Yes, keeping practice going can certainly be a challenge.
And, as you say, the criticisms of these teachers seem to completely overlook the level of concentration that they encourage.
This recent talk by Steve Armstrong, The path of liberating insight: http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/170/? ... ng+insight
is a nice discussion of "Vipassana Jhanas" (Steve was a monk under U Pandita in the late 80s).
The talk reminded me of a few things I'd forgotten from U Pandita's explanation: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pesala/Pan ... hanas.html
U Pandita's definition is that the Jhana factors are developed to a level that if one was practising using a conceptual object (metta, breath nimitta), one would go into a regular samatha jhana.
There are two types of jhāna: samatha jhāna and vipassanā jhāna. Some of you may have read about the samatha jhānas and wonder why I am talking about them in the context of vipassanā. Samatha jhāna is pure concentration, fixed awareness of a single object — a mental image, for example, such as a colored disk or a light. The mind is fixed on this object without wavering or moving elsewhere. Eventually the mind develops a very peaceful, tranquil, concentrated state and becomes absorbed in the object. Different levels of absorption are described in the texts, each level having specific qualities.
On the other hand, vipassanā jhāna allows the mind to move freely from object to object, staying focused on the characteristics of impermanence, suffering and absence of self that are common to all objects. Vipassanā jhāna also includes the mind which can be focused and fixed upon the bliss of nibbāna. Rather than the tranquility and absorption which are the goal of samatha jhāna practitioners, the most important results of vipassanā jhāna are insight and wisdom.
Vipassanā jhāna is the focusing of the mind on paramattha dhammas. Usually these are spoken of as “ultimate realities,” but actually they are just the things we can experience directly through the six sense doors without conceptualization. Most of them are saṅkhāra paramattha dhamma, or conditioned ultimate realities; mental and physical phenomena which are changing all the time. Nibbāna is also a paramattha dhamma, but of course it is not conditioned.
Breathing is a good example of a conditioned process. The sensations you feel at the abdomen are conditioned ultimate realities, saṅkhāra paramattha dhamma, caused by your intention to breath. The whole purpose of concentrating one’s attention on the abdomen is to penetrate the actual quality and nature of what is happening there. When you are aware of movement, tension, tautness, heat or cold, you have begun to develop vipassanā jhāna.
Mindfulness at the respective sense doors follows the same principle. If there is diligent effort and penetrative awareness, focusing on what is happening in any particular sense process, the mind will understand the true nature of what is happening. The sensing processes will be understood in individual characteristics as well as common ones.
According to the fourfold way of reckoning, which admits of four levels of jhāna, the first jhāna possesses five factors which we will describe below. All of them are important in vipassanā practice.
Incidentally, I recall a previous discussion on this issue getting derailed into technical details regarding whether or not the objects one uses in vipassana practice are truly "non-conceptual". However, there's a rather clear practical difference between those objects and the "obvious-it's-a-concept" objects like metta or breath nimitta.
I note that Ajahn Brahm (who is an absorption advocate) writes in "Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond", page 15:
In fact it is best not to locate the breath anywhere. If you locate
the breath at the tip of your nose then it becomes “nose awareness,” not
breath awareness, and if you locate it at your abdomen then it becomes
“abdomen awareness.” Just ask yourself right now:“Am I breathing in
or breathing out? How do I know?” There! The experience that tells
you what the breath is doing, that is what you focus on. Let go of the
concern about where this experience is located. Just focus on the expe-
To me, he's saying: "use the concept
of the breath, not the detailed sensations", which agrees perfectly with U Pandita's statements (as it should):http://aimwell.org/Books/Other/Questions/questions.html
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. ...
So, in my reading (and experience) in most cases the different instructions from different teachers are not
contradictory. They are instructions for achieving different aims...