Confused - where do I begin?

Mike G, modified 11 Years ago.

Confused - where do I begin?

Posts: 47 Join Date: 3/15/10 Recent Posts
Even though I've meditated regularly for more than 3 years (with occasional 2 day retreats), I think I am basically a beginner.

If I look in the blook, I get the message of getting to first jhana and then working with insight.
As far as I understand it, for me, that would be samatha (concentrate intently) practise on the breath. And stick with this until I reach first jhana.
Then go back to my more insight-oriented meditation (with more of noting).

But then I read that samatha before insight is debated, and that perhaps one should go for insight first to reach stream entry, and then jhana will follow more easily?

Are all these mental concepts just confusing me?

Any advice on how to go about it?
(perhaps more of a concrete "practise this, then that" nature?)

Thanks for bearing with me!
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Florian Weps, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Confused - where do I begin? (Answer)

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Mike,

I think of this samatha-vipassana thing as a spectrum. Pure concentration state at one end, pure insight practice at the other end. The two blend into each other in-between. For example, I find that noting practice is also a training in concentration. Or, the qualities of a concentration jhana can become the object of vipassana.

Regarding concepts, I find the buddhist teaching of the "five spiritual faculties" very useful. There's a chapter on those in MCTB.

Here's one concrete thing to try (I do it this way myself): A daily sit of (initially) 15 minutes of light, fun, pure concentration. Try several objects, i.e. some aspect of the breath, a colored paper kasina, a candle flame, or a meditation word, or whatever - find out what works for you, then stick to it for a few weeks. And, from the start, another daily sit doing pure noting practice.

Once you've gained a bit of conficence and experience with these "pure" practices, you'll probably adjust your practice (this is where teachings like the five spiritual faculties are useful) and you'll begin to see from experience what all the passionate discussions about "samatha vs. vipassana first" are all about.

Concrete enough?

Cheers,
Florian
Mike Gee, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Confused - where do I begin?

Posts: 47 Join Date: 3/15/10 Recent Posts
Hi, Florian!
Thanks for being concrete with me!
I am still confused about the concentration -> jhana before or after or during issue.emoticon
But you gave me something to work with!

Also, maybe I should get the book on paper. I find my concentration waning when I read on a computer screen emoticon
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Florian Weps, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Confused - where do I begin? (Answer)

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Mike,

Here's an analogy Kenneth Folk sometimes uses. Maybe it's as helpful to you as it was to me.

Training concentration / samatha is like training to dive. The better you get, the longer you can stay underwater, and the deeper you can dive.

Investigation / vipassana is when you look at the fish and other sea-life, once you're down. The Progress of Insight is driven by diving ever more deeply, and finding out what's going on down there. As you get better at diving down deep and holding your breath (in the diving sense), you can explore more remote places and stay there longer.

In order to do any vipassana at all, a little concentration is necessary - you have to get your face beneath the surface.

The proponents of extreme "samatha first" in this analogy are sitting on the beach, beating world record after world reacord in breath-holding, without ever getting their feet wet.

The proponents of extreme "dry vipassana" will dive down to progressively deeper levels with pin-point accuracy, but can stay there for a moment only before popping to the surface again (this is sometimes called "momentary concentration").

Finally, those who have attained stream entry report that mastering the concentration states takes much less effort at that point.

And yeah, get that book, or at least print it out.

Cheers,
Florian
Tonya April Claycomb, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Confused - where do I begin?

Posts: 2 Join Date: 12/13/09 Recent Posts
Hi there. I am new to this site but I have lurked around minimally for about one year. I have a question that I was wondering if somebody might be able to talk wtih me about. First, I don't do meditation, but strangely enough I think that perhaps I have been in the dark night for around ....forever.....actually maybe about twenty years. I just read the post which noted the ida of "dry vipassanna" and I must say that my life is filled with those insights. I joke with myself that sometimes I feel like Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone becuase I feel like I drop out of whatever's happening and sink into my own mind and thoughts and I drop right into a space where I see how whatever's happening outside or whatever's happening inside (thoughts, justifications, flashes of insight) in my head is supported a net of lies and justifications that defend against the interrelatedness of all things, defenses against my shadow side, justifications that I have for behaving in the way that I do, and denying resopnsibility. Anyway, my experience of 'dry vipassanna' (if that's in fact what's happening to me) is that it feels bright, like a light (literally, not figuratively) in my own mind. After I drop away, once I (proverbially) come up for air, I will often forget part of or most of what I just 'discovered' or 'thought' (I'm not quite sure which it is: discovery vs. thought). When it happens, which is many many times per day, I have a sense of 'lost time' (and NO, I don't believe I'm being abducted by aliens) which is very strange and it can be disconcerting. Can anybody address this? I am not scared, but I do feel something similar to a sense of terminal uniqueness about this, although I'm relatively sure that it's not unique. I'm not attached to the idea of being unique in this experience, rather, I'd prefer to know that this happens often to other people. It's kind of embarassing to discuss becuase when i discuss the 'insights' / 'thoughts' / 'discoveries' (which isn't often) most people want no part of that conversation. At minimum, maybe somebody can make me feel less weird.....

~tonya~
Tonya April Claycomb, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Confused - where do I begin?

Posts: 2 Join Date: 12/13/09 Recent Posts
Viktor K. wrote this on another thread:

"Then my attention was on space again for a while. Mind contemplated on what i had been writing earlier that day on this forum. I came to a point when i got stuck at what I had been writing about my earlier session when my mind was thinking alot about space. It reappered many times in my mind. I then figured it out. The three things i remembered, each one represented one of the three charachteristics.
I think i remembered it in this order but i'm not sure about the order:
1.Space is changing when objects move. = Nothing is permanent
2. Space is connecting with everything in this world, making all one world. = No self. (Imaging nothingness instead of space between stuff. Things would not be able to relate, instead they would be their own distinguished worlds with nothing surronding them.)
3. Space is seperating one thing and the other = Suffering be cause it is a Wrong view. Because of the fact if you remove it everythingwouldimplode, it can't seperate anything. If you instead of removing space, replace it with nothing.. things would be surrounded by nothing and could only interact with it self, there would be nothing more, because it would be surrounded by nothingness. This world you know now is surrounded by nothingness, but all that can relate within this world is one as it connects with space. Space is not seperating us it is connecting us.

Then i opened my eyes looking at the painting in front of me. I was thinking now i really wanna know what time is! Then suddenly I was so focused at the painting that it disapered. I recognized it with a thing happening 3 months ago, when some light that entered my room disapered upon concentrating on it. Back then i thought it was because my eyes were closing by them self. Now i studied this disappering closer. I thought it must be my eyes being crossed, focusing so hard on whats on either side of the painting. Then i realized that with eyes crossed they had double vision and the painting didn't disapear with double vision. Then i discovered that it must be my vision sliding down concentrating on whats under the painting. This was more accurate because the painting was placed higher up on the wall than just in front of my eyes, and it disapered when my eyes were really focused just infront. Ok cool, not so strange then. But then i put my finger just infront of my eyes, at the level where things started to disapear and the finger also disappered, i saw the hand below the point but it was emptiness from the part of my hand the finger should be placed at. Then I put both my hands side by side infront with my thumbs pointing outwards. It appered a hole in the image of the center of the hand and it then spread upon focusing until having two pointing thumbs floating in the air.
I was playing around with this for a while as it was pretty amazing. Then I was thinking about time and I thought how does the Three Charachteristics apply to time. I was thinking Impermanens. Time is always on the move. That's clear. But what about no self? Everything that is, is now. Now is everything =no self. But what about suffering? The wrong view of seperation. Yesterday seperates from now as does the future. In seperation there is suffering and wrong view, dualism. And It's illusion as it's not now. Now is everything. Everything else is either nothing or illusion (Wrong view). Concept of tomorrow is not nothing, it is illusion and it causes suffering.

Then I wanted to discover nothingness but i was stuck at trying to understand awareness instead. Awareness could be of any object without interffering with it. I suppose it could also be of nothingness. Awareness is only now (no self). It made much more sense back when i was watching these thoughts then than it makes writing about it here...
After contemplating awareness for a while i really felt to get up as the energy was fading and i became aware of my body. I did not mind that the alarm had not called out. I looked at the alarm and realized it was not correctly set and that it already had passed 1 hour and a half.

When i write "I was thinking" it's actually me watching thoughts. The thoughts about space and time came with a very nice energy of understanding. You can think of an equation and you can solve one. This thinking was watching mind "solving an equation" + bliss in a package.

The text below is contemplating after writing the text above, not something that appeared in the sitting.
I'm not sure if awareness is only nothingess or both everything and nothingness at the same time. Does awareness change? Or is it only the objects of awarness that are changing.

If there were 2 seperate worlds, nothingness would be between them both because a world must be surrounded by nothingness. And if there is awareness of both worlds Then AWARENESS IS NOTHING!!!!!!! (The previous sentence evolved while typing and came with bliss in a package.) "


This is something like what it feels like in my head...............so I know I'm not alone......although i dont' know Viktor and I still might be a little crazy.

Daniel resopnded to Viktor saying maybe this experience was "A & P". I don't meditate but that's not necessary for an A&P experience. But these crazy thought? insights? dialogues? discoveries? all???? have been going on for such a long time....
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Confused - where do I begin? (Answer)

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Mike Gee:
...I get the message of getting to first jhana and then working with insight.

As far as I understand it, for me, that would be samatha (concentrate intently) practise on the breath. And stick with this until I reach first jhana. Then go back to my more insight-oriented meditation (with more of noting).

But then I read that samatha before insight is debated, and that perhaps one should go for insight first to reach stream entry, and then jhana will follow more easily?

I am still confused about the concentration -> jhana before or after or during issue.

Just to add a little to Florian's excellent advice, perhaps a bit of a tweek in understanding might help...

When you are meditating, you are working simultaneously with all the tools you have at your disposal. That means both insight and concentration. Although sometimes it "feels" like one predominates over the other; in actuality, they both complement one another. The mind is pliant enough to switch back and forth between the two at a moment's notice. In other words, you need a bit of insight in order to recognize your ability to enter absorption; while at the same time, practicing absorption leads to a strengthening of the mind's abilities at concentration, hence creating the space for the arising of insight. So, in reality, each of these factors is working in tandem with the other as you make your way toward mindfulness (sati) and awakening.

Don't worry about the debates going on over all this. Just pay attention to your own experience in your own practice, and follow whatever feels natural. Follow your intuition in the moment.

Although I'd be the first to admit that even in my own practice, it took being able to concentrate (deepening my practice in absorption) before I was able to really begin to take advantage of the moments of insight that might pop up during a contemplative meditation. Like Florian's metaphor's suggest, the mind is able to concentrate (stay with the object or subject) longer when it is conditioned by samatha practice. And without that extended ability to stay with a subject, you might tend to become distracted from the insight that does arise from time to time during meditation.

One of the things you will also notice once you become proficient at entering absorption is that whatever concentration develops as a result of this practice will carry over into your waking conscious moments, strengthening your sati (mindfulness). With the increased development of mindfulness, moments of waking-conscious insight will also tend to arise more often.

One little tip that may help you to strengthen your ability at being able to enter absorption is that you need (or at least I did) to be able to quiet the mind down first, in order to get rid of all the "monkey mind" sub-vocalization that can go on, and just be able to give full attention to the breath (without any mental distraction) as you become "absorbed" by the pleasantness of the breath. Being able to quiet the mind helps to strengthen this concentrative ability so that you can stay with the insight that arises during absorption contemplation. Insight arises as the mind is able to calmly and clearly see what lies before it.

Hope that helps.

In peace,
Ian
Mike Gee, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Confused - where do I begin?

Posts: 47 Join Date: 3/15/10 Recent Posts
Thank you so very much for giving me some new angles, Florian and Ian!
(and for some concrete advice as well, as I've probably begun thinking why I haven't made that much progress during the years I've been meditating thus far...)

Could I just ask you, Ian, how does one quiet the mind?
When I concentrate (on the breath for instance), I try to just be there with the breath, but make no effort to quiet the mind.
Does one tell the mind to be quiet? (It doesn't always respond to orders well, does it? emoticon )
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Confused - where do I begin? (Answer)

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Mike Gee:

(and for some concrete advice as well, as I've probably begun thinking why I haven't made that much progress during the years I've been meditating thus far...)

Yes. The insight to quiet the mind was the beginning of my progress after 20 years of meditation. The fact that you've only wasted three means that you're ahead of me at comparable points in our individual development. Congratulations!

Mike Gee:

Could I just ask you, Ian, how does one quiet the mind?
When I concentrate (on the breath for instance), I try to just be there with the breath, but make no effort to quiet the mind.
Does one tell the mind to be quiet? (It doesn't always respond to orders well, does it?)

Well, that happens to be exactly the way I finally was able to accomplish that feat. By ordering the mind to be quiet each time it piped up. I know it sounds kind of hokey. But it works. Eventually. You just have to keep at it. With determination and diligence, not to accepting anything but sweet silence...

After you are able to quiet the mind at will in order to be able to strengthen concentration, the occasional moments when it becomes noisy can either be ignored or indulged in for insight. In other words, when the noise disturbs your ability to enter into absorption, then you will want to quiet the mind so that you can concentration on the pleasantness of the breath. Being able to accomplish this quieting at will tend to speed up the capacity to be able to enter jhana.
Mike Gee, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Confused - where do I begin?

Posts: 47 Join Date: 3/15/10 Recent Posts
I'll do it and see what happens!

Thanks!
Sanjay M, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Confused - where do I begin?

Posts: 44 Join Date: 4/11/10 Recent Posts
Hello

Thanks Mike, Florian & Ian, this is very helpful ..

Sanjay

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