Instances of so called Dark Night in the Suttas?

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    Alex K

    Are there any accounts of the so called ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ in the Suttas?



    The below is taken from:

    “(1) Historically it is not a term from the Buddhist meditative tradition but rather from the Roman Catholic meditative tradition. (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using Christian terms for Buddhist experiences but…)

    (2) One must clearly define what one means by a “Dark Night” within the context of Buddhist experience.

    It is certainly the case that almost everyone who gets anywhere with meditation will pass through periods of negative emotion, confusion, disorientation, and heightened sensitivity to internal and external arisings. It is also not uncommon that at some point, within some domain of experience, for some duration of time, things may get worse before they get better. The same thing can happen in psychotherapy and other growth modalities. For the great majority of people, the nature, intensity, and duration of these kinds of challenges is quite manageable. I would not refer to these types of experiences as “Dark Night.”

    I would reserve the term for a somewhat rarer phenomenon. This phenomenon, within the Buddhist tradition, is sometimes referred to as “falling into the Pit of the Void.” ”

    I hope it answers the question.



    According to Culadasa, there is not; also according to him, this would be because following the eightfold path on a traditional path to insight is highly effective at preventing extended dark night experiences, and thus these experience were much rarer in traditional contexts than they are with western ‘pure meditation’ practices. I just listened to parts 1-5 of his ‘adverse effects of meditation’ lectures (, and he mentions this outright. I recommend them if you’re studying the dark night.

    • This reply was modified 9 months, 1 week ago by  Raza.
    • This reply was modified 9 months, 1 week ago by  Raza.

    Alex K

    OK thanks that makes sense in the context of the TMI system as so called dry insight practice would preclude the development of the 8th path factor into the four jhanas.

    Its not the immediate conclusion I drew from the lack of so called ‘dark night’ descriptions though. It seemed strange that the Buddha did not highlight a possible danger for one cultivating the eightfold path in an incomplete or unbalanced way. I assumed this was because the the TMI system puts the experience of no self as a true reality which is the prime cause for the dark night experience.

    This is counter to what one finds in the suttas though as the Buddha explicitly refused to answer any questions about whether there was a self or no self.

    The main use of the anatta teaching in the suttas is to overcome the conceit of ‘I am this’ and ‘this is mine’ especially in regard to the aggregates. But its never posited as the goal of practice to realise no self. For one who has gone beyond all clingings then question of self or no self does not apply. It strikes me that for one who experiences the ‘dark night’ is using the anatta teaching in the wrong way. They are making assumptions where none should be made. Arahants do not assume a self or no self.

    • This reply was modified 9 months, 1 week ago by  Alex K.


    The Dark Night experience is something I have had the misfortune of experiencing once, and possibly twice. I thought is might be helpful to others to share my experience, so here goes:

    I had been meditating for a long time without direction. About 13 years ago, I found the podcasts of Gil Fronsdal and Ajaan Thanisarro helpful. But it seemed to improve my mediation experience I should attend a retreat. I took the opportunity to attend a 10 day at a Goenka center. The first 3 days were excellent, I was for the first time able to keep concentration at my nostrils consistently. However, on the fourth day and we were sitting for a longer period and we were told we could not move, I became a bit anxious that I would not be able to do that, but I persisted in sitting. My mind fatigued, became unconcentrated and I drifted into a repressed sub mind I was well aware of, but I did not repress because I was on a retreat. I envisioned hanging myself in a forest, and died. As you can imagine this was powerful and I had no strategy to address this – I had my first panic attack. This started a period of weeks struggling to stay sane. I learned the veil between “sanity and not sanity” is indeed a veil. And I required professional help, it took about six months to recover. I did not want to stop meditation, but it seemed doing it only alone was not healthy. I was fortunate to find a local Sangha, who happened to be studying the TMI book. I found it very helpful, but when Culadasa talked in the book about a dark night, I knew he was authentic.

    I was able to progress to stage 4,5, maybe 6 on different occasions. Had some nice Janna experiences, I thought it was all going very well. I started having insights and unique sensory perceptions – like seeing sound, which was a bit scary. But I felt things were going great, I was doing a daily practice, at least 75 min daily in and AM and PM practice. But also at this time work became extremely stressful. One of my colleagues was on medical leave and I had to move an office while performing both his job responsibilities as well as my own. Bottom line, meditation seemed to actually increase the stress at the point I was and boom – panic attacks. I cannot say the cause was where I was in meditation or completely the work stress, likely a combination. However, the extreme feeling of meaninglessness of life, of disorientation as Culadasa talks about in the above link. No self was a part of it, but not much. I felt like the traitor in The Matrix yearning to be reimplanted so I could enjoy the illusion of living normally. I can assure you it is a terrible place to be. This time I knew to seek professional help ASAP. I am ok now. I am starting to meditate again for longer periods, I never stopped this time around.

    I hope sharing this experience is helpful to someone. It may be I will never get past stage 5, but meditation has made me a more skillful person. Peace to you all.

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