Failure to attain

Garrett E, modified 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 12:06 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 12:06 AM

Failure to attain

Posts: 21 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
Friends,

I want to let off something that has been on my mind for some time.

I find myself frustrated with my perceived lack of progress in my development of concentration and even more so in that of wisdom. I often read on the DhO cases of individuals who quickly gain access to the first 4 jhanas and even attain 1st path within several months of encountering MCTB or of passing the A&P. I look at myself and think "what the hell am I doing wrong here?"
I came to live at an American Zen Monastery in September of 2011 and have been there in residence since. We sit 3-4 hours of zazen each day (usually plus a little more in my free time) as well as have a 5 or 6 full day silent meditation intensive each month. The teachers are legitimate and have been practicing for over 40 years and teaching for decade(s). I have regular contact with them and attend private interview no less then once a week (usually 2 or 3 times).

I can see that my concentration is much stronger that when I came here, but the jhanic experience is not something that I can recognize. I imagine that I must be making progress towards Stream Entry, but have not experienced any clear indications as to where I am on the maps with it (having crossed the A&P nearly 2 years ago). I have to wonder why I am making such (apparently) slow progress.

I used to attribute this to a lack of effort on my part decide that maybe if I sat an extra hour each night, things would change. I think I lost hope in that perspective some time ago.

Typing this now I can feel my frustration rise up in me. Frustration isn't quit the right description; it feels a little like helplessly throwing my hands in the air "what am I supposed to do" and crying.

I don't know what I'm asking for in terms of response. In any case, I would appreciate your wisdom.

Thank you.
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago at 3/1/14 4:23 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 1:30 AM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Garrett E:
I used to attribute this to a lack of effort on my part [and] decide[d] that maybe if I sat an extra hour each night, things would change. I think I lost hope in that perspective some time ago.

I know you know this, but it bears pointing out again. It's not the amount of time sometimes that can make a difference in temporal progress; it is the quality of time spent doing the right things that counts.

I've spent some time in the past meditating with some Zen groups but found that generally they didn't know what they were supposed to be doing nor were they able to provide adequate instruction to follow. That's why I began reading about Theravada methods of practice, which is much more instructive. I'm not saying that my experience is the case with you, just relating my experience. I have read about some Zen groups which follow a path of practice very similar to the way the original teachings were taught, so it just depends upon which type of group one comes upon for guidance.

If you have the time to sit for three to four hours each day, then you need to use that time more efficiently than you are presently using it. I don't know what instruction you are following, but whatever it is, it doesn't seem to be working for you! Perhaps you can fill in some details to give us a better, more elaborate idea of the practice that you are following so that we may be of assistance to you.

It sounds as though you have the motivation for achieving (you're in a Zen monastery, for goodness sakes) how much more motivation does one need than that! It's just that you are facing frustration in whatever you are practicing, and it is that practice that we need to look at first before coming to any conclusions about what might be sabotaging/troubling your efforts.
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Florian, modified 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 1:41 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 1:38 AM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Garrett

First of all, since you're living in a monastery: Have you taken this up with your teachers? What is their advice? If you trust your teachers, you can trust them with this. If you don't trust them, find out why, and then take *that* up with them first.

Regarding the maps, and measuring progress: what indications are you expecting? How would you "test" for a specific landmark on the maps? Where would you look for them, and how?

Some hints to get you started, in addition to the obligatory "how does a typical meditation look like?" -
  • How are you sleeping? For example, less need for sleep, any weird dream-like experiences (A&P typically)?
  • What's on your mind when not meditating, e.g. during household chores?
  • How is your mood during the day?
  • What secrets are you keeping? (Don't tell us here, just think about it)? From yourself, from others?
  • What was the funniest thing that happened recently? The most sad? The nicest? What made you angry?
  • What does your body feel like (when not meditating)?
  • What's the worst thing that could happen right now, i.e. the event which would bring all your plans and hopes to an end? And what's the best thing that could happen right now, i.e. what do you really want to happen?
  • If you entered the stream during sleep, and you woke up a stream-winner - how would you know? How would the other people in the monastery know? Your teachers?
  • How is your relationship with other people in the monastery? Where are the attractions, avoidances, and who would you rather not even think about?


Again, these are just some hints, things that may be useful to broaden out your focus. I have no real way of knowing this from your post, but maybe your focus is very narrow and steady from your many hours of sitting, and if that's the case, it *can* be helpful to open up a bit, so you can start noticing things outside the tight beam of your focus.

Cheers,
Florian
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 1:57 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 1:57 AM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 3231 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
I totally agree with Ian And, and also would ask the same questions about what you are doing with the time.

D
Garrett E, modified 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 10:48 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 10:48 AM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 21 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
Ian And:
Perhaps you can fill in some details to give us a better, more elaborate idea of the practice that you are following so that we may be of assistance to you.


I read this and thought "Yeah, what is it exactly that I do when I sit?" so I went and did a little 35 minute period to find out.
I started off paying attention to my breath in the belly and chest area. I was usually able to drop thoughts within the first several seconds of their arising, occasionally I would catch it only after a 2 or 3 thought string. After a short while, I noticed that I could drop the idea of "breath" and pay attention to the movements in a more fluid way, so I did that. At this point, thoughts kind of moved into the background, but I noticed that these low noise background thoughts would regularly go on multiple thoughts in a row before I noticed them. I think of this as some percent, say 70%, of my attention being on my experience, and the remaining attention being on the background thoughts, so when I notice I try to move that remaining attention away from distractions and into my experience. At some point I decided that my mind was reasonable quiet (background thoughts still occurring though) and began asking the question "What am I?" and holding that question, letting it fill my awareness. I continued with this until time was up.

I really appreciate you guys taking the time to respond.
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N A, modified 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 11:44 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 11:44 AM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 157 Join Date: 7/10/11 Recent Posts
Garrett E:
At some point I decided that my mind was reasonable quiet (background thoughts still occurring though) and began asking the question "What am I?" and holding that question, letting it fill my awareness. I continued with this until time was up.

This sounds counterproductive, if I understand you correctly. If you ask "what am I", you shouldn't let the question itself fill your awareness like some kind of mantra! Instead, you actively investigate, looking for sensations which seem like "I" and examining them one by one to see the three characteristics in them.
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Ian And, modified 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 12:11 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 12:11 PM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi Garrett,

Asking yourself these kind of questions helps you to stop and take a REAL look at the practice that you have been practicing. It can give you pause to sit and consider: "Am I doing what needs to be done in order to advance in my practice?" Hence, it provides you with first hand information that you cannot deny because you are the one providing the information.

After reading your reply, my first question is: "Whose instruction are you following, or, where did you come by this practice that you are performing? Is this what your teachers there at the monastery are recommending?"

It sounds as though you've been able to develop a decent level of concentration given your description. This will set you up in good position to make more progress given that you begin making a few alterations to what you are currently doing. Nothing major, mind you, but just some subtle changes that will help you to focus on achieving something substantial that you can then use as a tool to make even further progress down the road.

One thing you might want to keep in mind is: Give yourself enough time (one hour minimum) during your sitting meditation to be able to accomplish some short term goals in order to propel yourself down that road. Practice is all about setting up the right or correct conditions for progress to be made, and this is what I would like to emphasis with you at this point. When the right conditions are in place, progress can be made relatively easily and without strain, confusion, or frustration. Once you begin to understand the Path and the way to proceed along that path, then things can progress much easier, and you won't be fighting against yourself.

Garrett E:
Ian And:
Perhaps you can fill in some details to give us a better, more elaborate idea of the practice that you are following so that we may be of assistance to you.


I read this and thought "Yeah, what is it exactly that I do when I sit?" so I went and did a little 35 minute period to find out.
I started off paying attention to my breath in the belly and chest area. I was usually able to drop thoughts within the first several seconds of their arising, occasionally I would catch it only after a 2 or 3 thought string. After a short while, I noticed that I could drop the idea of "breath" and pay attention to the movements in a more fluid way, so I did that.

This is good that you are able to become aware of the thoughts arising so quickly upon first sitting. When you say "pay attention to the movements" are you referring to the movements in your chest and belly areas? If so, this may be used to guide yourself into deeper and deeper states of concentration and mental quietude. Personally, I used the breath at the tip of the nose; but different strokes for different folks. Let's work with what you are doing (or at least willing to do or attempt).

Garrett E:

At this point, thoughts kind of moved into the background, but I noticed that these low noise background thoughts would regularly go on multiple thoughts in a row before I noticed them. I think of this as some percent, say 70%, of my attention being on my experience, and the remaining attention being on the background thoughts, so when I notice I try to move that remaining attention away from distractions and into my experience.

Good. This sounds like solid, basic instruction. What you need to learn from here is: what to do with your attention once the distractions are out of the way. You seem to answer that in the next quotation.

Garrett E:

At some point I decided that my mind was reasonable quiet (background thoughts still occurring though) and began asking the question "What am I?" and holding that question, letting it fill my awareness. I continued with this until time was up.

I need to ask a question at this point. What is it that you are attempting to accomplish by this practice of self inquiry? Is there someplace you are going with this? Is there some insight practice that you may be anticipating to perform? I'm just asking, not criticizing. I want to know how clear you are on what your intentions are, as well as what those intentions might be, and what they are designed to accomplish with regard to your current practice.

Asking yourself these kinds of questions can be very illuminating in terms of discovering just where the blockage is that is holding you back.

Garrett E:

I really appreciate you guys taking the time to respond.

No problem. We're here to help you understand, that's all. It's really not that difficult at all once you begin focusing on getting the right ideas to work with.

In peace,
Ian
Garrett E, modified 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 12:47 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 12:46 PM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 21 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
N A:
Garrett E:
At some point I decided that my mind was reasonable quiet (background thoughts still occurring though) and began asking the question "What am I?" and holding that question, letting it fill my awareness. I continued with this until time was up.

This sounds counterproductive, if I understand you correctly. If you ask "what am I", you shouldn't let the question itself fill your awareness like some kind of mantra! Instead, you actively investigate, looking for sensations which seem like "I" and examining them one by one to see the three characteristics in them.


I will try to describe my experience more clearly and maybe we can clear up some confusion. I ask the question and begin carefully looking into my experience, trying not to have any part of the experience be excluded. Just doing it now, I'm beginning to understand what you mean by examining "I" sensations. I'll look into that more later and get back.
Garrett E, modified 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 1:05 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 1:05 PM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 21 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
Ian And:


After reading your reply, my first question is: "Whose instruction are you following, or, where did you come by this practice that you are performing? Is this what your teachers there at the monastery are recommending?"


The practice of following the breath in the body is highly recommended by the teachers at the monastery. For me, keeping the attention there as opposed to at the tip of the nose help me notice thoughts more quickly, it also helps me from going unconscious during meditation (something I have a bit of a problem with). They have also spoken about using inquiry once the mind is quiet to gain insight.

Ian And:

I need to ask a question at this point. What is it that you are attempting to accomplish by this practice of self inquiry? Is there someplace you are going with this? Is there some insight practice that you may be anticipating to perform? I'm just asking, not criticizing. I want to know how clear you are on what your intentions are, as well as what those intentions might be, and what they are designed to accomplish with regard to your current practice.


I am using it as a pointer (maybe an unnecessary one) to help me carefully examine my experience. My understanding was that paying attention in this way is what leads to insight (even if not intentionally noticing the 3Cs, paying attention to the immediate, direct experience reveals them naturally). My thought is: I do this, look closely and carefully then boom, stream entry.
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Ian And, modified 9 Years ago at 12/22/12 9:35 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/21/12 9:46 PM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Garrett E:

The practice of following the breath in the body is highly recommended by the teachers at the monastery. For me, keeping the attention there as opposed to at the tip of the nose help me notice thoughts more quickly, it also helps me from going unconscious during meditation (something I have a bit of a problem with). They have also spoken about using inquiry once the mind is quiet to gain insight.

Aaahh. That explains a lot. That is sound advice. Sounds as though your instructors know what they are doing, and I wouldn't want to interfere in their training regimen with you.

One thing that did pass through my mind, though, is that the Zen approach and the Theravada approach to awakening and meditation, while having the same goal can vary somewhat in the things they emphasize in practice. The Zen approach is very stripped down and streamlined, short and concise instruction ("chop wood, carry water") meant for a highly intelligent clientele, while the Theravada tend to explain things to death. While I at first featured in myself a preference for the former, I learned through bitter experience that I longed for the latter approach. I needed things explained so that I could see where I was going and how I was to arrive there.

Zen can be a very solitary practice, leaving one on his own to figure it all out for himself. It sounds as though you may have become frustrated with this approach at some point in your travels, reading MCTB and the many forum posts here of practicing yogis "making progress." If I were you I wouldn't put too much focus on what other people are doing or claiming they are doing. It's really hard to know what is true unless you have personal contact with them anyway. Better to just focus on yourself and your own practice and leave it at that. Envy can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Also, I wouldn't become too fascinated with the paths and with achieving them in a certain amount of time. There's no set time frame for anyone to achieve anything in this kind of practice, and publicly airing these kinds of things so that others can read about them just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. These are things best kept to oneself and one's trusted confidant (teacher or guide). To allow oneself to become caught up in the excitement of it all may not always be the healthiest approach.

On the other hand, if you are wanting to learn of some different approaches than the one's you are being taught at the monastery, or are wanting to develop skills and abilities that are not being taught there, you may be able to find some assistance here. In that vein, then, there may be some compatible instruction that can be shared to help you achieve those goals.

Garrett E:
Ian And:

I need to ask a question at this point. What is it that you are attempting to accomplish by this practice of self inquiry? Is there someplace you are going with this? Is there some insight practice that you may be anticipating to perform? I'm just asking, not criticizing. I want to know how clear you are on what your intentions are, as well as what those intentions might be, and what they are designed to accomplish with regard to your current practice.


I am using it as a pointer (maybe an unnecessary one) to help me carefully examine my experience. My understanding was that paying attention in this way is what leads to insight (even if not intentionally noticing the 3Cs, paying attention to the immediate, direct experience reveals them naturally). My thought is: I do this, look closely and carefully then boom, stream entry.

There is nothing wrong with the approach you have been taught with regard to self inquiry. We do the same thing in the Theravada approach, although with perhaps a slight twist in the way it is gone about.

I used an insight I had through contemplation of the five aggregates to gain a stark and totally surprising view of anatta that I had never considered before. It was sparked by something I read in the book What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula, and it happened outside of meditation. Yet, there it was, right before me, as though someone had shot me between the eyes. I saw with complete comprehension the selfless nature of form, feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness. I realized in that moment that there was no self in every experience I had. That my sense of identity had been wrapped up in ideas (thoughts) about myself being fabricated as it related to the events taking place in my life. That there was, in reality, actually no substantial being taking an action of any kind. That it was all just thought! And that that thought could change in a moment's notice. Arise and pass away. It was quite an amazing moment. And it passed very quickly. Almost too quickly for me to recall. But I still recall the flavor if not the smell and texture of the moment.

Perhaps you are just frustrated at not having experienced a moment of satori or kensho ("seeing into one's own nature"). Yet, there is no time frame for this to occur in any practitioner. It occurs when it occurs. When just the right amount of elements combine, you may have a moment of total clarity wherein this prize is captured. Be patient and things will occur in the fullness of time.

In the meantime, you may find some food for thought (a gathering of the elements) by reading and contemplating some of the discourses of the Buddha. They may also prove to be a worthy contemplation object for your meditation.
Some Guy, modified 9 Years ago at 12/22/12 9:50 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/22/12 9:50 AM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 343 Join Date: 8/9/11 Recent Posts
Ian And:
Also, I wouldn't become too fascinated with the paths and with achieving them in a certain amount of time. There's no set time frame for anyone to achieve anything in this kind of practice, and publicly airing these kinds of things so that others can read about them just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. These are things best kept to oneself and one's trusted confidant (teacher or guide). To allow oneself to become caught up in the excitement of it all may not always be the healthiest approach.


While what Ian says is undoubtedly true, it seems to me that the OP's concerns about not seeing results from a very committed practice are reasonable. "Publicly airing these kinds of things" is in fact a big part of the reason this forum exists: to show that it can be done ('it' being attainment of stream entry), and a practitioner should expect results.

Garrett, the fact that you've had access to so much professional instruction and yet you're on the internet looking for help suggests - IMHO - there may be a problem. You're right that many people here have seen substantial results under less favorable circumstances than yours. Though it may be politically incorrect to suggest - and I don't claim any special qualification to advise you - what's the harm in trying another practice? The Mahasi-style Vipassana expounded around here comes with substantial evidence - not proof, but evidence in the form of records and testimonies - of unusual efficacy. At least it would have the benefit of giving you some phenomenological markers to understand your progress. Ian is right to warn about fascination with maps. But they can help give you a sense of whether what you're doing is working. Progress and markers are natural things to want. You can always return to zen practice, or do both. You have the time.

My 2 cents.
Garrett E, modified 9 Years ago at 12/22/12 5:26 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/22/12 5:26 PM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 21 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
Ian And:

Perhaps you are just frustrated at not having experienced a moment of satori or kensho ("seeing into one's own nature").


I think this is a large part of what is going on. I get frustrated that I have not had a kensho experience yet and start story about how I am failing or not making any spiritual progress.

Ian And:
Yet, there is no time frame for this to occur in any practitioner. It occurs when it occurs.


I have difficulty practicing from this perspective, though it is a point of view I wish to be able to see from. You know it's like "I want this and I'm gonna go fuckin' get it." Then I strive, don't get it, and get frustrated. There seems to be some blockage in the way of me practicing without thought of gain or loss.

This is actually something that has been going on for some time. I remember retreats where for days I would be stuck on the loop of excitement (I'M ABOUT TO GET IT) --> disappointment(I didn't get it) over and over (sounds like samsara, huh).

Trying to get it, trying to get it, having the teacher tell me that at this point it was just a matter of grace, that I couldn't *make* anything happen. I try to follow the instruction, but I would end up backing off too much and just spacing out or staying caught in the same loop(although to a lesser degree).
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Ian And, modified 9 Years ago at 12/22/12 11:43 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/22/12 10:35 PM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Okay Garrett, listen. . .V E R Y. . .C A R E F U L L Y.

Open up your intuition and relax, and then listen. . . cognize what is being communicated, hear it, take it in, understand it.
Garrett E:
Ian And:

Perhaps you are just frustrated at not having experienced a moment of satori or kensho ("seeing into one's own nature").


I think this is a large part of what is going on. I get frustrated that I have not had a kensho experience yet and start [a] story about how I am failing or not making any spiritual progress.

Do you not see what you are saying here?

Is it lost on you the intention and the meaning being expressed in the emphasized passage above?

You are admitting to "start[ing] [a] story" in your mind about "how I am failing or not making any spiritual progress." Do you not see that you are your own worst enemy in this endeavor? Your ego wants it so much, with such fervor, that you admit to now sabotaging your own practice by creating views about what just occurred! "I FAILED!!"

You are trying TOO HARD to achieve something that you have PUT UP on a pedestal in your mind which you cannot now reach because you have set it too high in your mind to be able to grab onto. You're sabotaging your own practice by wanting "this thing" that you've created in your mind. (Likely, your Zen teachers won't be as blunt with you as I am. They would rather you figure it out for yourself. Even if it takes you thirty years! Heaven forbid.)

Slow down and R E L A X. Stop your striving and let things come to you all on their own. This doesn't mean you have to "back off" or "space out." It's not about shutting down your intensity. It means developing yoniso manasikara or "wise attention toward the object" of your meditation. "Critical reflection" or "appropriate attention" are also good translations of this Pali term. This means maintaining your mindfulness (sati or intense investigation) while in contemplation and focusing wisely (meaning "with comprehension of what IS") on the object enough to allow the insight to A R I S E on its own. See?

Garrett E:
Ian And:
Yet, there is no time frame for this to occur in any practitioner. It occurs when it occurs.

I have difficulty practicing from this perspective, though it is a point of view I wish to be able to see from. You know it's like "I want this and I'm gonna go fuckin' get it." Then I strive, don't get it, and get frustrated. There seems to be some blockage in the way of me practicing without thought of gain or loss.

That's because of the expectations that you allow your mind to cling to. Your own ego is sabotaging your efforts.

Garrett E:

This is actually something that has been going on for some time. I remember retreats where for days I would be stuck on the loop of excitement (I'M ABOUT TO GET IT) --> disappointment (I didn't get it) over and over (sounds like samsara, huh).

Trying to get it, trying to get it, having the teacher tell me that at this point it was just a matter of grace, that I couldn't *make* anything happen. I try to follow the instruction, but I would end up backing off too much and just spacing out or staying caught in the same loop (although to a lesser degree).

I'll try this again to see if it gets through. . .

When just the right amount of elements combine, you may have a moment of total clarity wherein this prize is captured. Be patient and things will occur in the fullness of time.

In the meantime, you may find some food for thought (a gathering of the elements) by reading and contemplating some of the discourses of the Buddha. They may also prove to be a worthy contemplation object for your meditation.


Now. . . wisely contemplate everything in this post that you have just read, and if you still don't understand it, go back and read it again, and again, until you do. Think about EVERY idea that is being communicated (as if your life depended on it) and do your best to exhibit self-honesty, to admit to yourself what you are doing or not doing. Examine your experiences in these endeavors and be brutally self-critical. OWN what is YOURS. Then, figure out how you're going to change it.
wylo , modified 9 Years ago at 12/23/12 10:25 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/23/12 10:25 AM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 166 Join Date: 11/18/11 Recent Posts
Admittedly I only read the OP and the skimmed through the rest of the thread.

Not to take away the work here,as it totally transformed my entire way of being, BUT seeing as you are struggling and you find you need some kick start to attain significant enough attainments to work off, I'd recommend here http://liberationunleashed.com/nation/index.php , if it doesnt give you first path, it will give something damn close/similar.
Garrett E, modified 9 Years ago at 12/24/12 3:57 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/24/12 3:57 PM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 21 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
Ian,

Thanks for the hard-hitting wisdom.

I vow to sincerely investigate, understand, and put into practice what you have communicated.
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Ian And, modified 9 Years ago at 12/24/12 11:39 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 12/24/12 11:39 PM

RE: Failure to attain

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
If you're not getting anywhere with your present contemplation of "What am I," consider any of the following as a substitute object of contemplation.

First, realize that concentration focuses your attention; meditation deepens awareness; and contemplation invites insight. What you want to do is the latter of these three, once you've been able to bring the mind to unification, which you seem to be able to do.

The following are two quotations taken from the Nikayas. Take them one at a time, or combine them (if you can see the connection implied), into a session of contemplation and see what you come up with.

"Bhikkhus, just as the dawn is the forerunner and first indication of the rising sun, so is right view the forerunner and first indication of wholesome states." – Anguttara Nikaya, 10:121

"Now this has been said by the Blessed One: “One who sees dependent co-arising sees the Dhamma; one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent co-arising.” And these five aggregates affected by clinging are dependently arisen. The desire, indulgence, inclination, and holding based on these five aggregates affected by clinging is the origin of suffering. The removal of desire and lust, the abandonment of desire and lust for these five aggregates affected by clinging is the cessation of suffering." –Majjhima Nikaya, 28:28.


The implication here is that in order to overcome ignorance of the truth of the Dhamma, right view must first become established. Set up this condition first and you can't go wrong. In conjunction with the second quote, the right view needing to be set up is that "these five aggregates affected by clinging are dependently arisen, and the desire, indulgence, inclination, and attachment based on these five aggregates affected by clinging is the origin of suffering. The removal of desire and lust, the abandonment of desire and lust for these five aggregates affected by clinging is the cessation of suffering." You might want to start your contemplation here, at this point. (This is only a suggestion; you can start wherever you feel the need.)

In order to properly contemplate these passages, one needs to understand the role that dependent co-arising plays in this process. I'll provide a hint: this process is more easily understandable by examining the process described by the eight middle factors linking the arising of the five aggregates: 3. vinnana or consciousness, 4. namarupa or name and form, 5. salayatana or the six sense doors, 6. phassa or contact, 7. vedana or feeling, 8. tanha or craving, 9. upadana or clinging, and 10. bhava or becoming. I'll let you take it from there.

If you're having trouble with the above example, perhaps the following will open up some "doors of understanding." I will quote the sutta passage I read in Walpola Rahula's book which spurred the onset of a satori moment for me. You need to pay close attention to the concepts mentioned and gather a complete picture of them in the mind for the realization to dawn upon you. This is taken from an essay I wrote shortly after that realization. Pay particular attention to the final two paragraphs, which present the vehicle for the insight I had.

It is necessary here, in order to fully comprehend the Buddhist psychological position on this point, to differentiate consciousness from the commonly held convention that a “self” or “soul” or “ego” is involved with this conscious awareness. There is only the function of awareness itself which is taking place, in its bare essence as arising by result of one of the six sense faculties. According to the Dhamma teaching on anatta, no self, soul, or ego exists which sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches, or cognizes an object. The very idea that a “self” exists is in itself a mind phenomenon based on the functioning of the fourth aggregate: volition or mental formations. Thus it is the mind itself which mistakes the continuity of consciousness and the five aggregates of a being for a “self” or “soul” which continues as a permanent substance throughout life.

To underscore this point let us examine what the Buddha himself has said about it. In the Mahatanhasamkhaya-sutta — or The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving — in the Majjhima Nikaya (MN 38), he states: “Haven't I in many ways explained consciousness as arising out of conditions: that there is no arising of consciousness without conditions.” He then went on to explain consciousness in detail.

“Consciousness is reckoned by the particular condition dependent upon which it arises. When consciousness arises dependent upon the eye and forms, it is reckoned as eye-consciousness; when consciousness arises dependent upon the ear and sounds, it is reckoned as ear-consciousness; when . . . dependent on the nose and odors, it is reckoned as nose-consciousness; when . . . dependent on the tongue and flavors . . . as tongue-consciousness; when . . . dependent on the body and tangibles . . . as body-consciousness; when . . . dependent on the mind and mind-objects (thoughts and ideas) . . . as mind-consciousness.” . . .

The Buddha stated (at SN 22.53; III.53): “Consciousness may exist having matter as its means, matter as its object, matter as its support, and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop; or consciousness may exist having feeling as its means . . . or perception as its means . . . or mental formations as its means, mental formations as its object, mental formations as its support, and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop.

“Were a man to say: I shall show the coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or the development of consciousness apart from matter, feeling, perception, and mental formations, he would be speaking of something that does not exist.”


The heart of what I focused on was this last paragraph, keeping mindful of all the preceding ideas. I looked at (contemplated) my own experience in light of that last paragraph, and the insight struck me like a thunderbolt! I'll leave it to you to make sense of it.

Good luck.
Chris Coleman, modified 9 Years ago at 1/10/13 5:44 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 1/10/13 5:44 PM

RE: Failure to attain

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Ian And:
The heart of what I focused on was this last paragraph, keeping mindful of all the preceding ideas. I looked at (contemplated) my own experience in light of that last paragraph, and the insight struck me like a thunderbolt! I'll leave it to you to make sense of it.


Ian,

I've been following your comments in this thread with careful attention. It's possible that I've attained this insight, but it's also possible that I'm a million miles away from it. It depends upon exactly what you mean in this final statement.

On the one hand, I feel (a) that I understand the proposition that there is no "me," only a stream of perceptions; (b) that I believe that this statement is true based upon my own observations of my own experience; and (c) that I could probably explain the proposition back to you using different words that you would recognize as expressing the same truth.

On the other hand, my reaction is sort of "so what?" -- no thunderbolts.

I'm pretty sure that's because all I have is a dry intellectual understanding (which is relatively easy to attain), but not a true insight in the sense that you mean it.

In other words, I'm pretty sure you don't mean "I finally put all the clues together and figured out that there is no "me," but rather perhaps something like "something clicked from an unexpected direction in a way that caused me to directly be aware -- before and outside of any thought on the matter --that there is no "me." Or perhaps something else entirely.

But I'm sort of a novice, and language is slippery, and so I thought perhaps you (or anyone else reading this) might be able to confirm my understanding. I find myself reading these boards and constantly thinking "I already know this." But I can't quite tell if that's because I've somehow stumbled into great wisdom (highly unlikely, but I've had some unusual experiences so perhaps not completely impossible) or if that's because "knowing" it is easy and obvious but really isn't the point at all (probably much more likely).

Thanks!
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Ian And, modified 9 Years ago at 1/11/13 10:22 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 1/10/13 11:23 PM

RE: Failure to attain

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Hi Chris,
Chris Coleman:
Ian And:
The heart of what I focused on was this last paragraph, keeping mindful of all the preceding ideas. I looked at (contemplated) my own experience in light of that last paragraph, and the insight struck me like a thunderbolt! I'll leave it to you to make sense of it.

Ian,

I've been following your comments in this thread with careful attention. It's possible that I've attained this insight, but it's also possible that I'm a million miles away from it. It depends upon exactly what you mean in this final statement.

On the one hand, I feel (a) that I understand the proposition that there is no "me," only a stream of perceptions; (b) that I believe that this statement is true based upon my own observations of my own experience; and (c) that I could probably explain the proposition back to you using different words that you would recognize as expressing the same truth.

On the other hand, my reaction is sort of "so what?" -- no thunderbolts.

Actually, "thunderbolt" may have been a bit of a hyperbolic term to use, but it drives home the point. It was definitely eye-opening from a different angle that I had hitherto not considered. Just yet another way of looking at anatta. Gotama was famous for making these kinds of points in several different ways. Just pick one and run with it; whatever strikes your fancy.

Chris Coleman:

I'm pretty sure that's because all I have is a dry intellectual understanding (which is relatively easy to attain), but not a true insight in the sense that you mean it.

It doesn't matter how you came by the perception (whether by "dry intellectual understanding" or by "clearly being able to see" the truth directly based upon clear, unobstructed observation — what you might call "insight").

What matters is that you saw it and processed it as factual. And now that has changed your perception of reality. The real question is: will you remain mindful of it in your normal everyday living.

Chris Coleman:

In other words, I'm pretty sure you don't mean "I finally put all the clues together and figured out that there is no "me," but rather perhaps something like "something clicked from an unexpected direction in a way that caused me to directly be aware -- before and outside of any thought on the matter --that there is no "me."

Yes, you are correct in both assumptions. Although I wouldn't phrase the last part of that in those words ("that there is no me"). What I saw was exactly what the Buddha stated, directly: "“Were a man to say: I shall show the coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or the development of consciousness apart from matter, feeling, perception, and mental formations, he would be speaking of something that does not exist.”

What I saw was the truth about "the coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or the development of consciousness," that there had to be a body (in existence) with the six senses first in order to be able to perceive these objects, and that without that body there was no one there (no "thing" there) to perceive. "The coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or the development of consciousness" is dependent upon having a body.

But you see, I had already had a previous insight about the five aggregates, and this played right into that insight. From a slightly different way of looking at it. That's all.

Chris Coleman:

I find myself reading these boards and constantly thinking "I already know this." But I can't quite tell if that's because I've somehow stumbled into great wisdom (highly unlikely, but I've had some unusual experiences so perhaps not completely impossible) or if that's because "knowing" it is easy and obvious but really isn't the point at all (probably much more likely).

Of course you already know this. We all DO. It is just that through the process of living and reacting to the events in our lives we sometimes lose sight of these truths and begin to believe the mental conditioning that physical life brings on based upon the conditioning of the culture we live in. When that mental conditioning takes precedence over what we already know in our deepest conscience, then that's when the mind begins to fabricate a reality around the conceptions we have, an ego is formed and developed, and our "feelings" (not in the sense of vedana, which is "feeling," meaning an affective quality based upon one of three variables) are at risk to become "hurt." When the ego is felt to be "hurt" or "stroked" or whatever, that's when the person loses equanimity of formations and becomes involved in and "of" the world.

What you want to develop is to be in the world but not become part of it. Keep ego and conceit out of the mix. Otherwise you create the perfect condition for the arising of dukkha!

I'll have more to say on the concept of "conceit" later on when I have time to sit and compose something about it. It seems there are those here who have a rather shallow idea about what conceit is. If you see it for what is really is, you begin to realize how subtle it can actually be. Mental events that one might have previously not considered displayed any conceit, would then be realized as being an example of conceit at a very subtle level.

Have I confirmed your understanding?

In peace,
Ian
Chris Coleman, modified 9 Years ago at 1/11/13 9:58 PM
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RE: Failure to attain

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Thank you, Ian. Beautifully expressed.
Garrett E, modified 8 Years ago at 10/1/13 5:23 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 10/1/13 4:58 PM

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During dinner on the first evening of our August sesshin, the beginning lines to one of our chants came into my mind.

"The Great Way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose.
When preferences are cast aside, the Way stands clear and undisguised."

It was as if I could begin to see right into the deep meaning of these words. I continued contemplating them (in just the way Ian described, though I didn't realize I was doing it at the time) as I went to meditate after dinner. As I sat, my mind became clear and spacious, but in a very ordinary kind of way. Thoughts and other subtle mental movements seemed to flow through in a way that was frictionless, without personal identification. Again, all of this was happening in a way that seemed very ordinary. I continued sitting and at some point I kind of forget what happened, then "blip," everything dropped away. Then everything re-emerged... upon which I let out laughing.

When I described this experience to my Zen teacher, she replied, "Yes. You have touched the Timeless Realm and seen the self be re-assembled. Now that you have seen this, there is no going back. The small self can come back in and the personality will reassert itself, but you will never be able to take it so seriously again."

Practice has taken on a much simpler and more natural flavor since this experience. A bit of the burden of seeking and striving has been lifted off my shoulders.

Again Ian, I appreciate you're willingness to be so blunt. I can't say that I was able to really take in what you wrote the 1st time I read it or the 15th time, but it still seems important that I have the opportunity to try.

I'll leave us with a beautiful few lines that touched me during our last retreat.

"A crane dreams in the wintry mists.
The Autumn waters flow far in the distance.

Endless kalpas are totally empty,
All things completely the same.

When wonder exists in serenity,
All achievement is forgotten in illumination."
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago at 10/1/13 7:02 PM
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Welcome back, Garrett. And congratulations for sticking with it. :- ) Your patience paid off.

When just the right amount of elements combine, you may have a moment of total clarity wherein this prize is captured. Be patient and things will occur in the fullness of time.

Garrett E:

"The Great Way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose.
When preferences are cast aside, the Way stands clear and undisguised."

It was as if I could begin to see right into the deep meaning of these words. I continued contemplating them (in just the way Ian described, though I didn't realize I was doing it at the time) as I went to meditate after dinner. As I sat, my mind became clear and spacious, but in a very ordinary kind of way. Thoughts and other subtle mental movements seemed to flow through in a way that was frictionless, without personal identification. Again, all of this was happening in a way that seemed very ordinary. I continued sitting and at some point I kind of forget what happened, then "blip," everything dropped away. Then everything re-emerged... upon which I let out laughing.

This is an interesting description. You say, "blip, everything dropped away." If it is not too personal for you to say, was that experience anything like all feeling and perception just "dropped away" for the moment? Might that have been an experience of sanna-vedayita-nirodha (otherwise known as nirodha samapatti)? If so, you captured a grand prize, indeed.


When wonder exists in serenity,
All achievement is forgotten in illumination."

A more poignant expression cannot be found.
Garrett E, modified 8 Years ago at 10/2/13 11:48 AM
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Ian And:


This is an interesting description. You say, "blip, everything dropped away." If it is not too personal for you to say, was that experience anything like all feeling and perception just "dropped away" for the moment? Might that have been an experience of sanna-vedayita-nirodha (otherwise known as nirodha samapatti)? If so, you captured a grand prize, indeed.


I'm not sure what the difference between all feeling and all perception dropping away and all experience dropping away would look like. In my experience, there was a feeling of reality "synching up" or of coming to rest in its natural way of being and then my entire sense of experience or "experiencing" dropping away for that moment. But like I said, the actual minutes before this unknowing event, I cannot clearly recollect.
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Ian And, modified 8 Years ago at 10/2/13 2:12 PM
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Garrett E:
Ian And:

This is an interesting description. You say, "blip, everything dropped away." If it is not too personal for you to say, was that experience anything like all feeling and perception just "dropped away" for the moment? Might that have been an experience of sanna-vedayita-nirodha (otherwise known as nirodha samapatti)? If so, you captured a grand prize, indeed.

I'm not sure what the difference between all feeling and all perception dropping away and all experience dropping away would look like.

It would be pretty much as you have described it. If you will just stop for a moment and think: How would you have the experience of anything if not having the use of perception and feeling? There would be no experience at all, without perception and feeling. Which is, unless I am mistaken in my interpretation of your words, what happened.

In other words, if you are having an experience of anything while in this body, it is only with the use of perception that you are even aware of that experience at all! Feeling (or vedana) just tells you whether or not the experience is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, in affective terms of how you have trained your mind to perceive it. So, when sanna and vedana are not able to be accessed / perceived, when they just "drop away" disappearing altogether from both experience and recollection during those moments, then it is the cessation of perception and feeling, or what some have called the ninth dhyana.

Garrett E:

In my experience, there was a feeling of reality "synching up" or of coming to rest in its natural way of being and then my entire sense of experience or "experiencing" dropping away for that moment. But like I said, the actual minutes before this unknowing event, I cannot clearly recollect.

That sounds like a classic description of sanna-vedayita-nirodha. I can understand why you may not be aware of this if it is not taught in the school of Zen that you are practicing. Zen schools of training, depending upon the teacher, can tend to be not caught up in the details. But in the discourses of the Buddha from the Theravadin canon, this is a classic description of this event. And therefore it is an important detail for one to know and of which to become aware if one is wanting to follow the path that Gotama blazed.

It also conforms with my own experience of this moment when it occurred to me a few years ago. As you have described the experience, all experience itself "dropped away" when this occurred to me. And how I know this is that I could not recollect what had occurred during those moments that this "event" was going on. For several seconds or minutes (whichever occurred) there was no recollection of having experienced anything. Then suddenly, I came out of that experience (however long it lasted) and was able to come out of the meditation. It was an eye-opening moment for sure. What it taught me is that the mind has the capability to, indeed, shut down totally, even within the experience of this lifetime. It also demonstrated that you (as operator and master over this body's mind) can have total control over what thoughts arise or don't arise at any given moment, or how you react or don't react should thoughts arise. That in itself was a profound game breaker of a realization!