Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

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Henry Fellows Moss, modified 25 Days ago at 6/17/24 12:04 PM
Created 25 Days ago at 6/17/24 12:04 PM

Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 5 Join Date: 6/14/24 Recent Posts
Hello, all of you!  I am new to this forum and am grateful to be here, but I will introduce myself later in another thread.  For now, let me get to the matter at hand.
I have been studying Practical Insight Meditation and Manual of Insight by Mahasi Sayadaw.  I have been pouring over his beginning meditation instructions, particularly the ones in Practical Insight Meditation, but still can't understand the beginning practices.  Below are several questions about them.  My aim is to make sure I cover all bases with these questions and not leave anything out, so thank you in advance for your patience with any redundancy. 
  1. When doing Basic Exercise II, should I continue to sustain my attention on the sensations of rising and falling after I note "rising" through till I note "falling" and after I note "falling" through till I note "rising," actively making an effort to concentrate on those sensations?  Or after noting "rising" should I relax my attention and note whatever other objects arise until it is time to note "falling" again?  
  2. In Basic Exercise II and III, should I note every rising and falling?  
  3. The instructions in Basic Exercise III seem to suggest that when some feeling appears, especially pain or discomfort, one should stop noting the rising and falling and note the feeling exclusively until it is gone.  I am not sure of how to interpret "gone."  In one sense, the feeling will be gone very swiftly after I first notice it, because there will then follow some other feeling or an object at one of the other sense doors, but the feeling is likely to come back quickly after.  In another sense, I guess one could read "gone" in the sense that one should continue to pay attention to the feeling until noticings of it stop arising at all.  In which sense should I interpret "gone?"
  4. In the section called "Advancement in Contemplation" under Basic Exercise III, Mahasi Sayadaw suggests adding other objects to regularly note.  What is the purpose of this?
  5. Are the instructions meant to be understood as more giving the gist of what to do, with the intention that I adapt them to my own use?  Or are they to be followed to the letter?  
  6. Would it be accurate to say that they simply give an idea of how to practice with a gradual opening from narrower focus on a small selection of objects to a wide focus on all the sense doors?  I am not sure to what extent the exercises are really meant as discrete procedures to be done at different times. 
As for my individual practice, I can already just note objects as they arise at the six sense doors, about one per second, without often getting lost in thought and without the need of paying specific attention to the breath. But I still really want to understand how to do the Basic Exercises, as (1) I want to know how to incorporate the breath into insight meditation sometimes and the Basic Exercises seem to present a way to do it, if only I could understand what they are getting at; and (2) I am just very highly interested in understanding various methods of meditation, and this one is very highly regarded.  
Thank you in advance for your help.  
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Geoffrey Gatekeeper of the Gateless Gate, modified 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 2:14 PM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 2:14 PM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 414 Join Date: 10/30/23 Recent Posts
Okay I'll give you my gist, and hopefully other people chime in to give you their perspectives as well!

So I'd say to stay on your breath 1. when youre starting (and say have a hard time staying present for more than a few minutes or so) or 2. if your mind is very restless. Once you get to the point where you can just stay present decently well (thoughts can come up, but you note them as thoughts), then personally I like to try to note whatever object is the most salient (and if something sticks around, just keep noting it - but its easy to keep noting pain, and not see say the restlessness building up!). I'd also encourage you to have a more "receptive" style of meditation, where you just note whatever appears, and not "active" where "you" try to go out and note things.

Another thing to note is that Mashai noting has variants taught by different teachers. I've learned both more Samantha style vs more straight insight style. Basically spending more time with your breath = more tranquil (one meditation center I went to talked about your breath like your "home", and "sure you can travel to Europe, but once you travel there, you come back home", meaning after some other sensation comes, you note it, eventually it leaves awareness, then you go back to the breath (like thats the default object when there isnt too much going on). And styles that can run a bit more dry (more the style I was outlining above)
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Henry Fellows Moss, modified 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 5:30 PM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 5:29 PM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 5 Join Date: 6/14/24 Recent Posts
Geoffrey: Thank you for your reply. When you note the object is the most salient, do you try to deliberately hold your attention on it?
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Geoffrey Gatekeeper of the Gateless Gate, modified 24 Days ago at 6/18/24 12:05 PM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/18/24 12:05 PM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 414 Join Date: 10/30/23 Recent Posts
I always just let attention move freely
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 9:41 PM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 9:34 PM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 2921 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
Show me you "just let" emoticon 
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 9:40 PM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 9:39 PM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 2921 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
Here is how I experienced the "trying to have attention on one object" video demo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGk5bNAanWE
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Bahiya Baby, modified 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 9:41 PM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 9:39 PM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 555 Join Date: 5/26/23 Recent Posts
Gently rest attention on awareness. Gently relax and allow yourself to attend to experience. You want to note, investigate, sense this experience. If you get too caught up holding onto things you'll miss "this".

Noting experiences, sensing experiences, being aware happens in the body by default. All you're trying to do is get to a point where you can notice that more directly, more continously over time. 

This will involve noticing that the mind is often desperately chaotic, that the mind does not wish to simply be aware, that the mind is bound up in a constant parade of struggle and striving. Noticing all this is good practice and will lead to levels of relaxation that bring us deeper than our minds habitual patterns and in those very depths insight can be gained into the nature of our experience, of suffering and the world.  ​​​​​​​
Adi Vader, modified 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 2:20 AM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 2:20 AM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 327 Join Date: 6/29/20 Recent Posts
Hi. I am not familiar with the book and thus the specific instructions within the book. I am attaching here below a series of resources that might be of interest to you. Check them out at leisure.

1. https://www.reddit.com/r/midlmeditation/comments/xv9o25/midl_and_the_burmese_style_of_mahasi_labeling/

2. https://www.reddit.com/r/streamentry/comments/1b0b8t1/comment/ksg14ld/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web3x&utm_name=web3xcss&utm_term=1&utm_content=share_button

3. https://www.reddit.com/r/streamentry/comments/161ti6p/comment/jy0hwbe/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web3x&utm_name=web3xcss&utm_term=1&utm_content=share_button

4. Stephen Procter describing the Mahasi labeling method on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a60DDtVR5ZA

5. Patrick Kearney's talks on the Mahasi method: https://soundcloud.com/phatgiaotheravada/01-introduction-mahasi-method

6. Patrick Kearney's brief write up on the Mahasi method: https://www.buddhistelibrary.org/en/displayimage.php?pid=216

​​​​​​​Hope this is helpful.
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Dream Walker, modified 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 5:23 AM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 5:23 AM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 1759 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Henry Fellows Moss

I have been studying Practical Insight Meditation and Manual of Insight by Mahasi Sayadaw.
  I have been pouring over his beginning meditation instructions, particularly the ones in Practical Insight Meditation,
but still can't understand the beginning practices. 
Below are several questions about them. 
My aim is to make sure I cover all bases with these questions and not leave anything out, so thank you in advance for your patience with any redundancy. 
​​​
Stop being lazy and answer your own questions.
Try each and every thing that is a mystery then move forward with whatever works for you.
Why ask others?
Here is my BS - 4 words......
see hear feel think....
Is that so hard?
Be philosophically absolutely perfect before you do your meditation.
Cover your bases and never bother to do meditation....never fail so that you never learn.
​​​​​​​~D
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Henry Fellows Moss, modified 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 7:51 AM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 7:51 AM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 5 Join Date: 6/14/24 Recent Posts
Adi Vader:  Thank you for those resources.  I will look them over.  

Practical Insight Meditation is available at this link.  The organization that owns the website also seems to hold the copyright to the book, so I do not think I am violating any laws by posting it.  At any rate, the instructions I am referring to start on page 3.

https://www.bps.lk/library-search-select.php?id=bp503s
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Henry Fellows Moss, modified 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 7:56 AM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 7:56 AM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

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Bahiya Baby:  Thanks for this exercise.  When you say rest attention on awareness, do you mean the whole field of awareness itself, the way you can rest attention on the whole visual field as if it were one object?  Or do you mean something else? 
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Not two, not one, modified 20 Days ago at 6/22/24 2:01 AM
Created 20 Days ago at 6/22/24 2:01 AM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 1047 Join Date: 7/13/17 Recent Posts
Hey Henry, I am not an expert in this particular method, although I have read the manual a number of time and understand the dharma.  Here are some thoughts that may be helpful.

1. Every practice can be done an a basic, intermediate or advanced way.  You are perceiving some of these possibilities, and this is leading to confusion. Usually, we start in the basic ways to build up capacity, and the intermediate or advanced ways are likely to be ineffective as we don't know how to do it yet.  But you can certainly try!  However, if you find you are failing, revert to more basic practice.  But don't let the uncertainty stop you from practicing. The ego protects itself in all sorts of subtle ways ... including creating uncertainty to frustrate practice.

2. Normally, you would start with low level noting of just the thing.  (e.g. "Stepping" or "Feeling").  The normal (note I keep saying this) route is to learn to note with mental labels, then to up the frequency by mentally labelling more things, then to drop the labelling and just intuitively note, then to up the frequency more, then to start noting the arising and passing away of phenomona - seeing them come up, persist a little, and then fade.  Then up the frequency more.  Then become a conduit for the universe to observe itself a super high frequency flux through your mind, then to see for yourself at a deep level the fact of impermanence, which implies not-self, which implies suffering when these truths are denied, and thereby to achieve liberation. 

But this is just one route - there are thousands of others in the satipatthana sutta.

3. Often people get the half-path of the Arising and Passing away, experiencing stunning perceptual distortions, and then progress to have their perception of self or reality dissolve a bit, followed by their subsconsious reacting with discomfort and various forms of pyschological escape attempts ("I don't want my perceptions to dissolve!").  When this happens your attention moves to the periphery and you can no longer note discrete events at high frequency - your focussed attention declines.  The solution is to move from noting the body to noting emotions, and seeing them as they come up, labelling them, and clearly seeing that they are temporary, not you, and only a source of suffering if clung to. You only have to do this irregularly - even just once a hour!  You can supplement this with investigation on an intuitive level - try to intuitively note the somatic feelings and mental connections of the things that arise ... what do they feel like?  How do they change?  Eventually you will move back to equanimity and can resume high frequency perceptual noting.

4. As we all start with unresolved psychological issues, these may come up and make the emotional stage worse, and prevent progress.  If so, you may have to deal with them. This can be really tough, because they represent ingrained defense mechanisms, so you have to rip off the scab and drain the pus (ouch!).  So if you have significant trauma and want to meditate. BE CAREFUL!  Maybe therapy first?  Or failing that, love and forgiveness are really good.  Love your enemies.  Forgive those that have hurt you.  That's the easy part.  The hard part is to forgive yourself, and love yourself.  Forgiveness is the most powerful force in the universe. Then the reactive tendecies will drain away, and you can let go, relinquish, cease utterly those unskillful things, and look back your greedy or hating or deluded self with kindness and compassion.  Letting go .... letting go .... letting go ... letting go ... letting go

Obviously all this may require other supporting practices.  That is why the dharma is kind of complex and exhaustive.  But hopefully that gives you a roadmap for the early stages.

Love

Malcolm
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Henry Fellows Moss, modified 8 Days ago at 7/4/24 11:32 AM
Created 8 Days ago at 7/4/24 11:32 AM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 5 Join Date: 6/14/24 Recent Posts
Malcolm:  Thank you for your reply.  I will be sure to keep the technique of switching to noting emotions up my sleeve for when I get to dissolution.  

While I have you on the line, would you elaborate on what forgiveness means to you?  It has never been an intuitive concept for me, and I don't really know what I mean when I tell someone "I forgive you." The thing in my experience that seems most like it might be forgiveness is when I see the causes of someone's actions and that because of those causes they could not possibly have acted differently, and then some or all of my resentment toward them dissolves.  Is that what you mean by forgiveness, or something else?  
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Not two, not one, modified 7 Days ago at 7/5/24 3:40 AM
Created 7 Days ago at 7/5/24 3:40 AM

RE: Trouble understanding Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions

Posts: 1047 Join Date: 7/13/17 Recent Posts
Henry Fellows Moss
Malcolm:  Thank you for your reply.  I will be sure to keep the technique of switching to noting emotions up my sleeve for when I get to dissolution.  

While I have you on the line, would you elaborate on what forgiveness means to you?  It has never been an intuitive concept for me, and I don't really know what I mean when I tell someone "I forgive you." The thing in my experience that seems most like it might be forgiveness is when I see the causes of someone's actions and that because of those causes they could not possibly have acted differently, and then some or all of my resentment toward them dissolves.  Is that what you mean by forgiveness, or something else?  

Great question! That's definitely part of it, but not all. Uncle Sid is supposed to have said "holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die." That's the point really - noticing the tendency to negative emotion towards somebody/yourself, noticing that it causes some kind of contraction that becomes a source of rumination that reinforces itself, that concentrates into a little nugget of ongoing pain for YOU. Then CHOOSING to say to yourself that pain is unskillful and unwanted. Observing the tendency towards that negative contraction in emotion, and RELINQUISHING it, letting it go, letting it cease.  Let it fly free to dissipate and transform into something more positive. With compassion to the object, and to the subject, and to the action tendency too.

Yes, understanding the other, and feeling compassion towards them, is certainly important. But it is also about observing your own tendency towards unskilful emotional contraction, seeing it clearly, zapping it with a bit of concentration, and joyfully releasing it to fade away. Setting the resentment free to dissipate! Choosing to release that poison.

And if it helps, I like to think that forgiveness really starts to really mean something ONLY when it is given to those who are 'unworthy' of it. :-) So don't let 'worthiness' be an obstacle - it is just another defence mechanism of the self.

That subtle resentment and tendency to hate is just a set of chains that binds you.

But this is the rational explanation. Best to do it just because it feels right and joyful. :-)

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