Friday, May 20, 2011

"Rapture" in Buddhism

Wisdom Quarterly
The "Christ in a the clouds UFO-invasion" theory promulgated by fundamentalist Christians may be a too literal interpretation of an internal experience.

There is a lifting up, an effervescence, a pleasurable floating sensation -- called piti in Buddhism -- as if one were held in soft, nurturing hands. Five things oppose it, and five things enable it. It all occurs on a seat, a cushion, or the root of a tree, fully clothed.

Rapture (Pali, pīti, pronounced "pee-tee," Sanskrit prīti) is variously translated as joy, bliss, supersensual happiness, enthusiasm, or keen or joyful interest in an object of Buddhist meditation. It is certainly not limited to Buddhist experience; it is, rather, a universally accessible and naturally occurring process of the cultivated mind.

It is a serene quality of absorption (intense collectedness or concentration into a single object, Pali, jhana, Sanskrit, dhyana). While rapture is uplifting, it eventually wears thin as the mind longs for greater peace. This happiness is happiness-in-the-body, but it is not a physical sensation. Rapture is precariously close to Earth and one senses it would not take much to draw one back to erratic and distressing worldly affairs.

Eventually, as the absorptions deepen (there are eight progressively subtle and pleasurable states, four material and four immaterial), gross happiness becomes equanimous. Excited bliss becomes calm impartiality. Buoyancy goes from a healthy, happy body to a tranquil, contented mind (sukha or "gladness").

What opposes entrance into this natural state? The Five Hindrances:
  1. Sensual desire: craving for sense pleasures.
  2. Ill-will, anger, or wrath: malice directed at others.
  3. Sloth-torpor: boredom or lassitude of body and mind.
  4. Restlessness-worry: worry, regret, scattered energy.
  5. Doubt: lack of confidence, conviction, faith, or trust.
What enables entrance? The Five Factors of Absorption:
  1. Moving the mind onto the object (applied attention)
  2. Retaining the mind on the object (sustained attention)
  3. Rapture (joyful interest in the object)
  4. Happiness (the opposite of suffering or distress)
  5. Equanimity (impartiality, serenity, tranquility)
All of these states are accompanied, to a lesser or greater degree, by one-pointedness of mind, something we often lack in our attention-deficit-disordered daily lives. When does serenity ever occur? Now. Only now.