Dark Night stage

After learning about Dark Night stage during meditation that permanently affects people, I became worried whether to continue to meditate. I have seen people who claim that dark night is 100% necessary to the path even if sometimes it isn’t as intense as it seems.

Dark night is a stage where people become permanently(or temporarily ) affected by meditation and result in painful or harmful/intense states. Practitioners who are affected will continue to experience dark night even after the meditation and it may lasts sometimes for years.

Some people are quick to dismiss this stage as an already existing psychological condition being exacerbated due to meditation. While others claim that it’s due to western socioeconomic structure that we see dark night or view it as a problem. Some others claim that it’s due to practicing ‘dry-insight’ or practicing ‘concentration’. Some people claim that it’s due to meditation maps that we tend to find the dark night as a sign post of the maps. Some people claim that if you follow a good teacher, you will not find dark night or you will find the way to solve dark night.

For a period of time, I also believed that practicing metta or cultivating tranqulity, equanimity might solve this issue. But I became very worried after reading several people’s experience and reading about Daniel Ingram’s work(4. The Arising and Passing Away – MCTB.org).

After trying to find a way around the issue without any result, I began to contemplate why a Dark Night stage occurs. Thus I came to the following conclusions.

I have no experience regarding Dark night so take this with a grain of salt.

What most people don’t talk about is that meditation itself is a conditioned state. We condition it by making it a habit, repeatedly acting and trying to maintain meditation. On the other hand, normal life is also a conditioned state which is conditioned by our own life and the evolution of billion years.

When we meditate, normally there will be a bleed-over effect in our daily life. Such as having more awareness, more tranquility in daily life. It’s also evident in the other direction such that our daily life affect meditative state - such as more intrusive thoughts, more sensuality in meditation.

In my opinion it’s best that we become aware of what and how we contemplate during meditation and how it would affect the rest of our lives.

Dark Night:

Dark night is a state where meditative state starts to overtake the normal state. It may completely overwrite or become a mixture of both states. Each dark night stage will be different according to their own meditative state and their normal state. I should also point that this stage may be positive and fulled with Joy for some meditation practitioners while others will find it very negative.

  • If we practice Loving-kindness, we may perceive the whole world with loving-kindess or Joy.

  • If we practice mindfulness , we would have a pronounced awareness of everything. Even things we tend to or want to forget ex: trauma, sadness.

  • If we practice on Emptiness, Anatta we would perceive that the whole world is empty,anatta etc.

    example : experience from a reddit user

    The entire texture of my reality is becoming saturated with the sensation of “meaninglessness”…
    including the pointlessness of doing anything about it. And the peace that is there.
    Reacting to the feeling would itself be putting meaning to it.
    That said, this feels like a really dark time where I feel there’s no point but to sit and continue to dive into the feeling itself…

  • If we practice Loving-kindness concentration, we may stop perceiving other feelings such as joy.

    example : experience from a reddit user

    Reddit r/streamentry
    Op · 23 days ago
    Ok now I think I understand what’s happening. I think it’s actually because I’ve spent too much time on concentration practice. It seems like it puts me in this hyper focussed state which at the same time really emotionally blunts me. I’m gonna see if doing some Jhana practice can help give me some emotionality back. But I don’t really feel many good sensations in the body right now so it’s difficult to do.

Why the dark night is challenging?

Because our meditative state is not designed to handle what the normal mind state is doing. Although meditative state will be more advance on some factors while it performs poorly in others. Therefor during dark night, we will feel disorientating.

Why Dark night occur?

If meditation practitioners are skillful and spend a lot of time on meditation, they may proceed to the dark night due to their efforts.

Since from that point on your daily life will be meditation every single moment.


Dark night is the acute and deep clash between normal and meditative states. If we can make this clash smoother or transition longer we will not have to deal with dark night as a disorientating event. Perhaps as we extend this transition to a longer period and gradually change our daily lives closer to the meditative state, a sudden acute stage would not occur.
In addition we can make sure that our meditative state is competent enough to handle everything normal state does, by cultivating 7 awakening factors and brahmaviharas etc.
For example:
I am not sure about how to resolve each issue and this is just to illustrate. If someone is able to point out how this is carried out, I will be really grateful.
Deep Mindfulness → deep awareness of pain/trauma → Cultivate Equanimity to respond calmly
Deep Mindfulness → diffused awareness → Cultivate Concentration & Tranquility(?)
Metta Concentration → indifferent to feelings → Cultivate Equanimity(?)
Metta Concentration → Only feeling joy → Cultivate Mindfulness(?)
Emptyness Contemplation → seeing everything as empty → Cultivate Joy(?)

What to do during a dark night?

During dark night you can either try to strengthen the normal state and exit from the dark night. Or you can try to cultivate meditative state and re-calibrate it for daily life. I think we can refer to the well known teachers on this case.
ex: Daniel Ingram’s work

Irrational fears come from lack of knowledge in any situation. There is an imbalance in the practice here between wisdom and meditation. There needs to be a sutta reference structure to support the practice:

" Lending ear, he hears (reads) the Dhamma. Hearing the Dhamma, he remembers it. Remembering it, he penetrates the meaning of those dhammas. Penetrating the meaning, he comes to an agreement through pondering those dhammas. There being an agreement through pondering those dhammas, desire arises. With the arising of desire, he becomes willing. Willing, he contemplates (lit: “weighs,” “compares”). Contemplating, he makes an exertion. Exerting himself, he both realizes the ultimate meaning of the truth with his body and sees by penetrating it with discernment."

—Majjhima Nikaya 95

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Good advice!

Here’s a verse from the Dhammapada:

The cankers cease for those mindful and clearly comprehending ones who always earnestly practice mindfulness of the body, who do not resort to what should not be done, and steadfastly pursue what should be done.

The main thing I’d urge you is that this is purely a modern idea about meditation. Obviously people are talking about their own experiences, but if it was something that is fundamental or necessary, then Buddha would have talked about it. If you are not experiencing anything like this, then great, just keep meditating. The important thing is that your practice is grounded in reality, in mindfulness and clarity. Don’t worry too much about what people say.


In Vesali Sutta SN 54.9 (Vesali Sutta: At Vesali), it is described that some monks have become disgusted and displeased with their bodies due to contemplation of Asuba(unattractiveness). Although it is not explicitly stated, their meditation altered their views negatively.

Here is another example.(https://mahamevnawa.lk/en/perception-on-skeleton/)

The monk met a woman on the way when she was running away from her husband; she smiled at the monk and walked away. Her husband who followed the woman met with the monk and enquired whether the monk had seen a woman. The monk replied saying that “I saw a skeleton; did not know whether a man or a woman”. This incident, reported in the ancient writings, illustrates disciplining the eye by practicing atṭhika saññā.

This tends to show that meditation can bleed over. It’s to what extent life is affected and in what way it is affected that is up to discussion. As I already said before this effect can be positive and full-filling.
Perhaps in my opinion ancient meditative tradition have formed particular ways to create a positive effect and have remedies in case of negative effects.
In contrast modern traditions seem to invent or create new(?) meditation practices and are particularly bad at remedying negative effects.

this is in fact a 15th century idea originating in the spanish christian mystic St John of the cross:

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings
–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised
–oh, happy chance!–
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my

This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me–
A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

translation from Dark Night of the Soul - Wikipedia

So it describes a sort of avijja - illumination pattern that is perfectly compatible (sans the personification of god which can be interpreted as romantic allegory rather than metaphysical claim) with the Buddhist path.

The Chinese have a similar trope in the “hear became like dead ashes” idea.

Basically if you realize that the world and your body and all the sensual pleasures you value are doomed and worthless, you are in the “long dark night” until you trancend your attachment and achieve enlightenment (Buddha), the “way” (Chinese) or “union” (Christianity).

From the wikipedia article:

The Ascent of Mount Carmel is divided into three books that reflect the two phases of the dark night. The first is a purification of the senses (titled “The Active Night of the Senses”). The second and third books describe the more intense purification of the spirit (titled “The Active Night of the Spirit”).[5] The active purgation of the senses comprises the first of the classical three stages of the mystical journey, followed by those of illumination and then union. The passive purgation of the spirit takes place between illumination and full union, when the presence of God has already been felt but is not stable



In Samyutta Nikaya 54.9 the Buddha’s instruction to the monks was to take up anapanasati meditation to counter the effects of too much focus on foulness of the body. Anapanasati is a life-affirming subject so a balancing factor was applied.

The story of the monk who saw a skeleton is recorded in Visuddhimagga 1.55.


The story of the monk who saw a skeleton is recorded in Visuddhimgga 1.55.

Thank you. I tried but couldn’t remember where I heard it from.

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Just to propose a framework for the understanding of the term (I’m missing such a type of explanation/rendering/framing in the opening post):

From wikipedia, section “notes”:

Ronald W. Pies:

The phrase, “dark night of the soul” is often used informally to describe an extremely difficult and painful period in one’s life, for example, after the death of a loved one; the break-up of a marriage; or the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. For many, the loneliness, isolation and fear associated with the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic is, indeed, a dark night of the soul. There is nothing wrong with these informal usages, and they have obvious links to the concepts of demoralization and despair, as we have defined them. But they differ significantly from the original meaning and context of the phrase, as first conceived by the Spanish mystic, John of the Cross (1541-1597 AD).[9]


Thanks for this post, I found it interesting reading. I have never heard of the “Dark Night Stage” before, and the concept is intriguing.

I don’t think I have ever experienced this. The closest would be many years ago when I was in my twenties and I was watching a woman buying a Christmas gift from a department store. I don’t know how I knew, but somehow I sensed this woman wasn’t rich (perhaps from the clothes she wore) and yet she was spending money on a present. To most of us, what she purchased would have been insignificant in terms of price, but I gathered it was a significant purchase for her, just from the way she was hesitant about it all, and her sense of half regret in giving the money.

That seemingly inconsequential observation triggered a whole flood of thoughts in me. With a wave of realisation that flooded me, I extrapolated from her condition, the act of purchase, the sacrifice (?) she was making, the happiness that the gift will no doubt bring … all that into a realisation of the impermanence of it all. Everything, the gift, the happiness, the regret, her life, my life, it was then that I truly understood what dukkha and samsara was.

This was quite a lot for someone in their twenties to process, seemingly in the prime of their life, and at the beginning of their adult life. I think I spent most of that Christmas somewhat depressed, and I never really accepted it until much later.

Anyway, to go back to your post, I agree that eventually the meditative states may well blend into the “normal” state, into our daily lifes, our conscious thoughts, and eventually our subconscious thoughts and perhaps into our dreams.

My best illustration of this is the āruppamānasaṁ (non-material thought) state of nevasaññanāsaññāyatanacitta (the consciousness pertaining to the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception).

When I first read about this, I couldn’t even figure out what it meant. But when I first experienced it, I suddenly realised what it was. It’s effectively “no thoughts” - our mind is in “idle gear” with each mind-moment not generating any conscious thought process at all, therefore we are neither “perceiving” nor “non-perceiving”.

After I have experienced this, I was also able to experience this in my subconscious and indeed in my dreams. I have lucid dreams (I am aware that I am dreaming) for most of my life, but lately, in the last year or so, I discovered I can partially control my dream. Ie., I can pause, rewind, fastforward and replay my dreams. I can also change the dream subject and guide my subconscious to a different path.

What I discovered was I can achieve the nevasaññanāsaññāyatanacitta state in my dreams. Effectively my subconscious becomes stuck in an “infinite loop” not generating any thoughts at all, but my conscious mind is aware of this and monitoring the thoughts not forming. It’s a very interesting state - neither pleasant nor unpleasant.

Anyway, thanks again for the interesting post.


No need to speculate.

The OP is almost certainly referring to Daniel Ingram’s colorful riff on the Vsm’s “Knowledge of Dukkha”


THX Venerable :slight_smile: - but I think I’ll stay as a lay w.r. to Ingram’s text, so I’m not aware of his constructs. Anyway I found it interesting that the label/the meme “dark night of soul” is somehow common - and even since centuries - when I looked around.

Ayoniso manasikāra :wink:

Hello. Well dosing the fundamental meditation techniques: mindfulness according to the 4 frames of reference, bhavana on certain key- topics, breathing meditation and metta can help. Of course it can be counterproductive to practise too much asubabhavana (yet now & then I felt great lightness of being while practising it).
Asubabhavana can (should?) be preceded and followed by focusing on breath or any other meditative support (kammatthana) susceptible of relaxing the heart-mind and consequently the “body of flesh” ( between quotation marks since manomaya kaya is also a “body”).

Hi…dark night of “the soul”… What’s such “soul” ?

* Buddhist meditation.


Yes, of course that is true! :slight_smile:

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Why not ask the term-creating specialist:

(the conceiver of the term has a wikipedia-entry as well)

If you like to take another definition: then you likely diverge from the use of the term and the author’s understanding/intention …

I neither diverge nor converge for both would imply waste of time & energy.

Since John of the Cross was a Christian very concerned with the fate of his soul, and the Buddha spent a lot of time explaining how there isn’t a soul, there probably is not a lot of overlap.