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Category for Beginners?

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Category for Beginners?
Answer
9/24/14 8:56 PM
I'm a total beginner to this stuff and I tend to have questions that feel naïve or clueless. I know none of you would judge me for my questions, but I would feel more confident posting them in a thread specifically for beginners. More experienced meditators could visit it and probably have fun encouraging beginners and clearing up their misconceptions.

Questions like:
How exactly does one attain to access concentration?
Should I try to focus the mind on the breath first, or jump straight in to Mahasi-style noting? Pros/cons?
If I've read MCTB and feel like I know what he's getting at, should I dive in on that information alone or will I be surprised by what happens?
If my eventual goal is Actual Freedom, is there any benefit in doing vipassana first?
Am I biting off more than I can chew?

RE: Category for Beginners?
Answer
9/24/14 9:16 PM as a reply to Paul Kinkade.
We were all beginners once. I recommend you read Basic Exercise I on this page: http://www.buddhanet.net/m_part1.htm

RE: Category for Beginners?
Answer
9/25/14 3:28 AM as a reply to Paul Kinkade.
Paul Kinkade:
I'm a total beginner to this stuff and I tend to have questions that feel naïve or clueless. I know none of you would judge me for my questions, but I would feel more confident posting them in a thread specifically for beginners. More experienced meditators could visit it and probably have fun encouraging beginners and clearing up their misconceptions.

Questions like:
How exactly does one attain to access concentration?
Should I try to focus the mind on the breath first, or jump straight in to Mahasi-style noting? Pros/cons?
If I've read MCTB and feel like I know what he's getting at, should I dive in on that information alone or will I be surprised by what happens?
If my eventual goal is Actual Freedom, is there any benefit in doing vipassana first?
Am I biting off more than I can chew?


Greeting Paul. Looks like we're in the same boat. My interest in spirituality began sometime in 2009. I was inspired by Shinzen Young talks "Science of enlighenment". I didn't have a proper practice since then, life happened, wife + kids. I've read _a lot_ on the subject though. I mostly value personal experience and slowly my doubt is going away. I come from hard core materialist background. Natural sciences.

Anyway, I started what I hope to be serious practice. I have a strong intuition I need to develop basic concentration first. That's why my practice is basically watching the breath. I can post some instructions from various sources. Choose one and stick to it:
from: http://www.leighb.com/accesscon.htm
Instructions for Generating Access Concentration

Access Concentration is a state where you are fully with the meditation object (breath) and if there are thoughts, they are wispy and in the background and do not pull you away from the breath - you know every in breath and every out breath.

  1. Sit in a comfortable upright posture (or kneel on a bench). You can sit in a chair or on the floor. You need to find a position you can maintain for the length of the sitting without having to make any gross movements.
  2. Place you attention on the physical sensation of the breath at the nostrils. This might be a bit inside the nose, moderately inside the nose, or at the tip. It doesn't really matter so much where as it does to find a place and stick with it.
  3. Just simply notice the in breaths and out breaths.
  4. You can try counting to help you not be so distracted. Count the gap between the out breath and then next in breath. Count up to 8 and start again at 1. If you get distracted, start again at 1.
  5. After approximately 1/2 hour (don't look at a clock - just guess), stop the counting and just pay attention to the breathing.
  6. When you notice that you have become distracted, label the distraction with a one word label such as planning, worrying, angry, wanting, past, future, etc. The first label that comes to mind is always correct - spend zero energy trying to get the "perfect" label.
  7. After the label, RELAX and bring you attention back to the breath (and resume counting if that's what you were doing when you got distracted). The RELAX is very important!


Second I like:

A Dhammatalk by Ajahn Chah

On Meditation1

To calm the mind means to find the right balance. If you try to force your mind too much it goes too far; if you don't try enough it doesn't get there, it misses the point of balance.

Normally the mind isn't still, it's moving all the time. We must strengthen the mind. Making the mind strong and making the body strong are not the same. To make the body strong we have to exercise it, to push it, in order to make it strong, but to make the mind strong means to make it peaceful, not to go thinking of this and that. For most of us the mind has never been peaceful, it has never had the energy of samādhi2, so we must establish it within a boundary. We sit in meditation, staying with the 'one who knows'.

If we force our breath to be too long or too short, we're not balanced, the mind won't become peaceful. It's like when we first start to use a pedal sewing machine. At first we just practise pedalling the machine to get our coordination right, before we actually sew anything. Following the breath is similar. We don't get concerned over how long or short, weak or strong it is, we just note it. We simply let it be, following the natural breathing.

When it's balanced, we take the breathing as our meditation object. When we breathe in, the beginning of the breath is at the nose-tip, the middle of the breath at the chest and the end of the breath at the abdomen. This is the path of the breath. When we breathe out, the beginning of the breath is at the abdomen, the middle at the chest and the end at the nose-tip. Simply take note of this path of the breath at the nosetip, the chest and the abdomen, then at the abdomen, the chest and the tip of the nose. We take note of these three points in order to make the mind firm, to limit mental activity so that mindfulness and self-awareness can easily arise.

When our attention settles on these three points, we can let them go and note the in and out breathing, concentrating solely at the nose-tip or the upper lip, where the air passes on its in and out passage. We don't have to follow the breath, just to establish mindfulness in front of us at the nose-tip, and note the breath at this one point - entering, leaving, entering, leaving.

There's no need to think of anything special, just concentrate on this simple task for now, having continuous presence of mind. There's nothing more to do, just breathing in and out.



Slighlty more sophisticated method from Ajahn Lee's keeping the breath in mind Method 2:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/lee/inmind.html#method2
There are seven basic steps: 1. Start out with three or seven long in-and-out breaths, thinking bud- with the in-breath, and dhowith the out. Keep the meditation syllable as long as the breath.

2.
 Be clearly aware of each in-and-out breath.

3.
 Observe the breath as it goes in and out, noticing whether it's comfortable or uncomfortable, broad or narrow, obstructed or free-flowing, fast or slow, short or long, warm or cool. If the breath doesn't feel comfortable, adjust it until it does. For instance, if breathing in long and out long is uncomfortable, try breathing in short and out short.
As soon as you find that your breathing feels comfortable, let this comfortable breath sensation spread to the different parts of the body. To begin with, inhale the breath sensation at the base of the skull and let it flow all the way down the spine. Then, if you are male, let it spread down your right leg to the sole of your foot, to the ends of your toes, and out into the air. Inhale the breath sensation at the base of the skull again and let it spread down your spine, down your left leg to the ends of your toes, and out into the air. (If you are female, begin with the left side first, because the male and female nervous systems are different.)Then let the breath from the base of the skull spread down over both shoulders, past your elbows and wrists, to the tips of your fingers, and out into the air.Let the breath at the base of the throat spread down the central nerve at the front of the body, past the lungs and liver, all the way down to the bladder and colon.Inhale the breath right at the middle of the chest and let it go all the way down to your intestines.Let all these breath sensations spread so that they connect and flow together, and you'll feel a greatly improved sense of well-being.

4.
 Learn four ways of adjusting the breath:
 a. in long and out long,
b. in long and out short,
c. in short and out long,
d. in short and out short.
Breathe whichever way is most comfortable for you. Or, better yet, learn to breathe comfortably all four ways, because your physical condition and your breath are always changing.

5.
 Become acquainted with the bases or focal points for the mind — the resting spots of the breath — and center your awareness on whichever one seems most comfortable. A few of these bases are:
 a. the tip of the nose,
b. the middle of the head,
c. the palate,
d. the base of the throat,
e. the breastbone (the tip of the sternum),
f. the navel (or a point just above it).
If you suffer from frequent headaches or nervous problems, don't focus on any spot above the base of the throat. And don't try to force the breath or put yourself into a trance. Breathe freely and naturally. Let the mind be at ease with the breath — but not to the point where it slips away.

6.
 Spread your awareness — your sense of conscious feeling — throughout the entire body.

7.
 Unite the breath sensations throughout the body, letting them flow together comfortably, keeping your awareness as broad as possible. Once you're fully aware of the aspects of the breath you already know in your body, you'll come to know all sorts of other aspects as well. The breath, by its nature, has many facets: breath sensations flowing in the nerves, those flowing around and about the nerves, those spreading from the nerves to every pore. Beneficial breath sensations and harmful ones are mixed together by their very nature.
Tips for sustaining concentration:
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=43&t=20410

I personally like the tip Ajahn Chah gives. When you notice you're mind is wondereding off for some time now, take one or two really deep and long breaths to the limits. Bread in to the limit, bread out everything. And go back to your basic meditation. Helps me.


If you're a "theory first, practice later" kind of person you'll probably want to read some of the books on the subject. This is my biggest obstacle. So the books:
  • Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana
  • Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator's Handbook Ajahn Brahm, Jack Kornfield
  • The Experience of Samadhi: An In-depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation Richard Shankman
  • Practicing the Jhanas: Traditional Concentration Meditation as Presented, Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw Stephen Snyder, et al
  • Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English: An Introductory guide to Deeper States of Meditation Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
  • Interpretatuions of Jhana http://www.leighb.com/jhanantp.htm
  • Check out the sticky thread in "Concentration" section by Ian And, Lots of info there

RE: Category for Beginners?
Answer
8/13/19 6:20 AM as a reply to Derek.
In the Carolyn Hax advice column, I read the following Q&A today. It reminded me of meeting Daniel at a retreat last year. May I forever hold my peace.

No video. Definitely a good thing. :-D