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Abdomen vs choiceless awareness

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Abdomen vs choiceless awareness
Answer
6/2/16 2:03 PM
Hey, Dho, quick question regarding vipassana technique. 

Is choiceless awareness or a focus better for progressing through the nanas? 
Example, if I am noting the rising and falling of the abdomen, will that do it better than noting more "randomly"? I've been meditating my ass off recently, doing primarily samatha meditation, but I really want to attain stream entry, and I realize I don't need jhana for that. 

RE: Abdomen vs choiceless awareness
Answer
6/2/16 3:11 PM as a reply to Christopher Kerr.
The choiceless awareness is aware of all of that without having any part in it. Already. Like a led-screen which appears as a movie. If there is a practice that has to do with "choiceless awareness", isn't there a choiceless noticing of the practice even without any effort whatsoever? There could be no practice and talk of it if this wasn't the case.

Apparently the mind's imaginations need to be starved by bringing the attention over and over again to this obvious fact of "choiceless awareness" being the only reality there is, the reality due to which the play of the senses is possible to appear.

RE: Abdomen vs choiceless awareness
Answer
6/2/16 3:59 PM as a reply to Christopher Kerr.
The best kind of stream-entry occurs when 'letting go' is the meditation object. 

Do you think a 'stream' can be entered when the mind is stiff & rigid? For the mind to enter & become the stream, it must be fluid. 

Therefore, the practise is 'choiceless awareness' (rather than deliberately fixed on the abdomen, nose-tip or anywhere else). 

Please consider this question: "If there is a loud noise, does the mind need to make a choice to hear the loud noise?" The obvious answer is "no". The loud noise is heard automatically. 

Similarly, in open quiet choiceless awareness, consciousness will flow into & feel the breathing where ever it naturally feels it. Thus sometimes the abdomen, sometimes the nose-tip, sometimes feeling the entire movement & sensation of the breathing from nose-tip to abdomen & back again. 

For stream-entry, one needs to let go of this breathing non-sense & simply maintain a quiet empty mind. 

Increasing awareness, clarity & calming of breathing is simply a 'sign' the mind is properly empty or let go.

Some quotes for you & best wishes: 

What is the faculty of concentration? There is the case where a 'noble disciple' (aka 'stream-enterer'), making it his object to let go, attains concentration, attains singleness of mind.

Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters & remains in the first jhana....


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn48/sn48.010.than.html


As for samadhi (concentration), an empty mind is the supreme samadhi, the supremely focused firmness of mind. The straining and striving sort of samadhi isn't the real thing and the samadhi which aims at anything other than non-clinging (to the five khandas) is micchasamadhi (wrong or perverted samadhi). You should be aware that there is both micchasamadhi and sammasamadhi (right or correct samadhi). Only the mind that is empty of grasping at and clinging to 'I' and 'mine' can have the true and perfect stability of sammasamadhi. One who has an empty mind has correct samadhi.


http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books/Bhikkhu_Buddhadasa_Heart_Wood_from_the_Bo_Tree.htm


RE: Abdomen vs choiceless awareness
Answer
6/2/16 4:10 PM as a reply to Christopher Kerr.
Christopher Kerr:
Hey, Dho, quick question regarding vipassana technique. 

Is choiceless awareness or a focus better for progressing through the nanas? 
Example, if I am noting the rising and falling of the abdomen, will that do it better than noting more "randomly"? I've been meditating my ass off recently, doing primarily samatha meditation, but I really want to attain stream entry, and I realize I don't need jhana for that. 
Here is what I did that seemed to work fine and is as simple as I could make it.
1) Notice whatever is happening in the moment with as much detail as possible.
2) Notice the sense door being used and then mentally verbalizing - Thinking, Seeing, Hearing, Feeling. (smell or taste very rarely)
3) At the times when you don't need #2, just do #1.
Thanks it.

If you want to get more details of the noting practice that is more classic but a bit more complicated -
Practical Insight Meditation

Good Luck,
~D

RE: Abdomen vs choiceless awareness
Answer
6/2/16 4:21 PM as a reply to Christopher Kerr.
if you'll accept another approach, I would say "noting" is the best practice, especially in the beginning.

http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/books-articles/articles/mental-noting/

When you're awareness gets very clear and precise, you can do choiceless "noticing", simply paying attention without mentally labeling.


Just fyi - usually people's advice will change based on what progress/difficulties you are having. So it's worth while to check in when you feel like you are hitting the same roadblock for a few days in a row. Be patient, but if it seems like something isn't right, ask.

RE: Abdomen vs choiceless awareness
Answer
6/17/16 7:09 AM as a reply to Christopher Kerr.
re: Christopher Kerr (6/2/16 2:03 PM)

"Is choiceless awareness or a focus better for progressing through the nanas?"

re: Nicky (6/2/16 3:59 PM as a reply to Christopher Kerr)
"The best kind of stream-entry occurs when 'letting go' is the meditation object…Therefore, the practise is 'choiceless awareness' (rather than deliberately fixed on the abdomen, nose-tip or anywhere else)."

(What is this "best kind of stream-entry"? Where's that sutta?)

An important distinction needs be made as to the stage of meditation skill – whether introductory level, or more into the path. Mahasi Sayadaw points out (in his commentary on the Wheel-of-Dhamma sutta, page 77 in the Pesala edition*) that:
"…having the attention dispersed over many objects or having it fixed on objects which are not easily discernable, concentration takes a long time to arise. Confining the attention to a limited number of objects that can be distinctly noted will facilitate and hasten the development of concentration. Therefore we instruct our meditators to start with noting the element of motion (vāyo dhātu), the characteristics of which — stiffness, pressure, and motion — manifest in the abdominal region."

The question by Christopher Kerr isn't specific as to exactly where in the progression.
Nicky
's comments pertain quite advanced practice.

IMO, using the term 'choiceless awareness' is problematic, as it's heavily used in IM/VM meditation culture – Buddhist romantic mushroomy psycho-therapeutic approach – and overly stresses "acceptance" to an extent that bypasses the need to develop discernment of what's skillful or not to attend to.

*http://www.saraniya.com/books/mahasi-sayadaw/pdf/mahasi_sayadaw-1962_discourse_on_wheel_of_dhamma.pdf

RE: Abdomen vs choiceless awareness
Answer
6/17/16 6:01 PM as a reply to CJMacie.
The noting technqiue of Mahasi Sayadaw is just an introductory method and its not related to the path itself. For example, MN 62 & AN 10.60 describe a number of introductory reflections, investigations and noting ('perceptions') methods that are prerequistes to the practise of Anapanasati & the path. These 'perceptions' aid the development of a repository of wisdom that is required for the negotiation of & cutting through obstacles & hindrances. 

Imo, it is not accurate to infer the noting technique of Mahasi Sayadaw 'hastens the development' of concentration itself. Instead, it is more accurate to infer that the noting technique may help in supresssing distracting thoughts & hindrances by keeping the mind busy. 

In MN 20, one method of overcoming distracting thoughts is to replace unskilful thoughts with more skilful thoughts. The Mahasi Sayadaw nothing technique can serve a similar purpose. 

For the actual development of concentration itself, the mind must be free from thinking & noting. MN 19 states about wholesome or skilful noting: 

If I were to think & ponder in line with that even for a night... even for a day... even for a day & night, I do not envision any danger that would come from it, except that thinking & pondering a long time would tire the body. When the body is tired, the mind is disturbed; and a disturbed mind is far from concentration.' So I steadied my mind right within, settled, unified & concentrated it. Why is that? So that my mind would not be disturbed.

MN 19


A potential problem with the noting technique is it perpetuates the idea that "I am" noting & "I am" meditating. As long as these ideas of "I am" persist, the best kind of stream entry will not happen. 

The best kind of stream-enterer is called a "noble disciple" and the non-noting method for this is described in the following sutta:

And what is the faculty of concentration? There is the case where a...noble disciple, making it his object to let go, attains concentration, attains singleness of mind. Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters & remains in the first jhana....

SN 48.10

In summary, the Mahasai Sayadaw nothing technique is similar to training wheels on a child's bicycle. When the training wheels have served their purpose, they are dispensed with and 'choiceless (void) awareness' is practised. 

emoticon

 

RE: Abdomen vs choiceless awareness
Answer
6/18/16 5:33 PM as a reply to Nicky.
re: Nicky (6/17/16 6:01 PM as a reply to CJMacie)

"The noting technqiue of Mahasi Sayadaw is just an introductory method and its not related to the path itself."
True that this is how the technique is commonly construed (and taught). Not true that this simplicistic view can be attributed to Mahasi Sayadaw himself. He makes it clear that while simply labelling what comes up is a way of beginning, a metaphor to help beginners, the use of labels is not to be mistaken for the essential activity, which is rather direct knowing of what's experienced. Mahasi's description, and the way it's taught, e.g. in initial retreat instructions, is to quickly drop the labeling with words. The English word "note" derives from the Greek gnosis, i.e. direct experiential knowing; as distinct from conceptual knowing (attaching labels).

"For the actual development of concentration itself, the mind must be free from thinking & noting."
Yes, but after the fixation of jhana, actively knowing in depth the nature of the absorption experience is the technique described in MN 111 (One by One…) -- the technique of reflexive knowing that the Buddha described as what Sariputta used in going thru the eight levels of jhana to awakening – in reviewing the direct experience of each level, he then "knew", fully understood each of the mental aspects of the experience. This sense of noting/knowing is equivalent to the fundamental insight technique of the path.

btw, Daniel Ingram ( in MTCB )* uses the term "noting" heavily in describing techniques he uses throughout path development.

"In summary, the Mahasai Sayadaw nothing technique is similar to training wheels on a child's bicycle. When the training wheels have served their purpose, [1] they are dispensed with and [2] 'choiceless (void) awareness' is practised. "
Both these views [1,2] reflect how popularized teaching interprets Mahasi – not what he taught in his deeper writings.

* When ever I type "MTCB" in parentheses, this editor interprets  the "B"+")" as an emoticon. Hence using spaces there. Anyone know if that "feature" can be overridden here?

RE: Abdomen vs choiceless awareness
Answer
6/18/16 5:26 PM as a reply to Christopher Kerr.
I've noticed people using the term choiceless awareness in different ways. The way that I understand and use choiceless awareness in my practice, is basically freely noting whatever occurs to me, with no restriction. But really, how I note depends on a lot of stuff, like what nana I seem to be in, my level of concentration, the breadth of attention, etc... When concentration seems to be low, choiceless noting can often times leave me unfocused, easily distracted, forgetful, and not present in the way I should be. In these cases, I like to focus on something specific such as the breath or the sensations in some particular area. On the other hand, when my focus is good and spacing out is minimal, I let my attention get wide and include all the sensations I experience, wherever they may come about, hence choiceless awareness or noting. Sometimes it feels natural to investigate some sensations which seem particularly tricky to see as impermanent, such as sensations around my head and sensations that seem to make up my sense of self. But other times, that same inclination to focus on some sensations in particular can be a subtle bias against investigating sensations that I'm not seeing clearly.

I'm not sure if my definition is completely accurate, but in practice, that's how I apply it to my insight meditation practice. Hope it's helpful in some way. I guess the crux of it is, how can I make progress and stay focused, while being inclusive of all sensations, especially the tricky ones that seem solid, etc... Good luck!


Edit: For what it's worth, the first time I knowingly crossed the A&P in meditation, I was using choiceless noting, but noting like I was on fire: noting as quickly as possible without compromising actually seeing the sensations occurring. Noting is a tool to see the impermanence of sensations and be objective in their observation, but noting is also a tool to build concentration and firepower for the mind, so it's use, for me, is dependent on what I see is in need of work. Sensations seeming to be solid somewhere? I focus on noting those. Focus low and spacing out and losing track a problem? I focus on noting quickly and noting on a specific area. Focus high, mindfulness high? I tend to let my focus open up and encompass as much as I can, noting or just noticing in a choiceless manner. It's all an improvisatory balancing act which requires discipline, honesty, self evaluation, and experimentation.