Meditation in darkness
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Alexandra David-Neel – With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet
There exists a still more austere form of tsams: that of dwelling in complete darkness.
Meditation in darkness is not a practice peculiar to Lamaism. It is known in all Buddhist countries. I have seen different kinds of rooms in Burma, specially built for the purpose, and made use of them myself during my stay on the Sagain hills. But while Burmese and other Buddhist monks only spend a few hours at a time there, certain Tibetan ascetics bury themselves for years, and even till death, in such grave-like dwellings. However, these extreme cases are rare.
When complete night is desired and the sojourn in the tsams khang is to be long, the latter is often established in a grotto or a partly underground building, ventilated by chimneys constructed in such a way that they do not allow the light to penetrate into the recluse's cell. This, however, is very seldom done. Usually the dark hermitage is aerated in a natural - and, indeed, very imperfect - way, through fissures and the like. Though these must, perforce, admit some light together with air, that light seems often of a purely theoretical kind, for in some of these obscure abodes it is impossible to distinguish any object. Yet, after a time, the eyes of the tsamspas get accustomed to dark, and succeed in vaguely seeing their surroundings.
According to what I have heard from men who have spent long periods of seclusion in darkness, these hermits
Enjoy, at times, wonderful illuminations. Their cell becomes bright with light or, in the darkness, every object is drawn with luminous outlines; or again, a phantasmagoria of shining flowers, landscapes and personages arises before them.
Optic phenomena of that kind are certainly common, for they have also been described to me in Burma, by bhikkhus who practised meditation in darkness, and I suppose that everybody has seen something of the kind at night.