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Noting and anapanisati
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4/6/11 2:32 AM
Hello.
I'm new here but I've read a lot on this site.
I've read the Mastering Core Teachings book (Excellent book) among other books and suttas.

I have been trying to practice anapanisati meditation to reach the first jhana using the technique taught by Pa-Auk Tawya Sayadaw. I've been meditating on a fairly regular basis (nearly daily for about 30 minutes, sometimes morning and evening.) for about ten months now.

I have not reached absorption into the first jhana and I'm wondering what I am doing wrong, or does this just take more effort and time?
I have not seen a nimitta (or if I did I didn't know it was a nimitta).

When I sit I will see when my attention is distracted from the point of breath and I bring it back to the breath.

At times it is easy to stay with the breath and the distractions are momentary and sort of in the background while my attention is still on the breath. Other times I am more distracted. It takes more effort to stay with the breath and I will see that my attention has been away from the breath for longer than a moment.

Then a week ago while meditating with a group I was in a very good place and someone sneezed. At other times this would have bothered me but instead I felt that it was perfect and just the way it should be. Then this reminded me of a time many years ago when I had what may have been a "dark night". I won't go into the details but afterwards for about three days there was a guy that I worked with that I had always found to be rude and sort of a "bull in a china shop", but it didn't bother me anymore because I saw that he was acting the only way he could and that it was OK for him to be that way. It was more like everything was perfect and the way it should be. I don't know how to explain it but that's the best I can do.

Daniel's book talks about the noting practice. I have not been doing that type of practice but I am now wondering if I should begin doing this noting practice.

I am trying to reach first jhana and wonder if the noting practice would be helpful.
Or is there something I need to change in the practice of watching my breath. I just watch each breath and "know that I am breathing in a long breath" (or short breath) and "know that I am breathing out a long breath" (or short breath). And I do my best to stay with the breath.

Any suggestions will be appreciated.
-Gerry T.

RE: Noting and anapanisati
Answer
4/5/11 8:35 PM as a reply to Gerry T.
Hi Gerry,

Welcome to the DhO!

You mention trying to attain absorption. May I ask, what is the intention behind this? jhana is a pleasant state and the practice leading up to it certainly can be useful in many ways but is not required for insight to arise.

Have you checked out Ian's thread on jhana? You may find it helpful: http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/1191517

After reading the above mentioned thread, you may want to expand your view on what is jhana in the first place. Some schools have a very strict view on jhanas, some are more open. As far as I can tell, different people have different experiences and not everyone will fall into the strict requirements of this school or another. Look around, expand your horizons.

Noting practice generally does lead to absorption in the same sense that is meant with jhana (although there are parallels between what experiences). It can, however, improve one's concentration. You may want to experiment and see what happens.

Hope this helps,
Eran.

RE: Noting and anapanisati
Answer
4/5/11 9:13 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran,
Thank you for comments. I have read the jhana thread, but will read it again. Often times a second reading (I've read The Core Teachings twice so far) does help.
My view of the first jhana is a sense of "bliss" accompanied by the attention being able to stay on the object (in this case my breath) without effort. (I could be totally wrong about this.)

I think I had a sense of this bliss recently but not while meditating. I was having a coffee at a coffee shop and I was sitting down in this overstuffed couch with a lot of people sitting around the tables. I was reading a book when my thought turned to a moment earlier in the day. Earlier that morning I was talking to a lady on the phone and discussing some complicated book keeping type of issues and I could hear in my voice a tone of irritation with the lady I was speaking to. I immediately stopped my self and apologized to her. Anyway, my thought turned to her and I felt this overwhelming sense of compassion towards her and then I had this feeling of just sheer happiness and couldn't stop grinning from ear to ear. It felt so good that I looked around to see if anybody had noticed. Of course nobody noticed this.

Well, I then thought that maybe this sense of happiness is this bliss feeling that I should become aware of (almost as if I invite myself to find it, like uncover it.) So when I sit I get to a focus on my breath and then just sort of wait for this bliss. But the bliss isn't there, I haven't found the way to it yet.

I could be way off in the weeds with all of this but that's where I'm at with meditation now and I'm hoping someone who knows more can point me in the right direction.

Thank you for your interest and help.
Gerry

RE: Noting and anapanisati
Answer
4/5/11 9:34 PM as a reply to Gerry T.
Whatever it was, it definitely sounds like a good thing. Pay attention when sensations like that arise, enjoy them, let them be, dont push them around but definitely stay present with them.

One of the best thing you can do about attaining jhana is truly, honestly and completely stop wanting to attain jhana. The same goes for the bliss that you mention. Be sensitive to it but don't chase it too hard.

Try reading about the hindrances. Buddhadasa bhikkhu's book on anapanasati has good advice on the practice itself, on the hindrances and on overcoming them. http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/anapanasati.pdf

RE: Noting and anapanisati
Answer
4/6/11 8:02 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran,
Thanks for the help. It is difficult to not to want the bliss. When it overcame me I had this ah ha! moment and knew that metta and the "morality" part of this is important. I tried to not mess with it and just stay with it but it went away after about 15 or 20 seconds. I just tried to stay with it so that I might be able to recognize it again. I will look into the Buddhadasa bhikkhu's book. Thanks again.
Gerry

RE: Noting and anapanisati
Answer
4/8/11 7:22 AM as a reply to Gerry T.
My vote is definitely in favor of noting practice. In my own experience, it happened this way, and I have heard that this is not uncommon: You practice concentration for a while (pretty much what you have been doing), then start noting / choiceless awareness. Usually around the time you hit A&P that way, you will also almost "by accident" stumble upon 1st jhāna. In my case, it happened exactly that way, but I went from A&P to Dissolution very quickly, and the "dark night" has a way of messing with your ability to see where you are on the map, so I kept saying that I had never experienced jhāna until a few weeks after fruition, when it just became so obvious that that huge experience that keeps occurring when I am concentrated must be jhāna, otherwise there would be a separate name for it.

1st jhāna, by the way, is really not as "blissful" and "calm" as I imagined. It's rather different from, say, the quiet, cool bliss of 3rd and the equanimity of 4th jhāna, and there's a reason some people consider each successive jhāna "preferable" to the previous one.

RE: Noting and anapanisati
Answer
4/8/11 6:01 PM as a reply to Dauphin Supple Chirp.
I have some questions about noting.

When I am doing the concentration meditation and notice that my attention was captured by a thought or sensation and I bring my attention back to my breath, that is a sort of noting. Or when I am fairly well focused on the breath I can see the thought or sensation but I don't get caught up in it and can stay with my breath, that is a sort of noting.

But when I am doing regular stuff during the day how does that work? When I am up and doing things I am actively doing something. Any sense of being "present" comes and goes depending on how involved I am in what I am doing. If I am mentally working on solving some kind of problem or fixing something it can take a lot of attention to do it. How would I note and still have attention to get the task accomplished?

Do you have any suggestions on how I might get started? How was it for you when you started practicing noting?

RE: Noting and anapanisati
Answer
4/9/11 3:02 AM as a reply to Gerry T.
Preface: I never really practiced noting coming up through the ranks in meditation practice. I tried it a few times, but it just got in the way of my contemplation.
Gerry T:
I have some questions about noting.

When I am doing the concentration meditation and notice that my attention was captured by a thought or sensation and I bring my attention back to my breath, that is a sort of noting. Or when I am fairly well focused on the breath I can see the thought or sensation but I don't get caught up in it and can stay with my breath, that is a sort of noting.

Yes. It is an exercise in being in the present moment and being aware of phenomena when it is being presented. In other words, not ignoring or missing (i.e. being aware of) the arising of phenomena.

Gerry T:

But when I am doing regular stuff during the day how does that work? When I am up and doing things I am actively doing something. Any sense of being "present" comes and goes depending on how involved I am in what I am doing.

Quite true.

Gerry T:

If I am mentally working on solving some kind of problem or fixing something it can take a lot of attention to do it. How would I note and still have attention to get the task accomplished?

You don't necessarily need to note when engaged in some activity. Just remaining mindful of what you are doing in each moment will be fine. This is what I meant about about "noting getting in the way" of contemplation or whatever other activity one is performing. Noting is meant to help one increase their sense of concentration on any object that arises. If you use it in the sense of mindfulness (sati), it will help you to increase your ability to remain mindful. Then you can stop noting and just be mindful of phenomena as it arises.

RE: Noting and anapanisati
Answer
4/9/11 9:29 AM as a reply to Gerry T.
Gerry T:

But when I am doing regular stuff during the day how does that work? When I am up and doing things I am actively doing something. Any sense of being "present" comes and goes depending on how involved I am in what I am doing. If I am mentally working on solving some kind of problem or fixing something it can take a lot of attention to do it. How would I note and still have attention to get the task accomplished?

Do you have any suggestions on how I might get started? How was it for you when you started practicing noting?


The usual recommendation is to practice noting when engaged in very simple activities -- washing dishes, raking leaves, or even just walking meditation. As you become more adept, you can try during more mentally demanding activities if you wish.

RE: Noting and anapanisati
Answer
4/9/11 11:16 AM as a reply to Gerry T.
I agree with the previous two posts. I personally always just saw noting as an exercise to strengthen mindfulness. Therefore I noted whenever I could / was supposed to, in other words during sessions or when engaged in simple activities, but didn't worry about it (too much) otherwise. It's a little bit like learning how to touch type: In the beginning, you just sit down for the exercises and type very slowly. If someone told you at that stage that you should be able to type anything you say or hear, as you are saying or hearing it, you would find it impossibly difficult. As you get better, you can slowly start typing some phrases you hear or say, if the overall pace is slow enough. At some point, you would eventually be able to type pretty much anything you say or hear, as you are saying or hearing it. What seemed downright impossible at first has become easy, simply because you are not thinking about every single letter anymore, but your "fingers" have learned how to type.

It's very similar with noting. At first you just label sensations slowly and only during sessions. In time, your labeling becomes faster; then you drop the labeling; and before you know it, you have become more mindful in your everyday life.

In order to get to fruition of stream entry, you don't need to be able to label/note all day long. You can do it by sitting just half an hour once or twice every day, as long as you don't get hammered and do drive-by shootings in-between I guess.

RE: Noting and anapanisati
Answer
4/9/11 5:37 PM as a reply to Dauphin Supple Chirp.
Thanks to everyone for posting your helpful notes.

I will begin noting when appropriate and continue my concentration on breath. I started reading the Mindfulness of Breathing by Buddhadasa Bikkhu (Thanks for the link Eran). There is a lot of material there 550 pages!

For anybody who might be interested I very much like listening to Ayya Khema. She helped found several centers and especially was helpful for women practitioners. And she has good talks about mindfulness of breathing too. A good source for her recordings is at the Dharma Seed at :

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/334/

-Gerry