Cessation by Culadasa John Yates
Quoted from ”The Mind Illuminated” by Culadasa John Yates
The Mind-System model and unification process help us understand one of the most profound Insight experiences, the cessation event. A cessation event is where unconscious sub-minds remain tuned in and receptive to the contents of consciousness, while at the same time, none of them project any content into consciousness. Then, consciousness ceases—completely. During that period, at the level of consciousness there is a complete cessation of mental fabrications of any kind—of the illusory, mind-generated world that otherwise dominates every conscious moment. This, of course, also entails a complete cessation of craving, intention, and suffering. The only information that tuned in sub-minds receive during this event is the fact of a total absence.
What makes this the most powerful of all Insight experiences is what happens in the last few moments of consciousness leading up to the cessation. First, an object arises in consciousness that would normally produce craving. It can be almost anything. However, what happens next is quite unusual: the mind doesn’t respond with the habitual craving and clinging. Rather, it fully understands the object from the perspective of Insight: as a mental construct, completely “empty” of any real substance, impermanent, and a cause of suffering. This profound realization leads to the next and final moment of complete equanimity, in which the shared intention of all the unified sub-minds is to not respond. Because nothing is projected into consciousness, the cessation event arises. With cessation, the tuned-in sub-minds simultaneously realize that everything appearing in consciousness is simply the product of their own activity. In other words, they realize that the input they’re accustomed to receiving is simply a result of their own fabricating activities. This has a dramatic effect. The sub-minds of the discriminating mind have the Insight that everything ever known, including the Self, was nothing but a fabrication of the mind itself. The sub-minds of the sensory mind have a slightly different Insight: the only kind of information that ever appears in the mind that isn’t purely mind-generated is the input coming to them directly from the sense organs.
If the sub-minds are receptive but there’s nothing to receive, can a cessation event be consciously recalled afterward? It all depends on the nature of the shared intention before the cessation occurred. If the intention of all the tuned in sub-minds was to observe objects of consciousness, as with popular “noting” practices, all that’s subsequently recalled is an absence, a gap. After all, if every object of consciousness ceases, and there’s no intention for the sub-minds to observe anything else, then nothing gets imprinted in memory. However, if the intention was to be metacognitively aware of the state and activities of the mind, we would remember having been fully conscious, but not conscious of anything. We would recall having a pure consciousness experience(PCE), or an experience of consciousness without an object (CWO).
To be clear, there is no actual “experience” of “consciousness without an object” during the cessation event, nor could there possibly be. That experience, like any other, is a construct of the mind, and in this case is generated after the cessation event has already ended. How the memory of a cessation event is interpreted retrospectively takes many forms, depending on the views and beliefs held by the person whose mind is doing the interpreting. Thus, the cessation event itself is not a mental construct, but the subsequent interpretations are entirely constructed.
Regardless of what does or doesn’t imprint in memory, every sub-mind tuned in to consciousness during cessation must assimilate the event into its own representation of reality. As with any Insight experience, the new information forces a reprogramming of how all future experiences are interpreted and responded to. Realizing that all phenomenal experience, including the Self, are mere mental constructs, and therefore “empty” of any real substance, radically transforms how the mind functions. We understand, more clearly than ever before, craving and suffering as the grasping after mere mental constructs—and the more sub-minds are tuned in during the event, the stronger that understanding will be. Of course, it’s not that hard to acquire a conceptual grasp of these truths. Many have done so. But only Insight can establish this understanding at a deep, intuitive level.
The transformative power of a cessation event depends on how unified the mind was. Unification determines the overall size of the “audience” of sub-minds receptive to events in consciousness. Only the parts of the mind-system that were tuned in during the cessation are affected. If the mind were completely unified, then every sub-mind within the mind system would be affected simultaneously, and there would be a complete Awakening of the entire mind-system. [Footnote: nirodha-samāpatti]
However, if the mind was only partially unified, there are two possibilities: no transformation, or incomplete transformation. This is because a certain degree of unification is needed during the event to reach enough sub-minds to make any tangible, lasting difference to the whole mind-system. With too little unification, a person may have a very memorable peak experience, but with little or no lasting effect. However, if the critical threshold is reached, the second possibility is an incomplete transformation of the mind-system, limited to those sub-minds that happened to be tuned in at the time. Complete transformation must await subsequent cessations or other Insight experiences that have a similar impact on the remaining parts of the mind-system. This incremental process of transformation explains why Awakening is traditionally described as occurring in a series of stages.