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According to the gentleman in this video ...

Enlightenment, DP/DR & Falling Into the Pit of the Void ~ Shinzen Young

Shinzen talks about the empowering facets of enlightenment and compares this to "enlightenments evil twin" DP/DR. He talks about the rare occasions that he's encountered a meditator moving in the direction of DP/DR and the strategy he used to "cure" it using mindfulness methods.

... the phenomenon of "depersonalization" is described in the Pali Canon. Could anyone provide the source(s) of this?

As a secondary question- could anyone share their personal experience with/knowledge of depersonalization occurring as a result of meditation?

Thank you

  • Did the gentleman in the video mean this en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depersonalization ? – Gottfried Helms Sep 24 '15 at 13:34
  • @GottfriedHelms yes, I believe that is the same disorder that he refers to in the video. However, I am looking for suttas in the Pali canon that discuss it – Ian Sep 24 '15 at 16:19
  • I experienced this first hand. It wasn't fun, and it last for three years (of varying degrees of intensity). I wish I'd had a better teacher to help me at the time, but this video is a good explanation of parts of it: m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=MUryO_vJT1o I survived the ordeal and am more or less fine now. I returned to my practice and made further progress along the dukka nanas. Hope that gives a small window into things :) – Chuck Le Butt Dec 22 '17 at 1:44
  • Please note that pathological DP/DR is different to falling into the pit of the void. My symptoms were reduced by going for walks, lying on grass, wasting heavy foods. I still suffered almost unbearably, but these things gave me brief respite. Sufferers of DP/DR are not so lucky. – Chuck Le Butt Dec 22 '17 at 1:55
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It's hard to be sure what he's talking about, because obviously the Pali canon doesn't use the modern definition of DP/DR.

In the video he says a few things to describe what he's talking about:

  • That it's "DP/DR"
  • That it's very rare (so very rare that it shouldn't be used as a reason for not meditating)
  • That whereas enlightenment is liberating and makes your life bigger or fear-free, the "Falling into the Pit of the Void" experience/phenomenon that he's talking is the exact opposite of that
  • That it might even be the same (the usual) realization (of emptiness) as enlightenment/liberation, however in these (allegedly rare) cases the person reacts to it differently
  • That he (as a teacher) treats it by saying to such a student, "That's good! Now that you know emptiness you can rebuild yourself better than before" and then (like a physiotherapist would with an injured person) forces them to exercise (e.g. to concentrate on positive virtues)
  • He uses the word "nihilism"

I suspect that the description in the Pali canon (of derealization if not of depersonalization) might be of bhanga, see for example the descriptions in this answer.

I find it difficult to think of any place in the suttas where the results of meditation are described as pathological -- but one place might be the Vesali Sutta (which might be a description of nihlism).


The video doesn't say so but I wonder whether pathology/disorder might be understood as some imbalance (see for example, Balancing the spiritual faculties).


On the subject of "mindfulness" as a possible antidote, according to modern psychology "feelings of unreality (depersonalization or derealization)" can be among the symptoms of "panic disorder" and "acute stress reaction" ... and (to some extent Westernized) "mindfulness based stress reduction programs" is one of the clinical techniques that psychological therapists use to help to treat that.

  • Mindfulness is just open awareness. Practising mindfulness is what lead me to falling into the pit of the void. I would recommend stopping practice when that happens, or certainly not pushing yourself. It's certainly not an antidote to the depersonalisation that occurs as a result of practice. Pathological DP/DR is different to falling into the pit of the void, despite the symptoms. – Chuck Le Butt Dec 22 '17 at 1:51
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Many practitioners experience some kind of "terror". This would be a good sign of advancement in ones development. The Dhamma teaches 'no self' for the development of 'right view'.

When ever personal identity is undermined in some way there is inevitably a sense of threat. When the aggregates-of-clinging are seen as 'not self' this may bring up this sense of threat. Confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma and community of practitioners will steady such a sense.

Fun can be had with this kind of 'terror'. For example walking backwards over a sidewalk kerb, into the camber of a (quiet!) street, with one's eyes closed, so as to deliberately set-up an 'unexpected' shock, could be one way of 'investigating' such a sense of terror in nearly perfect safety. Such a procedure could be repeated as often as required to render this experience as 'nothing special': an improved sense of self confidence may even result.

(As a secondary question -- I'd be happy to read or chat with anyone who could share their personal experience with/knowledge of depersonalization occurring as a result of meditation.)

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Since the progress in complex if one likes to follow it just by thought and not just doing it by simply practicing the eightfold path, this might be useful to answer the question: Selves & Not-self The Buddhist Teaching on Anatta

There are also stages of depersonalisation, the first is Stream-Enter where one gains a first glimpse of it and is directed to Nibbana.

In regard of your question:

As a secondary question- could anyone share their personal experience with/knowledge of depersonalization occurring as a result of meditation?

You will not find something satisfying, since:

Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range.

And even the Buddha did not share such. The task is done, that's it.

Maybe some of the Verses of there Theragata (the Verses of the Elder Monks) or Therigata (Verses of the Elder Nuns) are useful to get an impression.

  • I think that 'depersonalization' and 'derealization' are words which identify pathological conditions or psychological disorders: "enlightenment's evil twin" -- so the OP wasn't asking about a wholesome abandonment of identity-view – ChrisW Dec 29 '15 at 11:42
  • Atma thought so as well and thanks for the care, valued Upasaka Chris! But at least there are two points, why nevertheless such answer is given. 1) Because there are many areas which are thought to be bad form a psychological view, which are actually right the other way and 2) the question "the phenomenon of "depersonalization" is described in the Pali Canon" which hints to either really liking to know how it works, or finding this mad phenomena or disorder. Depersonalization actually is 100% order. – Samana Johann Dec 29 '15 at 11:54
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The 9 'successive extinctions'( as it is said in A. IX, 31) :
In the step 7 it says "..., the perception ... consciousness is extinguished".

"In him who has entered the 1st absorption, the sensuous perceptions (kāma-saññā) are extinguished.

Having entered the 2nd absorption, thought-conception and discursive thinking (vitakkavicāra, q.v.) are extinguished.

Having entered the 3rd absorption, rapture (pīti, q.v.) is extinguished.

Having entered the 4th absorption, in-and-out breathing (assāsa-passāsa, q.v.) are extinguished.

Having entered the sphere of boundless space (ākāsānañcāyatana), the corporeality perceptions (rūpa-saññā) are extinguished.

Having entered the sphere of boundless consciousness (viññānañcāyatana), the perception of the sphere of boundless space is extinguished.

Having entered the sphere of nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatana), the perception of the sphere of boundless consciousness is extinguished.

Having entered the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (neva-saññā-nāsaññāyatana) the perception of the sphere of nothingness is extinguished.

Having entered the extinction of perception and feeling (saññāvedayitanirodha) perception and feeling are extinguished."

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    Apparently the video says that meditators sometimes, rarely but pathologically, move towards Depersonalization. The question asks for a reference to where this rare pathology is mentioned in the Pali canon. – ChrisW Sep 24 '15 at 7:25
  • @ChrisW Edited the answer, Is this Ok? – Shrawaka Sep 24 '15 at 7:39
  • I haven't watched the video (I can't comment on whether it reveals he doesn't understand enlightenment); but the question is, "Could anyone provide the source(s) of the claim by the gentleman that the phenomenon of 'depersonalization' is described in the Pali Canon?" Perhaps your answer is that "depersonalization" isn't described anyway? Or that the gentleman was mistaken when he thought he saw "depersonalization" in real life meditators? Beware that the video probably isn't talking about normal/correct progress but about a relatively rare form of mental illness which a few people develop. – ChrisW Sep 24 '15 at 7:47
  • within the meditations even the stream-enterer may experience the non-self reality. – Shrawaka Sep 24 '15 at 8:02

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