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Four "noob" questions

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Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/15/14 10:44 PM
Hi folks,

I'm tearing through the MCTB book (not easy as a noob this is deep, technical stuff) and I'm getting into the weeds with part III "Mastery" now. I have a few questions.

I hope this is the right place to post this, I couldn't find any section named "Questions so basic you may not even know how to classify them"... so I went with this one. emoticon

1) Firstly I'd like to clarify my understanding of Zen.
Just prior to finding MCTB I had just finished "The three pillars of Zen" - a book I picked up more as a cool read than an instruction manual. However, I was rather amazed to discover that the type of sitting I have been doing would very much qualify as zazen.
This strikes me as a concentration practice vs. an insight practice, but Daniel often implies in the book that zen does indeed lead to insight. I suppose I could see how the use of a koan could force someone to solidify something so ridiculous it actually destroys the illusion, but beyond the koan could zazen be classified as an insight practice, or is my understanding above correct?

2) Secondly I'd like to ask for a watered down piece of advice.
Since concentration practices are invaluable at least in the beginning, but insight practices do develop concentration to some degree... where should I spend my time as a relative noob while I take the required time to really dig into MCTB? 
(for me noob = serious practice has been happening for less than a year.)

3) When to say when?
I live in the Indianapolis area and despite lots of google querying I just don't see too many good Insight teachers near me. Since I'm not likely to have that type of resource - how would I know that I've probably done enough concentration and could/should move on to insight? Do I wait for some sort of "event" or simply make the jump when I can stay reasonably focused for most of a 20 minute sit? - fyi I'm pretty much there.
(I suppose question 3 there assumes your answer to #2 is that I should spend some time doing concentration practices.)

4) Noting - Quantity or Quality?
Noting is really interesting to me. I had tried it before to great benefit prior to finding MCTB but the description of it in the book really helped. I don't know that I'm doing it very well though - and given the lack of teacher - thought I'd ask you all for some feedback. I can't dissect incoming stimuli very well at the moment without getting lost in thinking about them. Thus one little itch could take my mind down quite the rabbit hole if I were to try and investigate the three characteristics. It may take me the full 20 minutes for that one little itch. Alternatively if I just note the existence I can get more stimuli noted. So a note may be reduced to "chin", "pain", "thinking", etc.
Which is better - sticking with one stimuli, or going for speed using fairly lo-fidelity noting?


Thanks folks, I appreciate the guidance!
Doug

RE: Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/16/14 5:09 AM as a reply to Doug M.
Now, this is just my opinion, but I think there is a thread in modern "spiritual" or religious discussion to make all religions and philosophies point to the same thing. I really don't think this is the case, though. Even in one specific tradition you have people disagreeing with eachother about fundimental things. While Zen could be said to be influenced by Buddhism, it's just as influenced by taoism and Japanese culture as a whole. I see it as a different beast entierly. Theravada is very goal based, with attainments and classification of mental states, etc. The goal of Zen is to become goal-less, aim-less, etc. You're going to be frustrated if you try to do both at once. If you're interested in attainment, it's impossible to do shikantaza because you're going to be waiting for something to happen.

So, while Zen practice might lead to insight in the theravada sense, it will be a different kind of insight, delivered in a different way, and progress is likely to be different. Maybe you'll end up at the same place with both practices, but most people don't complete these paths in their lifetime. So, if zen is on one side of the mountain, and theravada is on another side, both people will have the same view at the top, but their climbs will be very different. The best thing to do is find the route that seems the easiest for you, even if it's somewhere in the middle. That way, if you don't ever make it to the top, you can still say you enjoyed the climb itself.

For your number 2, it's usually suggested to start with concentration practice. You can do both in a sit, though - concentration for 20 minutes, then noting for 20 minutes. You could do this all the way through your practice and benefit from it. Some teachers don't make a distiction between the two at all, as well, so there isn't a clear line between them. It's not something to worry about, IMHO, meditation has a way of self-guiding in an instictual way. The different methods are just there to keep you honest.

For your number 4, Noting practice is meant to keep tabs on where your attention goes naturally, it shouldn't involve effort to investigate. If the only thing you notice for 20 minutes is a single itch, then just note that. It's more likely that you'll notice an itch, then a desire to scratch, then a thought about itches, then a thought about work, then a smell from dinner, then the itch again, then a sound from downstairs, ect. and so on.

RE: Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/16/14 11:21 AM as a reply to Doug M.
Doug M:
Hi folks,

I'm tearing through the MCTB book (not easy as a noob this is deep, technical stuff) and I'm getting into the weeds with part III "Mastery" now. I have a few questions.

I hope this is the right place to post this, I couldn't find any section named "Questions so basic you may not even know how to classify them"... so I went with this one. emoticon

1) Firstly I'd like to clarify my understanding of Zen.
Just prior to finding MCTB I had just finished "The three pillars of Zen" - a book I picked up more as a cool read than an instruction manual. However, I was rather amazed to discover that the type of sitting I have been doing would very much qualify as zazen.
This strikes me as a concentration practice vs. an insight practice, but Daniel often implies in the book that zen does indeed lead to insight. I suppose I could see how the use of a koan could force someone to solidify something so ridiculous it actually destroys the illusion, but beyond the koan could zazen be classified as an insight practice, or is my understanding above correct?

I've been asking the the same questions for years. All to no avail, I've all but given up, which is a shame, because it is an elegant and profound tradition.  In most of the contact I have had with Zen praticioners they usually refuse to discuss, detail, definitions, maps or anything else for that matter. I went to a Zen sitting group where the the presiding monk not only discouraged questions/discussion but implied that the need for this behaviour was evidence of moral weekness. I shit you not.My advice when dealing with Zen is take it on its own terms or not at all.


2) Secondly I'd like to ask for a watered down piece of advice.
Since concentration practices are invaluable at least in the beginning, but insight practices do develop concentration to some degree... where should I spend my time as a relative noob while I take the required time to really dig into MCTB? 
(for me noob = serious practice has been happening for less than a year.)

If you are using the MCTB do Noting, old school Mahasi style. From what I understand the book is written from this perpecitve so the terminology and tone will make much more sense if you are also in that perspective. Dont worry quite so much about samatha the very early Mahasi practices on working with the breath tick that box well enough. You might want to consider Kenneth Folks' take on Noting which involves actually verbalising your Notes. It sounds wierd, but it works very well. You can find Vids on Youtube I belive, if you want instructions.

3) When to say when?
I live in the Indianapolis area and despite lots of google querying I just don't see too many good Insight teachers near me. Since I'm not likely to have that type of resource - how would I know that I've probably done enough concentration and could/should move on to insight? Do I wait for some sort of "event" or simply make the jump when I can stay reasonably focused for most of a 20 minute sit? - fyi I'm pretty much there.
(I suppose question 3 there assumes your answer to #2 is that I should spend some time doing concentration practices.)

I started with a lot of concentration and found I was getting all kinds insight without doing any formal insight practice. Some people practice for years and report getting very little. The general rule of thumb is that if you can attain to 1st Jhana you are ready for insight. The trouble is that spotting the attainment is often much more difficult than it sounds. This is because the descriptions that we have of the experience are often written by monastics who get to perfect their technique in "laboratory" setting i.e. a nice quiet monestary, with no sick relatives to look after or work stress to manage ect. My personal feeling is the bar is quite a bit lower. In any case, many vippassana systems like Mahasi noting get around this and are a "one stop shop." An even better example would be the Goenka system of 10 day retreats. Personaly I don't like Goenka very much but it was my first proper experince of Theravada buddhism. Even though I hated the retreat I came away with all the tools I needed for my next couple of years of insight practice. You want a "boot camp" thats a good place to start looking.

4) Noting - Quantity or Quality?
Noting is really interesting to me. I had tried it before to great benefit prior to finding MCTB but the description of it in the book really helped. I don't know that I'm doing it very well though - and given the lack of teacher - thought I'd ask you all for some feedback. I can't dissect incoming stimuli very well at the moment without getting lost in thinking about them. Thus one little itch could take my mind down quite the rabbit hole if I were to try and investigate the three characteristics. It may take me the full 20 minutes for that one little itch. Alternatively if I just note the existence I can get more stimuli noted. So a note may be reduced to "chin", "pain", "thinking", etc.
Which is better - sticking with one stimuli, or going for speed using fairly lo-fidelity noting?

Okay, on one level any practice is good practice especially at the begining. So many people who claim to meditate, never even get to the cushion. So you need to congratulate yourself. Seriously. Secondly the whole concentration v insight debate feeds directly into this issue of mind wandering. This ability to "stay with your object" is exactly what is being trained in concentration practice. The more of it you do the more focused will be your insight, simples. But the mind wanders off and does its own thing anyway and this will always be a "problem," its in its nature to behave badly. "Perfect" concentration is rarely possible or even desirable. BTW 20 mins to investigate one itch? Sounds like good concentration to me.Go Doug!

Thanks folks, I appreciate the guidance!
Doug

RE: Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/17/14 8:26 AM as a reply to Howard Maxwell Clegg.
Howard Maxwell Clegg:
[quote=BTW 20 mins to investigate one itch? Sounds like good concentration to me.Go Doug!
]


I should qualify that to say ... it would take me 20 minutes to wrap my head around the three charactersitics of said itch.  emoticon
How/why an itch relates to no-self is still quite a mind trip for me.

Thanks folks - good info above.

Still curious as to people's opinion of zazen as insight vs concentration...
or is it some weird special version of concentration that is also insight. emoticon

RE: Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/17/14 6:19 PM as a reply to Doug M.
Doug M:
Howard Maxwell Clegg:
[quote=BTW 20 mins to investigate one itch? Sounds like good concentration to me.Go Doug!
]


I should qualify that to say ... it would take me 20 minutes to wrap my head around the three charactersitics of said itch.  emoticon
How/why an itch relates to no-self is still quite a mind trip for me.

Short version. Do you have control of the itch? If yes, then the itch is part of you (self); if no, then not part of you (no-self). And trust me, you don't have control. Its pretty easy to see this and its not much of a mystery. But what about your beliefs, moods, attitudes, memories, political perusasion. Do you have control? The same rule applies. Now it gets interesting.

Thanks folks - good info above.

Still curious as to people's opinion of zazen as insight vs concentration...
or is it some weird special version of concentration that is also insight. emoticon

All the Mahihana schools tend to do more of a compound practice including insight, concentration but also cultivation of the bramaviharas. The schools are upfont about this to a greater or lesser extent. Zen is on one extreme of this spectrum of disclosure. Also Zen is a non-dual school, Therevada more dualistic, so they have fudimentally different takes on what it means to practice. Confused? Yay! Join the club.

RE: Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/17/14 7:45 PM as a reply to Howard Maxwell Clegg.
Howard Maxwell Clegg:
[quote=
]Short version. Do you have control of the itch? If yes, then the itch is part of you (self); if no, then not part of you (no-self). And trust me, you don't have control. Its pretty easy to see this and its not much of a mystery. But what about your beliefs, moods, attitudes, memories, political perusasion. Do you have control? The same rule applies. Now it gets interesting.



Well that makes entirely too much sense. emoticon
Thanks Howard that's actaully gonna be a big help.

RE: Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/18/14 12:04 PM as a reply to Doug M.
You're welcome, have fun with it!

RE: Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/18/14 12:35 PM as a reply to Howard Maxwell Clegg.
What do you mean by saying theravada is more dualistic?  I thought non-dualism was referring to anatta and emptiness was just another way of describing anatta.

RE: Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/18/14 1:38 PM as a reply to Not Tao.
Not Tao:
What do you mean by saying theravada is more dualistic?  I thought non-dualism was referring to anatta and emptiness was just another way of describing anatta.

I'm sorry I'm not a scholar, so I've no idea what anatta means, awful I know, but I'm too old to change. emoticon

Okay, examples of what I am calling dualistic practice.

1. "I will keep my attention on that object." Is a common samatha pracitce, v popular with Theravadans, note the emphasis on "I" and "that," subject and object clearly defined = dualistic.

2. "I will notice that category of sensation and formaly label or "note" that sensation using my mental faculties.  This is called "Noting" popular with Theravadans, note the emphasis on "I,"that" and "my." Subject and object clearly defined = dualistic.

3. "I will conentrate on and area of my body and oberserve all sensations I perceive, then I will move my attention and repeat the process." Goenka tequnique, popular with Theravdans who don't like to admit to it in public. Note the emphasis on "I" and "my," subject and object clearly defined = dualistic.

Examples of non-dual pracitce.

1. "All sensations are golden/love/buddha/god-head..." delete as applicable. Popular with some ceremonial magicians, Tibetans (same thing.) No reference point at all. No subject or object = non-dual.

2. "All is god, I am god, god is me." Popular with nutters, various branches of Vedanta, all kinds of new age types. Reference point is pretty much everything at once, therefore no subject or object = non-dual.

3. "Breathe in love, breathe out love." This was a meditation instruction give by a recording of Thich-Nhat-Hanh at last week at my regular sitting group. Popular with Thich-Nhat-hanh. Love is not really an object or subject but what happens when you start to let go of both at the same time. You could argue that the injuction to "breathe" is an object, however I'm going to argue that it is not an object but a process. In any case when the practice warms up, you're just abiding in love anyway and the breathing aspect drops away. Love is not an object or a subject = non-dual

Now you will find examples of the 1st three all over Theravada in various forms, but rarely the 2nd three. You will find examples in various forms of the second three all over Mahayana Buddhism and the first three sometimes, but not so much. So when I say that Theravada favours dualistic practices and Mahayana non-dual, I am saying that that is what they actually do on the cushion, irrespective of what the books say. I'm also only really talking about the tools utilised to attain to certain goals. Not the goals themselves. More than one way up the mountian is the thing. 

RE: Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/18/14 3:12 PM as a reply to Howard Maxwell Clegg.
I think you mischaracterized the theravada practices a bit.  The whole point of noting, as I understand it, is to see that sensations exist in and of themselves.  The point of samatha practice ("I" am focusing on "that") is to make the awareness stable enough so it can abide within non-duality and gather insight (and samatha is a big part of tibetian buddhism as well). Theravada teachers don't advertise jhana as an insight practice. Your #1 non-dual practice sounds more like thervada insight practice to me, actually. All sensations are welcomed.

You could say Actual Freedom practice is dualistic - "I" am self-destructing so "that" (the body) can be freed. Also Christian mysticism - "I" am merging with "that" (god) in a divine marriage.

Anatta is pali for "not-self" as in, "the five aggregates are not-self."

EDIT: Maybe you're referencing the idea of a "ground of being" or a natural state?  Rigpa type practices are common in mahayana and not in theravada.

EDIT2: I hope I'm not hijacking the thread here, haha.  It was just suprising to hear theravada called dualistic.

RE: Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/18/14 5:16 PM as a reply to Not Tao.
Not Tao:
I think you mischaracterized the theravada practices a bit. 

Hmmm no. The characterisations are loose and jokey, but I'm making a point about general principles rather than strict definitions, we can do that if you want. 

The whole point of noting, as I understand it, is to see that sensations exist in and of themselves.

Eventually, but yes.

The point of samatha practice ("I" am focusing on "that") is to make the awareness stable enough so it can abide within non-duality and gather insight (and samatha is a big part of tibetian buddhism as well).

Sure

Theravada teachers don't advertise jhana as an insight practice.

Indeed.

Your #1 non-dual practice sounds more like thervada insight practice to me, actually. All sensations are welcomed.

Truth be told, it could be any practice. To whit: "I am focusing on that (the feeling of air moving on my uppper lip,)" Samatha; "I am focusing on that (changes in my aural field,)" Insight; "I am focusing on that (Chenrezig's rainment,)" Tibetan tantra; "I am  focusing on that (shit happening,)" Soto Zen. Like I said, general pricipals. Principals that you have not addressed thus far. Sigh.


You could say Actual Freedom practice is dualistic - "I" am self-destructing so "that" (the body) can be freed. Also Christian mysticism - "I" am merging with "that" (god) in a divine marriage.

I believe you.

Anatta is pali for "not-self" as in, "the five aggregates are not-self."

Thanks.

EDIT: Maybe you're referencing the idea of a "ground of being" or a natural state?  Rigpa type practices are common in mahayana and not in theravada.

No, not really. But we can go there if you like.

EDIT2: I hope I'm not hijacking the thread here, haha.  It was just suprising to hear theravada called dualistic.

Hijack away, I thought this site was all about the unexpected bun fights. But its Doug's thread, maybe he's getting pissed off with us? 

RE: Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/18/14 5:35 PM as a reply to Howard Maxwell Clegg.
Heck no!
Everytime one of you post - I learn something!

RE: Four "noob" questions
Answer
10/18/14 5:59 PM as a reply to Doug M.
emoticon