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Noting: Shinzen vs. Mahasi?

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Noting: Shinzen vs. Mahasi?
Answer
5/5/17 10:00 AM
I am inexperienced with noting and would like to hear opinions about the pros and cons of Shinzen's noting method compared to the Mahasi method. Which do you prefer, and why? Is Shinzen's method an improvement or merely an alternative? Is one method more suitable than the other for certain types of people?

RE: Noting: Shinzen vs. Mahasi?
Answer
5/5/17 12:44 PM as a reply to Ward Law.
The Mahasi method stays anchored on the stomach.  Distractions from that are noted accordingly.  A disadvantage could be that the struggle to concoct labels causes hindrance.  An advantage could be that cause-and-effect chains can be carefully observed with the help of clear labels.  The same for deepening layers of subtlety.

The Shinzen method uses only 5 base words (see-hear-feel, in-out) for all phenomena.  An advantage could be simplicity.  Another advantage is that Shinzen adds specific, optional labels for subtle phenomena: rest for absorption, gone for cessation, flow for piti.  A disadvantage could be that this method of labeling may not keep pace with rapid & subtle noticings.

RE: Noting: Shinzen vs. Mahasi?
Answer
5/5/17 12:45 PM as a reply to Noah D.
There is at least one other type of noting, which is Kenneth Folks "Freestyle Noting."

RE: Noting: Shinzen vs. Mahasi?
Answer
5/5/17 7:43 PM as a reply to Ward Law.
Here is Shinzen's latest noting documentation:

http://www.shinzen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SeeHearFeelIntroduction_ver1.8.pdf

He has changed it over the years to make it more simple.  I started using this noting method only recently for walking meditation and while driving. It's the only noting method I've used and I find it very effective.  I still follow the breath for sitting meditation. 

RE: Noting: Shinzen vs. Mahasi?
Answer
5/6/17 5:45 PM as a reply to C P M.
I feel Shinzen's system is good for 'digital transmission' as such because it's so refined. Good option for people without access to good teachers locally. There's not much room for philosophising or over-analysing the content of your meditation with such a limited scope in the mechanics of the practice. Anecdotally I've found Mahasi noting quite unintuitive, my mind just doesn't seem to get along with it, but I grokked Shinzen's method pretty quickly. I work as a programmer and he often compares his method to an algorithm which I think is a fair comparison.

RE: Noting: Shinzen vs. Mahasi?
Answer
5/7/17 3:53 PM as a reply to Ward Law.
Shinzen's method is a very deliberate development of Mahasi's. Shinzen's is designed to be science-compatible, easily taught, and easily studied. Mahasi's is more of a development within a single culture of institutional practice, Burmese monasticism, designed to hasten the progress of insight. Shinzen's scheme preserves that effect, adding others. The Mahasi method uses an "open" vocabulary, with the labels indicating the objects of awarness. The yogi must be somewhat creative in narrating their experience. Shinzen's uses a "closed" vocabulary emphasizing instead the sensory modality or one or another of a small number of aspects of it; in other words, Shinzen's labels emphasize experiential activity rather than content. I think this makes it easier to make the jump "from content to insight" because that is much closer to what one is actually noting. Shinzen's system requires a little bit more theory and study (like, a few 10's of minutes). Mahasi's is best learned live, in person, from someone who models what to do and how - it is less well defined, and makes sense in context; it is harder to *explain*. As for what types of people would find which more suitable? If you find yourself among a comunity of Mahasi practitioners who show you how to do it and what is expected, then go with that. If you are getting your dharma over the Internet and want or need a rigorously defined system, Shinzen's is probably better. I think that Shinzen's is a definite improvement, for most people, most of the time. Shinzen offers many "options" which allow one to customize his scheme, so for those with a technical temperament it is especially well suited.

RE: Noting: Shinzen vs. Mahasi?
Answer
5/7/17 5:49 PM as a reply to Ward Law.
Trust your intuition Ward and give whatever seems most interesting or fun a try.

I liked making up my own notes and benefitted from the guidance of "be sure to note sensations, urges (attraction, aversion, ignoring), emotions/moods, and categories of thoughts". If you note at least as often as every out breath, you'll have a nice insurance policy that you won't get too lost in thought/monkey mind. Ultimately, it's not the noting that makes progress, but rather the quality of investigating your present sensate experience. Nothing fancy, just spending time noticing how this moment actually IS. That's it.

Honestly, you can't do it wrong. Just explore, be creative, and make practice your own. 

There are a million different methods/approaches/flavors of practice. Better to get started rather than search for the perfect one.

Best wishes!!

RE: Noting: Shinzen vs. Mahasi?
Answer
5/7/17 9:29 PM as a reply to Noah D.
Noah D:
The Mahasi method stays anchored on the stomach.  Distractions from that are noted accordingly.  A disadvantage could be that the struggle to concoct labels causes hindrance.  An advantage could be that cause-and-effect chains can be carefully observed with the help of clear labels...

It is accurate to say the Mahasi method recommends meditation object as the rising and falling of the abdomen, though Mahasi himself and current teachers of the method also acknowledge and allow use of other objects, e.g. the fine sensations at the nostrils.

Concocting labels, on the other hand, is purely an introductory crutch to help train the ability to hold to and “know” immediately present phenomena, as distinct from drifting off to past, future, or abstraction. Mahasi Sayadaw's writings, and the teaching method currently used (at least by the abbot / teacher at Tathatgata Meditation Center, where I regularly attend week-end retreats), clearly emphasize that one should drop the linguistic / vocal use of labels as soon as possible. My guess is because, as the skill starts to deepen, that would surely distract immediate experiencing by dwelling in the “perception” phase of cognition, i.e. association and finding a name for it.

The way Mahasi Sayadaw talks about it, at numerous places in his writings, “noting” is clearly aimed at an ultimate penetrative direct “knowing” of the nature of immediate experience. As it turns out, the words “note”, “know”, etc. are modern English variants derived from the classical Greek “gnosis”, i.e. direct experiential, as distinct from conceptual, knowing, even in the sense of realization.

Not intending to nit-pic here, but I believe realizing this dimension in the Mahasi method can make it easier to pursue it rewardingly, as well as to point out that it's neither something “new” nor a departure from the ETB (“Early Teachings of the Buddha”), or “core” teachings, if you will. It also makes it more likely to be able to see through superficial differences to possible deeper similarities between this and other methods (e.g. that of Shinzen Young).

That's also not to say that much of popularized teaching of the “Mahasi method” doesn't over-emphasize the verbal “noting”, or that many students don't get stuck at that level.

Btw:
Agreeing with Tarver's (5/7/17 3:53 PM as a reply to Ward Law) astute analysis of the comparison -- up to the point of “...Shinzen's is a definite improvement, for most people, most of the time ...”. That reflects a personal, and largely modernist Western viewpoint, s/t seen in the more extreme form I've noted, so to speak, asserting that the Mahasi method is “virtually the only practical way”. Recognizing and understanding this bias could be said to be an important aspect in progressing further along the path.

RE: Noting: Shinzen vs. Mahasi?
Answer
5/8/17 1:46 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
Nice replies, BTW.

If you read Practical Insight Meditation carefully, you will notice that, while it is does anchor in feet and breath, it progresses to open aspects as attention devlops and then widens and becomes more inclusive. Read the descriptions of the insights it produces and you will see that it moves from the feet and breath to rapid phenomena too fast to note to very inclusive awareness that encompasses everything.

It is definitely true that Shinzen might be looked at secularized and simplified Mahasi, but Mahasi was already pretty secularized and simplified.

You may appreciate various techniques and emphases as your practice progresses, and I think that both systems enhance rather than compete with each other.

Even more important than the system is the basic premise of all the insight systems: six sense doors happening now revealing the Three Characteristics again and again and again. Keep that as the core basis of your practice and see how various systems and emphases help you understand that fundamental teaching of the Buddha.

RE: Noting: Shinzen vs. Mahasi?
Answer
5/9/17 11:19 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
CJMacie:

Concocting labels, on the other hand, is purely an introductory crutch to help train the ability to hold to and “know” immediately present phenomena, as distinct from drifting off to past, future, or abstraction. Mahasi Sayadaw's writings, and the teaching method currently used (at least by the abbot / teacher at Tathatgata Meditation Center, where I regularly attend week-end retreats), clearly emphasize that one should drop the linguistic / vocal use of labels as soon as possible. My guess is because, as the skill starts to deepen, that would surely distract immediate experiencing by dwelling in the “perception” phase of cognition, i.e. association and finding a name for it.


In a similiar way, from Shinzen's doc:

"As you’ll recall, noting (typically) involves a sequence: acknowledge, focus, acknowledge, focus, acknowledge,
focus.... Labels help you maintain the pace of that sequence. If you can maintain it without labels then feel free
to drop them and note with direct awareness. But remember: dropping labels is not synonymous with dropping
the noting. "

Depending on my concentration level (and circumstance) at any given time, I'll use no labels, internally vocalized labels, or labels spoken out loud.