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Buddhadharma : Summer 2014
SUMMER 2 0 1 4 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 31 S ooner or later it’s going to happen— it might be the very first time you medi- tate or only after years of dedicated prac- tice, but someday you’re going to have a spiritual experience. These experiences come in many forms, ranging from simple tranquility to radiant ecstasy. In their fullest expression, they are spiritual earthquakes that can transform your life. The Tibetan sage Marpa shared one such experience: I was overwhelmed with joy. The hairs on my body stood on end, and I was moved to tears... My body was intoxicated with undefiled bliss... There dawned an experience beyond words. —from The Rain of Wisdom, translated by the Nalanda Translation Committee At more modest levels, they can manifest as the total cessation of thought, an out-of-body experience, or sensations of bliss and clarity. You might have an experience of profound medita- tion, or of union with the entire cosmos, and say to yourself, “This is it! This is what I’ve been waiting for.” Like the endorphins released in a runner’s high, these experiences are the medita- tor’s high. And they are addicting. Just When You Think You’re Enlightened Temporary experiences such as flashes of bliss or clarity can be encouraging moments in your practice, says Andrew Holecek, but only if you know how to handle them. If you don’t, beware. They can be traps. These events are a time for celebration—and a time for concern. They’re cause for celebration because they can be genuine markers of prog- ress. You’re getting a glimpse into the nature of mind and reality; you’re starting to see things the way they truly are. You’re waking up. But such experiences are also cause for concern precisely because they feel so good. Surprising as it may sound, the spiritual path is not about making you feel good. It’s about making you feel real. Spiritual experiences can be the sweetest honey covering the sharpest hooks. Because they can be so transformative and blissful, it’s almost impossible not to grasp after them. You want more. That’s the hook. And anytime grasping is involved, even if it’s for a spiritual experience, you’re back in samsara, hooked into the condi- tioned world of endless dissatisfaction. Spiritual experiences are by-products of medi- tation. The problem is that we think they’re the final product of meditation. Traleg Rinpoche said, “The main cause of misperceptions regard- ing meditation experience is that after the loss of the initial fervor, we may forget to focus on the essence of meditation and its purpose and instead place more and more emphasis on the underlying meditative experience itself.” Spiritual experiences are called nyam in (Opposite) Buddha in Cage, Wutai Mountain, Shanxi Province, 1998 From the series The Chinese by Liu Zheng (OPPOSITE)©LIUZHENG,COURTESYYOSSIMILOGALLERY,NEWYORK