Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Pity about "Piti" (bliss)

Seven Dharmachari (Wisdom Quarterly)

As serenity meditation progresses towards absorption (moving from samatha to jhana or "Zen"), five factors intensify. My own meditation followed this path, which the Bodhisattva discovered under the Bodhi tree. This was prior to focusing on the Fourfold Setting-up of Mindfulness, which leads to liberating insight, and becoming the Buddha. Before the figurative light of wisdom dawns, another (literal) inner-light arises.
  1. Applied-attention (to the breath)
  2. Sustained-attention
  3. Bliss (piti)
  4. Happiness
  5. Equanimity

Its arising is dependent on these Five Factors of Absorption. The inner-light (nimitta) is a counterpart to the breath. The interface between external and internal is just outside the nose, above the upper lip. Focusing there, waiting for the breath there, abandoning discursive thinking in favor of direct knowing (without the intermediary of judgments, evaluations, and concepts).

By bringing the mind back to the breath again and again, letting everything else go, a strange thing happens. It doesn't happen all at once. Like warm water in a tub, it fills and engulfs you. It's so pleasant, you don't want to move. It's so light and easy that to DO anything takes away from it. What to "do"? Simply allow it. Stop doing. Abandon thoughts of it. Just experience it. Just be.

When the bliss or joy, rapture or ecstasy (all attempts to translate the word the Buddha used, piti, pronounced pee-tee) wraps itself around you, settle back into it. Rapt attention leads to piti's pleasant, welcome, agreeable sensations. It feels like clean pleasure, pure, not associated with sensual desire. It is, however, a refined pleasure in the body. In that sense it is what Bjork called "big time sensuality." Like the comfort of friends, rather than lovers, this sensuality leads onward.

But with it -- if one becomes attached -- comes a great let down. The pity is that it is not permanently purifying. This is not enlightenment (bodhi). It's not even happiness-in-the-mind (sukha), which comes next IF one takes this momentum and calmly perseveres. Alas, one eventually emerges.

The pity with piti is that it's not refined enough. The body may quiver. And all one wants is perfect silence because "small time sensuality" feels gross and disturbing. Immersed in piti the mind stays still all on its own. But piti has only temporarily weakened the mental defilements. The Five Hindrances (countered by the Five Factors of Absorption) reassert themselves. What can be done? Expect this, and sweetly, softly, gently persevere.

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