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Commitment as a Refuge

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  • Jeffrey Brooks
    Commitment as a refuge while passing through the long lonely valley the dark night of the soul I was recently reminded of one of the essential principles of
    Message 1 of 2 , May 3, 2004
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      Commitment as a refuge while passing through the long
      lonely valley the dark night of the soul


      I was recently reminded of one of the essential
      principles of the path of awakening, which I believe
      is too often overlooked. That is commitment.
      Commitment, in a Buddhist context, is the taking of
      refuge, which we often take at the beginning of each
      retreat, because it is an ancient tradition that
      began, in Buddhism, with taken refuge in the historic
      Buddha.

      In Sidharta Gotama's day it was the renunciation of
      all of one's worldly possessions and relationships,
      and a giving of the whole of one's self over to the
      Buddha, Dharma and Sangha for the purpose of
      enlightenment. Today, we often take the Refuge at the
      beginning of a retreat, then we sit the retreat,
      perhaps without reflecting upon the Refuge. When the
      retreat is over we go about our lives, as if nothing
      has changed, but I am sure we all reflect back on
      those 10 days. However, how often do we consider that
      the Refuge is a commitment to our enlightenment and
      the enlightenment of all others in the shortest
      possible time?

      Commitment to the path has become second nature to me,
      because I made an early life-long commitment to "God,"
      when I was 17. Committing myself to something grand
      like, God, as a teenager was a consequence of some
      adolescent foolishness, as a serious commitment like
      this often is at an early age. At that time I bowed my
      head, when the weight of the consequences of my
      actions sat firmly upon my shoulders, and I prayed,
      "God I am not ready for this burden, If you take it
      away, I will dedicate my life to You."

      Early on in our spiritual life, prayer often takes on
      the form of bargaining with the Infinite, and this
      time the bargain was struck. Before I even opened my
      eyes, the person upon whom this situation hinged came
      to me, and as I opened my eyes this person said, "The
      situation has been resolved."

      At the time, I could only say to myself, "Now what
      have I done?" I had no idea what a life-long
      commitment to "God" would be like, but I knew there
      was no way I could go back on a bargain with the
      Infinite, especially when it was so quickly responded
      to.

      As I contemplated the "deal" that I struck with "God"
      I quickly realized I had no idea how to commit myself
      to God. Over the decades I have often contemplated
      that commitment and renewed it each time, however that
      "commitment" has become the refuge and a commitment to
      enlightenment in this very lifetime. Since I have
      spent many years contemplating what it means to commit
      one's life to the Infinite, I have taken to renewing
      this commitment every year as a means of reevaluating
      what it means to be committed to the path of
      enlightenment.

      By the time I was 20, commitment became for me regular
      and consistent meditation practice. Then, I began and
      ended each day with sitting practice. It has thus
      directed my daily life toward a moment-by-moment
      mindfulness of being in the presence with the
      Infinite.

      Being in the presence with the Infinite has become
      something much like what I believe what was meant in
      Genesis where the biblical patriarchs are said to have
      "walked with the Lord all of their days." Being in
      the presence with the Infinite I find is much like the
      Buddhist practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness.

      Over the years my relationship with the Infinite has
      evolved beyond the theist centered punitive deity
      stage, to annihilation in Infinity, to union and
      subsequently identification with the Infinite. My
      commitment has transformed over the years as well, and
      has become a dedication of every mindful moment, as
      well as every thought, word, deed and resource to the
      relief of the suffering of all beings, and service to
      the Triple Gem, which is what the Refuge is often
      called.

      The Refuge in Buddhism certainly takes the form of
      taking cover or protection, but protection also
      requires a commitment of some sort by the refuge
      taker. I believe in Buddhism Refuge takes the form of
      submitting ourselves to the protection of the Buddha,
      the Dharma and the Sangha.

      Refuge also has a quality of service to it as well.
      We commit ourselves to the service of the Buddhas of
      the past as well as the present, and commitment to the
      dharma, or the teachings of the enlightened ones, as
      well as to our own path to enlightenment. And, we
      commit ourselves in service to the sangha, or
      community of those seeking enlightenment.

      My commitment to practice has evolved as well. It has
      become intensity also. In the beginning I sat in
      meditation perhaps only 5 or 10 minutes twice a day,
      but it has become 3 times a day, for an hour to 2
      hours each sit; and instead of sitting a meditation
      retreat once every year, or so, it has become sitting
      as many retreats as I can, which is often 5 or 6 each
      year.

      This intensity has produced a number of changes in my
      life. My sleep state has become lucid, so lucid that I
      often find myself flying across the landscape or into
      space, or backwards and forwards through time, which
      involves the reliving of whole lifetimes from birth
      until death with all of the visceral details in
      between. I have also found myself traveling through
      domains of existence, and encountering beings of all
      kinds.

      One of the aspects of Sidharta's teaching of Dependent
      Origination involves the recovery of memories of past
      lifetimes for what has been translated as
      understanding our "past lifetime linking," or the
      reasons that propel us onto our next lifetime. It was
      his belief that if we were able to understand the
      reasons why we form a new lifetime, we would, through
      relinquishing our grasp on those reasons, release
      ourselves from continuing to form new lifetimes.

      For me the intensity of my practice has produced a
      lucid sleep state, which has produced lucid reliving
      of whole lifetimes. It is this movement from one lucid
      time-space domain to another that has been very
      disjointing to the psyche. And, it is my commitment to
      the dharma that has served as an anchor for me while
      my concept of a lifetime crumbled to meet an expanding
      concept of time, from a single all important and
      cohesive structure to an infinity of passages and
      changes, that all seem now as dream-like as the waking
      state.

      In addition to lucid dream states and the recovery of
      past lifetimes and acquiring an expanded sense of
      time, the intensity of my practice has also produced a
      number of other pleasant and unpleasant experiences
      such as odd spontaneous shaking and quivering, called
      kriyas in Sanskrit. There has also been intense
      shivers or shock waves, called kundalini, which feel
      as though not only is my psyche being totally
      restructured, but my very biology is under some utter
      and complete transformation as well.

      During these many lucid experiences the refuge has
      certainly been some comfort for which I am grateful.
      And, with the added layer of total commitment of the
      whole of myself to the Three Gems, I have felt
      tremendous support while passing through some very
      dark nights, which I believe are a product of this
      transformation.

      I found these dark nights and difficult days were not
      just a single night, but many, many nights and weeks
      and months and even years, of passing through, then
      returning again for another layer of release. If it
      wasn't for this commitment, I know I would not have
      endured the profound disjunction produced by the lucid
      recollections of whole lifetimes. It was the reliving
      of the many, many deaths that ended each of those
      lifetimes that was perhaps more difficult, than the
      disjunction of switching time-space domains, which in
      itself was difficult, very difficult to manage as
      well.

      Another one of those difficulties, where my commitment
      to the Three Gems gave me the protection I needed, was
      in the sudden opening of the sense gates to full
      capacity, which is another product of intense
      practice, and I believe related to the kriyas. It
      typically occurred for me during longer retreats, but
      it often happened at random intervals as well, like
      while standing in line at the grocery story, or while
      driving the car in rush-hour traffic.

      This abrupt opening of the sense gates was, in the
      early stages, often very difficult. It was difficult
      because the sudden flow of sensory input was often
      quite painful. It was literally like standing in the
      checkout line at the grocery store and suddenly having
      my skin removed. There were certainly many times I
      thought I would go quite mad from the intensity of the
      sensations. And, there were times, when I was left
      with nothing, nothing to continue, but my commitment
      to enlightenment and to nonviolence, was at those
      times the only things that kept me taking the next
      breath.

      In the past these disciplines that we practice were
      reserved as secret initiations to be revealed by
      meditation masters to individual disciples only when
      the master felt they were ready. And, these disciples
      were most often monastics under close supervision. Now
      we receive powerful meditation techniques via books
      and video tapes, or at 10 day retreats, by itinerant
      lay or monastic teachers who do not claim mastership.

      So, when I received an email from a highly skilled
      practitioner who, by her description, was clearly
      entering into the stage best described by the medieval
      Saint, John of the Cross (a student of Theresa of
      Avila) as the dark night of the soul, I was reminded
      of this commitment, and how well it has stood by me
      through my own very dark nights.

      While passage the Dark Night of the soul and giving
      rise to the various charismatic phenomena I found
      little guidance and support for the experience.
      Therefore a year ago I started a Yahoo dialog group to
      function as a peer-level support group for people
      experiencing the various manifestations that arise due
      to an intense contemplative practice. That support
      group is called the Jhana Support Group. The group
      has expanded rather rapidly and now has almost 450
      members.

      Through managing that support group I have heard of
      other stories of difficult situations arising for
      people due to a contemplative practice. Often these
      contemplatives encountered difficulties while engaged
      in intense practice at extended retreats. Their
      difficulties were so great that they are not now
      practicing meditation. And, several of these people
      are now in extended therapy and some of them are even
      under medication. I too spent 7 years in therapy
      during the most difficult period of awakening. But,
      while therapists are no doubt very well prepared for
      dealing with a wide range of emotional trauma, I don't
      believe many of them are adequately prepared for
      dealing with the consequences of intense spiritual
      practice. In my case I was very fortunate to have
      found a therapist who did not consider my practice an
      aspect of my psychosis.

      It has been my experience that regional dharma centers
      are not often equipped with teachers or members who
      are skilled in these experiences. But, if they are,
      that sangha is most fortunate.

      While I am committed to full disclosure of the path of
      enlightenment, even with the possible difficulties
      people may encounter, I still wonder sometimes at the
      wisdom of our somewhat cavalier approach of
      indiscriminately introducing lay practitioners to a
      contemplative practice, and providing opportunities
      for intensive practice at our retreats without
      providing at least a referral list of therapists who
      are used to serving the needs of contemplatives.

      Ever since TM and the relaxation movement of the 60s
      and 70s, meditation practice has been delivered in
      this country as something that will relieve one's
      stress. It is of course true to an extent, but there
      is so much more to it as well. While I believe we are
      all better off with a wider understanding of the
      contemplative practice, I think we skilled
      practitioners have the additional obligation that full
      disclosure presents, which is to openly discuss the
      consequences of deep practice as well.

      Some organizations that teach meditation and provide
      retreat opportunities refuse to accept practitioners
      with a history of mental illness. And, some of these
      centers have even constructed a practice that
      specifically avoids the possible manifestation of
      pleasant or unpleasant states (jhana). I personally
      disagree with both decisions. While I can understand a
      center or teacher wanting to avoid difficulties, I
      believe they are often a necessary aspects to the path
      of awakening. And, constructing a practice that
      specifically avoids the pleasant and unpleasant
      states, seems to me too devious to even imagine. In
      fact in the Maha-satipatthana Sutta, DN 22, the Buddha
      defined right meditation (samma-samadhi) in terms of
      absorption (jhana).

      Maha-satipatthana Sutta, DN 22
      "And what is right {meditation (sama-samadhi)}? There
      is the case where an aspirant -- quite withdrawn from
      sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental)
      qualities -- enters & remains in the first
      (absorption) jhana"... (through fourth jhana).
      http://www.accesstoinsight.org/canon/sutta/digha/dn22.html

      I believe dedication to the path, as well as full
      disclosure, are simple solutions to the problems that
      can occur from intense practice. I believe also that
      dharma centers have an obligation to assure there are
      skilled practitioners and teachers available who can
      provide adequate support for those who may enter a
      domain they were not prepared for. I believe it is not
      only an essential responsibility of the sangha, it is
      the very purpose of the sangha.

      On the Jhana Support Group people frequently report
      out-of-body experiences that included some very
      pleasant experiences, as well as some very unpleasant
      experiences. They also often report the symptoms of
      full sense gate opening as well. While many of these
      contemplatives often have these experiences off-and-on
      for many years, I understand that they can still be
      most difficult to pass through, and they often require
      the support of a skilled teacher, or at least a
      community of practitioners who are familiar with these
      experiences. In fact I believe this is in part why
      the historic Buddha felt so strongly about the
      importance of a community of contemplatives (sangha)
      to include it in the refuge, which is called the Three
      Gems.

      I recall the first time I experienced the full opening
      of my tactile sense gate at a 10 day retreat about 12
      years ago. The sensations on the surface of my skin
      were so intense it was as though my body was on fire,
      and the searing sensations on the surface of my entire
      body remained that way for the duration of the
      retreat. The sensation was so intense that I thought I
      would go mad. Since then I have had the full opening
      of all of the sense gates at different intervals. At
      first it can be excruciatingly painful, but eventually
      the powerful forces of energy impinging on the gate
      become a most intensely pleasant sensation, and
      certainly well worth the often painful birth process
      of getting there.

      I found having my sense gates fully open becomes ever
      so pleasant as I cultivated equanimity, which I found
      is a consequence of relinquishing grasping and
      aversion. In fact I found the unpleasantness
      (suffering) I experienced was proportional to the
      amount of grasping, or aversion, that I was engaged
      in. I have thus found relinquishing grasping and
      aversion at every moment is now the core of my
      practice, and consequently I have found equanimity
      emerging, increasing and pervading my life.

      Last summer one of our local advanced practitioners
      reported being contacted by hungry ghosts in her sleep
      state. I have had many of these experiences as well. I
      have found they are related to the out-of-body
      experience, and I know both how incredibly pleasant
      flying across the landscape without a body can be, and
      I also know how unimaginably terrifying an encounter
      with an angry god or hungry ghost can be. And, I have
      found again that maintaining my commitment to the
      Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and cultivating equanimity,
      are an indispensable aid in this practice, as well as
      how valuable a qualified teacher, or a sangha with
      skilled senior practitioners can be.

      I now believe that the dark night of the soul and its
      various manifestations is a necessary consequence of
      intense practice. And I believe it is the very door
      through which we must pass if we wish to come to
      ineffable peace (nibbana). Thus, I do not believe we
      should gloss over these possible unpleasant
      experiences. I also believe we should not forget to
      cultivate equanimity, and to remind ourselves often of
      the refuge and what it means.

      I might be dealing with too heavy a subject matter,
      and that in my well meaning honesty and self exposure,
      I might frighten away beginners. I do agree, that
      there is of course no sense in scaring people, but I
      also have to ask whether we are doing anyone service
      by introducing them to the contemplative practice, and
      offering them opportunities to practice intensely in a
      retreat environment, without warning them of the
      possible consequences of intense practice and the
      pursuit of the annihilation of self.

      I do not have an answer, except I believe we, the
      sangha, are better off with full disclosure. I know
      intense practice can produce lucid spiritual
      experiences that can be either very pleasant or very
      unpleasant. I believe these experiences are essential
      to making progress, and I know they ultimately lead to
      cessation (nibbana) or annihilation (fana) of the self
      and ineffable peace and fulfillment. And, it is our
      commitment to the greater good (the Buddha, Dharma and
      Sangha) that sets up the necessary conditions for
      equanimity, which supports further growth, and that it
      is essential to find a skilled practitioner or teacher
      as a guide, as well as finding a supportive sangha to
      serve.

      May you all find ineffable peace and fulfillment of
      enlightenment in this very lifetime.

      Jeff Brooks
      First published in the SOUTHWEST INSIGHT E'LETTER
      Vol. 3.1 January 1, 2003
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SWI_E_letter/message/24






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    • Jhanananda
      Commitment as a Refuge, Dark Night of the Soul in Buddhism Febrary 20, 2005 By Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks): I was recently reminded of one of the essential
      Message 2 of 2 , Feb 20, 2005
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        Commitment as a Refuge, Dark Night of the Soul in Buddhism

        Febrary 20, 2005

        By Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks):

        I was recently reminded of one of the essential principles of the path of
        awakening, which I believe is too often overlooked. That is commitment.
        Commitment, in a Buddhist context, is the taking of refuge, which we often
        take at the beginning of each retreat, because it is an ancient tradition
        that began, in Buddhism, with then taken refuge in the historic Buddha as a
        teacher of an authentic way (dharma/dhamma/Tao) to freedom from suffering
        and enlightenment.

        In Sidharta Gotama's day it was the renunciation of all of one's worldly
        possessions and relationships, and a giving of the whole of one's self over
        to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha for the purpose of enlightenment. Today, we
        often take the Refuge at the beginning of a retreat, then we sit the
        retreat, perhaps without reflecting upon the Refuge. When the retreat is
        over we go about our lives, as if nothing has changed, but I am sure we all
        reflect back on those 10 days. How often, however, do we consider that the
        Refuge is a commitment to our enlightenment and the enlightenment of all
        others in the shortest possible time?

        Commitment to the path (dharma/dhamma/Tao) has become second nature to me,
        because I made an early life-long commitment to "God," when I was 17.
        Committing myself to something grand like ³God² as a teenager was a
        consequence of some adolescent foolishness, as a serious commitment like
        this often is at an early age. At that time I bowed my head, when the weight
        of the consequences of my actions sat firmly upon my shoulders, and I
        prayed, "God I am not ready for this burden. If you take it away, I will
        dedicate my life to You." Early on in our spiritual life, prayer often
        takes on the form of bargaining with the Infinite, and this time the bargain
        was struck. Before I even opened my eyes, the person upon whom this
        situation hinged came to me, and as I opened my eyes this person said, "The
        situation has been resolved."

        At the time, I could only say to myself, "Now what have I done?" I had no
        idea what a life-long commitment to "God" would be like, but I knew there
        was no way I could go back on a bargain with the Infinite, especially when
        it was so quickly responded to. As I contemplated the "deal" that I struck
        with "God" I quickly realized I had no idea how to commit myself to God.

        Over the decades I have often contemplated that commitment and renewed it
        each time, however that "commitment" has become the refuge and a commitment
        to enlightenment in this very lifetime. Since I have spent many years
        contemplating what it means to commit one's life to the Infinite, I have
        taken to renewing this commitment every year as a means of reevaluating what
        it means to be committed to the path (dharma/dhamma/Tao) of enlightenment.

        By the time I was 20, commitment became for me regular and consistent
        meditation practice. Then, I began and ended each day with sitting
        meditation practice. It has thus directed my daily life toward a
        moment-by-moment mindfulness of being in the presence with the Infinite.

        Being in the presence with the Infinite has become something much like what
        I believe was meant in Genesis where the biblical patriarchs are said to
        have "walked with the Lord all of their days." Being in the presence with
        the Infinite I find is much like the Buddhist practice of moment-to-moment
        mindfulness.

        Over the years my relationship with the Infinite has evolved beyond the
        theist centered punitive deity stage, to annihilation in Infinity, to union
        and subsequently identification with the Infinite. My commitment has
        transformed over the years as well, and has become a dedication of every
        mindful moment, as well as every thought, word, deed and resource to the
        relief of the suffering of all beings, and service to the Triple Gem
        (Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha), which is what the Refuge is often called.

        The Refuge in Buddhism certainly takes the form of taking cover or
        protection, but protection also requires a commitment of some sort by the
        refuge taker. I believe in Buddhism Refuge takes the form of submitting
        ourselves to the protection of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

        Refuge also has a quality of service to it as well. We commit ourselves to
        the service of the Buddhas of the past as well as the present, and
        commitment to the dharma, or the teachings of the enlightened ones, as well
        as to our own path to enlightenment. And, we commit ourselves in service to
        the sangha, or community of those seeking enlightenment.

        My commitment to practice has evolved as well. It has become intensity as
        well. In the beginning I sat in meditation perhaps only 5 or 10 minutes
        twice a day, but it has become 3 times a day, for an hour to 2 hours each
        sit; and instead of sitting a meditation retreat once every year, or so, it
        has become sitting as many retreats as I can, which is often 5 or 6
        meditation retreats each year.

        This intensity has produced a number of changes in my life. My sleep state
        has become lucid, so lucid that I often find myself flying across the
        landscape or into space, or backwards and forwards through time, which
        involves the reliving of whole lifetimes from birth until death with all of
        the visceral details in between. I have also found myself traveling through
        domains of existence, and encountering beings of all kinds.

        One of the aspects of Sidharta's teaching of Dependent Origination involves
        the recovery of memories of past lifetimes for what has been translated as
        understanding our "past lifetime linking," or the reasons that propel us
        onto our next lifetime. It was his belief that if we were able to understand
        the reasons why we form a new lifetime, we would, through relinquishing our
        grasp on those links that releases us from continuing to form new lifetimes.

        For more on Dependent Origination please read ³Understanding Dependent
        Origination (paticca samuppada)²
        http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/dependentorigination.htm

        For me the intensity of my practice has produced a lucid sleep state, which
        has produced lucid reliving of whole lifetimes. It is this movement from one
        lucid time-space domain to another that has been very disjointing to the
        psyche. And, it is my commitment to the dharma that has served as an anchor
        for me while my concept of a lifetime crumbled to meet an expanding concept
        of time, from a single all important and cohesive structure to an infinity
        of passages and changes, that all seem now as dream-like as the waking
        state.

        For more on lucid dreaming and OOBs please read: ³The Proto-Contemplative
        Life, Lucid Dreams and Out-of-Body Travel² (August 1, 2004)
        http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/protocontemplative.htm

        In addition to lucid dream states and the recovery of past lifetimes and
        acquiring an expanded sense of time, the intensity of my practice has also
        produced a number of other pleasant and unpleasant experiences such as odd
        spontaneous shaking and quivering, called kriyas in Sanskrit. There has
        also been intense shivers or shock waves, called kundalini, which feel as
        though not only is my psyche being totally restructured, but my very biology
        is under some utter and complete transformation as well.
        For more on please read ³Charismatic Movement, Kriyas ² (April 23, 2004)
        http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/kriyas.htm

        During these many lucid experiences the refuge has certainly been some
        comfort for which I am grateful. And, with the added layer of total
        commitment of the whole of myself to the Three Gems, I have felt tremendous
        support while passing through some very dark nights, which I believe are a
        product of this transformative process.

        I found these dark nights and difficult days were not just a single night,
        but many, many nights and weeks and months and even years, of passing
        through, then returning again for another layer of release. If it wasn't for
        this commitment, I know I would not have endured the profound disjunction
        produced by the lucid recollections of whole lifetimes. It was the reliving
        of the many, many deaths that ended each of those lifetimes that was perhaps
        more difficult, than the disjunction of switching time-space domains, which
        in itself was difficult, very difficult to manage as well.

        For more on the recovery of previous lifetimes please read ³On the
        Recollection of Former Lives²
        http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/recollection.htm

        Another one of those difficulties, where my commitment to the Three Gems
        gave me the protection I needed, was in the sudden opening of the sense
        gates to full capacity, which is another product of intense practice, and I
        believe related to the kriyas. It typically occurred for me during longer
        retreats, but it often happened at random intervals as well, like while
        standing in line at the grocery story, or while driving the car in rush-hour
        traffic.

        For more on the phenomena of absorption, please read: "The characteristic
        manifestations of absorption, Jhana-Nimitta" (October 1, 2004)
        http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/jhananimitta.htm

        This abrupt opening of the sense gates was, in the early stages, often very
        difficult. It was difficult because the sudden flow of sensory input was
        often quite painful. It was literally like standing in the checkout line at
        the grocery store and suddenly having my skin ripped off. There were
        certainly many times I thought I would go quite mad from the intensity of
        the sensations. And, there were times, when I was left with nothing, nothing
        to continue, but my commitment to enlightenment and to nonviolence to self
        and other that kept me taking the next breath.

        In the past these meditation disciplines that we practice were reserved as
        secret initiations to be revealed by meditation masters to individual
        disciples only when the master felt the student was ready. And, these
        disciples were most often monastics under close supervision. Now we receive
        powerful meditation techniques via books and video-tapes, or at 10 day
        retreats, by itinerant lay or monastic teachers who do not claim mastership
        or understand the phenomena of absorption.

        So, when I received an email from a highly skilled practitioner who, by her
        description, was clearly entering into the stage best described by the
        medieval Saint, John of the Cross (a student of Teresa of Avila) as the dark
        night of the soul, I was reminded of this commitment, and how well it has
        stood by me through my own very dark nights.

        Unfortunately I found little guidance and support while passing through the
        Dark Night of the soul and giving rise to the various charismatic phenomena.
        Therefore a few years ago I started a Yahoo dialog group to function as a
        peer-level support group for people experiencing the various manifestations
        that arise due to an intense contemplative practice. That support group is
        called the Jhana Support Group. The group has expanded rather rapidly and
        now has almost 450 members. And now there are 2 more related groups. They
        are:

        Jhana Support Group
        A dialog support group for ecstatic contemplatives in a Buddhist context
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Jhanas/

        Kundaliniheat
        A dialog support group for the ecstatic experience in a Yoga and Shamanic
        context
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/kundaliniheat/

        Shiva_Shakti
        A dialog support group for the family of people going through the kundalini
        awakening
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Shiva_Shakti/

        Through managing these support groups I have heard of other stories of
        difficult situations arising for people leading a contemplative life. Often
        these contemplatives encountered difficulties while engaged in intense
        practice at extended retreats. Their difficulties are often so great that
        they are not now practicing meditation. And, several of these people are
        now in extended therapy and some of them are even under medication.

        While going through the most difficult phase of the dark night of the soul I
        spent 7 years in therapy. But, while therapists are no doubt very well
        prepared for dealing with a wide range of emotional trauma, I don't believe
        many of them are adequately prepared for dealing with the consequences of
        intense meditation practice. In my case I was very fortunate to have found
        a therapist who did not consider my contemplative life an aspect of my
        neurosis. It has been my experience that regional dharma centers are not
        often equipped with teachers or members who are skilled in these
        experiences. But, if they are, that sangha is most fortunate.

        While I am committed to full disclosure of all of the aspects of the path to
        enlightenment, even with the possible difficulties people may encounter, I
        still wonder sometimes at the wisdom of our somewhat cavalier approach of
        indiscriminately introducing lay practitioners to a contemplative life, and
        providing opportunities for intensive meditation practice at retreats
        without providing at least a referral list of therapists who are used to
        serving the needs of contemplatives.

        Ever since TM and the relaxation movement of the 60s and 70s, meditation
        practice has been delivered in this country as something that will relieve
        one's stress. It is of course true to an extent, but there is so much more
        to meditation than stress management. While I believe we are all better off
        with a wider understanding of the contemplative life, I think we skilled
        contemplatives have the additional obligation that full disclosure presents,
        which is to openly discuss the consequences of deep contemplation and
        meditation as well.

        Some organizations that teach meditation and provide retreat opportunities
        refuse to accept practitioners with a history of mental illness. And, some
        of these centers have even constructed a practice strategy that specifically
        avoids the possible manifestation of absorption states (jhanas). I
        personally disagree with both decisions. While I can understand a center or
        teacher wanting to avoid difficulties, I believe they are often a necessary
        aspects to the path of awakening. And, constructing a practice path that
        specifically avoids the absorption states, seems to me too devious to even
        imagine. In fact in the Maha-satipatthana Sutta, DN 22, the Buddha defined
        right meditation (samma-samadhi) in terms of absorption (jhana).

        Maha-satipatthana Sutta, DN 22
        "And what is right meditation (samma-samadhi)? There is the case where an
        aspirant -- quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful
        (mental) qualities -- enters & remains in the first absorption (jhana)"...
        (through fourth jhana).
        http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/mahasatipatthanasutta.htm

        I believe dedication to the path, as well as full disclosure, are simple
        solutions to the problems that can occur from intense meditation practice. I
        believe also dharma centers have an obligation to assure there are skilled
        contemplatives and teachers, who are skilled in the absorption states
        (jhanas), available who can provide adequate support for those who may enter
        a domain they were not prepared for. I believe it is not only an essential
        responsibility of the sangha, it is the very purpose of the sangha.

        On the Jhana Support Group people frequently report out-of-body experiences
        that included some very pleasant experiences, as well as some very
        unpleasant experiences. They also often report the symptoms of full sense
        gate opening. While many of these contemplatives often have these
        experiences off-and-on for many years, I understand that they can still be
        most difficult to pass through, and they often require the support of a
        skilled teacher, or at least a community of practitioners who are familiar
        with these experiences. In fact I believe this is in part why the historic
        Buddha felt so strongly about the importance of a community of
        contemplatives (sangha) to include it in the refuge, which is called the
        Three Gems.

        I recall the first time I experienced the full opening of my tactile sense
        gate at a 10-day retreat about 12 years ago. The sensations on the surface
        of my skin were so intense it was as though my body was on fire, and the
        searing sensations on the surface of my entire body remained that way for
        the duration of the retreat. The sensation was so intense that I thought I
        would go mad. Since then I have had the full opening of all of the sense
        gates at different intervals. At first it can be excruciatingly painful, but
        eventually the powerful forces of energy impinging on the senses becomes a
        most intensely pleasant sensation, and certainly well worth the often
        painful birth process of getting there.

        I found having my sense gates fully open becomes ever so pleasant as I
        cultivated equanimity, which I found is a consequence of relinquishing
        grasping and aversion. In fact I found the unpleasantness (dukkha) I
        experienced was proportional to the amount of grasping, or aversion, that I
        was engaged in. I have thus found relinquishing emotional and psychological
        attachments at every moment is now the core of my practice, and consequently
        I have found equanimity emerging, increasing and pervading my life.

        Last summer one of our local advanced practitioners reported being contacted
        by hungry ghosts in her sleep state. I have had many of these experiences as
        well. I have found they are related to the out-of-body experience, and I
        know both how incredibly pleasant flying across the landscape without a body
        can be, and I also know how unimaginably terrifying an encounter with an
        angry god or hungry ghost can be. And, I have found again that maintaining
        my commitment to my religious convictions (Triple Gem), and cultivating
        equanimity, are an indispensable aid in this practice, as well as how
        valuable a qualified teacher, or a sangha with skilled senior contemplatives
        can be.

        I now believe that the dark night of the soul and its various manifestations
        is a necessary consequence of a rigorous contemplative life. And I believe
        it is the very door through which we must pass if we wish to come to
        ineffable peace (nibbana). Thus, I do not believe we should gloss over these
        possible unpleasant experiences. I also believe we should not forget to
        cultivate equanimity, and to remind ourselves often of the concepts of
        ³refuge,² ³salvation² and ³submission² what they mean to Buddhists,
        Christians and Muslim respectively.

        I might be dealing with too heavy a subject matter, and that in my well
        meaning honesty and self exposure, I might frighten away beginners. I do
        agree, that there is of course no sense in scaring people, but I also have
        to ask whether we are doing anyone service by introducing them to the
        contemplative life, and offering them opportunities to practice intensely in
        a retreat environment, without warning them of the possible consequences of
        intense practice and the pursuit of the cessation or annihilation of self.

        I do not have an answer, except I believe we, the community of
        contemplatives (sangha), are better off with full disclosure. I know intense
        practice can produce lucid spiritual experiences that can be either very
        pleasant or very unpleasant. I have found these experiences are essential to
        making progress, and I know they ultimately lead to cessation (nibbana) or
        annihilation (fana) of the self and ineffable peace and fulfillment. And, it
        is our commitment to the greater good and our religious institutions
        (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) that sets up the necessary conditions for
        equanimity, which supports further growth, and that it is essential to find
        a skilled contemplative or teacher as a guide, as well as finding a
        supportive community (sangha) to serve.

        May you become enlightened in this very lifetime,

        Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)
        the Great Western Vehicle
        http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/index.html

        The GWV archive on Ecstatic Buddhism
        <http://www.geocities.com/jhanananda/jhanaarticles.htm>

        First published in the Southwest Insight E'letter Vol. 3.1 January 1, 2003
        <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SWI_E_letter/>

        This version may be retrieved at this URL:
        http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/commitment.htm
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