The Dark Night (Rises)
I was blown away recently when listening to a BuddhistGeeks podcast. They were talking to a man named Daniel Ingram, who calls himself, "Dharma Dan". At one point while discussing enlightenment, Mr. Ingram mentioned something he calls, "The Dark Night" (which he named at least five years before the current Batman movie, The Dark Knight.)
Mr. Ingram runs a website named interactivebuddha.com, where I found the following description of The Dark Night. I have copied and pasted it here with minor formatting improvements:
"The vast majority of experiences that really blow peoples minds and cause big changes are something the Theravada calls the Arising and Passing Away (A&P) Event (also known as the 4th ñana; the Knowledge of Deep Insight into the Arising and Passing of Phenomena; the Udayabbayanupassana in Pali; the "The Wave" in massage terms; awakening the Kundalini in Hindu terms; the fourth stage of the first path of the Tibetan 5-path system; pseudo-nirvana in Jack Kornfield's clan's terms) ... It is marked generally by some combination of profound openings, energetic phenomena, lights/visions, powerful dreams, bliss, rapture, and the like."
(In my own experience, a yoga teacher has told me I have probably had "Kundalini" experiences, and I've found descriptions of my experiences by digging through both Zen and yoga books.)
"With each occurrence, it is followed almost invariably by something called The Dark Night (also known as the Knowledges of Suffering, the Dukkha Ñanas, and other names)."
He begins to mention that The Dark Night can really mess with your life:
"This can cause all sorts of complexities. Many people are quite surprised that they could possibly have had a 'real', traditional meditation experience. Most meditation teachers at this unfortunate juncture in history will not tell people what has happened to them (assuming they even know what it was), and also will not warn them of what happens next, meaning the Dark Night ..."
He spoke about this much more in the podcast, but the danger is that once you fall into The Dark Night, you tend to forget about your friends, family, work, etc. In my case, as I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, I nearly flunked out of a semester in college after falling into The Dark Night, and I have generally always struggled with it.
My version of The Dark Night
Here's my description of The Dark Night: Once you have one or more experiences like the ones I've written about, other things in life seem seem irrelevant. This can include school, work, friends, and family. After a while you realize that you need money to keep living, but other than that, things like work pale in comparison to what you've experienced. You may become obsessed with having the experience again.
Either way, it's like The Matrix; you realize the world everyone else is living in and accepts as "the only thing" isn't the only thing at all, and in fact, there's something much greater and far more interesting. You can't help but sit in a classroom or business meeting and think, "What the hell am I doing wasting my time here?!"
Don't let it ruin your life
My own opinion, which I started to get into in a recent blog post, it's okay to dig into these things, but I think you need to have balance in life. By digging into what happened and trying to repeat the experience, you need to be careful not to go to an extreme that ruins your life.
Here's how Dan describes this on his website:
"In general terms: go on more retreats, practice more, follow instructions carefully, and get stream entry as soon as possible. In the meantime, be nice to people when you can and try to avoid screwing up your life if possible."
I'll write more about this in the future, but for today, I'm very happy to see another much more experienced practitioner talk about these things so openly. Where other people like to shroud these things in mystery and ritual, Mr. Ingram just says, "Here's how I did it, here's what I experienced."
While I've recently thought about not writing any more on this website until I feel more confident in my suggestions, I really appreciate Mr. Ingram's refreshingly straightforward approach.