Category Archives: Dhamma

Samadhi Versus Everyday Life

Work

Not Quite What I Had In Mind, But....

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 (i) There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental states — enters and remains in the first absorption (jhana): bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) born from withdrawal, and applied and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.

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When Practice Merges with Every Moment

Buddha Meditation Pose
While there are all sorts of meditation techniques out there, the Ecstatic Buddhist understands that one is not really “meditating” until the “signs of absorption” have been engaged, such that one is able to drop all techniques and rest in bliss, joy and ecstasy.

My contemplative brother, Jeffrey Brooks, puts it this way:

One of the other things people do not seem to get is the technique is just meant to get one to the calm and still mind of the second jhana. Once one is there, then one must learn how to sustain that calm and still mind without the technique. Once one learns how to just maintain the calm and still mind without the technique, then one just dives ever deeper into the Samadhi states. This is of course without the technique.

So, friends, I do not promote meditation techniques of any kind, because I know techniques are just for beginners. There is no, “powerful technique.” Those who sell “powerful techniques” never seem to know what Samadhi is or what it is about. So, forget the techniques. Just meditate to the calm and still mind without the technique, and sustain that, then dive ever deeper into the Samadhi.

The “Factors of Absorption” gradually consume our being, such that we “become meditated” throughout every moment of every day and night.

The Ecstatic Buddhist meditates upwards of three hours each day, as though all of life is a meditation retreat.  We meditate into the night hours, in fact, as lucidity provides opportunity to experience the non-material planes.  The idea is to become completely saturated in absorption.  It may take a year, two years, three years or more… but the persistent immersion in meditative absorption transforms the contemplative from a “normal” state of neurosis to one of tranquility and equanimity.

At a certain point, the Ecstatic Buddhist looks back on his or her practice, and there is the direct realization that practice has merged with life. It has become automatic, like breathing. The “jhana nimittas” that once led us into ever-deepening states of absorption have become the prime filter through which we perceive this existence.

When we accept that our life has irretrievably transformed in line with long-term saturation in meditative absorption, we see clearly that we must re-learn how to get along in the world. It is almost like learning how to walk again, how to talk again, how to keep ourselves clean and odor-free. Habitual expressions (for instance) of fear, anger and judgment are called into constant question, and we are challenged to let go of these painful behaviors in exchange for something more calm and restful.

Again, learning how to engage the world from the perspective of Samadhi-saturation is not something that happens overnight.

In fact, it may take the rest of one’s life to burn off the accumulated karma that brought us to begin our practice in the first place. We no longer need those defensive survival strategies, but they are not so easy to release.

The good new is, saturation in meditative absorption makes it an automatic release process — we literally have no choice but to engage a program of behavioral change designed to best support the psychological, emotional and physical transformation initiated by saturation in Samadhi.

As we are all different beings with different backgrounds, different genetic combinations, different beliefs and different personalities, there is no set path to follow here. All we need to know is, the bliss, joy and ecstasy of meditative absorption offer perfect guidance in every circumstance. It may look ugly in the moment — or it may look sublime — but in the long run, this “inner guru” never lets us down, never abandons us, never abuses us.

We just need to stick with our practice each day, allow the years to roll by, wake up to the fact of our irrevocable transformation, learn how to live with it… then, when it is time, share with others from this place.

That is the beginning and end of it.

The Narrow Way

Narrow Way

…Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it…. Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.  (Matthew 7:14 and Luke 13:24, KJV)

Not to worry! You have not stumbled into a Sunday morning church service….

I just thought that the above verses offer a good introduction to something that’s been brewing in me for a couple weeks.

It has to do with the choice with which we are eventually confronted along the spiritual path: Do I go that way, toward the world with its demands, responsibilities and challenges?  Or do I go this way, toward the within, with its demands, responsibilities and challenges?

Is my life to be built around my spiritual practice, or is my spiritual practice to be tucked into my “real life” schedule as best I can?

Is my entire existence to be a moment-to-moment commitment to meditation, mindfulness and Dhamma study… or will my so-called “spiritual life” continue as just another social activity while I show up at Sangha (Satsang, Church, Temple, etc.) when time allows, with the occasional 15-minute meditation thrown in when it happens to occur to me?

Will I make it a priority in my life to squeeze through the strait (i.e., small) gate, and then follow the narrow way… or will I join the herd, bending to its externally-imposed expectations, hoping for the best?

* * *

Assuming that this blog has attracted at least a few who have chosen the strait gate and the narrow way (or who are at least standing before the gate, scratching their chins and wondering if this is the long-awaited moment)… now what?

I’ll tell you what:

Isolation.

On the narrow way there are few travelers.

“Wait!” you say. “I’m part of a wonderful sangha, so I’m not alone at all!”

I pat you on a knee and reply, “Even in the midst of the biggest sangha in all the land… you are alone.”

When you choose to get up before sunrise to meditate (even if you have a partner who joins you)… you are alone.

When you beg off from joining your coworkers at lunch so you can grab some lying down meditation in your car… you are alone.

When you leave the party at eight-thirty (just when the “fun” begins) so that you can go home to your before-bed meditation… you are alone.

When you are walking down the street practicing mindfulness of that little yellow flower off to the left… you are alone.

When all the other kids are playing Frisbee in the street and you are settled at a table on the front porch, spiritual books spread everywhere… you are alone.

Somewhere along the way, your family and friends notice that there’s something “off” with you.

Due to the effects of a rigorous and skillful meditation practice (which ideally gives rise to bliss, joy and ecstasy every time you hit the mat), adhered to over months and years (such that you are saturated in meditative absorption 24/7), you have become tranquil and equanimous.

Your family and friends are now convinced that you’ve “lost your ambition,” that you are “contented” (as though that’s a bad thing), that you are no longer a total stress-cadet because the sky is falling and who’s going to take care of you in old age?

They are working overtime to keep their heads above water, and you seem to be wandering around in a bubble of conscious awareness, unconcerned for anything other than the present moment.

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?…. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. (Matthew 6:31,34, KJV)

* * *

Now, I’m not saying that everyone who chooses the narrow way is doomed to a life of grinding poverty and hopelessness. I’m not saying that the narrow path necessarily leads through physical wasting and depletion.

I’m not even saying that the wide path is any less isolated than the narrow way.

It’s just that those who choose the narrow way are very, very aware of their lone-wolf status.

A life that is built around a rigorous and skillful meditation practice leading to bliss, joy and ecstasy is a life spent in conscious observation, both within and without. It is spent in the constant and persistent realization that “this” cannot be shared with anyone else… other than to help her come into “this” for herself… assuming she is ready to enter through the strait gate in order to follow the narrow way.

The choice to enter through the strait gate is a choice for solitude.

There’s no point in pretending otherwise.

Whether you live in an ashram or in a broken down van on some lonely street at the edge of town, you as a dedicated contemplative are ultimately alone… and you become more and more aware that this is the case.

The good news?

The good news is that, instead of waiting until your dying moment to realize your spiritual aloneness, you get to grapple with it now.

And… you get to further embrace your practice, since your practice is the one thing in this world that alleviates your isolation.

Why?

Because your practice, which leads to saturation and absorption in bliss, joy and ecstasy, is the one thing that authentically (i.e., beyond the shadow of a doubt, beyond some book’s conceptual description, beyond wishful thinking) connects you with That which knows no separation.  Call it Holy Spirit, call it Fanaa, call it Samadhi, call it Jhana, call it Kundalini, call it ECSTASY… call it whatever you want… and then let it consume you, as it will propel you along the narrow way to true Union, rendering your solitude obsolete.

So yes, I am alone in this thing… but I’m not the only one who has walked through the strait gate and is ambling along this narrow way.

It’s good to know we’re all heading to the same destination, and that the way has already been walked by some mighty pioneers who were good enough to leave behind a trail marker or two.

Turbo-Charging Our Spiritual Unfoldment

Bliss Buddha

Dhammapada Verse 372:

There is no meditative absorption for one who lacks insight,
There is no insight for one who is not meditating.
In whom there is meditative absorption and insight,
Truly, he is in Nibbana’s presence.

Carter, John Ross and Palihawadana, Mahinda

or, more crystallized:

There is no ecstasy without wisdom,
There is no wisdom without ecstasy.
Whoever is close to enlightenment
truly has both wisdom and ecstasy.

Brooks, Jeffrey S. (Jhanananda)

Whenever an Ecstatic Buddhist pulls out the above quote (and there are 23 other translations at the link) — or when we assert the Buddha’s sentiment in our own words — we are met with either a thundering silence, disdainful refutation, outright anger… or, once in a while, a measure of openness and curiosity that leads to mutual understanding.

I’m hoping for the fourth option here.

* * *

If one reads the Suttas with regularity — especially the Phala Nikaya — one begins to understand that the verse above is the presupposition for the Buddha’s entire teaching on the path to awakening.

One comes to see that the final step in the Noble Eightfold Path, Samma-Samadhi (where have we seen this phrase before?), is the essential ingredient for anyone looking to drive their meditative vehicles straight off the Wheel of Rebirth:

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.”

The bottom line, then, is that the Buddha taught an eightfold method for attaining liberation in this very lifetime; the first seven lead to the all-important eighth; the eighth increases our skillfulness in practicing the first seven; as we become more skillful in the first seven, we are increasingly empowered to deepen our practice of the eighth; and only when we become saturated in the jhana states do we gain the wisdom and insight that allows us to once-and-for-all transcend this world of suffering, dissatisfaction, confusion and emotional turmoil.

That’s what the Buddha says, that’s what he taught, that’s what he insisted upon for his followers.

And now, 2500 years later, we are blessed by access to these teachings — despite Buddhist traditions that have not only suppressed the necessity of meditative absorption (ecstasy, jhana, samadhi) but have actively demonized it.

It is only a matter of putting these teachings into daily practice, contextualized within a lifetime commitment to follow this most explicit and blessed Path all the way Home.

* * *

Again, the first seven steps of the Eightfold Path lay out the conditions for the final step. Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness… we arrange our lives according to this scenario, with total commitment, patience and perseverance… and the eight fold, Right Absorption, WILL HAPPEN.

Once it happens, we continue to practice, practice, practice, both on the cushion on in every moment of our lives, day and night.

After a while, our entire being becomes so invested in the maintenance of Right Absorption that we literally cannot fall off from our practice — at least not for long.

We are impelled to meditate, to study, to employ mindfulness in myriad ways.

Ecstasy becomes the air we breathe, the water we drink, the roof over our heads.

Buddha Serpent

All we need to do is continually hit the off-switch, access the bliss/joy/ecstasy… and BE.

The rest takes care of itself.

Taking It To the Streets

Takin It To the Streets
As the title suggests, this essay is about moving our practice from the cushion to the sidewalk. It starts from a theoretical perspective, then visits an example from my own life. This essay is specifically directed toward ecstatic contemplatives or those who may be called to such a life. It’s not about fantastic claims or tooting one’s own horn. It is an effort to bring the Buddha’s actual meditation teachings out of the realm of speculation and into the realm of daily life, showing that it CAN happen right here, right now, even in this lightning-fast, hyper-modern world of ours.

Truth is, this blog exists to talk about these things.

* * *

It’s one thing to maintain a rigorous and skillful meditation practice, around which the rest of our lives is arranged.

It is another thing to find oneself meditated, saturated and absorbed in-between formal meditation sessions.

What is this like?

A typical scenario finds the contemplative at a long meditation retreat, nine or ten days’ length. At about day four or five, the signs of absorption arise. These jhana nimittas may include “charismatic sound,” otherwise known as celestial singing or divine ringing. There may be pleasant sensations that register in different parts of the body, but which are not of the body — they arise independently of the body, even as the body is pleasantly influenced. There may be a halo around the head or heart. There may be strong energetic jolts at the base of the spine, or just a general sense of giddiness down there. There may, eventually, be total relaxation such that thoughts shut down and awareness is no longer localized in the contemplative’s body — it has merged with everything.

Then the contemplative goes home, back to her or his regular routine. Enthused, no doubt, she or he may commit to daily meditation. If this commitment involves rigorous and skillful practice, it will include an hour’s sit first thing in the morning (preferably before sunrise); another hour at midday (which may be “lying down” meditation, giving the body an opportunity to rest and the spine to auto-adjust); and a third, more open-ended session before bed. This third session is intended to carry through the entire night, given that our practice may eventually lead to lucidity in the dream realm, thus opening the night hours to deeper and deeper states of meditation.

When this rigorous and skillful practice is firmly established — and it may take months for it to fully “take” — the contemplative will notice that she or he is saturated in absorption throughout the day. The simple process of immersing in absorption on a regular basis brings changes to the contemplative’s presence in the world. The charismatic ringing continues and is always accessible. Euphoric bodily sensations never subside. Bliss in the third eye becomes permanent, changing vision in subtle ways.

As saturation settles in, the contemplative is positioned to take her or his practice to the streets. Whether walking, riding bike, riding bus or driving, the contemplative develops the habit of hitting the “off switch” and simultaneously focusing on the signs of absorption. At this point, absorption is carried away from the meditation cushion and into the world.

* * *

Granted, life’s responsibilities sometimes overwhelm our ability to stay focused inwardly. Our jobs require a certain amount of external engagement, sometimes for hours at a time.

For me, however, the above-described unfoldment has produced a level a saturation that, even when I am required to concentrate on a project or person in the work environment, the euphoria is always present. No, I don’t bust into uncontrollable giggles, nor do I run laughing down the hallways. There is, however, a constant depth of being that comes from ever-present bliss, joy and ecstasy. Then, in moments of respite, I’m able to hit the “off switch” and fall into deeper states of absorption, so that practice continues throughout the day.

It is on the walk to and from work, however, that this practice is most pleasant. It is a half-hour stroll through a quiet residential neighborhood in south Boulder, which means that there are plenty of Tibetan prayer flags, colorful gardens, flower-covered wooden decks, mothers riding bikes with young children (everyone snuggly tucked into their helmets and shin guards), squirrels, birds, kitty cats… and the occasional elderly gentleman hobbling around the block with his knobby cane, raising a hand in greeting.

I will typically read a couple stanzas from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali or the Dhammapada, then “look” into my mind, noticing how dark and empty it is (no laughing in the back row!!!!)… and then hit the “off switch,” which immediately brings forth a matrix of charismatic phenomena: divine sound, blissful sensations, warm glow around the third eye, euphoria up and down the spine, charismatic visual “enhancements” that bring clarity and depth to all the external influences around me. When a thought begins to bubble up, the nimittas crowd it out and jhana-infused silence floods back in.

After a block or two of this, everything becomes magnetic. People smile and wave. Passing drivers nod knowingly. Cats waddle across laws to be scratched under their chins. Or… nothing, just a sense of belonging, as though this moment is the one moment that always was and always will be. No improvement required, no goal to be reached, no skill be be developed, no world to be conquered. Just… perfect contenment.

* * *

This is one small example of what it’s like after a few years of a lifetime commitment to rigorous and skillful meditation practice — practice that gives rise to bliss, joy and ecstasy. Such a lifetime commitment leads to saturation in meditative absorption, such that every moment of the contemplative’s life is filled with bliss, joy and ecstasy, which eradicates neuroses, leaving tranquility and equanimity in their wake.  And… such a lifetime commitment to a rigorous and skillful meditation practice is never a chore, never something to dread or avoid… precisely because, by definition, a rigorous and skillful meditation practice gives rise to bliss, joy and ecstasy, such that the contemplative is always happy to return to the cushion… right up to the last moment of this earthly life.

I understand that it is normally considered unfashionable or even crass to speak of one’s practice experiences, especially when claims of attainment become a challenge or threat to spiritual authority. I receive well-meaning (and unsolicited) “counseling” from long-time spiritual travelers who, in friendly and gentle ways, strongly suggest that this sort of thing is not done — that we must submit to “masters” who will listen to us at the right time, under the right circumstances… or not, but such is the mystery of the teacher-student relationship… it’s for the best.

So be it.

While the gatekeepers are busy saying “Shush,” ecstatic contemplatives are dedicating their lives to a practice that brings divine energization to the spiritual path.  While the religious nannies are screaming “Stop bringing schisms to the Sangha!,” ecstatic contemplatives are living the Dhamma originally described by the Buddha 2,500 years ago.  In this sense, the Sangha died some 2,000 years ago… but the Dhamma is still here, alive as it ever was.

It is time to take it to the streets… and, in living every moment as homage to ecstatic contemplatives of the past, it is time to find ourselves in a true Sangha of ecstatic contemplatives who are free to follow the Buddhadhamma without interference from entrenched Authority.

May it be so!

Jeans, T-Shirts, Flannels, Sneakers… Meditation

biker

I’m on Facebook with almost 700 friends, the great bulk of whom are totally new in my life.

Most are from the three-gem world of Buddhism, some are from the multi-faceted world of Hinduism, some are from the ecstatic world of Sufism, some are from the non-sectarian world of New Age spirituality. I’m starting to find friends from the Astrology world, as well. About 30 are actual met-in-the-flesh friends and family, some of whom knew me when I was not an Ecstatic Buddhist….

…Which is to say, they knew me when I cared more about what band was playing at the Fox Theater on a given night than I cared about sleep. They knew me when I drank a lot, partied hard and suffered many a day-after hangover. They knew me when I played all night and slept all day.

Some even knew me when I was a preacher’s kid going to church several days and nights a week. They knew me in Fresno, California, an agricultural city filled with wannabe cowboys, Bible-thumping preachers, outlaw bikers and Black Sabbath-listening Stoners selling LSD on concert night outside McLane High School. This was my Fresno, anyway. It would’ve been different on the African American West Side or the Hispanic south end of town — but not that different. I understand that gangs are far more of an issue now than when I was coming up in the 70’s, but it was always a tough place to live.

There was no Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism or Sikhism there — or if any of it was, I certainly didn’t know about it.

I’m thinking about all this because, as I get closer to my Facebook friends, I’m finding that I’m not the only one. There are others whose backgrounds are gritty and un-glamorous. There are others who appreciate the music I listened to growing up, who still have a beer now and then, who secretly love their local sports teams. I look at their photos and see jeans and t-shirts, flannels and worn-out sneakers. They throw big barbecues in the back yard and attend baby showers at the grange hall. They go camping.

And, yet, they have been attracted to a more “holy life,” to something that offers meaning and hope for deeper transformation. What they couldn’t find at the local church they are finding on the meditation cushion. What is lacking at the neighborhood bar is found at Tuesday night Sangha. Instead of planning vacations to Puerto Vallarta, they spin the globe to point a finger at India. Instead of roadtrips to Las Vegas, they attend 10-day meditation retreats led by ochre-robed monks. Nowadays, they plan their days around a meditation practice.

At 46 and swiftly approaching 50, I admit to still feeling like a fish out of water. The realm of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism and Sikhism are associated with far off Eastern lands where people dress differently, eat differently and walk to a different rhythm. And yet, I’ve wandered so far off the Reservation that there’s no going back — I’m not a church boy any more, nor am I a keg-party fiend riding a chopper. I now live my whole life around the bliss, joy and ecstasy that arise from absorption-inducing meditation, and I end up talking about it through my online communications. This is all very disorienting, but at this stage of the game I should probably just accept the outsider’s role, relying on the fact that my life to this point has been one long Outsider’s boot camp.

Again, I’m noticing that I’m not alone. I’m not the only local yokel to stumble into an Eastern tradition, to find spiritual answers… and to still be there year after year, hovering between this world and that, wondering whether, if we all hang in there long enough, we’ll perhaps evolve an expression of these exotic traditions that feels like home.

* * *

For now my approach is to just accept the situation, knowing that it all comes down to one’s personal practice. Spending time with new spiritual friends is exciting and fulfilling up to a point… but really, it’s all about supporting each other in our practice. Doctrinal arguments and differences will come and go, but the bottom line is that the cushion awaits, as does moment-to-moment mindfulness, remembrance, saturation and study. This is where we belong now, no matter how disorienting the rest of it feels. Ten, twenty and thirty years from now, having maintained a rigorous and skillful meditation practice throughout, we will come to see that the practice was all-important — and what it looked like on the outside took care of itself all along.

Jhana Saturation in an Angry and Violent World

nature-woman

On the collective level we have war, senseless gun rampages, aerial bombardments of populated areas, suicide bombs, blood-soaked video games and ultra-violent movies.

On the individual level we daily pass through a veil of road rage, domestic abuse, office politics, insipid gossip, senseless outbursts and cutting remarks.

The question then arises: how does one remain calm, tranquil and centered in the midst of such angst?

Most spiritual teachers will prescribe some form of meditation, affirmations, breathing exercises, mantras, yoga routines, scriptural study/memorization, prayer, or some other tactic for removing us from destructive reactivity, thereby placing us into a spiritually-centered state.

While these are all worthwhile pursuits, a further question arises from their practice: why do we repeatedly find ourselves in need of these tactics, when it is permanent transformation that we most fervently desire?

Most spiritual teachers, when asked this further question, will encourage us to stick with our practice, trusting that it will eventually bear fruit, even it if takes multiple lifetimes to “get there.”

Well, at a certain point we need some encouragement in the form of attainment — which is to say, we need our practice to bear fruit, and we need that fruit to be undeniable, so that our teachers won’t be able to shunt them aside when we try to talk about them.  The last thing we need is for someone to tell us to ignore the signs of absorption, to avoid becoming attached to them, etc.   As well-meaning as this advice may seem, it is a sure sign that the advice-giver is more interested in perpetuating dogma and doctrine than actually living the original inspiration.

In short, we need to give rise to the ecstatic… which is innate within each of us, though usually conditioned away from conscious awareness. It WILL arise, however, in response to an earnest, rigorous and skillful contemplative practice.

Then, when the ecstatic has become stabilized in our practice (i.e., it arises every time we sit in meditation), we need to return to it as often as possible, following it as deeply as possible, until such a time as we are saturated in it every moment of our life.

Wandering about within the One Mind, saturated in bliss, joy and ecstasy, we have at our disposal the deep tranquility and equanimity spoken of by the Buddha and other mystics.

Even in the midst of life’s most trying circumstances, we are able to hit the “off switch” on our mind for at least a moment — and within this glimpse of silence we are greeted by the ecstatic, which is our true nature, our constant connection with That — and we are reminded that the circumstances around us are temporary, fleeting and meaningless.

Finally, from this place of jhana saturation, we are able to focus on bringing bliss, joy and ecstasy to others, thereby doing our small part, one person at a time, to establish humanity in its innate capacity for sharing love and happiness, rather than fear and dissatisfaction.  In helping others to attain self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy, we collectively find that the experiences related by mystics down through the ages are available to us now, without need for validation by this tradition or that guru.  We are able to bypass the official filters and go straight for the Source.

Some would say that this is the purpose of religion in its original form.

Some would say that this is the purpose of life.