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Point of concentration?

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Point of concentration?
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4/12/19 6:59 AM
Hello everyone,

I have a few thousands of "formal" meditation hours experience, and probably a few thousands of "informal" practice of trying be present in daily life..

The formal meditation style I have practice in was one of more Indian "Samadhi" style practice. Merging into states of bliss, peace, light and what not. There have been a few shifts/permanent cessations on my path.

Now I am turning more to the Buddhist knowledge and wisdom. Currently reading MTCB to learn more and to get inspired about ways to structure my practice.


I am wondering about a few things:

1.What is the goal of concentration practice? 

2. What is the value of concentration practice if you don't care much about states of bliss, peace etc, but are more interested in actually penetrating Reality?

3. How does one know if one already has "sufficient strength" of concentration and if one can/should focus more time on insight meditation and dzogchen?



I ask because even buddhists teachers seem to be divided on the matter. I even heard one teacher saying that practicing concentration for too much can be a waste of time, and not essential to insight meditation and dzogchen practices...

RE: Point of concentration?
Answer
4/12/19 10:08 AM as a reply to itsuki.
Hello itsuki,

All of those questions are answered to some degree in MCTB. That being said, here are some more answers:

1. I'd say the answer to this question is more about your personal goals during a given meditation session. If your goal is to attain to states of bliss and relaxation after a long, stressful day, then that would be the goal for that sit. If you're trying to provide a foundation for insight practice, concentration practices can help a practitioner feel settled and focussed enough before going into vipassana. If you're trying to manifest magical powers, then concentration practices would be a means to that end (high levels of concentration would be needed to accomplish this).

I think that with respect to vipassana, many people agree that "access concentration" is a sufficient enough level of concentration to get started. Access concentration is also a loaded term with many definitions, but the definition in MCTB 2 is pretty solid.  

2. If you have access concentration, you can get started with vipassana. In later paths, higher degrees of concentration are necessary to make progress. However, within the later paths, the mind can be more easily trained to enter these states of higher concentration. Indeed, I've seen many advanced practitioners discuss how they'd just effortlessly fall into the various formed and formless jhanas during their sits. Also realize that concentration and insight techniques exist on a spectrum and are not completely divorced from eachother. Training in one will train the other to some degree. When the proper balance between concentration and investigation converge during a sit, the practitioner may experience vipassana jhanas (which are covered in MCTB as well).

3. Many teachers are divided, you are correct. That being said, there are many ways up the mountain and what works for one practitioner may not work for another (we all have our strengths, weaknesses, proclivities, conditioning, etc.). Pick an insight technique that you enjoy doing. If you are able to stay with the object of meditation/technique moment by moment during the course of your sit without getting pulled away into content/thoughts, then that's sufficient enough concentration (basically access concentration).

RE: Point of concentration?
Answer
4/12/19 9:31 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Thank you HIbiscus Kid!

RE: Point of concentration?
Answer
4/12/19 9:32 AM as a reply to itsuki.
Hibiscus Kid makes some good points.

Around here, at least when discussing Theravada, we often talk about "wet" (lots of concentration) versus "dry" (no/little concentration) vipassana/insight practice. Concentration sort of greases the wheels of your insight practice and in the opinion of many folks, past a certain point you'll need to do at least some to make progress. How much depends on the practitioner and what stage they are at in practice, but basically if your goal is insight then it will be most efficient for your practice to be just wet enough and no more because concentration is just a means to an end from that perspective. If you're already able to merge into states of bliss, peace, etc. then that's probably more than enough for successful insight practice.

Practically speaking, just as an example, it might mean that in a given 60 minute session you would sit down and spend a few minutes just settling into the breath, then pick an object for concentration and work with that for 10-15 minutes, then spend the remaining time on insight practice. The insight practice may well be more productive than if you'd just done it "dry" for reasons that are spelled out clearly in MCTB2.

That being said, getting good at "dry" vipassana has a lot of advantages in my experience and so it's worthwhile to play around with. There's really no one right answer, which is why you hear so many differing opinions from teachers. We all have to do the experiment ourselves and figure out what works for us and what doesn't, and how that changes over time. 

I hope that helps some. Best wishes for your practice!

RE: Point of concentration?
Answer
4/12/19 11:02 AM as a reply to Andromeda.
Thank you Andromeda. Yes it does help and give some perspective into a world that is new to me.

You mention taht you find that "dry" vipassana has a lot of advantages too, would you be willing to share what you have found to be the advantages for you?

RE: Point of concentration?
Answer
4/12/19 11:57 AM as a reply to itsuki.
One of the advantages of "dry" vipassana that was most helpful to me as a newcomer to the practice was that it translated very well into informal practice during the day. All you have to do is notice the impermanence of sensations--any sensations--and you are doing vipassana. So if you get good at instantly tuning into impermanence, and form the habit of doing this every spare moment you get during the day, all those moments add up which can really give your practice a lot of momentum and act in a synergesic way with your sitting.

At later stages of practice it was helpful for other things, but that's not so relavent for you now.

RE: Point of concentration?
Answer
4/12/19 12:22 PM as a reply to Andromeda.
Andromeda:
One of the advantages of "dry" vipassana that was most helpful to me as a newcomer to the practice was that it translated very well into informal practice during the day. All you have to do is notice the impermanence of sensations--any sensations--and you are doing vipassana. So if you get good at instantly tuning into impermanence, and form the habit of doing this every spare moment you get during the day, all those moments add up which can really give your practice a lot of momentum and act in a synergesic way with your sitting.

At later stages of practice it was helpful for other things, but that's not so relavent for you now.

Thank you Andromeda. I actually just made a post on impermanence, so very on point that you bring it up: https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/12818177

In your own simple description, what does it mean to "notice the impermanence of sensations"? Do you mean for instance simply noting thoughts, sensations etc and letting go of fixation or?

RE: Point of concentration?
Answer
4/12/19 12:43 PM as a reply to itsuki.
When first starting out, for informal practice, I would pick a small area of the body like a fingertip or my lips and experience fine tactile vibrations in the skin. Or take any sound, and experience that it wasn't solid but made up of many tiny sounds per second, constantly changing, with multiple harmonics. Or through the visual field, with eyes held in a fixed gaze, I could notice a very subtle flickering like tiny pixels on a computer screen. With practice, you can eventually learn to just shift into experiencing the impermanence of the entire sensory field at once.

For formal practice, I started out using subtle energetic sensations in the body and experienced that as a constantly shifting flow related to the breath, but not everyone can start out with that (I'd already done a lot of work by then). Many people around here have had good success using Mahasi noting with verbal labels as described in MCTB as a formal vipassana practice.