My pressing question and doubt: concentration

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

My pressing question and doubt: concentration

Postby J0rrit » Thu Jun 19, 2014 12:07 pm

Hello there,

In another topic I raised my question about the amount of concentration one should use to look at the breath, so with which strenght the breath should be grapped with attention; or do you need to not grab it with your attention, but still shift your awareness intently to the breath? Or is it even better to not shift your awareness intently to anything at all, and let things unfold completely on there own (unfabricated awareness/choiceless awareness) ?

This is what I'm questioning at the moment. Grabbing the breath with your attention means that you intently surpress phenomena to one-point your awareness to the breath. Intently shift your awareness to the breath means that you are not content with the present moment. On another forum I was told by a lot of people that this last choiceless awareness is the way to go, and that you will end up watching the breath eventually. But I need more advice from different people. What do you think ?

To give you something to read about this discussion:

This is about the grasping:

\As you practice see if you can become aware of any tendency to 'try' and achieve success with this technique. Perhaps there is a subtle (or gross) grasping at a result , or sublte grapsing at the anapana spot that is causing the 'tension' you mention. If this is recognised in your experience then simpl apply this pointer to what you are already doing. See if there is a difference in 'tension' arising or not when paying attention as you already are versus an unfabricated way of paying attention. If you recognize that there is a difference, then you will know what to drop. In a sense it is simply like saying "relax!" and recognize that 'trying' need not be a part of doing the technique. Tension seems only to result when the mind tenses due to tendencies to 'try' too hard in my own experience.



I tried to not grasp the anapana spot at all. This required constant correction at the start, but got much easier. The result was that the one-pointedness (in terms of continuous attention to an unmoving tiny spot below the nostrils) moved a little bit now and then (nbut not much) and wasn't quite so tiny, though still very small. It seemed quite natural and easy to observe this process from a perspective of above and slightly behind my head rather than being right "in" the process, "in" the spot. Hard to explain.


And this is a peace about the unfabricated awareness:


When you see the massive wave coming towards you, there is a moment of sheer surrender. You have to ride it. No choice. There is just a moment of complete acceptance. This is it. Here it comes. You let it carry you up and over and you just ride it as best you can. If it takes you under so be it. You ride the wave as there is no choice unless you want your body crushed in the swirl.


We spend our lives fabricating the way we perceive and focus on 'things'. We spend our lives conceiving, construing and fabricating these 'things' or 'objects' for the mind to establish a relationship with. We section off parts of what is being perceived, focused on, evaluate those parts, judge them and react towards them. We fabricate the very means of paying attention to those 'things' because we have created those 'things' as 'mental objects' within the mind.

We fabricate the tension that arises when we pay attention with the desire for something to happen and the desire for something not to happen. An 'object' (a thought, a sound, sight, taste, smell, touch) of our own creation has become the object of desire. We fabricate the very act of NOT paying attention. We fabricate the means of concentrating the mind by narrowing its focus onto a singular 'object' (concentration practice). We fabricate paying attention via segregating off mentally created 'parts' of experience and allowing other 'parts' to come to the forefront (jhanas and nanas). We selectively fabricate the means of paying attention to certain phenomena ignoring other phenomena; a selective paying attention. We fabricate paying attention that then results in the arising of a fabricated ‘me-ness' or 'self'; the arising of the dualistic experience of existing as an identity wanting this and not wanting that.

Upon realizing the extent to which we fabricate the act of paying attention (or not paying attention) via fabricating 'objects' for consciousness to co-arise with, form around, what would it mean to stop fabricating 'paying attention' and 'objects' to pay attention to? It would simply mean realizing that awareness is arising without any help from 'you' or anyone or anything, effortlessly and continuously, at all times without the need to 'objectify' anything. Paying attention need not be fabricated and manipulated. One can just realize/recognise that awareness is happening anyways regardless of fabricating and manipulating it. Fabricating and manipulating is extra weight on top. A mental overlay that really is quite unnecessary. Extra unnecessary unsatisfactory weight.

When there is the illusion of control, there is inevitable suffering. We try and fabricate this happiness and that pleasure via our tendency for selective paying attention on fabricated 'objects' of mind. Fabricated paying attention is inherently stressful. But when one sees that the experience of sense contact (eyesight, smell, taste, hearing, touch) are really quite out from anyone’s or anything's control, surrendering that illusory sense of control results in freedom from stress born of such selective and fabricated 'focus' and paying attention.

Fabricating the means of paying attention is part of the path. This is true. To gain concentration and access to refined states of becoming, to calm and subdue negative self-narratives, a fabricated paying attention needs to be cultivated to hone and tame the wild unruly mind. But even highly refined pleasant states of becoming/self-narratives are still inherently stressful. Always 'tension' around a mentally conceived 'object'. Anything that the mind fabricates is stressful. Anything fabricated is inherently anicca, anatta and dukkha (impermanent, impersonal, unsatisfactory).

Just realize that awareness is happening by itself without any effort right now. Drop that tendency to lunge on an aspect of the field of experience and react to it. Simply realise that that is what the mind is habitually doing. Watch how it takes no effort to be able 'to see' with the eyes, no effort to be aware of 'seeing'. No effort to 'hear' with the ears. Watch how the mind's ignorant tendency is there to cover up that effortless 'seeing' with the idea that it isn't effortless. 'I' must focus!!! This tendency leads to sectioning out phenomena and giving them status over other phenomena, fabricating one's experience, fabricating one's own unsatisfactoriness.


Just realize that this tendency is in place due to being ignorant of this fact. Simply see that one is fabricating and overlaying that simply natural arising of consciousness experienced at the point of contact of sense door and sense object (i.e. eye/sight, ear/sounds, body (in and surface)/touch, nose/smells, tongue/taste and mind/thoughts) with 'extra' mental tension. Such unnecessary fabricated 'selective focus' tension. When we try to manipulate this fact and attempt to control and fabricate the means by which we pay attention, stress is the result.

Simple notice that awareness is operating without any effort, without any ‘you’ there and it might just give you the relief you are looking for.

This is highly recommended during the dark night or rough periods in our practice or rather at any time. Shitty sensations in the chest or throat? Notice how the mind is paying attention to such phenomena. Is the mind lunging on an 'object' within the field of experience at the expense of other sense contact? Lunging onto a thought? a sensation? a sound? Is the way the mind is operating in the moment fabricated? Is the mind selectively focusing and paying attention to one phenomenon over other? Is it tinged with a wanting the sensations to disappear? Is there a selective paying attention going on? Is there a sense of trying to change those sensations? Make them go away? “I don’t want them there!".


Simply recognize that the mind has become aware of these sensations without any effort whatsoever on your part. Simply acknowledge the fact that these sensations are arising without 'you' putting any effort in to perceive them. Effortless natural perception. Simply recognize this fact in real time for the entire field of experience, all sense contact at once. When you forget to, just simply remember this fact again. That simple. Sense contact is occurring at all sense doors at all times simultaneously. Simple let the mind realize and recognise just that. Recognise this fact continuously.


Paying attention has been conditioned by ignorance of what is happening for a lifetime. Simply realize that all phenomena, all sense contact is arising and being perceived without any effort on anyone's part and relief is yours. Look at phenomena simply from that angle. They are arising without effort. When one tries to perceive them, focus on them with some sort of mental effort overlayed, tension results. Drop the attemp to focus and simply recognise there is no need to focus.


Simply realize that it is all presenting itself, giving rise to consciousness by itself, without any effort whatsoever. 'You' let go of that illusory control and let the wave (sense contact) carry you away. Ride the wave. In fact there is nothing to ride the wave, there is just the wave, let the wave ride itself. You stop fighting the oncoming tsunami and its formidable currents. It rides itself instead by just simply recognizing that awareness, a bombardment of sense contact at all sense doors simultaneously cognised by one's brain, is happening without any of your input anyways, without 'you' entirely, effortlessly, at all times.


There is no need to fabricate 'paying attention'. It's already occurring at the senses. Recognize this fact and the salty water ceases pounding 'you' in the ear, as 'you' don't exist at the point of unsegregated, unobjectified sense contact. Drop all 'focus' and simply recognize what is happening without the need to focus on one part of the field of experience over another. Let the entire field of experience show itself without the need to selectively focus on fabricated 'parts' of it. Stop cutting up the entire field of experience!


What happens to the experience of 'you' then?


I would like your personal opinions on this matter, I would really appreciate it.

Also while doing Anapanasati, I find it really strange that a lot of people gave me the explanation to practice choiceless awareness, and that this will become anapanasati itself. My guess is you need to bring your attention intently to the breath, but not grasping it with your attention?
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Re: My pressing question and doubt: concentration

Postby waryoffolly » Thu Jun 19, 2014 1:55 pm

First of all, try to remember that meditation is an extremely personal affair. The best approach for you may not fit exactly into one of the many popular methods.
That being said, I will share my perspective based on my personal experience:
In the beginning of the practice, you will most likely be "forcing" the mind to stay on the breath since you will not yet have learned how to gently direct attention. Over time, this forcing will fade into the background as the mind becomes capable of lightly putting distracting thoughts to the side. Once you have developed a decent amount of insight, you may reach a point when this nudge towards the breath becomes so light that it is not even noticeable. This is because you have weakened the attraction to those thoughts in the first place; remember that until the attraction/obsession with constantly thinking (rather than knowing) is weakened, any attempt to direct the mind will be met with resistance.
So I suppose in my opinion, both methods lead to same results since if one starts with "choiceless awareness" then one is learning to gently step back from the constant internal yammering, and eventually gets to the point where the attention very easily rests on the breath.
With the other approach, directly attempting to redirect attention, you are learning to recognize clearly when the mind has become distracted from one's current "goal" (the air quotes since if one becomes obsessed about this goal, it can lead to serious issues). This eventually leads again to a similar clear awareness of whats going on in one's mind as it is happening leading once again to an eventual weakening of obsessive thought. Finally as before, the mind now has the ability to rest on the breath without force since there is no longer any longing for the thoughts that might have previously forced one to use tension.
Overall just try to be gentle with your mind, while at the same time cultivating a bright awareness.
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Re: My pressing question and doubt: concentration

Postby culaavuso » Thu Jun 19, 2014 4:32 pm

J0rrit wrote:In another topic I raised my question about the amount of concentration one should use to look at the breath, so with which strenght the breath should be grapped with attention; or do you need to not grab it with your attention, but still shift your awareness intently to the breath? Or is it even better to not shift your awareness intently to anything at all, and let things unfold completely on there own (unfabricated awareness/choiceless awareness) ?


Are these quotes really mutually exclusive?

From the quote about grasping, there is discussion of relaxing and letting go:

See if there is a difference in 'tension' arising or not when paying attention as you already are versus an unfabricated way of paying attention. If you recognize that there is a difference, then you will know what to drop. In a sense it is simply like saying "relax!" and recognize that 'trying' need not be a part of doing the technique. Tension seems only to result when the mind tenses due to tendencies to 'try' too hard in my own experience.


From the quote about unfabricated awareness, there is discussion of the importance of fabrication:

Fabricating the means of paying attention is part of the path. This is true. To gain concentration and access to refined states of becoming, to calm and subdue negative self-narratives, a fabricated paying attention needs to be cultivated to hone and tame the wild unruly mind.


A few quotes from other sources may illuminate the issue:

MN 44: Cūḷavedalla Sutta wrote:"This is the noble eightfold path, friend Visakha: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration."
"Is the noble eightfold path fabricated or unfabricated?"
"The noble eightfold path is fabricated."


How to Feed Mindfulness by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Try to figure out which ways of breathing will help to develop the potentials of comfort, ease, refreshment, fullness in the body.

As you do this, you're developing good potentials in the mind as well. The two major ones are mindfulness and alertness. I recently read someone saying that mindfulness is an unfabricated phenomenon — that only your thought processes that pull you away from the present moment count as fabricated, that when you're in the pure present there's no fabrication going on at all.

But that's a major misunderstanding. Mindfulness is something you do. It's a fabricated activity. Alertness is something you do. It's a fabricated activity as well. And there are potentials in the mind that can either foster the mindfulness or starve it. In other words, mindfulness is something you have to feed. It's not your simple awareness. It's the ability to keep something in mind. The reason we don't understand things, the reason we don't see the connection between cause and effect, is because we forget.


Skills to Take With You by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:What are some of these skills? The most basic one is just learning to focus the mind on one thing and to withstand any temptation to let it go. This is an important skill you need whatever your work is. If you can concentrate on your work and don't let the distractions get in your way, work gets done and it gets done properly. It's a solid piece of work, and not just little bits and pieces that happen to be thrown together, because there's a continuity. And when you learn how to focus on one thing like this, when you focus in on the breath, it changes your attitude toward the other thoughts that come into the mind. If the mind doesn't have a particular focus, it can wander around from thought to thought, not really noticing what it's doing, and not having a sense of direction. It gets lost going in the wrong direction, because every direction is just the direction where it's flowing.

But when you give it something to hold onto, you have a sense of direction. Then you can see how some things pull you away and some things pull you back. It's like the difference of being on the earth and being out in outer space. When you're on the earth, there's a definite sense of orientation — there's north, south, east, and west. You've got the earth as your reference point. But if you're out in outer space, you don't know which way is up, which way is down, north, south, east, west — they have no meaning out there. And the mind is just adrift in the stellar currents. But when you're on the earth, when you've got a good basis, then you have a sense that, "This way is north, this way is south." You have a sense of the direction you want to go, and you know when you're heading in that direction and when you're not.


Head & Heart Together: Bringing Wisdom to the Brahma-viharas by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Fabrication is of three kinds: bodily, verbal, and mental. Bodily fabrication is the way you breathe. Verbal fabrications are thoughts and mental comments on things — your internal speech. In Pali, these thoughts and comments are called vitakka — directed thought, and vicara, evaluation. Mental fabrications are perceptions and feelings: the mental labels you apply to things, and the feelings of pleasure, pain, or neither pleasure nor pain you feel about them.

Any desire or emotion is made up of these three types of fabrication. It starts with thoughts and perceptions, and then it gets into your body through the way you breathe. This is why emotions seem so real, so insistent, so genuinely "you." But as the Buddha points out, you identify with these things because you fabricate them in ignorance: you don't know what you're doing, and you suffer as a result. But if you can fabricate your emotions with knowledge, they can form a path to the end of suffering. And the breath is a good place to start.
...
You gain practice in mastering the processes of fabrication. As the Buddha says, that mastery leads first to strong and blissful states of concentration. From there it can fabricate all the factors of the path leading to the goal of all the Buddha's teachings, whether for head or for heart: the total happiness of nirvana, unconditionally true.


Selves & Not-self: The Buddhist Teaching on Anatta" by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The fact that it's a fabricated path leading to an unfabricated goal means that you have to develop some fabricated qualities along the way that you'll have to let go when you arrive at the goal. Too often we focus on the goal without paying attention to the path, but it's only through focusing on the path that you can arrive at the goal. If you focus all your attention off in the distance, you won't see where you're actually stepping. You may trip and fall.


There are several helpful posts on this topic that can be found in this thread as well.
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Re: My pressing question and doubt: concentration

Postby Mkoll » Fri Jun 20, 2014 12:08 am

Although, judging from the title of your thread, you seem to be more interested in samadhi, Ven Sujato's book has some ideas about satipatthana that might be of interest.
A History of Mindfulness wrote:Gethin’s observation that ānāpānasati is satipaṭṭhāna is correct;
but Schmithausen’s error is understandable, for he may have been
influenced by Sarvāstivādin texts such as the Abhidharmakośa, which, as
we shall see, do indeed treat ānāpānasati as a preliminary to satipaṭṭhāna.

-p. 143

...

The most obvious, and probably most important, objection to the idea
that satipaṭṭhāna is essentially a system of choiceless awareness is simply
the fact that there are four satipaṭṭhānas. One is obviously supposed, in
some sense or another, to choose one of these four as a framework for
meditation. One has to judge, discriminate, and direct the mind, at least
to some extent, even just to stay within the domain of one’s meditation.
Nowhere do the early texts imply that the four frameworks may be neglected
or promiscuously mixed, and nowhere is satipaṭṭhāna described as
just ‘being aware of whatever arises in the present moment’. We shall see
that as this idea gained hold during the historical evolution of satipaṭṭhāna
the importance of the division into four sections becomes marginalized.
In fact, the practice of ‘being aware of whatever arises’ is in the Suttas
called ‘clear comprehension’ (sampajañña), not satipaṭṭhāna.

-p. 146
Peace,
James
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