Last weekend I attended a one day retreat at The Meditation Center of Chicago during which a visiting monk from the U.K., Dr. Phra Nicholas Thanissaro, instructed us on the Dhammakaya meditation technique. I share with you my notes and my experience. This is part 2 of a 2-part article.
I prefer visualization so I used the sun as the object guiding me through my meditation. The 7 bases are new to me so I had a little trouble with getting a sense of their respective locations. I found it useful to look up a diagram of the 7 bases after the retreat. You can find a couple diagrams of the 7 bases at the beginning of this video [https://youtu.be/YRUShKHA1Ys] which is a guided meditation by the same monk with the same technique.
I sat on the floor with my legs crossed. Majority of people remained on their chairs. As we were being guided through the meditation, some random thoughts started popping up. In addition, my left leg started to fall asleep – which never happens otherwise – so I would have to shake it out on and off. It wasn’t the smoothest meditation. Meditating in a group setting was also new to me and that may have contributed to my not being able to completely surrender.
So now, what are the 5 hindrances to one pointedness and center.
(1) Sense-desire. When the smell of good food, for example, hits your senses, you might get distracted and carried away. Or, if you desire or wish for progress, you might find it actually more difficult to progress. Instead, just enjoy the journey.
(2) Ill-will. Grudges or anger may arise – in which case, turn to loving kindness meditation. Or, you may be uncomfortable in your posture leading to feelings of hatred of pain which can turn to agony. Instead, try a better posture, one that works for you. You may also experience pain from unfamiliarity with sitting still. If it’s pain that does damage to your body – move. However, pain that comes up when meditation is going well – it’s a trick of the mind – your imagination.
(3) Sleepiness & reluctance. Catnapping is okay when you snap back from it quickly and feel alert. However, if you fall asleep – well that’s definitely a hindrance to your meditation.
(4) Absent mindedness. If your mind is all over the place, roaming around randomly, mantra is used to beat all thoughts. Repeat the mantra to starve thoughts of attention. Starve and ignore.
(5) Doubt. You may experience visions or feelings you’re not used to and you may start questioning – is this real or not. Instead of doubting whether what you are experiencing is real, go for the alternative explanation to resolve the doubt.
In addition to the aforementioned 5 hindrances, there are special hindrances. They are surprising inner experiences. Feeling hot. Feeling cold. Hair standing on end. Swaying. Feeling of enlarging. Falling. Shrinking. Floating. Crying tears of joy.
These special hindrances are a sort of energy being released – like a trick the mind plays. The mind is saying to you, no, don’t change. (Look at me, look at what I can do!) The solution: pretend you’re not interested, and go on with your meditation. If you experience a special hindrance, it is an indication that you are 99% of the way to a still mind.
Why it’s important to evaluate meditation:
- So that meditation doesn’t become a chore.
- To notice changes too subtle to notice from one day to next.
- To complete the loop of improvement from adjustment – to noticing changes – to readjustment.
Tell-tale signs of improvement:
1. Quality of the feeling.
- Happy. Spacious. Light. Time flies. Want to continue further. Calm and unaffected but know what’s going on.
- Neither happy or unhappy. Lost touch with outside world. Numb. Blank. Inert. Just more of same.
- Unhappy. Heavy. Restless. Awkward. Stressed. Dizzy. Forced.
2. Continuity/stability of experience.
- Sense of inner light.
- If this feeling stays the whole time while meditating, it will remain for a similar amount of time outside of meditation.
3. Inner experience (in contrast to outer experience).
- How the inner experience is seen is more important than what is seen. Clarity of object seen is more important than the object. Quality of seeing will eventually become clearer and more lucid.
- Vividness. Is it – less vivid than as seen with eye – as seen with eye – more vivid than as seen with eye.
- Transparency. Is it – opaque – as clear as water – as clear as a diamond.
- Brightness. Is it – as bright as a star, a firefly. Or like a moon, fluorescent. Or like the morning sun, a spotlight. Or like the midday sun, welding. Or like many midday suns, blinding.
4. Selecting what to describe.
- Focus on best of experiences. You wil get what you expect. If you have a good meditation, note it down so that you can replicate it next time.
- Don’t need every trivial detail.
- Choose best of your meditation.
- Note what you did to get to the destination.
- Draw what you experienced.
5. Benefits of sharing.
- Put own practice in context.
- Not getting complacent.
- Overcoming envy.
- Learning as a team.
- Not to be confused with boasting.
We also did some walking meditation and I had this insight that I experienced relief from thoughts tensing up my head and forehead when I centered my mind at Base 7. Sometimes you don’t know you’re suffering until you experience relief!
Incidentally, I am reading this little book by Helena Blavatsky and found this passage relevant:
“Withhold thy mind from all external objects, all external sights. Withhold internal images, lest on thy Soul-light a dark shadow they should cast. Thou art now in DHARANA (37), the sixth stage.
. . .
Dharana, is the intense and perfect concentration of the mind upon some one interior object, accompanied by complete abstraction from everything pertaining to the external Universe, or the world of the senses.”
– THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE By H. P. Blavatsky