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jhana question
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4/15/20 1:43 AM
My question relates not to a non-dual awareness style practice, but more conventional Vipassana/Jhana practice, where the initial object is the breath.

I’ve been concerned on and off that having the breath as an object of single-pointed awareness—as my ‘in’ for gaining access concentration for Jhana’s or for centring attention sufficiently for Vipassana—has a major drawback, which seems to be that observation of breath is not purely observation but involves some degree of control (particularly in the early stages). By control I mean mechanical/laboured/directed actions at the conscious and physiological level. This means at coarse levels, that the act of attending to your breath simultaneously calms the breath, which in turn calms the body/mind. The problem I see here is the potential for practitioners to, in day to day life, turn to this breath-modification action to calm states of arousal in response to negative stimulus. It seems like a Dharma-bypass is possible, or rather: you can sometimes get stuck in ruts where you not so much ‘bypass’ but fail to ‘reach’ dharma.  You get trapped in the superficial layer of breath-induced-anaesthetic to regulate your mood. Which feels very contrary to dharma, in that there is actually a lot of attachment to physical states of calm present here. I think a similar case can be made for dependence on certain Asana’s, postures that release emotional discomfort without necessarily transmitting knowledge of the three characteristics

Is this other people's experience?

RE: jhana question
Answer
4/15/20 3:39 AM as a reply to julien tempone wiltshire.
The problem I see here is the potential for practitioners to, in day to day life, turn to this breath-modification action to calm states of arousal in response to negative stimulus. It seems like a Dharma-bypass is possible, or rather: you can sometimes get stuck in ruts where you not so much ‘bypass’ but fail to ‘reach’ dharma.

The ability to calm negative states using the breath is part of dhamma practise. The greater this skill, the greater negative states will not arise because in calming negative states it is clearly discerned how unwholesome or disturbing they are. 

transmitting knowledge of the three characteristics

Knowledge of the three characteristics also calms negative states. '

Discerning the three characteristics or the Dhamma does not require having any strong moods. 

When the Buddha attained enlightenment into suffering, he used the 4th jhana as the foundation. Thus the "suffering" & its causes he observed was very minor in relation to the degree of his samadhi (concentration; calmness; clarity). 

Its like a scientist studying a disease. They place a very small amount of the disease under a microscope. The scientist does not get sick themselves to study the disease. Similarly, to realise Dhamma, the quantum of negative moods need only be tiny. If the quantum of the negative mood is too large, it actually cannot be felt because the mind's awareness/sensitivity is hindered by that mood. 

Regards emoticon

RE: jhana question
Answer
4/15/20 4:48 AM as a reply to Nicky.
Hi, I appreciate your response. 

I think we're talking at cross purposes though - i totally understand the value of absorption when applied to insight practice, but i'm talking about early stages, particularly if you fall into a patch where your practice isn't strong, or you aren't sitting regularly - that's where i'm noticing the danger of the unavoidalbe pranayam aspect of breath-concentration having a detrimental affect - becoming an escape into an induced calm, rather than a pathway to insight practice

RE: jhana question
Answer
4/15/20 6:33 AM as a reply to julien tempone wiltshire.
julien tempone wiltshire:
Hi, I appreciate your response. 

I think we're talking at cross purposes though - i totally understand the value of absorption when applied to insight practice, but i'm talking about early stages, particularly if you fall into a patch where your practice isn't strong, or you aren't sitting regularly - that's where i'm noticing the danger of the unavoidalbe pranayam aspect of breath-concentration having a detrimental affect - becoming an escape into an induced calm, rather than a pathway to insight practice

If you want insight then start investigating the "attachment to physical states of calm" you mentioned. What does it feel like to get attached to or escape to a state of induced calm? Where in the body do you feel that attachment? Can you break it down into sensations? Start looking for the 3 Cs in the calm itself - can you see that the calm is unstable and hence slightly dissatisfactory?

RE: jhana question
Answer
4/15/20 8:27 AM as a reply to julien tempone wiltshire.
The breath is the 1st bona fide object of insight practise, where the breath is discerned as impermanent & not-self. 

Your idea of "insight" sounds like the self-psychotherapy the Jewish-American gurus teach. 

In Buddhism, any strong emotional issues we have are due to wrong moral views. Correcting these wrong moral views is the task of "morality" rather of "insight". 

If you follow the five precepts with understanding, your mind won't have any emotional hindrances to deal with. 

Kind regards emoticon

RE: jhana question
Answer
4/15/20 9:11 AM as a reply to Nicky.
Nicky:

Your idea of "insight" sounds like the self-psychotherapy the Jewish-American gurus teach. 
Who are they?

RE: jhana question
Answer
4/15/20 4:35 PM as a reply to T.
Who are they?

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.012.nypo.html


emoticon

RE: jhana question
Answer
4/15/20 4:42 PM as a reply to Nicky.
Nicky:
Who are they?

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.012.nypo.html


emoticon

Nicky, are you secretly Jewish?  Or do you subconsciously want to be Jewish?

RE: jhana question
Answer
4/15/20 8:09 PM as a reply to Not two, not one.
It's a result of our prejudiced minds, curious...

RE: jhana question
Answer
4/15/20 10:01 PM as a reply to Not two, not one.
Not much point practising Buddhism if reality cannot be discerned. 

The Buddhist scriptures do not refer to gaining "insight" from negative mental states (apart from comprehending their harmfulness & danger). Instead, the scriptures only refer to abandoing negative mental states. 

The popular idea of gaining "insight" from negative mental appears certainly influenced by the Jewish-American-vipassana-psychotherapeutic tradition.

Some people regard this tradition to be a product of Jewish ingenuity, brillance & innovativeness.

Personally, I made no qualitative judgment upon this Jewish-American tradition, apart from saying it is not inherently Buddhist. 

Interesting how the "J" word freaks so many people out; yet they also wonder why their mind has anxiety. emoticon

RE: jhana question
Answer
4/17/20 9:59 PM as a reply to julien tempone wiltshire.
julien tempone wiltshire:
My question relates not to a non-dual awareness style practice, but more conventional Vipassana/Jhana practice, where the initial object is the breath.

I’ve been concerned on and off that having the breath as an object of single-pointed awareness—as my ‘in’ for gaining access concentration for Jhana’s or for centring attention sufficiently for Vipassana—has a major drawback, which seems to be that observation of breath is not purely observation but involves some degree of control (particularly in the early stages). By control I mean mechanical/laboured/directed actions at the conscious and physiological level. This means at coarse levels, that the act of attending to your breath simultaneously calms the breath, which in turn calms the body/mind. The problem I see here is the potential for practitioners to, in day to day life, turn to this breath-modification action to calm states of arousal in response to negative stimulus. It seems like a Dharma-bypass is possible, or rather: you can sometimes get stuck in ruts where you not so much ‘bypass’ but fail to ‘reach’ dharma.  You get trapped in the superficial layer of breath-induced-anaesthetic to regulate your mood. Which feels very contrary to dharma, in that there is actually a lot of attachment to physical states of calm present here. I think a similar case can be made for dependence on certain Asana’s, postures that release emotional discomfort without necessarily transmitting knowledge of the three characteristics

Is this other people's experience?
That is not my experience. Observing the breath to produce tranquility does not distract me from vipassana it enhances my practice of vipassana. If you try to stay self-anesthetized 24 hours a day you will inevitably fail and you will notice what upsets you and you will notice how you get back to the anesthetized state - you will observe the origination and cessation of dukkah - this is the essence of practice. You can't escape it. The deeper the anesthesia, the more subtle the disturbances you will notice. The anesthesia is not putting you to sleep, it is actually making your more aware (of subtle mental activity) by turning down the volume of the activity of (noise in) your mind.

(The pitfall that I find can happen is that one can be suppressing thoughts and feelings by concentrating too hard or by trying too hard to self-anesthetise. The sign that this is happening is that meditation makes one tense and irritable. It can be a bit tricky to find the right balance between relaxation and allowing yourself to be aware of unpleasant thoughts and emotions (dukkha). You think you are relaxing but the result is the opposite. If that is not happening you are probably okay. Finding the balance is complicated because you don't want to suppress but you don't want to wallow in self-pity or train yourself to be unhappy, or create a jhanna like amplification of unpleasant emotions by focusing on them too intently. If you can relax while noticing unpleasant emotions that is probably the right way to do it.)

Self-induced anesthesia is a pretty good description of what the sutras call for (see below). The point is that when you are calm you can observe better the activity of the mind - the origination and cessation of dukkha - because the mind is calm. (Dukkha = stress)

What I find is that when my mind is calm and peaceful and I am in a pleasant relaxed mood (the result of samatha (tranquility) meditation) then I notice very easily anything that disturbs that state (the origination of dukkha) and I notice what brings me back into that state (the cessation of dukkha), when I am meditating and during daily life. The "self-induced anesthesia" provides a neutral background against which it is easier to see the origination and cessation of dukkha. 

Here is an excerpt from the Anapanasati Sutra translated by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book "Breathe You are Alive": I think it shows that self-induced anesthesia is exactly what one should be doing:
8. I am breathing in making and making the activities of the mind in me calm and at peace.
...
10. I am breathing in and making my mind happy and at peace.

This article (below) also discusses the relationship between samatha/jhana and vipassana.

https://accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/onetool.html
One Tool Among Many
The Place of Vipassana in Buddhist Practice
by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
...
But if you look directly at the Pali discourses — the earliest extant sources for our knowledge of the Buddha's teachings — you'll find that although they do use the word samatha to mean tranquillity, and vipassana to mean clear-seeing, they otherwise confirm none of the received wisdom about these terms. Only rarely do they make use of the word vipassana — a sharp contrast to their frequent use of the word jhana. When they depict the Buddha telling his disciples to go meditate, they never quote him as saying "go do vipassana," but always "go do jhana." And they never equate the word vipassana with any mindfulness techniques. In the few instances where they do mention vipassana, they almost always pair it with samatha — not as two alternative methods, but as two qualities of mind that a person may "gain" or "be endowed with," and that should be developed together.

I don't think you can really separate samatha and vipassana. Whenever you are meditating on the breath and your mind wanders for a moment or you notice a thought arising -  you are observing the activity of the mind. You can't really escape vipassana unless you have perfect concentration and your mind is perfectly still. The very fact of thoughts arising while you try to focus on the breath is a repeated reminder that you don't control your mind, that your mind is not "yours". You realize that other people experience the same thing - they don't control their mind - this understanding gives you compassion and reduces your ego. Even if you are not aware of that angle, it works on you unconsciously producing changes you might not be aware of.