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Vipassana: Noting/Mahasi Style

A conversation with myself?

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A conversation with myself?
concentration vipassana noting beginner the 3 characteristics
Answer
11/24/18 9:12 PM
Hello all,

I have not really done any serious vipassana practice, only concentration meditation (usually mantra, or breath focus).

While reading MCTB, the technique of noting obviously came up, as well as the 3 characteristics and the importance of noting/analyzing all sensations through the lens of the 3Cs.

So my question/concern is:

While noting, I find myself being drawn into an almost intellectual "conversation" about each sensation and the 3Cs, like I have to purposefully intellectualize that each sensation is impermanent, not me/mine, and is a cause and/or product of suffering. Is this conducive to vipassana?

Heres an example of what might go on in my head while noting:

"Foot itch - ankle warm - toe tingle - finger twitch - all these sensations are impermanent - I am not these sensations - they don't belong to me - these sensations are suffering in the long run - all existence is suffering - impermanent - neck itch - toes hot...etc."


Is this appropriate? I feel like I get distracted by the 3Cs, trying to force them into the forefront of the practice. Should I focus entirely on simply noting? I feel like Dr. Ingram really emphasizes utilizing the lens of the 3Cs, but i'm not sure if i'm being too neurotic about this.

RE: A conversation with myself?
Answer
11/25/18 5:28 AM as a reply to Graven Image.
Hello and welcome to the forum!

Generally, any intellectualization on the cushion isn't helpful (though this is a very common problem meditators face) and so it's best to save that for afterwards if you do any at all. The goal of vipassana/insight is clear perception which is NOT filtered through the conceptual mind. You don't need intellectualization (or any lens) to perceive the 3C and in fact that can even get in the way because they are just there, all the time, waiting for us to pay attention to them. 

Here's an exercise that you might try to get the hang of things (this is just basic Mahasi style vipassana btw). Keep your attention on the sensations in the abdomen and note "rising" when you are inhaling and "falling" when you are exhaling. Notice all the little tiny sensations that are going on in that part of your body, and notice when you are NOT noticing anything. Basically, just pay very close attention to what is actually going on in that part of the body. If you are able to perceive that sensations are there and then not there, then you are noticing the 3C of impermanence. Pretty simple, right? You don't need any intellectualization at all.

Best wishes for your practice! Keep us posted on how things go.

RE: A conversation with myself?
Answer
11/26/18 7:06 AM as a reply to Graven Image.
Hello, welcome!

You are mixing up noting and mind wandering as if they were the same thing. Specifically:

Graven Image:

Foot itch - ankle warm - toe tingle - finger twitch <- great! You are noting, that is the idea!

all these sensations are impermanent <- WRONG! note "thinking"

I am not these sensations <- WRONG! note "thinking"

they don't belong to me <- WRONG! note "thinking"

these sensations are suffering in the long run <- WRONG! note "thinking"

all existence is suffering <- WRONG! note "thinking"

impermanent <- WRONG! note "thinking"

neck itch - toes hot...etc. <- great! You are back to noting, that is the idea!


The reason to note all your thoughts about the three characteristics (or anything else, for that matter) as "thinking" include:

1) They are actually a sensory event. You need to note everything.

2) Realising the true nature of the sensory-mental continuum is not an intellectual exercise.

3) You don't want to brainwash yourself into believing in the 3C with faith as if Buddhism were a religion: You want to test experimentally whether the Buddhist claim about the 3C is actually true for you as if Buddhism were a science.

4) Also, why would you want to brainwash yourself into thinking that "all existence is suffering" in the first place? "All existence is love" strikes me as a better thing to brainwash myself into, if I had to pick one.

Additional clarification: It is perfectly ok to think during practice, as long as you recognise that you are thinking and note it as such.

RE: A conversation with myself?
Answer
11/26/18 5:01 PM as a reply to neko.
Thank you for your response, that definitely clarifies my concerns succinctly! I completely agree with your point about brainwashing myself as well, that was kind of one of my concerns.

Recently during a vipassana practice, I stuck only to the prescribed noting, even noting thoughts or sensations that were unusual. It's pretty intense, almost like a game. [font="times new roman", times, serif]

RE: A conversation with myself?
Answer
11/30/18 1:23 AM as a reply to Graven Image.
Graven Image:
Thank you for your response, that definitely clarifies my concerns succinctly! I completely agree with your point about brainwashing myself as well, that was kind of one of my concerns.

Recently during a vipassana practice, I stuck only to the prescribed noting, even noting thoughts or sensations that were unusual. It's pretty intense, almost like a game. [font="times new roman", times, serif]

Just to add, as well as noting, you do want to notice the 3Cs specifically in each specific sensation. This is essential - it's investigation of the truth, one of the 7 factors of enlightenment. It's a mistake to intellectualize, but it's also a mistake to not look for the 3Cs at all.

Thinking abstractly about "all existence" and "in the long run" is not what you want - the idea is to look at the specific sensations and look for the 3Cs there. For example, when you note "foot itch":

for impermanence, like Andromeda suggested, notice when the itch is there and when it isn't. Notice how the feeling of itching changes from moment to moment. Does it get sharper or duller? More or less intense? Warmer or cooler?

for suffering, notice how the itch feels uncomfortable, how you want it to stop, how you want to scratch it. Look for anything that you are resisting or don't like or desire to change. Look for a restlessness, a feeling that the sensation somehow isn't enough or you need to do something else.

for no-self, notice how each sensation or thought comes and goes on its own, without you doing anything. Notice how you're not in control.

And check out the chapter of MCTB2 called "The Three Characteristics."