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Concentration or Insight?
Answer
3/16/14 8:30 PM
Hello, first post here. I'm a beginner meditating for a few years and recently I have found the motivation to meditate more regularly at longer durations, mainly the crappy feeling I get from not disciplining myself in some way.

I understand the importance of a clear goal and so my immediate goal is stream entry. But I'm just confused at how I should go about doing this and what my even more immediate goal should be. Maybe if I explain where I am at I could get some appropriate advise.

-When I begin to concentrate on my breath I eventually feel tingly sensations on the skin of my appendages and eventually other parts of the body. I will even feel this when I'm just sitting still reading or reclining. When I stay with the breath and really get into it like "settling into a well deserved bath" while simultaneously focusing on the pleasant tingling I go deeper into the breath and the pleasant sensation/tingling grows. Whenever I think about increasing the pleasure or getting 1st jhana I will very gently think "it doesn't matter or work that way. just focus on the breath" then the anxiety associated with such future oriented thoughts goes away and I return to the task at hand. Are these the beginnings of 1st jhana?

-Also I have been trying out insight more but this is less clear to me. I read that you make progress faster that way but I don't know whether I'm ready for it or not. I vividly remember directly seeing no-self for the first time listening to a kind of guided meditation in an audio book by chance but I question whether it was insight or not. I also question whether I'm having insights during my current sits. I recall the same experience to a smaller degree during a recent sit. When I begin noting, my mindfulness of the sensations I'm noting goes down and the my center of attention is on the noting itself. Also, noting feels tight. A more wide field choiceless awareness feels more like mindful of one of the 3C's but imprecise. The best thing I think so far is being tightly focused on all the sensations that make up the nostril breaths without noting or noting very sparingly when I see something novel. I look at the in breath and it seems like one solid sensation. I break it down into parts and it feels cold, there's direction inward, its soft, I can feel the inside skin of my nose, the physical exterior nose. But should I be breaking these down further? It seems like there are too many sensations to notice even at a restricted area, let alone note! It feels like the smoothness, for instance, is one solid thing.

- I think should also lightly touch upon my every day life. I've had anxiety and fear dominate most of my life after stumbling upon an A&P event but after talking to a therapist and working things out slowly, being more mindfull and other healthy things It's gotten better and is pretty much gone. EDIT: Removed what I now consider to be irrelevant.

Am I doing vipassana correctly? Which will get me to SE faster at my current level of development, really focusing on vipassana or concentration?

I have two main options in my head.

1 - Practice concentration (to high enough level for foundation for insight practices), then practice insight to go for SE with concentration when needed.

2 - Practice insight to get concentration faster (to high enough level for pleasant refuge), then practice concentration after (to high enough level for foundation for insight practices), then practice insight to go for SE with concentration when needed.

Of course I don't know what level of concentration I want in the above options. I want enough to take refuge from daily life and as a foundation for insight. I'm not sure which jhanas those would be or if they are the same. Jhana 1 is supposed to be enough for insight I believe but I want the path of least wasted effort so perhaps I should go for a higher jhana that may make a better foundation.

I feel confused and like I'm going in circles and I feel it when I reread my post but hopefully I've asked the right questions and included the right information so that someone could point me in the right direction.

RE: Concentration or Insight?
Answer
1/8/14 2:51 AM as a reply to finding-oneself.
Hi Alex,
welcome! you have asked a lot but basically you want to know how to move forward.

from your use of technical terms i'm pretty sure you have read daniel's book, "mastering the core teachings of the buddha" or just gotten wise by reading posts. the book is highly reccommended. in addition, if you are intent on practicing the methods that many people here use namely noting, a good and concise book called "Practical Insight Meditation", by Mahasi Sayadaw. Both books are available free online.

i assume you have read the MCTB but in it is mentiooned the fact that once you have crossed the A&P you are "on the ride". This can be a scary thought to some people and can be a genuinely unsettling period as you know. While your obvious desire to get through it quickly is very understandable, fixating on that will probably not be helpful. If you are in the territory referred to here as "the dark night", that's where you are. Acknowleging that and accepting that fact will help you gain insight into it and thus help you move through it.

I think its also wise to make a differentiation between "insight" and "insight practices". insight means wisdom and can be found in a range from the very mundane to the deeply transcendental, from those small Ah HA! moments to Nirvana. Insight practices are the specific methods which nudge you toward those understandings. Insights tend to come more quickly when you do insight practices.

your main question is a perennial one: 'should i practice to get jhana first and use that as a base for insight or just dive into the insight practice?'

you will get many opinions on this and here is mine. more concentration is better than less. more insight will drive you along faster. for some people, myself included, really pushing insight practice (noting) can lead to harsh followup emotions which make my off-cushion life very difficult. your mileage may vary.

it sounds as though you are getting access concentration and the tingling sensations you are experienceing could be 'piti', in which case you seem to be in first jhana territory. jhana can feel very good and can be an excellent way to buffer some of the uneveness experienced in the dark night phase as well as all of the other things life throws at us. deepening it will also help with your insight practice.

if you are looking to develop jhana leigh brasington has some good tips as to how you can develop that but the best quick read is the sticky post by ianand on this site. if you are able, do some retreats and follow your goal to stream entry. if there is a good teacher in your area go there. if you aren't sure where to look, ask around here and search the posts under that subject.

try to enjoy your sits and keep us up to date. keep asking questions as there are some very experienced people here.

Tom

RE: Concentration or Insight?
Answer
1/8/14 3:02 AM as a reply to finding-oneself.
If your goal is to get to SE, then focus on insight.

I don't really care for noting, personally, so here are some different things that I did.
1) sort of general choiceless awareness, with special attention to the 3C's. This can include things like carefully looking for apparent satisfaction while eating, trying to see how apparently stable/persistent things are actually changing (or at least, my experience of them is changing)
2) actively deconstructing experiences into sets of sensations. (for example, if you think "I feel dizzy" then ask 'what sensations are causing me to think I am dizzy', etc. This can be a recursive process. For 'solid' seeming sensations like you mention you can sometimes 'break them up' by keeping them in the periphery of your attention while you look at other sensations. When you notice that they have dropped out of awareness, realize that the sensation has effectively dissapeared for that period. After doing this a couple times, looking back at the 'solid' sensation may show something less solid. (You could also try to look at how your mind is producing the impression of a solid sensation, the solid sensation is often actually just an 'idea' that the sensation is there and solid, which is periodically refreshed by corresponding moment to moment sensations.)
3) paying attention to sensations or impressions that I would normally automatically filter out (visual errors, watching things 'dissapear' as they leave your sight, etc).
4) Challenging/Penetrating the 'illusion'. You know how when you read a work of fiction, your mind 'lives in' the world of the book, and you aren't really aware of seeing and processing the words on the page? You do the same thing when you walk around and go through your day. You build a mental model from your sensations and primarily live in that, with the actual sensations being treated like the words on the page. Example: Go put your hand against a solid object. Pretend that the solid object is actually non-solid, except for exactly where your hand is. Does the experience seem different?

All of this is stuff you can do off the cushion. The best strategy, I think, is to do formal sits, start them with directed focus on some sort of object (this is concentration, though you might also be trying to notice individual sensations, in which case its a bit of both.). Once you've established some concentration (get into a flow, tranciness, whatever you want to call it), then move into whatever sitting insight practice you want to do (could be noting, could be noticing with attention to the 3C's, whatever), and then after a bit, open your eyes, stand up, and try to hold on to your mindfulness, and keep some of this going. For me, the biggest enhancement to my early practice was when I started paying attention to 'odd visual stuff', as this acted as a frequent reminder to push me back towards an mindful mindset throughout the day.

Oh, and yes, I think that is the beginning of first jhana, at least. By my standards, anyway. I don't promise my standards are 'correct' according to anyone elses standards though emoticon

RE: Concentration or Insight?
Answer
1/8/14 3:13 AM as a reply to Daemon Shockley.
For the Dark Night: If you can, it helps to have an attitude of curiosity towards them. I was genuinely looking forward to seeing what Fear was 'like' the first time, and I carried that through the whole set and had a pretty smooth DN, the first time.

If you want to use meditation stuff to help 'smooth out' the DN, having access to the jhanas can help, but I think Metta is even better. I've also found it can help with anxiety (I have an anxious personality myself). Some instructions: http://alohadharma.wordpress.com/loving-kindness-meditation/

RE: Concentration or Insight?
Answer
1/8/14 9:22 AM as a reply to tom moylan.
Hi Tom. Thank you for the welcome and book recommendation, I will check it out. I have read MCTB and keep re-reading it.

tom moylan:

i assume you have read the MCTB but in it is mentiooned the fact that once you have crossed the A&P you are "on the ride". This can be a scary thought to some people and can be a genuinely unsettling period as you know. While your obvious desire to get through it quickly is very understandable, fixating on that will probably not be helpful. If you are in the territory referred to here as "the dark night", that's where you are. Acknowleging that and accepting that fact will help you gain insight into it and thus help you move through it.
Tom
Thanks for the reminder. I used to be fixated on it all the time but now it's only an occasional thought or feeling like impatience or doubt. It's as if there is a subtle sense that "I want it all" (sex, food) but it never is good enough and everything is slipping away. But I've begun to laugh at this coupled with my faith that I will get through it eventually combined with an understanding that many others are in the same boat and it's just a progression of human development.

tom moylan:

I think its also wise to make a differentiation between "insight" and "insight practices". insight means wisdom and can be found in a range from the very mundane to the deeply transcendental, from those small Ah HA! moments to Nirvana. Insight practices are the specific methods which nudge you toward those understandings. Insights tend to come more quickly when you do insight practices.Tom
You're right. I did do this in my head but I can see I was being careless and sloppy in spelling. I could work on my writing.

tom moylan:

try to enjoy your sits and keep us up to date. keep asking questions as there are some very experienced people here.
Tom
I will thanks for the input.

I forgot to include that I'm a college student so my worries about the dark night have been more about how it affects school work and learning and less about how unpleasant it can feel day to day. Also the social thing mentioned in my initial post. I'm leaning towards jhana so I don't have to deal with unexpected side affects of insight practices that may or may not make it harder to study.

RE: Concentration or Insight?
Answer
1/8/14 5:47 PM as a reply to finding-oneself.
Alex Evasic:
I understand the importance of a clear goal and so my immediate goal is stream entry.
Which will get me to SE faster at my current level of development, really focusing on vipassana or concentration?

I have two main options in my head.

1 - Practice concentration (to high enough level for foundation for insight practices), then practice insight to go for SE with concentration when needed.

2 - Practice insight to get concentration faster (to high enough level for pleasant refuge), then practice concentration after (to high enough level for foundation for insight practices), then practice insight to go for SE with concentration when needed.
.

What if you have enough concentration right now to get thru all the insite stages and get SE? Should you work on getting more concentrated without knowing if you need more?
I'd just note your butt off and see what happens....that's me though...your mileage may vary....
Good luck,
~D

RE: Concentration or Insight?
Answer
1/8/14 6:53 PM as a reply to Dream Walker.
Dream Walker:

What if you have enough concentration right now to get thru all the insite stages and get SE? Should you work on getting more concentrated without knowing if you need more?
I don't know haha.

But yeah my mileage may vary. I've been thinking that I've been over thinking this. Dharma theory and practice is the only thing I'm really passionate about right now. I want to be engaged with it in at least some way but I've been reading too much here on the forums and elsewhere. So I should get some more experience and see what happens. Whether I practice vipassana or samatha, from the initial desire I mentioned point of view to have SOME sort of discipline doesn't matter. I really like the idea of just keeping at noting to see what happens even if I risk doing it wrong but I also like the concentration practice in that I feel like I actually know what I'm doing because it's way easier. I have so many questions but I think it's just a result of too much reading and not enough practice. I guess I will have to practice and see, thanks for the suggestion.

RE: Concentration or Insight?
Answer
1/9/14 10:11 PM as a reply to finding-oneself.
Alex Evasic:
So I should get some more experience and see what happens. Whether I practice vipassana or samatha, from the initial desire I mentioned point of view to have SOME sort of discipline doesn't matter.
I guess I will have to practice and see, thanks for the suggestion.

I would go on a retreat if you are able, it will launch you into the next level if you have never retreated before. Find a teacher locally and start a daily practice.
Good luck,
~D

RE: Concentration or Insight?
Answer
1/11/14 11:10 PM as a reply to Dream Walker.
Dream Walker:
Alex Evasic:
So I should get some more experience and see what happens. Whether I practice vipassana or samatha, from the initial desire I mentioned point of view to have SOME sort of discipline doesn't matter.
I guess I will have to practice and see, thanks for the suggestion.

I would go on a retreat if you are able, it will launch you into the next level if you have never retreated before. Find a teacher locally and start a daily practice.
Good luck,
~D


+1

www.dhamma.org

RE: Concentration or Insight?
Answer
1/12/14 12:32 PM as a reply to Daemon Shockley.
Daemon Shockley:

4) Challenging/Penetrating the 'illusion'. You know how when you read a work of fiction, your mind 'lives in' the world of the book, and you aren't really aware of seeing and processing the words on the page? You do the same thing when you walk around and go through your day. You build a mental model from your sensations and primarily live in that, with the actual sensations being treated like the words on the page. Example: Go put your hand against a solid object. Pretend that the solid object is actually non-solid, except for exactly where your hand is. Does the experience seem different?


I likened it to getting absorbed into the world of a movie. But, I prefer your book metaphor; it shows how we can become unaware of even an active process like reading and turning pages. Thanks, I like to discover new intuitive ways to explain the dharma.

Conclusion
Answer
1/12/14 6:24 PM as a reply to finding-oneself.
've made up my mind. I chose this section because motivation is the bedrock of my practice right now. Anything that increases my motivation to practice is a serious ally. I've been reading books on the first training or that don't have to do with hardcore practice to satiate my desire to read without reading anymore advanced theory. I realized that my practice has been stale and boring till recently when I got more motivation. I think the first peak experiences I may get from jhanna might offer me a taste of what's possible that could feed my motivation and help move me along. I can't do a retreat right now but definitely want to this summer, either Goenka's free one or for charge so I can pick the days. I feel like it's a sure fire way to shake things up.

I'm glad I finally posted here. This community is a valuable part of the game. A lot of these responses were very encouraging.

RE: Conclusion
Answer
1/14/14 1:55 PM as a reply to finding-oneself.
Alex Evasic:
've made up my mind.
... I realized that my practice has been stale and boring till recently when I got more motivation. I think the first peak experiences I may get from jhanna might offer me a taste of what's possible that could feed my motivation and help move me along.

Rock on...it's all about doing it...however and whatever that takes. Follow your intuition and what seems to be working at the time. If one tool stops working for you try another until you get to where your trying to get. Yogi toolbox
The types of meditations overlap so your mind will tend to progress regardless... as long as you practice.
Good luck,
~D

Confused
Answer
4/22/14 12:01 AM as a reply to finding-oneself.
Hmm... I just reread my last post. It's been 3 months since then. Reflecting back I've mostly done noting practice. I felt like I needed some catching up to do since I stumbled into the A&P with little meditation practice. I've seen qualities grow in myself and have watched actual progress unfold before my eyes. This has helped with motivation. I'm trying to take a long term perspective since I shifted from the attitude "SE is possible, sure, but only for me at some point in the future" to something more like "liberation is possible this moment". But even that last sentence is an approximation that I would question.

I'm planning on going on an Goenka retreat first of all. I'm grateful to have access to one only 20 minutes away in a beautiful location so it seems natural that this is my next move. I tried to go on one last year but I may have been in way over my head and backed out at the last minute. I've got more into theory since then and have a clear goal now. My practice since then has been of a higher quality and it seems the time is ripe for retreat. I'm sitting an hour a day as much as I can to prepare for this physically demanding retreat (so I hear) and shorter times as well. I've read around and the best advice I've found is to do the vipassana instructions as instructed. Other than that I may let myself add noting to the practice during the body scanning. After that I may try for and IMS retreat to practice a more mahasi type technique.

Something really heart warming and motivational to me has been the fact that I've consciously breached EQ territory. I may slip back into DN (I am right now possibly) but just the fact that I know I can do it helps tremendously.

That being said stream entry is a mystery to me. It is my goal but I find my relationship to it amusing in its different forms. Right now I'm confused about it, I've been thinking broadly about my entire life, past and future. It's funny that this is my purpose now to "attain" some mysterious thing called "stream entry". Never saw that coming.

I really don't know what to do now. I sat for three days consistently and then my streak ended even though I resolved to do it each day till retreat. I think I need to be careful not to get burnt out. I've sat several hours since then and multiple times for my nice little 24 minute sits several times on some days. I new something had to change when I was honest with myself and realized I was living each day to "get to equanimity" and I no longer could. Since that point then I've been going easier on myself and doing more concentration exercises.

The meat and potatoes of practice right now involves a choiceless awareness noting and letting my curiosity about sensations lead me into fresh experiences with them like a child's mind. I also really like the practice where you pay careful attention to the beginning and end of breaths. Besides that I will do concentration on a black kasina or the pleasure in my body. I think I should try some more techniques described in the 3Cs chapter like the two fingers impermanence practice.

Also I've been consuming other sources of dharma beyond this website and MCTB. Buddhist Geeks podcast has been tremendously helpful for me. I recognize that besides developing on this fundamental level that I'm developing psychologically and probably on other useful models that I haven't recognized. I know I've heard at least 2 stories about young Buddhists who (paraphrasing) "know how to meditate but need to know their zip codes". I'm dealing with certain life circumstances that are the opposite of supportive to my practice and difficulties in the first training in general. I've had thoughts about getting a teacher, possibly online. I'm realizing now how important it will be for me to connect with other "pragmatic dharma practitioners" at some point as the past three years have been in mostly isolation and I really think it would be helpful for me to talk about this with another actual human to ground the thing some more. The dharma friend idea is really appealing to me.

Hmm... I really don't know what else to include in this post. I want help but don't know what may be useful. At least I've got the retreat and can turn of my "thinking about things mind", just do the practice as instructed and see what happens and only have to deal with being a "contemplative scientist" for a 10 day period. Well I'd appreciate any input at all about anything that I posted or more.