Why Meditate?

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

Re: Why Meditate?

Postby robertk » Tue May 22, 2012 1:21 pm

what a great find that quote was Retro. Should be pinned.
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Travis » Tue May 22, 2012 3:26 pm

:popcorn:
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Buckwheat » Tue May 22, 2012 3:54 pm

Ron Crouch wrote:
Buckwheat wrote:My only problem with the dark night is that somebody on this thread gave me the impression that it is an unavoidable part of the Buddhist path, ...

Hey Buckwheat - I sure hope that it wasn't me that gave you that impression!


As this thread is getting long, I can't find the post that gave me such an impression, but I do not think it was authored by you, Ron.

I am not very informed on Visuddhimagga and Mahasi Sayadaw style buddhism. For my benefit, will you trace the ideas in these paragraphs back to the suttas?
Ron Crouch wrote:The reason that I give this advice is because there is what I would call a “point of no return” on the path, where the meditator has to finish. Unfortunately, this point comes right at the Dark Night, and if you don’t finish the path you remain stuck in the Dark Night. That sucks. You cannot go back to sleep, so to speak, and yet you aren’t fully awake. You know something is wrong, and feel terribly out of sync with reality. If you stop meditating at this point you stop making progress and stay in misery.

The reason to meditate that most experienced meditators give is “to end suffering.” And though it is correct to understand this to mean the suffering of life itself, there is also a deeper meaning: that the reason to meditate is to end the suffering inherent in the path itself. Advanced practitioners want to awaken because they are tired of being on the path, tired of being stuck in the twilight between awake and asleep. If you aren’t prepared to work your way through that twilight, don’t begin the path, and do not take up a meditation practice.

The reason I focus on the Suttas is this: there are so many disparate forms of Buddhism, I find it prudent to rely on the Suttas as interpreted by the Thai forest tradition, sprinkled with a little bit of Zen for aesthetics and inspiration (I see Koan's as wonderful little jokes... they make me laugh!).
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Ron Crouch » Tue May 22, 2012 4:26 pm

Ben wrote:Hi Ron,
As a matter of interest, what do you teach as a concentration practice, and how do you integrate it with vipassana?
Many thanks,

Ben


Sure Ben,

I teach three main objects for concentration - the breath, the brahma viharas and kasinas. However, I strongly encourage everyone to use the breath and recommend it first because it will also be used in the insight practice later on and can be used all the way up to the "finish line." (I know I'm stirring the pot by even using that phrase!)

The breath is so reliable and solid as a concentration object that there usually isn't a need to teach a person how to use another object, however, I usually recommend people get a good handle on metta practice as well, because it just makes everything better, on and off the cushion.

The way I teach the breath isn't written down on my site, but it goes in two broad steps: first start with counting the exhales up to 10 and back down to 1. If you lose count, start over back at 1. Do that until momentary concentration turns into access concentration. You can tell this happens because you no longer lose count. This is pretty standard boiler-plate concentration practice. Next watch the breath silently with no counting and deepen access concentration. If you still need a technique to occupy the verbal mind you can simplify the counting into just "rising" and "falling." When other phenomena pop up (grocery lists, itches, sounds, etc) label them and quickly let go. As the access concentration becomes stronger, you can tell because a nimmita will arise and let you know you're close to absorption. For most folks, it's a sensation of light with the eyes closed, but not for everyone. For insight work, that's more than enough concentration to get the job done. However, some folks like to keep going and deepen it further to see if they can become absorbed. I don't teach that, but don't discourage it either. It's good fun.

As far as weaving it into insight practice, once a person has mastered getting access concentration then I teach them to begin each sit by cultivating that level of concentration first before heading off into insight work. Usually, as a person does the insight practice the level of concentration that they start off with is sustained and even deepened (particularly when they get to the equanimity nana).

I hope that answers your question Ben.

Again, thanks so much for welcoming such an unorthodox guy as myself into your online community.

Mucho metta.

Ron
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Ron Crouch » Tue May 22, 2012 5:11 pm

Buckwheat wrote:
I am not very informed on Visuddhimagga and Mahasi Sayadaw style buddhism. For my benefit, will you trace the ideas in these paragraphs back to the suttas?
Ron Crouch wrote:The reason that I give this advice is because there is what I would call a “point of no return” on the path, where the meditator has to finish. Unfortunately, this point comes right at the Dark Night, and if you don’t finish the path you remain stuck in the Dark Night. That sucks. You cannot go back to sleep, so to speak, and yet you aren’t fully awake. You know something is wrong, and feel terribly out of sync with reality. If you stop meditating at this point you stop making progress and stay in misery.

The reason to meditate that most experienced meditators give is “to end suffering.” And though it is correct to understand this to mean the suffering of life itself, there is also a deeper meaning: that the reason to meditate is to end the suffering inherent in the path itself. Advanced practitioners want to awaken because they are tired of being on the path, tired of being stuck in the twilight between awake and asleep. If you aren’t prepared to work your way through that twilight, don’t begin the path, and do not take up a meditation practice.

The reason I focus on the Suttas is this: there are so many disparate forms of Buddhism, I find it prudent to rely on the Suttas as interpreted by the Thai forest tradition, sprinkled with a little bit of Zen for aesthetics and inspiration (I see Koan's as wonderful little jokes... they make me laugh!).


Hey Buckwheat,

There are actually a couple of different lines of practice in the Thai forest tradition and they're pretty different, but I strongly doubt you'll find this sentiment in either of them. They seem to focus either on deep jhana or what is called "natural awakening" without deep concentration. Although they are Theravadin, they seem to focus on the first and second parts of the Visuddhimagga (and the suttas that support them) more than the third part (in my opinion), whereas the Burmese tend to focus more on the third part. How I teach comes out of a Burmese take on things, so it is likely pretty unfamiliar. No problem.

However, while the dukkha nanas are part of the Theravada tradition and right there in the Visuddhimagga, my take on them and how I teach them is my own. I think I make that pretty clear on my site. The quote above is my take on the dukkha nanas and how they effect the overall person. You can indeed get stuck in them, and they have an effect on you off the cushion. For some folks the effect is so strong that they become impaired in their day-to-day functioning. That is not how it is for most people, but it is that way for enough that it should be concerning to anyone teaching this stuff.

Here is video of a research presentation on this topic by Dr. Britton that might help clarify why this is an important topic, is common across the different buddhist "isms" and deserves all of our attention:
Last edited by Ron Crouch on Wed May 23, 2012 1:54 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Goofaholix » Tue May 22, 2012 7:39 pm

Ron Crouch wrote:The way I teach the breath isn't written down on my site, but it goes in two broad steps: first start with counting the exhales up to 10 and back down to 1. If you lose count, start over back at 1. Do that until momentary concentration turns into access concentration. You can tell this happens because you no longer lose count. This is pretty standard boiler-plate concentration practice. Next watch the breath silently with no counting and deepen access concentration. If you still need a technique to occupy the verbal mind you can simplify the counting into just "rising" and "falling." When other phenomena pop up (grocery lists, itches, sounds, etc) label them and quickly let go. As the access concentration becomes stronger, you can tell because a nimmita will arise and let you know you're close to absorption. For most folks, it's a sensation of light with the eyes closed, but not for everyone. For insight work, that's more than enough concentration to get the job done. However, some folks like to keep going and deepen it further to see if they can become absorbed. I don't teach that, but don't discourage it either. It's good fun.

As far as weaving it into insight practice, once a person has mastered getting access concentration then I teach them to begin each sit by cultivating that level of concentration first before heading off into insight work. Usually, as a person does the insight practice the level of concentration that they start off with is sustained and even deepened (particularly when they get to the equanimity nana).

I hope that answers your question Ben.

Again, thanks so much for welcoming such an unorthodox guy as myself into your online community.


The above sounds very orthodox to me.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue May 22, 2012 8:19 pm

retrofuturist wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:Actually I was asking you to clarify whether it would be possible to separate the list of teachers I provided into those whose Dhamma is traceable to the suttas and those whose Dhamma is not.

If one could be bothered going through every single thing they ever taught possibly you could, but I don't really see the benefit in the exercise unless you're looking for a teacher who you wish to be some kind of proxy-Buddha for you... and I don't think you are.

Since I already stated my opinion that such a one-dimensional distinction cannot be made, there is clearly no need for me to carry out such an exercise.

:anjali:
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby dhamma_newb » Tue May 22, 2012 8:32 pm

Ron Crouch wrote:For further information on how the concept of Buddhism as a religion (and a lot of other things in buddhism) are really western misunderstandings of the cultural context, check out this series of wonderful talks by linguist and dharma teacher John Peacock called "Buddhism Before the Theravada":

http://www.audiodharma.org/teacher/207/


Hi Ron, thanks for posting this. His talks are a real "eye-opener."

:anjali:
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Alex123 » Tue May 22, 2012 9:25 pm

Some of my understanding:
We should be very careful and not to cling to anything, including suttas. yes, suttas. There is not much proof that anything that is written in the suttas was spoken by Historical Buddha Gotama. He didn't write or record anything down. As the story goes, he was teaching for 45 years and what we have is formalized suttas formatted for memorization and oral recitation. If I remember correctly, Ananda was personal attendant of Buddha for last 20 years. He had to learn the other teachings of the Buddha from other monks who may not have had such a good memory as Ananda's. And really, how much can we trust memory to memorize every single word spoken during 45 year teaching carrier? How do we separate literally embellishment vs literal truth? Why do we argue about slightest shades of meaning of some obscure technical word (which may have been understood well only by 5th BC Indians) while avoid thinking about how could a person remember correctly every single word as it was spoken by the Buddha over 45 year long carrier. Why don't we doubt this? Memory is imperfect.

At best, when it comes to suttas, we have Ananda-Dhamma + what he has learned from other monks. There is no possibility why the teaching wasn't edited at the first council. We have no objective proof that anything found in the suttas was spoken by a historic person. Nothing to say about centuries of passing them on, writing them down, and then many centuries later interpreting them into English.

As for "sort out really right views first and confirm their correctness through practice" this is unreliable. There is such thing as making one see what one wants to see. One can interpret one's experience to fit with preconceived ideas of what one needs to see. It is possible to hypnotize someone (or oneself) and see what one wants to see in line with what one was taught to be right. A christian might interpret experience as "God's plan, etc", An atheist might say that it is simply natural Godless blind process, another person interpret the same experience in some other way which one knows, etc. A good hypnotist in one session can make you see what you (or he) wants you to see, be it "God's plan", your previous life, or "trillions of mind moments appearing split second". Self suggestion can occur without hypnotist. What happens in an intense retreat is lack of sensual stimulation, lack of food, perhaps lack of sleep, sensory deprivation - all of this can lead to one seeing what one wants to see. There is such thing as confirmation bias.

So I believe that the answer is to practice to let go of all clinging and thus make all dukkha fade.
I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care."
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby kirk5a » Tue May 22, 2012 11:19 pm

Alex123 wrote:So I believe that the answer is to practice to let go of all clinging and thus make all dukkha fade.

Indeed! The final destination of those relay chariots... ;)
"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: Why Meditate?

Postby manas » Wed May 23, 2012 12:26 am

Alex wrote:At best, when it comes to suttas, we have Ananda-Dhamma + what he has learned from other monks. There is no possibility why the teaching wasn't edited at the first council. We have no objective proof that anything found in the suttas was spoken by a historic person. Nothing to say about centuries of passing them on, writing them down, and then many centuries later interpreting them into English.

That's one way of putting things. Another way would be, "we have the Buddha-Dhamma, as heard and transmitted by many wise and virtuous men over the ages; and the proof of the suttas' authenticity is in the fact that what they claim, is proven true in the light of practice, time and time again".
:anjali:
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Alex123 » Wed May 23, 2012 1:14 am

manas wrote:
Alex wrote:At best, when it comes to suttas, we have Ananda-Dhamma + what he has learned from other monks. There is no possibility why the teaching wasn't edited at the first council. We have no objective proof that anything found in the suttas was spoken by a historic person. Nothing to say about centuries of passing them on, writing them down, and then many centuries later interpreting them into English.

That's one way of putting things. Another way would be, "we have the Buddha-Dhamma, as heard and transmitted by many wise and virtuous men over the ages; and the proof of the suttas' authenticity is in the fact that what they claim, is proven true in the light of practice, time and time again".
:anjali:


There is such thing as confirmation bias. A person tries to see what he was taught to see rather than what is there. That results fit what the text says has absolutely no relevance about the truth of the text. Meditation visions (especially from samatha type) is not a valid proof. One can hypnotize oneself to see what the texts say. A professional hypnotist can make you see your past life, working of kamma and various other realms of existence much quicker than you would do it yourself...

There is absolutely no guarantee that what the suttas say is what Historical Buddha Gotama has actually said. There is also no guarantee regarding memory of Ananda and other monks. There is no guarantee that "Ananda memorizing Buddha's sermons" wasn't later invention to justify the suttas. There is no guarantee that some well intentioned, but crucial changes, weren't introduced in the First Council. So we should NOT dogmatically cling to scriptures or anything.

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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Ron Crouch » Wed May 23, 2012 1:49 am

dhamma_newb wrote:
Ron Crouch wrote:For further information on how the concept of Buddhism as a religion (and a lot of other things in buddhism) are really western misunderstandings of the cultural context, check out this series of wonderful talks by linguist and dharma teacher John Peacock called "Buddhism Before the Theravada":

http://www.audiodharma.org/teacher/207/


Hi Ron, thanks for posting this. His talks are a real "eye-opener."

:anjali:


Hey - thanks a bunch - John Peacock is really brilliant at explaining the historical context in which what we now think of as buddhism arose. As is being suggested in other posts here, so much of what we think we know we simply made up, had mistranslated, and cling to for reassurance.

BTW: I did get your message recently, but didn't notice it until just a little while ago - sorry no response!
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Ben » Wed May 23, 2012 2:32 am

Hi Ron,
Ron Crouch wrote:I teach three main objects for concentration - the breath, the brahma viharas and kasinas.


Thanks for your detailed reply. I've always been curious about kasina practice. It's not part of my practice (or tradition) and the only reference I've seen to it is in the Vism. I take it you use the Vism as your guide with respect to kasina practice?
I'm also interested in what you have to say regarding the secularisation of vipassana in the form of 'mindfulness meditation'. I have a pretty good view from the perimeter of the psych world and its adoption of "mindfulness" meditation albeit mediated access via my wife who is a school psychologist and instructor of mindfulness meditation. Some years ago I made contact with a group of researchers at one of our universities who were reporting on a cohort of cancer patients suffering from depression who participated in a trial of integrating mindfulness meditation as part of their treatment. Interesting results.
kind regards,

Ben
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Cafael Dust » Wed May 23, 2012 2:39 am

Hi, manas

"...the proof of the suttas' authenticity is in the fact that what they claim, is proven true in the light of practice, time and time again".


Though in the light of our practice, just once. So we make use of the suttas, we abdicate our fabricated views to their views, but we cannot delegate to them our responsibility of seeing.
Not twice, not three times, not once,
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Ron Crouch » Wed May 23, 2012 4:36 am

Ben wrote:Hi Ron,
Ron Crouch wrote:I teach three main objects for concentration - the breath, the brahma viharas and kasinas.


Thanks for your detailed reply. I've always been curious about kasina practice. It's not part of my practice (or tradition) and the only reference I've seen to it is in the Vism. I take it you use the Vism as your guide with respect to kasina practice?
I'm also interested in what you have to say regarding the secularisation of vipassana in the form of 'mindfulness meditation'. I have a pretty good view from the perimeter of the psych world and its adoption of "mindfulness" meditation albeit mediated access via my wife who is a school psychologist and instructor of mindfulness meditation. Some years ago I made contact with a group of researchers at one of our universities who were reporting on a cohort of cancer patients suffering from depression who participated in a trial of integrating mindfulness meditation as part of their treatment. Interesting results.
kind regards,

Ben


Hi Ben,

I generally stick to the VM as an anchor for when things get confusing, but really my techniques come from what I've learned from my teacher and other teachers, and what I've picked up from peers along the way. I have to say that I've also learned as much from teaching as I have from being a student on the path. Students teach me so much without even knowing it.

As far as the movement in psychology to integrate mindfulness into therapies, as you may imagine, I'm a bit torn about it, and this is something that I've thought a lot about. I'm apprehensive about the gung-ho attitude that many in psychology have about bringing some of these very powerful techniques into people's lives without really understanding the repercussions that they may have. I've met some of the people who are promoting and developing these approaches and while they are universally well-intentioned, it is my personal sense that they don't have a very deep understanding of meditation or how powerfully it can effect the mind. They know that it can lead people to relax, let go of thought patterns and watch their moment-to-moment experience, and that this seems to reduce a whole lot of problems for people.

But to think about this in the scheme of the insight knowledges (which is how I tend to think about these things), what these treatments are doing is getting people to cultivate the first insight knowledge in the Mahasi Sayadaw system: Knowledge of Mind and Body, where the person sees the distinction between mental and physical phenomena in the moment and takes a step back from both. That's fine, but if a person keeps doing "mindfulness" practice (which is usually a mild kind of vipassana in these therapies) on their own, there is the potential to go deeper into the knowledges and further along the path. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is almost never what people believe they are consenting to when they begin the treatment. And that is where the ethical issue becomes salient for me. On one hand, a little is effective in treating mental health problems, on the other more than that can be destabilizing and few people appear to understand this. And on the third hand, more than a lot can lead to a lot of problems being solved for good for the person - so it is hard to sort this out. The key is informed consent, everyone should understand the ups and downs of the practice.
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed May 23, 2012 4:44 am

Greetings Ron,

Thanks for your response to Ben's question.

In the of context of the mindfulness "movement in psychology", what do you make of the following teachings from the Sutta Pitaka...?

MN 117 wrote:"And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view. And what is wrong view? 'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no brahmans or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' This is wrong view...

"One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one's right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one's right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right view."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... an.html#s1

AN 10.103 wrote:"In a person of wrong view, wrong resolve comes into being. In a person of wrong resolve, wrong speech. In a person of wrong speech, wrong action. In a person of wrong action, wrong livelihood. In a person of wrong livelihood, wrong effort. In a person of wrong effort, wrong mindfulness. In a person of wrong mindfulness, wrong concentration. In a person of wrong concentration, wrong knowledge. In a person of wrong knowledge, wrong release.

"This is how from wrongness comes failure, not success."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Buckwheat » Wed May 23, 2012 4:48 am

Mike,
I see a disconnect between the difficulties of the cited passages from the suttas, and the ominous dark night described on Ron Crouch's website. Even on the long and painful path to liberation, there is no reason to delay with practicing. One should start meditating right now. Ron's site seems to discourage people from meditating unless they consider themselves hardcore enough to "push through" this ominous dark night.

Hi Ron,
First, I don't think you are unorthodox. I do agree with your idea that many people go into meditation for the wrong reasons, which can lead to frustration when it doesn't work. However, I am happier, less dependent on alcohol and junk food, and slowly opening up to the people I love. I am much, much more connected to nature, which is one of the most important concerns in my life. All of which stands counter to your assumption:

Ron Crouch wrote:So if good meditation leads to misery, makes you cranky and disconnects you from what you once thought were valuable personal goals...


I don't think you are wrong or unorthodox. I just don't see a basis for this line of thinking in the the Buddha-dhamma as I know it, other than a shift in personal goals away from craving for pleasure, power, and accomplishment. Since those cravings only lead to suffering, I don't see how this leads to a dark night. I do agree it's painful to face our demons, like removing band aid. But before I decided to face my problems, they were festering under the surface, leading to anxiety and fear that could only be fended off with alcohol. Now I realize I can just sit quietly, rejuvinate, and get back to work. That has been a lot healthier for me than what your "Why Meditate?" site describes. BTW - your other pages seem to have good data. Stuff that's in line with what I have heard from other meditation teachers of many traditions.
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Ben » Wed May 23, 2012 5:00 am

Thanks Ron.
Being "torn" is probably how I would characterize my own attitude with regards to the secularisation of vipassana into 'mindfulness meditation'.
I have seen and heard of some great results which are typical of people picking up the practice. ie: greater calm, concentration, happiness (particularly in a school setting when applied to kids who have issues with attention deficits). In that research group I mentioned earlier, they told me that they found that with the group practicing 'mindfulness meditation' as part of their treatment were able to come off their anti-depressants sooner than those who didn't practice mindfulness and had less instances of further episodes of depression following. I'm also keenly interested in current trends in neuropsychology which is exploring practices such as vipassana and the scientific basis of their efficacy.

On the other hand, I have deep reservations regarding 'mindfulness' practice stripped from the development of sila and Dhamma theory. I have also heard stories, courtesy of very experienced local teachers within my tradition, of patients of one particular therapist who led a group of people through MBCT (in conjunction with 'mindfulness meditation') to a point where some patients became completely destabilized. The therapist then referred the patients to our local vipassana meditation centre for help!

No doubt the secularization of vipassana may bring more people to the Dhamma who may be initially repellant to the accoutrements of Buddhist practice - and for that reason I think its a good thing. They begin with mindfulness meditation and, hopefully, graduate to samatha/vipassana and Dhamma. But stripped-down mindfulness meditation may be a watered down version of vipassana but remains a very powerful tool and can cause a great deal of damage if the teacher doesn't know what they're dealing with or the student is left without support.
kind regards,

Ben
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