Have Questions - Need Answers...

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Brian John Kelly, modified 8 Years ago.

Have Questions - Need Answers...

Posts: 142 Join Date: 4/18/12 Recent Posts
Hey my name is Brian, i consider myself very novice in meditation and i just have a few general questions about my practice, what i could expect and what i can do to make progress as quickly and as well as i can.

Background:
19 years old, some varied experience in meditation. I've basically been into meditation and dharma for about 8 months, i read "The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings" by thich nhat hanh and was immediately sold. I've done a little bit different techniques, just trying things out ive read in books and really just experimenting and testing the waters of this new thing that can be really confusing and complex at times. Ive done breathing exercises, some insight practices and a few tantra practices here and there (but theyre not for me, at least not right now i feel like). Essentially, i've made very little progress because my practice has been so scattered, and i'm definitely ready to get some focused practice started. In terms of traditions Theravada seems to click most with me and thats what i intend of following for the time being.

Ok, so i basically know now that the first thing i need to do is develop my concentration abilities.. thats a no brainer. My first goal is to enter the first jhana, maybe some ppl could offer some experience with this. First off, should my primary shamatha practice be breathing? Or have other people found different techniques to be helpful and maybe refreshing or whatever? I aim to practice about 1 - 2 hours a day to start with, hopefully building up to 3 hours as my comfortability increases. How long can i expect it to take to reach the first jhana? I plan on taking a retreat sometime in the fall, hopefully for about 2 months. Does anyone know of any retreat centers around new jersey or anything like that that might not be too costly? I took a visit for 3 days to a retreat center in NY, and am thinking about going there. However, there are a few things i'm worried about. The cost would be something i can definitely manage, which i like, and the environment seems to be very suitable to my needs on a retreat (i'm a musician and need to be able to practice, 1 -2 hours a day so i dont SUCK, as im going to school for it in spring 2013). However, the tradition is Kadampa Buddhism, which is not really for me. Too dogmatic for my tastes and not in line with the practice i want to do. So, were i to go, i would be practicing probably following the Theravada model, so will that be a big problem that i wont be around other meditators who are necessarily practicing the same as me? The teacher there however seems to be very accomplished, been practicing for 30 or so years and even did a solitary retreat for 3 years, which impresses me with his meditation abilities. I'm sure he has knowledge of what i wish to accomplish and could probably help guide me in the right direction. So, given these circumstances, lets speak optimistically, and say i could get about 2 - 2 1/2 hours of meditation in from now until then. "then" probably being around october that i'd like to go on retreat, so thats 5 months from now until then. Also, lets assume i start practicing insight after stabilizing the 1st jhana. How far can i expect to be in my insight practices, like at the end of a 2 month retreat after about 5 months of practice at home? Dare i say, close to stream entry? maybe this is ambitious forgive me i really dont know, honestly. this is only relevant because i'll be going off to a 4 year school in january 2013, and really have no idea how well ill be able to practice there, and i dont want to be like stuck in the dark night for a stupid long time when i have things i need to do, and basically fuck myself. Well, i think thats about it... hope someone can shed some light on some of this stuff for me, it would be greatly appreciated and i'm very enthusiastic to get my practice off and running! Very grateful i found this site, hope to get a lot of information out of it... thanks !
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Tommy M, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Have Questions - Need Answers...

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Hi Brian,

I'll go through your questions one at a time, but the first thing I'd like to point out is in this section:

So, given these circumstances, lets speak optimistically...[snipped for space]...and really have no idea how well ill be able to practice there, and i dont want to be like stuck in the dark night for a stupid long time when i have things i need to do, and basically fuck myself.

Your intent and determination are exemplary, if you're this focused and certain about where you want to go with your practice then you'll make progress without a doubt. But don't waste your time and energy setting deadlines or timescales for yourself, this process doesn't really work that way and it'll likely lead to unnecessary hassle for you in the long run. Instead of doing that, use that energy to fuel your practice right now and make it your intent to land stream entry as soon as possible, whatever it takes for that to come about. It may even be useful to formulate a statement or affirmation along those lines, just to keep you focused and remind you what you need to be doing to get to where you want to be.

Also, there's a balance involved here: you're aiming for stream entry, but without desiring it because the desire itself creates more tension. Focus on what's happening right here and now, this is where all the interesting stuff is going on and it's the only place it can happen.

So, practice tips...

My first goal is to enter the first jhana, maybe some ppl could offer some experience with this. First off, should my primary shamatha practice be breathing? Or have other people found different techniques to be helpful and maybe refreshing or whatever?

It's a matter of finding what works for you; the basics are the breath, the rising and falling of the abdomen, or what's known as a kasina object.

1. Breath: The breath is the easiest and readily available object for concentration. Start out by counting the breath from 1-10 - one count is one whole cycle of the breath, the entire inhale and exhale. Stay with the entire breath as it happens and try to maintain a whole 10 count at first if you're not already able to. From there, start paying attention to how long the breath is, if it's longer or shorter than the last one, where it seems to begin and end in the body. All this is doing is giving the 'mind' more things to pay attention to and preventing it from wandering. I'll post a link to a blog post I wrote about "access concentration", which is what happens when you're focused on your object steadily enough to begin moving towards 1st jhana, a few people have said they found it useful so hopefully it'll help. The good thing with the breath, and with the abdomen, is that you can practice your concentration while you're walking, or on the train, bus, car, in work, or wherever!

Down To Earth Dharma - Access Concentration

2. Rise & fall of the abdomen: You might find this easier at first because there's a larger area to focus on. The process is just the same as above, try breath counting whole cycles and see how long you can keep doing that for. Easy!

3. Kasina: A kasina, if you don't already know, is basically just an external object on which you can focus the attention. Even something as simple as a plain-coloured bowl, or a candle flame, whatever works for you. All you're doing with these is trying to stay concentrated on the object for long enough to get into jhana, for me I always found getting into "hard" jhana easier with a kasina before I could do it using the breath. The object will shift, change, move, change colour, vanish and all sorts of funny stuff but you're just staying focused on it, nothing more.

I aim to practice about 1 - 2 hours a day to start with, hopefully building up to 3 hours as my comfortability increases. How long can i expect it to take to reach the first jhana?

Excellent. Start off with one hour before and see how you get on, if you're not familiar with a regular meditation routine you may find two hours to be excessive. Aim for at least 45 minutes as a bare minimum and see how long you can stay with the breath for, or how constantly you can note with accuracy and clarity.

The timescale isn't important, strong and committed practice will allow it to happen as quickly as it'll happen. Take your time, practice well.

I plan on taking a retreat sometime in the fall, hopefully for about 2 months. Does anyone know of any retreat centers around new jersey or anything like that that might not be too costly? I took a visit for 3 days to a retreat center in NY, and am thinking about going there. However, there are a few things i'm worried about. The cost would be something i can definitely manage, which i like, and the environment seems to be very suitable to my needs on a retreat (i'm a musician and need to be able to practice, 1 -2 hours a day so i dont SUCK, as im going to school for it in spring 2013). However, the tradition is Kadampa Buddhism, which is not really for me. Too dogmatic for my tastes and not in line with the practice i want to do. So, were i to go, i would be practicing probably following the Theravada model, so will that be a big problem that i wont be around other meditators who are necessarily practicing the same as me? The teacher there however seems to be very accomplished, been practicing for 30 or so years and even did a solitary retreat for 3 years, which impresses me with his meditation abilities. I'm sure he has knowledge of what i wish to accomplish and could probably help guide me in the right direction.

A retreat is a fantastic idea and will help your practice immensely, I've only even done a three-day solo retreat so this isn't an area I know a whole lot about. I also have no idea about Kadampa Buddhism or their techniques but hopefully another participant here can help you out.

Either way: Retreat = Profit.

this is only relevant because i'll be going off to a 4 year school in january 2013, and really have no idea how well ill be able to practice there, and i dont want to be like stuck in the dark night for a stupid long time when i have things i need to do, and basically fuck myself.

You can practice regardless of circumstances if you're serious about it, look at Daniel, he became a fully-trained doctor while working through the Paths so there's no reason why you won't be able to practice one way or another.

When it comes to Dark Night, it's not always as horrific and painful as what you've probably heard so far. It's also something you'll cycle through continually, even after 4th path, so don't look at it as something to fear or avoid, it'll happen whether you want it to or not but it's absolutely necessary to the process of development. Embrace it, investigate it, learn what it's all about and get to know it inside out, it can be surprisingly pleasant phase sometimes if you know how to navigate it skilfully. If you get it in your head that it'll be a total nightmare and that it'll fuck up your entire life then it's more likely to happen in that way, yes it can lead to problems and it's not predictable in terms of how it will affect each meditator but knowing about it is half the battle. The big problems happen when you don't know what the fuck's happening to you, which is what happens to a lot of people who hit the A&P without the conceptual framework of Buddhism or whatever.

The best thing to do is to just get down to serious practice, as I've already said, it can only happen now so you're as well to do whatever it takes to make that more likely to happen. It's entirely possible and it sounds like you've got the right attitude to make progress and deal with whatever arises, this site and the people on it are beyond helpful at all levels of practice so ask questions and read up on whatever you're not sure about. Chances are, someone's already asked the same questions you've got but you're always welcome to ask away.

Good luck with everything and let us know how you're getting on.

T
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Adam L, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Have Questions - Need Answers...

Posts: 45 Join Date: 1/25/12 Recent Posts
Tommy M:
It may even be useful to formulate a statement or affirmation along those lines, just to keep you focused and remind you what you need to be doing to get to where you want to be.


Obviously, there's a ton of good juice in this entire post, but this statement in particularly resonated with me personally. My practice is at a place right now where I've begun to notice the importance of intent. It is remarkable that a simple statement or mental resolution can have an effect on shaping intent. The downside being, it seems, that one can easily "sabotage" one's practice by having intent adversely shaped by one's self doubt or other un-intended[sic] factors. Does that seem correct to anyone with more experience than myself? Sorry, I don't mean to derail the topic at hand...

Thanks, Tommy!
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Tommy M, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Have Questions - Need Answers...

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Hey Adam,

Glad you found that useful, I'm sure Brian won't mind a minor detour as it might be of use to him too!

It is remarkable that a simple statement or mental resolution can have an effect on shaping intent. The downside being, it seems, that one can easily "sabotage" one's practice by having intent adversely shaped by one's self doubt or other un-intended[sic] factors. Does that seem correct to anyone with more experience than myself?

I know exactly what you mean, this is what worked for me.

Find out why is it that "I" sabotage my own practice. Look at the feelings that arise when you investigate it, ask yourself questions and find out what the underlying belief is that causes those feelings to appear. If you doubt yourself; what is it that leads to that doubt? Do you feel like you're not confident enough in your abilities to accept what your own experience tells you? Do you feel like you don't deserve to be happy, which is what we're all looking for one way or another, or that you're supposed to accept the burden of others because it's the "right thing" to do? These are examples from my own practice, hopefully they'll give you an example of what I'm trying to describe here.

Basically, there's always some underlying belief involved in this stuff and it's that which impedes intent. If you can investigate and unravel the belief, the knot unties and it simply stops happening. Permanently.
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Brian K., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Have Questions - Need Answers...

Posts: 142 Join Date: 4/18/12 Recent Posts
Thanks man, a lot of interesting things and clarification here. Much of which is stuff i pretty much figured would be the way to go,but it always helps me to have someone else reaffirm the right thing for me.. I'm thinking right now I'm gonna start off with about 2 45 minutes sits with like a 15 minute break in between.i should have clarified, I can't sit for 2 hours straight at one time, so I figure 2 sittings will do the job better right now than trying to force myself for one sitting that's beyond my abilities to do consistently. also, when trying to stabilize jhana, Idr if I included this in my post, is it better to keep one meditation object, such as the breath OR a katsina to really get familiar with it, or is it like a workout routine where switching it up can be better. The other alternative is treat it exactly like a workout routine, do one consistently for maybe 4 - 6 weeks, then cycle the next one, so forth. And thanks for ur reply dude seriously I got the feeling no one wanted to tackle my long ass list of questions I posted 2 other threads or whatever u call these things and other ppl started responding to those right away. Much appreciated.
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Tommy M, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Have Questions - Need Answers...

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
is it better to keep one meditation object, such as the breath OR a katsina to really get familiar with it, or is it like a workout routine where switching it up can be better. The other alternative is treat it exactly like a workout routine, do one consistently for maybe 4 - 6 weeks, then cycle the next one, so forth.

Aye, I'd suggest sticking to one object for at least a few weeks before changing it up. Do whatever it takes to keep your practice fresh, there's no harm in being flexible or experimenting as long as you're practising towards the intended outcome. There are tried and tested ways to go about this but it helps to have fun doing it.

And thanks for ur reply dude seriously I got the feeling no one wanted to tackle my long ass list of questions I posted 2 other threads or whatever u call these things and other ppl started responding to those right away. Much appreciated.

You're welcome, as long as it's helpful and gets you moving in your practice then I'm happy with that. I'd maybe try to structure your posts a bit more in future, even just splitting the different subjects you're asking about into paragraphs makes it easier to know what you're asking and answer more clearly. It's not a big deal though, it's just helpful to know exactly what a person's looking to know.
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Have Questions - Need Answers...

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Is the center you're planning the retreat at part of the New Kadama Tradition (NKT)?
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Brian K., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Have Questions - Need Answers...

Posts: 142 Join Date: 4/18/12 Recent Posts
yea
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Have Questions - Need Answers...

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Then be careful. Based on the interactions I've had with NKT practitioners online, it seems that the sectarian history of the movement means it attracts a lot of conflict-oriented people, which is not necessarily conducive to the kind of peaceful environment you want for practicing meditation.

(I have no problem with them separating from the orthodox Tibetan power structure, in fact I think there should be more of that, and they are entitled to defend themselves from what are no doubt at least in some cases unjustified and politically motivated smears. I'm just raising this as a question of what will work for you as a practitioner seeking peace.)
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Brian K., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Have Questions - Need Answers...

Posts: 142 Join Date: 4/18/12 Recent Posts
everyone there was pretty chill. and accepting of other belief systems.. if anything i was the one questioning why some of the people were spending so much time worrying about their negative karma and trying to purify it than meditating haha
Felipe C., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Have Questions - Need Answers...

Posts: 221 Join Date: 5/29/11 Recent Posts
Hi,

My first encounter with Buddhist practice was in a NKT center. The ideological or theological fighting was almost never mentioned by the teacher, just a couple of times. Also there is a book by them called A Great Deception where they talk about the supposedly authoritarian practices of the Dalai Lama.

Apart from that, in terms of practice, this is what you can expect from this Tibetan kind of Buddhism...

- Emphasis in philosophical aspects. Meditation periods are short {15-30 minutes} compared to the lectures, debates and book readings.
- The main teachings are in relation to compassion, emptiness of phenomena, karma and rebirths.
- They put the Mahayana {and therefore the path of the Bodhisattva} on a pedestal, and even minimize other traditions criticizing, above all, the 'Hinayana-only' approach.
- A lot of pride in their pure and true lineage.
- The most long and concentrated practices are mostly Vajrayana retreats and initiations with deity visualizations and tantric mantras.
- A lot of esoteric practices, reciting, chanting, prostrating, guru and deity adoration.

Since there were no other options in my city, I went to this center for 1 or 2 years. I'm grateful because the philosophy aspects gave me good foundations and it was my first step into a more deep interest in Buddhism later, but there were aspects that repelled me like the esoteric practices, the supernatural beliefs and the guru or deity worship. So I guess it depends in your ideology, cultural baggage and personal preferences.
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Brian K., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Have Questions - Need Answers...

Posts: 142 Join Date: 4/18/12 Recent Posts
^^^ i couldnt have put it better myself