Friday, September 21, 2012

Is Infinity Too Much?

     Recently I had a strange and rather harrowing experience which evoked some deep insight, as well as a fair amount of humility. I actually found myself saying NO to Nirvana, to enlightenment, to infinity, to God. 
     Those of you who have read my previous blog post may know that I have been considering the idea, or ideal, of having a wide open heart, feeling that there may be real wisdom in some feminine advice I have been lately receiving. (However, within the past two days I've also received two emails from relatively spiritually-oriented men telling me that my supposed need to be more heart-opened is probably nonsense. It just goes to show, "men are from Mars, women are from Venus.") So, a few nights ago I was deeply investigating my heart, and whatever lurks in that mysterious dark place. I began feeling very intense energy flowing through my chest. It felt as though people, especially people here in the West, have so much inward pain that they cannot bear to look at it, and so it is repressed and hidden in some collective subconscious reservoir---and that it had found an outlet through my heart. It seemed I was in intimate contact with what Eckhart Tolle calls the "pain body." And as a leak in a dike gradually washes away more and more soil, causing the leak to become bigger and bigger and the flow of water to become more and faster, even so the intense rush of energy became more and more painfully intense until it was very near to unbearable.
     I deeply intuited that I should experience this as fully as possible without repressing it or turning away from it, so I stayed with it as well as I could, feeling it and realizing that many people in this world feel this kind of pain very much of the time. As the sensation became more unbearable I began using "Yes" as a kind of mantra, trying to accept the experience as totally as possible---Yes…Yes…Yes…until sometimes I would find myself clinging to the word for dear life, like clinging to a piece of wreckage while floundering in deep seawater. Then I would have to back off from the word Yes, as that itself was a way of distracting myself from the painful intensity in my chest. I was becoming desperate.
     I realized that someone like Jesus, or Neem Karoli Baba, or maybe Ammachi who is alive today in India, or maybe also Gotama Buddha (although the Pali texts describe his orientation somewhat differently) could probably accept this intensity of experience even if it were to increase to infinitude, that their hearts were strong enough and boundless enough to hold it all. But after many minutes of desperate surfing atop the tsunami, I faltered. The pain became too much, and after repeated doubts, renewed repetition of the mantra Yes, and more doubts, I reached a breaking point. I tried to stop it, or at least to distract myself enough to more easily endure it. It wouldn't stop though, and eventually I started essentially praying. As I panted and reeled I thought, "This is too much…I can't do this…it's just too much…please have mercy…" and began silently calling out to God or anyone else who could relieve me of this burden of pain in my heart. Allowing it to flow through my chest was painful, but trying to stop it caused a new agony in a way much worse than what was already there. It was the pain of friction, of shutting down, of saying No to what was happening, to the reality of the moment. I felt that it was a kind of defeat also, an admission that at that moment I was not ready for enlightenment---which is, after all, the experience of infinity. 
     While having these feelings of not being ready another thought occasionally arose: "If not now, when?"
     Also I dearly sympathized with my fellow humans, most of whom probably suffer more than I do, and most of whom have systematically prepared their minds to experience this kind of intensity much less than I have. If I couldn't do it, how could I expect ordinary people living ordinary worldly lives to do it? It seemed like we are all stuck in a kind of purgatory, which, of course, we are. I would have really appreciated a hug or a kind, gentle word.
     What struck me the most at this time was the idea that by saying No to this experience I was essentially saying No to enlightenment; or in theological terms, I was saying No to union with God, as God contains all experiences, including all the suffering in the world, within It. By desperately putting up any barrier I could to protect myself from this intensity of feeling I was also barricading myself against Nirvana, as Nirvana is the transcendence of all barriers and boundaries. I was shutting down, and not only voluntarily admitting defeat, but voluntarily insisting upon defeat. Then again, it is not necessarily defeat to be limited and finite, but it is being only an infinitely small particle of infinity instead of consciously being at one with infinity. Of course, by closing off (or at least trying to close off) to this suffering tending toward an absolute, I was at the same time closing off to the possibility of infinite rapture, infinite beauty, infinite love, and every other limitless blessing there is. It goes both ways.
     Sometimes I would get a glimpse of the idea that being partly closed to begin with was causing much of the pain; if I had been truly wide open all might have been still, like the depths in the middle of the sea. It is said that an enlightened mind enjoys this kind of stillness. But the presence of some incomplete opening and constriction at the beginning was causing the feelings to emerge in a pressurized gush like water from an opened fire hydrant. Even so, I still think an enlightened being could endure much greater intensity than I did, possibly infinite intensity. 
     We put up walls to protect our weakness, but the walls reinforce the weakness; the weakness itself is protected and reinforced. Perhaps if I could have held out and continued saying Yes to the intensity gushing through my chest I would have become enlightened that night...but I was afraid.
     Later on, after the experience had waned and I was able to reflect a little more calmly, I considered the possibility that classical Theravada Buddhism is a system that systematically reduces suffering to zero, but that this other method I had glimpsed was a way of attaining enlightenment in which one increases painfully intense experience until it reaches infinity---which is purified and transmuted through totally accepting it, through saying Yes to it and really, really meaning it. The first method is ultimately easier, and saves "oneself"; however, it is not a realistic method for most people in the West, as most of us are unwilling to follow the method---renouncing the world, being homeless, having no money, greatly restraining our conduct, gradually cultivating refined contemplative states, etc. The other method is more difficult and painful, and requires a very strong heart, but not only saves "oneself" but can also save the world. It involves an acceptance and transmutation of all the suffering in the world through compassion. It does not require renunciation of the world, but whole-hearted acceptance of it. The experience was a difficult trial for me, partly because I've been following the very ancient Indian "reduction to zero" method for many years, for most of my life actually. Ultimately they both wind up at the same state, however, since absolute zero and absolute infinity cannot really be differentiated; they are opposite ends of a spectrum bent into a circle so that the extremes meet. But the two ways follow virtually opposite means.
     If the world is to avert the destruction threatening it by spiritual bankruptcy, selfishness, overpopulation, pollution, disruption of nature, war, new diseases, and so on I feel it will be by this stereotypically feminine approach of compassionately feeling everyone's suffering as well as our own. If we can't accomplish this, then those of us who are able may save ourselves by escaping from the conflagration, with every man for himself, and devil take the hindmost.


  1. Bhante,

    Are experiences such as these something monastics should share publicly?

    1. You know, I generally don't feel much like a "monastic." I feel more like me, a human being; or, when I'm more philosophical, like nobody in particular. Too much, is it?

    2. But, wearing the robes, you designate yourself as a representative of Theravada. That identity is granted on the basis that you follow their rules-- rules which, if I recall correctly, strongly discourages disclosure of attainments to laypeople.

      I don't mean to be critical, I love the post, I just wonder how you rationalize it.

    3. Its seems more like people designate ME as a representative of Theravada. I'm just a guy who's trying to wake up. And especially since returning to the West, willing to help others, if they are available to that.

      As far as I can tell, I didn't break any rules of discipline by sharing this experience with laypeople. The rule is against admitting to the attainment of superhuman mental states (uttarimanussadhamma). If I had actually succeeded in becoming enlightened that night it might have been different! I shared it because someone might find something of value in it, and because if I can't tell it to everybody, who can I tell it to? Thanks for reading the blog, man.

    4. Oh, well, if no rule is broken then when I'm saying is moot.

      And your experience reminds me of psychedelic artist Alex Grey's Ayahuasca experience, where he describes being a 'pain magnet' while on the drug.

  2. Hi Bhante,

    Thank you for having the courage to speak the truth of your experience. It gives me hope that one day I will have the openness to break through the barriers surrounding the heart.

    1. I like this comment a lot, thanks for sharing!!!

  3. Hi David, I couldn't read through your entire diatribe hear because it all sounds like lies to me.

    You have artificially created a hysterical mental condition in order to escape that which you have created.

    You will never wake up through any psychological or mental process.

  4. Wow, what power you have with words. Thank you so much for sharing this!

    You write that by shutting down and saying no to the moment, you were saying no to enlightenment. I couldn't agree more. I know it to be true from my own experiences. Shutting down and saying "no" is the painful part of living. So many of us have been hurt, in many ways the world is a mess and just to survive here and become "sane" takes a certain amount of coping and skill. The one's with the most usually do it the best and slowly make their way "out" of their suffering. it is no wonder we each have unique and interesting ways of saying "no." Yet, to know the truth is to know one's state, and so often one's state is a state of suffering (no matter how delightfully masked it may be.) Then, to experience other suffering (the world's suffering) is also true and right for we are all one!

    I like what you say about the path of deduction to zero. I don't know it for myself but I do know the other approach although am no master yet. You MOVED ME DEEPLY when you wrote:

    "The other method is more difficult and painful, and requires a very strong heart, but not only saves "oneself" but can also save the world. It involves an acceptance and transmutation of all the suffering in the world through compassion. It does not require renunciation of the world, but whole-hearted acceptance of it."

    I hope you don't find me too much of a feminist here when I say I am reminded of the Dalai Lama's words when he said that it may be up to the Western women to save the world. Not because they are exceptionally wise or better than men in any way, but because the method that you describe, the one to infinity, is mostly their method and by virtue of being born to a Western nation have more natural power and freedom to use it to the world's benefit than women born to third world nations still struggling with daily poverty and patriarchy.

    I sincerely appreciate this posting! Bless you for your bravery and your honesty in writing it.

    1. If the Dalai Lama is right about Western women, I think they will have to do it without neglecting the "Divine Masculine," which includes such qualities as courage, a thirst for freedom, and unflinching determination. (Not that women don't have these qualities, just as men may have the "feminine" qualities of gentleness and compassion.)

    2. I agree! I wish there were more divine Masculine and diving Feminine happening here. Compassion, gentleness, courage, strength, a thirst for freedom and a willingness to do what ever it takes for it, and an unflinching determination can be realized in both genders. It starts with numero uno.

  5. Replies
    1. Maybe I should have called it the Bahiya Blog? (Bahiya means "Outsider.")

    2. Being an outsider is a good idea in general I guess. Then one cannot do much wrong. A wise choice.
      Really, Nippapañca seems quite unbefitting as a title for this blog sometimes, methinks. But anyway, I appreciated many of your thoughts as well. May the Dhamma be with you.

    3. By the way I just read the story of Bahiya from the Pali canon:
      "Bhikkhus, Bahiya of the Bark-cloth was a wise man. He practiced according to Dhamma and did not trouble me by disputing about Dhamma. Bhikkhus, Bahiya of the Bark-cloth has attained final Nibbana."
      A great story. I like your taste.

    4. Yeah, the Bahiya Sutta (Udana 1:10) is one of my favorites. I especially like the advice the Buddha gives to Bahiya standing in the street: "In the seen there will be only the seen, in the heard there will be only the heard..."

  6. Hi,

    I just thought I'd drop by and share that I find it very curious that I've also experienced many experiences that you've shared in this blog and also agree with many posts (the glimpses of mindfulness when lifting the bucket, value of discomfort post and now this post). Thanks for the sharing! ;-)

    As I resonated strongly with them, I felt the need to share it with you. The experience described in this specific post is strikingly similar to 3 experiences of these kind. I must say that mine are usually related to fear of death. The last one, I contemplated on death during lying meditation and as the fear and pain came in the heart, I surrendered to them and felt rapture all over the body. That energy stayed for a day and subsided. I feel that contemplation on death really puts things in perspective and urges me to practice.

    Metta to all!

  7. This is one of the most powerful blogs I have ever seen! Be it the origins of Meditation, a strange youth or this one-----the words are dripping with power!!! I am one of those people who discovered the Dharma (albeit in a more Hindu form and Upanishadic Non-dual form and Yogic dual form) after repeated tragedies in my life and in my immediate world...these words are so powerful, with so much resonance!! The only other person whose words moved me so powerfully were my own Guru's when I was first discovering him....He also spoke of the fear of Waking Up/ Merging/Annihilation to a Higher Force......He spoke though more in yogic terms as in nirvikalpa/Nirbija/asamprajanta samadhi is nigh in unbearable......That the whole world dissolves or becomes a sort of bedlam , a samsaric mess with which one cannot connect anymore......At the edge of such impending experience, my Guru also cried out ,saying he cannot take it anymore....If The One,The First Concious Being,Purusha is really there, requested to Him to deliver him

    seeing something very similiar with you is giving me goosebumps!!

    My Guru had this to say about the Moment of Waking Up as you put it!!

    He would rather call Waking Up as Dissolution of the Samsara and folding up of all this mess back into the seed of Emptiness

    See whether these thoughts resonate with you Pannobhaso Sir:

    "The jiva is frightened in this in-between state; that is, by that sheer disconnection alone that Vasistha points to. If not willing to merge with sat-chit-ananda to relieve him of this state, the jiva will claw his way back to "the world" and outwardness. It is like a man setting out across a wild river in a small bark hoping to get to the other side. Just upon starting he finds himself in an overwhelming, unknown and frightening situation (on the wild river) and says: "I don't know if I can make it all the way or what I'll be on the other side. I'd rather turn back." He fears ego-death and the radical alteration of his state as he truly enters into pratyahara (sets out on the wild river). Most will turn back, for many lives, to the security of his body and karma whether from sheer fear or for another reason. At some point the jiva will have a "bodhisattva" moment in which he tells himself: "Gee, I think I'll not end it all and merge with this Atman. After all there are so many souls back in that samsara to save." This is really a delusion, since all those "unsaved souls" were just his own karmic projections and would be burned up in the sat-chit-ananda. But it is a way for him to craft his response, perhaps because of standing before the throne of the luminous Lord -- that he can live with and find acceptable upon turning away."

    This is part of His wider commentary on the Yoga Sutras that can be found out at yogasutras dot com -------(it's a very anonymous website --accessed by a hanful of ppl and a couple of pages blocked for general public--but I thought that this is a good place to share)

    this specific part is from the section called The Problem

  8. regarding your "Let this be a Lesson"---I would argue it's good you had that experience----many Enlightened Hindu Gurus had an experience with the Loss and they became much more powerful Rishis or Yogis because of it...I would rather argue that experience was critical to your development-----I donot signify Loss as in a sense of full blown physical congress but rather in the loss of sexual composure

    Parashar experienced the Loss, Vyasa also, Ramakrishna too, there are enough indications that even Vivekananda experienced the Loss with Irish Sister Nivedita or at least tended to that way (there were times he had wet dreams about her eventhough he was a world famous monk and he used to sit on hot flat cooking plates naked bottom to chastise himself immediately after waking up--there are substantial rumours that he had spontaneous orgasm and ejaculation while seeing Sis Nivedita in waking state)

    Heck even Yogananda and Muktananda experienced the loss....the loss and the muses are there to empower the Yogi on his path...the Yogi gives back with limitless compassion when he reaches the shore....the Holy Life was never meant to be a prim and proper English Garden tea party in Victorian England where everything was regimented.......The path to Infinity is messy....mental gymnasts (scholar monks and attitude yogis ---yogis who think a certain attitude after leaning the text is real nibbana rather than the uncertain holy life as homeless or a forest-dweller) just have to deal with it

    and I donot know Sir why you dinot know this---may be because Buddhism is a rugged lean minimalist Yogic path compared to the big, bloated smorgasboard that is Hinduism.......It is an almost given, that a person, especially a monk, who has sincerely cultivated sexual control and restrained his sexual energy continously for months and sometimes years on end in an unbroken state, is BOUND to attract female attention..It's as if women have a sixth sense to sniff out those best of men...the many sidestories of Hinduism is a testament to this....I guess you may have known this subconciously when trying to go to America just to see "What would happen?"....may be Buddhist texts are a bit weak on the details that relatively unencumbered women tend to go weak in their knees when confronted by a supremely celibate man

    witness the thousands of women who would throng Vivekananda's conferences in US in late 19th century, and most of them were from high aristocratic families

    and who can forget the Rishi about whom that Buddha extolled much?n Vishwamitra----Perhaps the foremost of Vedic Rishis...and he was brought down by a woman ...and that too an apsara... a dancer of the discos of heaven....he became acutely aware of His Loss and redooubled his efforts...became one of the prime composers of the Vedas and Buddha praised him to no end

    All this is not a criticism of your slip-ups Sir but rather an encouragement (though I am sure you have no need for it) seem to have taken a lot of heat lately from those mental gymnasts and attitude yogis...and I want to say....History is peppered with examples of men who achieved the Absolute AFTER their loss and after their awareness of the Loss

    I always saw striving for Nirvana as something supremely heroic...with no fear of annihilation whatsoever...I always thought Sun is one of the purest material manifestation of the Absolute in our Realm...really all our Life revolves around the Sun

    The annihilation of the man/body/small self in front of the Sun/Self/Nibbana is something that was captured in the film Sunshine

    I always thought the moment of Nibbana might be something like this

    youtube dot com/watch?v=hR69EKvcW-4

    May you always be Victorious Sir!

    the Supreme Kshatriya of the Spiritual Realm, Pannobhaso Sir

    1. The Theravadin texts are rather uncompromising in their insistence on "purity of sila." So stories about monks who did not perfectly resist temptation are generally stories of failure and disgrace. But I am of the opinion that one can learn from anything, and that any experience may be a source of wisdom, if one has a receptive, open attitude. Besides having a deep wish fulfilled, I also learned much about the feminine mind and feminine wisdom, and I wound up being reminded of the reasons why I became celibate in the first place. So I have no regrets on that one.

      Incidentally, they say that Yoga teachers in America have as much sex as rock stars.

  9. Continuing with the same theme in the commentary section of the Yoga Sutra site of Julian Lee

    "Another separate Yoga-Sutra verse speaks of this fact and lists how even sages fear making this final sacrifice as a bird fears freedom from its cage.

    Okay That's it---I have to stop here! LOL!

  10. Have you read Mahasi Sayadaw's Progress of Insight? This sounds like your experience might be similar to the dukkha nanas or Dark Night as some people in the West are calling it these days. I have no opinion either way. Just thought I would throw that idea out since no one else commented on it.

    1. I have read a few of Mahasi Sayadaw's books, but I can't remember reading that one.