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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Noting - what is essential? Am I doing it correctly?

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I realise that the title of this thread might be a slap in the face to the rather extensive amount of literature on the subject (Practical Insight Meditation, Vipassana Meditation Exercises, Dan's book etc). And I've bugged Dan, Kenneth and theprisonergreco on several times with my questions. But I know you'll understand when I say that the instructions are so damn simple sometimes that my western mind has trouble grasping them.

So here I am, in a place finally where I am able to observe all phenomena as phenomena pretty consistenly. Here is what I'd really appreciate some enlightened perspectives on (from you guys - the cyberspace sangha). This is the best I've been able to explain it so far.

I did a 21 day retreat where I told myself 'bugger it, I'm just going to watch everything'. And I got into some interesting territory.

Now, after more and more practise in my daily sitting, I can stay in the present pretty darn well. I can move with things as they speed up, slow down, and the general curveballs that maya seems to throw. I know every phenomena is new (thus, anicca) because I have to keep renewing my awareness every second to the present. My practise every moment is like going 'here. here. here.' with my attention.

I worry though that what I'm doing is samatha practise - because Dan mentions in his book that we can develop concentration by observating reality and extending the illusion of solidarity, rather than observing it fall away. Also because this practise tends to lead me to tranquility, sometimes wierd rapture. It also led me to an experience twice on my last retreat that I'm unsure was 1st Jhana samatha or A + P. 

I feel a bit stuck, not knowing if I'm doing samatha or vipassana. I know I can just "observe the stuckness" but I'd really like to know if something is wrong in my approach because otherwise I'm just wasting my time. And I realise it doesn't matter what the content is if you are practising correctly, which is why it is so difficult for me to be sure I am practising correctly - I have no gauge or master to ask. I'd like to get to 1st path, and don't want to waste my time at this point cultivating jhanas. 

This brings me to the point of noting and what is essential - I quote Mahasi - "never verbally repeat the words 'rising, falling', and do not think of rising and falling as words. Be aware only of the actual process of rising and falling movement of the abdomen".

So, lets define 'aware'. The best stab I'm going to take at it is 'experiencing and knowing that you experience in the moment'. Thats what I'm doing. Is that vipassana, just seeing? Or am I developing concentration? Help me guys!

RE: Noting - what is essential? Am I doing it correctly?
Answer
10/28/09 5:39 AM as a reply to Ben Turale.
Hi Benjamin,

The only way you can really tell the difference between samatha and vipassana is to try both for yourself, so you can compare.

Maybe do some kasina practice, formally resolving to let a concentration state arise, and lightly gaze at the thing for 10-20 minutes with an attitude of fun, relaxed calm, like watching a good TV show (and not like staring down demons). Note that the concentration state may not arise in that sit. Repeat for a few days. Maybe you'll encounter the concentration state in your next "regular" sit - that's what happened to me, anyway.

The point is to get a feel for both vipassana and samatha. Don't try to avoid samatha, it's not like it's bad for your teeth or anything emoticon You sound like you're already aware of the potential "traps" like becoming a bliss junkie or getting too fascinated by the powers. So with this in mind, you don't have to be afraid to do a bit of exploring.

A couple of "rules of thumb" I find useful: fast, moment-to-moment: vipassana. "Tuning into" slowly vibrating things: more likely samatha. Repeating a mental note at regular intervals until the word gains a kind of solidity, standing out there on its own, sustained by the repetitions: samatha. "shooting aliens" with the mental notes: vipassana.

Have fun exploring concentration states. Ride the confidence and other good qualities these states convey to do more vipassana.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: Noting - what is essential? Am I doing it correctly?
Answer
10/28/09 10:24 AM as a reply to Ben Turale.
Benjamin Turale:
I realise that the title of this thread might be a slap in the face to the rather extensive amount of literature on the subject (Practical Insight Meditation, Vipassana Meditation Exercises, Dan's book etc). And I've bugged Dan, Kenneth and theprisonergreco on several times with my questions. But I know you'll understand when I say that the instructions are so damn simple sometimes that my western mind has trouble grasping them.

So here I am, in a place finally where I am able to observe all phenomena as phenomena pretty consistenly. Here is what I'd really appreciate some enlightened perspectives on (from you guys - the cyberspace sangha). This is the best I've been able to explain it so far.

I did a 21 day retreat where I told myself 'bugger it, I'm just going to watch everything'. And I got into some interesting territory.

Now, after more and more practise in my daily sitting, I can stay in the present pretty darn well. I can move with things as they speed up, slow down, and the general curveballs that maya seems to throw. I know every phenomena is new (thus, anicca) because I have to keep renewing my awareness every second to the present. My practise every moment is like going 'here. here. here.' with my attention.

I worry though that what I'm doing is samatha practise - because Dan mentions in his book that we can develop concentration by observating reality and extending the illusion of solidarity, rather than observing it fall away. Also because this practise tends to lead me to tranquility, sometimes wierd rapture. It also led me to an experience twice on my last retreat that I'm unsure was 1st Jhana samatha or A + P.

I feel a bit stuck, not knowing if I'm doing samatha or vipassana. I know I can just "observe the stuckness" but I'd really like to know if something is wrong in my approach because otherwise I'm just wasting my time. And I realise it doesn't matter what the content is if you are practising correctly, which is why it is so difficult for me to be sure I am practising correctly - I have no gauge or master to ask. I'd like to get to 1st path, and don't want to waste my time at this point cultivating jhanas.

This brings me to the point of noting and what is essential - I quote Mahasi - "never verbally repeat the words 'rising, falling', and do not think of rising and falling as words. Be aware only of the actual process of rising and falling movement of the abdomen".

So, lets define 'aware'. The best stab I'm going to take at it is 'experiencing and knowing that you experience in the moment'. Thats what I'm doing. Is that vipassana, just seeing? Or am I developing concentration? Help me guys!


hi ben, quick reply cos i gotta get offline but i just wanted to say keep doing the 'here. here. here.' thing and dont worry about what shows up.

and try to relax a little if it you feel like you're putting in way too much effort. or just keep putting in way too much effort and at some point you'll run out of effort-energy (like doing too many push-ups and your arms collapse) and it'll balance on its own. either way can work. just keep doing the here here here thing

RE: Noting - what is essential? Am I doing it correctly?
Answer
10/28/09 2:15 PM as a reply to Ben Turale.
Benjamin Turale:

So here I am, in a place finally where I am able to observe all phenomena as phenomena pretty consistently. Here is what I'd really appreciate some enlightened perspectives on (from you guys - the cyberspace sangha). This is the best I've been able to explain it so far.

I did a 21 day retreat where I told myself 'bugger it, I'm just going to watch everything'. And I got into some interesting territory.

Now, after more and more practise in my daily sitting, I can stay in the present pretty darn well. I can move with things as they speed up, slow down, and the general curveballs that maya seems to throw. I know every phenomena is new (thus, anicca) because I have to keep renewing my awareness every second to the present. My practise every moment is like going 'here. here. here.' with my attention.

I worry though that what I'm doing is samatha practise - because Dan mentions in his book that we can develop concentration by observing reality and extending the illusion of solidarity, rather than observing it fall away. Also because this practise tends to lead me to tranquility, sometimes weird rapture.... I feel a bit stuck, not knowing if I'm doing samatha or vipassana. I know I can just "observe the stuckness" but I'd really like to know if something is wrong in my approach because otherwise I'm just wasting my time. This brings me to the point of noting and what is essential - I quote Mahasi - "never verbally repeat the words 'rising, falling', and do not think of rising and falling as words. Be aware only of the actual process of rising and falling movement of the abdomen".

Hi Ben,

I'm not a strict Mahasi Sayadaw follower (although I have used his instruction when it seemed to coincide with what we find available in the suttas), so you may want to take what I have to say with a grain of salt. On the other hand, if it makes sense, you may want to include it in your knowledge base. From your description above, it sounds as though your practice is coming along quite well.

Benjamin Turale:

So, lets define 'aware'. The best stab I'm going to take at it is 'experiencing and knowing that you experience in the moment'. That's what I'm doing. Is that vipassana, just seeing? Or am I developing concentration? Help me guys!

You are using both in developing both. Without the concentration, you wouldn't be able to discern phenomena all that clearly. And without discernment, you wouldn't know how to stay in and increase concentration in order to "see" phenomena. Although with regard to your statement in the above quotation (highlighted in red), what you are developing is vipassana (discernment) with the help of samatha (calmness, which fosters concentration). Does that make sense? So, for the most part, you are developing insight. It's just that it is being developed with the aid of calmness. This represents a perfect balance to your practice.

This process is better explained in an essay by Thanissaro Bhikku (One Tool Among Many). You may want to take a look at that essay and see if it doesn't describe your experience and thereby answer some of your concerns.

The following quote from the essay explains this process quite vividly. Thanissaro is writing about the use of the terms "vipassana" and "samatha" in the discourses. The "they" he is referring to are the Pali discourses themselves: "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."

In essence what I'm endeavoring to communicate to you is that you have no need to worry about the things you are worried about. What you are experiencing is perfectly in keeping with how the practice is to be developed. Keep up the good work!

In peace,
Ian

RE: Noting - what is essential? Am I doing it correctly?
Answer
10/28/09 5:36 PM as a reply to Florian.
[quote=Florian "Monkeymind" Weps]
A couple of "rules of thumb" I find useful: fast, moment-to-moment: vipassana. "Tuning into" slowly vibrating things: more likely samatha. Repeating a mental note at regular intervals until the word gains a kind of solidity, standing out there on its own, sustained by the repetitions: samatha. "shooting aliens" with the mental notes: vipassana.


That is extremely helpful! Especially the "shooting aliens" analogy -- something young Westerners can relate to pretty easily. I wonder what other video game metaphors can be used to explain meditation...

I hadn't realized that you can actually "solidify" vibrations into a shamatha practice. That's very interesting. I thought that if you were paying attention to vibrations at all, it was vipassana. I can definitely think of some times where I've thought I was doing insight practice when what I must have been doing was concentration on vibrations.

RE: Noting - what is essential? Am I doing it correctly?
Answer
10/29/09 6:58 AM as a reply to J Adam G.
"Shooting aliens" was coined by Daniel - it's found in MCTB, in the "Seven Factors of Enlightenment" chapter, as an illustration of the second factor, Investigation of the truth I like the entire section on investigation, but that may be due to the fact that upon first reading it so much conceptual confusion on my part simply dissolved.

As for solidifying vibrations into concentration states: shamanic drumming comes to mind, certain applications of holosync, tuning into the rising&falling breath as a concentration object, etc.

Cheers,
Florian (edit - added examples)

RE: Noting - what is essential? Am I doing it correctly?
Answer
10/29/09 7:10 PM as a reply to Florian.
Wow.

I have to say, I'm really humbled and in awe by the quality and breadth of answers I've received on this.

Its been uber helpful, great tips for approaching practice. Thanks everyone so so much for your assistance, its very handy having access to this resource (even better than a one-teacher retreat in some ways). What an awesome place this is emoticon