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So many questions!

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So many questions!
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Answer
2/22/12 10:11 PM
I'd like to first say that I am somewhat new to insight practices, or so I feel. I was first introduced in 08 on a 10 day goenka course but It wasn't until taking my 3rd course just a few weeks ago that I gave it a fair shot. Since then I have read Mastering the Core teachings of buddah and found this wonderful forum. I realize I've written a lot on my first posting but I would appreciate so much anyone who reads through it and attempts to help clarify some things for me. Sorry for any needless words and know that I have many more questions and things I'd like to say but this is enough for now.

My first question is can you practice insight meditation without deliberately focusing on the 3 characteristics? In other words, can the realization/seeing the 3 characteristics happen as a byproduct of something like high levels of focus or pure awareness?

Before vipassana I did a toaist/my own meditation that was incredibly simple yet profound. It was during my first retreat where I (under monastic lifestyle/good sila) would sit for a hour 3 times a day and focus on my natural breath in my "lower dantian" (basically lower stomach area) and then let nature play its course. I basically tried to stop my thoughts and focus on breath. If I heard sounds I imagined them coming from my dantian and thoughts were observed and pushed aside/let go until they didnt exist. I did this over a course of about a month. During the retreat once I was able to stop my thoughts and solely focus on my breath I experienced energy enter my body at times with extreme force. Then (what I figure was after my energy channels were all more or less opened) I got to a point where as soon as we sat down I would focus on my breath for a minute or even less and then drop into this empty/vast place which felt like this portal of the cosmos where I was connected with the consciousness of everything even saints of the past. I would be shaken out of this place by the noise of people moving after the hour was up. It was truly indescribable. Once I came out of this place during my meditations I would continue to have insights and it was like I was receiving wisdom from this place of stillness or whatever I was doing in meditation. It forever changed my life.
That was the first time I think I ever tried to put it into words. I hate talking about my experience because they were so special and so beyond words. Im only mentioning it now because since then (that was sometime in 07) I have been on a incredibly slow progression on my spiritual path. I have never experienced anything like that. I blamed it on my lack of practice ( I haven't been able to keep a steady practice since). After reading daniels book this seems like A&P and then Dark Knight but Im not sure. so

Any Ideas on what I experienced and where to go from there? Thats what Im trying to figure out
Is it possible to enter into A&P and Dark Knight without using insight mediation? Could what I did be considered insight practice?

I really felt like if I had stayed and practiced longer I would have become enlightened. Im sure those on this forum would disagree. So now im at a point where I realize there was something that was missing in the practice. The teachings on impermanence and equanimity. I learned that the hard way, yrs of trying to recreate the bliss I felt on that first retreat. So now im wondering..

Do I have to change anything about that technique besides attention of the 3 characteristics and staying equanimous?

I have been trying to practice more of insight meditation focusing on breath but im confused. Its the first time out of all my yrs of mediation that I feel confused while sitting! I dont understand what to do!! If i focus on my breath I can see the change and stay equanimous and observe sensations come and go and begin to see they are not me. But then I get confused because what is the me that they are not? And then it begins to be too much. It feels like im caught up too much in thought. ISn't the point to be focused and not to follow your thoughts? There is too much happening to still concentrate on 3 characteristics. Is it better to just stay on 1 characteristic like impermanence? How can you observe sensations and at the same time note the 3 characteristics? Sensations are coming and going too fast for that. But even then I feel like to do deep mediation you have to let go of your thinking...Thoughts?
Can you just have the 3 characteristics as a theme song that is playing softly in the background while the main focus is pure awareness that is constantly morphing?
Am I making sense?

I've become what I have feared to become for so long. Someone who thinks too much about how to mediate and mixed up in different techniques. But is this something necessary? I always thought you just needed to pick one technique and run with it and not get boggled down with trying different styles etc.

while im at it one more question. Is staying with the sensations that make up your present reality and observing the 3 characteristics all the theory you need to know to progress and become enlightened? The maps/stages of enlightenment in Mastering the Core teachings did not resonate/ seem very clear to me. Im attempted to pretty much forget them.

All these questions are very important to me especially right now because Im in the process of planning a yr long retreat/adventure in south asia that id like to leave on as soon as 3 months from now. I now there is a lot in this post, I seriously appreciate any comments. Any help. Thanks you
Im very grateful to have found this forumn and read Daniel's book, I don't feel so alone. What a wonderful support! I finally have a place to ask my questions!! MUCH LOVE MUCH THANKS
Jake
May we all progress on the path and may all beings be happy

RE: So many questions!
Answer
2/22/12 11:09 PM as a reply to Jake Evan Harrell.
Welcome to the DhO, Jake.

I'll just say that buddhist meditation practices usually have preliminaries designed to stabilize the mental faculty and to establish a moral footing. These stabilizing and grounding practices anticipate the likelihood of mental hardship that comes up in meditation (and life) and offer a means to prepare for those hardships skillfully and to help practitioners avoid compounding the hardships with more self-induced troubles.

In Southeast Asia, there may be a greater prevalence of Theravaden lineage, and the preliminary work is concentration: one suffuses themselves with sukha through several mental 'states'. Moving to the Himalayas, the preliminaries are ngöndro (about which I know next to nothing, but this youtube clip has a guy who can say the 100-syllable word, so maybe he's a decent internet introduction to their prelims).

Can you just have the 3 characteristics as a theme song that is playing softly in the background while the main focus is pure awareness that is constantly morphing?
Anything is possible, no? Perhaps try doing that: main focus as pure awareness (whatever that means to you and by whatever means you've found). If something later arises that is not playing softly, but is seemingly loud/hard to bear/dissatisfactory, then you might look into a tradition's map (monotheistic, vedic, etc) and see what might help.

RE: So many questions!
Answer
2/23/12 3:59 PM as a reply to Jake Evan Harrell.
Thanks for the responses. So another question. No matter what stage you are in the technique remains the same? If so is the only benefit to knowing where you are in practice to help motivate you/explain some emotions you are going through, etc. So is it necessary to know what stage you are in to become enlightened?

RE: So many questions!
Answer
2/24/12 12:14 PM as a reply to Jake Evan Harrell.
Hi Jake -

Jake: So is it necessary to know what stage you are in to become enlightened?

As far as I can tell, nobody "gets enlightened"**. People lose attributes that they may have added or inherited or accumulated, and thus they lose some cumbersome attributes. When people start looking for a means like meditation or religion, that search is often propelled by an urge to resolve some dissatisfaction (an urge to feel satisfied, content, relaxed, at ease, calm, composed, etc). And some people do this letting go very well, very fluidly with time-in, become used to not acquiring, clinging what is surfeit. (This is not me, for the record). They have noticeably lightened up of surfeit mentation in the eyes of some observers (or just in their own eyes), and visibly use the energy previously spent in carrying about surfeit stuff more skillfully, if only by not adding what is probably not needed....

Buddhist meditation traditions have identified various common stages, just as psychoanalysis may have such stages, just as early childhood education has identified stages. So, running with the analogy, usng conventional early childhood education maps could actually be a hindrance (e.g., overly generalize a child), yet it can also help (e.g., orient a child within a broad range of manageable educational expectations). So, one could do the losing-of-surfeit-attributes (lightening up, enlightening) on their own, or they could do it in a system/s or they could do both.

What do you think?

[edit: jake: No matter what stage you are in the technique remains the same?
Techniques look different depending on the system, however, in buddhist meditation degrees of commonality can be seen, even where the names are very different and the objects taken as meditation are different. And the techniques are obviously also having degrees of differences between them, else there would be just one apparent technique. Sometimes teachers will note the "trap" that a person wonders so much which system is the "best" that they never take up practice.]

[edits: clarity?]

** Edit: what I mean here is that the person who could could "get" something must recede in order for "enlightenment" to occur. Nibbana is the unconditioned, thus whatever "you" are is conditioned, whatever you could "get" is conditioned. The selfless path is unconditioned (and many traditions offer this selflessness modus operandi). Everything on the conditioned path has some associated suffering.

RE: So many questions!
Answer
2/23/12 7:50 PM as a reply to Jake Evan Harrell.
Jake: If so is the only benefit to knowing where you are in practice to help motivate you/explain some emotions you are going through, etc.

Everyone on this site can strive to motivate you and explain some of your emotions, but a teacher has experienced the actual path, not just the words representing the path.

If I said though, do you want to "eschpungchukanukayuk" (this is some chevak language phonetic) because eschpungchukanukayuk is ultimately really really good for a person and results in their sense of freedom, you might say, "what's eschpungchukanukayuk and how do I get there?" The unconditioned that is represented by the English word "enlightenment" is similarly often unknown, but perhaps we have culturally become familiar with the word and think that nibbana is achieved by saying "nibbana"...just like I can say the word eschpungchukanukayuk. But can I actually do eschpungchukanukayuk?

This is the zen parable: pointing at the moon (pointing) is not the moon (nibbana)... It points to the mind that would rather talk about nibbana versus know it actually.

RE: So many questions!
Answer
2/23/12 11:14 PM as a reply to Jake Evan Harrell.
Hi Jake,

Jake Evan Harrell:

There is too much happening to still concentrate on 3 characteristics. Is it better to just stay on 1 characteristic like impermanence? How can you observe sensations and at the same time note the 3 characteristics? Sensations are coming and going too fast for that. But even then I feel like to do deep mediation you have to let go of your thinking...Thoughts?
Can you just have the 3 characteristics as a theme song that is playing softly in the background while the main focus is pure awareness that is constantly morphing?


Do you mean, for example, you would notice a sensation like warmth and note "warmth", and also try to note all of the 3 characteristics at the same time? The 3 characteristics are not what gets noted, the sensations are what gets noted. In the process of noting sensations, the mind will naturally start to register the 3 characteristics. To use your example of impermanence... there will be a knowing that warmth is arising from the mere fact that the body feels warm, and then a knowing that warmth has passed when the body no longer feels the warmth. When you directly notice the experience of the sensation both arise & pass, that is an insight into impermanence. While meditating, it is not necessary to reflect on what just happened and think, "Oh it is not there now. It has passed. That is impermanence."

Regarding thought, when it does arise here and there, note that too and don't be hard on yourself about it. After all, thought is not anything you are doing, so there is no actual basis for blame or criticism when thought happens to be around. Develop a disinterest in thought - neither thinking it is entertaining nor bad. If the mind goes from just a random thought coming up once in a while to proliferating into full on stories while meditating, though, that means there is not enough clarity or attentiveness. Cultivate an attitude of kindness and keep applying the method diligently, keep returning to sensation after sensation no matter what.

Also have fun! emoticon
Steph