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Morality Training, or How (much) to Practice?

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I've rethought and rationalized both ways so many times about this "issue" of mine in the past , and ended up coming to the conclusion that I have to come to my own conclusions. It's taken up so much time and mental effort I thought I'd throw it on here and see if I could get some guidance. I suppose my actual situation is relevant here, so I'll say that I'm quite young, have no commitments (read: a ton of time) or immediate financial obligations (saved enough to life off of for a year or two without a thought to finances or asking anyone for help, more if frugal), and have not achieved stream entry. I recently spent over a year travelling, and as I'll explain, I'm having a lot of trouble deciding if I should go on a long retreat (6 months to a year, or more).

Projecting into the future by definition involves incomplete information, and I'm finding making these kinds of decisions is tiring and somewhat uncomfortable. It's tricky to investigate this stuff on the sensate level (any tips would be welcome) because it tends to unstick the moment I shine some attention on it. Now this would normally be fine; if the mental content is "which is better, peanut butter or jam", letting it go has no real world repercussions. But in a few months I'll have to make a decision or two that will probably involve me getting into a daily routine in my hometown, or flying off to Thailand or Malaysia (MBMC). Yes, you could argue that there aren't 'real' repercussions there too, but perhaps just for the giggles, I'd like to have some reasons and emotions about those reasons with which to prod some understanding out of my family and friends. From a practical standpoint, this kind of issue has no effect 'on the cushion', I just cruise over it. It does cut into informal practice time if I'm just chilling out of having a meal though. That kind of stuff adds up.



My motivation for success in conventional terms is like a natural pull. I don't find lasting suffering or fulfillment, or exert an inordinate amount of effort. I may feel these things day-to-day, but I understand the sources of these sensations are internal.

My motivation for success in meditative endeavors seems to feel more 'sensible', not in a renunciate sense, but more along the lines of "there are these ideas and premises and conclusions that I feel could be verifiable but I have not done so empirically; these ideas have to do with fundamental truths about the way my mind works, why not move forward with the verification?"

I feel like I've avoided a likely common trap of hastily giving up (or condemning) the world.
In any case, I've established I'd like to have insight practices as a part of my life.


What I'm struggling with is how much, exactly?
I have resources like money and time, and when I make an effort to divvy these things up for myself I run into problems. I'm trying to maximize, in some sense, my "personal happiness". Even without being anal and maximizing, I can't seem to figure out a 'reasonable balance' between X resources for meditation and Y resources for other stuff. There's a threshold where if X is high enough for long enough, it just makes sense to go on retreat, side/opportunity costs included. In a way I feel like I'd be happier if someone made the decision for me. If for example I had comitments (like children), I'd just get on with it. Mouths to feed and whatnot.



I could easily frame it both ways. Basically I have a situation where I can take a year or two off and not have 'nothing to come back to' (as MCTB warns against), but it's still a pretty long time to drop off the grid. Using the 3rd/4th paragraphs, I have come to a conclusion of "okay, it makes sense to take some time off and knock down some paths, the world isn't going anywhere".

I could say the same about daily practice.
I can learn a lot from balancing meditation with my life.
I can learn a lot relating to people while practicing and working.
I can alleviate some mesaure of suffering and confusion in those around me who don't understand my motivations for going on long retreats (I've verified this by talking to some of those people directly).

In other words "okay, it makes sense to allocate some reasonable time like 2-3 hours per day, along with possible informal practice and progress at a slower pace, it's not like insight practices are going anywhere".

Broken down yet again, it goes something like:
"Okay let's go on retreats."
"Why be so hardcore, you can accomplish the same thing over a long period of time without alienating a bunch of people and setting your financial stability back a few years?"
"Productivity is a moot point. Who is it that you're really alienating? Why does it concern you? Who is it that is being concerned? Because you can't answer these questions confidently, getting some insights makes more sense. Besides, people get alienated all the time."
"Okay let's go on retreats"

and so on.

Spontaneously and unintentionally, I've made that back and forth sounds a lot like the conversation between the three trainings in MCTB...is what it is I guess.

I have a feeling I'm not going to get told "you should do this", which is by no means what I'm looking for.
However I think there's immense value in putting up my thought process for critique, such that any internal biases I tend to overlook when engaging in this kind of self-analysis are picked apart and shown for what they really are.

What do you think, DhO?

RE: Morality Training, or How (much) to Practice?
Answer
7/8/11 7:54 AM as a reply to T. Dan S-.
you're right that your 'issue' is yours alone to 'resolve', as these either/or dilemmas are strongly symptomatic of late dark night stages (desire for deliverance, perhaps). therefore, the only input i will offer concerns retreat itself, and that is that there is nothing quite like a long intensive retreat[1] for deepening and furthering one's practice. people who have spent little time on retreat are not in a position to appreciate this, and people who have never been on retreat don't know what they are missing. from your descriptions, you are fortunate enough to have the choice.

here is some good reading on the topic:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.02.0.than.html

by the way, the world (of your circumstances) may be vastly different by the time you get back, whether or not you have something or nothing to come back to.

tarin

[1] except, perhaps, a short intensive retreat following in the footsteps of a long one.

RE: Morality Training, or How (much) to Practice?
Answer
7/9/11 1:53 AM as a reply to tarin greco.
Thank you, Tarin.


Staying with the retreats themselves then, I'm trying to get in contact with some of the retreat centers on the DhO main wiki: Chom Tong in Chiang Mai, and MBMC in Penang. Mostly about long-stay logistics, wondering about visas/extensions over 90 days.
Sent lindatoh2001 at yahoo dot com an email two days ago. Haven't gotten a reply but suspect it could take awhile.


Can anyone recommend any other centers? Particularly anything not on the main wiki?
I've heard many good things about MBMC.

RE: Morality Training, or How (much) to Practice?
Answer
7/10/11 3:46 PM as a reply to T. Dan S-.
Sze-Hung Daniel Tsui:
Thank you, Tarin.

you're welcome.


Sze-Hung Daniel Tsui:

Staying with the retreats themselves then, I'm trying to get in contact with some of the retreat centers on the DhO main wiki: Chom Tong in Chiang Mai, and MBMC in Penang. Mostly about long-stay logistics, wondering about visas/extensions over 90 days.

assuming you are a national of a country that is eligible for the 60 day tourist visa (for which you must apply in advance), legally staying in thailand beyond those 60 days will require you to make a time-consuming trip to a government office and fill out paperwork (for a maximum of 15 days' extension), or to make a day-trip border run which will net you another 30 days.

assuming you are a national of a country entitled to a 90 day tourist visa (issued upon arrival), legally staying in malaysia beyond those 90 days will require a border run, at the least, which will take a full day to do when leaving from and returning to penang, where mbmc is located. i understand that the trip is not a fail-safe solution either and is sometimes complicated by immigration officials in malaysia (if i remember correctly they did not permit one border-runner to return on the same day and the fellow had to spend a night on the thai side and try again the next day).

however, all the above may not be relevant, depending on whether or not you agree with me that 90 days - or 60 days for that matter - is more than enough time on retreat for stream-entry. go for too long (longer than you are capable of practising diligently at your fullest capacity) and you risk spreading yourself too thin and squandering all of your time (as well as developing 'butt rot').


Sze-Hung Daniel Tsui:

Can anyone recommend any other centers? Particularly anything not on the main wiki?
I've heard many good things about MBMC.

i cannot give you advice on any other retreat locations besides mbmc, as the other places (other than goenka centres, with which you are already familiar) that i have sat retreats are not accessible without a personal introduction.

mbmc is good for practitioners who are ready to work on their own with minimal guidance, who are able to work in occasionally noisy conditions, and who enjoy - or can tolerate - a constant malaysian and southern chinese diet of rice, pungent curries, stir-fried vegetables, and meat in most dishes.

at the time, i hated a fair bit of my two-plus months there, having spent several weeks in the pre-vipassana nanas (mostly the third), less than 24 hours in arising and passing territory (albeit a very intense one), and most of the rest of the retreat in the worst dark night i had ever encountered up to that point (which was only eclipsed by what it turned into after the retreat ended). however, i did get a solid foundation in the mahasi method at mbmc, which proved to be something between very helpful and indispensable towards my stream-entry later. i am also unlikely to forget, so long as my general memory holds, the kindness that sayadaw u thuzana showed me. though i should also note here that he misdiagnosed my dark night as third nana and so gave me practice advice more applicable for getting into and through a&p territory than for getting through the stages which followed it.

whether or not you undertake a long retreat, best wishes with your practice.

tarin

RE: Morality Training, or How (much) to Practice?
Answer
7/13/11 9:05 AM as a reply to tarin greco.
edited to under 2/3 original length as I felt it just got too long to read and respond to well
If you're short on time, that's where the question is inbetween the two underscored lines.


Over the last few days I felt a strong pull to just get some practice in. I did a 2 day mini retreat "on a whim" with your stream entry guide as a template. Stuff happened, which I'll put into a soon-to-be practice thread.

Anyway I re-read this thread and some thoughts occurred:

tarin greco:

go for too long (longer than you are capable of practising diligently at your fullest capacity) and you risk spreading yourself too thin and squandering all of your time (as well as developing 'butt rot').


I have not heard this before. Could you elaborate briefly?
The statement seems slightly at odds with elements of the article you linked in your original reply.

The way I understand it (not from experience but rather reading advice, warnings and such) is that most people do not practice at their fullest capacity, often throughout entire long retreats. The whole point of being on retreat is to find conditions where the mind can, in a sense, have a greater capacity to practice. Getting to that point, assuming more-or-less static retreat conditions (not a given, I know, but still within reasonable expectation), one will increase his 'capacity' as insight develops (and also as he simply gets better at the technique). Failing that, I can't really think of anything, except a particularly nasty dark night, that would not be unstuck by diligent practice.

Other stuff I'm thinking is:
-Is it a good idea to stop meditating, take breaks, etc, inbetween paths or stages of insight? Is there value to decompressing and 'letting it sit' after some insights arise that simply continuing to practice will miss? My intuition says no?
-Are there things people commonly get stuck on during long retreats? What causes them to get unstuck during the intervening periods, if they even help at all?
-What is 'butt rot'? =p

______________________________

I'm gonna go ahead and ask the question I was trying to ask originally but was too caught up in weird psychological biases to use words to the best of my ability (biases regarding the terms, mind you, not the vanilla biases you've probably been swamped by in this post!).

In a quantitative sense, what are elements/modes of practice most conducive to fast insight?

I feel like this is a clearer, more direct and answerable rephrasing of the "How much do I practice?".
Our goal is 'fast insight', or progression through the stages.
Think actionable, like Fabrice D's thread on sleep time. Retreat centers all around the world run on 6ish hours, Bruno sleeps 8. Who knew?


On qualitative vs quantitative, there is a lot of precise, actionable advice on here about how to practice and what to do when practicing. For example 'pay attention every second', and 'don't indulge in your crap'.
But stuff like specifics of daily practice, retreats, retreat length, often aren't helpful if you're confused and looking for help because they usually boil down to "what is right for you", which I suspect keeps a lot of people in their comfort zones when they realize they are after all confused and not sure what is right for them (pretty much like I am right now). How many people finishing Goenka retreats felt at points before completion, that 10 days was unnecessary long, but would respond with positiveness or ambivalence if asked directly after? There's likely a fair bit of overlap I'm not fully considering here, but I think I'm getting my point across sufficiently well. Specifics of practice not exclusively pertaining to how/in what way to orient one's mind 'on the cushion'.


Answering the question for myself, with my limited experience and understanding, it seems obvious to me that trying your best to do every-second practice, every actual second, minute, hour, day, and so on, would be 'it' in a nutshell. Mould conditions and aim for as close to that as possible. If it's the way to go moment-to-moment, why not week-to-week?


______________________________



All that aside, in real-world terms I'm thinking of consolidating liquid assets, 'tying up loose ends', booking a flexible ticket with an airline that allows me over a year's rebooking room, and getting this 'done'. That is, 4th path.
Re-reading as I type it sounds foolish, over-enthusiastic, near-sighted, and generally a bad idea on so many levels from a common sense standpoint, as I can't predict how I'll feel about this whole thing a few months in.
Then from an insight perspective, if all of that stuff arises on retreat (and not, say, at an airport), could I just not perceive the sensations that make them up as they are, and just roll with it?

I feel like the hesitation I'm experiencing is about what a non-meditator would feel about a 10-day goenka retreat. Anchor points when trying to judge what constitutes a 'big time commitment'. Plus, as most of these meditation centers run retreat after retreat, and the ticket is open, I'm not even truly locked in at any point (if you're desperate enough, you rarely are).

To end off with a bit more of where I'm coming from, I recently read one of Tarin's posts from quite some time ago resonated with me. It's saved on my notepad and I'm unsure if it's pre-wetpaint migration. He's responding to Daniel responding to someone's question about what has changed for DhO'ers (?) post-enlightenment, I believe. Perhaps it will be helpful for others.

tarin greco:

i relate to this except for the sentence 'the drive is gone' - for me, the drive is there as the exact same thing as the drive to anything else i am driven to - survival, lust/affection/love/connection, pain-avoidance, food/water (hunger/thirst), entertainment, felicity, the end of malice and sorrow. since all were ever only issues of the self to begin with, there's nothing to do outside of attending to these drives themselves (which leads to a reshaping of them).


A lot of people have said a sense of completion comes with 4th path, as in 'my vipassana problem was solved'. That appeals to me right now, especially with the foreknowledge that it won't be the 'it' that 'fixes my life'. If I have false expectations about what I eventually aim to attain (I most assuredly do), it seems I'll still be better off. Seems like a stab in the dark, but nothing else makes anywhere near as much sense, so I might as well apply some kind of heuristic to the stabbing, and stab with some vigor.

Thoughts? Apologies for missed words and general poor grammar in advance.

RE: Morality Training, or How (much) to Practice?
Answer
7/13/11 9:15 AM as a reply to T. Dan S-.
In a nutshell what I'm saying with the last bit is, if I've decided I want to go on a long retreat, is it unrealistic or un-advisable for other reasons, to simply aim for arhatship and resolve not to leave until then?

...reason being simple practicality and ease of practice, along the same lines as dealing with dark night skillfully.
...with the understanding that it could take a fairly long time, and that the retreat may end before attainment anyway.

RE: Morality Training, or How (much) to Practice?
Answer
7/17/11 1:34 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
i am also unlikely to forget, so long as my general memory holds, the kindness that sayadaw u thuzana showed me. though i should also note here that he misdiagnosed my dark night as third nana and so gave me practice advice more applicable for getting into and through a&p territory than for getting through the stages which followed it.


that is one serious misdiagnosis. i have been thinking of attending a retreat with sayaday u thuzana. but sayadaw's misjudgment on your progress raises concern.

would you recommend anyone to practice under sayadaw u thuzana? or anyone else that practiced under sayadaw, care to share your experiences?

thanks,