Tag Archives: Meditation

Standing at the End of the Line

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I thought I would share with you a testimonial that I just wrote for my friend, teacher and brother, Jeffrey S. Brooks — aka, Jhanananda.

The path of a contemplative is a lonely one.  The few of us who’ve ended up in Jeffrey’s orbit are either averse to spiritual authority in general, or have experienced ecstatic phenomena that are alien and/or threatening enough to mainstream religious/spiritual traditions that we’ve been marginalized, shunned or otherwise made to feel outcast from those traditions.  Perhaps a few of us have just stumbled onto Jeffrey’s advice through some unknown agency.

Being a preacher’s kid, I rebelled against spiritual authority at an early age, and was able to run away from the religion of my upbringing at the age of 19, in 1981/82.  I spent the next ten years or so living it up, hell-raising and workin’ for a living, doing drugs and swilling alcohol like there was no tomorrow.  Then, in 1991, I moved to Boulder, Colorado and fell headlong into an abundance of “alternative” spiritual expressions, learning Tarot and astrology, hypnotherapy, dreamwork and many other practices — including lucid dreaming and out-of-body exploration.  In 1993 I started to experiment with trance states, and by 1994 I was spending up to ten hours a day working with techniques to induce OOBs.  I did not know at that time that I was actually engaging in rigorous and skillful ecstatic meditation practice, so I was a little freaked out when, in 1995, my third eye started tingling and the “celestial choir” started singing in my inner ear.

At about that time, I started following the “satsang circuit,” which has a major stop in Boulder.  These are mainly followers of Papaji, who was a student of Ramana Maharshi — teachers like Gangaji.  I immersed in what I call “pseudo-advaita” teachings for several years, during which I became very good at speaking the lingo — to the point where people were seeking me out for clarification on the teaching.  I came very close to putting myself out there as a teacher at that time, and would probably have gone that route had I not run into a woman named El who knocked me off my high horse.  I was really hurt by her “attack” for about three days, but after licking my wounds, I ended up writing her a long thank-you letter, to which she responded, “There’s hope for you.”

Late in the 90’s, maybe in 2000, I was surfing various advaita Yahoo! groups, since I didn’t know where else to go.  The charisms had become VERY pronounced by that time, and I would say that I was already saturated in them, although I was only meditating once a day for between 30 and 60 minutes — feeling guilty for doing so, since all my teachers were telling me that meditation is just a distraction from “what is.”  While reading down the list of entries on one of those listserve groups, I noticed a post by Jeffrey that challenged the group’s premises, and at the end of his post, he left an invitation to come check out the GWV group.  Then, Jeffrey got banned from the group… a fact that appealed to the rebel in me, for sure… so I checked out his teachings.

Within a short period of time, I became active on the GWV forum and was working with Jeffrey through private emails to establish myself in a daily practice.  In 2003 (I think) we met at a Bhante Gunaratana 9-day retreat in Riverside, California, along with several other GWV members, including my future wife, Karen.

Suffice it to say, I find Jeffrey’s human-ness and lack of pretense to be refreshing and reassuring.  Once, when he came to Boulder to lead a 10-day retreat up in Gold Hill at one of my Buddhist friend’s kiva, I witnessed Jeffrey go off on a long diatribe and argument with my friend — it was about Bhante Gunaratana and the marginalization of Jeffrey in the Buddhist community — Bhante G. is my friend’s guru — and it was clear to me at that moment that Jeffrey will always be Jeffrey, that he is a bulldog through and through, and that as long as we are in human form, our human traits will continue to express according to things like karma, DNA, family heritage, childhood influences and so forth — but that our attachment to all of that is what eventually falls away.  So, I did not judge Jeffrey’s outburst as a sign of anti-enlightenment, and my affection for him in fact increased, because I see what he is up against in this world, which not only doesn’t understand the ecstatic basis for all religion and spiritual tradition, but actively represses it to the point of putting someone like Jeffrey out on the street.

As I’ve written elsewhere on this forum, I’ve been in a very dark and difficult place with my practice and with life for the past several years.  Jeffrey, who is my friend, teacher and brother, has been lurking in the background of my experience throughout this period.  I’ve retreated with him, Skyped with him, emailed with him, talked on the phone with him… but, mostly, I’ve just meditated, studied, and grinded it through each day, feeling his presence as a genuine support that allows me to keep going straight ahead.  Eroding the fetters is NOT for the feint of heart, let me tell you — it is death by a thousand knife slices, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who is just dabbling in meditation as something “cool” and “peaceful” to do.  Jeffrey is here for SERIOUS MEDITATION PRACTITIONERS who literally have nowhere else to go — he is standing at the end of the line, folks, making himself available to those very few who walk through the narrowest of gates.  Years may pass without him encountering another jhana-hobo at the terminus where he resides — so, in the interim, he works on his scientific projects, he fulfills his correspondence responsibilities, he meditates, he flies out of the body each night, he writes poetry, he finds free food… and he lives in the moment as Jeffrey S. Brooks, even though he knows better than to buy into that particular illusion….

Samadhi Versus Everyday Life

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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.