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Thread: Lucid "Blacking Out" During Zazen

  1. #1

    Lucid "Blacking Out" During Zazen

    It's more like a "purple out." It's been happening since I started sitting bout 15 or so years ago. I sit there, very still, and my vision starts to cancel itself out. It's like when you look at those weird blotches on the computer or some such, and when you close your eyes a vision is revealed to you from the negative of the blotches. Its that kind of thing, but it's my entire field of vision. As I say, everything canceles itself out.

    I am totally aware as it happens–it's not like I'm dizzy falling over–and I'm not tired at all. It's not a blackout blackout kinda thing.

    When it happens I end up "noticing", I guess, and my vision can come back, but sometimes I can sit in this "vision cancellation." At this point I usually find myself going "wow" on some level and I get in the loop of what I should do. Seems if I don't think about what I should do, the "purple outs" happen. It used to make my heart race, but it doesn't anymore; it can be quite pleasant. Once again, it happens when I'm totally still, focused, and "empty." I only bring it up because I don't hear many stories of people having similar experiences, so I am to suspect that this is NOT some... progress indicator (I just tripped over the wire by using the phrase "progress indicator," I just know it!) Do I dare ask if I should "return to now" with that in regard to having my focus BE on something that is of "normal color," or am I to allow for eventual TOTAL "darkness?" Or are you guys just gonna tell me something that has nothing to do with either option? Gimme all ya got!
    Last edited by SyntaxJO; 07-24-2012 at 06:28 PM. Reason: Typos!!
    My name is: Jordan.

  2. #2

    I get visual "splotches" sometimes, or weird out-of-body sensations where I feel like I'm floating slightly above and behind myself. Just brain games. I just sit with it--just more Zen scenery. It passes, like everything else.
    Kaishin (開心, Open Heart)
    Please take this layman's words with a grain of salt.

  3. #3

    First, fireworks and little optical illusions are not what our Shikantaza Practice is about, even if accompanied by a "pleasant sensation". If it happens and does not feel unhealthy (such as that you are about to faint), then let it happen ... and move on. Do not chase after it, crave it ... nor run from it. Same with all other scenery of Zazen.

    It could be as simple as a drop in blood pressure. Slight oxygen deprivation. If you tend to sit in a dark room, are facing the blank wall, or have your eyes nearly closed, that could do it as you are noticing the darkness of the back of the eyelids! You may just be letting the eyes go fuzzy, or losing the sensation of identifying separate objects in the realm of sight ... whereby all becomes a big dark blotch. Heck, maybe you are getting sucked into a giant Black Hole in space! Maybe you are too close to God's 5 O'Clock shadow. Whatever it is ... do not chase after it, crave it ... nor run from it. Same with all other scenery of Zazen.

    Some forms of meditation talk of "purple lights" ....

    You see through your eyes the physical world and you also have the ability to see the spiritual world through your third eye.

    Third eye chakra has the purple/indigo colour, however some people even see very dark, almost black eye. The eye does not even have to be shaped like an eye, although this is the most common shape. Some people see the third eye chakra shaped like a book or a star.

    You can see a realistic eye or just a shape filled with indigo or purple colour.

    If you do not get enough universal energy it will be quite hard for your to see your third eye. You can get an abundance of universal energy by meditating. When you meditate you get universal energy through your crown chakra into the whole of your body. ...

    Usually people start seeing blurry shapes and colours of grey, white, purple and indigo before the actual sight of the third eye chakra.

    The more you meditate and practice, the stronger colours get and then you finally will be able to see your third eye.

    If you do not feel any vibration when you concentrate on the third eye, but you see colours of your third eye straight away, that means your eye is already awakened.

    This usually happens to people who were very spiritually advanced in their previous lives. Therefore in this life you do not need to try hard to develop spiritually – everything happens very quickly and naturally.


    Purple during meditation meant that you are progressing toward high spiritual thoughts, your conscious center is activating for high brilliance and high power, aiming for heaven inwardly, you are connected earth (mother) and crown chakra (father) for good physical of mind and body and you are mentally going towards godliness.
    Hooey! Hogwash! Bunch of Malarky! (IMHO ... and not Shikantaza!) Do not chase after it, crave it ... nor run from it. Same with all other scenery of Zazen.

    The most common optical effect for most folks is just the noticing of rods and cones and floaters in the liquid of the eye which are always there, which draw our attention in the "sensory deprivation" tank of Zazen. Here is what I post when things like this come up (be sure to catch the "cheap carpet" optical effect it mentions) ...


    All manner of sensory "tricks" can occur during Zazen. Some are quite interesting, as seems this one. We may note them, but do not particlarly encourage them in our little corner of Buddhist meditation. ...

    In Zen Practice, we have to be careful of certain games the mind will play during Zazen once in awhile ... including unusual visual and auditory sensations, brief periods of paranoia or panic, memories arising from deep down in our subconscious. We are not used to the stillness and quiet of Zazen, and it lets certain memories, emotions, fears and like psychological states rise to the surface ... or allows some things (spots in our eyes that are always there even though not usually noticed, background sounds) to be noticed that are usually blocked out by all the noise and busyness in our heads, senses and around us.

    If it is just once in awhile ... and if you are aware of this, and it was not too overwhelming ... then I do not think it cause for worry. If it becomes too overwhelming, break off that sitting and take a little time off until you cool down. If it becomes a regular event, or too profound, that may be a sign of something else that needs to be approached. But, once in awhile ... I would not be concerned.

    We tend to call such things "Makyo", defined as follows (by Daido Loori Roshi). He speaks of hallucinatory like experiences ...

    In Zen, hallucinations are called makyo. It is not unusual for practitioners sitting in meditation for long periods of time to experience makyo. Some people feel like they are levitating, others see visions of the Buddha bathed in light, some hear sounds or voices. This in itself is not a problem. The problem arises when we confuse these experiences with enlightenment. When students come to me in dokusan to give me elaborate description of their makyo, a common response from me could be something like, “Oh, don’t worry about it—it will go away. Maybe you’re not sitting straight.” In other words, don’t attach to it. But if a dream is real, why isn’t makyo real? Are dreams, makyo, enlightenment and delusion the same, or are they different?
    We learn from all these experience ... we learn how the mind is like a theatre, and creates our experience of the life-world.

    I also posted this once ...

    Sensory deprivation, and really paying attention to objects of sight that we usually do not pay attention to (the patterns on the carpet, for example) can have such an effect. These things usually are connected to the mechanics of the visual sense, and often beyond our control. It is just an optical illusion.

    A dry as toast, but good book on the topic is Dr. Austin's Zen and the Brain ... he has a discussion of all manner of hallucinations here (from about page 373).

    Seeing patterns on the carpet or wall you are looking at, and floor undulation, is kind of like this effect produced by a bad carpet:

    Another common effect is to see "spots in the eyes". Most are there all along (floating impurities, early cataracts and such of the eyeball itself), but we just do not notice them until we sit still. Many are just the "cones and rods" of the eye that were there all along. The cones and rods of color, for example, are always present in our eyes, but we do not give them notice so often in day to day life. In Zazen, what is always there just stands out sometimes, and the brain plays some tricks by seeing "connect the dot" patterns.

    The eyes contain cones and rods for color that we usually do not notice (but, if you look at any object closely, you will see little dots of color, much like the picture tube of a color tv):

    The sensory deprivation effect at staring at the white surface just brings the little dots to our attention, and they play pattern tricks in the brain.

    Like a new pair of glasses, the brain will adjust and soon not notice the dots as much. Maybe we are subconsciously looking for the patterns, and thus noticing the patterns. If we just forget about them, they usually go away.

    However, visual hallucinations are common in Zazen. Not a worry, nor of any particular importance other than as an amusement, possibly with a small lesson about how we create the world through the senses:

    Hallucinations and Illusions

    Kornfield (1979, 1983) noted that there was a strong correlation between student reports of higher levels of concentration during insight meditation, when the mind was focused and steady, and reports of altered states and perceptions. He reported that unusual experiences, such as visual or auditory aberrations and hallucinations, and unusual somatic experiences, are the norm among practiced meditation students. Walsh (1978) reported that he experienced hypnagogic hallucinations, and Goleman (1978-79) reported visionary experiences during deep meditation. Shimano and Douglas (1975) reported hallucinations similar to toxic delirium during zazen.

    ... Earlier, Deikman (1966a) reported that during meditation on a blue vase, his subjects' perception of color became more intense or luminous, and that for some of them the vase changed shape, appeared to dissolve, or lost its boundaries. Maupin (1965) reported that meditators sometimes experience "hallucinoid feelings, muscle tension, sexual excitement, and intense sadness."

    The contemplative literature contains numerous descriptions of the perceptual distortion produced by meditation. It is called makyo in Zen Buddhist sources, and is characterized in some schools as "going to the movies," a sign of spiritual intensity but a phenomenon that is regarded to be distinctly inferior to the clear insight of settled practice. In some Hindu schools it is regarded as a product of the sukshma sharira, or "experience body," in its unstable state, and in that respect is seen to be another form of maya, which is the illusory nature of the world as apprehended by ordinary consciousness.

    In a similar manner, St. John of the Cross described the false enchantments that may lure the aspirant in prayer, warning that "devils may come in the guise of angels." [51] In his allegory of the spiritual journey, The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan described Christian's losing his way by following a man who says he is going to the Celestial City but instead leads him into a net. In all the great contemplative manuals, one is taught that detachment, equanimity, and discrimination are required for spiritual balance once the mind has been opened and made more flexible by prayer and meditation. Illusions and hallucinations, whether they are troubling or beatific, are distractions—or signposts at best—on the way to enlightenment or union with God.
    Move along folks ... nothing to look at here! :-)

    Actually, it is all a fine lesson in how the body-mind-self-world are all interconnected.
    What you are seeing is a fine lesson on how objects are all interconnected. Truly, in this world, one things does blend into another, and only the mind cuts it apart into pieces. Learn that lesson, and return to just sitting.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 07-25-2012 at 04:20 AM.

  4. #4
    I agree ... this is just part of the mind games. I used to get these fuzzy images and such, as much of the time I am looking at a wall as there is nothing to focus on. But I find when I just continue sitting it pass ... and then of course another mind game comes up ... so I repeat the former.


  5. #5
    The visual stuff just becomes part of the general milieu of sensations when I sit - even the hallucinations or weird visual effects are just something that's there with the un-placeable body sensations and the wish-whoosh of whatever's happening sound-wise.

  6. #6
    Thanks for your post, and for all the references. I needed medical books about zazen, without mystery, without magic. I think you are absolutely right.

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