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TOPIC: Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?'

Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 16 Aug 2016 15:44 #104062

Unfortunately I'm in the midst of a migraine, and a bit whacked-out on my meds, but I hope I can start a coherent discussion.

Kenneth, I'm posting this on your turf because I gather that you are able to access altered states pretty easily, and you seem to have your head screwed on straight, so I'm interested in your input.

Something universal to most (all?) systems of spirituality is the existence of "psychic powers." The importance of these powers varies across systems, but their existence is acknowledged all the same. This is interesting in Buddhism, because the powers range from very important in Tibetan strains, to interesting but unimportant in Theravada, to downright undesirable in Zen.

In any case, there seems to be a consensus across the board: if you have strong concentration and set your intention just right, crazy shit happens. It would seem reasonable, at least at first, to regard such experiences as carefully-controlled hallucinations in our cultural context. But when you have other people witnessing these experiences, it really throws a spoke in the works. Is there real psychic stuff happening? Some kind of trickery? This brings me to my next point...

(Sorry, it's taking me a long time to type, I'm having some really nasty word-salad going on, but I've really wanted to discuss this)

In the western world, most people are vaguely spiritual, but the general consensus seems to be that consciousness is a byproduct of the functioning of the brain, which ceases at death. Seems pretty reasonable at first. Neurochemistry is just huge when it comes to experiencing reality. You can be a macho meditator all you want, but if I slip lorazepam in your tea, you are going to zonk out. Neurochemistry wins the day. Even in my case right now, this migraine is altering my reality in all kinds of involuntary and unpleasant ways. Furthermore, it seems that a lot of these "psychic" types are more interested in having T.V. shows and making money than rendering altruistic service. And no one seems to be able to put on a public display of power, or pass whatever the hell that Randi test is.

So here's our working hypothesis is this: consciousness is a byproduct of neurons firing. The world is composed of matter, ruled by basic physics, and is thus incapable of being influenced by "mind power" or anything like that.

In the face of certain meditation experiences, this hypothesis seems to break down pretty quickly. There are reports of meditators altering candle flames with their minds, having out-of-body experiences (which may just be a trick of the mind, but I digress), being able to read minds, and all kinds of odd cookery that seems more at home in fiction than reality.

So, let's modify our hypothesis: consciousness is still a byproduct of the brain and all that. But it is possible to alter one's experience of reality with strong concentration. So one can "hallucinate" all these things, but there is no basis in reality.

This new hypothesis looks reasonable, and I'd wager it's widely held by most western meditators who have dealt with these things. But it doesn't really hold up in my experience. I will try to cut to the chase: I have had profound experiences that seem to be legitimately "psychic." Not all have been in the context of meditation. I will try to explain...

I don't like to talk about this but I guess it plays into the discussion.

At one point, during a sit, I was drifting a bit an idly pondered the concept of past lives. I was immediately hit with a series of images-- an army uniform, a ceremonial sword, and a very specific and unusual name. It lasted only a few seconds, and my sit promptly returned to normal. Hum, that was weird, I thought to myself.

A couple of days later I found myself wondering about it, and decided to plug the unusual name into the ol' google machine and see what came up. It was harmless curiosity, I never expected it to produce anything meaningful.

Well, the first hit was a man with that very unusual name, who was an officer in a time period that matched that uniform, and that sword. I was... floored, I guess. It was probably one of the biggest wtf moments of my entire life. The odds of that name and the images matching up with a real historical figure must be incredibly low.

That's one of many experiences that I've had, I can post more if it contributes to the discussion. My point is, I'm comfortable with the idea that neurochemistry and matter are all there is to the universe, but I have experiences that seem to contradict that.

Again, the powers are acknowledged in Buddhism. Dipa Ma was apparently very good at it. Bill Hamilton and Sharon Salzberg both talk about some of the crazy stuff she was supposedly able to do, and I think Jack Kornfield mentions her baking a potato in her hands using only her mind. Why are these otherwise intelligent and down-to-earth western dharma teachers talking about this stuff? I think it's very worth considering.

We also have NDE's, one of which I had as a very small child, and things like the placebo effect, the double slit experiment, shared dreaming, etc etc. I will go into more detail on these things when my brain stops rebelling.

I was going to post my personal hypothesis that would tie all this together, but I'd be interested in hearing what you all have to say first. What are your takes on the powers?

I seem to bel osing the ability to comprehend words so I guess I'm stopping here. I'll be back tomorrow.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 16 Aug 2016 16:01 #104063

Thanks for starting the topic. I have no conscious experience of 'the powers', except to the degree that everything around us is a freaking miracle.

I find your past life info (the name and military attire) a worthwhile anecdote. It reminds me that my son spoke frankly about a past life when he was around 3 years old.

Could you post more personal anecdotes about the powers?

Matt
Last Edit: 16 Aug 2016 16:01 by matthew sexton.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 16 Aug 2016 17:31 #104064

matthew sexton wrote:
Thanks for starting the topic. I have no conscious experience of 'the powers', except to the degree that everything around us is a freaking miracle.

I find your past life info (the name and military attire) a worthwhile anecdote. It reminds me that my son spoke frankly about a past life when he was around 3 years old.

Could you post more personal anecdotes about the powers?

Matt
Thank you for your response. I will be happy to provide more anecdotes when I am done with my little mini-stroke. I should be up for it by tomorrow.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 16 Aug 2016 18:53 #104065

I am no fan of Western materialism, but I didn't get any 'powers' as a result of awakening and don't find the concept very interesting. The question I'd ask is: why is this important to you? What does it matter if one set of people (Western materialists) think one thing and another ('powers' Buddhists) think another? Why not just go with your own experience, unless and until something happens that changes it, or unless there seems to be some kind of harm?
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 16 Aug 2016 19:08 #104066

every3rdthought wrote:
why is this important to you? What does it matter if one set of people (Western materialists) think one thing and another ('powers' Buddhists) think another? Why not just go with your own experience, unless and until something happens that changes it, or unless there seems to be some kind of harm?

Speaking for myself, I wouldn't spend time trying to cultivate 'the powers' unless I hear compelling stories from sources close at hand. I wonder if I have my own experiences of the powers but simply don't recognize them because of my ignorance. So, I like this thread for it's possibility of relieving me of my ignorance.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 17 Aug 2016 08:27 #104067

To echo Rowan, I think it's a mistake to call this stuff out and reify it. Sometimes what seems crazy is crazy. Sometimes what seems crazy isn't crazy. I've never been able to distinguish those two situations very well, so I take it all as it comes. I don't seem to have control over any of it. The "powers" are the same as everything else - impermanent, not me, stressful/painful/suffering, etc.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 17 Aug 2016 18:22 #104069

Hello everyone, unfortunately I still have a migraine but I would like to keep to my word about coming back here today...
every3rdthought wrote:
I am no fan of Western materialism, but I didn't get any 'powers' as a result of awakening and don't find the concept very interesting. The question I'd ask is: why is this important to you? What does it matter if one set of people (Western materialists) think one thing and another ('powers' Buddhists) think another? Why not just go with your own experience, unless and until something happens that changes it, or unless there seems to be some kind of harm?

Well, I guess I'm just rattled by the odd experiences I've had that seem to contradict the prevailing attitude of materialism in western culture, and I'm naturally inclined to seek some kind of resolution. It really isn't a terribly big deal, I am just a bit puzzled that it doesn't really seem to be addressed very often in dharma circles, though maybe there's a reason for that. I'm pretty happy holding the middle ground in the "I don't know" camp, but sadly this seems to accomplish little other than pissing off both skeptics and believers.

Matthew, I have had many strange experiences. I guess I will discuss my near-drowning when I was a small child. Being very young, I don't retain much memory of the incident. I was around five, and I had fallen into the deep end of the pool. I was unable to swim at the time. After flailing for a few minutes, my dad jumped in and saved me. Before that, though, I found myself floating in a void. There were two large "lights of love" there with me. I'm not sure what we talked about, or even if we talked at all, but I came away with this message-- "Do not forget the lights of love."

Whether it was a legitimate experience of some kind of "afterlife" state, simply an altered state from oxygen deprivation, I do not know. I sometimes wonder if that was the first time I crossed the A&P. And the similarities to many contemporary NDE accounts are interesting.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 17 Aug 2016 22:41 #104071

It seems to me that there are two kinds of mistake to be made here: fascinated seeking after the uncanny and thereby making that realm disproportionately important. (And, Eric, that's not my impression of you.) And the aggravated skepticism that wants to dismiss anything that can't be reduced to drugs, brain injury, etc. and JUST. NOT. GO. THERE.

Seems to me that anything but open inquiry in dealing with ALL of one's experience kinda sells ourselves short. Do we really want to go around slamming every door? Being too into predefining odd things as "powers" and rummaging around for precedents and pat "meanings" is a kind of evasion, too, of course.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 18 Aug 2016 09:15 #104074

Kate Gowen wrote:
It seems to me that there are two kinds of mistake to be made here: fascinated seeking after the uncanny and thereby making that realm disproportionately important. (And, Eric, that's not my impression of you.) And the aggravated skepticism that wants to dismiss anything that can't be reduced to drugs, brain injury, etc. and JUST. NOT. GO. THERE.

Seems to me that anything but open inquiry in dealing with ALL of one's experience kinda sells ourselves short. Do we really want to go around slamming every door? Being too into predefining odd things as "powers" and rummaging around for precedents and pat "meanings" is a kind of evasion, too, of course.
Thanks for your response Kate. I certainly had a phase where I was more invested in the powers than I probably ought to have been. Having a migraine disorder has really mellowed me out in that regard. It made me humble in the face of what the brain is capable of. I hope to proceed in a more balanced way when my brain manages to put itself back together.

I'm simply seeking a framework in which the powers make sense. I once (like many) had materialistic beliefs, but then weird stuff happened and materialism no longer made any sense. So what is a new framework I can use to make sense of these events?

Here is my new working hypothesis. Consciousness is not something the brain generates. Rather, consciousness is something to which we have access. It is independent of the brain, yet the two are interdependent in many ways. Just as the concept of an H2O molecule and the larger concept of "water" are independent of one another, yet dependent on each other for each to make sense.

I look at it this way-- the brain is the tool we use to access consciousness. One allegory would be that a set of golf clubs is the tool we use to play the game of golf. If someone suffers a brain injury, or is intoxicated, or anything like that, they will have limited access to consciousness. In the same way, if someone comes along and damages my golf clubs, I won't be able to play golf like I used to, or even at all. The game of golf still exists and goes on without me, but I can't play because my clubs are damaged.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 18 Aug 2016 10:00 #104075

My interest comes from my approach to contemplative practice. I feel I have a 'normal' state that takes in the world a certain way with somewhat predictable results. If I don't like the results I see inside and around me, I can choose to practice something that changes my experience and the worlds experience of me. Of course, nothing is perfectly controllable so it would be dumb to be super invested in controlling everything. But still, going with the metaphor, I can chose a different golf course, a different set of golf clubs to take to the course, and I can practice with the clubs or not. These three options are perfectly viable and skillful exercising them will probably be to the benefit of all beings, so why not do that? Maybe it's a hazardous journey, fraught with dangers? OK, that's a point worth emphasizing.

I see 'the powers' as just another set of clubs to exercise with, to see what it's like. I come to the pragmatic table in hopes of pragmatic discussion about clubs, courses and ways to practice.

Thanks for bringing it all up Eric.
Last Edit: 18 Aug 2016 10:02 by matthew sexton.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 18 Aug 2016 13:26 #104078

integrateddaniel.info/magick-and-the-brahma-viharas/

I found this helped my paradigm.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 18 Aug 2016 17:54 #104079

matthew sexton wrote:
My interest comes from my approach to contemplative practice. I feel I have a 'normal' state that takes in the world a certain way with somewhat predictable results. If I don't like the results I see inside and around me, I can choose to practice something that changes my experience and the worlds experience of me. Of course, nothing is perfectly controllable so it would be dumb to be super invested in controlling everything. But still, going with the metaphor, I can chose a different golf course, a different set of golf clubs to take to the course, and I can practice with the clubs or not. These three options are perfectly viable and skillful exercising them will probably be to the benefit of all beings, so why not do that? Maybe it's a hazardous journey, fraught with dangers? OK, that's a point worth emphasizing.

I see 'the powers' as just another set of clubs to exercise with, to see what it's like. I come to the pragmatic table in hopes of pragmatic discussion about clubs, courses and ways to practice.

Thanks for bringing it all up Eric.
Yes, this is a good way to look at it. It's like Daniel says in MCTB-- if you are in powers territory, you can think and do magical things all you like. But when you are in "ordinary" territory, that stuff just doesn't work out too well. Right plane, right time.

I find the powers fun and interesting, but they are not really all that valuable as an end to themselves. I've had many friends float off into la-la land and never really come back, which is unfortunate. I'd say the real use of the powers is cultivating a playful and positive attitude, which can be a significant boon to concentration. Which, in turn, allows one to contemplate the three voids in enough detail to attain stream entry (or beyond).
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 19 Aug 2016 12:02 #104084

Here is my new working hypothesis. Consciousness is not something the brain generates. Rather, consciousness is something to which we have access. It is independent of the brain, yet the two are interdependent in many ways. Just as the concept of an H2O molecule and the larger concept of "water" are independent of one another, yet dependent on each other for each to make sense.

There are several things going on here:

1. Intellectual curiosity about what human consciousness is and what reality is (the "outside" world), and how the two interact
2. A desire for the security of knowing
3. A practice goal

I would argue that all three end up in the same "place" from a deep practice perspective. I don't perceive there to be multiple domains in which we live. I do perceive there to be deeply interwoven aspects of one existence which manifest co-dependently depending on causes and conditions.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 19 Aug 2016 12:07 #104085

Question - what is special about consciousness? What if it's an object, just like a golf club, a chair, a baseball, or you?
Last Edit: 19 Aug 2016 17:25 by Chris Marti.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 19 Aug 2016 14:58 #104088

I'm far from an expert, and this is my first post here - so apologies if I'm stepping on toes without realising, but let me just say that I think this topic is of interest to humanity -- but I don't think it's of interest to your (or anyone's) practice.

Let me expand on my first point (with a caveat): People, much like yourself, have been searching for evidence of "psychic" powers for hundreds of years, and there has never been a single proven instance. Ever. As proof of that bold claim, I'll just point out that (like Houdini before him) the magician James Randi has been searching for evidence for decades. Now you may think that he's a professional skeptic, but whatever you may think of him is besides the point. He offered up a prize of $1m to anyone who can reproduce psychic powers under (mutually agreed) scientific settings, and, after many decades, no one has ever passed the test. Although many people have sincerely believed they were psychic, they usually come away a little embarrassed at the realisation that it was something like Confirmation Bias. (We humans are not great at measuring things without bias.)

You can read more here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Million_Dollar_Paranormal_Challenge

Paranormal powers would be a great scientific discovery if they were true, but as much as I'd like to believe they exist, I have to acknowledge that everyone who believes they've genuinely encountered something of the paranormal are either deliberately deceitful or delusional (even harmlessly so). If that makes anyone here angry, I'm sorry. Belief in such things can be fun, exciting, even inspiring, but it's good to keep both feet on the ground -- even if you wish to be completely open minded about such things.

As for the second point (the value this has to your - or anyone's - practice), I agree with what everyone has said here already: The pursuit of such things is only going to get in the way of your progress. Don't do it! :)
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 19 Aug 2016 17:16 #104092

Chris Marti wrote:
2. A desire for the security of knowing

This, a hundred times. Wanting to have a model or a theory is a desire for control. That's fine because it's human and without frameworks we couldn't do anything ever. But we should recognise clearly that that's what it is, and see if it could be let go and if that would make us freer.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 20 Aug 2016 08:48 #104098

Johnny Walker wrote:
I'm far from an expert, and this is my first post here - so apologies if I'm stepping on toes without realising, but let me just say that I think this topic is of interest to humanity -- but I don't think it's of interest to your (or anyone's) practice.

Let me expand on my first point (with a caveat): People, much like yourself, have been searching for evidence of "psychic" powers for hundreds of years, and there has never been a single proven instance. Ever. As proof of that bold claim, I'll just point out that (like Houdini before him) the magician James Randi has been searching for evidence for decades. Now you may think that he's a professional skeptic, but whatever you may think of him is besides the point. He offered up a prize of $1m to anyone who can reproduce psychic powers under (mutually agreed) scientific settings, and, after many decades, no one has ever passed the test. Although many people have sincerely believed they were psychic, they usually come away a little embarrassed at the realisation that it was something like Confirmation Bias. (We humans are not great at measuring things without bias.)

You can read more here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Million_Dollar_Paranormal_Challenge

Paranormal powers would be a great scientific discovery if they were true, but as much as I'd like to believe they exist, I have to acknowledge that everyone who believes they've genuinely encountered something of the paranormal are either deliberately deceitful or delusional (even harmlessly so). If that makes anyone here angry, I'm sorry. Belief in such things can be fun, exciting, even inspiring, but it's good to keep both feet on the ground -- even if you wish to be completely open minded about such things.

As for the second point (the value this has to your - or anyone's - practice), I agree with what everyone has said here already: The pursuit of such things is only going to get in the way of your progress. Don't do it! :)
This is a most excellent point.

Daniel Ingram talks about his in one of his essays. He talks about "fields of disbelief" when it comes to putting on a 'powers spectacle,' meaning that your little miracle is probably not going to work when there is significant skepticism present. Consciousness researcher Thomas Campbell has a similar theory called the Psi Uncertainty Principle. The basic gist of it is that your little miracles are much more likely to work when you are away from observers, because it is disruptive to consensus reality. It may sound like a cop-out, and from a certain perspective it certainly does, but it's worth pointing out that "believers" have offered these counter-points.

I also suspect that 'liars' are much more likely to take to the public stage and have their own T.V. shows with their little tricks. It's much easier to make money when you have plants in the audience and a camera pointed at you.

And finally, assuming these powers are 'real,' I (and others) have found them to be surprisingly unreliable most of the time.

As for powers getting in the way of practice, that's debatable. The Tibetans, and various shamanic traditions, make extensive use of the powers as meditation tools. Many have made great progress this way. As they say in the military, if it's stupid and it works, it isn't stupid. :)
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 20 Aug 2016 14:36 #104103

.every3rdthought wrote:
Chris Marti wrote:
2. A desire for the security of knowing

This, a hundred times. Wanting to have a model or a theory is a desire for control. That's fine because it's human and without frameworks we couldn't do anything ever. But we should recognise clearly that that's what it is, and see if it could be let go and if that would make us freer.
Is there anything wrong with the the desire for knowing? It is the driving force behind mathematics and all the sciences, and which have brought immense benefit to the human race. Would it be unreasonable to have a 'science of the powers?' Similar, perhaps, to Charles Tart's state-specific sciences. (Believers would argue that Jungian, tantric, or shamanic frameworks are already sorts of powers-science, but I digress.) Whether these powers are 'real' or whether they are largely hallucinatory in nature, it would be an interesting undertaking.

If I roll a ball down a hill and it slowly comes to a stop, I want to know why. Newton's three laws are the answer. If I have a 'powers' experience, I want to know why in the same fashion. I don't think it's unreasonable to be curious.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 20 Aug 2016 15:11 #104104

Eric, there's nothing wrong with a desire for knowing most of the time. It's generally a positive force in our lives. There is, however, a shadow side to it when it comes to the realm of meditation and dharma. It can be a crutch. A way to avoid uncertainty. A way to ensure safety and security. A way for the mind to avoid exploring a path where uncertainty is preeminent, where control over existence is seen to be a chimera and where we need to go in order to awaken.
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Can we have an honest talk about the 'powers?' 24 Aug 2016 09:26 #104149

Responding late in the conversation...

Weird stuff definitely seems to happen. Unfortunately, not in some predictable way that leads me to believe someone could really "use" the powers -- which makes it a much less solid thing, so I kinda cringe when people talk about it with certainty and call it "the powers" instead of "the wierd stuff that comes and goes unpredictably".

There is something really cool about how those experience seem to "lead onward". In other words, it's kind of like our mind keeps giving us experiences that can keep us interested in staying curious, continue questioning, exploring... but it's also these same experiences that can be clinged to and potentially send us off track, into stagnant waters.

The way I think about them is they are like powerful dreams -- meaningful, often with wise insights -- but if we believe in them too strongly, we start making up stories about reality again and start falling back asleep.

The best way to hold these experiences is "what can I learn from this?", "what is this showing me about my personal strengths and weaknesses?", and last but not least, a feeling of gratitude "Thank you universe for making this practice so interesting! I'm grateful to have experienced that!" Perhaps that last point is most important. These experiences can give a wonderful boost to morale and appreciation in living -- even for the nightmare-ish stuff that can pop up in the powers.

Ultimately, all of these experiences point back to exposing our basic controling nature: we want 1) the good stuff to stay, 2) the bad stuff to pass quickly, and 3) the boring stuff to change. As others said above, we want to be in control. A lot of the times the powers stuff is really pointing out a subtle way that we want those three things to happen, and so it points directly at the work we need to do in order to meet experience with awareness and equanimity.

Hope this helps!
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