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Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method

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Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
2/27/14 9:33 PM
Hi, everyone. I'm new here and I used the search function before I posted this but it was inconclusive. I found a lot of material that touched on my question but none that fully answered. Also, there was a ton of stuff to sift through and I didn't dig all the way to the bottom. So please forgive me if this has been answered somewhere I didn't look.

I'm a long-time lazy practitioner finally starting to shed some laziness. I started out in Shambhala back in the dim dark days of 1999 and have progressed through Zen to vipassana, which is the first thing that's really struck a chord. I alternated between Zen (because there's a sangha in my town) and vipassana for many years before really settling into my insight practice. There's no center or teachers where I am so I've done it mostly on my own. I've been primarily following the teachings of Bhante G. but over the past several months have discovered Vince Horn, Kenneth Folk, and Daniel Ingram. They have inspired me to begin reading MCTB and trying out the Mahasi method of vipassana. It's markedly different from what Bhante G. teaches and I'm wondering about the noting aspect.

Specifically, when I sit down to meditate, do I begin noting immediately or do I focus on breathing for awhile until I achieve a little peace and concentration? I'm used to Bhante's instructions to focus solely on the breath until everything settles and then pretty much use choiceless awareness to examine whatever comes up physically or mentally. The first time I tried noting it felt extremely powerful but not at all peaceful. I started noting right away and it went something like this: rising, falling, rising, hearing, rising, remembering, swallowing, swaying, fantasizing, rising, falling, itching, hurting, tingling, hearing, swallowing, itching, hearing, fantasizing, remembering, remembering, hearing.

Is that how it is right up to stream entry and beyond? Or am I doing it wrong? It could be just because this is different from my usual practice but it seems like focusing more on breathing and less on noting at first would be beneficial. Then, once I've achieved a little concentration, expand the noting.

This new practice has jarred me out of my indolence and rekindled my desire to awaken. Like many others I've set stream entry as my goal but I'm also curious about that. Will I know when I achieve it? Will I even recognize how to get into a jhana if noting practice pushes me that way?

It's all very confusing to feel like a beginner again. More, to have a specific map in front of me to measure my progress and then wonder if I'll even recognize the landmarks once I get there. Or if I'm going in the right direction.

Thanks in advance for your kind help. Any and all advice will be greatly appreciated.

-Purple

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
2/27/14 10:03 PM as a reply to Brent Purple Oliver.
Gil Fronsdal - Mental Noting

You should be noting anywhere during the day when you're not talking to people or doing high computation with your short-term memory. Remember that noting is more like bare awareness and the verbal note is just a feedback loop to remind you to keep doing it. The ego wants to constantly strategize the practice and that strategizing can be another clinging. By interrupting mental stories by reminding yourself to notice reality you are deconditioning (albeit slowly) mental habits. You can then put in new mental habits (brahmaviharas) which will develop a mental peace that's more a baseline habit.

All "doubt", "strategizing", "analyzing" etc can be noted. You are trying to lose the habit of clinging. Perception of object Eg. "It sucks!" Clinging: "It sucks because, because, because..." Interrupt the because and rest the mind. Let the pain of the "because" be apparent to you so you want to let it go. Take refuge and seclusion from the clinging by going to the present moment.

As clinging fades then perception/evaluation fades and then consciousness fades (stream-entry). You have to wean yourself a while before the brain completely lets go of objects. You either have to wean the habits so it's easier to get there or you have such resilient (though supple not tough) consistency and of mindfulness that includes all experiences as sensations (including how mental movements feel like) that it pushes you over the top.

Non-duality and the fading of perception

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
2/27/14 11:00 PM as a reply to Brent Purple Oliver.
Brent Purple Oliver:
Specifically, when I sit down to meditate, do I begin noting immediately or do I focus on breathing for awhile until I achieve a little peace and concentration?

I always start with a little concentration to settle down...try it both ways for a week and see what helps the most
Brent Purple Oliver:
I started noting right away and it went something like this: rising, falling, rising, hearing, rising, remembering, swallowing, swaying, fantasizing, rising, falling, itching, hurting, tingling, hearing, swallowing, itching, hearing, fantasizing, remembering, remembering, hearing.
Too many words, it will slow you down in the noting try just using
Thinking
Feeling
Hearing
Seeing
Smelling
Taste (not often really)

Really the first 4 will be used the most and with a little practice your speed can increase and you will not spend time thinking about what word to use. When you get faster than words can keep up just use the dat dat dat or something similar.
Brent Purple Oliver:
Is that how it is right up to stream entry and beyond?

Right up to high equanimity then it gets gentle and quiet and it takes over on it's own.
Brent Purple Oliver:
Like many others I've set stream entry as my goal but I'm also curious about that. Will I know when I achieve it?

Yep...finish reading MCTB and you will have all the information you need to recognize it.
Brent Purple Oliver:
Will I even recognize how to get into a jhana if noting practice pushes me that way?

Probably, you will cycle thru the stages enough that you will start to recognize each stage of the Vipassana Jhanas.

Good Luck,
~D

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
2/28/14 12:44 AM as a reply to Brent Purple Oliver.
if you are going to try mahasi, go to the source

read practical insight meditation and follow the instructions

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
2/28/14 1:41 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
if you are going to try mahasi, go to the source

read practical insight meditation and follow the instructions

Wow, I have not read that for years...just finished. Amazing the amount of stuff in there and how different than I remember it.

Here is the link - Practical Insight Meditation, by Mahasi Sayadaw

or if you look at the top of this page and push the wiki button you will find it.
Thanks Daniel,
~D

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
2/28/14 11:27 AM as a reply to Dream Walker.
Thanks for the help, everyone. I'll keep at it.

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
2/28/14 11:27 PM as a reply to Brent Purple Oliver.
OK, so I have a related question. As Daniel suggested I've ordered Mahasi's book "Practical Insight Meditation." I also found one of the chapters on the basic practice as a PDF online, which I read. It definitely helps clear some things up but it left me confused on one aspect of the practice.

At the beginning of "Basic Exercise I" he says about paying attention to the abdomen "...make a mental note of rising for the upward movement, falling for the downward movement. Your mental note of each movement must be made while it occurs."

Right. So note "rising" on the inbreath and "falling" on the outbreath. Yes?

But then two paragraphs later, in the conclusion of "Basic Exercise I" he says "Continue with this exercise in full awareness of the abdomen's rising and falling movements. never verbally repeat the words, rising, falling, and do not think of rising and falling as words. Be aware only of the actual process of the rising and falling movements of the abdomen."

Sooooooo....do I mentally note "rising" and "falling" as I do with "hearing," "feeling," and "thinking," or do I simply observe without the note?

Sorry again for the newbieness. Thanks for the help.

Purple

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
3/1/14 12:11 AM as a reply to Brent Purple Oliver.
You use bare awareness. The note itself is a feedback loop that reminds you to re-engage when you get lost in thoughts. It also teaches the brain to identify phenomenon as "not-self" so you don't identify and cling to that phenomenon you notice and get mentally stressed about unwanted changes related to those objects.

At the beginning you will need to verbally note a lot more because the mind is not used to being present so consistently. As you get better you'll want to get more detail and too much conceptual noting will obscure the nature of experience. Concentration will be developed and insight at the same time. Eventually when you really get good at it you can notice more deep subtle thinking and realize that it's just more of the 3 characteristics and let go of clinging to those thoughts.

As you notice the 3 characteristics (especially dukkha) the brain will become disenchanted with daydreaming about likes and dislikes, and you'll want to rest that thinking habit that feels like a controller. Thinking can't control anything. Thinking is just thinking.

To understand more I would read the Bahiya Sutta. What feels like a self is the thinking part of the brain treating yourself as an object to like or dislike similar to objects outside of you and release happy or unhappy chemicals. Then because we have been doing this since childhood it has become an entrenched habit we have to decondition. As you interrupt the clinging with consistent noting that particular habit of ruminating over yourself weakens and becomes less of a problem in your life.

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
3/1/14 6:55 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
I believe this link provides instant access to Mahasi's books and teachings

http://www.aimwell.org/mahasi.html

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
3/1/14 9:11 AM as a reply to Brent Purple Oliver.
Im not in any way related to bps.lk but I would really really suggest ordering from them. Books are dirt cheap and there's something special about gettin package like it was sent from 19 century emoticon

http://www.bps.lk/bookshop-search.php?c=00&t=0&p=1&l=1&s=1&i=&a=Sayadaw&k=&d=&styp=l

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
3/3/14 10:39 AM as a reply to Ivo B.
There was a lot of helpful stuff in your reply, Mr. Zen. I'm grateful but I fear I may not have quite understood. When you said I should use "bare attention" in watching my breathing does that mean silently watching it or mentally noting 'rising, falling'?

Sorry for the confusion. I really appreciate you helping me out, though. Thank you.

P.

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
3/3/14 1:50 PM as a reply to Brent Purple Oliver.
Brent Purple Oliver:
When you said I should use "bare attention" in watching my breathing does that mean silently watching it or mentally noting 'rising, falling'?

It really depends on where you are in your practice. If you can silently watch the sensations that make up the breath then do so. If you find that you get off the breath super easy and are not noticing the sensations that make up the breath then I would note rising and falling until you get to the point that you can do it silently. I had a hard time silently noting the breath until I did a retreat and we worked on it exclusively for 4 days. I went from noting verbally (silently) "in, out" to finally silently noticing the sensations of the breath at the tip of my nose. In breath is cool and out breath is warm for instance. Every breath noticed separately and unique in the now.
Of course your thread subject is on the Mahasi method so the advice you get will have to be compared to Mahasi's books if that is what your goal is.
Happy reading.
~D

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
3/4/14 12:03 AM as a reply to Brent Purple Oliver.
Bare attention is silently watching. You want to integrate thoughts as a part of your experience so that over time your thinking habits will change so that thinking is just thinking. In the beginning the thinking apparatus feels like it's trying to control meditation. Seeing your thoughts about meditation and your analysis of meditation and noticing any clinging stress associated with it shows that you should let go of those thinking habits as well.

Most people replace normal self-referencing in general with meditation + self-referencing and evaluating yourself based on the meditation quality. Eventually they let go of that in the end because the stress keeps pointing it out to you and the brain just likes quiescence instead.

The brain is conditioned since childhood to make yourself into an object and then to evaluate whether you like or dislike yourself. This habit needs to go into atrophy. It's pervasive. If you're a perfectionist you'll probably have more negative self-referencing habits and all that extra cortisol does you no good when chasing after long-term goals.

I would also experiment with emptying ALL the thoughts you can throughout the day and get on with life tasks. What will happen is that the necessary thinking will appear because you need it to get on with life and the habitual self-referencing will (out of years of habituation) interrupt you. You can keep emptying your mind and going to bare attention but let the good thinking continue. You can add positive thinking like in the brahmaviharas. You can do concentration practices with your breath. I personally like just imagining the benefits of pursuing some goal and why you're doing it. This can create healthy motivation. New habits you create can replace the old ones.

There's lots you can do but it's important to see all the different kinds of thinking (analysis/evaluation/judgement/strategizing) and paying attention to how they feel inside you. When your mind wanders is there aversion to it wandering? Isn't it true that if you notice it wandering the mind is already back? Why add the extra aversion?

When you feel sorry for yourself you are making yourself into an "object" to like or dislike. When you puff your ego out with intense pride it's a different version of the same thing. When you get angry at yourself, more of the same. Watch the talking in your mind. Even subtle talking has a feeling tone in the head. Notice how all this stuff is happening conditioned on each other so that there's very little gap between consciousness -> vedana -> perception/evaluation -> craving/aversion -> clinging -> Habitual action. Notice how those mental outbursts feel like a self but the knowing part of your mind (knowing is the same as consciousness or awareness) can see impassively all these thoughts. If they are seen then how can they be a permanent self floating in your mind?

The ambient noise around you can be an anchor along with the other senses to create some quiescence in the mind. Taste it. Drink it up. Get refreshed by it. Try and take a shower and do it with as much mental quiet as possible. Over months and years the mind finds it easier to stay there. It's a hard practice because it takes so long to wean yourself off old habits that have been conditioned in you for such a long time. Notice how perceptions can be implanted in you from other people, commercials, beliefs etc. Look at how you can take them on and condition yourself with it and not even notice you're doing that because it's such an automatic behaviour.

Here's good practice advice from Kenneth Folk on Shikantaza:

Practice becoming aware of the body sensations that correspond to a thought. Whenever a thought arises, feel the body. How do you know whether you like the thought or not? It's because the body sensations feel either pleasant or unpleasant. Notice that if you dissociate from this moment, i.e., step into the fantasy and leave the body, you will suffer. Suffering is not ordinary pain; ordinary pain is just unpleasant sensation. Suffering is cause by the dissociation, the stepping out of this moment, out of the body. Stay in the body and ride the waves of body sensation. Watch how the body reacts to the thougts and vice versa. See how the looping between body and mind IS the dissociation. Short-circuit this by returning to the body. Stay with the body as continuously as you can. You are stretching the amount of time you can stay in the body without being blown out of it by an event or a thought. To be in the body is to be free. To be in the body all the time is to be free all the time.
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"While you are practicing just sitting, be clear about everything going on in your mind. Whatever you feel, be aware of it, but never abandon the awareness of your whole body sitting there. Shikantaza is not sitting with nothing to do; it is a very demanding practice, requiring diligence as well as alertness. If your practice goes well, you will experience the 'dropping off' of sensations and thoughts. You need to stay with it and begin to take the whole environment as your body. Whatever enters the door of your senses becomes one totality, extending from your body to the whole environment. This is silent illumination."

-Master Shengyen
_________________________________________________________________________
Kenneth: See how the looping between body and mind IS the dissociation.

Mumuwu: Do you mean the moving out of the body to the mind and back?

I mean the creation of a third "thing," this pseudo-entity that is a composite of body sensations and mental phenomena. Living in this third thing is suffering because it takes you out of what is really happening in this moment; it becomes a proxy for experience. You can train yourself to stop living this proxy life of suffering by coming back to the body sensations in this moment. The body cannot lie. Being in the body is being present in this moment. Being present in this moment does not allow the pseudo-self to form. When the pseudo-self does not form, life is simple and free. It will be pleasant at times and unpleasant at times, but it is always free.

There is no conflict between noting and living in your body, by the way, whether you note silently or aloud. You can note or not note, think, act, talk, love, live; there is very little you can't do; you just can't suffer. If you choose to note, understand that there is nothing magical about the noting itself. The noting is simply a feedback loop to remind you to feel your body and observe your mind in this moment.
_________________________________________________________________________


You can see what I mean about bare attention and the self-referencing looping habit that can take you as an object to perceive and evaluate and react to.

RE: Slight Confusion On Mahasi Method
Answer
3/4/14 8:26 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
That really helped. Thank you.