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.
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.
“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).
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