Will someone clear this up for me?

Discussion of Satipatthana bhavanā and Vipassana bhavana.

Will someone clear this up for me?

Postby Nicro » Thu Feb 24, 2011 5:49 am

OK so I'm having some difficulty understanding vipassana. It may be that I'm over thinking it, I don't know. I have been practicing Samatha for a while now and would like to start practicing Vipassana aswell.

So, from my understanding the Mahasi method you sit, observe the abdomen rising and falling(while noting "rising" "falling") and also note any feeling, emotions thoughts etc.. This is where I get confused. If you start to think and then label it "thinking" you are thinking "thinking" which then overrides the previous thought, thus making it so you don't observe the original thought because you just put a new one in its place. I can see how it could work for physical sensations but I don't see how with thoughts.Also, when observing the breath when do you switch focus to something else? Say a pain starts to develop in my back. Do I immediately note "pain" or do you wait until the pain becomes intense enough to disrupt your focus on breath? And also today at the bookstore I was browsing through Mindfulness in Plain English. Now it didn't give specific steps but it seemed to be pretty much the same as Mahasi except that you observe the breath at the nose and simply watch without thinking anything that arises? If so then please refer back to the back pain question above and apply it to this method in terms of when to give it attention.

Will someone help clear this up?

Thanks,

Nick
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Re: Will someone clear this up for me?

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Feb 24, 2011 6:51 am

Ven Pesala is a very good resource here for Mahasi Sayadaw practice, but in the meantime here is a guided meditation by Joseph Goldstein, who is a very long term, highly experienced practitioner and teacher:

http://www.dharma.org/ims/mp3/01-Joseph ... tation.mp3

Spend a little with this and see if it helps. Either way there are experienced Mahasi Sayadaw practitioners here who may be able help you sort through all this. (And yes, you are kind of over-thinking it all, but we have all done that.)
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Re: Will someone clear this up for me?

Postby lojong1 » Thu Feb 24, 2011 7:26 am

I'll blurt a bit that I guess guess might fit with the experienced replies to come.
Have you followed your original instructions far enough to warrant an addition?
If you notice the thought has changed, then you notice the thought has changed. Do you want to observe what was or what is?
The mental note of what is happening is as brief as possible and gets subtler.
If the instruction is to follow the breath without interruption, then don't try to follow something else. Little short of death will stop your breathing, so if there is such pain that you need to try and reduce it somehow, you will still be breathing while you do what it is you do.
If you are to observe the goings on of different parts, note the switch of attention as it happens.
Getting a little lost? Frustrated? Note it, feel it, whatever, continue.
Looking at instructions from various teachers and similar disciplines like shikantaza or shinay--examining the experiential differences--might give useful angles, I don't know.
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Re: Will someone clear this up for me?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Thu Feb 24, 2011 7:44 am

The mental act of noting is important to know the object clearly. Each object, whether that is pain, hearing, or thinking, etc., should be known as it occurs in the present moment.

When we are day-dreaming, there is very little awareness — we are lost in thoughts and fantasies. When we are remembering some sensual pleasures enjoyed earlier, we are not being mindful of the present moment. When we are planning some activity in the future, the mind is imagining.

The mental noting or labelling, brings the mind to the present, to become aware of what is going on in our mind — the awareness knows it as a mental process, and the mind is no longer lost in concepts, but knows realities in the present.

In terms of the five factors of concentration (jhāna), the mental noting is called initial application (vitakka). If the awareness is fixed firmly on each new mental object without wandering here and there, then that is the factor of sustained application (vicāra).

The beginner in meditation experiences plenty of pain, wandering thoughts, restlessness, drowsiness, and doubt (indecision). As his/her concentration develops, the wandering thoughts diminish, and awareness is established. That's what “satipatthāna” means — to establish awareness or mindfulness in the present moment.

Gradually, the hindrances to concentration are overcome, and the mind settles in the present moment. It doesn't mean that the meditator is only aware of the rising and falling movements of the abdomen. The mind may stay for a few breaths only, before some other object occurs such as pain, hearing, or thinking. However, the mature meditator does not become distracted by these secondary meditation objects, but quickly notes them as each occurs. Automatically, when the secondary objects have ceased or faded into the background, the awareness returns to focus on the abdominal movements.

Later, the meditator experiences joy (pīt), bliss (sukha), and one-pointedness (ekaggatā), which are the other three factors of concentration, but to get to that stage we have to work patiently to overcome the five hindrances — sensual desire, ill-will, sloth, restlessness, and doubt. Each time these arise, they too must be noted with bare awareness.

You can find many books by the late Venerable Mahāsī Sayādaw on my web site. Read a little, but practise a lot. Too much reading can just add to the mental distraction. A little regular reading helps to clarify and focus the attention on what is important.
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Re: Will someone clear this up for me?

Postby PeterB » Thu Feb 24, 2011 2:28 pm

:anjali:
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Re: Will someone clear this up for me?

Postby Nicro » Thu Feb 24, 2011 4:57 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:The mental noting or labelling, brings the mind to the present, to become aware of what is going on in our mind — the awareness knows it as a mental process, and the mind is no longer lost in concepts, but knows realities in the present.

In terms of the five factors of concentration (jhāna), the mental noting is called initial application (vitakka). If the awareness is fixed firmly on each new mental object without wandering here and there, then that is the factor of sustained application (vicāra).


Gradually, the hindrances to concentration are overcome, and the mind settles in the present moment. It doesn't mean that the meditator is only aware of the rising and falling movements of the abdomen. The mind may stay for a few breaths only, before some other object occurs such as pain, hearing, or thinking. However, the mature meditator does not become distracted by these secondary meditation objects, but quickly notes them as each occurs. Automatically, when the secondary objects have ceased or faded into the background, the awareness returns to focus on the abdominal movements.




Thank you that bit helped with my understanding!
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Re: Will someone clear this up for me?

Postby Jack » Thu Feb 24, 2011 5:40 pm

With a little practice, noting becomes a "pointing to" and less of another mental object. After much practice, maybe years, conscious noting is left behind.

Noting even as used by a beginning is not noting a thought as, for example, about Aunt Mary or a sensation on your face as an insect bite. They are just noted as a thought and a sensation. This type of noting helps in this "pointing toward".

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Re: Will someone clear this up for me?

Postby Nicro » Fri Feb 25, 2011 3:38 am

A little bit earlier I started to catch on to things a little more(as far as vipassana is concerned).

Firstly with the noting I think I'm figuring it out. For example earlier when a thought arose I noted "thinking" without destroying the previous thought. Before it would be like me saying THINKING in my head over the original thought, but it seems that the noting is a more quiet, and very gentle thing. Instead of covering up the thought with a hard mental saying THINKING, you insert a gentle note that kinda......I'm not sure how to describe it typing exactly, but I can note "thinking" without breaking the original thought and it sort of helps to break the sense of identification with the thought and remove it from the foreground. Noting "emotion" helps a whole lot with removing the sense of identification with them aswell. Earlier today if something happened that made me mad I would note "emotion" and it separated the emotion from what "I was" and allowed me to view it with out attaching it to a sense of self. Again, removing it from the foreground and into a spot where I could see it objectively.

Another question though.....Is it necessary to watch the breath in the abdomen for some reason, I can it be watched on the tip of the nose?
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Re: Will someone clear this up for me?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Fri Feb 25, 2011 5:54 am

Noting the abdominal movements is a different technique to mindfulness of the respiration (ānāpānasati) at the nosetip.

In the Satipatthāna Sutta, the latter method is the first method in the section on contemplation of the body, while noting the abdominal movements comes under the section on analysis of the four elements.

The sutta includes these sections:
  1. Kāyānupassanā ānāpānapabbaṃ: Mindfulness of the respiration
  2. Kāyānupassanā iriyāpathapabbaṃ: Mindfulness of the four postures — Standing, sitting, walking, lying down.
  3. Kāyānupassanā sampajānapabbaṃ: Clear comprehension of daily activities — In going out, coming back, looking here and there, bending and stretching the limbs, getting dressed, eating, drinking, chewing, and tasting, urinating and defecating, going, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, speaking, remaining silent, he practises clear comprehension.
  4. Kāyānupassanā paṭikūlamanasikārapabbaṃ: Contemplating the 32 parts of the body — Hair of the head, hair of the body, teeth, nails, skin, etc.
  5. Kāyānupassanā dhātumanasikārapabbaṃ: Analysis of the four elements — Earth, water, fire, and air, i.e. solidity, fluidity, temperature, and motion.
  6. Kāyānupassanā navasivathikapabbaṃ: Contemplation of dead bodies in various states of decay, comparing one's own body to them.
So, noting the abdominal movements is not breathing meditation, though it is related to the breathing. It is contemplation of the air element — movement, pressure, or vibration. In walking meditation one also observes the element of motion in the feet, and in moving the limbs too.

In the Mahasi Satipatthāna method, we use sections 2, 3, and 5. The Sayādaw taught the contemplation of the abdominal movements because it is easy for a beginner to clearly know the element of motion when sitting. Noting the rising and falling is not the only meditation object — far from it — but it is the primary object as we all have to begin somewhere, and that is a good place to start.

Analysis of the four elements is well suited to the development of direct insight. Mindfulness of respiration is more suitable for one developing tranquillity (jhāna) with the aim of attaining psychic powers, but it can also be used as a vehicle for insight.
Last edited by Bhikkhu Pesala on Fri Feb 25, 2011 6:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Will someone clear this up for me?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Feb 25, 2011 6:00 am

Hi NIcro,

Sounds like you're getting it.
From Bhikkhu Pesala's website:
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pesala/Pan ... structions
In This Very Life The Liberation Teachings of the Buddha
Sayādaw U Pandita
In making the verbal label, there is no need for complex language. One simple word is best. For the eye, ear, and tongue doors we simply say, “Seeing, seeing... Hearing, hearing... Tasting, tasting.” For sensations in the body we may choose a slightly more descriptive term like warmth, pressure, hardness, or motion. Mental objects appear to present a bewildering diversity, but actually they fall into just a few clear categories such as thinking, imagining, remembering, planning, and visualizing. But remember that in using the labeling technique, your goal is not to gain verbal skills. Labeling technique helps us to perceive clearly the actual qualities of our experience, without getting immersed in the content. It develops mental power and focus. In meditation we seek a deep, clear, precise awareness of the mind and body. This direct awareness shows us the truth about our lives, the actual nature of mental and physical processes.

Regarding nose vs abdomen, as Bhikkhu Pesala says, they do tend to be different. From my experience using the breath at the nose tip tends to lead me more towards absorption in the object, whereas the abdominal motion puts me in a more "open" space, where it's easier to watch other sensations in the body and mind arise. Which is kind of the point of the exercises.

Here's another comment by U Pandita:
http://aimwell.org/Books/Other/Questions/questions.html
“Why did Mahāsi Sayādaw ignore ānāpānassati, which was directly taught by the Buddha, but introduced the rising-falling method?”

“Is ānāpānassati the same in essence as vipassanā and meditating on rising and falling, and able to lead to magga-phala and nibbāna?”

In answering these questions, Panditārāma Sayādaw explained the teachings of the Mahāsi Sayādaw as follows.

Ānāpānassati 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-pointedness 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. Therefore, ānāpānassati can be considered as vipassanā, and can lead to high levels of insight wisdom. However, in the Visuddhimagga, in the section on kāyānupassana, or mindfulness of body, fourteen objects of meditation are discussed, and further subdivided into objects for samatha and vipassanā meditation. In the Visuddhimagga, ānāpānassati is presented as an object of samatha meditation. Consequently, if we are to instruct meditators to develop ānāpānassati as part of vipassanā meditation, we will be inviting much unwanted and unwarranted criticism and controversy. And neither Mahāsi Sayādaw or myself would want to argue here that the Visuddhimagga, the rightly venerated classic, is at fault here.

It has been said that by noting the rising and falling of the abdomen, meditators are distancing themselves from the teachings of the Buddha. The answer to this is a firm and definite “no.” Quite apart from the success that meditators have achieved by noting rising-falling, there is much solid evidence in the Buddhist scriptures, such as Salāyatana Vagga Samyutta, to show that the method is very much a part of the Buddha’s teachings regarding mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of the elements (dhātu), and mindfulness of the five aggregates (khandhas).

In addition to Bhikkhu Pesala's excellent site you might find the guides at BuddhaNet: http://buddhanet.net/insight.htm useful (some are the same as on http://aimwell.org/). This is a good guide for beginners that may answer many of your questions:
http://buddhanet.net/imol/wrkshp.htm

:anjali:
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