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Buddhism | The Truth of It

I wrote this on April 23, 2009. This is part of my Meditation Journal where you can find dozens of more posts like this.

[Updated on 14 July 2023]

I’m not Buddhist per se. I’ve never been. I might have thought I was during a time years ago – but that was ignorance about what I was doing. Meditating in the way of Vipassana doesn’t make one Buddhist. Reading Buddhist texts doesn’t make one Buddhist.

Learning about Buddhism doesn’t make one Buddhist. Being Buddhist means believing in Buddhism. This is something I’ve not yet done.

I’ve not believed in anything since I gave up on Christianity and the god of the bible. I’ve studied lots of religions – isms… with beliefs that usually required faith of some sort. Faith to me is impossible in any circumstance. I gave it up as I left Christianity.

I’ve recognized over the past 20 years since then that faith has no role in my life. One can live by objective reality and what one experiences. No more is needed. I don’t need to believe in a savior outside of myself.

There doesn’t need to be some god waiting to make things better in the end. I’m OK with any scenario after I die – or here as I live.

I’ve read a lot about meditation. Not a lot about Buddhism. I’ve skipped that mostly. I’ve not wanted to know someone’s idea of what was necessary to find truth outside of the physical act of meditation. I don’t believe that the Buddha was anyone special.

I don’t believe that the teachers that taught Buddha the levels of Jhana were anyone special. I don’t look up to anyone. I don’t have any heroes. I don’t have any need for affiliation with a certain group, religious or otherwise. I just don’t have those needs like most people do. Why? I don’t know – that’s just ‘me’. Maybe it’s you too?

I meditated for just under a year back around 1997. I sat and watched the breath. The body calmed. The mind calmed. The mind stopped. Thoughts stopped. The world stopped. Jhanas came rather easily from what I’ve been told from monks here in Thailand.

Apparently, most people have a heck of a time reaching them. They came just naturally for me. I have a theory about ‘why’ that happened.

Briefly, it’s because I didn’t believe anything about Buddhism beforehand. I didn’t try to follow some magic formula. I didn’t follow the rules of Buddhism. I didn’t follow a teacher or a book or anything. I just sat and watched the breath.

When it calmed I watched the calm breath. When it felt like it stopped – I watched that. I watched the mind struggle with the idea that the breath stopped. I watched the mind calm back down…

I watched the mind enter Jhana levels. All eight are familiar to me. I’ve been there. I’ve seen the 8th Jhana – I don’t know how deeply I was in it as I have not become a “never returner” and I am not an enlightened person.

I still have the silliness of ego and yet I’ve been changed – without a doubt – irreversibly I guess – because I am not the same person.

When I ran from meditation it was from fear. Fear of going too fast. Fear of losing my mind – in a mental health non-productive way so to speak. I was studying for my masters in psychology and the things I experienced during meditation and afterward were very similar to symptoms of someone losing their mind.

I’ve since come to understand that the Western view of the mind is quite different from the Eastern one. I was told by monks that the experiences were normal and advanced and nothing to be afraid of.

Still, even knowing the Jhanas and other experiences that came during concentrated meditation were normal – the ego was disappearing so suddenly, and the personality change that accompanied that destroyed a marriage very quickly, and put me on a strange course of life.

So – I ran for 6-7 years or so. Ran away from meditation. I built up the ego again – as much as possible. I didn’t meditate at all for many years. I’ve since restarted to some degree, living here in Thailand and coming to grips with the idiotic things I did with my life after running away from meditation.

And I’ve meditated again here sometimes. Jhanas have come easily and immediately. It seems that when I became quiet and sat – the mind followed very quickly. Currently, I seem to be experiencing a strange state where there is nothing underneath the mind candy of the day when I do decide to be quiet and stop all incoming noise.

What I mean is – if I stop typing now, and just listen. There is nothing. The mind is active, calm, and at peace… There’s nothing flying around in the mind about wants, needs, pain, past, and future. It’s just as if the present moment is everything there is. Thoughts are gone.

Occasionally thoughts can come – but, they’re just noted and they go. Sounds – of chickens outside are noted, let go. Cars passing outside, the drapes blowing in the wind, a twinge of neck or back pain – just noted and gone as quickly as they came. Not noted by the conscious – rather, by something else.

Or maybe by nothing else? Not sure how that could be since something must experience something of the object before it goes.

I guess it’s kind of like a reflective board. The “me” has become like a mirror… the sound of the chicken comes in the ear, rattles the eardrum, the mind doesn’t move – the sound bounces off the mind and goes back out the ear – reflected and unchanged.

That’s what it seems like. All sensory objects seem to be doing this in this state.

Before this – (before the end of last year) meditation was the best way to get into this state. Now – it’s just the underlying state all the time. If I’m not quiet throughout the entire day then I experience it at night when I’m quiet.

There’s nothing to distract – no mind candy-like music to bounce around in my head. When it’s quiet – it’s deathly quiet. There’s nothing really.

What a very odd state.

So, getting around to what I wanted to write about today…

This idea of Buddhism as having some truth never really mattered to me. I suspected that it did have some amount of truth in it because immediately my meditation seemed to have changed me. Changed the ego. Changed everything.

My entire perspective on life changed after entering Jhanas even for the first time. After the hundredth time or whatever number – there has been a profound change. Buddhism says that meditation is a path to enlightenment. Is that true? I’ve still no idea, but it’s something I’ve started to ask myself.

There is a Western monk that has written a couple of things – or talked about a couple of things and others have transcribed his talks… that I’ve become interested in as a resource to help me answer my question about Buddhism having any truth.

The things he says – sometimes hit me right on. It’s like he’s talking about me and what I’ve experienced already. And yet there’s more. I’m not a finished product. I know this – but, I didn’t know why really. I mean, I know why – I ran as fast as I could away from this powerful meditation and the process that was going on.

Only recently I’ve begun to wonder – what is next? What is the point of staying in this present state when it seems so unfinished?

So, I’ve read some of his ideas. His name is Ajahn Brahmavamso.

I’ve cut and pasted a long article (below) he wrote about Deep Insight that was really something amazing to me. It was amazing because it hit home with me. He talks of the Jhanas in a way that I agree with totally.

He talks about the states that occur before entering Jhana and then that state that occurs as one leaves the Jhana. He talks about insight being best practiced while in the state upon exit of Jhana.

I was amazed that he knew this much about it. I’ve experienced just what he says to be true of the state upon exit… and it was nice to read about what he felt like after coming out of Jhana – the peace, the serenity that lasts, sometimes for days – is just so other-worldly.

It was so nice to read he had experienced that as there are so few people that can write about it – or that do write about it maybe, with authority.

It was great to read that he thought he might be enlightened after coming out of a particularly powerful Jhana session that left him in a changed state that lasted overnight. It really does feel like that – and of course, one asks of the self – am I enlightened – and there’s no answer.

How could there be? Who knows what enlightenment is until it’s felt?

So I found this talk extremely interesting for that aspect of it. Then, as I read more I began to understand something about Buddhism that I hadn’t cared to learn about before. All the Pali and Sanskrit words that I never bothered to learn and refused to say… I read about some of them. I thought that maybe the Buddhists have something here.

Ajahn Brahmavamso said that the best way to reach insight into the truth of the world is that upon exiting the Jhanas one can look at the truth about life… Namely one can look at Impermanence (anicca), Suffering (Dukkha), and Not Self (anatta) while in that state.

He then went on to go further into what it meant to look at each of these and gave some further explanation.

I’d not done any purposeful focus on anything related to these things before – and yet, there was a natural inclination of my mind to focus on these things to some degree after I came out of the Jhana states as I did.

I wanted my experience with meditation, with whatever happens to be as pure as possible without being influenced by what I thought should happen or by what others thought should happen.

In this way, all the Jhanas came naturally. I never manipulated the Jhanas by focusing on something in particular or not – the way that he says to do so in the following description of Jhanas. I didn’t want that. To me – the entire idea behind going further with meditation was that one “let’s go”.

That is the crucial piece of the puzzle that I held onto throughout my practice. Let it all go. Nothing is worth attaching to that pops into the mind.

I didn’t want to know that meditation teachers thought I should focus on this or that because I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to let the natural process take place however that came about.

So, in this sense – I was successful at what I thought could work. I let go of any teaching other than focusing on the breath until the mind stopped. At that point, I noted things as they came up and let them go.

During the day when I wasn’t meditating, I tried to be mindful of the present moment like Thich Nhat Hanh taught. That’s all I did. That was the essence of what I thought I needed to experience.

And, it worked. So far so good.

Now, I find myself in this strange state. There is nothing underneath the acting of the mind and body that takes place every day. When I stop – there is nothing in the mind. It’s empty. It’s a mirror reflecting back out objects as they come and hit the mirror.

What to do with this? Anything?

I was wondering if perhaps I should now use some of what I’ve learned about Buddhism from this teacher and contemplate anicca, Dukkha, and anatta with that quiet state of the mind.

Should I now abandon my tried and true method for going further into the process?

It seems to be rolling along on its own – but, should I now take it and direct it somewhat? Should I purposefully look at these things – to find out the truth about them?

That’s the question. The answer is – yes, I’ll do it just for the sake of doing it. If it works – wow. I’ll have learned something. If not – no matter. No point in not trying since I’ve read it already! Ha!

So the point of this journal entry is to tell you that I’m likely going to put this into practice and see what comes of it – if anything. Not attached to the idea that something will or won’t. But, it’s something to do. Ajahn Brahmavamso apparently has gone through these things on his own.

Has he become enlightened? I don’t know him. I’ve not met him. I’d probably not know if I did meet him. I just feel something good about him because he has had very similar experiences to me. That in itself is quite amazing. Maybe there’s more I can learn.

I think there is more truth in Buddhism – in their beliefs, but before this, I wanted to find out entirely on my own. If I use this bit of a cheat to examine impermanence, and suffering and it works – then I’ll adopt it into my beliefs. If not – I’ll go about it the same way I was, without guidance, just watching, noting, letting go and being mindful during the day.

Oh, a note – if you do read the transcribed talk below… I DON’T agree with him about the “fermented fish curry” being something not delicious! It’s called, Bla-rah or bla-lah here in Thailand and it’s spicy and quite delicious once you’ve acquired a taste for it.

It’s exceptional really, and one of the things I’m not looking forward to not having if I return to the states.?? 🙂

Have a great day!

Vern

This is part of my Meditation Journal where you can find dozens of more posts like this.

* * *

I was just thinking that it would be good for me to put down in writing some sort of timeline for the way things have happened for me since starting meditation. Often times people read this journal and don’t understand why I have a girlfriend (wife) and live with her here in Thailand – aren’t I close to enlightenment? Do I need a girlfriend? Do I need sex? This might clear it up a bit. The experiences started a long time ago. I quit meditating for years and then recently have begun again. Having a girlfriend or not having a girlfriend is neither here nor there. I can have one. I may not have one. No matter. If tomorrow we go our separate ways, no matter… I’ve had such a wonderful experience knowing her and we’ve had great times… but if she is here – wonderful. If not – it’s not devastating.

Whether I’m close to enlightenment is anyone’s guess. I stopped guessing as I don’t care anymore. Enlightenment, if it’s to be – will probably not be earth shattering. I’ve seen a lot already. I’ve had glimpses of it. It will likely be anticlimactic and won’t matter when it happens.

Anyway – here is a timeline of things as they occurred. Dates are there if I can remember them. It does go in succession earliest events to most recent.

1995 Read some books by Jiddu Krishnamurti, Thich Nhat Hanh, a few Zen books.

1995 December Went to visit wife’s family in Gibson City, Illinois. She’s Thai. Her dad and mother were born and raised in Thailand and emmigrated to USA so he could become a surgeon – which he did. He showed me meditation, introduced me to Forest Meditation ways, sitting meditation, Jack Kornfield books, Buddhadassa Bhikku, Ajahn Chah, and S.N. Goenka’s book about Vipassana Meditation. We meditated a few times and he taught me basics of Anapanasati.

1996 After reading Vipassana Meditation book by S.N. Goenka I started to sit regularly for 15-30 minutes on the floor in a half lotus position.

During 10 months of this I was able to find various levels of concentration… by focusing on the breath. At times I could concentrate on 100 breaths or whatever number I chose. When Igot tot that point I changed the meditation to focus on what arose – whatever sensory objects occurred. Sometimes it was breath, sometimes pain, sometimes there was nothing at all – it felt as if I had died or the ego had died completely.

I had many weird experiences during these months – and no teacher. I wasn’t Buddhist. I wasn’t anything. I was a guy that was just trying meditation by himself – along the lines of what the Buddha did.

I became a bit concerned by the bizarre experiences. They were fantastic and bizarre and I didn’t know – was I becoming mentally unstable – or was this natural? Normal? I looked for answers from monks living in the USA at Thai Buddhist temples (Theravadan monks) and many other resources. Nothing explained the depth of my experiences. I could find nothing written about the detailed experiences of Jhana and other things that were going on inside me.

Scared I was “losing my mind” – which I was, but in a good way I found out later – I abandoned all meditation practice and ran AWAY from it. I read nothing. I didn’t sit anymore. I practiced no mindfulness.

Immediately the process that used to happen ONLY during meditation sessions began happening at any time I was awake. I’d be walking in the park, driving a car, working, whatever – and I’d slip into a state of pure experience – where the mind was absent. It stopped. There was no naming of anything – just pure experience of things as they were. The process seemed to be going on by itself. The “Letting go” or running from the process seemed to have started it in earnest – much more intense than it was before. This went on for months – well, years – but for months very often a few times a day down to it’s present level of once every couple days on average.

1997-2004 No meditation or mindfulness practice. The process still came sometimes and I didn’t push it away – but I didn’t encourage it – I just ignored it and let it happen and go away. It came and went over the years as it did without any input or reaction from me.

2004. I finally found SantiKaro – an ex-Buddhist monk that told me he thought my experiences sounded like Jhana. They were normal experiences. I was amazed that the experiences were normal. I meditated a couple times to see – could the mind easily stop like before as I sat? It did. It came very easily compared to when I first started to meditate so many years ago.

2004 November I moved to Thailand. I met with some senior monks who told me the experiences were Jhana and that I could continue to practice with them at the temple. I declined. I started meditating a little bit – nothing regular – but if the process came to me – I’d sit and watch what happened, not attaching to it – just watch. Sometimes I’d sit and focus on breath. When the mind calmed, then stopped I’d watch other sense objects – pain, heat, thought if it popped up, sounds, etc.

2007 I was living near a temple in Krabi Thailand that had a long flight of stairs to walk up. So, I’d walk up for exercise a couple times a week. Then daily. Sometimes I’d meditate at the top. I began having some intense experiences, one of which was a period of over 6 hours of no thought – no ego – no emotion – no drives – no ambition – no anything… It occured at the top of the mountain – and lasted the whole day and evening. I’ve detailed it here on the journal somewhere.

Recently (2008) when I’ve sat to meditate I notice that there is no ‘watcher’ to watch the breath at all. To watch the breath – to focus on it requires something that isn’t inside anymore. It’s gone for some reason. There is none of the usual thing that watches breath when there is silence.

When there’s silence now – when I let the mind stop – and just watch – there is nothing watching. There is just silence – the most profound silence. Stillness.

It’s as if I’m in that state – where there is no time, no wanting, no being, no happiness or unhappiness – no dichotomy. Nothing is running through the mind filter – it’s just pure. Nothing is changed by the mind – just experienced as it comes up and goes away… rising and falling of different objects are noticed…

That can go on as long as I let it – but usually I just sit 30 minutes or so and then get up and do whatever I felt like doing.

That’s the state I’m in now. While the mind is working – doing things during the day – it is active and does them. When I stop mind candy coming in – music, computer, doing something – there is absolute stillness of the mind immediately. It’s quite odd!

I’ve been thinking to get a bicycle and roam around to temples here during the day and sit when I felt like it and be mindful of the stillness the rest of the time. I’d like to keep a journal of some sort – but usually when I get in any kind of regular practice the desire to keep a journal of any sort disappears quickly. There’s just no motivation in that state to be recording anything – to be doing anything – what is it worth? What is the purpose? Now I can see the purpose – to share it – but, in that state – when it’s so silent and any doing – is not worth it – it’s impossible to contradict it and record something consistently.

I went for months without writing in my journal after about 5 months of meditation because the urge to record disappeared. I think the same would happen this time.

😛

So – as it is today I’ll use the restroom and eat my bananas, drink my instant coffee and walk up the temple steps. That’s what’s planned. If it happens – great. If not – no matter.

Not sure if there will be any decision to go mobile and live at the temples for a while, guess we’ll see what happens. There’s no feeling that I need to. Yet no feeling that I need to continue in this way – working on internet and going about life in the way I have for the past year either. Sometimes I think that this might be a good chance to let it all go for a few months and see what occurs. Sometimes I think – no matter, can do that anywhere.

Sometimes I think – and sometimes I don’t.

What if I was just quiet for an entire day? 2-weeks? 10 months?

 

1 thought on “Buddhism | The Truth of It”

  1. It’s amazing that you went all the way to where you are now with almost no guidance. I do agree that we should be free from any expectations of how things should be when we meditate and what we should do in order to get enlightened.

    It’s a personal journey of trials and mistakes.

    But at the same time I think that it still might be useful to get some directions to follow and see if it works for us while staying free from any ideas of how it SHOULD be. Otherwise, it’s very easy to get lost. So I think it’s good that you decided to give it a try and contemplate on Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta.

    On my side, I found the explanations of these three words on this website to be very helpful:
    Pure Dhamma.

    The author is a retired physics professor from the US who seems to have grasped the concepts very well.

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