A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

I accidentally stumbled on this treatise the other day and found it had some interesting things to say about practice. The author, Ven. U Vimalaramsi, was a Mahasi-style meditator who fell away from the flock. Here are some highlights from his book, located at: http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/clubs/buddhism/vimalaramsi/main.html

1. Jhana means stage of meditation, not stage of concentration.

2. Shamatha means tranquility, not fixed concentration.

3. Samadhi was introduced by the Buddha to mean calmness and stillness, not fixed absorption.

4. Fixed concentration practice tenses and hardens the mind instead of expanding it. The same goes for noting practice. The author recommends a soft concentration, based on relaxation.

5. Vipassana style meditation is based on commentary and little to nothing in the original suttas.

I’m not advocating, but I thought it might make for an interesting discussion.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

Thanks for the heads up on this! I'm a sucker for dissenting views. I'm going to give this a read as soon as I can (currently in an internet cafe in Bangkok!).

Surprised no one else has commented yet...
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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This sounds like typical sutta-based approach to meditation. For a comparison of approaches to samadhi and jhana in Theravada, see Richard Shankman's "The Experience of Samadhi" http://bit.ly/W4s2U

or listen to him at Buddhist Geeks http://personallifemedia.com/guests/1935-richard-shankman
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Bhante Vimilaramsi has a website at http://www.dhammasukha.org where some of his talks are archived. I listened to many of them before I discovered MCTB and DhO. All I can say is that the approach in MCTB and here tends to appeal to the engineer in me more so than does Vimilaramsi's. I'd be very interested to hear others' comments!
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

Core excerpts:

When one is practicing "fixed concentration' the meditator lets go of any distraction and then redirects their mind back to the meditation object again. On the other hand, when one is practicing "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation", one lets go of the distraction (this part is exactly the same as the 'fixed concentration'), relaxes the tightness in the head and feels the mind becomes open, expanded and calm. Only then does one redirect their attention back to the object of meditation. The small difference of relaxing the mind and feeling it open and calm, changes the whole meditation from a 'fixed concentration' to a more flowing, mindful and calm kind of awareness, that doesn't go as deep as the absorption types of meditation. As a result, the meditator becomes more in tune with the teachings in the suttas.

When one is practicing "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation", they do not suppress anything. Suppression means to push down or to push away or not allow certain types of experience i.e., it stops the hindrances from arising. Instead, when a hindrance arises, one must work to open their minds by seeing it clearly as anicca (impermanence, it wasn't there and now it is), dukkha (suffering or unsatisfactoriness, one sees that when these distractions arise they are painful), and anatta (not taking it personally, seeing the hindrances in the true way as being an impersonal process that one has no control over and not taking these hindrances as "I am that"). One then lets go of this obstruction, relaxes the tightness in the head, calms the mind and finally, redirects the attention back to the practice of 'Mindfulness of Breathing'.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Author: msj123

As a result, one begins to see clearly how the mind works and this leads to the development of wisdom. When one allows and does not identify with these hindrances, they will naturally fade away, and the mind becomes more clear and bright. Every time one lets go of the ego attachment of "I am that", the mind naturally becomes more expanded, alert and mindful. Thus, one of the main reasons of this book is to show that whenever one suppresses any thing, they are not purifying the mind, or experiencing things as they truly are. At the time of suppression, one is pushing away or not allowing part of their experience and thus, this contracts the mind instead of expanding and opening the mind. As a result, it is not purifying the mind of ignorance. One is actually stopping the process of purification of the mind! It is impossible to experience the unconditioned state of the Supramundane Nibbana when one does not let go of everything that arises, and in that way, purify the mind of the ego belief of "I am that". The Lord Buddha had never taught suppression of any experience nor did he teach a meditation that causes the mind to fix or to absorb into the meditation object. Remember, he rejected every form of 'concentration meditation' as not being the correct way. Actually, any kinds of pain or emotional upset or physical discomforts and even of death must be accepted with equanimity, full awareness or strong attention and not identifying with it or taking that pain personally.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Author: msj123

Real personality change occurs when one opens and expands their mind and let go any kinds of hindrances, pain, suffering and tension even in their daily lives. This means that one opens and expands their awareness so that they observe everything with a silent mind which is free from tightness and all ego-attachment. One gradually leads a happy and calm life without a lot of mind chatter, especially during their daily activities. When one practices "concentration meditation", one will feel very comfortable and happy while in the deep meditation but when they get out of these exalted stages, their personality remains the same (this means that the hindrances attack them but they do not recognize and open their mind. Thus, they contract their mind and become even more attached!). They might even tend to be prideful and critical! This is because whenever a hindrance arises during the meditation, the meditator lets it go and immediately goes back to the object of meditation again. They do this without calming and relaxing the tightness caused by the distraction. Instead, their mind tends to close or contract and tighten around that experience (while in sitting meditation) until the mind becomes more deeply 'concentrated'. As a result, this suppresses the hindrance. Thus, they have not completely let go of the ego-attachment to that distraction. Their mind is also tight and tense because they are not seeing clearly that they are not opening and allowing, but closing and fighting with that distraction. This explains why nowadays meditators complain that they have huge amounts of tension in their head. Actually, when one truly lets go of any distraction, there will not ever be any tension in the head. As a result of this suppression, there is no real purifying of the mind and thus, personality change does not occur.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

Posts: 439 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
Matt, it sounds like U Vimalaramsi has a lot in common with some of us at DhO. Noticing that so many yogis are "doing it and not getting it done," as Hokai would say, U Vima is tweaking the instructions and defining the terms in ways that make sense to him, based on the traditional teachings and on his own experience. He wants to help people get over the hump.

There's no one right way to talk about this vast and complex topic, and at this point we can only speculate about what the Buddha actually said or meant. We do our best in an effort to help others find out for themselves what on Earth is going on here.

One of U Vima's interpretations did surprise me, though:

"Remember, he [the Buddha] rejected every form of 'concentration meditation' as not being the correct way."

Although the Buddha rejected the extreme ascetic life he had experimented with prior to his awakening, he continued to teach the jhanas throughout his life, according to the Pali suttas. "One by one, as they occur," for example, is a great description of what the Mahasi school calls samatha jhanas.

In any case, I think we're looking at fairly minor semantic issues rather than any fundamental restructuring of basic Theravada dharma.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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I second Hokai. The Richard Shankman interviews on Buddhist Geeks were a great introduction to this subject. Shankman's conclusions are presented somewhat academically (comparing and contrasting 'sutta jhana' from 'visuddhimagga jhana'), which I find quite helpful. The implications of his study are important for practice, as it shows that there is no definitive one-size-fits-all approach to jhana.

Whether or not we are ever able to pin down exactly what the Buddha meant by 'jhana' (which is unlikely, IMO), the goal is to adopt a well developed practice based on the Buddha's teachings that fits the temperament of the practitioner... but then one has to actually follow the instructions, which is a whole other topic :-D
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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I'm all for academic treatment of scripturual study. I believe it has it's place in a similarlily to a study of relative reality or horizontal development (Kenneth's Physioenergetic model).

But what attracted me to this website is its practical approach. More specifially the integration of first hand, direct experience with descriptions of this experience. I have seen thousands of books on the subject of Buddhism. I have read many myself. But I wanted to proverbially taste the honey rather than reading and conceptualizing ABOUT what that would be like.

I get the intuitive feeling many on this forum are speaking from a place of direct understanding and it shows (somehow, don't ask me how), Robert Shankman has specifically said in the interview that he has not reached the end of the path himself, so he can only comment on what has been said in the suttas. While I don't know what is his actual/approximate level of realization, it seems that his work is coming from a place of theoretical concept rather first hand experiential knowledge.

This is not meant to be a criticizm of his work, rather addition of a perspective. I believe what is needed more is integration of practical/direct experience and commentary on the absolute nature of reality. This was somewhat addressed by Bhikkhu Bodhi in an early Buddhadharma Magazine editorial. He spoke of a need for monk scholars.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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This is not meant to be a criticizm of his work, rather addition of a perspective. I believe what is needed more is integration of practical/direct experience and commentary on the absolute nature of reality. This was somewhat addressed by Bhikkhu Bodhi in an early Buddhadharma Magazine editorial. He spoke of a need for monk scholars.

I get the sense that this website is creating just that, except we're mostly not monks. Although I get a feeling there are few of our monastic brothers lurking around these parts, witnessing some of our conversations.

It's nice this sort of clarification of the jhana concept is being made, for it has helped my practice, even at my low level of attainment.

Andrew
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Hey Andrew,

Richard isn't really an academic, he's actually a long-time practitioner with a ton of experience w/ shamatha practice (including at least one year-long retreat). Just because he said he hasn't reached the end of the path, as I've argued many, many times with people in this community, doesn't really mean much. It just means he hasn't achieved whatever his model says "end of the path" should look like. I think that it's important to both examine our own models of awakening, as well as to not to blindly project our models onto others (even if we think they're good) and assume we're all talking about the same thing. From what I know of Richard, he is a deep and knowledgeable practitioner.

-Vince
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Just for the record, I wasn't implying that Richard IS an academic. I was just saying that he presented his material in a comparative studies sort of way, which feels very academic. I have no doubt that his conclusions are based on first hand experiences. That seemed obvious from the interviews.

His message is very supportive to many types of practice, which is what I was getting at. I thought I'd clear that up in case anyone misunderstood my post.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Hey awouldbehipster,

A minor point: My post was actually in response to Andrew, not yours.

I agree that Richard's style of presentation in that book is definitely more on the scholarly side of things, but that clearly (as you know) doesn't mean he is an academic w/ no practical experience.

And as I said above to Andrew, It also doesn't mean, just because someone says they aren't an arhant (whatever that means to them) that they also don't have practical experience.

Basically I'm hoping we, as a community, can avoid a false dichotomoy between scholars and practitioners as if you can only be one, cause there are many amazing scholar-practitioners out there.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Hey Vince,

I had a feeling your reply wasn't to me specifically, but I feel that my comment may have spurred the discussion in that direction. Thanks for the clarification.

I also agree that the dichotomy between scholars and practitioners is bogus. You can usually tell when someone is talking/writing from a place of experience. Actually, I recently pulled up some old essays I wrote on Buddhism a few years back, before I started getting really in to practice, and my assumptions were way off the mark. It just goes to show that insight does more to develop understanding than merely philosophizing. Not that philosophy doesn't have it's place, but I digress...

I deeply appreciate the scholar-practitioners of today (Richard, Alan Wallace, and others), and there's definitely room for more!
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Vince,

I certainly did not mean to imply he's a pure academic. I guess I should do my homework before characterizing somebody's work as I have. My initial impression of Richard during the interview (which I admit is very limited in scope) is that he refrains in speaking in personal experience terms and rather refers to quoting scripture. With that said - Year long retreat is QUITE a comittment to deep introspection / contemplative study, something I could not see myself undertaking under my current life conditions.

My impression comes probably from a sense of confusion rooted in a present state of western dharma, and teachers' humility in expressing their level of realization. Additionally I vehemently agree that JUST because somebody doesn't claim to have reached the "end of path" does not imply the converse.

I have been attracted to DhO community because of the open spirit of discussion regarding the taboo western dharma subjects. Models have their drawbacks and this might be one of them. Heck, I haven't even heard of the Tibetan Bhumi model before Daniel's book.

Question arises of how to classify and trust information coming from various practitioners (whether they be official classified as teachers or otherwise). This is something I have and continue to struggle with. Doubt is something that has always predominated my experience of knowledge accumulation. I'm sure there were times when this was healthy, but I'm sure there were others when it was not.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Richard's presentation style (comparative studies) vibed precisely this way with me. I did not mean to imply lack of understanding of somebody so obviously accomplished.

Difference here was,I did not get the intuitive sense of first hand experiences. This may be due to my own very limited first hand experience and lack of inherent perspective.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Author: msj123

A few more quotes on concentration:

The third spiritual power refers to the purity of mind which is developed when one stays on the object of meditation as much as possible. Whenever a hindrance arises and knocks one out of the meditation, then they simply allow the hindrance to be, without getting involved with the thinking mind, relax the tightness in the head caused by the hindrance, then gently redirect their attention back to the meditation object i.e., the breath and tranquilizing and expanding the mind. It doesn't matter how many times the mind goes back to that distraction or hindrance. One simply repeats allowing, relaxing and coming back to the breath. This is the method to purify the mind of all defilements and hindrances. Remember, meditation is not about thinking, but expanding one's mind and awareness into the present moment and then going beyond that, to the true expression of loving acceptance. Meditation is the silence when thoughts -- with all its images and words has entirely ceased. But meditation is not 'concentration'. 'Concentration' contracts the mind and is a form of exclusion, a type of cutting off, a suppression of hindrances, a resistance. It is also a kind of conflict. A meditative mind can be very still and composed, and yet, not have exclusion or suppression, nor resistance in it. A concentrated mind cannot meditate according to the Buddhist practice.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Author: msj123

One can clearly observe that the spiritual base of investigation of one's experience is to purify the mind by allowing everything that happens in the present moment to be there without trying to fight, control, or even disturb it in any way. Loving-acceptance and patience (which is defined in the English dictionary as meaning non-aversion) of the present moment is the way to attain Nibbana. It is not attained by concentration, tightness, suppression and repression.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Author: msj123

On noting:

Many meditation teachers tell their students to put their attention right in the middle of the sensation and see its true nature. This will cause a few different things to occur. Firstly, the students will develop a stronger pain and this becomes a distraction instead. It is because these meditation teachers tell their students to stay with that pain until it goes away. Unfortunately, this can take an unbelievably long time. In addition, the students need to tighten and toughen the mind in order to observe the tension. Actually, this tightening and toughening of the mind is not being mindful. The students begins to develop a mind that hardens itself when pain arises. It is only natural that this happens as it take a lot of courage and fortitude to watch pain in this way. A type of aversion is naturally developed at that time, and this hardening of mind is not being noticed as anicca, dukkha, anatta. Consequently, even when one is not meditating, this suppression can cause personality hardening, and that causes true problems to arise. The mind has a tendency to become critical and judgmental and the personality development of the meditator becomes hard. Many people say they need to do a loving-kindness retreat after doing other types of meditation because they discovered that they do and say things which are not so nice to other people. When this happens, there appears a question, "Is this really a type of meditation technique which leads to my happiness and to the happiness of others? If the answer is yes, then why do I need to practice another form of meditation to balance my thinking?"
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Author: msj123

Eventually one is able to suppress this aversion by practicing 'concentration', which is taught to be the "correct method" by most meditation teachers. But the method taught by the Lord Buddha was to never suppress anything. His method was to open and expand the mind and to allow everything that arises in the present moment. Thus, whenever a pain arises in the body, one first recognizes that the mind has gone to that sensation, lets go of any thoughts about that sensation, opens the mind and lets go of the tight mental fist that is wrapped around the sensation, or by letting the sensation be there by itself without any mental resistance or aversion to it. This is done by telling themselves, "Never mind it is alright for this pain to be there." Next, relax the tightness which is in the head ..... feel the mind expand and become calm ..... then re-direct the attention back to the object of meditation i.e. the breath.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Author: msj123

The most important part:
He trains thus: 'I shall breath in tranquilizing the bodily formation'; he trains thus: 'I shall breath out tranquilizing the bodily formation'.
This simple statement is the most important part of the meditation instructions. It instructs one to notice the tightness which arises in the head with every arising of a consciousness, and let that tightness go, while on the in-breath and out-breath. Then one feels their mind open up, expand, relax and become tranquil. Everytime they see that the mind is distracted away from the breath, they simply let go of the distraction, relax the tightness in the head by letting go of the tightness, feel the mind become open, expanded, relaxed, calm and clean. Next, one softly re-directs the mind back to the breath, on the in-breath relaxes, expands and calms the tightness in the head and mind ..... on the out-breath relaxes, expands and calms the tension in the head and mind. For example, when a thought arises, just let the thought go. Don't continue thinking, even if one is in mid-sentence. Just softly let the thought go. If the distraction is a sensation, firstly open the mind and let go of the aversion to the sensation, then open and expand the mind before re-directing one's attention back to the breath.
This opening up, expanding and letting go of the tightness in the head is actually letting go of the subtle 'ego identification' which attaches itself to everything as it arises. Thus, when one lets go of this tension, they are actually letting go of all ignorance which causes rebirth.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Yeah, I completely understand the confusion. It wasn't until I really started to develop some rapport with several insight meditation teachers, usually after sitting them for months at a time and discussing fairly high-level practice stuff with them, that I began to realize that many of them did indeed know their shit to a very high degree. I mean, it makes sense considering all of them have done years of intensive retreat practice, have sat with some of the best meditation teachers in the world, have studied the dharma intensively, etc.

But, that said, many of them (but not all) also have some really funky views when it comes to the aims of the practice, and I've found much of them to be extremely disempowering. And actually, I'm going to start a new thread about this very topic with some of my own thoughts on the matter. Should be an interesting one to hash out. And thanks for your comments. :-D

-Vince
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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Author: msj123

Some more differences:
1. Enlightenment is the elimination of the 10 fetters. This would certainly imply a limited range model.

2. The key to nibbana is seeing the chains of dependent origination forward and backward. He says seeing the 3Cs is not enough.

3. Ven. Vimalaramsi is very big on development. He repeats that this practice should make one happier.

4. He is very much against fixed concentration. Anything that tends to suppress, ignore, etc. he indicates is moving away from mindfulness.

5. The main point is to relax and expand the mind. Mahasi-type noting seems to be about concentrate and dissect. Ven. U Vimalaramsi identifies the main culprit as tension, resistance, and non-acceptance of sensations. He says that all this is going against the dhamma, the truth of the present moment. He also says this method simultaneously develops metta.

Sutta practice seems to be very yin: being gentle and expansive. Mahasi-style seems yang: develop concentration and dissect reality. In theory and from my own practice, I can already see the weakness of the sutta model: dullness, sinking, not moving along. I can also see the weakness of the Mahasi-style model: too much tension, competition, very powerful releases beyond one’s ability to handle them. At worst, I can see the sutta practitioner not getting anywhere, and the Mahasi practitioner burning themselves out, cracking their psyche, or various other problems.

Matt
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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I'll add a little more because I'm slightly familiar with U Vimilaramsi's teaching:
"
When one starts to differentiate and categorize
meditation practices, the situation becomes very confusing.
This is also evident in the popular commentaries like the
Visuddhi Magga and its sub-commentaries. One begins to
see inconsistencies when they make a comparison with the
suttas. Nowadays, most scholars use just a line or parts of a
sutta to ensure that the commentaries agree with the sutta.
However, if one were to read the sutta as a whole, the sutta
has an entirely different meaning. This is not to say that
scholars are intentionally making wrong statements, but
sometimes they are caught in looking at such tiny details or
parts of the Dhamma with a unilateral view that they tend to
lose view of the larger picture of things. The description of
the jhanas (here again meaning absorption or fixed on or
into the object of meditation, where concentration
suppresses the hindrances) in the Visuddhi Magga, doesn't
exactly match the description given in the suttas and in most
cases, these descriptions are very different! "
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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"For example, the Visuddhi Magga talks about having a
sign (nimitta in Pali, this can be a light or other visualized
mind-made pictures) arise in mind at certain times when one
is practicing jhana meditation (absorption concentration
[appana samadhi] or when one gets into access
concentration [upacara samadhi] or even in momentary
concentration [khanika samadhi]. With each type of
'concentration' a nimitta of some kind arises. When this
happens one is practicing a 'concentration' type of
meditation practice which the Bodhisatta rejected as being
the way to Nibbana! However, if one were to check the
suttas, the description of nimittas arising in mind has never
been mentioned. And, if it were very important, it would be
mentioned many times. The Lord Buddha never taught
concentration techniques, having nimittas (signs) arising, or
the chanting of mantras. These are forms of Hindu practices
that have sneaked into Buddhism for a few hundred years.
Their influences can be seen in the 'concentration practices'
and in the Tibetan Buddhist styles of meditation, as well as,
in other popular commentaries like the Visuddhi Magga.
Thus, the current ways of practicing "concentration", do not
conform to the descriptions given in the suttas. "
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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U Vimilaramsi does teach jhana, but I think there's a big discrepancy re: the meaning of jhana!
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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This controversy has been around a while and creates lots of confusion. I think we are in fact speaking of two different practices. Ven. Vimalaramsi spent years practicing in Burma and I think if he is saying that there is a difference then there probably is. Richard Shankman is also saying there is a difference and I think Thanissaro Bhikkhu is also saying this here: (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/concmind.html) Unfortunately, each side claims a sutta pedigree which doesn't help. As Kenneth points out “we can only speculate about what the Buddha actually said or meant”.

It would be great if we could have a friendly post-modern discussion around this topic but I wouldn't hold my breadth (yet another practice:-).

I think at this point we need to simply be aware that within the Theravada tradition we have (at least) these two approaches and be willing to acknowledge each of them as legitimate. Further, when we use terms like jhana we need to be specific about which form we are speaking of.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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I'd like to second Chuck's point.

The Theravada tradition is quite broad and comprises many points of view. As just one example, I remember hearing that there is a famous monk in the south of Thailand who asserts that cessation, the darling of the Mahasi school, is not what the Buddha meant by "nibbana." Furthermore, Theravada is just one of many traditions that offer effective recipes for enlightenment/Awakening. After all, where we are trying to get to is here. How hard can it be?
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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The definition of Jhana I have referred to longest would equate to the hard jhana spoken of at DhO. I think this is the most problematic view of jhana in the long run. In the first place the descriptions of jhana in sutta and commentary make it seem like something other than what it is because of the glowing terms applied to the conditions in play during jhana. Probably jhana practice at the time of vism. writing was all about hard jhana in the context of a lot of competition amongst the monastics involved. That jhana is necessarily as hard as that or as strictly defined as that is unlikely on the basis of only sutta refs..

I was in and out of jhana for years and thinking that I hadn't yet experienced jhana before I was forced to conclude that jhana couldn't possibly be anything other than some of the forms of concentration that I was already intimately familiar with. Add to that the siddhi's and so on and there is a whole bunch of concentration related phenomena that admits a tremendous amount of diversity.

My thinking on concentration only deepens and expands. At this point, to my mind, concentration is a quality or condition that can pertain with more or less purity or as a greater or lesser factor in quite a few different arrangements. With other conditions to a high degree in hard jhana. With other changing conditions in insight and then there is what is being discussed here as pure land jhanas which I am presently using as a kind of catch all jhana term for 'soft' jhanas and jhana that is internally as stable as ordinary jhana but to some extent admits sensory diversity and some degree of body and mind functionality. I can't come up with any other way to approach the siddhi stuff and man do I ever need some kind of a model for that stuff! So while strict definitions might serve early on, once the experiential data starts to mount up one is more or less compelled to work with more flexible frameworks.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

I thought it was interesting that Bhante V states that he "had experienced all the stages of meditation that a Vipassana practitioner is supposed to experience" but still wasn't satisfied. I wonder what he means by that.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

Posts: 362 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
I think probably it is reflective of what we see here, which is mainly that initially the stricter noting practices and fixed concentration practices are best as they provide very reliable guidelines for establishing a good practice and gauging progress. Somewhere around mid-way in the process they start to be less effective and a more expansive approach is increasingly called for. However even then these techniques are frequently very useful. So while he may well have found as well that this alone was not enough to move beyond a certain point I think we see a fairly widespread agreement that the stricter and more narrow focus is very effective for the better part of at least the first and second paths and even beyond that the techniques and the experience gained thereby is more or less invaluable.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

Posts: 3166 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Regarding insight practices making one tight: every technique has its down sides and unfortunate effects. Most of the practitioners I know who have gotten somewhere have used a flexible approach and utilized many techniques to balance themselves and their minds. I personally did and do many different practices with a wide range of goals and results, and I think this just makes sense.

I did very hardcore, very fast, sometimes very tight, but then progressively wider and more inclusive insight practices, and the side effects were sometimes harsh, but progress was very fast.

I also did all sorts of practices with a very different feel, from choiceless awareness practices to pure hard concentration practices of many kinds to brahmaviharas and energetic practices as well as many others. Many did very different things to my mind and body. Nearly all helped in some way.

It is just like food. Broccoli is good for you, but I would never tell someone to just eat Broccoli. While I do advocate that for some period of time people Take the One Seat, as it were, and dedicate themselves to mastering some good foundation practice or practices, there is lots to be said for developing broad competence.

When I practice medicine, I use different medications depending on the patient's condition. Nearly all of the medications I use have known and sometimes bad side effects, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be used in the right context. The same is true of meditation practices.

Sometimes really hard-edged practices can really cut through to something good, and at other times a wider, more spacious and peaceful approach is needed. It makes sense to learn to be able to do both and more, but more fundamental than that is whatever works for the practitioner.

Exactly how we define works is obviously a topic of ongoing debate, but the spirit of the point remains.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

We are blessed and cursed to be living in an age where we have so many options. Blessed, because we have opportunities available that no age in history has had. Cursed because of all the options--- too many choices can be as bad as too few.

This leads to the BIG question (for me):

What is the difference between vacillation and developing a well-rounded practice?

Are there tips and clues that pop up and say "tighten up" or "loosen"? Are there warning signs that say "you are flitting around and not getting it done" or "you are too far into this, take a step back"?

Or is everyone simply left to fumble about individually, finding the harmony that is conducive to them?

Matt

PS: I also wonder when people say "I did practice X" for years, but it was practice "Y" that worked for me. Would "Y" have worked so well without "X"?
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
Good point, Matt.

Would it be useful to have a reference thread/page for each stage in the progress of insight where we could relate experiences and offer tips on what worked for navigating each one?
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

Posts: 74 Join Date: 5/13/09 Recent Posts
A bit OT, but this is exactly where a multilayered wiki could work so well. Start with an outline of the map(s) and be able to drill down to any one of: practices, accounts, approaches, pitfalls, signs of progress, near enemies, controversial bits, et al.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

Posts: 11 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
I'm Sooooo feeling it! For me, personally - this would be heaven. Then, as a backup, you have the whole community as a resource, where you can say, "Okay, I tried X and wfm happened. I was hoping for/expecting ur2. Where did I go wrong?"

In my mind, it's a good thang....
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

This is one of those weird problems. It seems in the suttas their are no actual instructions on how to apply satipatthana or sati foundations, except for the anapanasati sutta and others like that.

It seems at least for me, that noting becomes a burden, kind of, it's ironic though that there are no actual instructions on what to do, mostly because that it's so delicate. Providing actual instructons may lead you down the wrong way.

Like jhanas for example, right now there is no sutta I can recall that tells you how to attain them, none of them say "you fix your mind on one object" at least I think.

It seems most deal with reality, and we read about something regarding, pacing up and down and clearing bad thoughts or something like that.

Talking about satipatthana, it seems when "Herein, monks, a monk knows the consciousness with lust," or "Herein, monks, when sense-desire is present, a monk knows, "There is sense-desire in me,"

So that would kind of in a way be the equivalent of noting.

Here (in this teaching), bhikkhus, when a mind with greed (raga) note55 arises, a bhikkhu knows, "This is a mind with greed";

Things like "This is a mind with greed" or "There is sense-desire in me," could possibly be noting.

but then again it's all delicate it seems, with the modern vipassana movement people are actually understanding how to meditate and Buddha's teaching are treated more and more ilke everyday talk or... self help.

In a way opposed to religion, kind of like how it was back in the day. It's ironic that in the Visuddhimagga there are no actual instructions on how to practice vipassana, or possibly mindfulness, it seems that vipassana is more of an understanding of certain parts of abhidhamma or philosophy or whatever.

It's just weird because there seem to be no prac
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

tical meditation instructions at all. I think there is a lot of emphasis on attaining concentration and the like.

Ironic though, when one looks at the buddha sasana predictions it seems to make a lot of sense. The Visuddhimagga was written near the end of the "age of concentration" or "age of samadhi" where there is emphasis on concentration and possibly lack of attainment.

There is a story of an arahat leading a group of disciples in the book, it seems that they might be rare.

Yet here I can name 5 arahats off the top of my head, muahaha, extraordinary.

Anyways I'm not a fan of the "mind of lust" or mind rendering or translations, as consciousness seems more appropriate, since consciousnesses rise and fall, instead of looking into the mind seeing contents in their, it seems that a consciousness that rises with lust and then falls the person knowing, would seem more close to vipassana and accurate.

Also noting may screw with your head as there will be reactions to the notes that you make and thus judgements, ugh, possibly why Mahasi Sayadaw said not to verbally say it or something, it creates another object, better to know it through awareness. Lol.

Actually it seems that both Sayadaw U Pandita and Mahasi Sayadaw advise against too much complex noting as Mahasi Sayadaw said not to verbally say it and Sayadaw U Pandita said that mental activities only fall into a few categories.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

7. Upatthana, which means "mindfulness," is the next defilement of vipassana, and it is characterized by the following:

Sometimes excessive concentration upon thought causes the meditator to leave acknowledgement of the present and inclines him to think of the past or future.
The meditator may be unduly concerned with happenings which took place in the past.
The meditator may have vague recollections of past lives.
8. Nana

The next vipassanupakilesa is nana which means "knowledge" and is defined as follows:

Theoretical knowledge may become confused with practice. The meditator misunderstands but thinks that he is right. he may become fond of ostentatiousness and like contending with his teacher.
A meditator may make comments about various objects. For example when the abdomen rises he may say "arising" and when it falls he may say "ceasing."
The meditator may consider various principles which he knows or has studied.
The present cannot be grasped. Usually it is "thinking" which fills up the mind. This may be referred to as "thought-based knowledge," jinta nana.

http://www.vipassanadhura.com/sixteen.html

Also for the sutta quotes

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.nysa.html

http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/mahasati09.htm

Also it seems that the age of Buddhaghosa might have been more concentrated on concentration and possibly texts as that's how Buddhaghosa's career seems to be mostly focused on texts, it seems that the monk of the Mahavihara are also focused on text studies.
In fact I read in this book that meditation in Buddhism is in fact only a recent movement and even the sangha was mainly concerned with scriptural studies, moral refinement and helping the laity.
It really is the age of attainment. Meditation is a recent, recent movement.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

I've met Richard and taken one of his courses. He seems to balance academic treatment with practice very well. He struck me as being very experienced and deeply committed to his practice -- he's not all theory; he knows whereof he speaks; and if he hasn't reached "the end of the path," I think he's surely gone very far along it.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

Thank you for this. It is a very useful bridge for me to know that this sort of opinion exists. I have been practicing for five years or so in a system based pretty exactly on this Number 4 premise. I now feel marginally less marginal when reading here.

There are two things I'd like to add. I hope they are not irrelevant.

1. An inescapable aspect of this soft awareness practice, when applied to the interior of the body, is the direct perception of "karma" as something visible, tangible and clearable. Progress, in fact, in my school, consists exactly and only of this clearance. While such progress is very gradual, (especially for me,) the evidence is that there is simultaneous improvement in health and emotional stability, without recourse to balancing practices, apparently because the karma literally is both one's body and "self", with all its attitudes and neuroses. Anyone heard of these principles elsewhere?

2. I've been thinking about exactly what is happening in Noting. My impression is that it is partly a process of bringing under deliberate control the part of awareness which is always watching and commenting under its own steam. So eventually it gets used to being run, instead of running, and will stop when not activated. Thereby stillness. All more or less regardless of what is noted. Any takers?

Metta,
Ian
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

Posts: 362 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Yes, I see what you're saying. Well put. Could you expand a little on "karma literally is both body and "self"..." That might be helpful for those who are less familiar with this way of employing mindful attention.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

I see noting as having three purposes (I'm sure more are available, but I'm just keeping it simple).

First, one cannot note something without noticing it. Noting brings one's attention to the actual sensations of their experience rather than imagined ones. This brings one to the present, which also aids in the improvement of one's concentration abilities.

Second, noting is a way of directly perceiving the Three Characteristics (impermanence, no-self, and suffering). Again, noting them is an excellent way of noticing them, as it cuts out the reflective process. Reflection is nice, and should be done at some point, but it can really keep one in their head, which perpetuates the illusory sense of duality.

Third, by noting everything -- and I mean "EVERY-THING" -- that comes in to one's awareness, they establish an awareness of the totality of their experience. By leaving nothing out (which means noting everything, in this case), the totality of their experience can be seen for what it is (the Three C's). This kind of 'totality experience' usually occurs in High Equanimity, and can be a precursor for getting path and fruition (stream entry).

In other words, noting is a very thorough practice :-D

~Jackson
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

Posts: 559 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi Ian,
Not sure I follow you here. Specifically by: "So eventually it gets used to being run, instead of running, and will stop when not activated. Thereby stillness. All more or less regardless of what is noted." Can you put this another way for me?

Thanks,
-Chuck
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

Posts: 19 Join Date: 7/7/09 Recent Posts
"Anyone heard of these principles elsewhere?"

These principles being that one can relieve all of one's bad karma and achieve realization by observing the minute kalapas in the body?
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

I can try :-) The idea is very basic and literal. The body is the "resultant body": species, health, abilities, everything entirely predetermined by karma. And exploring the body from within, it appears to be formed of thousand of millions of knots and folds of dark, sticky rubbery karmic mass.

And the self, well, "we" have never had a thought or an emotion. It's always been karma. Everything we think we are is karma. Only presence ain't. That's the idea.

Is that the sort of thing you meant?
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

Again, will try. Though as Jackson has kindly explained above, this which I'm talking about is only one aspect of noting, if that!

Sort of like having a dog which runs everywhere, never stops, doesn't listen. So you walk it on the lead for sixteen hours a day. After a year or two, or five, it forgets that it can move without a lead and your direction, and stops trying to do so.

(obviously with a real dog this would never happen, just an illustration of the idea of "taming" that part of the mind which seems to operate in constant commentary, by giving it the job, noting, to do. Maybe pulling a sled would be a better analogy)

Hope helps. I am open to the possibility that this whole idea is complete nonsense.
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

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

Not observing as such. Being present at, and then in, the body, not rejecting what ever appears to one, be it physical pain, or head movies, but not actively doing anything except resisting distraction from presence, and that as gently as possible.

And yes, that, but also the general idea that one's opposition to realisation is tangible and cunning and runs one's whole life. :-)
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RE: A Critique of Noting and Fixed Concentration Practices

Post: 1 Join Date: 9/7/09 Recent Posts
hey, Matt and everybody.my .it became clear only last few months when i started kasina practice and learned jhanas .i REALIZED IT.there is wonderfull book highly recommended by Daniel "A Path With Heart"by Jack Kornfield-it resonates with what you say deeply.to relax,to accept, to open up-the highest wisdombut personally i needed some harsh polish to be able to apresiate this book.hope i was clear in making my point.and i agree with Daniel-use many practices at due time and get forward.as old book sais there is time to throw stones and time to pick them up-sometimes cut through and sometimes relax.be flexible-the best

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