Message Boards Message Boards

Vipassana: Noting/Mahasi Style

My bias against noting

Toggle
My bias against noting
Answer
8/11/10 12:15 AM
I've been resisting noting despite its reputed effectiveness.

Here is my problem with it.

In much of what I've read, there is great emphasis on seeing things as they actually are, without the filters of concepts.

Noting seems to be the opposite of that. You are attaching a conceptual label to what is happening, and with great speed. It seems hard to really deeply look at the sensations when I've tried to note.

At this point I am more interested in what works, rather than dogma, but this does seem pretty counterintuitive to me. Anyone have an idea of how this fits with the standard dogma?

My going theory is that noting is a bridge that allows more levels of the mind to be connected with the observed phenomena, essentially you are strengthening the interface between the subconscious and the conceptual parts of the mind. As well as training the conceptual parts to let go of phenomena more quickly.

RE: My bias against noting
Answer
8/11/10 1:03 AM as a reply to k bb.
Hi and welcome to the DhO,

k bb:
My going theory is that noting is a bridge that allows more levels of the mind to be connected with the observed phenomena, essentially you are strengthening the interface between the subconscious and the conceptual parts of the mind. As well as training the conceptual parts to let go of phenomena more quickly.


It is, happily, much more simple than that; see below.

k bb:
In much of what I've read, there is great emphasis on seeing things as they actually are, without the filters of concepts.


This kind of vague instruction ("see things as they actually are, without the filters of concepts") can be very effective for some...but for others, I suspect it is not. (I don't think its particularly effective in general, but I think it's spoken a lot because it sounds "deep"). If you think that you understand this sort of instruction-- and so act in that manner-- but do not actually understand it, you may be leading yourself into misunderstanding, vis:

k bb:
Noting seems to be the opposite of that. You are attaching a conceptual label to what is happening, and with great speed. It seems hard to really deeply look at the sensations when I've tried to note.


When properly noting, one is not "attaching a label" onto the sensations, one is simply using a verbal tool to aid in ensuring that one is consciously recognizing as many clearly defined sensations as one can. This is why, as one moves on to the more advanced stages of noting, the verbal "note" (what I suspect is causing you to think of noting as "conceptual labeling") is dropped. Further, it's only after that point that one is able to achieve the necessary absorption in noting that will allow for big breakthroughs.

Trent

RE: My bias against noting
Answer
8/11/10 1:36 PM as a reply to k bb.
Yeah, the actual important part of noting isn't the verbalization, it is the moment when your attention "touches" the thing that happens, and does so with discernment (so that you are indeed able to name afterwards). It is the "touch" that is the actual noting, and later on, as trent mentions, when the verbalization is dropped, it is this discerning touch with attention which is being done.

touch touch touch touch touch emoticon

Bruno

RE: My bias against noting
Answer
8/12/10 9:16 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
"like touching it with a feather", very light

RE: My bias against noting
Answer
8/12/10 9:32 AM as a reply to Dark Night Yogi.
If you think about the process of waking up from a bad dream, it might start with "the mind that knows" kind of saying, "Oh. That elephant just took off and flew through the sky. This is a dream." Somehow, noting is like this--you're literally waking up to your own identification with the objects of awareness. As pointed out above, you're becoming progressively more conscious of what is going on.

My own resistance to noting had to do with failure to understand the difference between samatha and vipassana. I wanted to rest the mind in a peaceful state, just letting thoughts drop and fade, and be attentive to silence. Anything that disturbed that tranquility, even slightly, was regarded as an enemy. There's definitely a time for this type of practice, but IMHO you need active investigation of phenomena as well. Noting once per second or faster also builds concentration because you don't give yourself time to get caught up in concepts. If you start to have a brilliant insight, you catch yourself, note it as "reflecting, reflecting" and move on. You want to quit sitting? "Wanting, wanting" and you move on. Bored and restless? "Boredom, boredom." It's an awesome practice.

RE: My bias against noting
Answer
8/14/10 2:01 AM as a reply to k bb.
The above points are valid.

Essentially, most people start out with a ton of thoughts distracting them from sensate reality, lots of issues that make practice difficult, and a lot of wandering. Given that this their reality, and given that the simple instruction to be with reality just as it is without concepts is usually far outside of most people's grasp until their practice gets strong, noting helps to utilize the thought stream for something skillful, to stabilize attention rather than destabilize it, which is what thought usually does, and thus turns a potential foe into a valuable ally.

As noting technique progresses and concentration, mindfulness and investigation get stronger, one can drop the noting at points if one wishes, to be resumed if practice regresses or difficulties arise.

Further, by making the thought stream an active part of the practice in this engaged way, a number of things tend to become clear more rapidly, such as the intentions that precede thoughts and actions, the mental impression that follows experiences, and the fact that thoughts themselves are also experiences rather than being self or the property of self, as well as revealing their transient nature and other true aspects. Thought is itself one of the things that must be seen as it is, and noting helps a lot with that.

Lastly, practically noting really makes things happen in practice fast for those who do it as recommended. It is simply quite powerful in this particular regard, as many here will attest from having done the experiment themselves.

Thus, noting basically rocks.

I hope that helps,

Daniel

RE: My bias against noting
Answer
8/14/10 3:14 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thanks everyone for the comments. Helpful. I've posted on here before as K B but somehow lost the pw for that account.

Reading over the comments I remembered the "content versus ultimate reality" point that is hammered on in MCTB. From the point of view of witnessing the 3Cs, my concerns with the accuracy of conceptual labels for the content is not that relevant. And I'm sure the only way to improve the accuracy is to practice anyway.

I do find it curious that this stuff works.. and there must be some accuracy for this process to bootstrap itself. Just noting "noted" for every single thing sounds like it doesn't work until you've gained mastery in the first place.

My first real understanding of buddhism came from Mindfulness in Plain English, which I think is a great book, but takes the perspective of tightly intermingling mindfulness with concentration and talks a big game about fully tasting reality as the fruit of the practice. The kind of noting it talks about is very breath-oriented (rising, pausing, falling, etc), with additional noting recommended for brushing aside distractions and returning to the breath. I always found the contrast between bare attention and the noting instructions to be weird, and gravitated to bare attention side, which is powerful and something I can understand.

RE: My bias against noting
Answer
8/14/10 4:30 AM as a reply to k bb.
Yeah, I've sat with Bhante G a number of times and know his stuff well. The Sri Lankans are much more samatha jhana heavy in their emphases.

There are lots of ways up the mountain, and the important thing is that is works for you,

Daniel