Meditating vs Thinking

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Meditating vs Thinking

Postby Digger » Sun Sep 05, 2010 1:16 am

Your opinions please - when a college student is trying to penetrate and deeply understand, for example calculus or physics, they may spend time reading, studying, etc. A student may have to battle their wandering mind and at some point keep focus and by thinking begin to just grasp, then grasp more and more until they understand, then more and more until they get closer and closer to fully understanding.

What is the difference between a student studying then grasping calculus or physics and a student studying then grasping the Four Noble Truths or other key Buddhist concepts? Can someone who is not skilled at meditating but is skilled at keeping focus on a subject, thinking through and truly understanding get to the same place as a skilled meditator?

Or would you say that type of thinking is meditating?
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby Vepacitta » Sun Sep 05, 2010 2:04 am

That type of 'ordinary concentration' can certainly be of great help when pondering the suttas - yes. That being said, however, there are certain things which you can't realise simply by hammering them out with reason. The Buddha says this over and over again in the suttas. And as you start looking into things using reason - which is a perfectly fine way to start - you'll come to realise the limitations of logic for yourself.

So - yes - that kind of deep concentration one uses when studying (or revising as some folks say) is useful and should be put to use. But in order to realise the more ineffable teachings - anatta, dependent origination, cessation - those come from non-discursive concentration - and meditative concentration (which doesn't necessarily mean the absorptions - as in the jhanas or the immaterial states - although they're fine things to aim at) is necessary for those types of experiential realisations or awakenings. Then, one will also be able to 'see' things in daily life - they'll pop out at you - seemingly sudden realisations - due to the 'background work' that has been done in meditation and in sutta study.

In my opinion - you need both types of concentration - they go hand in hand.

Just my two groats,

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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby Goofaholix » Sun Sep 05, 2010 3:21 am

Digger wrote:Your opinions please - when a college student is trying to penetrate and deeply understand, for example calculus or physics, they may spend time reading, studying, etc. A student may have to battle their wandering mind and at some point keep focus and by thinking begin to just grasp, then grasp more and more until they understand, then more and more until they get closer and closer to fully understanding.

What is the difference between a student studying then grasping calculus or physics and a student studying then grasping the Four Noble Truths or other key Buddhist concepts? Can someone who is not skilled at meditating but is skilled at keeping focus on a subject, thinking through and truly understanding get to the same place as a skilled meditator?

Or would you say that type of thinking is meditating?


If somebody is studying to understand something on an intellectual level they will develop a level of concentration but this is all on the conceptual level, this is no different if they are studying dhamma concepts. They may well get so engrossed in the problems or concepts that they are working on that that lose touch with reality, they lose touch with their mind and body process.

Meditation is about developing full awareness of reality, of the mind and body process, and not getting tied up in concepts or stories about ones reality. So it's the exact opposite of the kind of concentration you've described.
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby ground » Sun Sep 05, 2010 4:46 am

Digger wrote:What is the difference between a student studying then grasping calculus or physics and a student studying then grasping the Four Noble Truths or other key Buddhist concepts?

The former person is studying a subject that may "feel" as being different from her-/himself and nevertheless get to the point of really understanding calculus and physics. If the latter person does understand the four noble truths in the same way she/he will not get to understand. Instead the four noble truths have to be understood as being an integral part of oneself, of one's own being, have to be understood "from within".

Digger wrote:Can someone who is not skilled at meditating but is skilled at keeping focus on a subject, thinking through and truly understanding get to the same place as a skilled meditator?

If she/he is able to understand both the objective and the subjective aspects of a dharma both as a subject of study and as being the subject her-/himself then yes but this actually would not be different from meditating.

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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby IanAnd » Sun Sep 05, 2010 6:48 am

Digger wrote:A student may have to battle their wandering mind and at some point keep focus and by thinking [or rather concentrating] begin to just grasp, then grasp more and more until they understand, then more and more until they get closer and closer to fully understanding.

This is a very tricky area you have asked about. As you can see, there are varying opinions and interpretations about the questions asked. However, if people are being fair and objective in examining their own experience in this matter, I don't see how they can deny the basic premise you have proposed here. And I say this having spent some time examining this very same premise in reviewing my own progress in studying and coming to a realization of the truths expressed in the Dhamma.

Part of what meditation practice has done for me is to help me retrain the mind to be more able to remain in a concentrated state on an object (literal phenomenon) or subject (abstract phenomenon) such that I was able to more clearly see that object or subject in all its constituent parts. In other words, to see it more clearly as it is. I don't think that any of those who have presently posted responses to your questions would deny that. In this instance, then, meditation/contemplation training assists its practitioner in being able to calm the mind (bringing it to stillness and thus keeping it from wandering) so that it may more clearly examine its object of attention (be that a literal thing or an abstract idea).

Digger wrote:What is the difference between a student studying then grasping calculus or physics and a student studying then grasping the Four Noble Truths or other key Buddhist concepts? Can someone who is not skilled at meditating but is skilled at keeping focus on a subject, thinking through and truly understanding get to the same place as a skilled meditator?

Being honest and objective, I would have to say not much to the first question; as for the second, it depends on what you mean by "get to the same place as a skilled meditator." If you are asking "could a person grasp the Dhamma without ever having meditated, just by studying it and contemplating it in normal consciousness, using the skills that you have described, 'being able to focus on a subject and thinking it through,' seeing and confirming it from the standpoint of one's own experience?" I would have to say maybe. Such a person, though, would have to have developed great powers of concentration and would also have to have developed "right view" as well as all the other aspects of the noble eightfold path, which also entails being able to identify and be aware of subtle mental phenomena in the present moment as it is occurring. In other words, any ignorance of this latter stipulation would not be the same. One of the main points of Buddhist meditation training is becoming aware of the previously unnoticed subtle movements of the mind such that one is able to resist and ultimately root out conditioned volitional violations of the Dhamma, i.e. greed, hatred, and delusion.

Digger wrote:Or would you say that type of thinking is meditating?

Perhaps relabeling it "contemplation" might solve any differences that may arise due to a difference in context. I don't think that "focusing on a subject and thinking it through" outside of a meditative state could be correctly labeled "meditation" per se. Although if it is deeply reflected upon, it may be synonymous with contemplation.
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby 5heaps » Sun Sep 05, 2010 8:18 am

Digger wrote:What is the difference between a student studying then grasping calculus or physics and a student studying then grasping the Four Noble Truths or other key Buddhist concepts? Can someone who is not skilled at meditating but is skilled at keeping focus on a subject, thinking through and truly understanding get to the same place as a skilled meditator?

nope because conceptual consciousness will always be conceptual consciousness, direct [mental consciousness] will always be direct [mental consciousness], and they are very different.

although heavily sophisticated and unmistaken concepts induce the bliss of analysis (which generates greater concentration), some familiarity with the mind is still needed as the platform, which as IanAnd describes only comes from sitting down and getting in among the machinery.


also theres no good reason for not meditating at least a little. all oppositions to it are just negative mental factors which have their specific antidotes.
the question then is are you going to meditate for 12 hours a day with not so much thinking, or 1 hour a day with much thinking, or some combination of the two.
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby legolas » Sun Sep 05, 2010 12:13 pm

Digger wrote:.......... Can someone who is not skilled at meditating but is skilled at keeping focus on a subject, thinking through and truly understanding get to the same place as a skilled meditator? ......


Seems that way.....


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.057.than.html
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby Dan74 » Mon Sep 06, 2010 2:59 am

Like others have already said, thinking is a part of the mind's function. My understanding is that there is a quality that is deeper than thinking, an awareness that can "see" a thought arise and pass. It is very fast and we don't usually notice it because we are so enamoured with thoughts. That's what makes it so sharp that it can cut through a big tangle of thought and result in an insight (vipassana). To learn to recognize this sharp awareness one needs to first learn to navigate this inner landscape and of course clear out the garbage!

This awareness is also luminous and vibrant (shamatha) and this can be recognized when thoughts (cravings) are let gone off (even temporarily).

Of course some people's minds are naturally very clear and sharp (very very rare!). And it doesn't take very much for them to do this. For the rest of us it can take lifetimes, which is OK too.
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby Goedert » Mon Sep 06, 2010 1:20 pm

Digger wrote:Your opinions please - when a college student is trying to penetrate and deeply understand, for example calculus or physics, they may spend time reading, studying, etc. A student may have to battle their wandering mind and at some point keep focus and by thinking begin to just grasp, then grasp more and more until they understand, then more and more until they get closer and closer to fully understanding.

What is the difference between a student studying then grasping calculus or physics and a student studying then grasping the Four Noble Truths or other key Buddhist concepts? Can someone who is not skilled at meditating but is skilled at keeping focus on a subject, thinking through and truly understanding get to the same place as a skilled meditator?

Or would you say that type of thinking is meditating?


The calculus or physics student has a view like a microscope. However, the other one has a both, the view of microscope and the telescope.

In another words. The student of physics and calculus has just scientifical and philosophy knowledge of the reality of existence. The another one, has the empirical[1], scientifical, philosphycal and meditative knowledge of the reality of existence.

1 - Direct experience by himself.
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby nathan » Tue Sep 07, 2010 4:40 pm

Digger wrote:What is the difference between a student studying then grasping calculus or physics and a student studying then grasping the Four Noble Truths or other key Buddhist concepts?
There is largely no difference as in both cases the mind is conceiving of and grasping at conceptual thoughts.

Digger wrote:Can someone who is not skilled at meditating but is skilled at keeping focus on a subject, thinking through and truly understanding get to the same place as a skilled meditator?
No, as it is not the same kind of understanding. In all forms meditation with the aim of developing direct knowledge, insight and understanding into all phenomena as it actually is the preliminary step is always to bring the all efforts of conceiving and maintaining conceptions to a halt. Steadiness of perception can either be achieved by remaining steadily with one form of conception or by abandoning conception. In steadying perception on one conception or perception there is no diversity of perceptions which can be observed. It is by observing the natural diversity of perceptions without any accompanying conceptions that is the cause for direct knowledge, insights and understanding to arise and develop.

To understand the Dhamma in the manner the Buddha intended for it to be understood one proceeds by initially limiting to some degree the proliferation of conceptions and one then examines perceptions just as they are arising and passing by means of discernment including any remaining conceptions. As a result of insight meditation like this direct knowledge unmodified by proliferation of conceptualizations can accumulate. As a result of the accumulation of direct knowledge and sufficient degrees of insight into this knowledge types of liberating understanding arise which are not at all the same as conceptual understanding, which is not similarly liberating. Liberating in what sense? Liberating in terms of liberation from self delusion and liberation from craving, aversion and clinging in regards to the compounded mentality and materiality of being and becoming. As such, conceptual understanding of the Dhamma, although it may be correct understanding, can not suffice to serve as the cause for liberating understanding of the Dhamma.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby legolas » Wed Sep 08, 2010 7:18 am

nathan wrote:
To understand the Dhamma in the manner the Buddha intended for it to be understood one proceeds by initially limiting to some degree the proliferation of conceptions and one then examines perceptions just as they are arising and passing by means of discernment including any remaining conceptions. As a result of insight meditation like this direct knowledge unmodified by proliferation of conceptualizations can accumulate. As a result of the accumulation of direct knowledge and sufficient degrees of insight into this knowledge types of liberating understanding arise which are not at all the same as conceptual understanding, which is not similarly liberating. Liberating in what sense? Liberating in terms of liberation from self delusion and liberation from craving, aversion and clinging in regards to the compounded mentality and materiality of being and becoming. As such, conceptual understanding of the Dhamma, although it may be correct understanding, can not suffice to serve as the cause for liberating understanding of the Dhamma.


Hi,

What you describe may or may not be a way to get to the "place". However the sutta refered to in my previous post definitely indicates that thoughtful contemplation can lead to that "place". the Buddha actually brought a lot of lay people to that place by teaching them in such a way. Contemplation can give rise to joy, which is the "fuel" needed to pierce through.
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby 5heaps » Wed Sep 08, 2010 7:38 am

legolas wrote:Contemplation can give rise to joy, which is the "fuel" needed to pierce through.

it should be mentioned though that the actual realization is nonconceptual. therefore, both meditating and thinking may be authentic methods.

i would argue though that the same joy also inspires concentration and so really anyone who contemplates correctly enough automatically finds meditative concentration highly desirable and engages in it
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby legolas » Wed Sep 08, 2010 7:49 am

5heaps wrote:
legolas wrote:Contemplation can give rise to joy, which is the "fuel" needed to pierce through.

it should be mentioned though that the actual realization is nonconceptual. therefore, both meditating and thinking may be authentic methods.

i would argue though that the same joy also inspires concentration and so really anyone who contemplates correctly enough automatically finds meditative concentration highly desirable and engages in it


yes
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Sep 08, 2010 8:41 am

Hi Legolas,
legolas wrote:What you describe may or may not be a way to get to the "place". However the sutta refered to in my previous post definitely indicates that thoughtful contemplation can lead to that "place".

As I read it, the conceptual considerations lead to the motivation to do the work:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"A disciple of the noble ones considers this: 'I am not the only one who is owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator; who — whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir. To the extent that there are beings — past and future, passing away and re-arising — all beings are the owner of their actions, heir to their actions, born of their actions, related through their actions, and have their actions as their arbitrator. Whatever they do, for good or for evil, to that will they fall heir.' When he/she often reflects on this, the [factors of the] path take birth. He/she sticks with that path, develops it, cultivates it. As he/she sticks with that path, develops it and cultivates it, the fetters are abandoned, the obsessions destroyed."

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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby legolas » Wed Sep 08, 2010 9:21 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Legolas,
legolas wrote:What you describe may or may not be a way to get to the "place". However the sutta refered to in my previous post definitely indicates that thoughtful contemplation can lead to that "place".

As I read it, the conceptual considerations lead to the motivation to do the work:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"A disciple of the noble ones considers this: 'I am not the only one who is owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator; who — whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir. To the extent that there are beings — past and future, passing away and re-arising — all beings are the owner of their actions, heir to their actions, born of their actions, related through their actions, and have their actions as their arbitrator. Whatever they do, for good or for evil, to that will they fall heir.' When he/she often reflects on this, the [factors of the] path take birth. He/she sticks with that path, develops it, cultivates it. As he/she sticks with that path, develops it and cultivates it, the fetters are abandoned, the obsessions destroyed."

Mike


Hi Mike,

I read it that the conceptual considerations actually give birth to the path, the motivation is already at play in practicing this contemplation on the dhamma. The path factors are gradually developed & cultivated. I personally would equate "the factors of the path take birth" with stream entry.
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Sep 08, 2010 9:51 am

Hi Legolas,

Perhaps that's possible, but I've not come across any teachers who advocate relying on reflections to gain the insight necessary for stream entry.

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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby legolas » Thu Sep 09, 2010 2:16 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Legolas,

Perhaps that's possible, but I've not come across any teachers who advocate relying on reflections to gain the insight necessary for stream entry.

Mike


Hi Mike,

I have come across at least one. I personally think that due to "meditation" over the years becoming a very intrinsic part of what it is to be a Buddhist practitioner, the idea or attainment of stream entry has become almost mythic. If through contemplation the factors of the path arise, then thats it, right there, stream entry. Unperfected right sila, unperfected right samadhi but attainment of right view. Even right view is unperfected till arahantship. I guess the path factors would have to be perfected as one progresses. Having said all that I personally practice samadhi in conjuction with reading, listening and contemplating the suttas.
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby gsteinb » Thu Sep 09, 2010 2:30 pm

Bhante Punnaji clearly teaches thinking as a meditation. I can't speak to whether he would consider it possible to gain stream entry that way though.

http://www.protobuddhism.com/Meditationguide.pdf
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby legolas » Fri Sep 10, 2010 12:49 am

gsteinb wrote:Bhante Punnaji clearly teaches thinking as a meditation. I can't speak to whether he would consider it possible to gain stream entry that way though.

http://www.protobuddhism.com/Meditationguide.pdf


Just checked his website, looks like I am going to have to put some time to one side to listen to his teachings. At first glance he seems very interesting.
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Re: Meditating vs Thinking

Postby gsteinb » Fri Sep 10, 2010 1:11 am

He's a highly recommended, albeit somewhat iconoclastic teacher. I'm deeply sorry I lost touch with him. I guess he's living back in Sri Lanka now.
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