Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

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Emil Jensen, modified 22 Days ago.

Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 263 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
 I have something on my chest and thought I'd discuss it with you guys. It concerns our old friend Goenka, or rather "his"/u ba khin's technique taught in the all of those centers he founded around the world. 

I realize there's already a little bit of a similar thread dedicated to Goenka discussions, by Smiling Stone. But I didn't find anything in there about the four foundations of mindfulness. Also, I didn't read everything in there, so excuse me if I'm ringing the bell at the bar right now, buying everyone a round, just as everyone have already had enough and just wanna go home.

Anyway! I want this to be much more of a question than critique, actually, although the following is just pure critique. Let my question be, then: Is the following opinion and critique well founded?

So let me present to you my critique of the Goenka technique, while at the same time assuring you that I have deep respect for Goenka and all that he has done for the world of vipassana.

I practiced the Goenka technique for about three years non stop. In this time I sat every single day for at least two hours and went on 5x10-day retreats.
I noticed in the beginning that I was really going through a change, but I'd say that it often felt very troublesome, and I feel like I was easily stagnating. Who knows, that's what I felt...

So here I am, a few years later and have practiced the Mahasi style noting technique + kasina + breath samatha + open awareness style vipassana - and reached a path moment recently (yay, woohoo, etc, etc). I feel I have a much greater groove now, for feeling my way through what I actually have to do in order to see this...*looks around*... existence and all of its sensations much clearer - at all of the sense doors! Not just one, oh blimey!

And something which really made a difference for me, was starting to incorporate investigation/awareness of the four foundations of mindfulness and all sense doors. I practiced for a short while exclusively with each of them before I integrated them all into my open awareness technique. 1) Bodily sensations 2) vedanas 3) mind states and 4) thinking.

Not only does the Goenka technique banish investigation of 5 out of 6 sense doors, but also of 3 out of 4 foundations of mindfulness. (Ok, I guess everything is sensations occuring at the 5(/6) sense doors from one perspective, but still). Maybe "banish" is a bit harsh, but at least I was dumb enough to sit on 5 courses and never learned to study anything but sensations happening on my skin.

So.. is this kind of critique well founded?
Is there a meaning behind telling people to meditate for 2 hours every day for their entire lives, yet never do vipassana on basically most of what they experience in life?

I don't know.. As you may read between the lines, I think it's completely weird and I'm a little upset about it. Since I found it so useful for me to study all sense doors and all mindfulness foundations - then why wasn't I given a heads up in all of those years? Are people getting 'heads up' now? Should they? Is my critique completely off?

I guess I'm either misunderstanding something, or something is very, very, very off. I mean.. we should all get enlightened one day or another, at best, right?

So "enlighten" me, please, if you will. I would love to not be frustrated with something being "wrong" in this alley. 

Thank you, Dhamma friends.
 
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Niels Lyngsø, modified 22 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 321 Join Date: 11/15/19 Recent Posts
Hey Emil

I agree with you in your critique – and I have followed a trajectory similar to yours: Kickstarted my meditation practice 3,5 years ago on a Goenka retreat, did four of them in two years, discoverede Ingram and DhO and broadened my practice, which has made all the difference.

I too have mixed feelings about the Goenka organisation.

On the one hand they provide retreats free of charge to the benefit of many thousand people every year. I still think it is an excellent introduction to meditation and 101 buddhism (the talks) – a bit tough set-up for a beginner, perhaps, but for many a really good way to start on the path.

​​​​​​​On the other hand, you are totally right about your critique, and what makes things even worse, is the clearly secterian traits that there are in the Goenka tradition. (This is discussed in another thread you might find interesting). If you want to settle in the Goenka tradition – just meaning: if you want to be able to come back to new retreats – you cannot attend any other retreats in any other tradition, no matter how closely related they are. I have a friend who attends some teacher training with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield, she has been banned by the Goenka people and is no longer welcome there. They have an idea of "pure dhamma" – that Mr. Goenkas teachings are the only valuable teachings there is – which is extremely uhealthy in my opinion.
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Emil Jensen, modified 22 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 263 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
 And you're also Danish, I wonder from your name... ? emoticon

Yah, mixed feelings indeed, huh? I mean, how EPIC that he founded 170-something centres world wide. Perhaps MILLIONS of people have been introduced to vipassana because of him. Epic indeed.

But hearing you say that about the banning of students, just cuz they're..well, just because they're doing something as very healthy and beneficial as broadening their horizon. Damn, that's crazy. I'm thinking tho, that that will likely depend on the place they practice. So many centres are bound to have many awesome people, as well as an idiot here and there. 

But I'm still open to discussing something pertaining to the effectiveness of the technique. You know, what if their "pure dhamma" is indeed better than yours and mine, lol. And if so, how so, when they do not practice the study of 5/6 sense doors and 3/4 mindfulness foundations? I wanna know!  
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Niels Lyngsø, modified 22 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 321 Join Date: 11/15/19 Recent Posts
Yes, I am indeed Danish emoticon

I have heard from a Danish vipassana teacher from the Mahasi tradition that the Goenka method will "take you to the same place", meaning, I guess, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th path. The essential is working with the three characteristics, and doing that with only one sense door – bodily sensations – might be enough. Ingram mentions in some podcast that a yogi he was on retreat with got Stream Entry doing Fire Kasina: Again, only one sense door.

​​​​​​​But I absolutely share (what I guess is) your intuition: It seems much more natural, healthy and efficient to work with all six sense doors, and all four foundations of mindfulness. And as you say, more applicable to everyday life – which is what actually matters.

That said, bodily sensations and body scanning seems to me to be a good place to begin: 1) It's easier to direct and sustain attention to/on body parts than to/on mental objects. 2) And becoming familiar with tracking bodily sensations in detail is a good introduction to work with emotions – these more complex combinations of bodily sensation and thought.

Just my two cents emoticon
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Emil Jensen, modified 21 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 263 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
That's a good point! And working with just one sense doors does allow you to see the three characteristics just fine.

I did actually wanna mention in my rant, that I do believe (and I agree with you), that the Goenka technique is really good for beginners.
First off, it starts out at the bottom of the foundation of mindfulness, which I believe is healthy for keeping everything grounded, especially the mind.
If you started out with doing vipassana on thoughts, my intution tells me that it's a good way to become one of those crazy, religious, "seen-the-light" kind of morons. Because it's so closely related to beliefs and world views.

So if you start seeing No Self in the part of you that rationalizes how to live in the world and relate to others, I believe there's a greater chance of doing some real good damage, perhaps especially going through the dark night stages... I dont know, that be my feel.

On the other hand, seeing the characteristics in just the bodily sensations allows to develop this specific kind of investigation: Objective/neutral investigation. And it doesn't invite change of any of your perspectives on how to live in the world, not necessarily.

It reminds me of how much Neo freaked out in The Matrix, when he awoke to the "real" world. lol. Very quickly he becomes a part of the movement against the aliens and basically has just moved into a new reality, new perspectives, new beliefs and a new agenda. And also, one which obviously takes quite a toll on him as well.
If we were only concerned with Neo's well being, in relation to "waking up", we shouldn't just shove a red (or is it blue?) pill down his throat. We propably should start exactly with bodily sensations, so that he slowly could have derived some feel of what reality does with...well, aspects of reality. I.e. makes them appear, seemingly out of nothing. He could then move on to other types of sense impressions, and finally: His sense of real vs. not real, as well as his sense of self. Then he could have been introduced to simulation theories and likely had a much easier time accepting that the sensations he experiences make up his reality, regardless of whether they come from "a computer somewhere", or nowhere at all.


Whew, I'm in such a rambling mode these days emoticon I guess I feel social, for once :p
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Smiling Stone, modified 20 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 211 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
Hi to both of you,

I've been meaning to post on Niels log for a while but dho prose doesn't flow that easily these days for me... and I felt compelled to join this discussion!

Emil, I am sorry you did not find anything so far on the "some views..." thread as I've tried to cover all the aspects that interested or questioned me. Still a work in progress, of course...

On the "Satipatthana" retreat, Goenka states that we should not alter our practice in any way, that the contemplation of vedana will lead us, slowly but surely, toward the final goal (the final goal, a state beyond mind and matter that you reach after having experienced the whole field of vedana, understanding its three characteristics thoroughly). See my post on the boddhisatva vow (in the Goenka thread) for some reflections on whether or not he really knows how to get us there... or even wants to! See also somewhere there some posts by Shargrol which are tangential to this topic: he ventured that many yogis fail to see their shadow side (eg to recognize negative emotions) when they focus on body sensations. I agree (it happened to me!) but I would venture that whatever we focus on, we are bound to miss (or discard) some other aspects of experience. There is, at a deep level, classification of relevant information to make sense of the maelstrom of input (inner and outer) happening every moment, to condense it into perceptions (so open awareness is not sooo open either, although the dropping of conscious intention is of course interesting... but not the whole story, I believe).
For me, I came at peace with the practice (and decided to pursue it further) when I realized that any perception carries within itself all the qualities of the mind that generates it (I expand on this in the thread). I find it quite deep and balancing, as it keeps an element of grounding which yes, prevents me to go into cessation as has been noticed by many kind not-souls on the said thread, but gives me an always deeper understanding of how the mind processes an object, which I find endlessly fascinating. And it definitely refines the energetics in a way that would be profitable to some who did progress through the anatta discarding "body". And I admit I always react a bit when I hear it's a good technique for beginners (and for stupid people would be the unsaid assumption) -from people who merely attended a couple of retreats-.
Coming into contact with MCTB was fascinating, and posting on this forum was the last step to free myself from the tradition's dogma, so I do not endorse it in any way. I am for cross-pollination, learning from each other and expanding views. I totally agree that many in the tradition do not take that step and are happy propagating the dogma and discarding alternate views, which is an ongoing problem for me (I do not believe that you will find centers much more open to alternate views, as was proposed upthread... not yet!)
Also: see "an emissary of insight" to learn how it was Joseph Goldstein who first proposed a satipatthana retreat in Bodhgaya (after sitting with Goenka years before, then under the tutelage of Anagarika Govinda if I understand right), and it seems it prompted a response from Goenka in the form of the seven days satipatthana "advanced" retreat (to satisfy old students), and that he had to bend the scriptures quite a bit to conform with the technique, which had much more common ground with the anapanasati sutta. U Ba Khin never mentioned the satipatthana discourse in his teachings (I have to check that one! anyway it was not a basis of his method, or of Saya Thet Gyi's).
Remembering a proposal (also in the thread): contemplation of the mind comes after total dissolution of the body (a very high state indeed -much easier to reproduce after formr strong psychedelic experiences I would venture-, and not so stable) in the form of the dukkha ñanas, which, in this tradition, tend to bring you back in the body sooner or later (as the muscle of your attention comes back to the body to feel what's left, even if not thrown back there by overwhelming emotions).

I hope it helps somehow with your question...
I wish you the best with your practice and ongoing realizations of not-self!
I will be happy to discuss this further if needed...

with metta
smiling stone
Gaurav Goswami, modified 19 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 10 Join Date: 3/22/21 Recent Posts
I'm pretty new to Vipassana meditation, so, perhaps it is my inexperience speaking here, but,

  1. Unless I have misunderstood something, based on my experience, I thought that though we focus on body scanning, inevitably as we continue doing body-scanning, mindfulness keeps on increasing and hence awareness of other sense doors (e.g. for mind - the ability to observe thoughts without getting caught up in them) automatically improves. Even on a retreat, at least I am unable to all-day constantly focus all my attention on observing the anicca characteristics of bodily sensations and hence every now and then, inevitably, I end up finding my attention being captured by other things in the present moment e.g. the flickering lights in my visual field, or the bird songs or some random thought arising and passing away without capturing the attention etc. So, though one doesn't specifically work towards cultivating mindfulness of thoughts or of sounds, doesn't one automatically get trained to observe the flickering nature of sensations at other sense doors too?
  2. Furthermore, can't other things e.g. emotions also be investigated by observing the corresponding bodily sensations (e.g. how does anger / fear / grief feel in the body?)? To quote from MCTB2 (chapter 10):
"Further, if we are habitually lost in our heads, increasing the strength of the wiring to the sensations of our chests and abdomens may help integrate those aspects of our body into our practice. Lots of emotions can have strong components in those locations that more cranially fixated practitioners can benefit from getting to know more clearly."


Best,
GG
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Smiling Stone, modified 16 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 211 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
I do agree with you GG, but I do have a couple of remarks (which do not take anything off what you said)...

1- In this tradition, you are told to (try to) ignore what does not pertain to your field of investigation, after acknowledging the three characteristics of whatever got attracted in the center of your attention, and go back to your investigation of body sensations. It is quite different from Mahasi instructions (correct me if I'm inaccurate), where you follow your train of thought to the end (until it disappears?), leaving your initial object (the rise and fall of the abdomen) for the time being.
It is not quite the same to observe the appearance and disappearance of one particular event in time, and to observe the disappearance by moving your attention somewhere else (as we do in the scanning)...
So we don't really get so familiar with these other phenomena. Does this still allow for investigation of the subtlest thought, or is there a subtlest aversion going on (to be honest, I suspect a bias against thinking in this tradition)? Or... yes, some thoughts appear, but a lot of them stay under the radar (just like in the body, according to Goenka, if you keep a passive, open awareness, you will miss the more subtle sensations and get attracted to the more prominent ones, so you will not experience the entire field of matter -and you might stagnate...or trigger energetic phenomena you're not equipped to deal with by dwelling for too long on one zone-)...
This stems from the fact that there is quite a bit of concentration involved to quiet the mind in the first place: the discursive thinking is largely discarded (and not so well considered). You said : " On retreat, I end up finding my attention being captured by other things in the present moment e.g. the flickering lights in my visual field, or the bird songs or some random thought arising and passing away without capturing the attention etc. " Yes, we are so good that, only sometimes we have a random thought here and there that never captures our attention... I propose that it is how we are programmed by the technique and worldviews on retreat, and that with further investigation, we would find a bit more than that, cruising not so far from the surface (of our consciousness). Also, the best among us are sometimes overwhelmed by thoughts and emotions in the deepest of our retreats (that's where we learn, actually)... (To be honest, I've often felt that way myself on retreat, and I propose that it shows that we are on the shamatta side of practice)...
Ok, I realize I'm playing with the idea of mindfulness: is noticing enough or does investigation need to be a bit more thorough (to engage verbal processes in the mind)? After A&P, it is said that the mind is too quick for thinking to follow the noting (if you note ten events per second, it is noticing really, seems pretty close to scanning)... Isn't there a fallacy of the same order than the one I just proposed (absorption in the movement that shuts off the discursive mind)? Open question...

2- The physical component of the emotion, liberated from the associated thinking, is not quite an emotion. It is a vibrating phenomenon moving swiftly with an electric or magnetic quality to it which is very valuable to feel (a good example of bringing into consciousness something that was mainly subconscious), but misses the mind element of the emotion. Hence the endless debate of people claiming to be emotion-free because they silence that aspect.

And... re-reading the other post, and this one, I can see I am a bit confrontational... I guess it has to be the ñana I'm in at the moment (aha, easy excuse), but I apologize to those of you that might have taken it personally (I thought of editing a bit but I assume what I wrote, that was me in this particular moment)...

Oh, and GG, good quote from Daniel. I remember when I first listened to Kenneth Folk on the first three episodes of Deconstructing Yourself, I thought: "going back to sensations (I don't remember his exact words, but it was his big thing of the moment), he's really advocating for 4 pathers to go back to body scan"... Something that sometimes crosses my mind here as well...

Enjoy your practice
with metta
smiling stone
Gaurav Goswami, modified 15 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 10 Join Date: 3/22/21 Recent Posts
It seems that the quality of concentration of advanced meditators in Goenka tradition such as SS is far better than novices like me. On introductory 10-days courses, on day 06, Goenka tells us to go back to awareness of breathing if the attention is no longer stable. So, I suspect it is common for at least newcomers to have a mind which is all over the place even as the scanning proceeds!

Let me clarify one point about my previous post: there is a difference between what we do and what ends up happening to us as a result. What we do is body scanning, but the result isn't that we only become aware of bodily sensations alone. At least in my personal (though admittedly limited) experience, the result is that in the process, mindfulness increases and we become aware of a lot more. E.g. even off the cushion, even in daily life, we do experience a very enhanced awareness of many subtle thoughts (which we were never aware of earlier). 

Similarly, the usual well-known early stage insights are still experienced even by body scanners e.g. on practising only body scanning (and even without doing any other practise), one finds that thoughts are followed by associated sensations on some other sense door and vice versa (e.g. as the thought of one of my childhood friends arose and quickly passed away, following it immediately was also an associated smell of her hair-oil and a very rough "image" of her face, these also disappeared as soon as they arose). Usually this process is just too fast to notice, but awareness enhanced in this case by body-scanning, begins to uncover this.

I completely agree with SS that this kind of awareness of thoughts (as mere transitory phenomena taking place in the present moment) is probably still going to keep most of the "low-intensity" thoughts below the radar. I could imagine that those who do practise powerful mindfulness of thoughts would be better at noticing low intensity thoughts than those who mostly do body scanning.

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The true nature of experience is flickering, e.g. the flickering sensations of the body followed by actually flickering mental sensations possibly followed by other sensations etc but, it appears as if when we do body scanning with an attention which appears very stable, we are ignoring the flickering nature of all sensations except bodily sensations. E.g. We seem to artificially solidify the mental sensations: our mental image of the body (which we scan) is that of a solid one which constantly shows up in our visual field as something continuous. Not to mention, our sense of direction, balance, location etc. Furthermore, the moment we experience some set of bodily sensations, the mind immediately tries to interpret the bodily sensations and thus associate an imaginary situation with the set of sensations. E.g. the mind might interpret / imagine certain kinds of bodily sensations as raindrops and others as insects crawling on the skin. But, it is worth noticing that this interpretive process is purely mental - and we often remain unaware of the fact that this is also simultaneously going on (and hence all this appears to be a continuous process to us rather than a discrete / flickering process). 

----

"but misses the mind element of the emotion

How can anyone miss the mind element of the emotion? The bodily aspect is subtle and may require training; the mind element is pretty well known to all of us all the time, right? How can one miss that? 

BTW this question doesn't apply to those "emotions" whose associated thoughts aren't present while the body sensation is present. E.g. on a retreat, one sometimes experiences bodily sensations associated with nervousness (e.g. in one's belly) and does not find the associated fearful thoughts. But, I suppose these shouldn't be regarded as actual emotions.

----

PS: Emil and Niels: apologies for hijacking the conversation and taking it into a slightly different direction!
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Pepe, modified 14 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 348 Join Date: 9/26/18 Recent Posts
GG and SS, keep on with this very interesting conversation. Can't add much to it though. Regarding "those who do practise powerful mindfulness of thoughts would be better at noticing low intensity thoughts than those who mostly do body scanning", you may simply try earplugs like these ones while doing body scanning. I starting using them because my street is very noisy at all hours and thoughts became the principal objects that I noted/noticed from A&P to EQ. Nowadays I'm focusing more on vedana and physical sensations related to thoughts, what others may have dealt with in earlier ñanas. Besides being the only way I could work on cushion, I'm happy with how it turned out. I'll expand later, I have to go
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Smiling Stone, modified 13 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 211 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
Hello everybody,

"It seems that the quality of concentration of advanced meditators in Goenka tradition such as SS is far better than novices like me. On introductory 10-days courses, on day 06, Goenka tells us to go back to awareness of breathing if the attention is no longer stable. So, I suspect it is common for at least newcomers to have a mind which is all over the place even as the scanning proceeds!"


Ok, I sometimes make an attempt at some humor that generally seems to fall flat... Concentration comes and goes but yes, baseline improves...
There is something peculiar about Goenka's anapana (vs let's say TMI) in that the concentration on a small zone plus the pain from long hours of sitting days on end plus the instruction not to control the breath should (in my so far unchallenged understanding!) bring most (or some, I don't have any figures about this) students to quieten the breath towards the very subtle and shallow end during the anapana days... and later when they want to zoom on the tip of the nose and get rid of the background scenery (peripheral awareness in TMI idiom), from whatever they were doing breathwise to manage the bodyscan: a longer, deeper, at times more rhythmic breath, again in my undisputed view, during the first years... with practice, consciousness of the background becomes more prevalent in more and more quiet states of consciousness (with less and less excitation from the breathing process): that's how the scan becomes subtler and subtler...
Anybody can experience his whole body in one instant -a few mind moments- with a little bout of hyperventilation, go through piti, sukha and whatnot (up to strange phenomena one might be tempted to map on the progress of insight) as the quietness naturally sets in (after you get tired from overbreathing). I already go through this in my thread but it has been getting clearer after some "deep breathing" explorations, and it's good to rephrase it.
This is really at the heart of my interpretation of the practice on retreat: during anapana, we silence the discursive mind by going still (which first goes hand in hand with stillness of the breath), and at the same time some tension builds up in the body (through long hours of sitting and shallow breathing -Goenka orients us toward subtle breaths). It stays unnoticed in that very still, focused state, until we start to move our attention around, in more and more excited states as the days go by (scanning more body parts at the same time)... All sort of stuff that were buried somewhere deep in the mind-body come out in the process (unwanted thoughts, strong emotions, pure restlessness, total dissociation), until our equanimous attention has witnessed all of it arise and pass away without any doing of ours. The peculiarity of the Goenka tradition lays in the generation of these deep bodily tensions during the first days of the retreat, that allow us to confront layer after layer of dukkha in our field of being (a dukkha that mimicks our inner state when confronted to various types of unpleasant -and pleasant-experiences in daily life, "the whole field of vedana" or a big part of it), and thus develop serious equanimity.
We are in the process at a sub-verbal level, and the conscious mind need to go through its own investigation to make sense of what happens (which is why the noters make fun of us, they tend to be more articulate in their phenomenology)... but it is deep and worthwhile (seems to me, anyway). It brings its fruits, which are not exactly the same as those advocated by other traditions, but lead nevertheless to a huge reduction of suffering and a growing resilience regarding adverse events (I should be very careful not to make such bold claims as the events are bound to beat us, time and again). It is not a panacea, though:

"the mind element is pretty well known to all of us all the time, right? How can one miss that?"


If you've silenced your mind enough, it might happen to you. Indeed, it did ( "E.g. on a retreat, one sometimes experiences bodily sensations associated with nervousness (e.g. in one's belly) and does not find the associated fearful thoughts. But, I suppose these shouldn't be regarded as actual emotions"). Understand that what happens on retreat slowly spills into daily life through regular practice. First, the "disappearance" of emotions looks like a superpower, and after a while (usually thanks to outside scrutiny), you may realize that you just became dissociated from them... Might it be the same with other attainments?

Ok, thanks for reading, I indulged in a bit of loud thinking, I hope it is digestible...
Oh, of course many (most) practitioners don't go through anapana the way I described it. I did, though (in the past, I thought my way of experiencing the practice was universal... this is no more the case)... And this is only my interpretation of the intention of Goenka in devising his instructions. Please feel free to challenge me on this one (or any, really)...

And hello Pepe... earplugs, really? One of the tests of equanimity is not to get disturbed by outside sounds (it is indeed valuable to be able to sit anywhere). I've seen teachers refusing to give earplugs on retreat (in spite of heavy snoring there) and have provided some myself discreetly on occasion...
For one, I would get high on the bass of my thumping sounds in close circuit! Actually, I deeply recommend "Deepware Brainwaves", an amazing creative binaural beats generator, for those into white noise and other freaks... for a lighter final note.

with metta to all
smiling stone
Gaurav Goswami, modified 10 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 10 Join Date: 3/22/21 Recent Posts
Dear Smiling Stone and others:

I'm sorry I've been a bit late at responding. 

First of all thank you for your detailed posts: they are a goldmine for someone like me. I might respond to the early part of your post later.


"the mind element is pretty well known to all of us all the time, right? How can one miss that?"

If you've silenced your mind enough, it might happen to you. Indeed, it did ( "E.g. on a retreat, one sometimes experiences bodily sensations associated with nervousness (e.g. in one's belly) and does not find the associated fearful thoughts. But, I suppose these shouldn't be regarded as actual emotions"). Understand that what happens on retreat slowly spills into daily life through regular practice. First, the "disappearance" of emotions looks like a superpower, and after a while (usually thanks to outside scrutiny), you may realize that you just became dissociated from them... Might it be the same with other attainments?

Again, I'm sure that it is my lack of experience which is causing these questions to arise - I'm a bit unsure of the correct interpretation of experiences.

E.g. one idea I have entertained a bit is that the "emotions" whose bodily sensations arose without the arising of the associated thoughts were (though I am not quite sure) an indication that this enhanced awareness of bodily sensations was providing access to some proto-emotions which are present in a deeper layer in the nervous system and which have not yet arisen enough to cause any associated thoughts in consciousness. They arise and show up as gross solid sensations but are well below the "surface" to cause / give-rise-to any detectable thoughts.

It appears to me that this interpretation is not consistent with what you wrote above. So, do you think this interpretation is wrong / incomplete?

Also, just to clarify my interpretation: Even in the absence of any external trigger, such deeper feelings arise (and are felt as gross solid sensations) and then subside again after some time. This keeps happening until and unless we are able to observe them with "perfect equanimity" in which case, they simply "dissolve away" (nothing to do with dissoultion a la POI). 

Let me know your views on this.

---------------------------

Concerning the original question which started this thread: does everyone agree with the following?

While there seem to be six distinct sense doors and four distinct foundations of mindfulness, they are not all independent. For example,
  • During a Goenka retreat, one often finds that once the awareness of sensations all over the body becomes very clear, even the sound from the bell often also leads to some kinds of "waves" in the pattern of bodily sensations, which dies down a little after the ringing of the bell is over;
  • Or, e.g. enhanced awarenss of bodily sensations also enhances the ability to witness thoughts as mere thoughts (without getting lost in them);
  • Or, e.g. the way the pattern of bodily sensations is felt is closely connected to the state of mind etc;
In general, mind and body are closely connected, so, a very careful awareness of even one sense door provides a lot of wisdom about mind itself and some understanding of other sense doors too. 

Does this make sense?
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Pepe, modified 14 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 348 Join Date: 9/26/18 Recent Posts
I didn't say earplugs in a retreat, but at home, where external conditions are far from appropiate. For example, only at 11 pm does my street stop from being noisy, as it's a narrow road but has heavy traffic as it the only road that connects two neighbourhoods. There's 5 lines of (third world) urban buses, plus cars & taxis, and it's the main way for ambulances, police cars (and the occasional shootings) ... Yet, at night we have every other day fights between homeless that sleep in front of my building. Maybe at 12 pm things start to cool down and theoretically I could meditate without earplugs, but then I have to deal (every single night) with the loudly quarrel of old age neighbours next door ... only to wake up at 4:30 am to work. So please don't assume that everybody has the suitable external conditions to meditate. Probably there are people in much worse conditions, so maybe I shouldn't complaint. 

Regarding Goenka's retreats in my country, a friend of mine told me it's located near a shantytown where they had to hear cumbia for hours every day while meditating... Try your equanimity hearing this. Luckily you wouldn't understand the lyrics emoticon  
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Smiling Stone, modified 13 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 211 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
Hey Pepe,

Sorry if I triggered you... I highly respect your approach to practice, and I also thank you for bringing a bit of social reality in our little bubble! I do not want to dismiss your solution (it's a fair one, and I sometimes listen to podcasts with headphones while meditating if something else is happening at home), but it's worth pointing to the fact that there are practices designed to develop equanimity toward unwanted sounds (that's Vipassana in this tradition, developing equanimity toward every phenomenon)... or to shut out external sounds (as a deep anapana would, at least partially). Notice the difference between the two... we go through subtler and subtler ways of ignoring... until radical acceptance...
Having done some retreats in India, I have my share of experience with festival music, wedding sound systems, many kind of sound-systems often just outside the center during long retreats, and with noisy environments in general. I do value this skill I have developed over time...

I did meditate to your Cumbia mix just before answering (I took it as a funny challenge). The hardest part was the ad (which I skipped, I must admit, out of sheer habit), and the fact that I do understand a fair bit of Spanish... So yes, I could catch some of the lyrics -and I heard the music, I did not shut it out from awareness- but it was not a problem to pursue with the observation of body sensations at a sub-cortical level.

with much metta and wishing you the best fruits of practice
smiling stone

PS : I'm currently reading the Damo Mitchell book (as I was looking for a more spiritual take on taoist practices) that you were recommending in another thread, so thank you for that!
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Pepe, modified 13 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 348 Join Date: 9/26/18 Recent Posts
Hey SS you are my hero!  emoticon  Yes, if you only observe body sensations while hearing music, then it's possible to practice. But the music and lyrics would also trigger thoughts and proto-thoughts (in my case, add the aversion to the glorification of stealing, drugs trafficking and sex abuse). Not that thoughts are a problem per se, but it adds speed and layers to the flow of physical/mental objects. 

But earplugs amplify as well sensations when there's tension in the bodymind, in the skull in general and the cardiac pulse in the ears in particular. When any tension spikes, that triggers the pulse, that become the main object perceived, which then triggers more thoughts. The only way to deal with that is acceptance, which may take 1 minute or 20 minutes to disappear. So it's also challenging to use earplugs. I have meditate without them as well (in other place, not at home) and in some way it's easier to have a first taste of concentration, as a whole layer of proto-thoughts cannot be perceived. When using earplugs, in an ideal sit, concentration goes deeper.

Mucho metta!
​​​​​​​Pepe
 
Edit: regarding Damo Mitchell's book, his series of videos on the Microcosmic Orbit is a really good complement.
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Smiling Stone, modified 13 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 211 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
Hola Pepe,
I was just reading your last post on your practice log, good stuff going on there!
Yes, when I said I would go high on the bass with earplugs, I was thinking about this, the pressure in the cranium, the thumping in the ears. You are right that it must be challenging in a different way, I like that, I'll try it...
re: Damo Mitchell, I started the microcosmic orbit, but felt I'd rather read the book first (and I'm taking my time). So far, I really enjoyed his description of the different types of energetic phenomena : the Yang Qi, a fluid electric current, the yin Qi, a strong magnetic force that bends and stretches the insides of the body, Fire Qi a shaking or a vibration, more edgy, and i guess heat (?) and the water Qi a heaviness in the body. That really spoke to me in terms of experience... ok, my time to derail the thread...
But I think it is interesting because, obviously, a Damo Mitchell has some very different expectations about what kind of "attaining" is worth aiming for in practice. he insists on grounding a lot... and I wanted to introduce some standing posture from Qi gong for further grounding. Although I consider myself reasonably grounded, I've come to the deep insight (yeah) that it might be just an illusion, and that I might benefit from a more rooted center to balance further dissociation (just in the opposite direction of attainments as they are advocated here!). Well, I still don't stand that much as a practice, but it will come. So yes, the nature of attainments, what are we aiming for practicing the different satipatthanas, or Goenka retreats, or Qi-Gong.
For me, the elimination of the illusion of Self is not a priority so far. Reduction of suffering, yes, and seeing through my shortcomings (which belong to this illusionary but useful self and are worth working on... and I'm quite sure it's a life job!)

Well, I digress again
Keep on with the good work, chief librarian
metta to all (bis repetita, two posts in a day!)
smiling stone
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Pepe, modified 11 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 348 Join Date: 9/26/18 Recent Posts
Thanks SS for your encouragement! 
re: the different types of energetic phenomena, Scott Meredith explains in his book the martial-art frame (instead of the Mitchell's 5 elements frame), which for my taste gives a better description of taoist 'vipassana-jhana like' stages. Both are good and useful. Mitchell's book has a more rounded theoretical frame, while Meredith's is more hands on.
re: attainments, good to know you have clear priorities. Not aiming for eliminating the illusion of Self is hardly ever heard in DhO, but probably is predominant in the East. 

Metta!
Pepe 
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Smiling Stone, modified 7 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 211 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
Hey everybody!

To GG:
"Again, I'm sure that it is my lack of experience which is causing these questions to arise - I'm a bit unsure of the correct interpretation of experiences. "

Nobody is sure about the correct interpretation of experiences, that's why we make assumptions...

"E.g. one idea I have entertained a bit is that the "emotions" whose bodily sensations arose without the arising of the associated thoughts were (though I am not quite sure) an indication that this enhanced awareness of bodily sensations was providing access to some proto-emotions which are present in a deeper layer in the nervous system and which have not yet arisen enough to cause any associated thoughts in consciousness. They arise and show up as gross solid sensations but are well below the "surface" to cause / give-rise-to any detectable thoughts.
It appears to me that this interpretation is not consistent with what you wrote above. So, do you think this interpretation is wrong / incomplete?"


Well, I think it is a very nice interpretation, and that there is room for more than two! I have to read my own interpretation again to spot inconsistencies...
I say that quieting the "monkey mind" make us aware of bodily sensations, for once not covered by the noise of the discursive mind. In that silence, "special" sensations appear from time to time, without apparent cause or triggered by some reaction to something in the retreat (a dhamma talk, a behavior from another student, some wise reflections about the path). These special passing sensations are the ones that we usually don't feel in an emotion because we are too busy reacting. We learn to observe that. If they are accompanied by thoughts, these won't be so prevalent (overwhelming) that we can't observe them.

"this enhanced awareness of bodily sensations was providing access to some proto-emotions which are present in a deeper layer in the nervous system and which have not yet arisen enough to cause any associated thoughts in consciousness"

That's an interesting framing. I don't usually think in layers of nervous system, although it makes perfect sense (the reptilian brain etc.), and I usually frame in terms of layers of consciousness which would correspond to the different traditional realms (the 31 from hell to heavens, although more analogic), and which would be ascribed certain qualities of experience (from gross to subtle, from constricted to open, from stuck to flowing, from grasping to letting go etc.) that also match some qualities of the eight jhanas (well, the five jhanas for me so far). On each of these layers discursive thinking may be present or absent, depending on the level of concentration. In daily life, we inhabit one layer (as our baseline) but we move from it according to our moods (to layers that vibrate on a different frequency)...
I don't really believe that some thoughts are "associated" to some "proto emotions",  in the sense that they share the same cause. [The same sensation can arise along a myriad of thoughts with different contents but the same "color" or "frequency", or with the "color" devoid of thought]. Sometimes they arise together and sometimes they don't (depending on conditions such as the degree of concentration)...
Yes concentration... There is a level of recoiling into one's experience where one feels drawn inside, like one really loses interest in the inputs from outside... that's when the slightest "effort" gives way to some kind of subtle gravity that pulls the attention inwards, that's when we get "absorbed" (not really related but as it was obvious in my last sit, and quite distinct from the last good sits, like going towards serious absorption, I wanted to include it here).

"Also, just to clarify my interpretation: Even in the absence of any external trigger, such deeper feelings arise (and are felt as gross solid sensations) and then subside again after some time. This keeps happening until and unless we are able to observe them with "perfect equanimity" in which case, they simply "dissolve away" (nothing to do with dissolution a la POI)."

Deeper feelings might be felt as different kind of sensations, not only gross solid ones... ok, the gross feelings dissolve away to give way to more subtle ones... on and on and on...

"Let me know your views on this."

That was a try at precising just that, leaning heavily on your comments, thank you GG.


To Pepe: Scott Meredith is next on my list... "Not aiming for eliminating the illusion of Self is hardly ever heard in DhO"... Did I say I that? Wow... It's a strong statement. And true, although I'm seeing through the Self more and more clearly somehow...  and I did not try the earplugs yet.

To Emil and Niels: where are you? I sometimes feel like a scarecrow for dedicated pragmatic practitioners! I would really enjoy to have your take on all this...

To everybody: be aware that the few times I tried to share my questions about the breath with ATs, I was always met with "don't give it any importance, let it be as it is", so let's be clear that what you read here is not validated in any way by the tradition... or by anybody for that matter! just some thoughts I am happy to share with you, to put under your scrutiny...

love and metta from a slightly exalted place today...
smiling stone

8/5/2021 : [content added between brackets; edited the quotes I forgot]
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Niels Lyngsø, modified 7 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 321 Join Date: 11/15/19 Recent Posts
Dear Smiling Stone,

I don't see you as a scrarecrow at all! I still read along in this thread with interest, I just don't feel I have anything to contribute to the discussion right now. But please do carry on!

All the best,
Niels
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Emil Jensen, modified 7 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 263 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
Same as Niels, Smiling Stone emoticon

Sorry to not be contributing more to this. In all honesty I think it's gone farther than I was in for in the beginning - although I'm happy that you could pick it up and run with it. Obviously there are people who benefit and like reading your very carefully articulated thoughts about this. Carry on, Smiling Stone, I smile at your...stone? Well, I smile at you!

I guess what I was after when starting this thread, was venting a little bit about my frustrations about the Goenka method (while still respecting the dude!), while also testing my viewpoint a little bit: Is it really "wrong" to ignore most of the sense doors and foundations of mindfulness, or is there a sense behind this Goenka madness? I feel like we quickly did spit out some considerations in this regard, so then I went on with my life, prepared to never consider the matter again (unless I would grow frustrated again in the future...).

Also, I've been busy, and reading long posts and writing long posts is simply a very conscious de-prioritization for me these days.


Best of all, Smiling Stone emoticon
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Smiling Stone, modified 6 Days ago.

RE: Some more Goenka thoughts, ft. the 4 foundations of mindfulness

Posts: 211 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
Hello Emil and Niels, thank you for your kind words.

Diving into this thread and reflecting on your questions has helped me to further realize how much my path draws on concentration. In my view, it explains the discrepancies between our experiences to a large extent.

Beyond GG's valuable testimony, there is a point where more and more thoughts don't arise anymore, which is the fruit of focusing on one sense door to the exclusion of the other ones (ignoring thoughts when they arise by not grasping them and returning to the body. It is different from not grasping but still attending to it until it dissolves, there is a form of ignorance at play in the first, where investigation is not pushed the whole way). That's also why, if you want a true taste of the formless realms, you have not to attend to body for a while. This "not attending" is the element of ignorance in the jhanas.
So you are right, Emil, the intimate knowing of thoughts is not a fruit of body scanning... just like a deep knowledge of body does not follow automatically the thorough investigation of thoughts. We know only what comes in our experience and, with concentration, we cut ourselves from whole parts of the field of experience. I mean, our perceptive apparatus is already doing a big selection among the myriad of inputs we are made of, every moment. With the scanning, contrary to open awareness (in the case you would really not privilege one sense door!), there is further selection of the sense data... As with every type of concentration, reducing the input helps to better investigate it. So the fact that we attend to less thoughts does not mean we can't investigate these with subtlety.
It is really the difference between the hard and soft jhanas I'm touching to here. You see you are in jhana because whole parts of the field of experience have disappeared.
In my last post, I talked about a subtle "gravity" or attraction that would pull us deeper into one sense door. When you are sufficiently attracted, the rest of the world slowly fades from your reality.

But... we still move our attention and recognize the three characteristics in body sensations (meaning we thoroughly investigate them), so there is insight involved (plus, as GG rightly stated, we cheat and observe thoughts etc. sometimes)
The fruit of all this is that, in daily life also, slowly less unwanted thoughts arise, and these are the ones that stink most of ego... so ego is less of a problem.
There is no perceptual change for me so far (I'll let you know!), but yes a relative silencing of the repetitive discursive mind that I see as most problematic, and a lessening of reactions as well... A better presence in the moment, as mind is what stirs us away from the now... and at times disconnection, strange reactions, not recognizing obvious emotions, difficulty in articulating thought, wrong assessment of what is occurring in the body because I mistake my inner experience for actual reality etc. Just for you to be sure that I don't claim anything here, just try to nail a complex process...
Note that I don't have anything against mind, so I'm driving it back into action by interacting here and elsewhere, trying to put my thoughts into form etc.

wishing you the best with your practices
with metta
smiling stone

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