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Questions about Mahasi practice

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Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/9/10 8:41 PM
Hello all,

I am new to this forum and recently contacted Daniel after coming across his website a couple of weeks ago. A most wonderful thing to have such a forum to discuss Dharma. Anyhow, briefly about my state: post A&P (happened eight years ago) with a long Dark Night since except I wasn't familiar with these stages then, unfortunately. I have only ever done Goenka's method but have recently come to the realization that I needed more direction as I felt stuck. I have been doing the Mahasi method since reading Daniel's book and find it very powerful and effective, hopefully to take me to the next level. I have the following questions and apologize if these have already been addressed before by others.

1) Does A&P have to happen again if one stays in the Dark Night for years?

2) In regards to the specifics of practice: when I sit to meditate I have intense vibrations around my face and head and especially behind my eyes and in the center of my forehead. These have been going on since my first retreat eight years ago. During the Mahasi technique, do I dwell on these or try to "find" less intense sensations elsewhere?

3) If I always have sensations on my face/head, do I need to note the breathing at all?

4) When I note the sensations, should I be actively thinking of the 3 characteristics in a conceptual way or try not to think at all?

5) I am trying to understand how this practice differs from what I know from Goenka's method where one is constantly scanning. In his method time is spent scanning till there are sensations all over. It seems to me that Mahasi practice is more about focusing on a small area and penetrating but once I have subtle sensations/vibrations in a certain spot, what do I do from there-on? Do I just observe them and "wait"?

6) I have also tried to do the same with my thoughts to see how I can break them down to their smallest denominator but this seems to involve conceptual thought, i.e. noting, questioning, deductions etc? Is this correct or should I just be noting without trying to trace the 3 characteristics in them?

7) Lastly, does anyone know of any good Mahasi centers around Washington DC?

Many thanks.
Cheers,
Vish

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/9/10 10:11 PM as a reply to Cres Cendo.
Hi Vish.
Welcome to the DhO!

"1) Does A&P have to happen again if one stays in the Dark Night for years?"

Yeah, I'd love to know the answer to this as well! Anyone, anyone...

I don't know if you've seen this thread...
http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/443445
...but there's a PDF there with some very clear and detailed Mahasi noting instructions, from a forthcoming translation. You have to scroll down a bit. Not sure if it would be of any help to you.

"2) In regards to the specifics of practice: when I sit to meditate I have intense vibrations around my face and head and especially behind my eyes and in the center of my forehead. These have been going on since my first retreat eight years ago. During the Mahasi technique, do I dwell on these or try to "find" less intense sensations elsewhere?"

I guess one might approach would be to just note these sensations--pressure, pressure--if they are predominant in awareness, and not try to do anything with them. However, more experienced yogis than myself might want to chime in on this.

You might also check out the Vimalaramsi thread here in the Mahasi Noting section. I'm not sure what to think of these teachings but relaxation never seems to be a bad idea. The question of "tranquilizing body formations" and the effect this has on practice seems interesting to me.
Best of luck!

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/10/10 5:19 AM as a reply to Cres Cendo.
There was some stuff here on the specifics of practising the three C's: http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/563009

Brian's post was pretty good.

My understanding of the theory of meditation is that by observing sensations, you create a separation between you and the sensation (rather than being lost in, or attached to your sensory reality). To be able to observe the sensation objectively and without judgement, you need to create a separate 'viewing platform'. The 'viewing platform' is the Self, or the Spirit, and can only be that. By flooding the brain with "attention to sensation" you maintain your spot on the viewing platform long enough to realise your Self. Self has insights. If what I described here is the basis of all meditation, then it shouldn't matter how you go about this, just so long as the basic *separation* is achieved and maintained. Personally, I don't see any benefit to noting the 3 characteristics. I believe they are products of doing the practice.

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/10/10 6:38 AM as a reply to Cres Cendo.
1) Does A&P have to happen again if one stays in the Dark Night for years?

No. I went straight from Dark Night into equanimity when I started practicing some time ago. Having said this, it is possible to go through A&P numerous times (it does not necessarily happen just once per cycle, before I started with insight I went through a very strong A&P some 3 or 4 times). What should also be kept in mind is that you will be moving to your highest achievable stage in any one sit so you will probably go through the A&P again while meditating, whether you notice it or not. In my experience only the initial (to a a new cycle) A&P is very powerful and even then it can vary in intensity.

Overall, dont worry about this and try to figure out which stage you are at now, keep a journal, it may be easier to figure out your progress given some time.

2) In regards to the specifics of practice: when I sit to meditate I have intense vibrations around my face and head and especially behind my eyes and in the center of my forehead. These have been going on since my first retreat eight years ago. During the Mahasi technique, do I dwell on these or try to "find" less intense sensations elsewhere?

Depends on technique. You can use breathing (rising/falling of abdomen) as your anchor, starting there and returning whenever the mind wanders, also noting any other sensations that occur.

Or you can go with whatever arises at that particular moment. (ie. there is no finding required, there are observable sensations making up all of your sensate reality, nowhere to go as you are already there)

Or you can choose to investigate one spot, trying to really see clearly what is going on there.

Really depends on you, what feels natural, what brings progress and what is interesting/fun. I started with the first one I list and then went on to investigate in other ways when the inclination came later on in my practice.

3) If I always have sensations on my face/head, do I need to note the breathing at all?

You have sensations everywhere, as it is impossible to keep your attention on your face/head (it will naturally go to thought, emotions, itches, pains, aversion,...) you should be noting whatever else arises. Noting breathing is handy for a number of reasons (such as the fact that its always there, pretty stable and also reveals a thing or two about holding on to/controlling/manipulating experience).

4) When I note the sensations, should I be actively thinking of the 3 characteristics in a conceptual way or try not to think at all?

Dont actively think of anything, you are noting, if you think, note the thought. The 3 characteristics are implicit to your moment-to-moment experience. The discussion that CCC links to is very good in covering this topic.

5) I am trying to understand how this practice differs from what I know from Goenka's method where one is constantly scanning. In his method time is spent scanning till there are sensations all over. It seems to me that Mahasi practice is more about focusing on a small area and penetrating but once I have subtle sensations/vibrations in a certain spot, what do I do from there-on? Do I just observe them and "wait"?

There is nothing but sensations. My understanding of noting is that it is not necessarily focusing on a small area (you may do it that way, I dont/didnt) but it is all to do with the mental notes, ie. you could do body scanning while noting mentally. My approach has been different from the one you ask about so I do not know the answer to your other question. (are you noticing the subtle sensations very very well? - how they arise and vanish moment-to-moment? /impermanence/).

6) I have also tried to do the same with my thoughts to see how I can break them down to their smallest denominator but this seems to involve conceptual thought, i.e. noting, questioning, deductions etc? Is this correct or should I just be noting without trying to trace the 3 characteristics in them?

Yeah, noting thoughts accurately has been very helpful in my practice, by all means go for it. I dont know what you mean by breaking them down to their smallest denominator. Pay attention to what is linked to thoughts, ie. is there a visual element? Is there an emotion, does it have any physical sensations? Are you speaking/hearing the thought? You are only really looking for accuracy here.

I hope this helps.

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/10/10 6:52 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
My understanding of the theory of meditation is that by observing sensations, you create a separation between you and the sensation (rather than being lost in, or attached to your sensory reality). To be able to observe the sensation objectively and without judgement, you need to create a separate 'viewing platform'. The 'viewing platform' is the Self, or the Spirit, and can only be that. By flooding the brain with "attention to sensation" you maintain your spot on the viewing platform long enough to realise your Self. Self has insights. If what I described here is the basis of all meditation, then it shouldn't matter how you go about this, just so long as the basic *separation* is achieved and maintained. Personally, I don't see any benefit to noting the 3 characteristics. I believe they are products of doing the practice.


Thats a very different way of looking at it than the one I have arrived at. First, there is no you that could be separated from the sensations that occur in your awareness (it is illusory that there is anybody that these sensations happen to). Second, there is no need to create a viewing platform, simply bring awareness to what is happening here-and-now. So in other words attention should be on whatever is arising in the present moment, not on a viewing platform. So its not really about separation at all (once I got the no-self characteristic there was nothing but sensory experience wherever I looked, with no one doing the looking), its about active observation.

As for the three characteristics, they are implicit to moment-to-moment experience, in some ways they are moment-to-moment experience as they are the only description of it that never changes and always fits. And yes, the understanding of them comes out of practice, maybe later on in practice it may be useful to actively look for that feature in moment-to-moment experience.

I hope it made sense :-)

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/10/10 7:54 AM as a reply to Pavel _.
It's very different because it's my own description, compiled from varied sources and some small amount of experience. I prefer to plot my own path and write my own maps. Certainly discard it if you don't like it.

I didn't say you put attention on a viewing platform, I said the process of objective non-judgemental observation of sensations creates the viewing platform, or a gap. Creating a gap is equal to merging with your spirit, which is no-self, or Self. The ego is absorbed in sensations that it thinks are 'self'. You can't know that other self unless you create a gap.

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/10/10 8:14 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
The ego is absorbed in sensations that it thinks are 'self'.


There are kind of two steps to this - yes, you are not your experience (ie. it is brilliant to realize that the sensations are not you, to disembed from them/not be absorbed), but also the experience is not happening to any observable you (step two). So no-self is to do with there being no entity to which these sensations happen. You could say that after realizing that you are not your sensate experience you also need to realize that the sense of an observer is also a part of your sensate experience and not you (not a subject).

In other words, the True Self to which you allude to has nothing to do with there being an observable entity non-judgementally observing sensations, there is no such thing. No need for a gap between observer and observation because there is no observer. What is meant by True Self only becomes apparent farther down the line and it is very surprising and absolutely unexpected (ie. it cant be understood IMHO without seeing it).

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/10/10 5:45 PM as a reply to J Groove.
Thanks a lot, J Groove. I found the PDFs. Now to read them carefully. emoticon

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/10/10 5:52 PM as a reply to Pavel _.
Pavel, thanks for the detailed response. Much appreciated. I guess it sounds like you recommend just doing whatever comes up and what I feel like at the particular sitting. It will eventually lead to the same goal...hopefully.
I guess I feel that if I am constantly wandering around it seems to interfere with one-pointedness of the mind and samadhi. However if I stay on one spot and dwell there it seems to foster a sense of samadhi. Or is that not the goal with the Mahasi technique? I realize that we are not doing samatha but rather insight practice but I guess I feel that some element of samadhi is needed for insight practice as well. Is that true?
Thanks.
Vish

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/10/10 5:53 PM as a reply to This Good Self.
CCC, I see what you are saying. To me the idea of a Self and Non-self seems similar if one really gets down to what one is calling or not calling a Self.

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/10/10 7:55 PM as a reply to Cres Cendo.
I guess it sounds like you recommend just doing whatever comes up and what I feel like at the particular sitting.


Well, its up to you to find out what works best. This may mean experimenting with a single technique for a long period of time (ie. observing the rising/falling of abdomen and other sensations coming up). Eventually you should get a feel for what you are missing, whats not being observed, whats causing problems,... and concentrate on those (meditation becomes more experimental and personal with time).

Wonderful book that explained noting for me and gave me a technique to follow: http://books.google.com/books?id=YnedD2Jj3IIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+progress+of+insight#v=onepage&q&f=false

I guess I feel that if I am constantly wandering around it seems to interfere with one-pointedness of the mind and samadhi. However if I stay on one spot and dwell there it seems to foster a sense of samadhi. Or is that not the goal with the Mahasi technique?


Okay, reading MCTB by Daniel Ingram may explain this matter (far better than I know how to). Concentration practice leads to non-ordinary states, insight leads to liberating insight (ie. stages of insight, paths, arahatship). In any form of insight (not just noting) solidity (as produced by the practice of concentration) is a problem, it is a sign that that particular phenomenon is not perceived clearly enough, as all sensations are impermanent and constantly arising and vanishing - if it appears solid, it needs to be broken up by noticing the impermanent sensations that make it up. So no, producing stable concentration states is not the goal of insight, quite the opposite.

What is needed is to keep your attention on the sensations that make up your present moment experience (to the best of your ability at that time, which will vary), for which noting is very helpful. Nothing more. The two books I mentioned are great for explaining this in great detail.

I realize that we are not doing samatha but rather insight practice but I guess I feel that some element of samadhi is needed for insight practice as well. Is that true?


Well, concentration is needed in order for your insight practice to be powerful enough to take you through the stages. But this concentration is also produced (strengthened) by the practice of insight, ie. if you note you will improve your concentration anyway. There is some controversy over doing insight only as opposed to doing samatha first in order to build up on concentration before attempting insight. It has been my experience that insight only is good enough. So yes, you need concentration (but actually not so much of it) in order to get a path (if that is your goal) but the correct use of an insight technique (noting) will do the trick to get you there.

Is this at all helpful?

All the best in your practice.

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/10/10 8:48 PM as a reply to Pavel _.
Pavel, that is very helpful. I guess I worried if the pure insight path would be one of pure "intellectual knowledge" and not one of experience, even though Daniel has described otherwise in his book. But it is good to hear it coming from someone who has practiced it as being completely adequate. I have read Progress of Insight online. My goal is stream entry and beyond.
Thanks a lot.
Cheers,
Vish

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/11/10 7:12 AM as a reply to Cres Cendo.
The insight path is a path of stripping doubt about how things are, it is purely experiential. Its kind of like working backwards - we are told that the three characteristics define moment-to-moment experience so we try to realize that that is how it actually is, until we do. Then we experientially know that it is true, we see the three characteristics (it is not a conceptual wisdom although it now becomes possible to explain this knowledge conceptually). After that a weird thing happens - when we get the three characteristics, we find this new quality in our experience and this quality is empty/whole, unchanging, vast, utterly calm/peaceful/joyous. And presumably it was there all this time, it is just that it has been impossible to see it until we saw that our moment-to-moment experience was none of this (ie. we need to see the conditioned extremely well to finally notice the unconditioned).

In other words, following an insight technique leads to realization (ie. path after path until presumably the finish), pure and simple.

All the luck in the world for your path, your practice and its been a pleasure to meet you here.

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/11/10 7:37 AM as a reply to Cres Cendo.
I've just started listening to these talks by U Vivekananda, a longtime student of Sayadaw U Pandita.
Some great tips on the Mahasi method in some of these talks.

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/186/

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/1/14 9:45 PM as a reply to Pavel _.
Pavel:
The insight path is a path of stripping doubt about how things are, it is purely experiential. Its kind of like working backwards - we are told that the three characteristics define moment-to-moment experience so we try to realize that that is how it actually is, until we do. Then we experientially know that it is true, we see the three characteristics (it is not a conceptual wisdom although it now becomes possible to explain this knowledge conceptually). After that a weird thing happens - when we get the three characteristics, we find this new quality in our experience and this quality is empty/whole, unchanging, vast, utterly calm/peaceful/joyous. And presumably it was there all this time, it is just that it has been impossible to see it until we saw that our moment-to-moment experience was none of this (ie. we need to see the conditioned extremely well to finally notice the unconditioned).

In other words, following an insight technique leads to realization (ie. path after path until presumably the finish), pure and simple.

All the luck in the world for your path, your practice and its been a pleasure to meet you here.


Awesome post, Pavel. Thanks!

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/12/10 9:09 PM as a reply to J Groove.
J Groove:
I've just started listening to these talks by U Vivekananda, a longtime student of Sayadaw U Pandita.
Some great tips on the Mahasi method in some of these talks.

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/186/


Thanks J Groove.

RE: Questions about Mahasi practice
Answer
6/1/14 9:46 PM as a reply to Pavel _.
Pavel:
The insight path is a path of stripping doubt about how things are, it is purely experiential. Its kind of like working backwards - we are told that the three characteristics define moment-to-moment experience so we try to realize that that is how it actually is, until we do. Then we experientially know that it is true, we see the three characteristics (it is not a conceptual wisdom although it now becomes possible to explain this knowledge conceptually). After that a weird thing happens - when we get the three characteristics, we find this new quality in our experience and this quality is empty/whole, unchanging, vast, utterly calm/peaceful/joyous. And presumably it was there all this time, it is just that it has been impossible to see it until we saw that our moment-to-moment experience was none of this (ie. we need to see the conditioned extremely well to finally notice the unconditioned).

In other words, following an insight technique leads to realization (ie. path after path until presumably the finish), pure and simple.

All the luck in the world for your path, your practice and its been a pleasure to meet you here.


Pavel, thanks so much. Will keep you posted with further developments if any.