption.”
So, I did not discourage this young and gifted ecstatic contemplative from meditating. For me, a rigorous and skillful meditative practice is the most valuable and meaningful thing a person can do in this world.
When all else fails, a practice that gives rise to (and maintains) bliss, joy and ecstasy will provide a strong foundation, a loyal and trustworthy base on which we may always depend.
We may lose our job, our partner may leave us, the dog may run away… but the fruit of a rigorous and skillful meditation practice will always be there, ready to dissolve our neuroses and leave us in a place of true perspective, able to cope in a stressful world that would otherwise lead us to any number of medication “solutions.”
“But,” he insisted, “you don’t understand! If I let myself become absorbed in jhana, I won’t want to do anything! I won’t want to work, won’t want to leave the house — my whole life will fall apart!”
I do understand, actually.
For many years now, I’ve shared his sentiment, and have followed it for long stretches of time.
Without a good enough motivation, what point is there in getting up from the cushion, when the world offers nothing even remotely comparable?
What it comes down to — and this is what I told him — is the motivation of helping others.
It comes down to recognizing that, through our rigorous and skillful meditation practice, we have gathered fruit (attainments) that should not be horded, but should be made available to anyone who may need them.
Does this mean that my friend should quit his job and become a dhamma teacher?
No, not necessarily.
It just means that, instead of seeing everyone in the world as a potential hindrance to our practice — as someone who “would never understand” and is thus likely to detract us from what is most important — we need to open our hearts to everyone. We need to act from this place of bliss, joy and ecstasy, so that the little things (the things that make a big difference in everyday life) pour out of us in abundance. Small acts of connectedness — a smile, a door held open, a wave of the hand so that someone else can have that parking spot — are where the fruits of a skillful and rigorous meditation practice are most readily distributed.
In turn, our practice carries outward into the world, 24/7.
At some point, of course, there may come an opportunity to talk about meditation, about the Noble Eightfold Path, about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, or about St. John of the Cross. At some point there may come an opportunity to mentor someone, to contribute to the small (very small) pool of ecstatic contemplatives who have chosen to build their lives around their practice.
As for the incapacitation that threatens the contemplative upon coming “up” from deep samadhi, I can only say that I understand it and that it is nothing to be dismissed out-of-hand.
At the same time, however, I know that the right motivation (caring for others) is enough to do the job, and that we ecstatic contemplatives must keep this foremost in our minds.
The rest, as they say, takes care of itself.