Practicing Insight on your own
Identifying Sabhava (Specific Phenomena) - And The Method For Dealing With Them
Q: Later, when practising meditation, there is sometimes a sensation of itching to be felt in the body, for instance in the face or at the back or it arises in any other part of the body. Sometimes there is a feeling as if ants or mosquitoes were biting or insects were climbing on the body, or as if needles were piercing, giving a sharp pain. Sometimes the hairs on the body stand on end, there is a thrill at the back or on the shoulders arising for a moment and then vanishing again. Sometimes tears fall or one perspires; heat is circulating in the body or coolness may spread over the skin.
What are these phenomena? Where do they come from? How does one contemplate them? Are they dangerous for the meditator or not?
A: All these phenomena arising when contemplation is carried on are called sabhāvā. These sabhāvā arise when the mind is calm, which is samādhi (concentration). One has pīti (rapture) which belongs to the same group as samādhi. They arise together, thus causing a lot of different sabhāvā to occur.
When they arise one must note them with mindfulness. For example: When experiencing itching note 'itching, itching'; feeling as if ants are biting note 'biting, biting'; when feeling a sting note 'stinging, stinging'; feeling as if insects were crawling over the body or in the face note 'crawling, crawling'. When sensing that tears or sweat is flowing note 'flowing, flowing'; when feeling that the hairs on the body stand on end note 'bristling, bristling'. When feeling a thrill note 'thrilling, thrilling'; feeling hot note 'hot, hot'; feeling cool note 'cool, cool'. Make a mental note according to the phenomena that arise. If you cannot note them properly, then note 'knowing, knowing'.
Most of these phenomena are manifestations of pīti. When they arise one should note them every time. If noting is omitted, this is moha (delusion) lying in the object. If these phenomena keep arising often, it is called 'clinging to phenomena'. This must be checked by developing viriya and sati (energy and mindfulness) making them stronger. Note the phenomena with a view to relinquishing them; don't cling to any object whatsoever.
Q: Sometimes, when sitting, it feels as if the hands were bigger or the feet, the belly, or the body were bigger. At times the body feels light and floating above the ground. Sometimes the hands, the feet, the body disappear altogether. How should one contemplate this?
A: Be mindful and make a note as follows. When the hands, the feet, or the body are bigger note 'big, big'; the body. feels light note 'light, light'; the body feels floating note 'floating, floating'; the hands and feet disappear, the body vanishes, note 'vanished, vanished'.
Q: Sometimes during sitting, perception of white light appears, sometimes one sees green and yellow colour, one sees many pictures, buildings, people, religious objects or monks. At times one sees skeletons, ugly and horrifying pictures. How shall one note these?
A: These objects arising in the mind are produced by concentration. They arise at a time when the mind is very tranquil. They are mind-created visions, imaginations. Sometimes these objects are very clear, sometimes they are dim; it depends on samādhi. If samādhi is very powerful one will see them very distinctly. When a picture or nimitta appears, note 'seeing, seeing' until that light or colour or image vanishes. Then go back again to note the Rising-Falling of the abdomen. If one notes them but they do not vanish, this is because of upādāna (attachment) which develops a liking for these things. Then the nimitta, colours, light or various pictures appear again and again. One must increase sati in noting and letting go. If they don't vanish, pay no attention and go back to the Rising - Falling or note other objects; those pictures will disappear by themselves.
Q: Sometimes the body sways or it feels as if turning round, the body shakes, trembles, or glides, or jerks. Sometimes there is a sudden push. What is that? How should one contemplate it?
A: The objects, sabhāvā and experiences can sometimes arise violently. This depends on the individual, because people are not all the same. Some people have slight experiences; other people have quite overwhelming experiences, because when pīti arises together with samādhi they have very powerful sabhāvā that cannot be controlled by the mind. So these phenomena come out by way of the body and the body starts swaying, shaking, trembling. When it shakes note 'shaking, shaking'; when the body spins note 'spinning, spinning'; when it glides note 'gliding, gliding'; when trembling note 'trembling, trembling', when jerking note 'jerking, jerking'. When feeling as if being pushed note 'pushing, pushing'.
Some people experience this to a great extent; for them the whole house seems to spin; they have the impression that the house sways, the house trembles, the house shakes. In some cases there are people who even vomit.
When such things happen one should not be worried or be afraid. Be always mindful of the objects that you experience and make a note many times. When mindfulness increases to a high level they will disappear by themselves.
Some people have such phenomena so much that they do not disappear in spite of noting them. They will have to live with a vipassanā teacher who has much experience in dealing with these sabhāvā and helps the meditator to check them by giving instructions on how to note correctly. Those sabhāvā will little by little disappear of their own accord.