Vippasana Retreat and Breath Meditation

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Vippasana Retreat and Breath Meditation

Postby KenD » Thu Apr 11, 2013 8:48 am

Will soon be attending a 10 day retreat at a local monastery. I am looking forwards to the opportunity for uninterrupted practice in a supportive environment and keeping 8 precepts.

Attended the same retreat last year. The teaching is Vipassana with alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation. We are instructed to focus on the movement of the abdomen during sitting meditation. In my usual daily practice of anapanasati, the focus of the mind rests in the area of the nostrils. During last years retreat, it was uncomfortable to focus on the feeling at the belly. It seems that the mind rests more easily at the usual location of focus on the breath which is at the nostrils.

The question is if it would be best to dutifully make effort to follow the instruction of the teacher, even though it will likely lead to a less settled mind or use the time to further the usual practice of anapanasati to acheive concentration and allow vipassana wisdom to develope in that manner.
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Re: Vipassanā Retreat and Breath Meditation

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Thu Apr 11, 2013 11:38 am

Follow the teacher's instructions. The Mahāsi method of watching the abdominal movements is not mindfulness of breathing, but attention to the elements (dhātumanasikāra). This fits well with the mindfulness of the element of motion in walking, and in all other movements of the limbs during daily activities. Mindfulness of respiration (ānāpānasati), is classified as an object for Samatha meditation, though it can also serve as a basis for insight.

Don't be concerned if you attention wanders to the breath at the nostrils or the touch of the breath, by force of habit. Just note it as you would any other secondary meditation object such as hearing a sound, then allow your mind to return to noting the abdominal movements.

Not only the abdominal movements, but also the sitting posture, and touching sensations, where the limbs contact the floor or each other, are also primary objects for sitting practice. It is all mindfulness of the body (kāyānupassanā satipaṭṭhāna) or mindfulness of feelings (vedanānupassanā satipaṭṭhāna)

Noting of secondary objects such as "Seeing, hearing, thinking, restless, sleeping,” etc., are contemplation of the mind and mental states.

The purpose of insight meditation is not to calm the mind and experience peaceful states of mind, though that may be one side-effect. If you feel restless due to not being able to remain focused on the abdominal movements, then that mental state becomes your object for contemplation until it disappears or subsides.
Last edited by Bhikkhu Pesala on Thu Apr 11, 2013 5:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Vippasana Retreat and Breath Meditation

Postby James the Giant » Thu Apr 11, 2013 11:57 am

On formal retreat, I always follow the teacher's instructions, even if they are difficult, even if I think they are not as good as what I am usually doing.

That's just me. I gots no reason for that.
Then,
saturated with joy,
you will put an end to suffering and stress.
SN 9.11
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Re: Vippasana Retreat and Breath Meditation

Postby reflection » Thu Apr 11, 2013 3:13 pm

It is my personal conviction that the best place to rest the awareness is the place that feels most natural and comfortable. A monk leading a retreat I once spoke to about my meditation said to me -after me mentioning some results of meditation- : "whatever you are doing, keep doing it". So it's about the results, not about the method. I wasn't really following his instructions much at all, they also felt slightly unnatural. People are different, there are different ways.

Your teacher may have the same idea. So I think it's best to just ask him if it's ok. I met other people struggling to keep the breath at the belly, so he probably heard about this before. I do know some teachers are quite clear they think the belly is the only correct place - I'm unsure why, but he may explain it to you so you understand his idea.

But in the end it all may not matter much. After some time you may not really know where the breath is located, anyway, because there is just breath without a location. If you can see this, you can also start of breath awareness like that, without steering the mind to a location in the body per se. But again, consult your teacher. This is just my understanding.
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Re: Vippasana Retreat and Breath Meditation

Postby Spiny Norman » Thu Apr 11, 2013 3:33 pm

KenD wrote:The question is if it would be best to dutifully make effort to follow the instruction of the teacher, even though it will likely lead to a less settled mind or use the time to further the usual practice of anapanasati to acheive concentration and allow vipassana wisdom to develope in that manner.


I'd recommend following the approach taught on the retreat if you can - you might be surprised how quickly you adjust to a different approach.
Generally I've found it useful to explore different approaches, adding more tools to the tool-box and developing new perspectives on practice.
Have a good retreat!
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Re: Vippasana Retreat and Breath Meditation

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Apr 11, 2013 7:42 pm

James the Giant wrote:On formal retreat, I always follow the teacher's instructions, even if they are difficult, even if I think they are not as good as what I am usually doing.

That's just me. I gots no reason for that.

I agree with following the instructions. The reason is obvious. The teacher has a lot more experience than I do. Furthermore, if I was second-guessing the teacher then that would severely hinder open communication.

However, if I had difficulty following the instructions I would certainly not just spend the whole retreat struggling with them without discussing it with the teacher. It may well be that she/he has helpful advice or alternative strategies that have worked for different students. It's this sort of interaction that is the key advantage of a live teacher.

In my view there are two important things that a retreat can provide that are not otherwise available: (1) Well-organised support so that one can practise continuously; (2) Personalized instruction. Don't pass up the opportunity for the latter. Even on retreats that are quite regimented, such as Goenka retreats, there is still the opportunity to discuss problems with a teacher.

After the retreat is the time to evaluate the alternatives, and decide what to continue with. Thinking about this during the retreat is a distraction that in my experience hinders progress.

:anjali:
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Re: Vippasana Retreat and Breath Meditation

Postby KenD » Tue Apr 16, 2013 11:13 pm

Thank you for all the helpful responses :thumbsup: It is amazing to be able to post a question and receive thoughtful answers from experienced practicioners around the world.

It may be possible to teach an old dog a new trick. For the last few days, the object of mindfulness in my sitting meditation has been the rising & falling of the abdomen along with the touching sensations as described by Bhikkhu Pesala and then some pain in the back & groin. This is not so difficult. Why cling to the breath at the nostrils, when instructed by wise teachers to use different methods to develope mindfulness?

Also reading "In This Very Life" by Sayadaw U Pandita in preparation for the retreat which begins in 2 days. Will bring this book in case there an opportunity to read.

:buddha1:
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