Friday, February 21, 2014

Relative Bliss

I've been thinking about bliss -- how it arises and how it makes you want to go back and repeat an experience in which it arose.

The most blissful thing that happens in a lifetime is when the mind lets go and one moves into a deeper place.  In that place, there is a feeling of expansion -- often it is as though the "me" disappears entirely; other times, it seems as though one merges with others.  However it is perceived, when the ordinary, thought-orientation returns, there is a flattening out of feeling and a desire to re-experience the event that seemed to cause the bliss.

From one perspective, as many teachers have pointed out, such a happening is not really an experience at all, because "experience" is what the mind creates after the fact, the story it tells about what happened.  And there has to be a "me" having the experience, so when the "me" disappears, technically speaking, there is no experience, just pure Being.

Like most people, I've wanted to re-"experience" that bliss, but found that it wasn't really possible.  In fact, dropping the self became less and less spectacular, and less blissful.  So, I've been thinking about how this all works.

It must be that emotional categories, such as "bliss," work relative to what else has happened to one previously.  So the very first time the self drops away, there is this accompanying ecstasy which, it is assumed, will always arise in that circumstance. So we start to chase the circumstance.  (I say "we" because I've heard many people say this -- it's not just my experience.)  But each time the self drops, the mind expands and it never quite goes back to the same contraction it was in initially, so the next time, there is less of a contrast.  And each time less of a contrast.  One still notices when there is that shift, but the shift becomes much more subtle.

It's a lot like an orgasm, in that sense.  The very first time -- wow -- could anything ever be so good?  Has anyone ever experienced anything like this in the history of the planet?  But by the hundredth time?  Well, all in all, you're glad it happened; hopefully you're glad you shared it with someone you love -- but it's not life-changing.

So whatever the source of the bliss, I think it works like that.  Bliss is relative to what we've experienced so far.  It's the difference the mind notices between the ordinary state of existence and the extraordinary.  And the more often what was extraordinary happens, the less extraordinary -- and therefore the less blissful -- it seems.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

No-self and terror

Singer, in her book about cults referenced in my previous post, describes problems some people have after doing meditation for long periods -- both long periods every day and over years.  One man writes, "'Suddenly I became one with the air conditioner.  I just dissolved, and it seemed that when the air conditioner started up it just took me out of my body.  There wasn't any me on the bed -- I was "at one" with the motor sounds.  It was unspeakable terror.  I had dissolved and melded with a motor sound.'" Cults in Our Midst by Margaret Thaler Singer (1995 edition), pp. 144-145.

"Unspeakable terror"?  I remember how it was for me when I first started to notice that the objects I used to think of as outside myself weren't really outside at all.  There was a mystery to it, a curiosity, but certainly no terror.  It was what I had sought, in fact, back in those old days when I did Zen in Japan and read all of those marvelous stories about people who had become one with trees and birds and such.  (No climate control in Zen temples in Japan, so becoming one with an air conditioner wasn't likely!)

So why was this man terrified?  I think this has to do with preparation. Many of the techniques that were used in a monastic setting in Asia came to America with the idea that they could apply to anyone (especially if they could be taught for a good price).  When they work, the ego begins to dissolve -- the ego being, as I think of it, just an arbitrary thought wall separating oneself from the outer world.  And I would guess that if someone were not prepared for this to happen, he would imagine he was going crazy.

So can there be too much meditation?  I am hardly qualified to speak about this since I don't meditate, but my guess is that yes, for some people, there can be too much of at least some kinds of meditation.  The ego does help us navigate the world and it can't be bullied into submission.  If it feels that it is going to be annihilated, it will rebel by manifesting various symptoms, including terror.  In the end, in my experience at least, the ego doesn't have to be annihilated -- it just becomes seen as provisional, not absolute.  But one doesn't know that it will work out that way in the beginning, and for some people, that could be terrifying.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cults vs. True Spirituality

When I was young, I lived in a Buddhist temple in Japan that was an offshoot of a major sect.  It is only recently that I've let myself know how cultish it was.  (I thought I was too smart for cults!)  Now I've been reading about cults.  The book I'm reading now, Cults in Our Midst, by Margaret Thaler Singer, is a classic on the subject.  Singer describes how various groups use a variety of tools to give people an out-of-this-world experience and then frame it according to the doctrine of the cult, e.g., "God has spoken to you," or "You are now a blessed one." 

Sometimes I still go to see Adyashanti, the teacher who transformed my life in the last decade.  And sometimes as I'm standing in line, or sitting in silence waiting for him to come in, I glance around and wonder how the gathering would look to an outsider.  Would we all look like a bunch of cultists?  Certainly, for me, I've experienced being "out-of-this-world" many times sitting there in front of Adya.  In fact, pretty much every time I see him.  I see golden light emanating from everything.  The whole visual appearance of the room changes and I go somewhere very deep I can't describe.  I have no idea how many others experience this.

I suspect Singer would say that this is a hypnotic trance induced by the teacher. But I know the teacher himself isn't at all interested in the accompanying "bells and whistles."  The ultimate truth is beyond physical manifestation, beyond bodily changes -- beyond, beyond -- to the place where you and I and all manifestation is one.  And there is not necessarily a sign that this is realized.