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When I first started meditating and after a while, I had a period where I experienced extremely wonderful sensations in my body.

It culminated one day when I was meditating, laying on my bed: I felt like my body has vanished, time stopped and extreme pleasure arose in my body. It was like I was floating in a substance full of pleasure to my mind. I didn't feel my body, it was like my body vanished, I had no thoughts, but was fully aware. I was in this state for 4 hours, and if it wasn't for somebody calling me, I would be even longer. When I emerged from this state it felt like 10 minutes passed. This experience was the most wonderful, joyful, pleasant experience I had ever experienced in my life.

The next time I went into meditation, I had "a kind off" similar experience as described above, but it was different: It was less "mentally powerful". I didn't search for it, nor wanted to have it - I just went into meditation as in my last meditation session when the pleasurable experience arose, but this time the experience had a lesser impact on my mind and body: it didn't give that much pleasure to my body and mind as the first time. It was like I got accustomed to it, and my body and mind were more calm, thus I never noticed that much pleasure and joy as the previous time.

At one moment in the meditation I made an attempt to search for the pleasure I experienced the first time, but I quickly noticed that it just makes my mind wander away from meditation and fills it with "want". So, I stopped "wanting" and just let it go.

The third time I went into meditation, the described experience subsided completely and only calmness, emptiness, no thoughts, neither pleasure nor non pleasure, remained.

I was not bothered forcing the described experience, because I knew that the experience came by not "wanting" it to came. I noticed that if I wanted it, the calmness, no thoughts, neither pleasure nor non pleasure, would subside and my mind would be permeated with "want". Thus, I abandoned "wanting" completely and just let it go and never ever tried to search for it.

I read about the 8 jhanas and during my meditation sessions I experienced "infinite space", "infinite consciousness", "emptiness", "neither perception nor non perception". I noticed this pattern: when the experience arose for the first time, it was the most powerful experience ever. It was like eating the most delicious cake for the first time in my life! The second time, it was less powerful. And so on, until it subsided and the experience "just was". Nonetheless, these experiences were never that much powerful as the first experience I described at the beginning of this question. Is this normal?

Now when I meditate, my mind is calm, one pointed, with no thoughts arising, and neither pleasure nor non pleasure. I can clearly see how and why everything is arising and ceasing in my mind. But I choose not to observe that anymore, I just let go of everything and the arising and ceasing in my mind stops. Everything stops, but I'm fully aware, and the experience is not that powerful as the experiences I described, when they arose for the first time. The experience that I have now during meditation "neither is nor it isn't". I could turn my meditation in an experience that "is", but i choose not to, because then "I'm not". It's hard to explain. From a Buddhist perspective, is this ceasing and letting go of extremely blissful experiences during meditation normal? Or does meditation lead to more and more powerful experiences?

Since that first time, when the described pleasurable experiences arose, they were never again as powerful as the first time they arose. It's like they subsided and only the core remained. From a Buddhist perspective, is this normal? Or should the described experiences always arise and be as powerful as the first time they arise?

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From the theravada perspective, you ought to master each jhana. That is, you should have reasonable control of it, enter when you make a resolution to enter, keep it stable and leave when you make a resolution to leave. So you should be able to replicate it. If you identify important factors that are weak, these are factors that need further development. Weak jhana factors mean one does not fully understand their conditions, what obstructs them, how to cultivate them, control and keep them stable.

This is roughly the full jhana/samadhi meditation curriculum, though it can be argued that full mastering of jhanas are optional when pursuing the goal, in favor of mindfulness/sati meditation.

I believe Pa Auk Sayadaw considers a student to have mastered a jhana if he or she is able to enter at will and stay for 3 hours in it (period that testify the meditator skills in stabilizing jhana). This is also what he recommends before moving to the next jhana, which can be impossible to access without a minimum control of the previous jhana (e.g. as the factors to be abandoned might be too strong and unfamiliar to be properly controlled)

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Experiences are just experiences. As my Zen master said, they are dreams, hallucinations. They come and go, leaving behind only vague memories. The best experiences... the worst experiences... - what value do they have?

Some experiences may give us perspective on where we are by showing us where we could be.

Some experiences are byproducts of our incremental development, which is slow and gradual, and in the grand scheme of things is way more important than the flashes of experiences.

Sounds like you had great experiences in meditation, now where does it leave us? What matters more in Buddhism is, how do you deal with what comes next. Do you have a way of dealing with life at large, a framework that would work well in all circumstances? Such framework is called Dharma and until you've had a direct experience of that, your meditation is just spacing out.

Meditation is not done for the sake of cool experiences. Meditation itself is "pleasant dwelling in the here and now", sure - but the main goal is direct realization of Sat-Dharma, the Universal Framework.

Are these experiences normal? Sure. You happen to have a mind that is capable of both introspection and analysis, congrats! I've looked at your other questions and answers, you have figured some stuff right. Now, what is your place in the world? Where are you going? Where should you be going? -- If your meditation does not help you answer these questions, how is it better than smoking pot? ;)

  • In your opinion then, is returning to the old samsaric life in a more mature state of being the goal of meditation? I have my doubts if one could do that without some disruption - perhaps a change of job, or maybe only volunteer work or a change in partner or friends can occur. A lot of the competition, and ambition of everyday life is too shocking and physically repulsive to anyone who's been meditating for a while, or perhaps it's just me. I'm also thinking of Zen monks like Ryokan Taigu who decided to live under bridges, and play with the kids in their games than mix with adults. – Buddho Jul 15 '15 at 5:04
  • My doctor tells me Cancer survivors often rethink their lives after being treated; many of them grow less ambitious or materialistic. I think meditation should have that kind of effect, of hitting the brakes and making one reexamine life choices, and make new wholesome decisions. I think many use social acceptance as a gauge of how they are doing, which is less helpful. The saying is, it is not a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. Friends and family may sometimes not see anything good in meditation, even the Buddha had to face this challenge when he got home – Buddho Jul 15 '15 at 5:08
  • The immediate goal is to "untangle the tangle". As was said in the verse, the tangle is both inside and outside. Once the tangle has been untangled, there is no returning to old samsaric life, but samsara no longer looks so repulsive. Obviously, in Mahayana our ultimate goal is to save all sentient beings -- but how can we do it if we hate their ways? – Andrei Volkov Jul 15 '15 at 14:16
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    Absolutely, the lotus does not live for long if it hates the mud, and nirvana is not born out of a hatred of samsara. I completely agree. – Buddho Jul 15 '15 at 15:37
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    Not everyone would agree with how you said it though. The Tibetan folks make a special point of cultivating disgust of samsara in their preliminary stages. Buddha himself taught disgust of samsara as antidote for sensory craving. So in one sense nirvana is born out of hatred of samsara ;) It is like samsara itself contains the seed of nirvana. But yeah, for the flower to bloom the dualistic thinking has to subside. – Andrei Volkov Jul 16 '15 at 14:01

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