The value of silence.

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Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

The value of silence.

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

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RE: The value of silence.

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

There is irony in writing about silence. To promote something with it's opposite is rather cheeky. But in meditation today I was reminded of it's key importance. When you sit and try to think only of the breath, for example, the mind revolts because the breath is a prison. The reality of breath is less far less interesting than the experiences the mind can produce for itself.

But there is value in staying in this prison for a while. Within this prison very little is happening. It is peaceful - with the key exception of the revolted, and revolting mental reaction. It's true that some matters of real interest can arise, observation of unusual and subtle sensation. However, it is essentially sensory deprivation. This forces the cluttered mind to clean itself up, to deal only with what is right in front of it. This is a very useful skill for those moments when one really needs to pay attention, for example when learning a new skill or sizing someone up. "Now" is the only time your mind receives new information.

The peace of this prison is often disrupted by normal thoughts. A more subtle form of speech occurs, some call it "noting" - this is the process of simply naming what you find. It can also occur that questions arise "What is this?" or "Am I doing this right?" or "Is this really a sensation?". These mental verbalizations don't seriously disrupt the experience. However, it does prevent forward progress.

With practice, it is possible to eliminate all verbalizations, even the subtle ones. This is done by simply realizing when you're doing it, and stopping. Even in mid sentence. If one sets a special intention to eliminate words, it becomes relatively easy to do in only a few sittings. And one finds the meditations become more beneficial.
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RE: The value of silence.

Posts: 19 Join Date: 7/7/09 Recent Posts
"If one sets a special intention to eliminate words..."

Why do you want to eliminate words?
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RE: The value of silence.

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
Hi Pookee,

I must respectfully disagree with your position that noting and/or all other verbalizations during practice are an obstacle preventing further progress. Verbalization is an important part of certain practices -- practices that really work. Hokai's descriptions of Japanese Shingon practice in the Hurricane Ranch Discussion shed light on this fact. When what we think, say, and do are aligned and tended to as one, concentration is attained. Lining up all of these faculties of mind can be a strong foundation and catalyst for progress on the path, rather than an obstacle.

From personal experience, I know that making mental notes our counting breaths while in the Equanimity ñana has pushed me through to path and fruition, particularly when working on 2nd Path.

Anyways, you're free to engage in whichever practice you like. There are a number of practices which involve an active refrain from intentional verbalization, and they work well, too. But to say that verbalization is an obstacle in a general sense… I have to disagree.
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RE: The value of silence.

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

To enhance the peace of an uncluttered mind. More profoundly, because language constructions have at their core subject/object duality: to wit, if there is speaking, then there is an implicit "I" that is speaking. And finally, if indeed there is a path that is universal, what words are universal? I would say, none, and so the path doesn't involve particular words.

Silence is a practice that I enjoy, and which has brought me good results. I hope you give it a shot.
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RE: The value of silence.

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

I didn't mean to make any such statement: I am in no position to make such a grandiose claim! Walking on the path isn't even correct; I am more an infant crawling along at a snails pace! But, as infants are wont to do, I display my curiosity and try things and put things in my mouth. Most of the time it tastes terrible. Silence, however, tastes great. Maybe you could try it and let me know what you thought!
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RE: The value of silence.

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

i enjoy silence a lot in my normal life, to the extent i can get it anyway (what with noisy neighbours, children playing in the yard, water from the radiator, the computer fan and hard drive, klacking keyboard sounds, sounds of breathing, bowels gurgling, other bodily processes, etc). i also enjoy mental silence, finding that i prefer, in general, not having much to think about to having plenty to think about and concern myself with. however, the day to day experience of being among other people and things, in this world of ours, is one that doesn't permit much of either kind of silence in long uninterrupted spells. fortunately though, if your goal is to do insight practice, such exclusive silence is unnecessary.

what i discovered not long before i attained first path is that silence itself is a constructed experience, made of fleeting sense impressions (that imply silence), and that the peace of silence is also a constructed experience, made of fleeting sense impressions (that imply peace). i've since thought to myself at times, 'ah if only i had realised that years ago.' it's not that no one was saying this, of course, as my teachers and some of my friends were wont to say things like 'the silence isnt it, the tranquility isnt it, the peace isnt it' on a regular basis. but what i took that to mean was 'when the world is neither silent nor peaceful, work with that, rather than trying to effect a return to silence and peace'. if only i'd known it also meant 'investigate the silence as its happening, peace as its happening, to see what it really is', it might not have taken me so long.

so when you say that verbalisations 'prevent further progress', you might add that it's not further progress in vipassana that's being prevented, but merely further progress in one's ability to stay in 'the peace of this prison'. is that your goal?
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RE: The value of silence.

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

Technically, I think I particularly mean "progress along the path of samadhi". However, since the focus that samadhi brings helps with panna, or insight, direct knowledge of A&P, so the end it helps with both.

This preoccupation with words and analysis may be a consistent characteristic of this group, actually. But I wonder if you can alter the mind without altering the language centers? I wonder if you can attain good concentration without leaving behind words which are, presumably, not the focus of concentration and so a distraction?

Obviously, I don't think so but you are welcome to your view. In the end, the real measure of success in meditation is happiness, and a life well lived.
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RE: The value of silence.

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
'I wonder if you can attain good concentration without leaving behind words which are, presumably, not the focus of concentration and so a distraction?'

where 'good concentration' means 'concentration sufficient for the attainment and mastery of trances, classed at 2nd jhana and above, in hard, enduring, and all-consuming ways', then no. you need a lot of mental silence for that.

however, where 'good concentration' means 'concentration sufficient for the attainment of insight path and fruit', the answer is yes, clearly. path is attained from equanimity stage, and from a state of mind that is rather unremarkable in its normalcy - occasional verbalisations and all. the good concentration of this state is in the experience of its entirety, and is not, by necessity, the good concentration of a focused, undistracted mind that unfailingly stays exclusively on the object(s) of one's choice.

however, i think it is great that you seem bent on getting your jhanic abilities that strong, as doing so, on its own, is unlikely to impede your insight progress. however, take care that you do not assume solidity in space, do not assume solidity in peace, nor in consciousness, nor in non-verbal awareness, nor in nothingness, nor in anything else at all which you may find desirable or advantageous to your samadhi, for if you do this you will not progress.

i disagree with your assessment that success in meditation is measured by happiness and a life well-lived. i regard success in meditation practices as being the achievement of their various and well-defined ends: insight practice leads to the end of fundamental suffering; concentration practices lead to trances, temporary quiescence, a heightening of psychic phenomena, and other interesting altered states of consciousness. for a happy and well-lived life, i find it better to rely on my own intent.
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RE: The value of silence.

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

Is total mental silence necessary for any sort of practice? I don't really feel qualified to say, so take it with a grain of salt, but my opinion is no. This also is your position, I believe.

Is mental silence useful for my personal practice? Absolutely.

Is mental silence useful for direct experience of reality? I believe so, but this is supposition. This belief is consistent with both my experiences and some of what I've read.

Is mental silence only useful for jhana? I'm not sure, but I think a definite maybe is about right. Is it useless for insight? Well, only insofar as jhana is not useful for insight (and jhana allows rather deep exploration of insight, if my understanding is correct).

As for the measure of success, I think we'll have to agree to disagree here. I believe that the path is good in the beginning, the middle, and the end. If it doesn't bear fruit along the way, then it's not the path. As many teachers have put it, the path is an "art of living".
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RE: The value of silence.

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi pookee,

Very interesting thread. Thanks for starting it.

Regarding the path: Yes, it's good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end. I like to remind myself that "good" does not automatically mean "pleasant" or "happy"; and also that the path is not just meditation: the sila section is the one about leading a good life.

Cheers,
Florian
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RE: The value of silence.

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
total mental silence is necessary for holding all hard jhanas, from 2nd up. (if there are any hard jhana heads that experience otherwise, please chime in)

a decrease in mental noise, as the outcome of increased attentiveness to the already-happening way the world is being experienced, is useful for further increasing this attentiveness.

a continuum of mental silence is not a necessary condition for the minimum level of jhanic absorption that is useful for exploring insight to the very end.

i agree that the path does indeed bear fruit along the way, provided the path you're referring to is the noble 8-fold path. however, if this is the path you mean, you may note that it, though commonly taught to comprise meditation, is never taught to be comprised entirely of meditation. 'the art of living' is a nice phrase but i dont take it to mean 'the art of meditation' - right speech and right livelihood, for example, are not things to be concerned with on the cushion. i rather take it to mean something like 'an attitude that, as it grows in a person, comes to both drive and encourage him or her to live a happy and harmless life'.
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RE: The value of silence.

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Hi, Tarin. This is true as long as it refers to gross mental "noise" i.e. gross mental and verbal activity. The subtle discursive activity continues, however, and is part of the very dhyanic state, hard or soft, as far as four rupa (subtle form) dhyanas are concerned. This subtle discursive activity is further reduced to a very subtle stream, as evidenced in additional four attainments, themselves free even from subtle discursiveness, but not without very subtle distinctions being made. In other words, even with the four higher attainments (space, consciousness, "nothingness", neither-nor awareness) the states themselves are distinguished while and as experienced, which attests to a very subtle discursive function being operative. The only exceptions to this are two cognitive cessations, namely asamjna- and nirodha-samapatti, both relative attainments pertaining to shamatha mastery.

So we speak of (1) relative and sliding-scale notion of "silence", serving as tool to noticing and harnessing ever finer discursive abilities, and on the other hand (2) ground silence of the "relative vacuum states" wherein only discursive potential remains without elaboration whatsoever, and (3) ultimate, non-dual silence obvious in primordial awareness, undisturbed by and pervading every discursive thought, voice and sound, intentional or otherwise, revealing the diaphanous speech, a tacit testament to itself.
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RE: The value of silence.

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Don't get me started...
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RE: The value of silence.

Posts: 559 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Look at pookee's first (ok, second) post:

“The reality of breath is less far less interesting than the experiences the mind can produce for itself.”
-Very good observation.

“It [staying with the breath] is peaceful - with the key exception of the revolted, and revolting mental reaction...The peace of this prison is often disrupted by normal thoughts”
-Another good observation – that thoughts keep coming up and there is stress.

“With practice, it is possible to eliminate all verbalizations, even the subtle ones. This is done by simply realizing when you're doing it, and stopping. Even in mid sentence.”
-Pointing out the importance of mindfulness – seeing when you have lost the object, letting go – returning to the object. Whether it is possible or not to eliminate all verbalization – a good hypothesis to be tested.

In my opinion pookee is making good progress in insight and currently struggling with 'the hindrances'. Beginning to see mind/body interactions and experimenting with these things and thus developing skill with them. Exactly what Buddha ordered. Noting practice is just one approach to this.

A plug for one of my favorite teachers: Thanissaro Bhikkhu over at dhammatalks.org. -
check out: “Letting Go” and “The Five Hindrances” - both from April 2009.
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RE: The value of silence.

Posts: 559 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
wouldbehipster: “I must respectfully disagree with your position that noting and/or all other verbalizations during practice are an obstacle preventing further progress.”

-Seems to me that Daniel said there was a point where noting needs to be dropped. Maybe he can comment on that - as I have not used the noting practice I can't really say where that point would be. If the breath is being used as the object then it would be at the point where one becomes aware of and capable of taking the 'breath energy' (vibrations) as the object.

prisoner: “i agree that the path does indeed bear fruit along the way, provided the path you're referring to is the noble 8-fold path. however, if this is the path you mean, you may note that it, though commonly taught to comprise meditation, is never taught to be comprised entirely of meditation. “

-There is a sutta where the big guy does state that the entire path IS right concentration or words to that effect. MN 117 makes a similar statement at the beginning of it.
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RE: The value of silence.

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Hey Chuck,

It's true that there are times when noting practice can be relaxed or even stopped during a particular stage of practice. There are phases during the A&P where the sensations are too fast to note clearly, so you end up just dropping the mental notes and observe the phenomena as it rapidly manifests and disppears.

Also, during the Equanimity ñana, intense noting can agitate the mind unnecessarily. In order to maintain balance, there are times when noting should cease. However, if one's attention becomes lax, noting can help bring it back up to the appropriate balance.

My objection with pookee's statement was that he appeared to be applying it absolutely. Just saying, "verbalization is bad - silence is good,' is not good advice for most people. I think that most people do better when they learn to work with verbalization when appropriate. In fact, insisting that all verbalization should cease in order to do good meditation is an obstacle in itself. It might cause people to get hung up on quieting their mind completely, when such a thing happens only rarely (as Hokai alluded to above). It's more practical to learn how to work with verbalizations, i.e. seeing their universal characteristics.

Jackson
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RE: The value of silence.

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

Do you mean this one?

"

The Blessed One said: "Now what, monks, is noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions? Any singleness of mind equipped with these seven factors — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, & right mindfulness — is called noble right concentration with its supports & requisite conditions.

"


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.117.than.html
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RE: The value of silence.

Posts: 559 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Yes, that's it.
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RE: The value of silence.

Posts: 559 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi Jackson,
“Just saying, "verbalization is bad - silence is good,' is not good advice for most people.”
“insisting that all verbalization should cease in order to do good meditation.”

I don't see where pookee said either one of these things.

“It's more practical to learn how to work with verbalizations, i.e. seeing their universal characteristics.”

At some point yes – I agree. There is however good reason to start with a frame of reference that is fairly easy to work with which will allow one to develop the stability of mind needed to work with mental activity. Also, by dropping thoughts when they arise and returning to body sensations we can become more in touch with subtler sensations that are involved with the mental processes – and there is good insight to be found there.

-Chuck
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RE: The value of silence.

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My own experience was that I spent a lot of time and effort trying to silence my thoughts, only to find that it really can't be done without directing effort down the concentration path. It was insight I was after, though, and only upon changing my practice to include all arising phenomena did more insight about thoughts come. My desire was always aimed at waking up -- at first perceived as something attainable by reaching in some nebulous way, then as a desire to awaken right now, in this moment. That's why I asked the question, "Why do you want to eliminate words?"

But my path ain't your path ain't her path ain't their path. So good luck, pookee.
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RE: The value of silence.

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
chuck,

verbal noting doesnt 'have to' be dropped at any point to attain path, though daniel did teach me to experiment with dropping it 1- when vibrations present in clear and easy-to-stay-with ways (such as in the a&p), and 2- in equanimity, where sense-experience is as formations and are so total and absorbing that noting seems unnecessary. however, for me, the total-ness of formations was so total i didnt figure out it was still happening, and many times i was in high equanimity without realising it i would think i was doin-it-wrong and so go back to noting. then one time, i noted all the way up to when i lost focus completely and got path.

re the point you make that you back up with mn 117, i concede that what the entirety of the path is or isnt depends on what we define as the path, how we define its constituents, and what of it we call meditation. i think of meditation as what i do in periods of practice - the rest i call just every day living. both are, to the extent that they occur, part of the path. as for the relationship between meditation and every day living, i can see it - the element of concentration - in my every day living, but its not predominant. if you want to define right concentration as something that can and should be practised in all of life, i hope you're willing to think of it as a background process, and not something that must be focused on and actively engaged at all times, because teaching it like the latter is placing a huge over-emphasis on concentration, when all the (other) factors of the path (also) deserve attention. i wouldnt want to live every day like i do the days im on retreat, nor do i want retreats to be broad enough that they include the activities of my whole life. the partition between normal mode and serious mode was in the original buddhist order's lifestyle as well, if i understand correctly, in the difference between most of the year and vassa (the rainy season retreat).
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RE: The value of silence.

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

it does seem, in retrospect, that the natural thing to do is to try to shut the mind up so that 'the real stuff' can show up, and if that is taken to be the immediate goal, then concentration practice is what naturally makes sense. but, like you, i eventually lost interest in doing that as my goal became, as you put it, less about a nebulous means, and more about an immediate end in itself (for me it was mostly staying on the 3 characteristics). great post, thanks for expressing it so succintly.
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RE: The value of silence.

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

Clinging to thoughts, clinging to silence, what's the difference?

From the Sutra of Hui Neng:

Learned Audience, when we use Prajna for introspection we are illumined within and without, and in a position to know our own mind. To know our mind is to obtain liberation. To obtain liberation is to attain Samadhi of Prajna, which is 'thoughtlessness'. What is 'thoughtlessness'? 'Thoughtlessness' is to see and to know all Dharmas (things) with a mind free from attachment. When in use it pervades everywhere, and yet it sticks nowhere. What we have to do is to purify our mind so that the six Vijnanas (aspects of consciousness), in passing through the six gates (sense organs) will neither be defiled by nor attached to the six sense-objects. When our mind works freely without any hindrance, and is at liberty to 'come' or to 'go', we attain Samadhi of Prajna, or liberation. Such a state is called the function of 'thoughtlessness'. But to refrain from thinking of anything, so that all thoughts are suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden, and this is an erroneous view.
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RE: The value of silence.

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Hey msj123,

Thanks for citing this passage. It appears as though Hui Neng is pointing to what Hokai described in his above comment (#12)...

"ultimate, non-dual silence obvious in primordial awareness, undisturbed by and pervading every discursive thought, voice and sound, intentional or otherwise, revealing the diaphanous speech, a tacit testament to itself."

So then, attaining "thoughtlessness" is not to attain a state of being where thoughts no longer arise. Rather, it is to discover and dwell in the clear light of awareness which is undisturbed by and pervading all discursive thought.

~Jackson

EDIT: Spelling
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RE: The value of silence.

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Oh, yeah!

The lion roars.
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RE: The value of silence.

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

During my last retreat, I discovered a deeper meaning to the phrase "don't get caught up in content."

Content includes the whole world of phenomenon. Repressions, suppressions, memories, kundalini, shakti, chi, superpowers, states of mind, states of concentration, states of anything--- it is all something else to let go of. Because these things can be sublime, blissful, and wonderful, it is easy to forget that.

Realizing this, Mara has no power.
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RE: The value of silence.

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"The lion roars."

Amen, brother!
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RE: The value of silence.

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

Thought I would relate my experience.
Up until now at least; my dwellings in no thought, what I thought was the clear light of awareness has revealed itself to accompany ever subtler "something". Subtle self, space and time contructs change and therefore reveal themselves as phenomena in constant awareness. I sense the awareness and know it to be, but not without phenomena. Nothing is always something. Each discovery speaks louder than any thought so with regards to nothing I guess the lion roars for me too!
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RE: The value of silence.

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

I think that's why the Buddha did not list so many different types of things to be aware of in the Satipatthana sutta.

In vipassana the object of practice is not to note or be aware of what the object is, because otherwise there would an infinite amount of things to note.

Recognizing them would be like perception?

The purpose is note or be aware of our emotional reaction to the object.


Otherwise there is a lot of content. For example if you see a green tree, you don't say green, you note whether you like it or not, or whether or not you are confused as to how to note.

Literally, there would be an infinite amount of things to note if you just named or noted or recognized the objects. So you don't do that, you are aware of or note the emotional reaction to the object, a consciousness with desire, a consciousness with hate, or you could note doubt, confusion, worry, hate et.c.

In the Four Foundations of mindfulness there are Body, Feelings, Consciousness and Dhammas.

So you do not wallow in the content of all the objects, but rather note the emotional or be aware of the emotional reactions to them. Otherwise there are an infinite amount of things to note.
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RE: The value of silence.

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http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/index.html#satipatthana

not infinite, simply thorough
to be known directly by the wise who practice well
so they say
I just attend to it, such as it is, not saying I've beached on the far shore just yet or anything, but emotions are just more stuff, farts are more interesting most of the time.

I take an increasingly active role in emotional content. Metta, upekkha, karuna, mudita. Mostly upekkha, then it dips down that line more or less, sometimes in a beautiful environment (there are many in nature) it will linger in mudita as I enjoy the world expressing it's temporal stuff. I find these emotive radiants far more satisfying than simply whatever reactive crap wants to arise. I think the effort is more in line with adjusting the paramis, balancing the factors of enlightenment. yada yada...
: )
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RE: The value of silence.

Posts: 559 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Thanks all for the inspiring interlude. btw, did you know Hui Neng was the only patriarch to sit for a photo?

Huang Po: “You people go on misunderstanding; you hold to concepts such as “ordinary” and “Enlightened,” directing your thoughts outwards where they gallop about like horses! All this amounts to beclouding your own minds! So I tell you Mind is the Buddha. As soon as thought or sensation arises, you fall into dualism. Beginningless time and the present moment are the same. There is no this and no that. To understand this truth is called complete and unexcelled Enlightenment.”

“full understanding can come to you only through an inexpressible mystery. The approach to it is called the Gateway of the Stillness beyond all Activity. ... not till your mind is motionless as wood or stone, will you be on the right road to the Gate. “

The sudden school is great – provided you have put in 5 or 10 years preparing yourself for your 'sudden awakening' :-) Put another way, 'the lions roar from a distance sounds allot like cat farts'.

“Plunge into the depths.
Stillness is deep. There’s nothing profound in shallow waters. “ - 3rd patriarch

“Thus you should train yourselves: 'We will develop mindfulness immersed in the body. We will pursue it, hand it the reins and take it as a basis, give it a grounding, steady it, consolidate it, and undertake it well.' That is how you should train yourselves." - SN 47.20

That's how the lion roars
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RE: The value of silence.

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rock on
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RE: The value of silence.

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I agree with Hokai: one can get the thing pretty quiet, but stopping the thought stream entirely is the domain of supra-mundane attainments such as Fruition. Even the deepest of the experienced states has some subtle thought stream.

I attained to some of the strongest concentration states I ever attained using mantra in addition to visualization, so it aided rather than impeded my concentration, though past a certain point it changes to something somewhat different from the standard way we think of the verbal thought stream.

Beware assuming that thought=duality. Thoughts are sensations, and there are multiple modes in which sensations may be perceived: apparently dual, apparently unitive, apparently non-dual. All of these modes arise dependent on conditions, and while the content of thought is always dual, the experience may be quite the opposite.

I agree that there is much to be enjoyed in more quiet states, but there is much to be enjoyed in others as well, and I have at points had great fun ramping the volume of music in my head to become grand celestial choirs belting out beautiful complex harmonies such that the halls of space rang and shimmered rich overtones of pure delight the likes of which could never be heard in this ordinary realm.
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RE: The value of silence.

Posts: 362 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
You too, eh? Yeah, man that stuff rocks. And you can just pick up any voice in that orchestra and start jamming with a salsa beat in 17/16ths if you want. I have got to get a Dolby 6.1 output to the laptop installed at some point.

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