Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

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

Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Dec 15, 2009 11:08 pm

I've recently been reading Daniel Ingram's book, Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book, which you can download at:
http://www.interactivebuddha.com/mctb.shtml
or buy a paper copy.

While he has some rather unorthordox views in some areas (notably to do with realisation http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=843&start=40), his discussion of meditation and what is and isn't important, is largely in line with the teachers and books that I rely on. Of course, that's not surprising, since his preferred technique is Mahasi-style practise...

There have been various discussions here about conceptual and non-conceptual, concentration and insight, etc, and I think that the following passages are quite helpful in clarifying how one might make sense of such things. There is nothing there that I have not gleaned from other sources, but it hard to find it summarised in one place. A key point is that one needs to know when working with concepts is appropriate, when it is not appropriate, and be careful not mix them up.

My observation is that a lot of disagreements, here and elsewhere, come from applying conceptual or non-conceptual approaches in inappropriate circumstances.

Page 52 The Three trainings revisited.
Just to review, the scope of the first training, which I call morality, is
the ordinary world, the conventional world, the world that we are all
familiar with before we even consider more specialized topics such as
meditation. The goal is to act, speak and think in ways that are
conducive to the welfare of yourself and others. The scope of the
second training, concentration or depths of meditation, is to focus on
very specific and limited objects of meditation and thus attain to specific
altered states of consciousness. The scope of the third training, that of
insight or wisdom, is to shift to perceiving reality at the level of
individual sensations, perceive the Three Characteristics of them, and
thus attain to profound insights into the nature of reality and thus realize
stages of enlightenment.

Page 106
This goes to the heart of conceptual/nonconceptual in meditation:
Another reason that students often fail to make progress is that they
confuse content and insight. I suspect that they are confused because
they have spent their whole lives thinking about content, learning about
content, and dealing with content in a context where content matters,
i.e. when one is not doing insight practice. You can’t take a spelling test
in first grade and say that all that is important is that words come and go,
don’t satisfy and aren’t you. This just won’t fly and wouldn’t be
appropriate. Just so, when practicing morality, the first and most
fundamental training in spirituality, content is everything, or at least as
far as training in morality can take you. You can’t be a mass murderer
and rationalize this by thinking, “Well, they were all impermanent,
unsatisfactory and empty, so why not kill ’em?” This just won’t fly
either, and so content and spirituality get quite connected. This is good
to a point: see the chapter called Right Thought and The Aegean
Stables.

Fixation on content even works well when practicing the second
training, training in concentration. When meditation students are
learning to concentrate, they are told to concentrate on specific things,
like the breath, a Green Tara (a tantric “deity”), or some other such
thing. This is content. There is no such thing as the breath or a Green
Tara from the point of view of insight practices, as these are just fresh
streams of impermanent and absolutely transitory sensations that are
crudely labeled “breath” or “Green Tara.” But for the purpose of
developing the second training, concentration, this is ignored and these
impermanent sensations are crudely labeled “breath” or “Green Tara.”
Thus, even for pure concentration practice, what you are concentrating
on, i.e. content, matters. Thus, the idea that content is everything is
reinforced.

However, when it comes to insight practice, content will get you
nowhere fast. In insight practice, everything the student has learned
about being lost in the names of things and thoughts about them, i.e.
content, will be completely useless and an impediment. Here the
inquiry must turn to impermanence, suffering and no-self. These
characteristics must be understood clearly and directly in whatever
sensations arise, be they beautiful, ugly, helpful, not helpful, skillful, not
skillful, holy, profane, dull, or otherwise. Anything other than this is just
not insight practice, never was and never will be.

It doesn’t matter what the quality of your mind is, or what the
sensations of your body are, if you directly understand the momentary
sensations that make these up to be impermanent, unsatisfactory and
not self, then you are on the right path, the path of liberating insight.
However, as mentioned before, off the cushion the quality of your
mind, your reactions, your words and deeds all matter. These are not in
conflict. Insight practice is about ultimate reality, the ultimate nature of
reality, and thus the specifics don’t matter. Morality and concentration
are about relative reality, and thus the specifics are everything. Learning
to be a master of both the ultimate and the relative is what this is all
about.



Metta
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Dec 17, 2009 5:19 pm

Hmm, no response...

Since I see lack of clarity in what is or isn't conceptual, and where in the Path concepts do and don't apply, as an enormous source of confusion, I am particularly interested in some feedback (in case I'm just creating more confusion in my mind...).

So, to reiterate my understanding about the three aspects of the Path in very simplistic terms:
1. The development of sila is about concepts and content (good, bad, etc...).
2. The development of concentration is about concepts and content (focussing on metta, breath, kasinas, etc).
3. The development of insight is not about concepts and content. It's about clearly seeing sensations, feelings, thoughts, etc, rising and falling, and so on.

Of course, where it gets confusing is that a lot of mediation practise is a mixture of concentration and insight. In typical "insight" practise one is using the breath, abdominal motion, walking, etc, to build up concentration to be calm enough to support the insight part.

Time and time again I see discussions about "how should I be watching the breath?" where, to me, there is clearly confusion about whether the instructions are more in category 2 or category 3. Mixing up instructions from different teachers that have different aims will obviously lead to confusion...

Finally (perhaps this will provoke some response...), many annoying arguments involving abhidhamma (or zen, etc) zealots revolve around just such confusion - insisting on a non-conceptual approach ("it's just citta rising and falling...") where it really doesn't apply to deny the possibility or usefulness of certain actions or meditative approaches.

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Thu Dec 17, 2009 5:30 pm

Mike,

Interesting post and the issue(s) you raise are certainly worth consideration. Sorry if my reply is kind of lateral in that it side steps the thrust of your post but I was wondering about the pedigree of Mr. Ingram. I quickly checked out the link you provided and found this under his About Me page:

"I am an arahat with mastery of the formed jhanas, formless realms, Nirodha Samapatti, and a few other traditional attainments. "

What do you make of this?

Metta,

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: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby LauraJ » Thu Dec 17, 2009 6:03 pm

Finally (perhaps this will provoke some response...), many annoying arguments involving abhidhamma (or zen, etc) zealots revolve around just such confusion - insisting on a non-conceptual approach ("it's just citta rising and falling...") where it really doesn't apply to deny the possibility or usefulness of certain actions or meditative approaches.


Hi Mike,

You know I practice in a different tradition but I can appreciate your angle anyhow.
This style of meditation is one among many, so it's not the whole kit and kaboodle. Best to keep our options open I guess :)

Kindly,
Laura
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby poto » Thu Dec 17, 2009 6:18 pm

Thanks for the link, just downloaded it. I will attempt to post a more lengthy informed comment after I finish reading the book.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Dec 17, 2009 8:44 pm

Hi KB,
Khalil Bodhi wrote:Interesting post and the issue(s) you raise are certainly worth consideration. Sorry if my reply is kind of lateral in that it side steps the thrust of your post but I was wondering about the pedigree of Mr. Ingram. I quickly checked out the link you provided and found this under his About Me page:

"I am an arahat with mastery of the formed jhanas, formless realms, Nirodha Samapatti, and a few other traditional attainments. "

There is already a thread discussing that here: http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=843

I'm not particularly interested in that aspect of the discussion, which is why I started this as a separate thread. I'm interested in thoughts about this issue of how some path areas (sila, concentration) make use of concepts and some do not (insight). In my opinion this is reasonably clear from the writings of all of the teachers that I respect (and the Visuddhimagga for that matter). Daniel Ingram's summary just happens to be the most concise and to the point that I've seen.

[In fact, putting aside the iconoclastic style and the claims that may or may not be true, I would struggle to point to much in Ingram's book that I had not read/heard previously from my own teachers, Mahasi Sayadaw, U Pandita, Joseph Goldstein, Patrick Kearney, Steve Armstrong, and so on. His lambasting of people on "insight" retreats wasting their time discussing their relationship etc problems (i.e. concepts) is particularly hilariously told.
Ingram wrote:I was at one of these small group meetings where everyone was
talking about their neurotic stuff. In a moment of feeling like I might be
able to actually add something useful, I said in a loud and exasperated
voice, “The breath! Is anyone trying to notice the breath?” They just
looked at me like I was out of my mind and went back to whining about
their psychological crap.

Those people would have gotten a good kick in the ass from my teachers...
(Of course there are times when dealing with such issues are appropriate - but then one should be clear that it's counselling, not insight. In the middle of an intensive insight retreat the instruction is generally to "just note it", or "just observe", or whatever you favourite teacher's quote is...)]

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Thu Dec 17, 2009 10:04 pm

Thanks for the link to the previous thread. Sorry about side-tracking your post. 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: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby pt1 » Fri Dec 18, 2009 1:13 am

mikenz66 wrote:So, to reiterate my understanding about the three aspects of the Path in very simplistic terms:
1. The development of sila is about concepts and content (good, bad, etc...).
2. The development of concentration is about concepts and content (focussing on metta, breath, kasinas, etc).
3. The development of insight is not about concepts and content. It's about clearly seeing sensations, feelings, thoughts, etc, rising and falling, and so on.

Of course, where it gets confusing is that a lot of mediation practise is a mixture of concentration and insight. In typical "insight" practise one is using the breath, abdominal motion, walking, etc, to build up concentration to be calm enough to support the insight part.

Time and time again I see discussions about "how should I be watching the breath?" where, to me, there is clearly confusion about whether the instructions are more in category 2 or category 3. Mixing up instructions from different teachers that have different aims will obviously lead to confusion...

Finally (perhaps this will provoke some response...), many annoying arguments involving abhidhamma (or zen, etc) zealots revolve around just such confusion - insisting on a non-conceptual approach ("it's just citta rising and falling...") where it really doesn't apply to deny the possibility or usefulness of certain actions or meditative approaches.


Hi Mike, I'm grappling with the same issues, so here are some of my thoughts:

I'd say that there are different "levels" of sila and meditation. (Insight imo deals only with the ultimate level - dhammas, not conceptual ideas, and the stages it goes through are well described in Vis, as well as works by Mahasi sayadaw, etc, so let's leave insight aside for now.) I agree that in essence sila and samatha are about concepts when we look at it from the ultimate level. But to start, there's no requirement for this ultimate level to be understood (what would depend on insight).

So this would easily describe how come there was sila and jhanas before the Buddha's teachings on insight. In abhidhamma terms, such sila citta without understanding would have two kusala roots - alobha and adosa, but not amoha yet. But then later on, with the benefit of the teachings of anatta, etc, panna would slowly grow, and thus sila would change too. So, the next "level" (afaik), there'd be an understanding whether the current act of sila is kusala or not (not sure whether in abhidhamma terms this level already introduces amoha as the third citta root). And the level after this would be when there's true insight arising during an act of sila (so at this point there surely would be the third citta root of amoha), when panna would know (directly now) that the object of citta at those moments is a concept.

It's the same deal imo with meditation (samatha). At first one can reach strong concentration (trance even) with mantras, etc, without distinguishing whether this concentration is kusala or not. The next level would be when one can start distinguishing between kusala and akusala factors involved in concentration. And finally with some insight established, panna would know directly that all the jhana factors bear the three marks, as well as that the object of citta in those moments is a concept (so before that, there'd be no direct experiential knowledge that the object of cittas at that time is a concept - i.e. before this there would still be some sort of conceiving atta in jhana/factors).
Just my thoughts.

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby Paññāsikhara » Fri Dec 18, 2009 5:58 am

mikenz66 wrote:
[In fact, putting aside the iconoclastic style and the claims that may or may not be true, I would struggle to point to much in Ingram's book that I had not read/heard previously from my own teachers, Mahasi Sayadaw, U Pandita, Joseph Goldstein, Patrick Kearney, Steve Armstrong, and so on. His lambasting of people on "insight" retreats wasting their time discussing their relationship etc problems (i.e. concepts) is particularly hilariously told.
Ingram wrote:I was at one of these small group meetings where everyone was
talking about their neurotic stuff. In a moment of feeling like I might be
able to actually add something useful, I said in a loud and exasperated
voice, “The breath! Is anyone trying to notice the breath?” They just
looked at me like I was out of my mind and went back to whining about
their psychological crap.

Those people would have gotten a good kick in the ass from my teachers...
(Of course there are times when dealing with such issues are appropriate - but then one should be clear that it's counselling, not insight. In the middle of an intensive insight retreat the instruction is generally to "just note it", or "just observe", or whatever you favourite teacher's quote is...)]

Mike


Sounds to me that at the time when he "said in a loud and exasperated voice, "The breath! Is anyone trying to notice the breath?"", he himself was not noticing the breath either. Instead, attachment and aversion had arisen - he was attached to what he thought the topic should be, and had aversion for others who talked about other things. If he was focusing on his own breath, he would have noticed it changing as his own bad mood started to arise, and then he could have done something about it, and not lost his temper. Heaven forbid!, he may have even been able to raise a thought of compassion for the poor people, stuck on a silent retreat, with nothing but bad memories rolling around in their heads.

But to me, the whole situation seems to indicate a deeper problem - that people were trying to engage in a particular practice - breath meditation, when they should have been focusing on other practices much more relevant to their lives.

Many hear about anapanasati for instance, and that it is the path to liberation, and think that they can just jump right on in. But if such a practice is not solving the problems in their lives (which they then need to talk about in the retreat), how useful is it? How can that be called the path to cessation of dukkha?

It is not merely by accident that most of the time (but not all the time) the Buddha taught such practices as anapanasati to those who had already "dealt with" all their social and relationship problems, by "leaving home". This can be in the literal, or figurative, sense.

First make sure that one's domestic and social life is in order - this is basic sila, with a lot of metta-bhavana and other practices, too. And then learn to let go of that. See attachment to the domestic life as a tie, a fetter, which blocks the path to liberation.

Then, on retreat, one can "notice the breath", and use it as a path to release.

But of course, teaching people how to have a good domestic life, and how to let go of attachment to it, is no where near as popular as just straight out teaching anapanasati to those unprepared for it. The Trungpa was right, for such people as that, it is a kind of "spiritual materialism".

:rantoff:
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Dec 18, 2009 7:48 am

Hi Venerable,
Paññāsikhara wrote:But of course, teaching people how to have a good domestic life, and how to let go of attachment to it, is no where near as popular as just straight out teaching anapanasati to those unprepared for it. The Trungpa was right, for such people as that, it is a kind of "spiritual materialism".

Of course, I think that's the point. One needs to develop the sila part of the path first and one needs the right teaching at the right time. Please stick around.... :anjali:

The application of the wrong tool at the wrong time was a major part of the issue I was trying to explore. Do you have any other comments along those lines that particularly relate to the conceptual and non-conceptual in meditation practises, assuming that the student is, in fact, ready for it...?

Metta
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby smokey » Fri Dec 18, 2009 2:17 pm

I will put an excerpt from a book "Essentials of Insight Meditation Practice" which is free and can be found here: http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/essentials.pdf

"WHAT IS A CONCEPT?
As I have said, a concept is what is thought out, imagined or created
by the mind. One form which is very obvious is when we think and
plan things which has not yet happened, or when we imagine and
“build castles in the air.” All these are mere concepts, they are not
real, and they are created with our minds. There are other types of
concepts, which are subtler, and we have to recognise them. These
come not actively but passively. They come with the processes of the
mind. One type is what we call sound concepts, eg, words and
melodies. These are not real because they are created by the mind.
For instance, the word “selfish” does not really exist in the ultimate
sense. It is made up of consonants and vowels, which are only sounds.
The word has two syllables, “self” and “fish.” At one moment of time,
you cannot hear the whole word “selfish.” What you hear are different
sounds passing away. It is only the sequence of sounds, which gives
the mind the idea. Actually, there is only vibration of sounds following
each other. Another type of sound concept is the melody, “do-re-me…
do, a deer, a female deer…” At no one moment does the melody exist.
There are only musical notes arising one after another. The mind gets
a mental imprint and so a melody arises. These are sound concepts.
Another form of concept is that which involves form. A form
involves distance, direction, and size. All this is ultimately not real.
For example, if I say that this is my right and this is my left, from
your perspective, which is really my right and which is really my left?
Right and left are concepts dependent on the relationship of one
object and another, which way you are facing and so on. Similarly,
things like distance and time. Even the idea of form and shape are
concepts. We seem to see whole things at once but in the thought
processes, we know it does not occur like that. Pictures on television
are an example. They occur rapidly one after another but we see the
forms and shapes created as simultaneous. Form and shapes are
concepts. In the case of form, we experience only the colour and the
light, which comes and goes very rapidly. Time is also a concept—
dependent on the functions of many things—which come and go."

"It is important that the meditator understands the difference between
“concept” and “ultimate realities,” because it is the direction which
he will have to lead his mind—from concepts to realities.
Concepts are those things or ideas thought out and conceived
by the mind. They are built upon the ultimate realities. Concepts are
only conventionally and subjectively true.
Ultimate realities, on the other hand, are those phenomena which
can be directly perceived (thus ultimate) without going through the
process of conceptual thinking, reasoning or imagination. These are
truths not depending on conventional definitions. Ultimate realities,
however, do not necessarily only mean the Absolute Reality which
refers only to the unchanging, unconditioned state—“Nibbana.”
Though conventional or conceptual realities are still a reality and
we cannot really do away with them altogether, we will have to put
them aside for periods of time during our meditation to allow us to
really see and realise things as they really are.
Conceptualisation can occur in two ways:
i Active Thinking
Active thinking can occur as philosophising, scheming,
planning or fantasising. It is obvious that when one does it
with lots of assumptions, preconceptions, ideas or hallucinations,
then one cannot be, at the same time, experiencing
nature directly. One has to put away all these before any
insight can arise.
ii ‘Unconscious’ Thinking
The second type of conceptualising is more subtle in that one is
not actively “thinking” or at least one is not conscious of it.
These concepts are formed so habitually and are deeply
embedded in the mind. These can also be part and parcel of
the mental processes influenced by kamma and the results
of kamma. Although one cannot abandon these altogether,
it is still necessary to transcend these for periods of time (by
means of highly concentrated bare mindfulness) to allow
insight to arise.
Examples of concepts relevant to the meditator are:
1 Word Concepts (Sadda Paññatti)
Words are made up of many syllables or sounds that arise
and pass away consecutively.
At one instant of time, the word does not exist, only the
arising and passing away of sound, a vibrating form;
materiality in nature.
Similarly a musical piece is made up of many “notes” of
sound. These are words based upon the play of sound when
we try to communicate our ideas and experiences with
another. Now it is also visual as it has been put into writing.
Sound concepts (words) may be real if they refer directly
to real phenomena that can be directly experienced. Unreal
concepts are those that cannot refer directly to realities. They
refer to other concepts and ideas which by themselves do not
really exist.
As words combine with words, further concepts build up
and can be the combination of real and unreal concepts.
Example: The word “mind” is a real concept as it refers to
mental phenomena that can be directly experienced without
conceptualisation.
The word “man” is an unreal concept because it refers to
something that cannot be directly experienced without
conceptualisation. Some words may have both—eg patient who
may refer to a sick person (unreal) or a tolerant mental state
(real).
In meditation we use them (real concepts) as labels to help
us recognise realities. Words and labels should not be grasped
at in meditation. One should instead try to understand what
is meant to be experienced.
2 Form, shape and distance
These concepts make up the two-dimensional and threedimensional
world.
If you study the television screen, the picture is made up
of electron lights shooting at a great speed from the tube within.
They arise and pass too fast for one to really know what is
actually happening. What the mind grasps (too slowly) is a
general play of colours which form shapes and so give us ideas.
They occur so fast that they seem to occur at the same time.
3 Directional Concepts (Disa Paññatti)
These are concepts corresponding to directions, relationship
of one thing to another eg east, west, right, left, above, below,
inwards, outwards, sideways, upwards, and downwards.
4 Time Concepts (Kala Paññatti)
The Time concept is built upon ideas concerning the recurrent
and consecutive occurrence of material and mental phenomena.
Materially, they involve light and darkness (as in day or
night), physical state of body (as in old and young) and so on.
Mentally, they involve mental activities and functions such
as sleeping time, working time, and so on.
Although we should have a general timetable or routine
to guide our practice, we need not follow it blindly.
Adjustments can be made if it is unsuitable. In groups,
sometimes one’s own welfare has to be sacrificed if benefit is
meant for the welfare of the group.
Collective Concepts (Samuha Paññatti)
These correspond to groups or collections of things, eg a
class, a race, a car, a city, group interviews, group meditation
etc.
6 Space Concepts (Akasa Paññatti)
Space concepts are those that refer to open spaces—such as
well, cave, hole and window.
7 Sight Concepts (Nimitta Paññatti)
These are visualised images such as the learner’s sign and
mirror image of tranquillity meditation. Many hallucinations
and imageries also come under this category.
8 Beings, Ego (Satta Paññatti)
What people normally regard as “I,” “you,” “he,” “she,”
“person,” “dog” or “deva” are actually sets of ever-changing
mental and material processes. These concepts of being,
should be used as convenience in communication but when
grasped upon as real, ultimate and absolute, one cannot help
but fall into conflict and sooner or later fall to ruin.
The abandoning of this concept is of utmost importance
to Vipassana meditation but upon the realisation that “All
dhammas are not-self,” one ought not to think “I” am walking
but just be mindful eg the process of walking. Some may
philosophise as they watch. This will, on the other hand, fall
into another set of concepts.
There are still many more concepts such as of happiness, suffering,
life and so on but we will not be dealing with them at the present.
In order to have a better picture of the process of conceptualisation,
it would be helpful to explain the thought processes.
A thought process can be defined as a series of consciousness
arising in an order that makes up what we “see,” “hear” and “think.”
These thought processes arise from the life continuum, a flow of
consciousness in a deep sleep state following stimuli from an internal
or external object.
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby IanAnd » Sun Dec 20, 2009 7:41 am

mikenz66 wrote:Since I see lack of clarity in what is or isn't conceptual, and where in the Path concepts do and don't apply, as an enormous source of confusion, I am particularly interested in some feedback (in case I'm just creating more confusion in my mind...).

So, to reiterate my understanding about the three aspects of the Path in very simplistic terms:
1. The development of sila is about concepts and content (good, bad, etc...).
2. The development of concentration is about concepts and content (focussing on metta, breath, kasinas, etc).
3. The development of insight is not about concepts and content. It's about clearly seeing sensations, feelings, thoughts, etc, rising and falling, and so on.

Of course, where it gets confusing is that a lot of mediation practise is a mixture of concentration and insight. In typical "insight" practise one is using the breath, abdominal motion, walking, etc, to build up concentration to be calm enough to support the insight part.

Time and time again I see discussions about "how should I be watching the breath?" where, to me, there is clearly confusion about whether the instructions are more in category 2 or category 3. Mixing up instructions from different teachers that have different aims will obviously lead to confusion...

Finally (perhaps this will provoke some response...), many annoying arguments involving abhidhamma (or zen, etc) zealots revolve around just such confusion - insisting on a non-conceptual approach ("it's just citta rising and falling...") where it really doesn't apply to deny the possibility or usefulness of certain actions or meditative approaches.

Perhaps what Mike is referring to here has been captured in the book recommended by Smokey, in an Appendice titled, oddly enough, "Concept and Reality". In it, it states:
It is important that the meditator understands the difference between “concept” and “ultimate realities,” because it is the direction which he will have to lead his mind—from concepts to realities.

Concepts are those things or ideas thought out and conceived by the mind. They are built upon the ultimate realities. Concepts are only conventionally and subjectively true.

Ultimate realities, on the other hand, are those phenomena which can be directly perceived (thus ultimate) without going through the process of conceptual thinking, reasoning or imagination. These are truths not depending on conventional definitions. Ultimate realities, however, do not necessarily only mean the Absolute Reality which
refers only to the unchanging, unconditioned state—“Nibbana.”

Though conventional or conceptual realities are still a reality and we cannot really do away with them altogether, we will have to put them aside for periods of time during our meditation to allow us to really see and realise things as they really are.

Conceptualisation can occur in two ways:

i Active Thinking
Active thinking can occur as philosophising, scheming, planning or fantasising. It is obvious that when one does it
with lots of assumptions, preconceptions, ideas or hallucinations, then one cannot be, at the same time, experiencing
nature directly. One has to put away all these before any insight can arise.

ii ‘Unconscious’ Thinking
The second type of conceptualising is more subtle in that one is not actively “thinking” or at least one is not conscious of it. These concepts are formed so habitually and are deeply embedded in the mind. These can also be part and parcel of the mental processes influenced by kamma and the results of kamma. Although one cannot abandon these altogether, it is still necessary to transcend these for periods of time (by means of highly concentrated bare mindfulness) to allow insight to arise.

Of particular importance are the highlighted/emphasized sections above, which describes the difference between conceptualizing and not conceptualizing in relation to the realization of directly perceived realities of the Dhamma which can occur during insight practice. This process was what I was referring to in my response to Smokey's original thread on "Insight knowledge is non-conceptual knowledge. Right?" Ven. Sujiva succinctly captures my thoughts on this in the second emphasized sections above from his book.

To paraphrase my response to Smokey: "Insight knowledge of any of the frameworks of the Dhamma (like the five aggregates) is directly experienced 'knowingness' which validates, for the one who perceives it, the Buddha's description of the Dhamma." This entails putting aside "conventional or conceptual realities" for a period of time "during our meditation to allow us to really see and realise things as they really are." Meaning whatever aspect of the Dhamma one is examining during contemplation.
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Dec 20, 2009 8:04 am

Not in direct response to any of the above posts, but as the OP which was a break off from another thread (I think), I think that those articles that I referenced there are worthwhile bringing into the discussion here.

One of the key questions discussed by de la Vallee Poussin, Schmithausen (with Walser as his fanboy), Gombrich and Bodhi, is whether or not the apparent "two paths" (of very deep concentration on one hand, and lesser concentration but insight on the other) are an "either / or" approach, or whether that one subsumes the other (usually the latter into the former, the notion that the deep concentration also contains precisely the same insight).

The "deep concentration" approach, when taken to the state of neither perception nor non-perception, and of course nirodha-samapatti, indicates that the far end point is non-conceptual. Whereas the lesser concentration (which remains in with-perception meditative states) with insight, indicates that concepts are maintained throughout.

Of course, before all this, I personally feel that a clear outlay of what is meant by "concept" and "conceptual" should be indicated. (Likewise too for "percept" and "perceptual" as well, and also related issues.) And in particular, for so-called "insight". Etymological approaches will work for a start, but one needs to go beyond just this, however.

These terms in the Indic languages are not exactly the same as the common English terms for them, though I feel that the Buddhist definitions are more across the board internally consistent than their philosophical and psychological counterparts in English language. I personally think that Smithausen and Walser for instance, are taking the definitions of Prajna / Panna from a limited approach, mainly Abhidharmika and mid-late Mahayana (which borrows from the former). But Gombrich and Bodhi are only looking at the Pali, and do not see some really interesting stuff going on in parallel texts in the Sanskrit and Chinese.

This latter point indicates that the suttas that mention the states of "the signless", "cessation attainment" and "neither perception nor non-perception" are very inconsistent between the Theravadins, Sarvastivadins and Dharmaguptas at least, and definitely to the Mahasamghikas. This has some quite profound connotations, quite frankly, for both textual and doctrinal / praxis studies, and should definitely not be overlooked.
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Dec 20, 2009 8:44 am

Thanks Smokey, Ian and Paññāsikhara,

I have found Ven Sujiva's book very useful, and I used it a lo what little understanding I do have.
ot when I was away from my regular teachers for much of 2007. So it is one of the sources that has contributed to what little understanding I do have.

Paññāsikhara brings up some interesting points which now make me feel a little bit confused. My understanding of the jhanas and the formless attainments is that they are basically "mind created" and therefore what I was referring to as "conceptual" (or "solidified" as Ingram also puts it). As opposed to seeing the rapid rise and fall of khandas, etc which is the aim of the "insight" practises such as Mahasi, Goenka, etc, and is supposed to be (ultimately) non-conceptual. Of course, when one begins such practises (and presumably for a long time after...) one has concepts ("foot rising", "pain" etc), not direct experience of wind element or heat element, etc.

By the way, I deliberately created this thread separate from the other one because I was interested in the application of these ideas to practise, whereas the other thread seemed to be more about "theory".

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Dec 20, 2009 9:13 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Paññāsikhara brings up some interesting points which now make me feel a little bit confused. My understanding of the jhanas and the formless attainments is that they are basically "mind created" and therefore what I was referring to as "conceptual" (or "solidified" as Ingram also puts it).


Well, one interesting question this brings up, is whether the jhanas are experienced as creations / constructions of mind (in a positive sense), or whether they are experienced as de-constructions of mind (in a negative sense). Pos / neg not in a value sense, but more ontological. That is to say, is the practice of jhana the bringing about of something new in the mental experience, or the simple experience of what is there where various mental elements are removed.

Although they defined in both ways, we must be careful of falling into mere literal understandings. eg. the idea of "with vitakka and vicara, forsaking evil, unskillful dhammas, there arises sukha and piti". Is it that on one hand unwholesome states are removed (neg), and sukha / piti arise (pos)? Or, that the very removal of unwholesome states is itself the sukha / piti?

Here, Abhidhammic traditions in general (not absolutely!) take more positivistic senses of these readings. However, other readings are just as possible.

So, linking this in with conceptual and non-conceptual:
I think the more common term is more like "with sanna" (sanna / sanni / sasanna) and "without sanna" (asanna / asanni). To me, however, I would prefer to read "sanna" as "percept" / "perception" than "concept".
Now, the jhanas are indeed "with percept". But does that make them positive (in the sense above)? Not necessarily, as it may just be the removal of certain percepts, with other percepts remaining - still a neg sense.

Now, as I said above, the tricky stuff happens when we start to get into the formless states. In the Abhidhamma trad, the formless states get described more as positivist, a kind of object. However, just looking at what may be the earliest strata of suttas (this is another topic, so I'll leave it out here!), it may be that early on some (not all) of the formless attainments were not necessarily positivistic.

For example, how does one read "nothing whatsoever" (akimcanya)? Or "neither perception nor non-perception" (nevasannasanna)? Are these simply the absence of anything, or the absence of "anything" (the concept of "anything"), or the concept of "nothing"? Psychologically speaking, these could be quite different experiences. Likewise neither perception nor non-perception.

Personally, looking across a range of textual traditions (not just the Pali), I'm in favor of the notion that on one hand, the formless states are still with percept, even if it is the percept of "nothing at all", "there is no percept", etc. And on the other hand, the true state of there being nothing at all is more akin to the cessation attainment (nirodha-samapatti), and the true state of no percept at all is the signless (animitta).

Where the Pali texts have the "signless", most Sanskrit texts seem to have something like "perceptionless". I think that this is from the "sign" (nimitta) being originally a subject side mental image / state, whereas the later Abhidhamma tended to make it an epistemological signifier viz the object.

There are other examples, but I'll save that for now.

As opposed to seeing the rapid rise and fall of khandas, etc which is the aim of the "insight" practises such as Mahasi, Goenka, etc, and is supposed to be (ultimately) non-conceptual.


I can't comment on the Mahasi or Goenka practices, not being familiar with them, unfortunately.
But, like I said above, there is a difference in English between "non-conceptual" and "non-percept" / "perceptless".
Considering the usual Pali term is "asanna" (as far as I know), which is more like "perceptless", are the above practices "supposed to be (ultimately" perceptless? Or signless? That is quite another question!

Of course, when one begins such practises (and presumably for a long time after...) one has concepts ("foot rising", "pain" etc), not direct experience of wind element or heat element, etc.


Even if one doesn't have the foot arising, but perceives something at all, this is still with-percept / with-sign, as far as the two systems I mentioned earlier of "straight concentration" and "insight" go.

By the way, I deliberately created this thread separate from the other one because I was interested in the application of these ideas to practise, whereas the other thread seemed to be more about "theory".

Metta
Mike


Good point. Have we worked out the theory correctly, though, before application?

My guess at this point is that sometimes two systems (from slightly different contexts, not developed directly in contradistinction to one another) may use exactly the same terms, but with different meanings, and thus superficially be the same, but in fact not.
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby poto » Sun Dec 20, 2009 7:35 pm

I haven't finished reading the whole book, but I've managed to read a good chunk of it. Still, I'm not sure if my limited understanding will be of help to anyone, but I'll throw in my 2 cents anyways while it's still fresh in my mind.

mikenz66 wrote:My observation is that a lot of disagreements, here and elsewhere, come from applying conceptual or non-conceptual approaches in inappropriate circumstances.


It would be nice if the teachings were always applied at the most appropriate times. I do agree that seems to be a problem.

My personal understanding of conceptual and non-conceptual isn't very linear. IMHO, insight can arise without building a lot of concentration, just as the siddhis can arise in various ways and at various times. With meditative practice lots of things seem to happen in irregular spurts and fits. These kinds of things make me doubt a concrete structure or uniform progression for everyone. Different people progress differently, and I don't know if separating conceptual and non-conceptual would be the best for everyone. Surely it would benefit many to have an understanding of what is most appropriate and when, but maybe it would be a hindrance for others. I don't know, just my thoughts.
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Dec 20, 2009 8:00 pm

Thanks for the various input,

To be clearer, perhaps instead of non-conceptual, I should get technical and use the term paramattha:
Nina van Gorkom http://www.zolag.co.uk/adlc1.html
Summarizing the four paramattha dhammas, they are:

citta
rupa
cetasika
nibbana

When we study Dhamma it is essential to know which paramattha dhamma such or such reality is. If we do not know this we may be misled by conventional terms. We should, for example, know that what we call body are actually different rupa-paramattha dhammas, not citta or cetasika. We should know that nibbana is not citta or cetasika, but the fourth paramattha dhamma. Nibbana is the end of all conditioned realities which arise and fall away: for the arahat, the perfected one, who passes away, there is no more rebirth, no more namas and rupas which arise and fall away.

What is the connection with meditation? Here I quoted U Pandita:
viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1311#p18145
Ānāpānasati can take two directions. If the meditator strives to be mindful of the form or manner of the in-breath and the out-breath, then it is samatha meditation and leads to one pointed of mind. On the other hand, if the meditator notes the sensation of the in-breath and out-breath as it moves and touches, then it is vipassanā meditation. The element of wind or motion (vayo-dhātu) is rūpa or matter, while the awareness or consciousness of the sensation is nāma or mind.

I.e. insight involves examining paramattha dhammas, not concepts. However, as U Pandida indicates, concepts are useful for samatha.

[ There are similar statements in Ven Nyanaponika's "The Heart of Buddhist Meditation: Satipatthna: A Handbook of Mental Training Based on the Buddha's Way of Mindfulness" but I don't have the exact reference. Of course, Ven Nyanaponika discusses Sayadaw Mahasi's technique in detail, so that's not surprising.]

In a similar manner Ajahn Brahm's (samatha) meditation instructions in Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond are:
Just ask yourself right now:“Am I breathing in
or breathing out? How do I know?” There! The experience that tells
you what the breath is doing, that is what you focus on. Let go of the
concern about where this experience is located. Just focus on the experience
itself.


And one can look through the Visuddhimagga to find which meditation objects lead to jhana [e.g. kasinas, metta, breath (via the breath nimitta)] and which don't [e.g. elements].
e.g. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kammatthan ... and_jhanas
It's the "conceptual" objects (such as metta) that can lead to jhana, whereas contemplation of "non-conceptual" objects such as the elements can lead only to access concentration (and hence "dry insight").

I offer this discussion partly because I see so many questions along the lines of "Why does Ajahn X say Y and Sayadaw A say B?" In addition to the different "styles", there are also differences in in the initial goal (samatha or "dry insight"). However, I hasten to add that I don't consider my understanding to be particularly complete or based on deep experience.

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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Dec 21, 2009 3:59 am

In investigating some of the Abhidhamma models on these sorts of things, including the Visuddhimagga, although it may often be portrayed as "experiential" (a rather rather problematic idea, due to it's inherent subjectivity), if one looks carefully, many of its definitions of subjects of meditation and what they can achieve, are simply the results of doctrinal models, particularly that of paramattha-dhammas vs pannattis. When one goes back to the suttas, and also the experience of many practitioners, sometimes these models don't seem to be as clear cut as they are portrayed.
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby IanAnd » Mon Dec 21, 2009 6:50 am

Paññāsikhara wrote:In investigating some of the Abhidhamma models on these sorts of things, including the Visuddhimagga, although it may often be portrayed as "experiential" (a rather problematic idea, due to it's inherent subjectivity), if one looks carefully, many of its definitions of subjects of meditation and what they can achieve, are simply the results of doctrinal models, particularly that of paramattha-dhammas vs pannattis. When one goes back to the suttas, and also the experience of many practitioners, sometimes these models don't seem to be as clear cut as they are portrayed.

I would agree with everything that Paññāsikhara says here.

My experience has been that the suttas are more accessible for a general practitioner while the material on Abhidhamma/Visuddhimagga, while intellectually stimulating and interesting, tended to require more concentration and practical meditative experience to try to figure out what they were referring to sometimes than need be for a general practitioner interested in making the journey to the final goal: nibbana and awakening. People seem to forget that the Abhidhamma was not espoused by the Buddha as a way to teach what he had discovered, but was, according to the legends at least, taught to devas (being who existed in a highly intellectual realm, hence it was easier for them to understand) and then to arahants (and intellectual arahants at that) who had already accomplished the primary journey of liberation, as a way for them to discuss between themselves the mind-phenomena that they had discovered. The run-of-the-mill people back then didn't study Abhidhamma (as some intellectual types do today, some to the exclusion of the discourses) when they came to the Buddha and his arahants for instruction, but rather they studied the discourses.

I'm paraphrasing and over simplifying here, obviously, in order to communicate the basic idea I'd like to get across, which is that the Abhidhamma material was never, according to the records I've seen, intended for use as a teaching tool for beginners or intermediate practitioners during the Buddha's lifetime.

At one point during my own training, I began to look extensively into the Abhidhamma material and found that while I could understand a lot of it, that it took a lot of concentration to try to keep up with the various terms being used so that I could relate them to my actual meditative experience and practice. This began to become a drag on my progress, because it took on a kind of academic exercise "feel" to it, which was not what I had bargained for. At one point, I made the conscious decision to stop studying the Abhidhamma (thinking that I would return to it later at some point) and to concentrate on finishing reading the discourses that I had left to read. I have never regretted that decision for myself. And I would venture to say that others here who have been exposed to the Abhidhamma would also benefit from doing the same.

I found the discourses more accessible to being able to relate to from my experience. They were easier to keep up with and to figure out what was being referred to. And pretty soon, I was beginning to see what the Buddha was talking about with regard to the teachings. Whatever disagreement or misunderstanding that has been displayed in this thread is, in general, based on different people's subjective experience and understanding of the terminology and phenomena being discussed. It's always been this way on forums like this, and will likely continue to be this way, as long as people are unable to actually sit down with one another, face to face, to clarify what they mean.
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Re: Conceptual and Non-Conceptual

Postby Freawaru » Mon Dec 21, 2009 8:52 pm

Hi Ven. Paññāsikhara,

as so often translations confuse me. You said

I think the more common term is more like "with sanna" (sanna / sanni / sasanna) and "without sanna" (asanna / asanni). To me, however, I would prefer to read "sanna" as "percept" / "perception" than "concept".
Now, the jhanas are indeed "with percept". But does that make them positive (in the sense above)? Not necessarily, as it may just be the removal of certain percepts, with other percepts remaining - still a neg sense.


Now, when I translate those terms into german I cannot help but see a close relationship between "concept" and name, i.e. "nama" in Pali, (Begriff, Benennung, Ausdruck, in german). Which would give an interesting sense to "rupa" as rupa is not nama.

As to "sanna" that you translate as "percept", is this the term used in the jhana of "neither perception nor non-perception"?
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