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I've meditated for over ten years daily more than 2 hours a day plus I've done over a dozen long retreats. On the first couple of retreats I had quite cathartic experiences and felt a lot of joy. Since then I've felt not much at all. I don't feel any joy or rapture in my daily practice. Sometimes I feel calm but that's about it. I wonder if I'm doing something incorrectly? I pay homage to the Buddha and try to feel gratitude and I practice metta to start. I've also given up eating meat and practice self compassion.

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    Rejoice in your long years of meditation and more than 2 hours of commitment daily! I am a new and enthusiastic meditator myself. May I know what kind of meditation do you engage in for the past ten years?
    – Samantha C
    Mar 22 at 7:24
  • Hi Samantha, I practice insight in the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition and also Shamatha. I feel better now. I was having a moment earlier. I got swept up in some afflictive emotions craving and clinging. I just had a nice sit and feel more peaceful.
    – Saddhā
    Mar 22 at 7:45
  • So glad to hear that Saddha. Keep it up! :) It's really normal to have ebbs and flows in our meditation progress. As long as we are one foot in the material world, it is easy to get our cravings and aversions riled up. I recently tried the Mahasi Sayadaw method and it gave me really quick results. Walking meditation felt very counter-intuitive to calming the mind since it involves lots of movements and sensory inputs but it makes sense as well since a higher level of concentration is attained if one can handle the distractions. I could feel much more sensations while sitting. - With metta.
    – Samantha C
    Mar 22 at 8:20
  • I think you need a teacher to guide you along the way. Find a teacher who has more experience and get advise from him.
    – Pycm
    Mar 23 at 15:43
  • Hand of thought? There's a difference between finding joy in an action, such as reading, and finding it nowhere. I apologize if this answer is far too zenny; I do not teach meditation, etc.!
    – user66697
    Mar 30 at 9:23

6 Answers 6

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The word "I" appears eleven times in the post. Because of this, two suttas come to mind here...

The first is Ananda proclaiming about half the spiritual life. One might perhaps infer that Ananda might be thinking about "my practice" half the time. But the Buddha disagrees.

SN45.2:1.4: “Sir, good friends, companions, and associates are half the spiritual life.”
SN45.2:2.1: “Not so, Ānanda! Not so, Ānanda!
SN45.2:2.2: Good friends, companions, and associates are the whole of the spiritual life.

The second sutta is MN8, where the Buddha teaches self-effacement.

MN8:4.1: It’s possible that a certain mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, might enter and remain in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected.
MN8:4.2: They might think
MN8:4.3: they’re practicing self-effacement.
MN8:4.4: But in the training of the Noble One these are not called ‘self-effacement’;

Having spent 10 years sitting on Zen cushions myself, I can relate to your original post. I was lucky to have an old friend come by and ask me what the Noble Eightfold Path was. And to my horror, I could not answer. So I started reading the suttas and interacting with people according to what I read. These two suttas above were confounding at first to read, then gradually they made more and more sense. That old friend is now ordained and I now know the Noble Eightfold Path.

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  • The word I appears in your reply 6 times. It's a pointless thing to focus on. We all need to use the English language a certain way to understand each other. I'm well versed in the 8 fold path but you seem to be assuming I'm not. Your reply overall is unhelpful. Sounds arrogant tbh so I down voted it.
    – Saddhā
    Mar 22 at 3:06
  • Arrogance and resentment should both be discarded indeed. "> AN5.162:3.3: In the same way, at that time you should ignore that person’s impure behavior by way of body and focus on their pure behavior by way of speech."
    – OyaMist
    Mar 22 at 12:36
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I empathize with your situation. I recalled that it had been mentioned by a monk (was it Ajahn Brahm?) that it is normal for some people when they first started meditation practice to experience sublime attainments. Subsequently, we can spend years or even decades trying to rediscover and relive those attainments.

This situation reminds me of the Asubhasutta. Of particular interest is this paragraph.

Because of this, they only slowly attain the conditions for ending the defilements in the present life. This is called the painful practice with slow insight.

Regardless of which of the 4 categories we fall under, I think, the main thing is the intuition or insights gained. This is the nutrient that sustain our practice as well as guide it.

An analogy would be like studying. The school teachers would always encourage us to try to ignite our interest in the subject we are studying. The rationale being that our interest will spark our curiosity in what we are learning. Ultimately, both interests and curiosity will generate greater motivation and understandings (insights) leading to better mastery of the subjects and eventually better grades. Sadly, being a dense student, I could not understand or accomplish this and my days of study was dry, tedious and monotonous. Insights were far and infrequent, subject understanding was very slow. But those torturous time spent studying did help me to pass the important tests just where it matters (albeit not with flying colours), thanks to a stubborn perseverance.

Therefore, the years of practising dana, keeping the precepts, meditation and being mindful are not without their rewards. There was once I went into a coma. I recalled the time I spent in that coma was one of the best experiences I had in my life. I never felt so at ease, peaceful and joyous. It's like all this time while I was alive, I had never truly relaxed or allowed myself to rest properly; I was constantly chasing and being chased (perhaps by greed, aversion and delusion). But I was finally able to take a good break while in that coma.

Thinking back, I wondered why I had such an extraordinary experience. I realised it is linked to all those years of trying to meditate, keeping the precepts and practising dana. The mind naturally inclined towards contentment, letting go and peace. I believed these factors and a degree of concentration resulted in feelings of joy and bliss when all memories of who I am i.e. sex, age, nationality and so on were forgotten. Incidentally, I also attributed the ability to recollect what happened in the coma to mindfulness. It acts like a silent observer in the background, recording what happened and archiving the information for later recollection. So, here too, our regular mindfulness practice comes handy.

I know from personal experience that those years of meditation are not in vain. It changes the way the mind inclines and in Buddhism this is especially important in our final moments as it has an important effect on rebirth. Lastly, being a vegetarian is admirable. It will be good if it is done with loving-kindness, compassion and for the benefit of all beings including ourselves. In this manner, we too, will experience the Metta, compassion and joy in our lives.

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  • Through the keeping of precepts, mindfulness and meditation practice, it should be easy to generate insights. Alternatively, keen observations, asking questions and delving deeply into issues too stimulate insights. These insights let us see the difference between ourselves and the people around us like why despite their better endowments, they are more stressed up and constantly unsatisfied. When the insights accumulates and reach a tipping point, they turned into wisdom and naturally leads to peace and less suffering.
    – Desmon
    Mar 23 at 17:39
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AN 11.1 suggests that joy might arise from or be a reward for, "freedom from remorse" -- also translated as, "having no regrets".

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Rapture or Joy do not come out of dry concentration, that's a misunderstanding of Buddha's teaching. I'm glad you came to realization that something is amiss in your practice. It takes courage to question oneself.

The practices taught by the Buddha can be broadly classified into external practices and internal practices. External practices are mostly about one's behavior or karma, the objective results of one's behavior. While the internal practices have to do with how one's subjective experience arises from (is shaped by) one's attention and conceptualization. At some level both of these blend together, e.g. one's external behavior leads to certain subjective experiences but it is convenient to separate them when talking about joy.

Both sadness and joy come from comparison of "this" with "that". Everyone knows this, the "reality and expectation" is a common meme nowadays. Buddha's teaching is a two-fold system that addresses both sides of this equation. The behavioral training takes care of the objective side. You learn to not create objective causes of trouble, pain, conflict, discord and so on. Then, when you sit down and look at your life, you don't have anything obvious to worry about or regret. On the contrary, you have reasons to be glad and that's what the next paragraph is about.

The meditative training takes care of the subjective side. These are the attention and conceptualization aspects of this/that comparison. This is the part many practitioners don't understand, especially when they don't have a live teacher guiding them. What Buddha taught is not just sitting and staring at the wall until you feel joy, not at all. Instead, he taught a deliberately generated ladder of more and more refined subjectively joyful states, building up to complete transcendence of comparison. He actually insisted that the steps of the ladder must not be skipped! (See Gavi Sutta, AN 9.35.) This ladder (in its schematic simplified form) is what we know as the jhanas and it involves controlling one's attention and picking the right object of comparison for generating the joy.

There are many, many references to this spread around the Pali Canon, but basically, you have to learn to focus on the authentically successful aspects of your own spiritual life, and compare yourself favorably with the worldly people. This comparison is practiced earnestly until it generates joy, and this is the only correct explanation of the First Jhana, according to me. (This is when having a solid foundation of external practice provides one with plenty of objects to use as a base of compassion.)

Once you "enter and stay" in this generation practice, meaning, once you internalize it to the level it becomes automatic and almost subconscious, that is when the "directed thought and evaluation" - i.e. finding an area you excel at and executing the evaluation - can be abandoned and you attain the Second Jhana (the afterglow of joy) and the Third Jhana (the internal assurance and integration). Then the Fourth Jhana has to do with transcending the simplistic "better/worse" or "right/wrong" dualities altogether, along with their corollaries of conceit and restlessness. (Once again, the steps of the ladder cannot be skipped!)

I'm glossing over some details and simplifying a bit, because it's difficult to fit all nuances in a single answer like this, but I hope you see the gist of my message. The Buddhist path is a very rational system that utilizes the rational principles applied in a systematic way. Everything, from the Four Noble Truths, to the Noble Eightfold Path, to the Four Jhanas and beyond fit together like the gears of the clock. You have to understand it properly in order to practice it and get the results.

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    I appreciate your comment but I'm not 100% sure I fully understand. I mean I do try hard to guard the sense doors and not create objective trouble and discord and most the time when I sit I feel calm but still there's this nagging feeling that something is meant to happen. That I should feel something, see something, understand something. But most the time it feels fruitless like I just sit I watch the breath I see the thoughts and return to the breath. It doesn't feel profound like I'm deeply changing or becoming happier. I rarely get lost in thought now though when I sit. That has changed.
    – Saddhā
    Mar 21 at 23:13
  • Im not sure I want to sit for another ten years and feel no different to how I feel now
    – Saddhā
    Mar 21 at 23:15
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    You should have kept your original comment, the one you deleted. I just saw it and it made everything clear. What your teacher is telling you is that your craving for some achievement is exactly what goes contrary to you attaining the peace of no craving. You know this, but knowing is not enough. What I was trying to tell you in my answer is that you can't skip the levels like that cow in Gavi Sutta and get straight to peace. The jhanas are not what you were told they are. The First Jhana is joy that comes from deliberate positive thinking. Please give that a try. With metta🙏🙏🙏
    – Andriy Volkov
    Mar 22 at 22:39
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I will try to analyse your question part by part.

I've meditated for over ten years daily more than 2 hours a day plus

Very good. It will help if you can increase this to 3 or 4 hours.

I've done over a dozen long retreats. On the first couple of retreats I had quite cathartic experiences and felt a lot of joy.

Good. You didn't mention what type of meditation you do. But one should combine Samatha with Vipassana to achieve higher. As I assume, you does not use Samatha to amplify Vipassana. That could be a problem.

I will put it like this.

Samatha means concentration of the mind. One should use Kasina bawana to improve concentration of the mind. (You mentioned Methttha. It's also a Samatha meditation. But I doubt if you have improved your concentration that much using that. One could easily be misguided thinking that thinking Methttha is enough. But not. (Not personal. I just assumed. Bear in mind. Sorry, if I understood it wrongly.)). (it's not necessary to achieve Dhyanas( dhyanas level concentration is not necessary)).

So then, one should use this improved concentration to intensify Vipassana meditation.

One should use both in right balance.

I see only Nirvana that one will achieve by doing so.

Sometimes I feel calm but that's about it. I wonder if I'm doing something incorrectly?

What do you mean calm? When one get closer to Nirvana one should feel calm(not by outside calmness) , happy (not by outside objects, senses), free all the time. This happiness, calm, freedom should generate internally. Automatically. Nit by force.

I assume (again, sorry if I miss assume here), you are in some kind of loop of thinking.

I pay homage to the Buddha and try to feel gratitude and I practice metta to start.

Good. But I can't accurately understand your mental state with given info. It looks like (again sorry), you are stuck in the idea of mindfulness.

I've also given up eating meat and practice self compassion.

Good.

Final note.

  • combine both Samatha and Vipassana.
  • get direct guidance form some monk or someone who has more experience
  • don't be afraid to speak about true nature / thinking about you inner self with the instructor.

Thanks 🙏.☸️.

Questions are welcome.

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It is not normal for some people when they first started meditation practice to experience sublime attainments. If Ajahn Brahm said otherwise, it sounds like Ajahn Brahm is wrong.

Cathartic experiences that feel a lot of joy are not "sublime attainments". They are simply coarse cathartic experiences & occur often on retreats when people are forced to undergo an emotional cold turkey.

To feel calm from meditation is a worthwhile result. To reach a sublime attainment of rapture requires a very pure moral life, no sex, no masturbation and a capacity to selflessly let go of craving (for attainments) and attachment so the mind dwells silently and perfectly in the present moment.

As for the term "rapture", it is used in various ways in the suttas, such as:

  • rapture arising from discovering/hearing the teachings leading to liberation.

  • rapture arising from non-remorse

  • rapture as a factor of enlightenment due to seeing the Dhamma

  • rapture as a result of calming breathing but still not jhana (MN 118)

  • rapture as a factor of jhana

The later two of the above are sublime attainments.

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  • Read this 1st hand account of a sublime experience and the struggle to relive the experience. But Ajahn Brahm also gave a warning which I didn’t understand, but now do. He commented that “don’t want the jhanas, but want the causes that lead to the jhanas”. I didn’t heed that advice, and have been wanting to relive the experience for the past decade. Some people get sublime experiences when first meditating because there's no expectations. Once they tasted those experiences, the subsequent desires/expectations get in the way.
    – Desmon
    Mar 24 at 11:01
  • As per my above comment, the claim that Ajahn Brahm sounds wrong is not merited. I am downvoting this answer.
    – Desmon
    Mar 24 at 15:27

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