...now what...?

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

...now what...?

Postby ashtanga » Fri Nov 20, 2009 9:29 am

Hi all,

Apologies for the short title but it does sum up my question!

Once I have established some sense of concentration - by following the breath - I feel like I have dropped away much of the distractions I feel at the onset of the session. I seem to be in a warm, comfortable, off-sensation type of calm <that was a cumbersome description!>. But then as comfortable as it feels I am urged to 'do something' with this calm mind. I feel like I need/should use a Koan, or meditate on Emptiness or something. I guess I am unsure how such a calm can do anything to get me closer to an understanding of Emptiness or the nature of my mind....its just, well, nice! :shrug:

Any advice welcome as ever!

Tony...
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Re: ...now what...?

Postby cooran » Fri Nov 20, 2009 9:40 am

Hello ashtanga,

Who is your meditation teacher? What method do you follow - i.e. how and where do you watch the breath?
What is your intention in meditating?

metta
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Re: ...now what...?

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Fri Nov 20, 2009 9:41 am

Hello Ashtanga,

I'm certainly no expert but I would submit that the mind is not nearly as calm as it would like you to believe given that it's still restlessly searching for something to play with. If you're practicing samatha (concentration/tranquility) meditation then I would be wary of this particularly insidious hindrance. Just my two cents. Be well.
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Re: ...now what...?

Postby Freawaru » Fri Nov 20, 2009 2:26 pm

Hi Tony,

ashtanga wrote:Hi all,

Apologies for the short title but it does sum up my question!

Once I have established some sense of concentration - by following the breath - I feel like I have dropped away much of the distractions I feel at the onset of the session. I seem to be in a warm, comfortable, off-sensation type of calm <that was a cumbersome description!>. But then as comfortable as it feels I am urged to 'do something' with this calm mind. I feel like I need/should use a Koan, or meditate on Emptiness or something. I guess I am unsure how such a calm can do anything to get me closer to an understanding of Emptiness or the nature of my mind....its just, well, nice! :shrug:

Any advice welcome as ever!

Tony...


The state you describe is the perfect starting point for some serious samatha meditation. Meaning: to increase your concentration into new levels. The instruction is simple: choose an object and concentrate on it to the exclusion of everything else.

At this point it can be any object - but a traditional one is to focus on the nostrils. It might require a bit of experimenting what works best for you, for some it is the tactile impression, others follow the sensation of the air while breathing. Be careful not to tense again while concentrating, if it happens relax again first before concentrating again.

I think this site is very helpful:

http://www.leighb.com/jhana2a.htm

Freawaru
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Re: ...now what...?

Postby ashtanga » Fri Nov 20, 2009 2:42 pm

Thanks.

...where will deepening concentration take me (as it were)? I am not clear how concentration in itself can lead to an understanding or experience of the nature of things - ie Emptiness.

Tony...
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Re: ...now what...?

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Fri Nov 20, 2009 5:29 pm

Tony,

In my limited understanding, right concentration is jhana which is both a pleasant abiding and serves to still the mind for the practice of insight which allows you to see that all phenomena are anicca, anatta and subject to dukkha. The goal is not the experience emptiness as such but to comprehend the nature of clinging and thereby be freed from it. I would be careful attempting to graft the soteriology of Vajrayana onto sutta-pitaka and commentarial tradition of the Theravada schools. Anyway I wish you all the best and that you encounter someone more knowledgeable than myself who can provide some answers to your questions. Be well.

Mike
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

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Re: ...now what...?

Postby Freawaru » Sat Nov 21, 2009 12:16 pm

Hi Tony,

ashtanga wrote:
...where will deepening concentration take me (as it were)?


Let yourself be surprised.

I am not clear how concentration in itself can lead to an understanding or experience of the nature of things - ie Emptiness.

Tony...


If Emptiness could be imagined we all would be Buddhas. But this is about experience, investigation, insight. Just practice increasing concentration, experience jhana - you will see for yourself that things are plain and simple "different" from what can be imagined. Sunnata (Emptiness) is one of those terms that attempt to describe what cannot be imagined.

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Re: ...now what...?

Postby IanAnd » Tue Nov 24, 2009 6:39 am

ashtanga wrote:Once I have established some sense of concentration - by following the breath - I feel like I have dropped away much of the distractions I feel at the onset of the session. I seem to be in a warm, comfortable, off-sensation type of calm <that was a cumbersome description!>. But then as comfortable as it feels I am urged to 'do something' with this calm mind. I feel like I need/should use a Koan, or meditate on Emptiness or something. I guess I am unsure how such a calm can do anything to get me closer to an understanding of Emptiness or the nature of my mind....its just, well, nice!

Any advice welcome as ever!

I would have suggested something along the lines of developing further the ability in the establishment of the first four levels of absorption to the point that one is comfortable entering the material absorptions and maneuvering between the four levels at will, followed by a development of the practice of satipatthana. If deliverance is what you seek, then this would be the most direct path to that end.

However, as one respected member of the bhikkhu sangha, Bhante Gunaratana, has suggested in his e-book A Critical Analysis of the Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation there are three different options (in Chapter Six, page 129) that one can follow, the first (to some extent) and the last of which would follow my basic recommendation above. From the opening paragraphs he states:
Gunaratana wrote:Following the attainment of the fourth jhana there are several options open to a meditator. These can be grouped together into three categories. One is the attainment of the four aruppas, immaterial jhanas involving further concentration and refinement of mental serenity. A second — which as we will see generally presupposes the immaterial jhanas as prerequisites — is the development of the abhinnas, higher faculties of knowledge, in some cases issuing in supernormal powers. A third alternative is the cultivation of wisdom through insight into the nature of phenomena, which brings the destruction of the defilements and results in emancipation from samsara. . . .

Throughout the following discussion it should be borne in mind that the attainment of the immaterial jhanas and the exercise of supernormal powers are not essential to achieving the ultimate Buddhist goal, the realization of nibbana. What is essential is the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, which does not necessarily include the aruppas and abhinnas. However, because these latter two sets of practices can contribute to the growth of calm and insight and embellish the spiritual perfection of a yogin, the Buddha included them in his discipline. There they have remained as options open for meditators inclined to develop them.

However, it is really up to the individual meditator as to what he wants to do.

In my own practice, I ended up developing the jhanas through the nine levels of attainment, then rather than a strict contemplation in meditation on such subjects as paticca samuppada or dependent co-arising, the five aggregates, the five hindrances, the six sense spheres, and the four noble truths as is suggested by satipatthana practice, I opted, in addition, to study these same five areas with the assistance of several helpful scholarly works (by both academics and scholar monks) which I spent many hours reading and contemplating both in and out of formal meditation until I knew and could identify what they were talking about from my own experience. While this is not what is normally recommended by others who practice these disciplines, it worked out well for me. What was of most importance to me was the practice of developing insight into the nature of phenomena, to see it directly and unequivocally, as suggested in the third option above by Bht. Gunaratana. This is what I mean by the practice of satipatthana. Of course, along with that I was also reading and contemplating the suttas. As one might imagine, this all took a great deal of undistracted time and concentration in order to accomplish, which is why I opted also to live a secluded and solitary lifestyle. Not so sure how it might work out in the midst of a householder's lifestyle, where distraction can become a daily hindrance to one's practice.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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