Stillness or Blankness?

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

Postby mydoghasfleas » Mon Feb 15, 2010 12:30 pm

Perhaps someone here can help me understand the difference between stilling the mind and making the mind blank.

I find that when I really focus on my breath, my mind does become still, but it seems to me that it's rather like the stillness that one experiences when sitting in front of a fireplace staring at the fire. The rhythm of my breath becomes somewhat hypnotic. I am having trouble determining if this is truly stillness or if it is just what I have seen described as sinking mind.

How do I know the difference? And does anyone have any advice for me?

With gratitude,
bdah

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby DorjePhurba » Mon Feb 15, 2010 2:05 pm

I think the easiest way to explain the difference is to ask what happens when you are focusing on the breath. When your mind becomes still are you aware of the feelings and sensations of the breath from beginning to end? It doesn't need to be perfect, but as you practice you should progressively be able to be mindful of the feeling of the breath more and more. As you are able to sense the breath better, thoughts will arise less frequently and you should experience the stillness you talk about. If you are not aware of the feeling of the breath and are sitting without mindfulness then I suspect you are going along the sinking mind route. Just my 2cents. I hope this helps you in some way.

With metta,
Chris

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby Kenshou » Mon Feb 15, 2010 6:40 pm

I think the comparison to staring at a fire is sort of right. But I believe Dorje is right in mentioning that mindfulness should also be present. The feeling can be pleasant and relaxing, but not dull, the mind is active, but active within the restricted confines of the meditation.

I find that there is a distinct sort of refreshment and clarity from meditation that comes when the mind is tuned to the right "frequency". As you get more familiar with the texture of your own mind and and how to navigate it, you'll know what direction to go.

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby meindzai » Mon Feb 15, 2010 7:38 pm

I think it might take awhile to figure out which is which, actually, and guidance from a teacher can help. For me the distinction is between what I would consider a quiet mind vs. just "spacing out." If I'm "spacing" it feels more dreamlike, or the way your mind is before you drift off to sleep. But what's really happening - in a very subtle and quiet way - is that the mind seems to be going off on tangeant after tangeant of thoughts, activities, sounds, etc. This may not sound like "blankness" but it's so subtle and dull that it's pretty close. What's missing is presense of mind - to see all those thoughts, activities, sounds, etc. going on and just observing them impartially as though listening to noise coming out of a radio.

-M

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby Fede » Mon Feb 15, 2010 10:13 pm

It's the difference between a pillow and a cushion....

From my own perspective (and please do not take this as my believing I am right...)
As far as I am concerned, making the mind blank actually involves watching the thought process, and 'consciously' preventing thoughts from arising.
so full focus is on the mental process of thought development, and arresting that - but paradoxically, you then fail to focus on anything else.....
you're intensely attentive of eliminating your thoughts....
in Stilling the Mind, I actually actively focus on whatever it is I'm doing, whether it is simply sitting and breathing, or even washing up, walking or driving...
I am so hell-bent focussed on being watchful and mindful of everything, that I ensure that everything I'm watching and minding - has no commentary. I just 'do'.

That's just the way I see it....
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

I am sooooo happy - How on earth could I be otherwise?! :D


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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby mydoghasfleas » Tue Feb 16, 2010 12:27 pm

Thank you all for your thoughts. It sheds some clarity on where I may be going off. Perhaps I've spent too much time trying to eliminate thoughts instead of completely focusing on the sensations of the breath. I will put more energy into that!

With gratitude,
b

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby m0rl0ck » Tue Feb 16, 2010 3:53 pm

I think of them as one having qualities of interest and awakeness and the other not. It seems to me that if i lose the quality of interest im headed for dullness and possbly sleep.
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby PeterB » Sun May 16, 2010 5:55 pm

bdah wrote:Thank you all for your thoughts. It sheds some clarity on where I may be going off. Perhaps I've spent too much time trying to eliminate thoughts instead of completely focusing on the sensations of the breath. I will put more energy into that!

With gratitude,
b

I am bumping this as I think the thread deals with an important point.
I remember a period when i was attempting to be mindful of each moment by sheer will power. It went on for some time..certainly months. One day i realised that I had stopped doing it and felt bad. This was followed swiftly by the realisation that I did not need to grimly focus on each moment and each thought and each sensation.
That in fact what I needed to do was gently focus..in my case, on the breath...it was a great relief.

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby whitewedding » Wed May 19, 2010 5:07 pm

It's not sinking mind - sinking mind you lose awareness - which you've got.

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby whitewedding » Thu May 20, 2010 2:27 pm

Chris[/quote]

DorjePhurba wrote:I think the easiest way to explain the difference is to ask what happens when you are focusing on the breath. When your mind becomes still are you aware of the feelings and sensations of the breath from beginning to end? It doesn't need to be perfect, but as you practice you should progressively be able to be mindful of the feeling of the breath more and more. As you are able to sense the breath better, thoughts will arise less frequently and you should experience the stillness you talk about. If you are not aware of the feeling of the breath and are sitting without mindfulness then I suspect you are going along the sinking mind route. Just my 2cents. I hope this helps you in some way.

With metta,
Chris


Ummm. Actually - I don't think this is the way to tell the difference - your talking about the difference between the sammatha and vipassana sides of meditation. Knowing the sensations of the breath from beginning to end is not sammatha - it is vipassana (or - stuff that leads to vipassana). Sammatha is trance like, hypnotic - just how she (sorry if you're a he - I haven't really heard the name before) is describing. And you can be very mindful in sammatha (if you are continuously aware of the meditation object - which is a very different thing from being continuously aware of the component sensations) but coupling it up with satipatthana (vipassana) (which in my experience shouldn't actually be done on the primary object since I tend to lose the sammatha) will supercharge that mindfulness.

Sammatha is the concentration on a concept - it's one thing and it's unchanging (when you hit Jhana - which is beyond me). Vipassana is the concentration on reality - that involves (maybe) knowing all the sensations of the breath.

Also - I don't think the Buddha ever gave the instruction to be aware of all the sensations of the breath. He has been seriously mistranslated in the commentaries. When the buddha says "body" the commentaries translate is as "body of breath" - however this clearly doesn't tie up at all in the suttas (especially if you overlap several suttas) - it's a joke that the commentaries have actually thought they could translate it like this.

I seems clear from the suttas that the buddha wants us to go into trancelike, hypnotic, conceptual sammatha (like she is doing) on the breath (or whatever primary object) whilst simultaneously doing vipassana on the body and consciousness (which wakes you up allowing you to oversee the whole process and also detaches you from you mind allowing the sammatha to deepen - incredibly so - far more than sammatha alone. And it also blasts the clarity of sammatha progressively through your body (it's as is the only spark of life we have is in a point in our heads and the rest is covered in dirt - the combination of sammatha and periphery satipatthana breaks the surrounding dirt up expanding your awareness. It's not going to do this (don't think so anyway) if you only do vipassana on the breath)) - you just have to find the right balance.

With metta,
Steve.
:-)

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby nathan » Thu May 20, 2010 3:05 pm

whitewedding wrote:Sammatha is the concentration on a concept - it's one thing and it's unchanging (when you hit Jhana - which is beyond me). Vipassana is the concentration on reality - that involves (maybe) knowing all the sensations of the breath.
For many people suggesting that concentration is focusing attention on stillness will be misleading and to suggest that concentration is focusing attention on a concept will be equally misleading.

A clearer way to put this would be to say that concentration is characteristically single pointed. The single pointed quality of concentration occurs in the present moment. When the object of that single pointed attention is not changing the concentration might then be said to have a quality of stillness but even then it would be more clear to say that it has a quality of steadiness. When the objects of concentration are of the momentarily changing kind such as the sensations that people commonly attend to in vipassana then concentration can still be said to be steady but the object can be said to be changing as each object arises and passes giving way to the next object which arises and passes.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby Anicca » Thu May 20, 2010 3:13 pm

whitewedding wrote:I seems clear from the suttas that the buddha wants us to go into trancelike, hypnotic,

Hi Steve!

I am struggling to learn Pali - what exact Pali words used in the suttas do you translate into hypnotic and trancelike?

Metta

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby Cittasanto » Thu May 20, 2010 4:05 pm

whitewedding wrote: (don't think so anyway)


Hi Steve,
are you or are you not speaking from direct experience?
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby whitewedding » Thu May 20, 2010 4:49 pm

Manapa wrote:
whitewedding wrote: (don't think so anyway)


Hi Steve,
are you or are you not speaking from direct experience?


Yeah - I am talking from direct experience. I say "don't think so" because maybe further up you would develop wide body awareness if you did vipassana on the breath.

And to the above question - no I'm not translating any words hypnotic/trancelike from the suttas. The buddha says - with the in breath i shall..., with the out breath I shall...
From my experience this becomes hypnotic, trancelike. It's in the ... that vipassana develops.

Peace,
Steve.

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby whitewedding » Thu May 20, 2010 4:51 pm

nathan wrote:
whitewedding wrote:Sammatha is the concentration on a concept - it's one thing and it's unchanging (when you hit Jhana - which is beyond me). Vipassana is the concentration on reality - that involves (maybe) knowing all the sensations of the breath.
For many people suggesting that concentration is focusing attention on stillness will be misleading and to suggest that concentration is focusing attention on a concept will be equally misleading.

A clearer way to put this would be to say that concentration is characteristically single pointed. The single pointed quality of concentration occurs in the present moment. When the object of that single pointed attention is not changing the concentration might then be said to have a quality of stillness but even then it would be more clear to say that it has a quality of steadiness. When the objects of concentration are of the momentarily changing kind such as the sensations that people commonly attend to in vipassana then concentration can still be said to be steady but the object can be said to be changing as each object arises and passes giving way to the next object which arises and passes.


Yeah - I agree - good definition.

Steve. :-)

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby whitewedding » Thu May 20, 2010 6:24 pm

Sorry - I don't want to start putting doubt into peoples minds or anything - People do apparently reach Nibbana by doing the vipassana on the sensations of the breath - I just don't think it's the technique the Buddha used (but his techniques no more important - if 2 techniques both lead to Nibbana than each is as good as the other I guess).

Metta,
Steve.

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Re: Stillness or Blankness?

Postby Cittasanto » Thu May 20, 2010 8:21 pm

sorry steve,
I shall point you to this part of your post also

whitewedding wrote:(when you hit Jhana - which is beyond me).


you have negated direct experience a few times in that post yet speak as though it is from direct experience, hence my question.

can you support what you say with any citations? after reading a post of yours in another thread it does raise doubts as to how you interpreted the texts.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."


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