Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,
Lecture 2, Part 7 of 15 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.
Student: The second thing I wondered about was that I definitely have a state change happen. It does seem to be consistent that the more I focus my breath the more I change into this other state. Is that normal? Is that what’s supposed to happen or is that a standard thing? Do you go through standard states when you focus?
CTT: Oh, the power I have to tell you whether you’re normal or not! (Laughter)
Student: Is it healthy or -? (Laughter)
CTT: Or transpersonal. Some people relatively normally get an altered state of consciousness of some sort, possibly several altered states of consciousness, from doing this kind of practice. Yes. And for those who are really into it, there are 8 concentrative meditation states, 8 jhanas, J-H-A-N-A-S, if I recall this correctly.
Student: J-N-A –
CTT: J-H-A-N-A-S. Jhanas. I don’t know. I’m probably terribly mispronouncing it, if anybody really knows Sanskrit. And they’re considered more and more profound but again they mean a better and better quality of focus. And they involve things that I find very difficult to understand because the descriptions say things like with the third jhana you have nothing but joy, equanimity, rapture and happiness.
But then when you get a little further along you didn’t have a crude feeling like happiness anymore. It’s just joy and rapture and equanimity and then you get beyond a crude feeling like equanimity. It experientially doesn’t connect with me. I can’t make any sense out of it. So yeah, some people get them regularly.
The Buddhist contribution was again in saying that increasing concentration per se doesn’t lead you to any ultimate kind of enlightenment, because you’re not understanding yourself better, you’re just deliberately holding yourself in a different kind of state of consciousness for a period – which isn’t bad. You know, if things are terrible and you can take a vacation for five hours, well you don’t have to suffer. That’s not bad! But the Buddha eventually ended up saying that for most people, they only have to develop a basic amount of concentrative meditation skill and then they can start applying insight meditation very effectively to produce the changes that lead to enlightenment.
CTT: So yes, you’re normal. (Laughter) I suppose. Maybe if you told me about the nature of the state, I’d say wow, you’re crazy man. But I doubt it. (Laughter)