Bewitched by language and practice

Continuing the discussion from The case for bare awareness?:

Laurence, you make a good point here. I moved us to a new thread so as not to clutter up bare awareness.

I would also add that we can be bewitched by practice. We can bliss out and go nowhere.

Life throws a lot of stuff at us. Death. Betrayal. Disaster. Despair. If our response to these is to run away and hide in meditation or philosophy, we are cowering. We are suffering. We have not found the end of suffering. We fall victim to the four prejudices:

making decisions prejudiced by favoritism, hostility, stupidity, and cowardice.
chandāgatiṃ gacchati, dosāgatiṃ gacchati, mohāgatiṃ gacchati, bhayāgatiṃ gacchati.

This is the hard truth that I discovered long ago on that cliff cowering in fear.

Whatever realization we have or think we have will be tested and either found lacking or not.

Be fierce. Be bold. Be here now. End the suffering.


When a baby learns to walk they stand up and fall over many times. We understand that this is the process. The baby knows this - instinctually - and just keeps at it. We smile, encourage and, assist.

This is an inevitable consequence of an actual lived learning process. This is how it happens in the real world.

The unfolding of the Dhamma is also like this for many of us unless we have exceptionally good kamma.

There’s so many ways that our development can be arrested - stops and starts, short bursts of brilliance, the long haul. ‘Patient endurance is the highest austerity’ - the Buddha

The point is to take our opportunities when they arise. We don’t instill in a baby a sense of trepidation and foreboding when they :star2:-t walking.

We encourage them to learn. What’s most important is they actually get-up, discover what it’s actually like for themselves, then they have the real opportunity to learn.

Jhana is like this - we don’t have to fear bliss. We do need to understand attachment. We need to be open to surprise - beginners mind.

To have a theory about the dangers or advantages of bipedal locomotion ain’t gonna make da baby stand up and do it!

We need to live our ‘lives’ make whatever mistakes we ‘will’ make in the process, learn from the experience and, keep on going.

Firstly, we need to get off the ground and actually find out what it is we are talking about and be sceptical with regard to the nay-sayers who are actually arm-chair philosophers.

When the time comes the kid just gets up and walks, we can’t do much to stop this happening if it is meant to happen, it does. What we think about it won’t make much difference in the end. That’s life and living - enjoy the ride!

The rule book makes interesting reading. The guide book is glossy and fantastic. Now, hit the street and breathe the air! It’s unmistakably good stuff but don’t take anyone’s word for it.


If you bring an end to suffering, does it matter how you got there? It could happen deep in meditative absorption if you finally cut all of the ties fettering you to the samsaric realm. But I suppose it could happen on a cliff if it shakes you into realizing that all of your fears are directed toward things that are inevitable: mortality, the destruction of the body, loss.

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I didn’t realize anything on the cliff other than that I had been complacent in my meditation practice. I had focused on bliss, not on ending defilements. I was simply treading water in the stream going nowhere particular. Bliss is fine and happy and gently erodes defilements. But it misses a critical point.

The Buddha is quite clear about this in MN8 and does talk about jhanas and formless states. But he is clear about not getting too attached to immersion alone:

It’s possible that a certain mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, might enter and remain in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. They might think they’re practicing self-effacement. But in the training of the noble one these are not called ‘self-effacement’; they’re called ‘blissful meditations in the present life’.

It’s possible that some mendicant, going totally beyond the dimension of nothingness, might enter and remain in the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. They might think they’re practicing self-effacement. But in the training of the noble one these are not called ‘self-effacement’; they’re called ‘peaceful meditations’.

The sutta goes on to discuss self-effacement. Life is short. The future is uncertain. The blissful path is long and may span lives. The short path leads through self-effacement.

Absolutely. And this here baby spent over a decade of his life splashing in the happy meditation bath water. On the cliff, that bath water got really cold. In fact, it did not help at all. Self-effacement eventually did. Self-effacement is the end to fear.


You’ve got to be happy to wake up. You need to know how to gladden the mind. This leads to tranquility. Tranquility leads to ease of being. This leads to samadhi. Samadhi facilities, provides an opportunity for clear seeing. Then, awakening is possible. Intense interest, curiosity and, wonder is an inevitable consequence. We are energized as the process deepens - we are prone to being stunned, astonished, pleasantly surprised. If this ain’t happening we’ve probably taken a wrong turn or, we haven’t actually got out of the chair.

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At Sāvatthī. “Mendicants, I say that the ending of defilements is for one who knows and sees, not for one who does not know or see. For one who knows and sees what? ‘Such is form, such is the origin of form, such is the ending of form. Such is feeling … Such is perception … Such are choices … Such is consciousness, such is the origin of consciousness, such is the ending of consciousness.’ The ending of the defilements is for one who knows and sees this.

I say that this knowledge of ending has a vital condition, it doesn’t lack a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Freedom.’ I say that freedom has a vital condition, it doesn’t lack a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Dispassion.’ I say that dispassion has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Disillusionment.’ I say that disillusionment has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Truly knowing and seeing.’ I say that truly knowing and seeing has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Immersion.’ I say that immersion has a vital condition.

And what is it? You should say: ‘Bliss.’ I say that bliss has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Tranquility.’ I say that tranquility has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Rapture.’ I say that rapture has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Joy.’ I say that joy has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Faith.’ I say that faith has a vital condition.

And what is it? You should say: ‘Suffering.’ I say that suffering has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Rebirth. SuttaCentral


This is not what happens as a consequence of samadhi bliss. We don’t miss any point if we have met the Dhamma - it facilitates seeing.

Samadhi provides an opportunity to see things that were not seen or understood - in the wake of jhanic happenings - not before.

This will inevitably take place if reaction-free attention is sustained and unbroken.

When bare awareness is unbroken and sustained in and out of jhana, everything, all the contraction, all the blind conditioning is seen and let go of.

It :star2:-ts a process of (unraveling) that is to be ‘seen’ and not believed. That’s the critical difference, that’s what makes ‘all’ the difference.

‘Who can unknot the knot’ - Visudhimagga

On a cliff a climber may come fully-alive in new and blissful ways. Jhanic-absorption does not involve any kind of moving about - it’s not the same thing.

If, you have seen the limitations of the bliss you experienced on a cliff, climbing, that’s a good thing. It’s good if this understanding lead you back to the cushion.

The thing about the entry point to jhana is the possibility of the arising of a ‘unique’ joy. It’s not the same kind of joy that has a precedent.

We do know - are familiar with - many forms of joy and bliss experienced in everyday living. When we have experiences on the edge this can be exhilarating. Jhana is about stopping, a natural stillness, it cannot be produced by doing something, including climbing things.

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Laurence, I am curious, are you a climber?

My experience contradicts what you have written. In my experience, climbing is immersive. In my experience there is a stopping of mind chatter and a letting go in climbing. Climbing is not an adrenaline rush for me. It is breath awareness. For me it is the same as walking meditation. I did not go back to the cushion. I took my meditation to the cliff.


I have climbed. Jhana is without precedent. There are entirely new and unprecedented discoveries that are unlike anything before and, they just keep on coming. - not seen or heard before. Awakening leads into ‘uncharted’ territory. It is freedom from the known or it ain’t happening. If it’s written in da book it ain’t necessarily so - we need to find out.

Find out if you get attached to jhana - or not? There is little point in coming to a fixed conclusion after reading the brochure. That’s neither here nor there - right?


It seems to me that the instruction is not to get too attached to any particular stage of immersion. Each of the stages of release involves the attention to and absorption in some objects or an object. It is blissful and groovy to meditate on that object, and have it as one’s object. But remaining at that stage preserves the subject-object split. There is the construction or conception of an “I” that has a sense of itself as cognizing that object which is other than the “I”. The happiness present is still tainted by a painful residue of attachment to the I and its experience of the object, and an anxious underlying awareness of the fact that both entities are constructed and thus impermanent.

So one must endeavor to go deeper, letting go of the present object by redirecting attention to a more sublime object. The sukkha of the previous stage is replaced by a more refined sukkha at the next, less defiled stage. This is done all the way to the end when, we are taught, there is no more sense of subject and object. There remains only the bliss and supreme happiness of total release. But it is not the happiness of lower stages which are all of the structure “I am cognizant of that and am experiencing it blissfully. The bliss is self-subsistent and undifferentiated into experienced and experiencer.

Of course this is a long process, and one can’t meditate all the time, so the deepening of one’s meditation and the purification of one’s way of life advance each other up until the final great effort.


MN8 does talk about each stage of immersion.

  • Each of the four jhanas is called “blissful meditations in the present life.” None of them are self-effacement. He is quite clear about this.
  • Each of the four formless states is called “peaceful meditations”. None of them are self-effacement. He is quite clear about this.

After stating quite clearly that none of the above eight are self-effacement, the Buddha proceeds to talk about self-effacement:

Others will be cruel, but here we will not be cruel
(…and many many more…)

The roots of identity view run very deep. The practice of self-effacement weeds these out.

And that was also my own experience. I had to take my meditation to the cliff. I had to work on self-effacement. The experience of sitting meditation did indeed help guide my practice, and I can also link back any insight I had during climbing back to the MN8 self-effacement list. For example here are a few of the things I learned:

Imprudent climbers endanger themselves and others:

Others will be imprudent, but here we will be prudent.’

Good climbing partners are hard to find:

‘Others will have bad friends, but here we will have good friends.’

If a climbing partner calls you an idiot they are probably right:

‘Others will be hard to admonish, but here we will not be hard to admonish.’

Climbing partners alway share:

‘Others will be stingy, but here we will be without stinginess.


This is how I read MN8, that one should apply meditation towards self-effacement, i.e., towards ending identity view. Identity view is not just an idea, it is actually entrenched deep in our being. We have to work at self-effacement every moment of the day, not just in a happy peaceful meditation corner.


That doesn’t happen in Jhanas. And, in hindsight this dualistic notion - subject/object - gets eroded. That’s a consequence of seeing things in a radically new light. That’s why we have an eightfold path - not 7.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Talk is cheap - I could be wrong. The point is we have to find out by taking the journey - through direct knowledge and vision.

Not by reading the travel brochures. It ain’t the same thing - that’s ideology.

We can become confused because we have a lovely set of brochures, we have a good head on our shoulders and, we can think logically. There is more to it than this - the greatest recipe is not equal to a crust of :bread:

But at the end of the whole discourse, the Buddha instructs Cunda to go back to meditating under a tree:

There are these roots of trees, there are empty places. Meditate, Cunda, do not delay, lest you later regret it. 'This is my message to you.

So the way I read this piece is that we first get a description of the four jhanas and four formless attainments, and a reminder that none of them is nibbana, because all retain a residual sense of self. Then we get instructions on the way of life that must be practiced along with one’s meditation in order to erode that sense of self. Then we get an instruction to try again for final liberation in meditation under a tree.


Agree that talking won’t solve the problem. My understanding is that the sense of self - the “underlying conceit of self” - is present at all stages of attainment short of the ultimate goal of nibbana. It’s the last thing to go.

Yes! Quite agree. :smiley:

That small phrase"Practice absorption, Cunda!" is such a wonderful gentle nudge to Cunda to go back and meditate with a new focus on self-effacement. Just imagine Cunda’s previous confused look as the Buddha was earlier saying that everything he was doing previously was “just peaceful or blissful meditation”.

Also notice that the Buddha said absorption. He didn’t say “go sit on your cushion.” :rofl:

sitting. walking. standing. reclining.

Sorry, it’s not like this - I don’t mean to rain on the parade. There is an abeyance and a return. Then, if the bare awareness is unbroken there is a continuity, a steady stream of new discovery. This ends when egoic preoccupations interrupt the process. As long as it is uninterrupted it gains momentum.

If the I-conceit is never interrupted - temporarily - there is no possibility of coming up for air. We leave a window open and the breeze comes and goes.

It stops when we get in the way , otherwise, it’s plain sailing. Easier than ‘doing’ anything.

Forget about the final push. The only thing a ‘somebody’ pushes is shit uphill. It’s letting go - an incline - towards cessation and ‘nobody’ was ever ‘doing’ this. Nobody can ‘do’ letting go. It’s when the ‘doer’ vanishes that this becomes as clear as a bell - not before.

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Well they didn’t have manufactured cushions. But I gather they made a reasonably comfortable seat for themselves out of leaves or grasses at the roots of the tree, or at least found a soft place in the sloping natural sod between the roots.

I think it’s easy to make too much of the differences between what sometimes seem like conflicting instructions. Sila, Sati and Samadhi go together. To achieve deeper levels of absorption, one needs to let go of all kinds of mental crap. To let go of mental proliferations and reactions, one needs to direct at least some sati toward them to see what they are. You aren’t going to be able to get fully absorbed in your breath if you can’t let go of the thought “I hate my f-ing boss!” And you aren’t going to be able to let go of that thought if you are not disciplining and pacifying your way of life, and also coming gradually to understand through directed attention something about what is causing you to hate your boss, and how impermanet and flimsy and delusory are the samsaric goals that are making you hate your boss. The idea that person can succesfully bliss out into all eight attainments while still being a hot mess in one’s everyday life seems implausible to me. If you are a passionate emotional mess, you might be able to chill and calm down on your cushion for several hours, but you are not going to be able to achieve deep absorptions.

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Interesting. I do believe Ajahn Brahmali just stated that the Buddha in recalling past lives from fourth jhana did indeed have residual self?

Please refer to the suttas when making assertions such as this?

Touche. I agree.

Yes. I agree.

But it is very easy to bliss out if life is going well. I think that Cunda, as a wealthy landowner, would have had such a good life. I certainly had a good life at that time and was blissing out. On the cliff, I realized that all that good life was impermanent and that I was wasting my time blissing out. Instead of being admonished by the Buddha, I was admonished by gravity sucking me toward the inevitability of death.

The funny thing is that Tanouye Roshi had warned me of this during sesshin and I hadn’t known then what he meant.

Thank you for sharing your own experience. They help me a lot.


Full awakening is when every trace of the sense of self is expunged, done and dusted. Before that happy day there is the temporary abeyance of the sense of self. This provides openings for the progress of insight. Is this clear? It ain’t over till the fat lady sings! Opportunities to see come and go until the process comes to its ‘natural’ conclusion. Then, who knows?

There are preoccupations and there are procuupations. You might be able to suspend some of the courser occurrent I-thoughts, and self referring inner speech. But the teaching is that there is still a subtle conceit of self present all the way up the final attainment. At each deeper stage of absorption, no matter how initially liberating it feels, one eventually comes to realize one is clinging to the base of that attainment, and constructing it as “mine” or “my experience”. That growing disenchantment with the residual dukkha in that state is supposed to push one into intensifying the effort to see that basis as not self, constructed, impermanent and dukkha, and one eventually succeeds in letting go, dropping into a deeper stage of absorption, and then repeating the process again with the object at that deeper stage. I think the suttas are pretty clear about the idea that the conceit of self is never completely eradicated until the final goal is reached.