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vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts

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http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.020.than.html

Now when a monk... attending to another theme... scrutinizing the drawbacks of those thoughts... paying no mind and paying no attention to those thoughts... attending to the relaxing of thought-fabrication with regard to those thoughts... beating down, constraining and crushing his mind with his awareness... steadies his mind right within, settles it, unifies it and concentrates it: He is then called a monk with mastery over the ways of thought sequences. He thinks whatever thought he wants to, and doesn't think whatever thought he doesn't. He has severed craving, thrown off the fetters, and — through the right penetration of conceit — has made an end of suffering and stress.


Does anyone's own experience seem to be described by this? i.e. that you repeatedly attain internal quietude/concentration via basically suppressing through force or seeing the drawbacks of distracting thoughts and then think only the thoughts you consciously choose to think?

This seems to describe at least the last few weeks of my practice, though I recognize that this is just one conceptual framework surrounding whatever 'progress' is. I keep concentrating on something in the field of experience and relaxing or, if necessary, forcefully suppressing distraction and it seems to be getting the slightest bit easier.

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/12/12 5:04 PM as a reply to Adam . ..
Adam . .:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.020.than.html

Now when a monk... attending to another theme... scrutinizing the drawbacks of those thoughts... paying no mind and paying no attention to those thoughts... attending to the relaxing of thought-fabrication with regard to those thoughts... beating down, constraining and crushing his mind with his awareness... steadies his mind right within, settles it, unifies it and concentrates it: He is then called a monk with mastery over the ways of thought sequences. He thinks whatever thought he wants to, and doesn't think whatever thought he doesn't. He has severed craving, thrown off the fetters, and — through the right penetration of conceit — has made an end of suffering and stress.


Does anyone's own experience seem to be described by this? i.e. that you repeatedly attain internal quietude/concentration via basically suppressing through force or seeing the drawbacks of distracting thoughts and then think only the thoughts you consciously choose to think?

This seems to describe at least the last few weeks of my practice, though I recognize that this is just one conceptual framework surrounding whatever 'progress' is. I keep concentrating on something in the field of experience and relaxing or, if necessary, forcefully suppressing distraction and it seems to be getting the slightest bit easier.

Yes. The effort to suppress or stop unwanted thoughts can be accomplished by commanding the mind with strong intention to "Stop" each time these unwanted thoughts arise. Meaning, to stop thinking these thoughts. It's a simple method I first came across taught by Mouni Sadhu in his book Concentration, A Guide to Mental Mastery.

Eventually, you get to the point that the mind becomes completely silent (no monkey mind discursive thoughts rambling around). The first time this occurred with me, it was a complete revelation! I had never experienced the silencing of thoughts like that before. The mind actually obeyed my command! That experience marked a significant milestone in my journey on the path.

I know this method sounds hokey, but it actually works (at least it did for me when I practiced it; and I'm the most skeptical person you'll ever come across).

Now, quieting the mind just takes becoming aware of the interference with the intent for it to stop and it gets stopped in its tracks automatically. No discursive thoughts; all shut down! On a simple intentional command. It may take a while before you gain such complete control as this, but it's well worth the effort to accomplish.

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/12/12 5:29 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian thank you, but there is at least a slight difference between being able to stop monkey mind on command and only thinking thoughts you want to think. Beyond being capable of using pure intention to silence monkey mind completely, have you reached a stage where monkey mind, including its subtle forms beyond verbal fabrication, doesn't arise to begin with? I have experienced near-total silence for a maximum of about 10 minutes, complete mastery for a short period, and it is the sort of thing which I'd like to make permanent

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/12/12 6:44 PM as a reply to Adam . ..
http://happinessbeyondthought.blogspot.ca/2012/10/can-you-stop-your-blah-blah-thoughts.html

Gary Weber claims this has been his ongoing base line state for the past 14 years. No thoughts, and no further effort to maintain that. Perhaps you will find some answers on his blog.

Metta,

Brian.

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/12/12 8:00 PM as a reply to Brian Eleven.
Actually he claims no thoughts except for in the morning and when his blood sugar is low, also he says that it requires 'mostly no effort' or something like that. Also he still has emotional feelings and takes this as a suitable endpoint for his practice. I think I define "thought" slightly differently than he does because I would also include subtle movements of attention and objectifications and other such things, with my definition of thought which includes any mental fabrication/objectification ending thought would necessitate the end of emotion.

However, I still think that his baseline is desirable and that he just doesn't take it deep/subtle enough and he talks about constant expansions to his enlightenment which are occurring naturally (which I think he could probably speed up). So I do find his advice useful. One thing he mentions as a workable method is the method which I am using at the moment which is breath counting.

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/17/12 11:01 AM as a reply to Adam . ..
Adam . .:
Ian thank you, but there is at least a slight difference between being able to stop monkey mind on command and only thinking thoughts you want to think.

Yes, the mind will continue to speculate – if you let it – after a period of time after you have stopped the monkey mind. The question remains: Are you willing to let it continue? If so, then that is what you will experience. Your will to think the thoughts you want to think is also in play. It is your choice!

Adam . .:

Beyond being capable of using pure intention to silence monkey mind completely, have you reached a stage where monkey mind, including its subtle forms beyond verbal fabrication, doesn't arise to begin with?

Pretty much, yes. Not completely, but pretty much. Whenever I wish to speculate about something, it is usually an intentional activity. I focus on the subject matter and begin to contemplate it.

Adam . .:

I have experienced near-total silence for a maximum of about 10 minutes, complete mastery for a short period, and it is the sort of thing which I'd like to make permanent.

There are no "permanent" conditions in the existential realms. One should have learned that from the teaching on the Three Characteristics. What is it about the teaching of anicca did you not GET?

The best that one can do is to catch it as it arises and quash it! Or let go of it; release one's attachment or attention to it. Anything better than that is not possible. And you wouldn't want it to be possible, because in many cases this activity acts as a self-preservation mechanism, alerting one to dangers.

Adam . .:

Actually he claims no thoughts except for in the morning and when his blood sugar is low, also he says that it requires 'mostly no effort' or something like that. Also he still has emotional feelings and takes this as a suitable endpoint for his practice.

I think I define "thought" slightly differently than he does because I would also include subtle movements of attention and objectifications and other such things, with my definition of thought which includes any mental fabrication/objectification ending thought would necessitate the end of emotion.

That ending of emotion can only come as a result of liberation (vimutta) of mind "without remainder," which occurs if it occurs at all, as I understand it, at the demise of the body. So, unless you are ready to experience that eventuality, I wouldn't look for it in this lifetime. As long as a person remains in a human body, emotions will arise. The only question that remains is: How will you handle them when they arise? This is where mindfulness (sati) comes in, and is the reason that Gotama brought up this subject so often in the discourses. Mindfulness, in the teaching of the Dhamma, is indispensable!

Something to further consider: Ven. Analayo, in his book Satipattana, The Direct Path to Realization, has written:

"The qualification 'liberated' (vimutta) frequently occurs in the discourses in relation to full awakening. Understood in this way, the 'liberated' mind parallels the more frequent usage of the expression 'unsurpassable mind' and also the mind that is forever 'without lust,' 'without anger,' and 'without delusion,' all these referring to the mind of an arahant. The commentaries, moreover, relate the qualification 'liberated' to temporary freedom from defilements during insight meditation. Elsewhere in the discourses the qualification of being 'liberated' occurs also in relation to the development of concentration, as 'freedom of the mind' (cetovimutti). Thus the expression 'liberated mind' can be taken to refer to experiences of mental freedom in relation to both calm and insight.

"The theme underlying the contemplation of these four higher states of mind is the ability to monitor the more advanced stages of one's meditative development. In this way, within the scope of contemplation of the mind, sati can range from recognition of the presence of lust or anger to awareness of the most lofty and sublime types of mental experience, each time with the same basic task of calmly noticing what is taking place." [Emphasis mine.]

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/13/12 5:10 PM as a reply to Ian And.
The best that one can do is to catch it as it arises and quash it! Anything better than that is not possible.


yikes! if you are basing this on the suttas then it's pretty absurd.

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/13/12 6:40 PM as a reply to Adam . ..
I'm going through a similar situation but I'm not quashing it. It's more like the distracting thoughts hurt slightly and I enjoy letting them go.

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/13/12 6:59 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Yes I agree that this works sometimes, and according to the sutta I posted this is one of your 'first resorts' but if you are really enjoying your distraction, some pleasant fantasy, it seems better to just squash it.

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/17/12 11:43 AM as a reply to Adam . ..
Adam . .:
IanAnd:
The best that one can do is to catch it as it arises and quash it! Or let go of it; release one's attachment or attention to it. Anything better than that is not possible.


yikes! if you are basing this on the suttas then it's pretty absurd.

I liked Richard Zen's follow-up comment on this.

I don't understand your comment that "if you are basing this on the suttas, then it's pretty absurd." Did you not read and carefully consider the following from the Vitakkasanthana Sutta (MN 20):

"If evil, unskillful thoughts — imbued with desire, aversion or delusion — still arise in the monk while he is attending to the relaxing of thought-fabrication with regard to those thoughts, then — with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth — he should beat down, constrain, and crush his mind with his awareness. As — with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth — he is beating down, constraining, and crushing his mind with his awareness, those evil, unskillful thoughts are abandoned and subside. With their abandoning, he steadies his mind right within, settles it, unifies it, and concentrates it.

"Now when a monk... attending to another theme... scrutinizing the drawbacks of those thoughts... paying no mind and paying no attention to those thoughts... attending to the relaxing of thought-fabrication with regard to those thoughts... beating down, constraining and crushing his mind with his awareness... steadies his mind right within, settles it, unifies it and concentrates it: He is then called a monk with mastery over the ways of thought sequences. He thinks whatever thought he wants to, and doesn't think whatever thought he doesn't. He has severed craving, thrown off the fetters, and — through the right penetration of conceit — has made an end of suffering and stress."

One of the keys to success in using this method as found in this quotation is found in the last sentence — "through the right penetration of conceit." When you know that such thoughts are "not me, not mine, not myself" then you have abandoned it at its most subtle foundation within the mind: the foundation of conceit! And when that is done, it is released, abandoned, and has subsided.

How else but with such descriptions as "quash" or "release" or "abandon" is one to interpret the passage: "with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth — he should beat down, constrain, and crush his mind with his awareness"? Beating down, constraining, and crushing the mind with one's awareness seems to point to nothing less that quashing (releasing or abandoning) the mind with mind!

The trick then becomes being able to penetrate one's own conceit! This is where contemplation and realization come into play. See?

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/17/12 1:15 PM as a reply to Ian And.
How else but with such descriptions as "quash" or "release" or "abandon" is one to interpret the passage: "with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth — he should beat down, constrain, and crush his mind with his awareness"? Beating down, constraining, and crushing the mind with one's awareness seems to point to nothing less that quashing (releasing or abandoning) the mind with mind!


This is not what I was objecting to. I was objecting to the idea that the best one can do is to quash things as they arise as opposed to uprooting the tendencies that cause them arise. It seems really quite clear in the suttas that the buddha talks about defilements, unwholesome thoughts and the like with the aim of explaining how they can be eliminated such that they simply don't arise.

Aside from the suttas some of the writings and talks of lots of thai forest ajahns as well as people at the forums here suggest that one must aim to stop defilement-based thoughts and feelings from arising. If you disagree with my interpretation of the suttas that's one thing, but you really must believe that a whole bunch of advanced practitioners here are part of some big conspiracy if you think that
As long as a person remains in a human body, emotions will arise.

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/18/12 11:34 AM as a reply to Adam . ..
Thank you for clarifying the meaning of your comment. Quite often, in forum exchanges, people's intended meanings get lost when they fail to fully express the thought they had in mind and rather rely on the reader being able to interpret the ambiguity. (I'm not complaining, just making an observation. I've been guilty of the same.)
Adam . .:

This is not what I was objecting to. I was objecting to the idea that the best one can do is to quash things as they arise as opposed to uprooting the tendencies that cause them arise. It seems really quite clear in the suttas that the buddha talks about defilements, unwholesome thoughts and the like with the aim of explaining how they can be eliminated such that they simply don't arise.

I agree with you here that the ultimate goal is to root out the underlying tendencies (asavas) with regard to unwholesome tendencies and thought. But you were asking about distracting thoughts in terms of being able to practice a method of meditation, which is a different animal (different context). Removing distracting thought in order to quiet the mind to be able to practice meditation is quite other than attempting to root out an underlying tendency, which is a more advanced endeavor, and which, to my mind at least, requires that one have mastered quieting the mind first in order to more assuredly attempt to accomplish the removal of the more deep seated tendency. Whether one agrees with this characterization or not, this was the implication behind my comment.

Adam . .:

Aside from the suttas some of the writings and talks of lots of thai forest ajahns as well as people at the forums here suggest that one must aim to stop defilement-based thoughts and feelings from arising. If you disagree with my interpretation of the suttas that's one thing, but you really must believe that a whole bunch of advanced practitioners here are part of some big conspiracy if you think that "As long as a person remains in a human body, emotions will arise."

It's not a matter of what I believe, it's a matter of what I observe. Both in myself and in others who I observe.

I've been able to remove quite a few unwholesome underlying tendencies, which has resulted in a considerable lessening of suffering; however there are those that I'm still working on.

There's not a person alive who I know who would not have some kind of emotional reaction to something that was threatening to their life. At least in the initial stage of such a happenstance, until they've had time to process the circumstance. It's just a natural instinct for survival and a quite natural emotional display.

The emotions are tied to a person's conception of self, hence the Buddha's emphasis on the teaching of "without self" or "not self" (anatta). These thoughts of self are tied to the concept of personal and individual conceit conditioned within the mind. This is the meaning behind the quotation below wherein Gotama expresses the instruction that through right penetration of conceit, one can end suffering and stress:

"...steadies his mind right within, settles it, unifies it and concentrates it: He is then called a monk with mastery over the ways of thought sequences. He thinks whatever thought he wants to, and doesn't think whatever thought he doesn't. He has severed craving, thrown off the fetters, and — through the right penetration of conceit — has made an end of suffering and stress."

The fact that there are emotions that still arise is not something to become discouraged about or to doubt. It is how one has learned to deal with this situation such that the effect of their arising has as little influence as possible on one's peace of mind that is important. In other words, one may not have removed ALL the asavas, yet as long as one knows how to deal with them when they arise, one has lessened their effect.

I don't know if it's possible to remove ALL the asavas in one lifetime. And until that circumstance occurs for me, I will continue to report only what I observe in myself and others. Because that's the only thing that is true for me at that moment.

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/18/12 12:11 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Putting aside that what you said this last post seems alot different from what you said at first, I agree with alot of what you just said.

The fact that there are emotions that still arise is not something to become discouraged about or to doubt.


It seems to be, if you have the goal of becoming an arahant. Though discouraged might be the wrong word.

one may not have removed ALL the asavas, yet as long as one knows how to deal with them when they arise, one has lessened their effect.


Ok, but the buddha said his greatest asset in awakening was that he did not rest content with skillful qualities, he kept pushing like his hair was on fire.

I don't know if it's possible to remove ALL the asavas in one lifetime.


If we take the suttas as authority then it is possible.

There's not a person alive who I know who would not have some kind of emotional reaction to something that was threatening to their life. At least in the initial stage of such a happenstance, until they've had time to process the circumstance. It's just a natural instinct for survival and a quite natural emotional display.



tarin:
i was inches away from being hit by a reckless driver yesterday and would certainly have been had i not deftly swerved my bicycle out of his careening path. i watched in marvel as his gleaming bumper came inches from my rear wheel and felt no panic whatsoever either before, during, or after this encounter.. and as the situation was such that i had no way to confront him (by the time i intended to, he was already in the distance, speeding away to endanger other people), i simply carried on with my plan of travel.. equally unirritated by his dangerously careless attitude. i was having just as perfect a day then as i am having right now here in this actual world.


I don't want to get into an actual freedom debate and my hunch is that you don't either, but regardless of what any titles anyone gives to themselves or their practice, doesn't this seem like evidence that one could uproot such reactions?

As I am sure you are aware of the discussions of people in the suttas who lacked such reactions I won't post those.

I would also suggest that a few other people such as ajahn mun and ajahn maha bua have directly stated that they have eradicated the asavas, but I guess you don't know them. Bhante Vimalaramsi and Thanissaro Bhikku have both talked pretty clearly about such a thing being possible and I have found various things in their writings where they subtly imply that they have achieved such stuff. I have not hooked these people up to fmri's while waterboarding them, but it has been my experience that faith and intention is really necessary for progress, I don't think I am in any position to lecture you, but perhaps you might introduce more faith into your practice, and perhaps contact people who claim to have rid themselves of the asavas.

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/18/12 1:11 PM as a reply to Adam . ..
Your comment reminded me of a good Post by Nick from Thanissaro's book that might help you:

The lifestyle approach

"This is where the Buddha ran into the central paradox of becoming, because the craving and clinging that provide the moisture do not have to delight in the field or the resultant becoming in order to bear fruit. If the mind fastens on a particular set of possibilities with the aim of changing or obliterating them, that acts as moisture for a state of becoming as well. Thus the desire to put an end to becoming produces a new state of becoming. Because any desire that produces becoming also produces suffering, the Buddha was faced with a strategic challenge: how to put an end to suffering when the desire to put an end to suffering would lead to renewed suffering.
His solution to this problem involved a paradoxical strategy, creating a state of becoming in the mind from which he could watch the potentials of kamma as they come into being, but without fueling the desire to do anything with regard to those potentials at all. In the terms of the field analogy, this solution would deprive the seed of moisture. Eventually, when all other states of becoming had been allowed to pass away, the state of becoming that had acted as the strategic vantage point would have to be deprived of moisture as well. Because the moisture of craving and clinging would have seeped into the seed even of this strategic becoming, this would eventually mean the destruction of the seed, as that moisture and any conditioned aspects of consciousness the seed might contain were allowed to pass away. But any unconditioned aspects of consciousness—if they existed—wouldn’t be touched at all."


This sounds to me like self-liberation. I would also add that by looking at the "being potentials", with mindfulness and concentration, you should be able to see the disatisfaction of following those choices to let go of clinging. Then as the practice gets better it should be easier to let go over time. I used to really try and quash repetitive thoughts earlier in my practice and it did help with concentration but there was much suffering as a result because I'm using the amygdala to stop the amygdala. Now when strong anger takes over it's nice to just let go of it and feel no guilt that it happened. The resulting throbbing and heat of anger disapates much easier. The emptiness part also helps to decling much like Ian And points out. It's not "me, mine or myself" so the need to cling becomes a useless measure.

Hopefully that helps!

RE: vitakkasanthana sutta: the removal of distracting thoughts
Answer
11/18/12 1:57 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian And:
"He has severed craving, thrown off the fetters, and — through the right penetration of conceit — has made an end of suffering and stress."


"'Conceit, conceit,' it is said. How can I see this conceit?"