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2/21/10 2:50 AM
Hi everyone. My hindrance with progress in insight always seems to come back to the same fundamental question of technique, as to whether I'm doing it correctly.

Again, its quite easy for me to stay present, notice things as they come and go, including noticing the doubt and questioning whether I'm practising correctly. So anyway, here's my latest quandry I've been in for a few months that I'd really appreciate some wise feedback on from all you guys past stream entry.

Recently I've met a monk and long term Mahasi meditator who I'm pretty sure has crossed at least 1st path, just from his descriptions of what he senses in the present moment without much effort (starts at A + P event).

He's been giving me some advice on meditation practice to questions I have. And here is my question.

In my practice, there was the experience of different body sensations, mental phenomena etc. The thing is that sometimes there is the perception of the body sensations, as bare sensations in regards to the 4 elements. Other times though there is the mental image of say 'the leg' or 'the arm' with the sensations in it.

Now I'm aware that this is somewhat setting up a duality 'the leg' ie the mental concept of a leg, so I usually just note this. The issue is I have spoken to the monk here and he said "seeing the image is not what you should be doing, you have to sense into the elements. I used to see the images and I had to de-train myself. If you are a creative person you are probably more likely to see the image, the construct. Its the physical reality that is existing, the mind is an illusion".

Now this is where I get confused. Because as I understood it from many manuals and meditation books, all phenomena - mental, physical, emotional etc, they are all fundamentally empty ie flickering on and off, annica etc. So, does it really matter that I am not cultivating my practice to sense the 4 elements more? And isn't all phenomena just there, none more 'real' than any others?

In the Mahasi method I know it stresses being able to perceive movement - the air element through the abdomen, walking and movements etc. But I have been told that each meditator has a natural inclination to perceive certain phenomena more than others, and that this is not necessarily a bad thing.

So perhaps I should just be more accomodating to what I naturally perceive - the mental sensations - by perhaps taking a leaf out of the zen-style 'just sitting' and being in the clear knowing noting, rather than spending 10 years cultivating this rigid physical perception style? Dan mentions in his book that "insight is insight, whatever you are perceiving". So is there any reason why I just can't let things unfold by noting the mental sensations? Don't they also strobe in and out of being?

Or, is it going to make more sense to spend some time tuning into the physical stuff and abandoning the mental images? If so, what is the best way to do it?

Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated emoticon

RE: Back again...
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2/21/10 10:47 AM as a reply to Ben Turale.
"And isn't all phenomena just there, none more 'real' than any others?"

Yes.

I support continuing with your practice and momentum in a way that feels natural to you. Continue to note the three characteristics in all phenomenon. As with any advice from a teacher or otherwise, use your intuition, and continue with what is working, -with what resonates with your being. Sure focusing on the elements can be useful too, but it doesn't matter if it doesn't feel natural for your practice right now.

with metta, Constance

RE: Back again...
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2/21/10 5:27 PM as a reply to Ben Turale.
Benjamin Turale:

Now this is where I get confused. Because as I understood it from many manuals and meditation books, all phenomena - mental, physical, emotional etc, they are all fundamentally empty i.e. flickering on and off, annica etc. So, does it really matter that I am not cultivating my practice to sense the 4 elements more? And isn't all phenomena just there, none more 'real' than any others?

You might benefit, at this point, from reading Ven. Nyanaponika's book The Heart of Buddhist Mindfulness, especially the sections on "bare attention." I've posted these sections online at another forum (a private forum), but you will have to enter the forum using a special log-in for non-members.

When you get there you will need to use the following log-in instructions to enter the forum in order to reach the thread I'm pointing out. Once you are logged in, if you copy the thread link above into your clip board and paste it into the browser destination bar once you are in the forum and click on it, it will take you directly to the thread. Otherwise, you can click on the "Theravadan Talk" forum and look for the thread "The Importance of Using Satipatthana in Training" in the sticky posts at the top of the forum:

Third Jewel Forum:

http://thirdjewel.myfreeforum.org
Login name: thirdwheel
Password: thirdwheel

They ask that you not post anything while using this log-in to check things out. When you are ready to join, there is a "Join (free!)" link at the top of the forum index page in the link above.

The section on bare attention begins in the third post from the top. Ven. Nyanaponika was also influenced by Mahasi Sayadaw during a period of time when their paths crossed. He wrote his book based on the discussions and teachings he learned from Mahasi. The following, quoted from the book, will provide a preview of what lies ahead:

Bare Attention is the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us, at the successive moments of perception. It is called "bare" because it attends to just the bare facts of a perception as presented either through the five physical senses or through the mind which, in Buddhist thought, constitutes the sixth sense. When attending to that sixfold sense impression, attention or mindfulness is kept to a bare registering of facts observed, without reacting to them by deed, speech, or by mental comment which may be one of self-reference (like, dislike, etc.), judgement or reflection. If during the time, short or long, given to the practice of Bare Attention, any such comments arise in one's mind, they themselves are made objects of Bare Attention, and are neither repudiated nor pursued, but are dismissed, after a brief mental note has been made of them.


Perhaps this will enlarge upon what that monk was endeavoring to point out to you.

In peace,
Ian

RE: Back again...
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2/23/10 1:58 PM as a reply to Ben Turale.
as I understood it from many manuals and meditation books, all phenomena - mental, physical, emotional etc, they are all fundamentally empty ie flickering on and off, annica etc. So, does it really matter that I am not cultivating my practice to sense the 4 elements more? And isn't all phenomena just there, none more 'real' than any others?

Seeing this directly and investigating when not seen directly is how the practice helps disentangle us from the sense of a separate self constructed around identification with phenomena. So you can't really approach this with "it's all empty so it doesn't matter". You could certainly work on mental phenomena as your object but you need to tease out the inter-relationship between mental and subtle physical. I think this is what the monk was trying to point out. If you are aware of your leg as a leg - then there is an element there that is in a sense compounded - not fully penetrated - that should be investigated. Can you have a sense of 'my leg' free from the thought of 'my leg'? One line of inquiry would be 'What sensations do I experience now that tell me that this is my leg?'.

So is there any reason why I just can't let things unfold by noting the mental sensations?

There are many approaches but each approach has its own form of practice. Shinzen Young has articulated the difference in these approaches quite well. Check out: five ways. He has some good practices on working with mental imagery and talk that you could try out on his site.

-Chuck

RE: Back again...
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2/24/10 3:23 AM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
I like all those answers.

As meditation progresses, the sensations that make up your leg or whatever may present in all sorts of modes: just notice them all as they are, investigating the experience of them however they show up and vanish over there on their own with any subtle tensions in that, fast and completely and directly. The rest is gravy.

RE: Back again...
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2/24/10 7:06 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Constance: Thanks for the tip, I always forget that intuition can be a good pointer - and its something not really discussed much in the Buddhist world. Its funny because my intuition always tells me "its all just there, have faith that emptiness will show itself in all phenomena if you stay with the present". But there is a side of me that sometimes lacks self confidence and doubts (a hindrance I know!) thinking that there is only one way to practice, when in truth there has to be as many paths to awakening as there are beings in the world, because all are experiencing different phenomena. Sometimes I feel some teachers and schools can get a bit too "you have to do it this way, and its the only way it will work". Half the time I feel the problem is that its just so difficult describing these things because as things break up more and more, language seems less and less applicable.

I do understand that there is another reality beyond the form of the 'leg' in the sense of the 4 elements, because there are times when I feel the 4 elements, and times when there is the mental consciousness of the 'leg'. On retreat it can get into the whole A+P territory as well.

I appreciate all the perspectives everyone has offered. I think what I needed to hear is the same as always - just stay with whatever is there and the rest is indeed gravy, thanks Dan.