Fire Kasina Practice
After having reviewed nirodha samapatti, I then felt satisfied with my practice, so I decided to use the rest of the retreat to experiment with strong concentration and kasina practice. They had these great little oil lamps that we used in the kutis (monastic huts) we stayed in, since the kutis didn’t have electricity, and so I started doing candle flame meditation.
I placed the oil lamp about five feet (1.5 meters) from me, stared at the flame until I felt a perceptual shift, closed my eyes, stabilized on the visual purple after-image that would become “the learning sign”, which was something more coherent, and that would turn into the nimitta, which was a bright red dot. This would shudder, destabilize, roll off to the sides, and finally fade. I would open my eyes and try again. I did this hundreds of times, with each pass taking just a few minutes.
As this practice progressed, the red dot would appear more rapidly, stabilize more rapidly and grow more clear and clean. Then, instead of ending there, I would get to the next phase, where the red dot had a spinning gold star in it and small purple and green rings around it, and the star’s spinning velocity and direction were tied to the breath, faster in the middle, slower towards the end, in the classic way of the A&P. Then that would fade and I would open my eyes, start again, and build up from there: candle flame, after-image, red dot, slightly bigger red dot with spinning star and a bit of green, blue, and purple around it, and then open my eyes and repeat, again and again.
Then, instead of stopping there, a black disk started showing up after the red spinning dot, and I didn’t know what to do with that. Having faith that something good would occur if I just kept paying attention and concentrating, I stayed with the black disk, which would do strange things and sometimes have various shimmering internal colors until it would finally fade also, and then I would open my eyes and return to the flame. The basic sequence now was: look at the flame, close eyes, see after-image, red dot, red spinning dot, gold intricate shimmering star with darker moving borders around it, black disk (sometimes with subtle nuance inside it), open eyes, and do it again.
Then I started to notice vague but very complex, beautiful, whitish lines running as tangents to the black disk all around it (some would argue that all color and elemental kasinas lead to the white kasina eventually), and then these started to shift into subtle moiré patterns, and then those began to spread out, wider and wider, and then they finally started to wrap slightly around to the sides, sort of like staring into the inside of a large sphere. Then those would become vague and I would open my eyes and repeat the sequence again. So now the sequence was: flame, after-image, red dot, red dot with spinning gold stuff (it was becoming more and more intricate than just a star), black disk, black disk with tangential whitish moiré lines around it, space out, open eyes, repeat. This whole sequence was still taking maybe a few minutes.
The next part took the subtlest concentration to get past; it took broad concentration, trusting concentration, easy concentration, like looking at something just with your peripheral vision, like trying not to spook an animal by looking at it. I would go up through the sequence to the whitish moiré lines, and then somehow, far out on the periphery and mostly out of phase with attention, these rainbow flux-lines started showing up and moving in very complex ways and curling into patterns that reminded me of Aztec art, all with manifold radial symmetry. Getting through this phase required letting the images do their thing and allowing the attention to go broad and sort of dreamy. Then that would fade and I would open my eyes and do it again. Thus, the sequence was flame, red dot, red dot with spinning gold stuff (sometimes a star, sometimes more like intricate, fine, gold Arabic calligraphy), black disk, black disk with moiré tangents, wide Aztec rainbow flux lines around the periphery, dreamy phase, space out, open eyes, repeat.
By this point I am a few days into this kasina practice. At some point around here I added a fun and resonant mantra running in the background that just came to me and that seemed to make things more interesting.
Throughout this I wasn’t using a clock except for alarms for the key things: morning group sit, work period, lunch, last group sit of the night. Other than those, I would just sit until the pain in my knees became too distracting, walk doing a mantra until my knees felt better, sometimes maintaining the visualization while walking as practice progressed, and get back to sitting as soon as I could. During work periods, I would keep the mantra going to have some element of that concentration there and not lose momentum. Later, I could do visualization walking around, as described in a bit.
The next phase blew my mind, and it was here that I began to understand the awesome power of kasinas to make concentration strong and facilitate all sorts of experiences and attainments I would have been quite skeptical of before. I would go up the sequence and get to the Aztec rainbow flux-line phase, and then I would space out, and then the most amazing visuals started happening: huge vistas would unfold with a level of three-dimensionality, detail, and vastness that amazed me. These contained all sorts of profound images: black holes, tantric beings, Buddhas, and the like. These were perceived with a degree of detail that I never thought my imagination could possibly come up with. They were luminous, intelligent, and interactive. Finally, a Fruition would occur, and many of my best descriptions of the three doors come from this period. The black hole would spin and take out everything with it and the Fruition would occur. The tantric deity and I would recognize that the same intelligence or awareness was in each of us and our eyes would collapse into each other’s and the Fruition would occur. Then I would open my eyes and do it again.
Thus, the sequence was now flame, red dot, spinning red dot, the gold star, black disk, moiré tangents, Aztec rainbow flux-lines, dreamy phase that is hard to explain, then this phase, which I hesitate to label, as it would hardly do it justice, but perhaps “the 3D perfect visualization hyper-real phase” would get at it, or perhaps “the culmination phase”, as it would always end the sequence and then it would restart again. I am not sure how long it took to get to this phase, maybe five days, so probably day twelve of the seventeen-day retreat, though I can’t be sure.
Now practice got even more interesting. I started to notice that my concentration was doing all sorts of things on its own and hinting at avenues of experiences and abilities that I had no idea about before. I can’t remember the exact sequence of what came next, so these are listed without a firm chronology to them. Basically, they all occurred between more formal candle-flame practice sessions and at times when trying to get to sleep at night or during other periods as specified.
Red: I started playing with just getting the kasina off my own eyelid colors without using an external object. I would stare at the inside of my closed eyes and started taking red as object, building up the strength of the red color until finally, when I opened my eyes, I noticed that everything was red, just as the texts stated would be the case for someone working on the red kasina. I started noticing that I could just intend to visualize objects as red and they would show up: things like a red alligator. I just wanted one to show up, and there it was.
I visualized all kinds of strange animals and other objects and there they were, red and glowing. Eventually I could visualize red things while walking around, which was a new level of concentration for me, so now I practiced that while walking during my red phase on that retreat.
Pentagrams: I had gone through a period of more formal Golden Dawn/Crowley/Donald Michael Kraig–influenced practice with Robert Burns, and had been very frustrated that I couldn’t see the symbols I was drawing in the air during rituals such as the classic “lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram”. It suddenly occurred to me in this phase to try this again and, voilà! I put my finger to the air, and suddenly everything slowed down, space seemed to thicken slightly, and a blue flame rolled off of my finger and onto space like floating radioactive syrup that lingered there in a way that it never had before. It was truly a cool feeling. Now I got what they were talking about.
Chakras: during one of the group sits, suddenly I could see energy channels, and the more I looked, the more I saw. I could not only see them but also feel them and manipulate them. I felt blockages, tangles, strange places that seemed just wrong in my newly discovered energetic system, so I set about to repair these, feeling into them and straightening them out and causing energy to flow more cleanly and clearly in the channels.
Finally, after about an hour of this, when I stood up I felt totally different, with a posture that felt much healthier. The impression at the time was that this is what I imagined tai chi masters must feel. I then walked outside with this sense of balance and poise that I had never known, and then massive vertigo hit, and I literally fell in a foot of West Virginia snow, and it took me awhile to crawl back to my cabin—the world was spinning around me; finally that all faded. Why this vertigo happened, I have no idea. A tai chi master I talked with about it said simply, “Yeah, that stuff happens.” I theorize that I jumped too far too fast into those experiences, but it is just a theory. Luckily, the vertigo hasn’t recurred. Still, it gave me profound empathy for the patients I treat who have it, as it truly sucks.
Manipulating flame: here is the part that really got my attention far and beyond all the rest of it. I remember my Thelemic friend Robert Burns talking about moving a flame around with intention, and so, just on a lark, I decided to see if I could do that. In classic magickal style, I used the candle flame to go up the standard sequence in which I was quite fluent by this time, from red dot to Fruition, and then opened my eyes, intended to move the flame, and nothing happened. Then, about three seconds later, this blast of orange, purple, and white light (similar to what shoots from the guns used in the movie Ghostbusters to zap the ghosts) shot down through my body, across the room and into the oil lamp flame, and it flickered hard sideways for a few seconds, then righted itself.
That day it was calm and clear, the cabin had no windows open, because it was deep into winter, and the oil lamp had a fluted protective glass around the flame. I had been staring at it for days and it hadn’t wavered once. Thus, my immediate question was: did I move the flame, or did I just imagine that the flame moved and saw that as what I wanted to see? Without someone else there, I can’t tell you the answer.