The Bright Side of the Dark Night

CosmosThe dark night is a series of insights in meditation also known as the “dukkha nanas” or “knowledges of dissatisfaction” in classical Buddhism. They are a series of stages where the meditator gets a good hard long look at suffering.

It is not fun.

There is an aspect of the dark night that I want to highlight because it is very important. It happens to everyone and is not discussed often. And it is this: once you see dukkha in yourself you begin to see it everywhere.

You can hear the sadness and anxiety in other’s voices. Feel the anger and cynicism in humor and sarcasm. See the ceaseless restlessness in body language. Read the guarded disappointment in the set of faces passing on the street. See the constant craving for escape in just about every behavior.

The deep dissatisfaction and restlessness that is embedded in everyone’s lives jumps out in sharp clarity. It is not just in the people you encounter either. You can hear it in music, see it in art, feel it in the layout of offices, and recognize it as part of normal life, from the highest expression of humanity to the lowest depths of depravity. Dukkha is there. You can’t avoid it. It is not just something you see in your meditation, it is something you see in the world.

There is a scene in the latest Cosmos series that really stood out to me, because it captures what this is like. It portrays the experience of Clair Paterson, the scientist who, while trying to determine the true age of the earth, accidentally discovered that lead from gasoline is everywhere, and it is poising people. *Click the picture above to see the video.*

Imagine what it must have been like to be him. You analyze the data, crunch the numbers, and come to a shocking realization that literally no one else on the planet knows – there is a toxin covering every surface. It fills the air, and is probably in all the food. What would it be like to make such a discovery?

Even though it is not fun to discover dukkha, it is important. In fact, I’d say that unless you really soak up the truth to be found in this insight, then real wisdom – reality-based, non-superficial, knowledge about the actual state of affairs – is not possible. Additionally, developing deep compassion is difficult without seeing dukkha up close and personal.

Like Paterson, you will feel the urge to do something about it. Not just for yourself, but for others. This is how compassion, a deep and universal form of compassion, can arise. You realize that everyone is struggling with the same problem in different ways.

You see that dukkha is everywhere, and for this reason, seeking for happiness in things soaked in dukkha just won’t help. This is how wisdom arises. Why obsess over the small stuff? Why spend time in distraction? Once the meditator sees the truth about dukkha, then a clear sense of what is and is not important arises.

The bright side of the dark night is the development of compassion and wisdom. These are impossible to imagine without a deep insight into dukkha. So while the dark night is not fun, it is worth it for the transformation that it can bring.

If you think that you may be in the dark night, please contact a teacher. For more information, you can contact the author directly. Don’t be shy. If you are in the Dark Night, reach out.

Posted on March 3, 2015, in Compassion, Dark Night, Meditation, vipassana, Wisdom and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Well, this article comes at the right time. I don’t know if I’m in a dark night or just a shitty place, but all the conditions you’ve mentioned ring true. It’s to the point where I’m leery of interaction or speaking with humans. I clamp my hand over my mouth so I don’t say anything that might trigger any reaction from another. I don’t even want to leave my house or engage in life. I’ve let go of my formal zen practice. All the things you wrote above. It would be nice to sugar coat it by calling it “the dark night”, but I have a feeling I’m just slipping into insanity. See ya in the funny farm! Mmmwhaaaaa!!

    • Believe me – calling it a dark night wouldn’t be sugar coating it – but it would give it some sensible meaning.

      Of course, it could be depression. Don’t discount that possibility, and definitely get some support if you think that it might be. Depression is far more treatable than most people realize.

      If it is a dark night, then the best thing to do is reach out to a teacher and get some support and encouragement. The temptation in a dark night is to stop meditating, and that leaves one stuck in the dark night longer than usual. With the encouragement of a teacher you can move through the insight – the good news is that what follows is pretty damn awesome, so it is worth it to work on it.

      Hope this helps,

  2. Thanks for addressing this important point that is given short shrift most often, if it is even mentioned at all among meditators. This is sober wisdom. Adi Da Samraj called it “positive disillusionment.”

  3. Thank you for your very helpful and comforting knowledge nuggets! Really helps.

  4. I am trying to understand where I am. I’ve had a few awakenings, and been pulled through the cosmic experiences. Everything was formless without an identity. I wasn’t even myself, but just an extension of the all, but now things apear separate. I feel crazy. It is very difficult to know how to relate to anyone. I can’t tell man from God, spirit. Very disoriented at times. Is this a dark night? Been drawn back to physical at times, all I want to do is let go again. To the nonduel mind. Is this natural? Do others experience dark nights after a non duel experience? I’ve lost my mind, sense of reality, the perfect world.

  5. I’ve lost discipline

    • Hang in there, cycling through this kind of stuff is part of how it works. Part of the path is constantly going back and reviewing insights that you thought you finished. This happens until you’ve completed that particular cycle with a path.

  6. Thank you. I just hope to catch the ghost and keep it there for good, it’s difficult that sometimes I hear the ghost speak through others, other times I don’t, and often get paranoid by the confusion, and freeze up. The mind flips in between. Doesn’t always know what it is looking at. One second it will be trusting, the next it’s confused.. When I say ghost. It’s the universal spirit. Spirit of the universe, God, Buddha, shiva, Allah, whatever wish to call it. Sometimes I can’t tell if i am being tricked. In the most mondan situations. Idk how others are previewing me, or how I precieve me, actions. I’Be lost my mind, but not in the posetive sense of the term.

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