HELP (for a beginner)

Atanu Gayen, modified 10 Years ago at 8/4/11 3:34 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 8/4/11 3:34 PM

HELP (for a beginner)

Posts: 2 Join Date: 8/3/11 Recent Posts
Hi ! Greetings.

My name is Atanu Gayen. I'm from India and I'm 19 years of age. I'm very much a beginner when it comes to proper, regular meditation practice, so naturally i have a lot of questions (also i don't really have anybody i can talk to about this stuff so this place seemed to be a natural place to come)...and consequently this 1st post may seem a bit scatter-shot in terms of what i want to ask specifically; but please bear with me for a while. emoticon

Perhaps a bit more detailed introduction, and a little bit about my goals, current situation and journey so far (which isn't much, really emoticon ), might help me more clearly touch upon the general things i'd like to ask, and also it might help your advice be more relevant to my personal situation. I hope its not too boring or irritating!

I was born into a very "secular" Hindu family (most families are like that, especially in our part of the country, West Bengal, so its nothing unusual). All of us sort of take part in the occasional rituals and festivals as a tradition and part of our culture, but as far as beliefs (or lack of them) go, its a very personal thing, and we prefer to keep it private, and only discuss it occasionally, if at all.

As far back as i can remember, i always had a very inquisitive bent of mind (i'm sure most of you over here are similar). My inquisitiveness, from a VERY early age, was basically channeled into two distinct (but somewhat related) paths. One was a sort of "spiritual/philosophical/existential" quest (with questions like, who, or what exactly am I? or is that even a valid question? what is the purpose of my existence? what is the real nature of "me" and my experiences...and so on...) and the other was a sort of scientific quest (what are the fundamental rules or laws which Nature follows? what are the best ways to find them? etc.). I've been and still do get interested in all sorts of things (and also lose interest in many things after a while)...but these two quests have been the only things that i have any consistent/persistent interest about, and they really give my life "meaning" of sorts, and so i'm pretty passionate about them...and especially now, I REALLY take both of these quests seriously.

As for the 2nd quest, there was hardly any confusion in my mind: the study of Physics was the way to go for me.

As for the 1st one, well.....let's just say "having confusion" would be an understatement!

From a very early age (9-10), I would do research on a large number of spiritual/religious traditions/beliefs/world-views around the world (Always started with my mother, my 1st encyclopedia...and then other libraries and books). Almost all of them left me unsatisfied. I remember during those early days, especially while studying history in school, the birth of Buddhism/Jainism was a chapter that really interested me. I did some research into those "religions" (as well as my young mind could understand on my own) and these did make a little more sense and seemed a lot less "childish" than some of the other religions of the world which seemed more like fairy-tales to be honest.emoticon (ok, that could seem a bit strange considering these thoughts were those of a child itself...but thats how i really felt, what can i say). Still, it wasn't enough to make me "believe" or rather practice them (not that i really understood in detail).

So, any way, I focused on different things after that, especially science. Meanwhile, on the belief side...i was mostly a Theist (not of the Christian Deity type but more of a Vedanta/Upanishadic type [Ultimate Reality/Ultimate Soul and all that] ). Actually, i was a pretty devout believer (although i didn't believe any particular religion, as I said). Of course, my rational/skeptical/critical faculties were fast beginning to chip away at such a belief, and i became one after the other, a Deist, a Pantheist, and by my 18th birthday (actually sometime before that) Agnostic/Atheist.

At about the age of 16, my interest in various spiritual traditions of the world in general...and Meditation practices in particular were increased. I was more of a fan of the "Practicing and finding things out on your own" approach (perhaps influenced by science) than the "Faith/Ritual/Dogma/Belief" kind of approach. However, most of the traditions i came across(including those of Buddhism) seemed to be mired in ritual/dogma/mysticism etc. which was a HUGE turnoff.

Also, although i dabbled in some mediation practices, without any sort of concrete goals, i find it hard to stay focused for a long time (Being too uncertain of what to expect from the practices i take part in makes me lose focus of the present and worry too much about the future [exactly opposite of how, many other people feel, perhaps, who get distracted from the present by goal oriented practices]. Having some inkling...even a faint outline or plan gives me some sort of reassurance and i can safely focus on the present, i guess.

Still, in spite of some of my problems with Buddhism (as i could see or understand back then), i somehow felt something which connected with me. I felt somewhere in the main teachings of the Buddha, were really practical instructions that could be used to explore on our own. I was also reassured by some of the sayings attributed to the Buddha, which de-emphasized blind faith. I really came to admire and respect his words. The difficult part was finding out all of the essential practical teachings in a manner which de-mystified the things. I was successful somewhat, but not quite.

Just a few days ago, i came across Daniel M. Ingram's book, and if he ever reads this post, i want him to know just how thankful i am to him, to provide me exactly what i needed. I've almost finished reading it once.

I've been doing concentration practice (focusing on the breath) for some days consistently now. And I think i finally can, in almost every sitting, after having little distractions in the beginning, eventually concentrate pretty much exclusively on the breath for quite a while (not sure exactly, but at least for about 20 minutes or more). Yesterday, i sat for about 30 minutes in the morning, and towards the end, my breath became extremely shallow...almost unnoticeable. Unfortunately, i stopped practice soon after. Then I learnt today, here on DhO, that thats when i should probably be noticing and focusing on any pleasant sensations in my body and gradually attain the 1st Samatha Jhana. I'll keep trying.

However, when exactly should i start insight practices? And when i do, in what kind of ratio should i practice concentration/insight practices? It doesn't seem very clear to me. Also, i've given this a lot of thought, and the only times in the day when i would be able to practice consistently, day after day, year after year, with little interruptions is right before and/or after the time i sleep at night. which one is preferable? Or perhaps practicing both the times is better (in which case i'd have to cut back on my sleep(which is okay to an extent, but less sustainable in the long run, maybe, i don't know, or does sleep requirements reduce naturally?), and practice would get hampered during exams, i guess). So when i eventually start insight practice, when would be the ideal time to do it...and when would be ideal to do concentration practice?

In short, how did/do you balance your academic life with practice? Its a bit vague and subjective, i know, but any advice will be very helpful.

Also, since my studies involve a LOT of mathematical and analytical thinking, all day long, is it really going to be a problem for my practice, or maybe as long as i continue with daily sitting practice for an hour or two (each hour at different times of the day or back to back 2 hrs.?), its pretty easy to compartmentalize?

I know i'm probably thinking too much, but i can't help it emoticon, i want this to go well, and i don't want either of my academics or my meditation practice to screw up, so i'm a bit anxious at 1st...maybe it will pass away eventually.

Another thing, Daniel seems to give a lot of importance to meditation retreats, which i can definitely understand, i'm pretty sure they're very helpful. However, for me that's simply NOT an option anytime soon (perhaps not at least for a decade or more from now). The closest i'll get to retreats are a couple of weeks at home during vacations every year, and even that's not sure.

So, will limited duration sitting practices get me significant progress, as long as i do them regularly? How will the lack of availability of the option of retreats or intensive, day long practice, factor in during the troublesome stages, like the so-called "Dark Night" stages (ok, maybe i'm getting a bit ahead of myself here), especially during exams and stuff?

Also, i'm more of a solitary kind of a guy. So, is solitary practice okay (i mean without any formal teachers or training of that sort), as long as i get guidance from books and places like DhO?

emoticon looking back...i see that's a lot of questions, but i think its understandable, hopefully. Anyways, thanks in advance for advice. in any case, thanks for even taking the time and energy to read the entire thing...its so huge emoticon
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tom moylan, modified 10 Years ago at 8/5/11 3:36 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 8/5/11 3:36 AM

RE: HELP (for a beginner)

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
Hi and welcome,
i will only comment on a couple of things specifically but generally i think your bio would describe my (and probably many other people here) pretty precisely. ie: logical bent, have run the gamut of religious flavours and filtered out most dogmas etc. its a good thing that you have read, are reading Daniel's book. as is suggested in it, finish that, start a practice routine which fits your lifestyle and refer back to it / re-read it once questions start popping up from your practice.

However, when exactly should i start insight practices? And when i do, in what kind of ratio should i practice concentration/insight practices? It doesn't seem very clear to me. Also, i've given this a lot of thought, and the only times in the day when i would be able to practice consistently, day after day, year after year, with little interruptions is right before and/or after the time i sleep at night. which one is preferable? Or perhaps practicing both the times is better (in which case i'd have to cut back on my sleep(which is okay to an extent, but less sustainable in the long run, maybe, i don't know, or does sleep requirements reduce naturally?), and practice would get hampered during exams, i guess). So when i eventually start insight practice, when would be the ideal time to do it...and when would be ideal to do concentration practice?

-- it sounds like your concentration is already getting there. if your goal is to "get a path" , then you should start doing noting practice when you sit. integrate noting / noticing the three characteristics of all of the sensations arising during your sits. reread the MTCB on this point. getting better concentration is always good and for that read the sticky thread about Jhanas at the top of the discussion board.

In short, how did/do you balance your academic life with practice? Its a bit vague and subjective, i know, but any advice will be very helpful.

-- find time when you can, 10 minutes is better than 0 minutes, eventually you can work the insight bits into your busy schedule, noticing the sensations of walking between classes etc..

Also, since my studies involve a LOT of mathematical and analytical thinking, all day long, is it really going to be a problem for my practice, or maybe as long as i continue with daily sitting practice for an hour or two (each hour at different times of the day or back to back 2 hrs.?), its pretty easy to compartmentalize?

-- when you practice practice, when you math, math

Another thing, Daniel seems to give a lot of importance to meditation retreats, which i can definitely understand, i'm pretty sure they're very helpful. However, for me that's simply NOT an option anytime soon (perhaps not at least for a decade or more from now). The closest i'll get to retreats are a couple of weeks at home during vacations every year, and even that's not sure.

-- plan a retreat. whether at home or someplace quiet and simple or a full blown retreat. it will help. the couple of weeks you have free would work. goenka retreats are on an dana (donation') basis and last 10 days. a weekend locked in your room at home with meals slipped under the door would work too.

So, will limited duration sitting practices get me significant progress, as long as i do them regularly? How will the lack of availability of the option of retreats or intensive, day long practice, factor in during the troublesome stages, like the so-called "Dark Night" stages (ok, maybe i'm getting a bit ahead of myself here), especially during exams and stuff?

Also, i'm more of a solitary kind of a guy. So, is solitary practice okay (i mean without any formal teachers or training of that sort), as long as i get guidance from books and places like DhO?

-- i'm a solitary kind of guy too. i like that. it will serve you well. THIS PLACE is perfectly tailored for solitary guys (and gals) who don't have the inclination or the time to spend sitting at a gurus feet and really want to "get it done" instead of just living the lifestyle. there are MANY good advisors (present author excepted) to help you here. try to keep your questions practice grounded as much as possible and someone will jump in.

-- if i had had your drive, at your age, i would already have 30 years of meditation practice under my belt. so start, and keep going! you can do it.

cheers
Atanu Gayen, modified 10 Years ago at 8/5/11 6:15 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 8/5/11 6:15 AM

RE: HELP (for a beginner)

Posts: 2 Join Date: 8/3/11 Recent Posts
Thanks! That was really helpful.

I hope i can sustain this drive in the long term, though. emoticon

cheers
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tom moylan, modified 10 Years ago at 8/5/11 8:06 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 8/5/11 8:06 AM

RE: HELP (for a beginner)

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
Atanu Gayen:
Thanks! That was really helpful.

I hope i can sustain this drive in the long term, though. emoticon

cheers


..I think it will be harder to try and stop it. :-)

don't forget to enjoy the ride, that is really important.

tom

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