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Contemplating about attaining certain insight counterproductive?

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Hi fellow dhamma seekers,

I have this question for a while now. I used to be a chronic goal seeker in many things I do. I still am. I used to be obsessed with my Vipassana practice as if like l gotta have Grade A. Like many meditators, I like to know where I am heading in terms of insights. I think it makes sense to set goals or look forward to getting to say the Stream Entry and other higher attainments. I have tried this many times. I mean striving to attain some level, but after many failures, I have realized that it is counterproductive to be thinking, planning, focusing, dwelling on the level of insights and attainments. I felt a sense of peacefulness when I let go of chasing insights and attainment. I quit formal meditation (sitting for hours) for a while now. Because I have found myself contemplating or chasing goals subtly on my mind. That I find is a hindrance to seeing insights for what they are rather than asking myself "Am I there yet?" I would love to hear from Vipassana meditators on what I have just described. What do you think about planning, or treating meditation experience like chasing goals? I am genuinely interested to know what others think about it. 

RE: Contemplating about attaining certain insight counterproductive?
Answer
4/21/18 3:51 AM as a reply to Janapada Kalyani.
Janapada Kalyani:
Hi fellow dhamma seekers,

I have this question for a while now. I used to be a chronic goal seeker in many things I do. I still am. I used to be obsessed with my Vipassana practice as if like l gotta have Grade A. Like many meditators, I like to know where I am heading in terms of insights. I think it makes sense to set goals or look forward to getting to say the Stream Entry and other higher attainments. I have tried this many times. I mean striving to attain some level, but after many failures, I have realized that it is counterproductive to be thinking, planning, focusing, dwelling on the level of insights and attainments. I felt a sense of peacefulness when I let go of chasing insights and attainment. I quit formal meditation (sitting for hours) for a while now. Because I have found myself contemplating or chasing goals subtly on my mind. That I find is a hindrance to seeing insights for what they are rather than asking myself "Am I there yet?" I would love to hear from Vipassana meditators on what I have just described. What do you think about planning, or treating meditation experience like chasing goals? I am genuinely interested to know what others think about it. 

aloha janapada,

   Any sort of goal seeking will not help you see into your self nature, the buddha nature. Such behavior only reinforces the ego (self, personality, liver of life) and prevents the sort of peace of mind that is the true fruit of practice. You may gain mental skills and abilities through following the appropriate directions, but this has nothing to do with enlightenment. You seem to actually know this from your statements, and have learned it through long experience. That is often the way these things are truly learned, the hard way. Anyways, you may consider your insight into the emptiness of goal-directed behavior an attainment, if you like - I, a man of no credentials whatever, have said so! Don't bank on it.

   You are fortunate. Many think they have attained their goals, and are further behind. There are no ends, only means.

   I recommend just sitting, for however long you find it pleasant, with no goal but the creation of a little space deliberately kept free from any sort of obsessing. Bodhidharma sat before a wall for nine years. Of course, he was just an old monk with only one disciple, and that one a cripple, as they say.

   Enjoy your sitting.


 terry


the following quotes are from "the zen teaching of bodhidharma" trans red pine, 1987:


...Seeking nothing. People of this world are deluded. They’re always longing for something—always, in a word, seeking. But the wise wake up. They choose reason over custom. They fix their minds on the sublime and let their bodies change with the seasons. All phenomena are empty. They contain nothing worth desiring. Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity. To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house. To have a body is to suffer. Does anyone with a body know peace? Those who understand this detach themselves from all that exists and stop imagining or seeking anything. The sutras say, “To seek is to suffer. To seek nothing is bliss." When you seek nothing, you are on the Path.




A buddha is an idle person. He doesn’t run around after fortune and fame. What good are such things in the end? People who don’t see their nature and think reading sutras, invoking buddhas, studying long and hard, practicing morning and night, never lying down, or acquiring knowledge is the Dharma, blaspheme the Dharma. Buddhas of the past and future only talk about seeing your nature. All practices are impermanent. Unless they see their nature, people who claim to have attained unexcelled, complete enlightenment are liars.



Whoever knows that the mind is a fiction and devoid of anything real knows that his own mind neither exists nor doesn’t exist. Mortals keep creating the mind, claiming it exists. And arhats keep negating the mind, claiming it doesn’t exist. But bodhisattvas and buddhas neither create nor negate the mind. This is what’s meant by the mind that neither exists nor doesn’t exist. The mind that neither exists nor doesn’t exist is called the Middle Way.



Mortals liberate buddhas and buddhas liberate mortals. That is what is meant by impartiality. Mortals liberate buddhas because affliction creates awareness. And buddhas liberate mortals because awareness negates affliction. There can't help but be affliction, there would be nothing to create awareness. And if it weren't for awareness, there would be nothing to negate affliction. When you're deluded, buddhas liberate mortals. When you're aware, mortals liberate buddhas. Buddhas don't become buddhas on their own. They're liberated by mortals. Buddhas regard delusion as their father and greed as their mother. Delusion and greed are different names for mortality. Delusion and mortality are like the left hand and the right hand. There's no other difference.

When you’re deluded, you’re on this shore. When you’re aware, you’re on the other shore. But once you know your mind is empty and you see no appearances, you’re beyond delusion and awareness. And once you’re beyond delusion and awareness, the other shore doesn’t exist. The tathagata isn’t on this shore or the other shore. And he isn’t in midstream. Arhats are in midstream and mortals are on this shore. On the other shore is buddhahood.


 
The body neither exists nor doesn’t exist. Hence existence as a mortal and nonexistence as a sage are conceptions with which a sage has nothing to do. His heart is empty and spacious as the sky.

RE: Contemplating about attaining certain insight counterproductive?
Answer
4/21/18 6:57 AM as a reply to Janapada Kalyani.
Janapada Kalyani:
 Because I have found myself contemplating or chasing goals subtly on my mind. 

Being a goal-driven person isn't a bad thing in and of itself (in some ways it can even be helpful and many successful meditators around here are quite goal-driven), but it can certainly get in the way if we don't let go of that when when we sit down to actually practice. 

I pulled the above quote out because it's good that you can catch yourself doing this. My question is: what do you do when you notice this? If you make a mental note of "thinking," give yourself a brief mental pat on the back for noticing, and go back to observing sensations, this is good vipassana. If you just continue thinking it's not very productive, especially if you are doing it for hours at a time. You might try shorter sits, like 20-30 minutes, and really set the intention beforehand to stick with observing the three characteristics in physical sensations. 

RE: Contemplating about attaining certain insight counterproductive?
Answer
4/21/18 7:05 AM as a reply to Janapada Kalyani.
Seems to me that the best benchmarks involve whether you're suffering more or less and/or creating more or less suffering in the world.

If you're starting to notice the suffering that arises when you're overly focused on attainments, then that's actually an attainment of sorts.

In my own experience, this sort of thing was a problem mostly off the cushion.

In formal practice, I would be pretty good at following the instructions and noticing body sensations, vedana, mind states/thoughts and sometimes some of the subtler stuff like silence, nothingness, spaciousness. I could catch grasping-related impulses. So, for example, if the sense of the body disappeared in some jhanic way, I might notice the 'wanting, wanting' for this state to deepen and remain permanent.

Off the cushion, though, was another matter entirely. Here is where I'd get embedded in comparing thoughts: 'So-and-so is talking about his ability to jhana jump; I can't pick them out clearly enough to do that.' I wouldn't notice the longing/craving for imagined states and path attainments. I wouldn't notice the self-doubt--the painful sense of not being a good enough practitioner, which always arose in tandem with comparing mind.

It's possible to read about somebody else's 'bliss wave' post-Stream Entry and not realize that you're sitting there imagining the pleasantness and power of that, craving it for yourself, and then feeling lousy as a person because your experience doesn't seem to match up with what the other is describing.

At a certain point, I realized that this off-the-cushion comparing and craving was so strong and deeply rooted that even when I actually was crossing milestones and making progress, my ego-practitioner self still imagined that other peoples' experience was somehow far more intense, magical, pleasant, amazing, etc., than what was actually occurring here and now. It was very tough to face the craving and spiritual materialism that was going on. The metaphor of letting go of the hot coal comes to mind.

The funny thing, though, is that when actually doing the practice, this stuff wasn't predominant. That's because I was paying keen attention to body sensations, vedana, mind states/thoughts and harder-to-classify dhammas in real time. When a person reads MCTB and gets fired up off the cushion, that's when the shadow side of transparent practice can really kick in, it seems to me.  

So for me, the challenge around this stuff involves paying close attention to any thoughts and mind states related to the dharma and practice in the abstract. Is comparing mind operative? Is there a sense of not being good enough? If so, what specific process was going on prior to this stuff arising? Am I mindful of this form of conceit in real time? 

Pragmatic dharma with some awareness of progress doesn't have to be an exercise in self-torture, but the key really does seem, at least as I see it, to investigate, investigate, investigate. The cue for the need to ramp up that investigation can often be the initial noticing of suffering or tightness around notions of practice, goals, attainments, etc.