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Buddhadharma : Summer 2014
32 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2 0 1 4 Meditators who run after experiences, like a child running after a beautiful rainbow, will be misled. When you practice intensely, you may have flashes of clairvoyance and various signs of accomplishment, but all they do is foster expectations and pride—they are just devilish tricks and the source of obstacles. —from Journey to Enlightenment, by Matthieu Ricard Attachment to anything, no matter how spec- tacular, is still attachment. I have a special interest in nyams because I, too, have been hooked. The first nyam to get me was the experience of nonthought. This caught me when I was introduced to Transcendental Meditation nearly forty years ago. As my TM instructor guided me into meditation, I slipped into profound meditative absorption. For the first time in my life, I felt fully awake without a single thought running through my mind. I had never thought such a blissful state was even possible. What made the experience so striking was the contrast of having arrived for my instruction feel- ing speedy and anxious, and then within thirty minutes dropping into a state completely free of thought. It was like diving below choppy waves into tranquil deep water. Because the contrast was so dramatic, I thought I had attained some level of enlightenment. It took me years to realize that this is a common experience and that I was far from enlightened. The good news was that I had tasted an aspect of the awakened mind and wanted more. The experience inspired me to pursue meditation with gusto. I began a daily practice that hasn’t waned in four decades. The bad news was that I tied myself in knots trying to reproduce that experi- ence. I had set a bar that was ridiculously high and caused me all sorts of unnecessary anguish when I couldn’t measure up. Relating to Spiritual Experience Because these exalted states are so delicious, it’s hard not to cling to a nyam. On one level, they’re just spiritual candy; having some of these sweets is okay now and again, but feasting on them will make your meditation sick. Tibetan, which means “temporary experience,” and every meditator needs to be aware of them. Nyam is set in contrast to tokpa, which means “realization.” Nyam is like pleasant vapor. No matter how good it feels, it always evaporates. Tokpa is like a mountain. It stays. A nyam always has a beginning and an end. One day you soar into the most heavenly meditation, but eventu- ally you drop back to Earth. There are no drop- outs with authentic realization. Tsoknyi Rinpoche refers to nyams as “medi- tation moods” and says, “Nyam has thickness; tokpa is light and fine. The problem is we like thickness more; it’s more substantive and satisfy- ing.” We like the substance of our moods. Nyam and tokpa are themselves the last two phases of a three-phase process of complete assimilation or incorporation of dharma: under- standing, experience, and realization. This shows us that experience is indeed a good thing, a nec- essary but intermediate phase in absorbing the dharma. We start with understanding, which is traditionally referred to as a patch because even- tually it falls off. With study and practice, under- standing develops into experience, which is like the weather—it always changes. With sustained practice, experience matures into realization, which like the sky never wavers. This is the three- stage process of full embodiment; it is how we ingest, digest, and metabolize the dharma until it almost literally becomes us. If you relate to a nyam properly, it blossoms into realization. If you don’t, it rots and becomes the most subtle and serious of all spiritual traps. Tai Situ Rinpoche said that you can get stuck in a nyam for an entire lifetime. More com- monly, people waste precious years thinking that because they had a spiritual experience they’re enlightened, when in fact they’re merely shack- led to a nyam. If you’re attached to your grand experience and start to identify with it, you have simply replaced a chain made of lead with one made of gold. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said: Spiritual experiences are by-products of meditation. The problem is that we think they’re the final product of meditation. CINDYWILSON