Intro + questions

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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 5/11/09 10:52 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/11/09 10:52 PM

Intro + questions

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

Hello all!

I am new here and the few threads I've read so far put light on some misconceptions I've had. I see now I was not clear on the diferences between concentration and insight and did not practice on developing concetation skills at all!

Have been meditating for about 2 years. Started with Vipassana but then "switched" to zazen. Last summer went on a silent 6-day reteat with a visiting Soto Zen teacher from SF Zen Center. Lots of pain. Even with some yoga my whole body was on fire and on day 4 I jumped into the cold Baltic Sea to cool down. When breathing into pain no longer helped I gave up on everything. This is when things staretd happening but the reatreat was over!

Consider going on a year intensive retreat but don't know where to or how it will happen. Have no "formal" teacher for the moment. Right now sit 30 min a day (did zazen before).

Questions:

1) In Daniel's book (thanks to Vince for interviewing Daniel on BGs!) I went directly to the Three Characteristics as he advised for basic core practices. Were those small exercises meant as insight practices as opposed to the concentration practices (as they focus on breaking the sensations into smaller blocks)?

2) In his book Daniel talks of "vibrations" and sometimes "sensations". Are these used as synonyms? At this stage I can only relate to the sensations (bodily sensations that come through the senses) but cannot really understand what "vibrations" are inte context of book.

3) Consdering what Daniel says about the importance of getting to the first jhana, should I put the insight meditation aside for a while and sit 30 min a day (the time I can afford right now) working entirely with improving my concentration skills?

Any further advice to the beginner is greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance!

Warmly,

Irina
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Vincent Horn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/12/09 2:48 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/12/09 2:48 AM

RE: Intro + questions

Posts: 211 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Hi Irina,

Welcome to the DhO! I'm glad you found us through BGeeks, and have been finding some value here. As to your questions, here's my best shot at a preliminary answer. As usual, other members of the community may have some other perspectives, or points of view that are helpful.

1) Yes, the practices he lays out in that section are meant as insight practices. Switching attention between the two fingertips and between the front and back of the head are meant to tune into the impermanence factor. They also strengthen concentration simultaneously, as it takes quite a bit of concentration to stay with the rapid movement between them.

2) Vibration is a tricky word, as I've noticed many people don't seem quite understand what is meant here. I would check out this past thread, where someone had asked this very same question ("Am I experiencing vibrations" ; http://dharmaoverground.wetpaint.com/thread/2000477/Am+I+experiencing+%22vibrations%22%3F).

(cont below)
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Vincent Horn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/12/09 2:52 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/12/09 2:52 AM

RE: Intro + questions

Posts: 211 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
3) In all honesty Irina, from the description of your last retreat, you probably ended the retreat getting into the Arising and Passing Away territory. If you aren't familiar with the model of the “progress of insight”, it's in Daniels book, and is one of the primary maps we use here to help each along the path of insight. Your description of intense physical pain and burning up is spot on with the 3rd stage of insight: the three characteristics, and when you say that after that "things started happening" that almost certainly refers to the 4th stage: the arising and passing away.

Given that, I wouldn't worry too much about the first jhana, as if you have already been able to get into the arising and passing territory whatever you were doing was working well enough. I would refine your technique and if possible go on another retreat w/ the goal of crossing the A&P event (a significant milestone in practice). After that is stream-entry (or the 1st stage of awakening). Of course, keep in mind that inbetween the A&P and stream entry is the dark night, which can be tough (as many people here on the forum could tell you). But, as many other people can tell you, it’s all worth it. :-D

Is this helpful?

-Vince
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tarin greco, modified 13 Years ago at 5/12/09 3:34 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/12/09 3:34 AM

RE: Intro + questions

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

1) like vince said, those exercises are designed for insight practice, and they build continuity and focus, as well as understanding of impermanence characteristic. the head/back of the head thing can do some cool stuff along no-self lines too.
2) generally speaking, 'vibrations' are repetitive sensations that seem to be happening on their own. see the original post in the thread vince linked to for a good list of some things that can serve as 'vibrations'.
3) no, you should keep observing the 3 characteristics, and make every single second of the 30 min you have to spare each day count. also, try to do a few seconds or minutes here and there during the day, building good continuity when circumstances allow, and a little bit even when they dont emoticon
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 5/12/09 4:42 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/12/09 4:42 AM

RE: Intro + questions

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

Vince, it's been VERY helpful, thank you! In all honesty, I have to read about A&P in that chapter to see what it actually means. Thank you for "locating" me on the map :-): I now have both a map and some clear instructions.

I signed up for the same retreat with the same SF Zen Center teacher on one of the islands here (this time a day longer) but in the last minute chose to go for a person-to-person training with a meditation teacher in a different tradition since I could only afford one or the other. I consider going on an intensive one year reatreat but has to make it there in all ways first :-) and I don't know just yet where it could be. Hope to find some of the useful info on it here.

As for the Dark Night, I will read the accounts and not to underestimate it I believe I've been in the dark night for about 30 years, living a zombie like life. Anything leading to some awakening can only be lighter. Obviously, I don't know yet what this Dark Night means :-).

Gassho,
Irina
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 5/12/09 4:45 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/12/09 4:45 AM

RE: Intro + questions

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

Thank you for your answers! Very clear now!
I do those exercises any time I can now - great stuff and does not attract attention even in public :-).

gassho,
I.
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 7/14/09 9:16 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/14/09 9:16 PM

RE: Intro + questions

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

Hello all,

I'm new here. I've read Daniel's book and Practical Insight Meditation and have finally decided to take the plunge and join DhO. I'm glad to join you all. I've been digging through the threads here trying to find an answer to my single question, and this one seems to have hit it closest as Irina's background is much like my own. I've been doing objectless zazen for a couple of years now and feel like I've been spinning my wheels. The idea of goal-oriented practice appeals to me immensely. Unlike Irina, though, I've never gone on an extended retreat and certainly haven't approached the A&P yet. With all that said, I'm resurrecting her/my/our question:

"3) Consdering what Daniel says about the importance of getting to the first jhana, should I put the insight meditation aside for a while and sit 30 min a day (the time I can afford right now) working entirely with improving my concentration skills? "

Does anyone have suggestions on this for a relative insight beginner like myself? Having studied the maps on Daniel's site I feel very much I'm still in the waterfall stage despite my years of daily zazen: I'm still fighting off content and restlessness on a daily basis. Do you guys think I should be focusing on strengthening my concentration practice or should I jump straight to insight to fight off the restlessness?

Thanks for any help you can provide!
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Florian, modified 13 Years ago at 7/15/09 7:15 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/15/09 7:15 AM

RE: Intro + questions

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

Which of the two, jhana or insight, do you find more appealing right now? If you approach concentration practice with an attitude of "doing chores" or "rote practice" until being allowed to do the good stuff, will that be helpful? emoticon

A suggestion: start doing noting practice. After some time, you might want to add a bit of concentration practice, on the breath or a kasina, for example. That way, you'll be able to observe the effects of the concentration on your insight (if any), and get an impression of how the (slightly artificial) "concentraition/insight" division applies to your mode of practice.

But keep it simple initially. If you think it would be fun to get to know the insight map a bit, jump right in, I'd say. If you'd really like to hit jhana, go for the concentration. This is about exploring the heart, after all, so your heart should be with it ;)

Cheers,
Florian
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 13 Years ago at 7/15/09 9:12 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/15/09 9:12 AM

RE: Intro + questions

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

Why fight off the content and restlessness when you can use it to your advantage? Like Florian, I think it may be a good idea for you to take up noting practice. When I first started noting practice, I used Practical Insight Meditation as my guide. Get to know it well and follow Mahasi's instructions to the T. After giving it a whirl, let us know what happens.

Also, Florian's right about the concentration-insight (shamatha-vipassana) divide. As he has so eloquently explained in another thread, shamatha and vipassana are on the same continuum. Noting practice will improve your concentration, and concentration practice can also improve your noting. So start with what works best for now, which in your case is probably noting practice.

Best of luck!

~Jackson
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 7/15/09 12:16 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/15/09 12:16 PM

RE: Intro + questions

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

Thank you both very much for the suggestions.

Before reading either of these replies last night I did a little bit of shamatha before bed last night, following the suggestion I've read elsewhere on DhO of "breathing in with the entire body, breathing out with the entire body." Almost immediately I noted pleasing & calming sensations throughout the whole body, and it was very easy and enjoyable for me to stay with the breath. While staying with the breath (with my eyes closed) I saw a coupe of flashes akin to a camera flash. I noted these, and when I shifted my attention to the field of vision they seemed to stop. They only seemed to occur while I was focused on the breath, but they were a rather surprising distraction to say the least.

I'll try to focus exclusively on noting practice for the remainder of the month and report back on my progress. Should I do that here? Starting a whole thread for reporting my progress seems a little self serving.

Thanks again for the help, it's wonderful to have more experienced practitioners to guide me through this unfamiliar terrain.

Justin
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 7/15/09 3:58 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/15/09 3:58 PM

RE: Intro + questions

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

Justin, maybe others would disagree, but I think having a whole thread for your practice progress is perfect for this site.
Also, if it is easy for you to stay with the breath, I wonder if maybe you should grab onto that skill and cultivate it and see where you can get with concentration practices.
You may not realize it but it is a very rare skill that can lead to wonderful things apparently.
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 7/16/09 4:19 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/16/09 4:19 AM

RE: Intro + questions

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

Justin, I'm in a similar place and I think I'd benefit greatly from a thread focused on this early stage of practice. So I don't think it would be entirely self-serving for you to report back in a thread here.