Attainment of Level 2 Selfless Perception
At this point the meditator undergoes a process as described in the level 1 chapter. The key goals for the level 1 practitioner are to develop the jhanas and develop a knowledge of cessation and dependent arising. The meditator should have a grasp of the first four jhanas by this point, and if they do not, that would be a high priority for a meditator in the SigmaTropic system.
- dependent origination
The attainment of level 2 involves seeing at a more fine-grained level what the constituents of the self-fabrications are, and seeing very clearly how they are non-self, and their predictable and mechanical nature. The mind sees these building blocks of suffering and by paying very close attention to the process of suffering using presence or vibrational awareness practices, they begin to see the quicker mind moments that are strung together to make up normal consciousness.
In this stage the meditator typically attains fruition in their seated meditation, and they have a cyclical series of mind-states arise that end with a break, a stop, and these cycles are part of the mind beginning to have a stronger and stronger foundation of mindfulness and intention, and mindfulness beginning to occur in the background. They notice that they have the ability to bring about cessation of suffering on command, and they do that and watch the process.
- Mindfulness of breathing
- Dependent arising and cessation
The level 2 non self attainment is a wonderful state of mind. The meditator experiences a great relief of suffering with this attainment. A meditator who reaches the level 2 non self insight will experience almost all of their suffering is gone, and when they do suffer, their mind seems to comprehend it with mindfulness and learn something from the experience. They seem to be less attached to sensual pleasures, they feel that craving and aversion have significantly lessened. The first priority in the SigmaTropic system is to eliminate suffering. As such, the best way to plan one’s practice is around the suffering. The practice of presence allows us to identify where we are suffering and apply a technique to end that suffering, paying attention to the mind in the process.
After the attainment of level 2 non-self, the meditator is able to stay with the basic feeling of an experience and minimize clinging. They seem to be able to affect the dependent origination of suffering with their intentions and their attention. They will notice that they have tools that help them to move further and further away from attachment to people, places, and things of the world. This reduction in attachment is a normal thing, and people close to the meditator may notice that they seem less materialistic and more prone to minimalist ideas. They don’t have as much craving for sensual pleasures, and they see they are fine without them, and as a result they become less attached to them.
This reduction in attachment to worldly things can be a confusing thing for a meditator, especially in the current sociopolitical climate. We are indoctrinated into systems of attachment to government and financial institutions and our usual engagement with the world requires significant consumption of resources. This starts to appear salient to a meditator who realizes level 2 selfless perception, and their reduced attachment to things of the world will manifest in gradual letting go of worldly attachments that do not serve their ultimate purpose.
Stage 1 Non-Self
- There is a spacious and wide sense of acceptance and receptivity
- Reality happens along on its own and it is seen clearly that mind and reality are not separate.
- The mind ceases completely all fabricating activity in a moment of pure lucid awareness. This moment shows the mind that all of reality is its own creation.
- It shows the mind that the even consciousness is impermanent and so it cannot be a self.
- Direct knowledge that reality and mind are a selfless process.
- Stage 1 –with the Seven Factors Present, the mind comprehends in a experiential, direct, compelling way that reality and mind are process. This leads to an unfolding of energetic physiological processes that re-wire the energetic system of the meditator, jhana ability is suddenly increased, and the meditator enters a new paradigm of meditation practice. The meditator now has increased perceptual abilities and tools but most of the same attachments and mental patterns. There is an increased ability to notice the constituents of self-fabrications, i.e. craving, clinging, liking, and other transient fast mental phenomena.
At this point the meditator has attained to the first level of awakening and has attained to a cessation event and gained understanding from it. The cessation event can be recalled and revisited, and the meditator will likely notice that they seem to have an intuitive grasp on the jhanas that they did not have before. There is some reason why knowing non-self makes a person able to perceive jhanas much more easily and it has to do with knowing that all the mind’s activity and everything is fabricated, and then putting the conditions in place for the jhana to arise. With states that a practitioner has already attained, they can revisit this again and the basis of it is intention. The meditator here makes a formal resolution to attain the next level of awakening, and that intention/resolution is what powers the investigation forward as well into unknown states.
There is an imaginative process going on here where the meditator is visualizing herself as the yogi at the next level of awakening, and they will see these self-constructions coming up. They continue going along on the SigmaTropic Cycle and eventually they realize that the constituents of suffering are craving and clinging and becoming, and they can observe these mind-moments in real time. They see directly how craving and aversion co-arise with suffering, they are suffering. We learn to notice these mind-moments at increasingly more subtle and fine resolutions.
The meditator who has attained the level 1 non-self attainment, would be well served by resting in jhana and conditioning the mind toward inner fulfillment. This turning away from the world is a spiritual principle of renunciation – in meditative practice, one way of looking at it – we are renouncing our attachment to things of the world for our fulfillment. We look inwardly and this is an act of renunciation. Since the level 2 non-self insight seems to arise dependent on craving and aversion, we should renounce and watch the mind in that process. We want to learn all that we can about the mind while it engages with this concept of renunciation.
Renunciation is a key spiritual principle. When we enter the state of meditative equipoise, we are partaking in an act of renunciation of sensual pleasures and restlessness. The Buddha taught the first jhana as being dependent on seclusion from the unskillful habits of mind and attachment to sensory pleasures and ill will. When we release those afflictions, first jhana arises. We are “doing the experiment” so we cast aside skeptical doubt for the moment. We see no use for thoughts of ill will or envy, and we are attentive and alert. We have laid aside concern for the sensual realms and we have also reached a state of freedom from the hindrances via a systematic training. All of those things involve renouncing worldly desires and thoughts not related to the object of meditation. That in itself makes repeated intentions to find inner fulfillment much stronger.
As a level 1 meditator, the most salient objects that arise in the mind are craving and aversion. The person sees for the first time how much useless mental activity is going on in their head, all related to craving and aversion – wanting something we don’t have or not wanting what we have. Craving and aversion are a main source of the many complex emotions that can come up for a person on this path. When the concentration and jhanas turn up, one can especially confront strong, repressed emotions that the meditator may have been ignoring before.
A focus on calm – abiding and jhana will propel a level 1 meditator toward level 2- so long as they are able to resolve the quicker mind moments of craving, clinging, vedana, and be able to tell the difference between them. The mind seems to have a mechanical predictable nature when you get down to these basic mind moments. The meditator sees that any alluring object or idea in their mind is immediately followed by a series of mental events related to the initial object. Meditators at level 1 looking to attain level 2 can do vibrational awareness, mindfulness of breathing or deity yoga. Depending on their current phase of practice, they would continue developing the seven factors and continue training the mind to dispel the gross hindrances.
A meditator at this stage should have a pretty extensive insight into what cessation tells them about self and mind. The meditator who has repeated cessations and learns to resolve the finer details of these events, will get a lot out of watching the mind right before and after cessation. The meditator at this stage is establishing the foundations of the non-self insight which will eventually reach completion at a sort of inflection point (level 4 non-self insight).
Imagination, Intention, Magick, and the Level 2 Practitioner
This meditator at this stage of development has a pretty good grasp on non-self, they have experience and insight from cessation (hopefully and ideally many of them), and they have the mental tools and skills of jhana, and they know that suffering comes with craving and we should try to end the craving. This meditator has thoroughly severed the permanent self, and they are then prepared to use the visualizations and deity yogas to their fullest extent possible.
The stage 2 meditator can begin through the deity yoga practice to construct a desired identity and observe the fabricating activities that the mind does in actualizing that identity. The SigmaTropic cycle becomes quite relevant, as the meditator sees that they are imagining themselves as the future fully enlightened version of themselves, and when suffering arises it is due to a cognitive dissonance between that imagined identity and what is manifesting. This is the dynamic of a yogi in the SigmaTropic system that starts with the first sitting and leads to being a light to oneself. This approach takes the end goal as a visualized ideal state, and then the meditator attempts to manifests it in real-time
- intentional practice
At this intitial stage, there should be a very clear shift in practice compared to before attaining cessation. The meditator finds that their energetic system is wired differently and better now, and they seem to intuitively understand spiritual concepts and meditative practices much better. The insight into non-self is a key turning point in the path. Cessation is a repetitive experience for most people. I personally have cessations every day and have since attaining stream entry in 2018. By repeatedly having this experience, the meditator learns the patterns of these events and how they relate to basic processes in the mind.
Cessation is an unmistakable event where the mind completely stops, and doesn’t fabricate anything from the inputs of the senses or the thinking mind. All activity that we know makes up our conscious experience stops for an instant, and then restarts again. This is a profound experience and totally changes the way the mind experiences itself from then on.
For a cessation event to lead to non-self insight, there must be an intention for metacognitive awareness of the mind while it is happening. With this metacognition, the mind understands that the cessation of all fabrications that lead to all normal conscious experience, and the return of conscious experience, directly contradicts any belief that the self is a permanent autonomous substantial thing. Everything we know that creates our “self” can completely stop, then start again, and somehow, we just carry on our merry way. This is the same as death for the self-identity, and it registers like a “death” of some permanent essence of being that is the meditator.
During the cessation there is no suffering, and it’s the first time the mind sees that the self and everything we experience in normal consciousness is conditionally related to other things. What we experience as a contact from the ‘outer world’ in our senses is the link between “the world” and “the meditator” and the rest is mental activity related to the contact and the interrelated web of cumulative causes and conditions. We can actually see directly in this cessation moment, that the process of conscious experience can be stopped by removing one of the “conditions” upon which it arises. When there is a moment free of craving and with the seven factors of awakening present, then the meditator has the conditions in place for a cessation to occur. We directly sever one of the conditions that conscious experience depends on- and then normal conscious experience ceases for a moment. Importantly- we don’t die physically – but the mind is recharged and the fruition glow is very, very pleasurable. The mind has this conditional nature to it- all we see is in relation to our mind’s perception of a very limited set of data. When the mind stops completely like this – it is such a relief – it tells the mind that the mind itself is responsible for all experience, including suffering, and that their mind experiences any experience at all based on conditional interrelated conditions.
Most of our conscious experience is mental activity that proliferates starting with one craving or aversion or one complaint, one painful tense spot or image in our mind, but the mind bounces around rapidly evaluating these different things coming in and experiencing liking and disliking. We can simply watch the process proceed in the mind and see how the craving and clinging is related to the suffering, and hold an intention to disidentify with whatever occurs.
A meditator will eventually be able to perceive increasingly subtle aspects of the minute mind moments around cessation in striking detail. The experience of cessation tells you something very profound about how basic cognition is structured. We can see that in the moment immediately before cessation, there is a quick flash of lights, or a confusing train of thoughts, or any other experience of the sense doors that makes for an object, but instead of experiencing the object in the typical way, which is to respond with craving, aversion, or ignorance, the object registers perfectly and the mind experiences that experience without mental proliferation. They cut the link of fabrication that is vital to conscious experience, and as a result there is a loss of normal conscious experience. The mind experiences the object as it is, and there is no intention of any part of the mind to engage at all. This leads to an experience of consciousness without an object – we are present and alert but nothing is experienced. We were there, then “we” weren’t there, then “we” were again.
So a lot of the time I just sit with objectless focus and that’s what my teacher recommends and praises, or I so simple mindfulness of breathing or meditation on mind practice from TMI. whatever approach I use, there is almost always a progression of flavors to experience that mirror the jhanas even if I’m not explicitly intending to practice jhanas. I start out in a very sharp perception with blissful sensations, and eventually perception widens and there is often a fruition or two. This is all standard stuff.
Around fruition there often tend to be signposts indicating I’m in that territory. My mind gets spacey and slippery, unconstrained by objects. There are often moments where a certain perception will grab the mind and there is a sense of the mind getting intrigued by the discontinuity between one percpetion and the next and there is partial collapse moments where there is a sudden mental collapse around a perception and the a tension in the mind and feeling desysnchronous with experience. These moments will keep happening until there’s a sudden complete shut-down, almost matter-of fact in the immediate moment preceding the shut-down, where there is an object and the mind has no reaction of clinging or craving to that object, almost like an object registers and the mind fully perceives it and processes it peripherally, very rarely in the center of attention as attention isn’t really a thing in that territory. Right before the fruition there’s several types of phenomena depending on the door, often my eyelids will contract, often but not always there’s a moment of what appears to be a complete darkness followed by a feeling of being fully dead then coming back to life suddenly, several variations. Sometimes there’s a thought or image and I notice a strange paradox in it that seems to register in the gut, not through the thinking mind. I’m often distracted when it happens but afterwards the paradox is utterly clear and lucid. After the fruition there is the recognition of it being a frution and there is a few seconds and then an inpouring of subtle or overt blissfulness felt in the body, similar to third jhana. I’m usually clear and centered and the motication to continue meditating or do any kind of practice falls away for some time.
Cessation is unlike any other experience in life. It is very much like suddenly dying and instantly coming back to life. It is an experiential break in the continuous experience of being a permanent being. Cessations have done a lot of good things for my mind, and they seem to be the fundamental experience that is a prerequisite for seeing that reality is mind, which is a conclusion that this log is based on. I would speculate that they are a death-like experience and totally change the way the mind perceives itself.
In my experience, cessations are unmistakable, but not neccessarily a mind-blowing experience. They do leave a rather distinct impression on the mind. After stream entry, I had a phase where I had lots of very clear cessations that happened in a very similar way. The before and after phenomenology is what is most relevant for the insight I have gotten from cessation.
For me cessations occur when my mind is naturally in a place of wide perception, with a holistic view of all phenomena. The mind is in such equanimity that notions of being a meditator doing a practice, or being an autonomous continuous self temproarily fall away. I get lost in a phenomenon or an experience and forget that I’m supposedly a permanent being. Often times cessation happens after being in a very contracted, self-involved mind state, and having that exhaust itself, the mind relaxes enough to see a paradox in the line of thinking. The mind sees the thinking as phenomena happening and something about the self-concept in the thought trips something in the mind and the subject-object duality collapses. This doesn’t happen via the analytical mind, it’s a gut-level, experiential seeing. There is a moment of discontinuity, utter death, out cold, which leaves a distinct impression on the mind, and after the moment there is almost always a flood of relaxing blissful sensations similar to third jhana and the mind is freed from the self-attachment in a very obvious, matter-of-fact way. When thoughts or images are the last phenomena before the cessation, this is how it happens. Whereas a moment before I was quite embedded in a narrative, after the fruition, the continuous self in the narrative was broken and the narrative loses all power. This has a distinct effect on the mind and is incredibly useful and renewing.
Sometimes the mind is at a higher level of energy and these ones are less common for me, but the visual field or a bodily vibration will be the last phenomena before cessation. In this case there is a quick succession of colors in the visual field (often flashes of light and dark) or a quick succession of body sensations and mental impressions, and the eyes tend to move down on the last sensation in a series (often, three flashes or strobes), and there is a discontinutity and upon returning the same inflooding of peaceful bliss. Somtimes when the focus before cessation is the visual field, after returning the various specks of light and static in the visual field will morph into sparkly little nimittas, or take distinct shapes and dance around.
The moment itself can take different flavors. Sometimes I have frutions that are a very clean break and the two ends are the same, and it is experienced more like a cip snipped out of a movie reel. Other times there is a falling sensation immediately preceeding the moment, and a discontinuity and a sudden “coming back” with a sense of disorientation. I think the falling moments are more likely the dukkha door and the sudden break-like moments are more likely the impermanence door. The common threads are the sense of complete death, the distinct, complete change in mental state before/after and the sense of well-being/blissful peace after.
At a certain point I started having cessations everywhere and anywhere, including walking. I have had numerous experiences of walking and having a fruition, and the walking simply continuing during fruition, long enough so that I would be clearly a step or two or more further along when I regained conscious awareness. I have had them working in the lab, driving, at the computer, etc. I have had certain experiences where I am listening to dharmically related content or someone describing something related to the self-paradox, and I will spontaneously have a fruition.
The SigmaTropic Cycle of Manifestation
- Creation Stage. An imagined identity or desired event is visualized and the mind is set on actualizing it. In this stage the meditator sets out for awakening and strives to attain it as soon as possible, for the benefit of all living beings. The meditator visualizes herself with the enlightened qualities she seeks.
- We visualize a particular event happening.
- We visualize a particular experience we want to have.
- We remember a meditative experience we had before, and we visualize it.
- We maintain a strong conscious intention to actualize that identity or experience.
- Observation Stage– We do the meditative technique, observe the mind, and respond to what arises. This is the stage of applying an exercise, maintaining mindfulness, and attempting to learn something from our experience and work toward the imagined goal.
- We carry out a meditative exercise.
- We identify any stress in the moment, and the constituent parts that make up stress.
- We evaluate whether we are manifesting the intended result or not.
- Stabilization Stage– Sometimes suffering arises and the mind loses the intention and is destabilized. This is a responsive stage where we bring the mind back to a state of calm into the present moment while watching the process. We are stabilizing and integrating the new information.
- We stabilize the mind and observe the process of cessation of stress.
- We rest the mind in this state and remain watchful for any hindrances.
- Unification Stage – This is a state of rest and nourishment for the mind. Bringing the mind into unification makes intentions and visualization more powerful. This is a stage where exploration and curiosity flourish.
- We bring the mind to calm abiding and fulfillment in the now.
- We develop mental and physical pliancy.
- We expand this state of mind to all activities during all hours of the day.