Observing observation

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Observing observation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: pookee
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

At retreat it's often been my wont to follow the directions almost too precisely - to empty the mind, and be aware of sensation but also of any thought that arises. This would include, I assume, being aware of being aware. And being aware of being aware of being aware. Etc. This is, of course, a very difficult way to meditate, and quickly shifts your focus away from sensation and onto the mind itself. I've found that it is generally not productive because the mind observing itself tends to produce very strange sensations: for example, feeling very large or very small; having the sensation of "pink" or other random, apparently nonsensical associations. Indeed, the feeling that the body has a very strange geometry is typical for me; and once one becomes aware of it, the geometry shifts, to something even stranger (like being flat, or having a balloon head, etc).

My feeling is that this is not the vipassana that I've been taught, but something else. It's an interesting something else, but it yields different fruit. Indeed, when concentration becomes focused, the recursion snaps together, and something strange (and wonderful) can happen.

When I sit I have a choice. The difference between what I think of as "standard" vipassana and the above style is hard to describe. In both cases I'm giving sensation importance, but in the former, one of the thoughts I'm trying to leave behind is the awareness that I'm giving sensation importance. (Perhaps this is related to one of the Buddha's ascetic practices "crushing the mind with mind", whatever that means)

Has anyone else tried this variant?
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
hi pookee,

my most recent teacher was a big fan of using these mental-visual sensations and strange geometries to advance the progress of insight, but i think he only started doing that once he'd already gotten path, and he certainly never tried to teach me to do it while i was on my stream-entry retreat. this suggests to me that that either he thought it was harder to use those things as objects, or he didn't want to interfere with my natural tendency toward bodily vibrations and tactile sensations.

the experience i myself have with this stuff has shown me that i'm more likely to get into fascinating formless realm experience than when working from bodily sensations, when practised with the same amount of effort toward concentration. i have to admit, its pretty fun. i also suspect that it can lead to rapid progress through to equanimity regarding formations for those suited to this style of practice but that's speculation rather than an authoritative statement.

if this is your mind's thing, pookee, i say go for it. the statement you made about recursion snapping together sounds encouraging to me, though i would also be prepared for territory where it clearly doesnt 'snap together' and in fact may become disconcerting or troublesome (and its not just dark night territory that ive noticed that happen either).

my conclusion: sensations are sensations and doing insight practice on any of them, so long as you keep inclining toward seeing the 3 characteristics in every moment or sensation you observe, will yield the 'same' fruit (of path and fruition). the formless realms are some kind of special exception to this.

helpful?
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 19 Join Date: 7/7/09 Recent Posts
"... And being aware of being aware of being aware..."

I've never been able to directly experience more than two levels of being aware of being aware (being aware of being aware but not being aware of being aware of being aware). Have you? I can conceptualize more than two levels and that leads to a "hall of mirrors" kind of story or image, but I cannot experience it directly.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: msj123

The second factor of enlightenment is investigation. If it is something you find interesting, then I would suggest investigating it in the way you investigate other sensations. One way to arrange the 7 factors is in a sequential order:

Mindfulness --> investigation --> energy --> happiness --> tranquility --> concentration --> equanimity

When you're interested and investigating, the factors arise naturally.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: msj123

I find this sort of thing difficult as well. One difficulty is that the mind produces images/feelings, etc. that we often confuse with something else. That is to say, it is easy to think we are investigating awareness when in fact we are simply forming a concept of awareness and looking at that, or a feeling of awareness and looking at that.

Good stuff.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
chris (cmarti) ,

you make a great point above, imo, that im not totally sure i agree with but more or less yes i think i do. duality has this habit of making itself out to look like way more than it is when seen directly, and it is this seeing directly, which is what i think you're talking about, that shows the hall of mirrors to be what it 'really is'. did i get it right?
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
This is an interesting discussion...

I agree that awareness of awareness of awareness is not a good description of what actually takes place. From what I understand, there are three stages to this process:

1.) Awareness doesn't really know itself (plain duality, or "some-dog").
2.) Awareness knows itself (still duality, but the "no-dog" kind, as in "The Watcher" or "The One Who Knows").
3.) Awareness-knowing-itself dissolves/collapses in to pure Awareness only (non-duality, or "rigpa" - primordial awareness).

I wouldn't say that stage '3' is "awareness of awareness of awareness", but I do think it's different than "awareness of awareness" in a subtle yet important way. If you can get to stage '2', it's a practice all of itself. You can't force it to dissolve in to stage 3, but eventually it just happens on its own.

I'm not pretending to be any sort of expert in this area. But, based on my experience and the information given to me by my mentors, I think this is how the thing works.

Jackson

Edit: Formatting
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 439 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
I'd like to second and elaborate upon what Jackson wrote in post #6 above. Any non-dual teaching, be it Mahamudra, Dzogchen, or Advaita, can be seen as developing in three stages:

1) Our ordinary condition of ignorance. We identify with our thoughts. "I am Kenneth."

2) We awaken to absolute subjectivity. "I am that." There is nothing that is not Self. This is the eternal witness. The Advaitists call it the "I AM". I've dubbed it the "no-dog", because it has "no dog in this fight." It has no stake in whether Kenneth lives or dies. There is no suffering from this perspective. Awareness knows itself and is complete. This trans-personal state can be cultivated by an act of will, and as such is the method taught by non-dual teachers. The task is to dwell as the eternal witness while remaining open to the possibility that even this will eventually dissolve into a situation even more fundamental.

3) Pure, non-local, passive awareness. This is the irreducible awareness, or "rigpa". There is no subject and no object. Awareness, which is not other than all of manifestation, is simply aware. This ultimate reality cannot be cultivated by an act of will. It is always already the case. You can't do this, but you can stop ignoring it. The way to stop ignoring it is to dwell as the witness (Stage 2, above). Dwelling as the witness is "the stick that stirs the fire and will eventually be consumed by it." Over time, when the conditioning toward ignoring reality weakens, it is possible to let the subject/object duality fall away simply by remembering. This is enlightenment.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
Yeah, what he said :-D
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 19 Join Date: 7/7/09 Recent Posts
All I can say is "Ha!"
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Just want to chime in here on what Kenneth said (rather than repeating his full quote, just some excerpts).
"Any non-dual teaching, be it Mahamudra, Dzogchen, or Advaita..." I'd like to add to this list: Quanzhen Daoism. And, yes I agree with what you said about the noted stages. Often times, non duality teachings do not give much notice to the stages. A teachers feedback given to the inquiring student may simply be "no duality" and "go deeper." Unfortunately, this doesn't give the student a conceptual understanding of his/her progress. Aaah... but there lies a point to this teaching: to break away from "conceptual understanding." To not label anything as this or that.
As you stated: "Awareness knows itself and is complete. This trans-personal state can be cultivated by an act of will... The task is to dwell as the eternal witness while remaining open to the possibility that even this will eventually dissolve" - This is one of the goals in Zuowang meditation. And to be non being, "Awareness, which is not other than all of manifestation, is simply aware..."
The primary goal of Zuowang is to reach this that you state in #3: "Pure, non-local, passive awareness... There is no subject and no object. . This ultimate reality cannot be cultivated by an act of will. It is always already the case."

I hope I didn't deviate from the original topic here, but my point is that it's all a process (perhaps a process over a lifetime or even lifetimes) no matter if we break it down into stages or not. And in this process it seems that it moves in increments per ones present state of recognizing Awareness.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: pookee

Thanks greco, is helpful. The variant is a ceaseless struggle, which is why I've mostly put it aside for the last 2 or 3 years. However, it is engaging, and can be fun as you say. Taking sensation "as it is" and without associating it even with a part of the body or with an actual concept of scanning is, to say the least, challenging.

Something tells me I know what you're talking about when you talk about formless realms.

The 'snapping together' of recursion is only something that's happened once. It was a moment of incredible pain and effort: it felt like solving a difficult integral (and it had to be correct!) once a second for about 2 minutes. Then it stopped, and was followed by an hour or two of absolute, indescribably blissful, open-eyed peace, like a radio that had been on all my life had finally been turned off.

I'd like to get there again, but it's been 6 years now.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: msj123

Expectations are progress killers. I have found from hard experience that it is better to let the path unfold, rather than try to unfold the path. If we don't, then we'll miss what it is we're looking for.

There is a Taoist story about a farmer who was found in his field with pulled up plantings surrounding him. When asked about it, he said "I was just trying to help the crops grow!"
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
just a note to the reader, who may be misled by kenneth's statement; 3 isnt it any more than 2 is it. the value of attaining 3 is to realise that 2 isnt it, and the value of coming back to 2 is to realise that 3 isnt it. none of it is it, because its all the same thing. there is no it to get to, thats the joke, thats the anagami dream.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 19 Join Date: 7/7/09 Recent Posts
You must be referring to the infamous "it" that "they" talk about a lot ;-)
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 10 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
This is *exactly* how I described what happened to me after chasing myself (the observer) down a few levels! The radio turned off! There was a blip of ... nothing? ... "snapping back of recursion" sounds like a good descriptor, and I couldn't really put my finger on what happened and went to sleep a little while later. I woke up later from meditating in my sleep (that was a first) and the next morning, I felt completely normal. Balanced. Happy. When I sat that night, there was no more radio-mind. The relief and peace was just amazing.

That was about 11 days ago. When I try the same method (repeatability), it's like I get a "404 not found." I can't find anything to chase down.

Also ... "Anagami Dream" would make a great band name or book title (if it's not already taken). :-)
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 310 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
edit
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: pookee

msj123, I agree that observing observation is a delusion of some sort. For the most part what we observe as observation is the way our imagination codifies the act of observation. They are hallucinations perhaps inspired by observation, but they are not observation itself.

And so, for a beginner, this style of meditation tends to lead to many wrong "aha" moments, and one right one. As if you think you finally get it - so meditation is like this! But then, you're wrong. Eventually it happens once again and you observe the aha moment, and you realize that moment is brief, but has different parts. A feeling of sweetness in the back of the throat, a brief flash of light, etc. Neither model, the one a moment ago nor the model right now is correct. There is no model that is the correct model of observation because truly observing observation doesn't have a model.

I would guess that the mechanism of this meditation is a mental "stack overflow error" at the end, and lots of delusion about recursion until then. It's tricky because it can undermine the meditative loop itself, causing a great deal of stress and struggle. And yet I've found, the greater the struggle the better the result, in the end.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
look at the entrancement, look at whatever feels good and is enticing and interesting to look at. observe the imaginative codification of the act of observing, just keep looking at whatever you find attractive in that process. isnt the recursion sweeter than any conclusion you could come to about it? keep observing, the recursion doesnt have to be a struggle.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 19 Join Date: 7/7/09 Recent Posts
Part of the problem we over-analyzers have is that we can make a concept out of every goddammned thing. Well, guess what? That GETS IN THE WAY!

Step away from your concepts ;-) Just watch.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: msj123

Actually, I think the problem is there are no specific answers because it depends on the situation. What is helpful or not is not so much in the statement, but in the person reading it.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
cmarti,

You're right. We often over-think things, which gets in the way of discovering the simplicity of it all. The beauty of the "three stages" conveyed by Kenneth and I is that there's really only one simple instruction: Let awareness know itself as often as possible. It can be done on purpose, and it leads to what cannot be done on purpose.

This kind of conceptual understanding is anything but an obstacle. It poses only one question, which is, "Does awareness know itself in this moment?" which is just another way of saying your closing line: "Just watch."

Jackson
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: msj123

People can waste their lives on one simple instruction. Intellectual diseases may require intellectual cures. There is no one size fits all.

I used to be pro-theory. But then I got stuck. And then the right practice at the right time, BOOM!

I used to be anti-theory. But I got stuck. And then the right theory at the right time, BOOM!

To paraphrase Kenneth: what you promote today you may rail against tomorrow.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: pookee

cmarti, I think that the beauty of this technique is that the mind wears itself out, and out of sheer disgust eventually stops conceptualizing.

I have heard stories of monks who could not kick their love of some food, going to the store and forcing themselves to eat so much of it they got sick. Then they didn't like it as much. This is the same thing.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 19 Join Date: 7/7/09 Recent Posts
I never have found much real disgust in conceptualizing. I see that it can be a lot of work. In fact, it can be very entertaining and informative. The crux of this (that's the infamous proverbial "this") is to recognize what's going on at the time. I mean, dang it, we're all human beings and conceptualizing is what we do. What I meant when I said "stop conceptualizing" was, very specifically, that we need to stop predicting in our minds what "it" is really like (or "that" or "this," or what-have-you) because that kind of conceptualizing is what can mislead us.

I guess I'm sort of contradicting myself, but not really, but yeah, I am, but....
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 86 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
So what is the difference between 'rigpa' and 'just sitting' practises where you just be aware without focusing on objects and without the divison of ingestigator and investigated, simply letting things pass through awareness?
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Essentially they are the same... to realize "not two." I think the term "awareness" can be misunderstood when speaking in the context of observing observation. We often speak of awareness as simply "watching." When we "watch," we are perceiving from delusion... still seeing as separateness. In Dzogchen practice, "Awareness" is the Knowing (no separation, no distinctions of this or that) of ones true nature. Not two.
In "just sitting" practices one works towards the same thing... first by just watching... and watching... until "watching" (and the perception of a "watcher") dissolves into pure Awareness. Not two.

Well, hopefully I explained this correctly.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 3166 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Back to something useful:

When observing objects, each has their downsides and benefits.
Physical sensations are not very interesting for most but are very accessible. Their predictability can make us dull, but we are unlikely to get stuck in them.
In contrast, more mental phehomena, such as "awareness" as conceptualized above and leading to regressions, bodily distortions, odd raptures, visions, etc. is obviously fascinating, but those objects that are fascinating tend to engage us in their specifics rather than their universal qualities, their impermanence, their emptiness, and any suffering involved in their apparent duality.
Thus, if we choose mental objects, we must be doubly vigilant that we make sure to notice them arise and vanish, sensation by sensation, otherwise we likely are just playing in more rapture-esque territory.
These bodily distortions, regressive watching questions, head swelling feelings and the like, as well as the notion of convergence and something exciting coming from them, are the product of taking mental objects as object in the early 1st and 2nd vipassana jhana but without much strong investigation. Thus, we find a imbalance of the seven factors of enlightenment: rapture is strong, concentration is strong, investigation is weak, and without investigation, one might make some progress, and one might even accidentally cross the A&P, but one learns bad habits, and may not be prepared for what tends to come next.
Thus, the rapture-happy practitioner, faced with the Dark Night, will tend to try to re-find the glory of their lower attainments, and yet, as this is regression rather than progress, they will likely falter.
Thus, if one needs to do the experiment, play with rapture-heavy objects, but realize that they will fade, and when they are gone, more advanced and challenging work begins. Or, one could just stick with the moment to moment noticing of less interesting objects.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
or you could ride the rapture happy bliss, into further and further refinement, and then eventually just turn it sensous, and get so into the fascinating aspects of your experience until everything becomes fascinating in that crystal clear sharp luminous way, and then it becomes obvious that what is, is, and then you're not chasing any other moment cos you're totally locked into this one now (filter gone forever). that works too.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 3166 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
And who is it you know who managed to do that?
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 10 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
I must be really confused. I thought that when I perceived one aspect of duality in my identification of this separate observing self, and then attempted to better understand it by identifying characteristics such as not-Self and impermanence (regressive watching questions?) ... only to, indeed, have it disappear (convergence?) ... that I was practicing effective investigation. In your opinion, is this incorrect? If so, why?
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 3166 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Because strong investigation at that level is fast and unconcerned with the specifics of what those things are in a way that is unlikely to support their stable manifestation, when they are really going into stable, out-there stuff, that is lots of concentration, but it is too deep, to specific, to fixated on the particulars, where as strong investigation focuses on the universal characteristics, and while people in strong concentration territory can have strong insights, if the basic focus is on the odd stuff rather than on "sensation, sensation, sensation..." then that is still very samatha/concentration heavy, which, from a vipassana point of view (not necessarily some other point of view) is not as helpful as just noticing things coming and going rapidly regardless of what they are.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: pookee

Brilliant. In fact, those feelings of distortion do tend to pick up steam, starting as one an hour, then 2 or three, several per minute. Eventually they happen very fast. It is clear this is a major class of distraction that impedes absolute concentration and actual awareness of the moment, and it is present even in dissolution (which I experienced only much later). It was useful to know this as I wasn't very impressed with bhanga. Sometimes I can sense the distortions in waking life at the periphery of thought, as I feel dissolution especially in the hands and feet in waking life.

Is this the path? Just moving from object to object dissolving it, understanding it's characteristic of arising and passing?
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
well, me for one (2nd path), and that influenced the conditions at the time i was finishing up up too. and i wouldnt be surprised if a paticular meditation friend and mentor from way back actually did it that way too since he was such a bliss/tranquility-chaser, yet probably with sufficient investigative power, which is necessary.

i forgot to mention up there that in the late bliss-refinement you might run into the dark night before everything turns sensuous, in which case you should look for the bliss in the strange-feeling peripheral vibrations (can feel like a thrilling anxiety, a giddy nausea, a hushed anguish, a calming feeling that your body's being ripped apart by a strong force, etc). but then later, when things get really clear and sensuous, there's a period where they may simply go in and out of focus for a while, in which case you can just gaze right through them. then eventually your mind will not give any significance to the focus-instability, wont even notice it, and then you at some point see things as they are and lock in with a path-moment, doing a kind of permanent damage to the duality-filter at that level. (it all somehow ends up that same way)
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RE: Observing observation

Post: 1 Join Date: 9/7/09 Recent Posts
Tarin ,'it sounds beutifull and i wish for me such a thing also,but maybe Daniel has a point that sertain things are less profitable for the beguiners(before streem entry)-as u mentioned by yourself u did it for second path,not the first.
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RE: Observing observation

Posts: 19 Join Date: 7/7/09 Recent Posts
I think Daniel has made a crucial point. Investigation has to be about ALL objects and exactly why they are ALL similar. Yeah, that includes mental objects but why mess with the confusion that mental objects can introduce? For me sound objects have always been the most helpful in discovery: How do objects arise? When do they become objects as opposed to something else? What IS an object anyway, and when something arises as an object what EXACTLY are its characteristics?

I think the Whole Shebang, the Big Knot, Universal Relief, is ensconced in the very nature of the subject/object duality we human beings chronically perceive. Far easier to do the kind of investigating required of breaking that chronic and habitual perception with body sensations, sound, visuals.

Just my humble opinion.