Bare attention

Discussion of Satipatthana bhavanā and Vipassana bhavana.

Bare attention

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Sep 29, 2011 6:26 am

This is a thread for the discussion of what is bare attention and the role it plays in practice.

The following, written by Ven Bodhi, is found here:

http://shamatha.org/sites/default/files ... ndence.pdf

See viewtopic.php?f=14&t=4623#p70671 for a discussion of this pdf.

If one wants to criticize the idea of bare attention, that is fine, but not in this thread. Please start a new thread.

We can use this discussion by Ven Bodhi as an initial basis for looking at what "bare attention" is. Other quotes are certainly welcome.

First, I used the phrase “the mind’s activity of attending to the object, the awareness of the object” as an attempt to make sense of the word ‘upaṭṭhāna,’ which is used in works like the Paṭisambhidāmagga and the commentaries to draw out the significance of sati. It wasn’t a direct “gloss” on sati itself.

As a wholesome mental factor, sati is consistently explained in the same way as in the quotation from Vism XIV 141 (with the forms saranti, sarati, saraṇa, simply cognates of sati). So I don’t have any new definition of sati to offer. But I hope that I can explain how sati, as “bare attention,” can function as a wholesome mental factor. When I use the word ”awareness” or “attention” to render upaṭṭhāna, as representing sati in this role (which is just my hypothesis), this awareness is quite different from ordinary consciousness (viññāṇa), and this attention is different from manasikāra, the mental factor that performs the function of adverting to an object or selecting features of the objective field for closer focus. Sati, as bare attention, is never completely bare. When practiced in the full context of the noble eightfold path (even the path-practice of a worldling) it is, or should be, embraced by other factors of the path, most notably by right view, right motivation, and right effort (factors 1, 2, and 6); it is already supported by the three morality factors (3, 4, 5). As Ven. Nyanaponika first used the expression, sati is “bare” in that it is shorn of our usual emotional reactions, evaluations, judgments, conceptual overlays, etc., and is intended to lay bare the experienced object as clearly as possible.

We should remember that sati, in the context of satipaṭṭhāna practice, is always practiced as part of an’anupassanā,’ and this word helps to bring out the role of sati. We usually translate ‘anupassanā’ as “contemplation,” thus ‘kāyānupassanā’ as “contemplation of the body,” but this might be somewhat misleading. It might be more accurate, and more literal, to translate it as “observation.” The word is made up of a prefix ‘anu’ which suggests repetition, and ’passanā’, which means “seeing, viewing.” So sati is part of a process that involves a close, repetitive observation of the object.

Several factors enter into anupassanā. According to the “satipaṭṭhāna refrain,” these are energy (ātāpī, “ardent”), clear comprehension (sampajāno), and mindfulness (satimā). Energy contributes the strength to fulfill the practice, but it is mindfulness that brings the object into the field of observation, and in many exercises (though not all) it does so simply through the act of attending to the object over and over, as simply as possible, and of attending to each object that presents itself on the successive occasions of experience. Mindfulness, as bare attention, is thus a key element in the process of adopting an “observational stance” towards one’s own experience.

Mindfulness, as bare attention, however, isn’t just floating loosely in a void. In a meditative situation it will be anchored in a primary object, such as in-breathing and outbreathing, or the rise and fall of the abdomen. But whenever some other phenomenon arises and floats into the field of awareness, the meditator is advised to simply note it, without reacting to it, and then to bring the mind back to the primary object. If any reactions take place, such as enjoying the distracting object or feeling irritated by it, one should note the enjoyment or irritation, and again return to the primary object. Thus, if you have trouble seeing mindfulness–as bare attention–as a wholesome mental factor because it isn’t remembering one’s wholesome qualities or attending to bodhipakkhiya dhammas, the same problem could be posed in terms of mindfulness of breathing. A skeptic might say: “Yeah, I can see loving-kindness meditation, or compassion meditation, as a wholesome state, but mindfulness of breathing, why, you’re doing nothing but following your breath in and out. What could be especially ‘wholesome’ about that?”

In the practice of bare attention, as used in the ”dry insight” system of vipassanā, mindfulness is used to note whatever is occurring on successive occasions of experience. As this is practiced continuously, over extended periods of time, the mindfulness builds up momentum. By means of this momentum, it is able to bring the “field of experience” into increasingly finer focus, until one can tune into the precise factors constituting any occasion of experience and distinguish them according to their place among the five aggregates. In this way, mindfulness paves the way for the discriminative understanding of the “constituted nature” of experience, allowing paññā to move in and discern the threads that make up the complex experiential occasion. Then because one is attending to the unfolding of experience sequentially across occasions of experience, the characteristic comes into sharp focus. One can see how each event occurs and vanishes, followed by the next event, which occurs and vanishes, followed by the next event, which occurs and vanishes. As concentration grows stronger, this ability to focus upon the arising and passing of events becomes more refined, so that it seems one is perceiving the arising and passing of cognitive events in terms of nanoseconds. Again, this uncovers, even more starkly, the characteristic of impermanence, and from there one can move on to the characteristics of dukkha and anatta.

Of course, one who gains the jhānas, and then uses the concentration of the jhāna to focus on the procession of experience, has even more powerful resources for gaining direct perception of the radical truth of impermanence. But even this must begin with some degree of “bare attention” to immediate experience.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.
"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Bare attention

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Sep 29, 2011 6:42 am

Mikenz88 found this link to the second chapter of Ven Nyanaponika's HEART OF BUDDHIST MEDITATION that discusses bare attention at length:

http://www.alexox.com/sangha/bareattention.pdf
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.
"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Bare attention

Postby PeterB » Thu Sep 29, 2011 6:59 am

Bare attention without object, or moving from object to a simple attention to of all that arises is also taught by some Theravadin teachers.

:anjali:
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Re: Bare attention

Postby Sylvester » Thu Sep 29, 2011 7:10 am

Thanks, Tilt.

I think there is much to be said for "bare attention" versus those who interpret the instructions as a call to also "label".

I think the problem stems, in some part, from just how replete the Satipatthana Suttas are with the "iti" markers eg

Breathing in long, he discerns, 'I am breathing in long'; or breathing out long, he discerns, 'I am breathing out long.' Or breathing in short, he discerns, 'I am breathing in short'; or breathing out short, he discerns, 'I am breathing out short.'

Dīghaṃ vā assasanto ‘dīghaṃ assasāmī’ti pajānāti, dīghaṃ vā passasanto ‘dīghaṃ passasāmī’ti pajānāti, rassaṃ vā assasanto ‘rassaṃ assasāmī’ti pajānāti, rassaṃ vā passasanto ‘rassaṃ passasāmī’ti pajānāti,


Following the standard Pali grammars, eg Warder, the iti markers are said to describe either (i) direct speech or (ii) thoughts.

But, do the iti markers here in the Satipatthana instructions mean "thoughts", and by extension "labelling"?

It's commonly said that Pali and other Middle Indo Aryan languages do not have indirect speech constructions, and therefore the presence of the iti markers must denote either direct speech or thoughts. I think Norman makes a good argument for evidence of the Sanskritisation of the Pali Canon at various stages, such that perhaps earlier layers of the Canon had not yet been locked down with this way of reporting speech. One example of indirect speech is in fact the Buddha's recollection of his 2 teachers' declarations of their attainment, reported without the iti marker : MN 26.

What is now known of iti's function in Middle Indo Aryan languages is that it also functions as what grammarians call "object/subject complementizer". A sample definition -

A sentential complement clause, an embedded clause that functions as an object of a verb, is introduced by a marker that is called a complementizer.


Is there any evidence of such "object complementizers" in the Pali Canon?

It's there, and one of the most famous examples is found in the First Sermon, SN 56.11 -

And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination of stress: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming. ...

Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: 'This is the noble truth of the origination of stress'... 'This noble truth of the origination of stress is to be abandoned' ... 'This noble truth of the origination of stress has been abandoned.'

Idaṃ kho pana, bhikkhave, dukkhasamudayaṃ ariyasaccaṃ – yāyaṃ taṇhā ponobbhavikā nandirāgasahagatā tatratatrābhinandinī, seyyathidaṃ – kāmataṇhā, bhavataṇhā, vibhavataṇhā. ...

Idaṃ dukkhasamudayaṃ ariyasacca’nti me, bhikkhave, pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu cakkhuṃ udapādi, ñāṇaṃ udapādi, paññā udapādi, vijjā udapādi, āloko udapādi. ‘Taṃ kho panidaṃ dukkhasamudayaṃ ariyasaccaṃ pahātabba’nti me, bhikkhave, pubbe…pe… udapādi. ‘Taṃ kho panidaṃ dukkhasamudayaṃ ariyasaccaṃ pahīna’nti me, bhikkhave, pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu cakkhuṃ udapādi, ñāṇaṃ udapādi, paññā udapādi, vijjā udapādi, āloko udapādi.


What the iti markers are doing in such passages are denoting neither speech nor thought, but simply Truth Propositions, ie raw data. It is a formal way to privilege cognitive data as corresponding to hard reality. We are being instructed to look at reality, and not gloss it with labels.

I think this is a reasonable way to construe the "iti" instructions in the Satipatthana Suttas and consistent with the suttas' refrain that the anupassana is just for knowing (panassa) and recollection (sati).
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Re: Bare attention

Postby alan » Thu Sep 29, 2011 7:12 am

I like the new word. Instead of the unsupportable idea of bare awareness, which never made any sense, we now have bare attention. But that isn't quite right, though, is it? Attention always implies someone who is attending. Which is to say, there is no such thing as bare attention.
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Re: Bare attention

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Sep 29, 2011 7:14 am

alan wrote:I like the new word. Instead of the unsupportable idea of bare awareness, which never made any sense, we now have bare attention. But that isn't quite right, though, is it? Attention always implies someone who is attending. Which is to say, there is no such thing as bare attention.
"I like the new word" Does this imply that there is someone who likes "the new word." If you want to squabble over the use of conventional language, then please start a new thread.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.
"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Bare attention

Postby PeterB » Thu Sep 29, 2011 7:24 am

Bare attention is the means by which we find out the answer to whether there is an attender. We assume nothing either way. We certainly do not cultivate the mind of the non existent.
Bare attention is the question and will lead to its answer.
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Re: Bare attention

Postby Ben » Thu Sep 29, 2011 7:42 am

Hi Tilt,
Thanks so much for reproducing Ven Bodhi's article. It corresponds nicely to my own practice and understanding.
I'm not sure whether there is anything more that I can add.
kind regards

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Re: Bare attention

Postby bodom » Thu Sep 29, 2011 11:52 am

Venerable Gunaratana on bare attention:

Mindfulness is nonconceptual awareness. Another English term for Sati is 'bare attention'. It is not thinking. It does not get involved with thought or concepts. It does not get hung up on ideas or opinions or memories. It just looks. Mindfulness registers experiences, but it does not compare them. It does not label them or categorize them. It just observes everything as if it was occurring for the first time. It is not analysis which is based on reflection and memory. It is, rather, the direct and immediate experiencing of whatever is happening, without the medium of thought. It comes before thought in the perceptual process.


http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma4/mpe13.html

:anjali:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Bare attention

Postby PeterB » Thu Sep 29, 2011 2:44 pm

Thats the one Bodom. :anjali:
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