I was writing back and forth with Sister Khema, Bhante Vimalaramsi’s friend at his temple, and I thought I’d post this note I wrote to her.
Hello Sister Khema,
Thank you so much for your response – much appreciated!
I was hoping to meet with you or Bhante to ask some questions in a dialogue that might help me a bit.
In short, my questions are about 2 different areas:
1. Experiencing some of the Abhinnas…
2. Experiencing a stopped mind – as an ongoing thing, as soon as I stop “doing”.
Maybe best to start with #2.
A Little History
From 1998 I have meditated to the point of getting into the 8 Jhanas. I didn’t know what Jhanas were, I was just following a very simple “focus on the breath, refocus on breath” method I distilled from a Vipassana book. By the time I was getting into 7th and 8th Jhana 2 things happened which put me off meditation. 1st – I thought it might be a possibility that I would actually die during meditation.
The 8th Jhana is such a state where it feels like a decision – a very subtle decision about dying (giving up everything)… 2nd – I started to have Jhana while walking around during my days, without any meditation at all. I never knew when it might come, but usually during a quiet moment of walking through a park, or driving, or something where I was quite relaxed.
These incredible states where the mind just gelled with the moment and future and past were not available, just an incredible realization of the present moment… sometimes these states then lasted for hours before drifting off slowly.
I had no teacher through all of this. I had nobody to share with that understood. I went to the Buddhist temples in Tampa, Florida – Palm River, and Carrollwood – and spoke to the monks about the experiences – thinking they might be able to give some guidance.
They didn’t understand… they didn’t understand what it might be… They were Thai – Theravada monks and spoke English to a fairly high degree. They didn’t seem to understand what the states were at all.
I stopped meditation out of fear that what I had gotten myself into – was something that was going to make me go mad in the end. If monks didn’t understand what was going on in my head – maybe I was in a bad place? There was no negative experience at all during the meditation… during jhana… during the states that came as I walked around during daily life, however, to not even know 1 person that was experiencing the same – or, even 1 person that could tell me what it was… was quite frightening during lucid moments, and I decided to run FROM meditation and not look back.
This I did for about 6 years. I didn’t meditate even once in six years… I was afraid it would wreck my life…
Still I searched for someone that could tell me what had happened, just to help me put aside the fears which plagued me over it… was I going mental back then?
In somewhere about June 2004 I was on the internet and found an American monk that had lived in Thailand – at Suan Mokkh temple in Chaiya for years, studying with Buddhadasa Bhikku. He was now in Illinois I think it was at the time.
His name was “Santikaro”. There was a phone number for him. I called it one evening. From Santikaro I learned that the experiences I had were normal, and advanced meditation states known as Jhana. I cried on the phone with him – just the knowing that I wasn’t mentally ill – was quite a nice realization – as you might guess. hahah!
I started reading about Jhana – what I could find online… I found very little.
In November 2004 I arrived in Thailand. I didn’t know what I would do, but I did want to talk to some monks currently at a temple about what was going on during my meditation.
I went to Wat Pah Nanachat in Warin Chamrap, Northeastern Thailand. I spoke with the abbot of the temple, an Australian, that told me my experiences were Jhana and that I could stay at the temple as long as I wished…
I decided not to and moved on, teaching English in Thailand for a bit, and then now just writing books.
I have not meditated much over the years… occasionally I would still sit and watch the breath and get into Jhana – but it wasn’t any regular practice, it was more just to do it as the mood struck. Not that there was any emotional mood, it was more like, without any thought, emotion, wanting, needing, the body of Vern just sat and went into Jhana because all the conditions just seemed right and it was done.
So, about 3 years ago maybe (not really counting), a different state came. It is not a meditative state, it is an all the time state. It is the underlying state that is going on in “me” – all the time. It is always there, it doesn’t shut off.
I’ll try to explain…
Right now I’m writing you an email on the computer. The mind is engaged in that, I can use memory to write, I can use creativity to write… I can type fast on the keyboard and I can do this for as long as is required. I work on the computer daily, I write books and create websites, I can do this all day if I choose. I can choose to work, to run, to climb the stairs up the mountain at a nearby Buddhist temple, to go walking through the wilderness with my 3 year old, etc. I can, at any time, choose to “do” to be something other than the state…
The state is there when I stop “doing” or “being”. It’s there when I stop playing the game of life.
I’ll stop here, right now in the middle of this email to you.
I stopped for 30 seconds and closed my eyes – the state is there. It’s a state of…
No thinking, no thoughts, no reaction to sense objects, no being, no doing, no emotion, no grasping, no memory recall for anything “sensed” by the ears, nose, eyes, body…
It is the absolute flatline state experienced during meditation – but I haven’t meditated on anything to reach it – like breath, I just closed my eyes and it is there. It is always there now, for these past couple years.
The mind has stopped creating thoughts – but the mind is there. I’m conscious. I’m not sleeping. I ‘hear’ the birds outside and the fan blowing. It doesn’t register in my mind as birds or fan though – there is the hearing – but not the naming of the things… there is no thought created about the sensory input that is experienced.
It’s like pure, direct experience of being in the moment… without anything extra like memory, emotion, thought intruding…
In the past Vern needed to sit and focus on the breath at the nostrils and quiet the mind, and then eventually, the mind stopped and no thoughts were taking place… eventually jhana came out of that…
Now, when I close my eyes – there is no need to bring a sense object into it – to focus the mind, to quiet the mind – the mind is as still as a granite mountain… no thoughts, no memory working.
I don’t know what I want to ask Bhante or yourself about this, I guess I more or less want to share it with you…
I have seen some of the videos Bhante has online, and some of the writings about jhana that he has done. They are spot on – with my experience. I haven’t any doubt Bhante knows exactly what Jhana is, and the flavor of it… I haven’t ever met anyone that has experienced Jhana… but I feel comfortable in telling Bhante – you – about things as they are now.
Again, not sure what to ask… i’m open to hearing anything in response, or nothing, up to you.
Best of life to you, and thank you for your time,