Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Discussion of Satipatthana bhavanā and Vipassana bhavana.

Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby Goofaholix » Wed Jan 12, 2011 11:43 pm

rowyourboat wrote:The object of vipassana is non-conceptual, is based on direct experience, with a mind purified with samadhi.

The resultant insight maybe conceptual- it certainly becomes so when we are able to think about it and discuss it subsequently..even more so when it becomes part of supramundane right view.


Maybe we understand the term "conceptual" differently but I would have said that insight goes much deeper than concepts and if it doesn't then it's not really insight, it's knowledge.

Of course then we have to use concepts if we want to try and describe that insight but that's just a description of the insight. Also we should use those concepts to reflect on that insight which in turn starts a process that leads to more knowledge and hopefully more insight.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby legolas » Thu Jan 13, 2011 12:53 am

Hi, D.F

I actually had a bet with myself that the sutta with Bahiya would be introduced. This sutta does not mention non-conceptuality. I can look at something and understand through reasoned thought processes that one of the events taking place is "just seeing", there is no need for mental gymnastics to induce some sort of trance state. If I choose to be aware of "just seeing" I can begin to investigate that process according to my inclination e.g notself, impermanent, causally arisen etc.

The other suttas mentioned have no content in them that justifies a non-conceptual approach. I do not deny that the nibbana experience is beyond conceptual understanding, however you cannot take the "result" as the path - this is a course taken by our Buddhist brothers in the other tradition. One question that revolves around semantics- would you relate the word concept with perception? As I understand it, a perception cannot take place in isolation and has to involve at least a modicum of conceptual thought.
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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby ground » Thu Jan 13, 2011 5:41 am

I understand that any meaning added to mere sense data is a concept. So mental labelling is not the characteristic of "concept" but "added meaning" is which may be sort of subliminal, i.e. in a non-grasped state. Mental labelling actually is already one step further.
Thusly understood e.g. the Satipatthana Sutta teaches a conceptual familiarization with insight(s) as its goal(s).

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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Jan 13, 2011 6:02 am

TMingyur wrote:I understand that any meaning added to mere sense data is a concept. So mental labelling is not the characteristic of "concept" but "added meaning" is which may be sort of subliminal, i.e. in a non-grasped state. Mental labelling actually is already one step further.
Thusly understood e.g. the Satipatthana Sutta is a conceptual familiarization with insight(s) as its goal(s).


Yes you are right that labelling is conceptual, however noting is not, noting is just a non conceptual non verbal acknowledgement of an experience

The vipassana technique that is most well known for using labelling and noting is the Mahasi technique, I think it is a misunderstanding to think of it as a labelling technique as it's a noting technique. Unless I've misundertood my teachers labelling is really only encouraged for beginners to get them started at seeing things objectively, or later as an aid to poor concentration, the noting is the main thing.

I don't know of any vipassana technique where labelling is the main thing and in and of itself is expected to lead to insight.

The Satipatthana Sutta is a conceptual of course because it uses language, however the process it describes is not a process of concepts formulating in the brain but of experience being experienced.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby ground » Thu Jan 13, 2011 6:56 am

Goofaholix

our understanding of "concepts" or "conceptual" is significantly different. I guess a difference of understanding is involved among all people discussing such topics like that of this thread. That is why it is difficult to discuss such topics.

The interest in this topic seems to be based on confusing "attachment to concepts" and "concepts". Since everbody is interested in "non-attachment" there arises the idea that the flaw is inherent in "concepts", however it is just "attachment to concepts" that is the flaw.
And since "non-attachment" is highly esteemed there arises the bias to label "non-conceptual" meditation methods that actually are still conceptual. But there is no value inherent in non-conceptuality.
I consider the process the Satipatthana Sutta describes to be conceptual because what you label "experience" are concepts from my perspective. However as to the insight this conceptual process leads to ... I do not dare to label it either "conceptual" or "non-conceptual".

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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Thu Jan 13, 2011 10:16 am

Goofaholix wrote:Yes you are right that labelling is conceptual, however noting is not, noting is just a non conceptual non verbal acknowledgement of an experience


I'm not sure I understand how noting can be non-verbal. Could you elaborate on this?

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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby PeterB » Thu Jan 13, 2011 10:20 am

There is more than one " noting " technique...One involves naming...so that on hearing a car back fire outside one says " hearing hearing " ( for example ) and then returns to the object.
Another involves focusing awareness on a particular feeling or sensation without naming. And then moving the focus to another feeling or sensation.
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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Thu Jan 13, 2011 10:25 am

PeterB wrote:There is more than one " noting " technique...One involves naming...so that on hearing a car back fire outside one says " hearing hearing " ( for example ) and then returns to the object.
Another involves focusing awareness on a particular feeling or sensation without naming. And then moving the focus to another feeling or sensation.


Oh, I see. I assumed "noting" always involved some level of labelling.

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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby PeterB » Thu Jan 13, 2011 10:55 am

I am afraid that we ( and I include myself here ) have got into the habit of being a bit imprecise in our use of terms Norman...
I would be interested in Ben's take as he has just got back from a Vipassana intensive.
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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby dhamma follower » Thu Jan 13, 2011 1:45 pm

legolas wrote:Hi, D.F

I actually had a bet with myself that the sutta with Bahiya would be introduced. This sutta does not mention non-conceptuality. I can look at something and understand through reasoned thought processes that one of the events taking place is "just seeing", there is no need for mental gymnastics to induce some sort of trance state. If I choose to be aware of "just seeing" I can begin to investigate that process according to my inclination e.g notself, impermanent, causally arisen etc.

The other suttas mentioned have no content in them that justifies a non-conceptual approach. I do not deny that the nibbana experience is beyond conceptual understanding, however you cannot take the "result" as the path - this is a course taken by our Buddhist brothers in the other tradition. One question that revolves around semantics- would you relate the word concept with perception? As I understand it, a perception cannot take place in isolation and has to involve at least a modicum of conceptual thought.


Hi Legolas,

Your statement above about understanding "not-self" through reasoned thought processes justifies the existence of commentaries, because the suttas are sometimes not precise enough. Actual insight is NOT a reasoned thought process, otherwise we all have become arahants like Bahyia already. It's totally another matter to understand not-self through reasoning than actually understand "in the seeing just the seen" right at the moment seeing is taking place. If sati and sampajana are not there at the moment eye consciousness meets the object through the eye organ, moha is automatically arising and taking seeing as "I see", as it's just the nature of moha. Any reasoning that comes afterwards is mere reasoning, unless that reasoning process becomes object of sati and sampajana it-self - in that case, there can be insight into the not-self nature of that very thought process.

Yeah... there seems to be a difference in our understanding of concepts here. Let's take a moment and make a distinction between concept and reality.

Take the example of the sutta I mentioned in my last post. According to the Buddha,
Tathagata = concept why : because there's no way we can actually experience the Tathagata
Five aggregates (materiality, feeling, perception, mental fabrication, consciousness)= reality. Why ? Because these can be actually experienced.
In the same way, can we directly experience the 32 parts of the body as such ? Can we experience the eye, the ear, the tongue, the skin without the thought process that gives them a name ?
No, what we can experienced is only hardness, softness, heat, cold etc....

Do the exercise and see for your self ! This truth is not in the commentaries, it's in your body and mind.

Even hardness, softness, heat, cold .... are only names because the reality of each element can not be experienced without the others' and just constantly passes away as soon as it arises.

As to answer your question whether I relate concept with perception. Well, concept is the result of the perception process. Because the process happens extremely fast, we assume that as soon as our eyes meet an object, it knows what the object is. Actually it is not so. Our eyes first see color, shape comes next and association comes up in the mind process to make sense of what we see. This can be experienced by practitioner. When sati has momentum, this perception process is still happening normally, but at the same time panna arises and understands the whole process as just process, not self. So panna is about the nature of the perception process, and not about the object of that perception - which is a concept made up by that process.

Of course, there's different levels of insights. The deeper it goes, the stronger the chracteristics of anicca, dukkha, anatta is felt, and the more unreal the objects seem to be...

I hope I have been more clear now, any comment is welcome !

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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby Nyana » Thu Jan 13, 2011 2:27 pm

dhamma follower wrote:Tathagata = concept why : because there's no way we can actually experience the Tathagata
Five aggregates (materiality, feeling, perception, mental fabrication, consciousness)= reality. Why ? Because these can be actually experienced.

Not everyone would agree that the five aggregates = "reality." See, for example, Concept and Reality in Early Buddhist Thought, and The Magic of the Mind.

dhamma follower wrote:As to answer your question whether I relate concept with perception. Well, concept is the result of the perception process.

The individuation of particular dhammas is also dependent upon apperception (saññā). As are the recognition of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness (i.e. aniccasaññā, dukkhasaññā, anattasaññā).

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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby kirk5a » Thu Jan 13, 2011 4:10 pm

As I understand the Bahiya sutta, the Buddha is not instructing to stop thinking, but to be aware of the "cognized in the cognized." You have to read between the lines to see the difference between what he is saying is awakening practice, and our way of being which is unawake. If the correct thing is the seen in the seen, and the cognized in the cognized - then what we normally do, must be to unawaredly "mix" the cognized into the seen, the cognized into the heard, the cognized into the sensed, and even cognize the cognized. I don't think our usual problem is that there is the seen in the heard, the heard in the sensed, and so on - what is called "synesthesia" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby Sacha G » Thu Jan 13, 2011 4:58 pm

Hi Kirk5a
As I understand the instruction to Bahiya, "in the seen there will be only the seen", means there is not somebody who sees, but only "seeing". That's why the Buddha concludes by saying "you are neither here, nor there, nor between the two".
:thinking:
Pali and Theravada texts:
http://dhamma.webnode.com
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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby kirk5a » Thu Jan 13, 2011 5:10 pm

Sacha G wrote:Hi Kirk5a
As I understand the instruction to Bahiya, "in the seen there will be only the seen", means there is not somebody who sees, but only "seeing". That's why the Buddha concludes by saying "you are neither here, nor there, nor between the two".
:thinking:

Right. But we can't jump directly to anatta. So the instruction given shows a method of practice that allows for that. "you should train yourself thus" Practicing being aware of just the seen in the seen, the sense of "me" in the seen, or in relation to the seen, weakens.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Jan 13, 2011 6:35 pm

PeterB wrote:I am afraid that we ( and I include myself here ) have got into the habit of being a bit imprecise in our use of terms Norman...
I would be interested in Ben's take as he has just got back from a Vipassana intensive.


Except that he practices a technique that doesn't use labelling or noting.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Jan 13, 2011 6:37 pm

TMingyur wrote:The interest in this topic seems to be based on confusing "attachment to concepts" and "concepts". Since everbody is interested in "non-attachment" there arises the idea that the flaw is inherent in "concepts", however it is just "attachment to concepts" that is the flaw.
And since "non-attachment" is highly esteemed there arises the bias to label "non-conceptual" meditation methods that actually are still conceptual. But there is no value inherent in non-conceptuality.
I consider the process the Satipatthana Sutta describes to be conceptual because what you label "experience" are concepts from my perspective. However as to the insight this conceptual process leads to ... I do not dare to label it either "conceptual" or "non-conceptual".


Ok, so I notice a sensation and I notice a reaction to that sensation, please explain how this is conceptual.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Jan 13, 2011 6:41 pm

Spiny O'Norman wrote:
PeterB wrote:There is more than one " noting " technique...One involves naming...so that on hearing a car back fire outside one says " hearing hearing " ( for example ) and then returns to the object.
Another involves focusing awareness on a particular feeling or sensation without naming. And then moving the focus to another feeling or sensation.


Oh, I see. I assumed "noting" always involved some level of labelling.


I think that would be a mistake. I understand labelling to be like training wheels, once it's served it's purpose and you are confident with what you are doing you ditch the training wheels and just be aware of the objects without need of labelling them.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby ground » Thu Jan 13, 2011 6:51 pm

Goofaholix wrote:
TMingyur wrote:The interest in this topic seems to be based on confusing "attachment to concepts" and "concepts". Since everbody is interested in "non-attachment" there arises the idea that the flaw is inherent in "concepts", however it is just "attachment to concepts" that is the flaw.
And since "non-attachment" is highly esteemed there arises the bias to label "non-conceptual" meditation methods that actually are still conceptual. But there is no value inherent in non-conceptuality.
I consider the process the Satipatthana Sutta describes to be conceptual because what you label "experience" are concepts from my perspective. However as to the insight this conceptual process leads to ... I do not dare to label it either "conceptual" or "non-conceptual".


Ok, so I notice a sensation and I notice a reaction to that sensation, please explain how this is conceptual.


If you notice what is commonly called "sensation" as "sensation" then this is a conceptual data processing.

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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Jan 13, 2011 6:53 pm

TMingyur wrote:If you notice what is commonly called "sensation" as "sensation" then this is a conceptual data processing.

Kind regards


Yes but if you just notice it without categorising as anything it then where is the concept?
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Vipassana: conceptual or non-conceptual?

Postby ground » Thu Jan 13, 2011 7:05 pm

Goofaholix wrote:
TMingyur wrote:If you notice what is commonly called "sensation" as "sensation" then this is a conceptual data processing.

Kind regards


Yes but if you just notice it without categorising as anything it then where is the concept?


Noticing is conceptual. It is impossible to practice non-conceptually what is described in the Satipatthana Sutta. Why? Because the Satipatthana Sutta discerns different phenomena to be contemplated and you cannot practice according to the Satipatthana Sutta if you do no discern too.

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