The Light Itself

The Light Itself


Measuring Progress

Along your spiritual journey, you’ll be tempted to evaluate your progress. It’s hard to resist the temptation (I know I can’t), but I put this section last because it’s dangerous. Their is no more fearsome demon than that of self-delusion.

Once you’ve convinced yourself that “you are this” or “you have that”, it’s very difficult to come back. You will be tempted to fall into denial and keep going. That is bigotry, i.e. a belief rooted in ignorance. You will build a prison of misguided certitudes with walls so thick the rest of the Wisdom will bounce right off and you will stop learning. Whenever you think you’ve just made progress, think again. Don’t jump to conclusions. Only consider progress is made once you’ve seen it a hundred times and the excitement of the new discovery is gone. If it is so common that is as part of the “furniture”, you can treat it as progress.

The theravada Path

The Map of Insight

Theravada Buddhism has laid out a map of progress towards Enlightenment in the practice of insight Meditation. I won’t go into details here. I will only highlight the key points. Feel free to research it more on your own.

Your practice will take you through 4 cycles Theravada Buddhism calls Paths. The first Path will lead you to Stream Entry which is the first level of Enlightenment. The main characteristic is that for the first time you will see the illusion of reality. It won’t be permanent, but it will reoccur on its own accord. After a while you will start another Path which will lead you to become a Once Returner. The next Path will make of you an Anagami or None Returner. And finally the fourth and last Path will take you to Arahantship. What each step entails is in my opinion irrelevant at this point. I think you should only care about it once you get there.

Each Path will have you go through series of steps. I will only list the ones that I think are the most important milestones. They are the Arising and Passing Away, what’s commonly called the Dark Night and Fruition. If you want to get more granular and study all the steps, read up on Theravada Buddhism.

The Arising and Passing Away is very different for each individual. It usually happens in the middle of a meditation and it is often trippy in the sense that it involves a flourish of sensations (visions, sounds, lightshows, bliss and so on). After it, you will feel elated, extattic and happy.

The Dark Night is where reality catches up with you to ask for receipts. It’s pretty gloomy. You will doubt and worry you might be making it all up. Your motivation for the practice will drop. It will feel like a depression. You can only wait it out. Look at the bigger picture and keep working.

The Fruition is an event that will happen in your meditation on several consecutive occasions. It is hard to describe. You will feel a dip, as if you were falling. It will feel like reality just stopped and restarted. I recommend you study it, but it’s very confusing, so don’t stress it. Only take Fruition as a signal that you are nearing the end of a Path.

If you see one of these steps, you could be wrong, so only take a mental note (record it in your journal) and keep going. Once you see those three steps back to back, now you have enough evidence to assume you are near the end of a Path. Remember it is only an assumption. Look the demon of self-delusion in the eyes and keep practicing.

the states of consciousness

The Jhana

In the depth of Concentration Meditation, there are 9 states of consciousness that you can attain as laid out by Buddhism: Access Concentration and 8 Jhanas. The Jhana is a state of consciousness where the mind is fully absorbed in the object of concentration. They aren’t exactly a direct indication of progress like the Theravada Map of insight. However, your proficiency at reaching those states of consciousness can be used as an indication of your progress.

Access Concentration is a point in your meditation where your focus is one-pointed. It’s not a state of consciousness per se, but it’s an indication your are ready to enter a deeper state. Each Jhana has a main trait, a sensation that you feel strongly, occluding other sensations. It is your indication that you are there.

Here is a description of the sensations that are characteristic of each Jhana in order:

  1. Joy-Happiness
  2. Happiness
  3. Equanimity (or Contentment)
  4. Stillness
  5. Boundless Space
  6. Boundless Consciousness
  7. Emptiness
  8. Neither sensation, nor non-sensation (or Meta-Sensation as I like to call it)
The Jhana is a big subject and I can only offer this short introduction for now. Be curious and explore! If you research it, be warned that what people mean by Jhana can vary (you might hear people talk about “soft” and “hard” Jhana for instance). It is a mess, but it is to be expected when talking about such an intimate experience. Just keep an open mind and you’ll be fine.