A call to teachers: Help me with my Samatha 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.

A call to teachers: Help me with my Samatha meditation?

Postby jerry » Thu Apr 05, 2012 9:29 pm

Hopefully some well practiced, long term practitioners might offer some advice.
My daily practice consists of two sits of at least 30minutes each, and that's the way it's been for some time now. I try not to differentiate between a "good" sit and a "bad" sit. I just sit. I follow the breath. One stumbling block I'm finding is that, it doesn't seem to matter that I've been doing this for a while now, some days I sit and my mind just gets lost in the milky ether. It's like my previous practice amounts to nothing and mastering any single pointedness is a fool's errand. Of course, I don't mean that, but I'm sure you understand the feeling. For consecutive days, it seems I just sit and spin my tires. And yet, I've felt a natural urge to kick it up a notch. Go deeper. The one time I did, I used a brief guided meditation by Thanissaro Bhikku where he moved the focus throughout the body. That wasn't at all a bad experience, but my mind comes back to the breath in thinking about how I want to move forward. Truly, I wish I had a teacher or a close friend who's been through all this. Alas, the burden falls on you, dear dhamma wheel. I'm going to ask a couple questions, but you may not feel compelled to respond with simple answers, and that's just dandy.

How long might someone try to maintain a samatha practice before being considered "proficient"? By this, I mean in terms of a single sit. Might someone try to master the practice for a 5hr sit before the mind is still enough to explore deeper? 8hrs? 2? Surely the 30minute deals aren't cutting it.
IS Samatha practice strictly used to achieve single pointed focus, or are there other levels a person might keep their attention only on the breath in hopes of meeting?

Thank you for any words you might offer. I hope the day is manifesting beautifully where ever you are.
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Re: A call to teachers: Help me with my Samatha meditation?

Postby Ben » Thu Apr 05, 2012 9:47 pm

Greetngs Jerry,
I'm not a teacher nor consider myself one.
What you are going through seems pretty normal.
Here is something that you may wish to read:
[url=http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel026.html]The Five Mental Hindrances and Their Conquest
Selected Texts from the Pali Canon and the Commentaries
compiled and translated by
Nyanaponika Thera[/url]
As I have mentioned elsewhere, the arising of hindrances can be seen (in some small part) an indication of progress. Don't worry about things like restlessness or sloth & torpor manifesting.
My recommendation is to put aside any thoughts of making progress, of becoming proficient or this or that experience or attainment. Just maintain your focus exclusively on the object of awareness for as long as possible at a time. And whatever happens, try your best to maintain that unbroken focus.
All the best,

Ben
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Re: A call to teachers: Help me with my Samatha meditation?

Postby rowyourboat » Thu Apr 05, 2012 10:46 pm

Hi Jerry,

Try some walking meditation (20mins) to increase the energy levels before sitting. Drifting into the milky ether is to be avoided. Try to put in some effort and energy into observing the breath as closely and completely as possible. Also practice everyday. Build up to two one hour sessions if you can. This should have you nicely on the way to a hindrance free samadhi. The start of sloth and torpor (ie milkiness) is loss of sharpness of mindfulness. Watch for this. Try to find a time of day when you are less likely to doze off.

Explore the jhanas and nimittas. That might give you something to focus on. I wonder if there is some boredom setting in. :)

Samatha and vipassana are described as the two wheels of the noble eightfold path. Your efforts at developing it are well worthwhile.

Good luck!

With metta

Matheesha
With Metta

Karuna
Mudita
& Upekkha
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Re: A call to teachers: Help me with my Samatha meditation?

Postby reflection » Thu Apr 05, 2012 11:03 pm

Hi jerry,

Meditation is not going to give you anything. It's not about achieving any states, it's nothing to master, it's nothing to try. It is only a means to give things away. And if you give a lot of things away, the only thing left is peace. But remember that this peace is a result of letting go, not of striving. Yes, you can progress in the meditation, but not by forcing.

Also, I'm not a teacher, but the above is what my experience taught me.

Hope you can find a lot of peace in meditation.

With metta,
Reflection
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Re: A call to teachers: Help me with my Samatha meditation?

Postby Reductor » Fri Apr 06, 2012 1:40 am

Good-day, Jerry.

For a few years now the Dhamma has been a going concern for me in life, and I do think I've learned a lot from meditation and contemplation dependant upon the Buddha's teaching. However, there was one thing that I had not accomplished: I had not made peace with meditation.

As Ben said above:
My recommendation is to put aside any thoughts of making progress, of becoming proficient or this or that experience or attainment. Just maintain your focus exclusively on the object of awareness for as long as possible at a time. And whatever happens, try your best to maintain that unbroken focus.


This doesn't seem glamorous, but it is an attitude that will make meditation doable each day, which is critical, because meditation is something that will yield results only when done day in and day out.

If you instead take the view that you must be proficient, that you must be free of hindrances each time you sit, that your practice must always be growing and never experience decline, then you will eventually burn out. Then you'll either never resume, or resume in the very state you were previously straining so hard to overcome in the first place.

So, make peace with the fact that meditation is a complex and conditioned thing born from a complex and conditioned mind. Being so complex, it is cannot be quickly made over into what you would wish it to be, and so patience and consistent effort over time is critical.

Now, with that said, I think it is helpful to point out that samatha and vipassana are not really separate. When spoken about they may seem that way, but actually it is impossible to sooth the mind and keep it alert and energetic without coming to an understanding of its nature. When things seem to be pleasant, then you can see how that came to be -- and in time you see how it falls apart. Often, you see yourself get agitated when it falls apart, and so learn both what it is to suffer on that occasion, and how it came to be.

At other times, when meditation seems unpleasant, we see that the mind tries to run. When the hindrances bother us, we see how persistent effort chases them off sometimes, and sometimes not. At other times they fade, only to return. Perhaps we see that the mind becomes still when the body is relaxed. Or we see that the body is energized when we find something about our breathing which catches our interest.

And so on.

See, and those are just my common reflections born out of a haphazard and short practice. Imagine how long winded I'll be in twenty years! :rofl:

Anyway, I burnt myself out about six months or so ago and had trouble resuming a constant practice. I've been posting about it in the Mediationa Challenge thread. Many of my posts might seem familiar to you, so perhaps you'll find them helpful for no other reason than to know that yours difficulties are common to others.

viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2647&start=240#p179283

Take care. :heart:
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: A call to teachers: Help me with my Samatha meditation?

Postby marc108 » Fri Apr 06, 2012 4:57 am

hi friend. far from a teacher, but you may find it useful to listen to Thanissaro Bhikkhu's talks on meditation:

http://dhammatalks.org/mp3_topical_index.html#breath

The Breath: A Vehicle for Liberation (Series)
http://audiodharma.org/series/16/talk/1843/

Mindfulness and Concentration (Series)
http://audiodharma.org/series/16/talk/1869/

as well as read the chapters 11 & 12 (and the rest) in Bhante Gunaratanas Mindfulness in Plain English:
http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma4/mpe.html

you may also want to try sitting for longer, perhaps an hour instead of 2x30. things seem to quiet down at the 30 minute mark.
"It's easy for us to connect with what's wrong with us... and not so easy to feel into, or to allow us, to connect with what's right and what's good in us."
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Re: A call to teachers: Help me with my Samatha meditation?

Postby rowboat » Fri Apr 06, 2012 7:25 am

Hi Jerry, yet another non-teacher, but I can tell you that you are very right to suspect that those 30 minute or 60 minute sessions just won't cut it--if it is your wish to approach access concentration and jhana. But I wouldn't worry about time so much, and I'd suggest you mix your sitting with regular periods of walking meditation. The thing with time is that, if you meditate every single day and/or night, eventually you will open your eyes after sitting for what seemed like perhaps two or three hours, only to discover that in fact many more hours have passed than you have thought. There is an old story about a Chinese Buddhist hermit living in the mountains who entered samadhi one day while he was boiling some potatoes. When he finally opened his eyes he discovered that his humble meal was covered in a carpet of mould. I don't doubt this story in the slightest.

Of corollary interest, you may wish to listen to Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi's discourse in four parts on the Sabbāsava Sutta; MN 2: http://bodhimonastery.org/a-systematic- ... ikaya.html

May your efforts lead to your unbinding.

:anjali:
Rain soddens what is covered up,
It does not sodden what is open.
Therefore uncover what is covered
That the rain will not sodden it.
Ud 5.5
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Re: A call to teachers: Help me with my Samatha meditation?

Postby kirk5a » Fri Apr 06, 2012 1:03 pm

jerry wrote:IS Samatha practice strictly used to achieve single pointed focus, or are there other levels a person might keep their attention only on the breath in hopes of meeting?

Here's a different way to regard the practice:

The same holds true if you focus on keeping the breath in mind. Whether the breath is heavy or refined, simply be aware of it as it normally is. Don't set up any expectations. Don't force the breath to be like this or that. Keep your awareness with the breath, because in meditating by taking the breath as your preoccupation, you're not after the breath. The breath is simply something for the mind to hold to so that you can reach the real thing, just as when you follow the tracks of an ox: You're not after the tracks of the ox. You follow its tracks because you want to reach the ox. Here you're keeping track of the breath so as to reach the real thing: awareness.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... tml#tracks
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: A call to teachers: Help me with my Samatha meditation?

Postby hermitwin » Fri Apr 06, 2012 2:33 pm

1stly, i want to quote a meditation teacher, you are not making
the meditation happens, when you are ready it happens to you.
are you keeping 5 precepts?
patience is key.
i suggest you find some fellow meditators or a teacher.
a method is just a method , nothing more.
but whether you attain that state depends on many factors besides
the technique.
having said all that, i have yet to meet a person who said meditation
is easy or they attain samadhi quickly.
so keep on trying, cheers.
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Re: A call to teachers: Help me with my Samatha meditation?

Postby Bakmoon » Mon May 21, 2012 2:12 am

jerry wrote:Hopefully some well practiced, long term practitioners might offer some advice.
My daily practice consists of two sits of at least 30minutes each, and that's the way it's been for some time now. I try not to differentiate between a "good" sit and a "bad" sit. I just sit. I follow the breath. One stumbling block I'm finding is that, it doesn't seem to matter that I've been doing this for a while now, some days I sit and my mind just gets lost in the milky ether. It's like my previous practice amounts to nothing and mastering any single pointedness is a fool's errand. Of course, I don't mean that, but I'm sure you understand the feeling. For consecutive days, it seems I just sit and spin my tires. And yet, I've felt a natural urge to kick it up a notch. Go deeper. The one time I did, I used a brief guided meditation by Thanissaro Bhikku where he moved the focus throughout the body. That wasn't at all a bad experience, but my mind comes back to the breath in thinking about how I want to move forward. Truly, I wish I had a teacher or a close friend who's been through all this. Alas, the burden falls on you, dear dhamma wheel. I'm going to ask a couple questions, but you may not feel compelled to respond with simple answers, and that's just dandy.

I'm just going to ask some questions to familiarize myself with what is going on, if you don't mind me doing so.

Are you practicing Anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing) according to a specific tradition? Could you tell us what you do when these states arise? Do you just stay with the breath when you realize you've gotten lost? Do you quickly return to the breath? This might be the central problem.
The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.
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