By Daniel Scharpenburg
The Tibetan Master Jamgon Kongtrul described various experiences that can come up during our meditation practice.
These are temporary experiences that come up sometimes and we can see them as sort of a roadmap for our awakening. If we’re having experiences that are confusing to us, we can look at his list and see if they coincide.
They are called nyams, which means flashes of experience. If we have a regular practice on the cushion and we’re mindful off the cushion, nyams can be experienced both in sitting and in daily life. We want to notice these experiences but not really attach to them, because while they can be used to keep us in the present, they are temporary.
There are 5 nyam and 3 advanced nyam.
They’re described through metaphor:
- Brook on a Steep Hill: This is where our thoughts are very fast and busy. Our thoughts are said to be like water flowing downhill—it’s difficult to stop them or even slow them down.
- Turbulent River: Our minds are even more chaotic. Thoughts come like a river going through a rocky area, like whitewater rafting. Total chaos. Lots of thoughts that we can’t even begin to manage.
- Slow River: Thoughts become calm and familiar, smooth and slow. This is where we start to settle down. Sometimes we have to sit for a long time to get to this point in our sitting because our minds are so frantic.
- Ocean Without Waves: This is a space of absolute stillness, when we’re absorbed in our meditation. This is the point where a lot of people lose track of time in their meditation practice. Suddenly the timer goes off and you can’t believe it’s been 30 minutes.
- Candle Undisturbed by the Wind: This is a complete stillness. For a moment self and other drop away. There is no meditator, but just the act of meditation.
- Bliss: This is when we feel refreshed. We have a sense of well being. There might be tingling sensations and flashes of joy. Sometimes this nyam makes us feel inspired to go create something.
- Luminosity: We gain a sense of clarity and a feeling of interconnectedness. Separation between ourselves and the world around us drops away. We have a panoramic vision that is beyond duality.
- Nonthought: No thoughts arrive. There is a stillness and silence. Not only has the individual separation disappeared, the entire universe has disappeared and we are dwelling in the void. This is an experience that many people find terrifying. because it is an intuitive understanding of emptiness.
Number’s six, seven and eight are the advanced nyam and are often only experienced on retreat, or at least in longer sitting periods.
These states can and do come up for many of us, and the best thing we can do is notice them and not cling to them. Sometimes people have those 6th or 7th nyam experiences and think they’ve attained enlightenment.
Strange experiences will most likely occur if you practice for a long time.
That’s just part of the path. It’s said that when the Buddha was sitting under the Bodhi tree he saw monsters and beautiful dancing girls and a host of other things. It’s said that he touched the ground to keep himself…well…grounded (because things can’t be subtle). You can see that in a lot of statues of the Buddha, he’s sitting with one hand touching the ground.
When weird experiences come up on the cushion, we can touch the ground too.
Editor: Dana Gornall