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Thread: NDE, Meditation & "Jhana Practice"

  1. #1
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    NDE, Meditation & "Jhana Practice"

    We learned that Ed and Jerrod both had NDE, and they both spoke of "jhana practice" rather than just meditation practice. It is good to demystify "jhana". NDE is not a common experience, and not all who reported NDE meditates in the Buddhist way. Rarer still are those who reported and shared true jhana experience. Anyone else out there who has similar experience to share?

    An immediate question is: how does NDE help a yogi to access jhana. Furthermore, how might the combine experiences of NDE/jhana help a Buddhist to break the first three lower fetters and so enter the stream?

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    Administrator/ 5 Precept Keeper Senior Member Jerrod Lopes's Avatar
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    Franz,

    My answers to your last two questions.

    NDEs, especially multiple ones that are very similar, lead one to believe that this may be the way death occurs in the mind. If it is a blissful process, then letting go of life surely trumps fear of the unknown during meditation. Many of us experience this fear and can't develop the jhanas because we are fearful, and thus controlling, rigid. Continued jhana can provide the clarity to develop wisdom enough to let go of those fetters. Likewise, the fearlessness that grows from an NDE, like jhanas, allows the fetters to break because it is so much easier to love when you're not afraid of rejection, when the disguise of your imaginary self is torn down and the truth of you is exposed. Personally, I see the jhanas as a near NDE. Jhanas, dying, just two different words for the same process. We can pick nits and say 1st, 2nd, 3rd jhanas..., NDE, near NDE, brain death... it's the same process on a shorter or longer timeline. It is letting the mind free of pain, thought, disturbance. The chance just to know being and nothing else.

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    Senior Member Mara Pacers's Avatar
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    Hi Franz,

    What I found most useful from my NDE, from the perspective of Buddhist practice, was the ability to let go. Like Jerrod says, it has to do with passing fear. Once you travel through it to the end, it looses all its fettering power. Eg. When I realised I was "dead" i.e. that life was over and leaving my body and my self behind, I also realised that the choices that I had made in my life were governed by fear, by the cultural expectations etc, and that that was a stupid way to live > I had regrets. Actually it was these regrets that CAUSED me to want to continue living so that I could set some things right - I wasn't finished with life.

    When I survived, like a miracle, it was natural to want to live in a way that did not accumulate regrets - basically by the 8 fold path. Renunciation was seen as the removal of burdens, and the delusions regarding self and expectations and earthly frameworks for life became mostly transparent.

    It is this freedom from the tether of fear, is the only similarity that I found with Jhana. I'm not really very fussed about 'achievements' of Jhanas etc. if they come fine, if not, one can still progress along the path. Given my limited experience, at the moment I think that the more detailed the description of the stages/prescriptions regarding Jhana, the more misleading it can be. There is much variation, and the conscious pursuit of it mostly gets in the way.

    Sorry regarding the jumbled and unclear response.

    In retrospect, and now that I have greater appreciation of the Dhamma, I can see a parallel between my NDE and the operation of Kamma and how desire can draw one back into human life.

    For me, the gifts from my experiences are the ability to live relatively free of fear, and to have lost any fear of death. I'm actually looking forward to it - though in no rush to speed it up. I know that when the time comes and my body loses the capacity to sustain life, that my conditioned self will be prone to fear and clinging, so I do consciously practice a response to that anticipated fear - and that is to actively detach from clinging, to self to body to experience/physical sensation. This in turn gives me confidence, that I hopefully have created a new habitual response to anticipating death. This level of detachment is more than what I can sustain on a daily basis, as I am still struggling to reconcile living in this world - being of this world- and realizing that this world is wholly mind made.

    I'm not wise enough to know if this post may be useful to someone or not. Please forgive me if I have spoken unskillfilly, and Jerrod, as moderator, feel free to delete this post.

    With Metta

    Mara

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    Sadhu sadhu sadhu Mara

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    Administrator/ 5 Precept Keeper Senior Member Jerrod Lopes's Avatar
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    Mara,

    Thank you. I always enjoy your posts so far!

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    HCF between NDE & Jhana

    Hi Mara,

    I agree that the "enhanced ability to Let Go" is a most significant benefit for Buddhists who have NDE; and also a reminder for Buddhists who never had one. Letting Go is never easy. The attractions of the world and our thirst for "experiences" are too powerfully entrenched. That's Āsava, outflow of the consciousness. Neither nibbidā (disenchantment, revulsion) nor virāga (dispassion) with sufficient strength come easy. My reading of AN 8.53 "The Dhamma in Brief" made me appreciate the importance of cultivating nibbidā & virāga.

    I am mindful that Buddhists practice meditation not to get the nimitta, nor to attain jhana. They are merely intermediate milestones along the eightfold noble path. Our goal and the aim must always be the Third Noble Truth: Cessation of Dukkha, ending rebirth.

    My interest is in identifying the Highest Common Factor between NDE and Jhana (HCF - borrowing the term from basic math). To me it is the shutting down of the 5-senses. This fact can have practical application, if even just once. And that was the question I asked Ajahn Brahm.

    NDE is still a traumatic event, albeit a strangely "positive" one according to most survivors. I don't wish to get a taste of NDE myself to reap the benefit, better to go through the route of jhana.

    Metta, Franz

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    Administrator/ 5 Precept Keeper Senior Member Jerrod Lopes's Avatar
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    Franz,

    My experience invariably has shown me that nature knows better than any human concept. My view is that the calmness, bliss and clarity experienced in jhana or NDE serves the same purpose: to alleviate or destroy the overwhelming stress and sadness one experiences upon letting go of the grand illusion. Realizing truth as it is is no picnic. Without the benefit of jhana, my view is that many practitioners would succumb to the gut-wrenching depression that comes with the loss of the grand illusion. Surely there are other benefits, but it is one process we have coveniently broken up into chunks to allow our narrow scope of reality to deal with. Simply put, jhana is the replacement for all the bullshit we comfort and insulate ourselves with otherwise.The HCF could then be not only the stark lack of negative experience, but the absolute inability to perceive negative experience. Be well. : )

  8. #8
    The Seven Rules for Attaining Jhana:

    1. A quiet secluded dwelling
    2. Not in your old place, a new place conducive to practice with food and shelter available
    3. No worldly affairs should be discussed, only Dhamma questions relating to your direct practice.
    4. Live with others who are practicing seriously.
    5. Eat just enough to keep up your energy to practice.
    6. Climate must be suitable.
    7. Remain engaged as much as possible in either sitting or walking meditation.

    Ten hindrances to jhana:

    The principle underlying this list is that release from worldly obligations frees one for single-minded pursuit of meditation. This is purification in the sense of freeing the mind from affairs that might disturb it.

    1) any fixed dwelling place if its upkeep is the cause of worry,
    (2) family, if their welfare causes concern,
    (3) accruing gifts or reputation which involves spending time with admirers,
    (4) a following of students or being occupied with teaching,
    (5) activities or projects, having “something to do.”
    (6) traveling about,
    (7) people dear to one whose needs demand attention,
    (8) illness involving treatment,
    (9) theoretical studies unaccompanied by practice,
    (10) supernormal psychic powers, the practice of which becomes more interesting than meditation.
    “Here are roots of trees, here are empty huts – practice jhana! Do not be negligent! Do not regret it later!” - Buddha

  9. #9
    This is an interesting thread. I have assumed (or maybe been told or read it somewhere) that it is not necessary to attain jhana in order to have direct realization of the supreme insights of:

    1) impermanence
    2) suffering (stress)
    3) not self

    I don't try to attain jhana because I've read that the desire for attainment is an obstacle to the same.
    That said, I did once experience what I think is the beautiful breath, and in that experience I did not see a nimitta but rather had a feeling of the breath that is compared in the commentaries to the sensation of spinning cotton (if anyone is familiar---I don't have a reference handy).
    Another time as I meditated, the breath profoundly internalized and when I described the details of this experience to an elderly, senior monk, he said that it was called "Riding the wave" and then told a story from the time of Buddha in which the Buddha sustained himself on this type of breath during a rainly season in which he was unable to procure alms food.
    Experiences come and go. Is it really true that one must follow the path of jhanas in order to Enter the Stream and join the pairs of Noble Ones?
    Ed, I appreciate your post on the Rules to Attain and the Hindrances regarding jhanas. It really sunk in after reading that, as to why it is so difficult in my current lay situation to build a steady momentum in practice. Family duties have increased and progress has certainly slowed as has Right Effort.
    Still, the confidence I have in this practice and in the Dhamma which does not let go of me even in less conducive times, is not wavering.
    Thank you to all who post here. I am grateful for your association.
    Wishing all success in practice,
    ~Marcia

  10. #10
    Hi Marcia,

    From my experience, I did need deep absorption to break through the three characteristics.

    To attain Nibbana, the Buddha said that following and mastering the Eightfold path is necessary. The eighth step of the path, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro, goes like this:

    "And what, monks, is right concentration? There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. (ii) With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of concentration, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance. (iii) With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, 'Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.' (iv) With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This, monks, is called right concentration."

    Mahayana practitioners in America have their own saints and suttas and don't use the Theravada suttas too much (some exceptions), or original Pali translations, and they never speak of jhanas that I know of; they use "Right meditatiion" in a general sense as the 8th step of the eightfold path instead of Jhanas, and then use various interpretations of meditation. When I practiced Soto Zen, for example, they called their meditation Shikantaza (Just sitting) with no details at all regarding the various phases and things that come up and how to handle them.

    The necessity of 1st jhana to enter the stream is debatable. Some say it is. Either coming up in the momentary flash (Path) of stream entry, or as a prerequisite to the flash (Path) itself.

    Regarding full enlightenment, according to many pali scholars, the suttas reinforce that all 4 jhanas are necessary for arahantship.

    You said, "I don't try to attain jhana because I've read that the desire for attainment is an obstacle to the same."

    Please read Ajahm Brahm's book "The basic method of meditation" and your desires will be replaced by actual practice. (If you are really watching your breath 100%, how can you have desires?)

    You never look forward to the next stage of meditation, you only go deeper and deeper into the present stage until the next stage comes up automatically.

    Many people I have run across shun jhanas because you must certainly leave the world of outward activity for a period of time and that is very difficult for most, if not impossible, due to attachment and duties. Easier to remain in the world and just "be aware." But I never had much luck with that, I just stayed stuck. Fortunately, I was somehow able to turn my back on the world and enter monasteries with no regrets or fears and had a lot of time to just still my mind. Once the mind catches on to what is happening, it kind of knows where to go and paces itself so it does not go too fast and off the deep end when you find nothing there anymore, as drugs can do. Deep meditation is safe as long as you have a good teacher, or a very strong, fearless mind, and are able to step back from your every feeling and experience with an overview that transcends the universe. Dust in the wind
    “Here are roots of trees, here are empty huts – practice jhana! Do not be negligent! Do not regret it later!” - Buddha

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