New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Buckwheat » Wed Sep 19, 2012 3:48 pm

Sylvester wrote:I don't think any of the bare awareness teachers actually actually a "choiceless" awareness a la Krishnamurti. The decision to practise bare awareness is an exercise in choice and a sankhāra. The Dependant Origination formula does not require the sankhāra to perdure in order to sustain awareness. The important thing to note is that "attention" is what establishes phassa/contact, but in the nāmarūpa scheme of things, attention is something different from intention - MN 9.


I just read chapter three, the bulk of which was listing several tasks to be done by attention. Even if intention were temporarily suspended, attention would still have work to be done in order to develop the path of practice leading to dukkha nirodha. If you want to convince me, a good way to do so is analyzing those tasks laid out in Ch 3, and showing how bare attention is more valid than some other approach in accomplishing those tasks.

Ven Thanissaro's arguments in Chapter 3 seem both: 1) technically accurate within the framework of his teachings and colloquial use of the english languange, and 2) sharply critical of word choices by other teachers which may give students invalid impressions of the task at hand.

Defenders of "bare attention" seem to repeatedly point out that it is not choiceless or inactive. I have not studied these methods well, but from what I hear at informal talks, I got the impression that it was choiceless and inactive (other than the activity of observing, of course). That is obviously my misunderstanding, but it is rooted in the teachers' use of the catchy phrase "bare attention" which at surface value does seem choiceless or inactive (at least to a casual listener). Maybe vipassana would be well served for finding a new slogan for their, seemingly, not so choiceless or inactive attention?

As I read this chapter, I finally hit where he directly attacks bare attention. Also, as I am more familiar with Zen, I am sensing it is also a critique of the Zen approach. I'm not deeply familiar with their methodologies, but when I went to a zen temple, virtually the only instruction given on meditation was to "just watch", with some tips on how to just watch such as counting the breath.

Question: In DO, under namarupa, there is a factor "attention". What is the pali word used in that location? (Edit - found it: manasikāro)
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Buckwheat » Wed Sep 19, 2012 3:56 pm

Billymac29 wrote:
...

"On whatever occasion a monk trains himself, 'I will breathe in focusing on dispassion'; trains himself, 'I will breathe out focusing on dispassion.'

Dispassion - objectivity and detachment; the state or quality of being unemotional or emotionally uninvolved.


From Ch 3:
All of this shows that there is no role for bare attention or bare awareness on the path. Instead, the type of attention that does play a role in the path is aimed somewhere: at dispassion. I plays an active, purposeful role in focusing awareness on how the processes of fabrication are causing stress and how they can be redirected to act as the path to the end of stress.


He also, in Ch 3, mentions that bare awareness is possible, but only at the culmination of the path. One must be an arahat to have truly bare attention according to Ven Thanissaro.
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Buckwheat » Wed Sep 19, 2012 4:48 pm

tiltbillings wrote:There Is certainly is a basis for criticism there, but tar the whole movement based upon the fluffy-bunny approach taken by some?

No need to tar the whole of vipassana, just the fluffy bunnies.
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Buckwheat » Wed Sep 19, 2012 4:59 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
I thought exploring and furthering our knowledge of the Dhamma would have been a higher priority.
One would think so, which is why I posted Ven Bodhi's discussion of bare attention http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 20#p201569 as a place to start a discussion, but, alas, no takers.

Hi Tilt,
When I read that post, I was struck at how similar it is to Ch 3 or Ven Thanissaro's book. He even says bare attention is not truly bare, and goes on to list the same tasks for attention that Ven Thanissaro listed. It seems Ven Thanissaro's book is not a criticism of that view, but of the fluffy bunnies. These fluffy bunnies don't seem to be important to you, but they permeate the local Buddhist culture here in northern California. It is an issue that needs to be addressed out here.
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Buckwheat » Wed Sep 19, 2012 5:07 pm

tiltbillings wrote:The exchange between Wallace and Ven Bodhi, that I linked and quoted from, is interesting and useful, though I think it was clearly Ven Bodhi's contributions that made reading that exchange worthwhile, but it was Wallace's not very good understanding that drove Ven Bodhiu to give us the nice, concise synopsis of bare attention that he gave us. A format like that with Ven T and maybe a fisrt class scholar-practitioner such as Ven Analayo might be of keen interest. Where the value in the criticism of Ven T lies is in forcing the vipassana advocates to tighten up how they express what and how vipassana works and its place within the Dhamma. That is not a bad thing, nor would it be a bad thing to highlight the fluffy-bunny approach in contradistinction to the more serious vipassana teachings.

:anjali: I like this paragraph. I agree that Ven Thanissaro tends to not differentiate the "fluffy bunnies" from the more serious practitioners, and I have seen as much in his criticism of certain aspects of Mahayana traditions as well. I do like reading his criticisms because they often illuminate how and why certain terms can be taken the wrong way, but I have stopped throwing out entire traditions just because Ven Thanissaro points out problems with some wording they use for a teaching. There is usually a middle path. :shock:
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Sylvester » Thu Sep 20, 2012 10:23 am

Hi Dmytro

Dmytro wrote:Why do you think that Ven. Thanissaro talks only about conscious sankhāra?

He just points out the constructed, fabricated, conditioned nature of attention:



I worry about his philosophy, which calls for a very sustained presence of intention that appears to be directed towards "analysis of states" at every point of a sitting. At least this is how I understand him when he suggests -

This means that, although mindfulness is not identical with bare attention,
appropriate attention—as a purposeful process guided by the agenda of right
view—serves as an aspect of right mindfulness.

Viewing experience with right view means not getting involved in trying to
answer these questions. Instead, right view focuses directly on the questions of
what stress is, how it’s caused, and how it can be brought to an end.

This is why what may appear to be a simple act of attention is anything but
simple, and anything but bare. It’s shaped, consciously or not, by views and the
intentional actions informed by those views. If those views are ignorant, the act
of attention is conditioned to be inappropriate: applied to the wrong things, in
the wrong framework, and for the wrong reasons, aggravating the problem of
stress and suffering rather than alleviating it.


And there is a place and time for dhammavicayasambojjhaṅga. But, do the suttas endorse his recommendation that analysis of states should be applied all the time?

As AN 3.102 asserts, thoughts of dhammas/the Dhamma are the subtlest possible form of defilement that have to be given up, in order to get into deep samadhi.

Where I disagree is how he views meditation. We know how he presents the jhanas, but I've laboured to show that he is simply either (i) mistranslating, or (ii) capitalising on the English idiom, instead of the Pali idiom, to advance his jhana model. As far as the suttas go, the jhanas are extremely silent states, where no thinking nor intending occurs. AN 3.102 suggests that thoughts of dhammas/the Dhamma is that final defilement standing in the way of the jhanas.

Could dhammavicayasambojjhaṅga have a place in the progression of meditation that culminates in the jhanas? Dhammavicayasambojjhaṅga is a very discursive and analytical mental activity. On the other hand, I get the picture that the jhanas are simply hedonic and emotive states, where thinking has long been abandoned.

If you look at the last quote above, it is still that same insistence that intention must be contemporaneous with the attention in order to qualify as attention that is appropriate. Leave aside my technical analysis of his reading of DO, this theory also flies in the face on the sutta presentation on how samadhi develops, ie vossaggarammana karitva. The absolutive of karoti should be given its simple reading of an action/intention that has been completed, not as an intention that tags along like a shadow of attention.

I think Ven Analayo has a point about the deepening of the experience of meditation. Where you sit passively in equanimity in the face of the defilements, you are whittling away craving. I do not think that you can "think away" craving.

It's just unfortunate that Ven T has such a homogenous theory of meditation, as if the same skills and techniques are brought to bear to achieve the different goals that are pursued at each stage of development. Bare awareness is not a technique that is used to rationalise experience. It is in fact the technique calling for the greatest amount of energy and ardency in confronting the defilements face on and not succumbing to the anusaya. The anusaya are not defeated by dhammavicayasambojjhaṅga; that is the task of either samādhisambojjhaṅga, upekhāsambojjhaṅga or pītisambojjhaṅga. This is how I read MN's recommendation where the bojjhaṅga are placed at the tail of the 7 techniques, as you use subtle remedies for subtle defilements.

And if you read Ven T at pp 46 and 47 regarding the direction of appropriate attention to the 4 Noble Truths, that technique is #1 on MN 2's scale. It's the coarsest possible kind of meditation and it works for the coarsest form of defilement. I just don't see it working with the anusaya, which is the work of the samādhisambojjhaṅga, upekhāsambojjhaṅga or pītisambojjhaṅga at the peak of MN 2's techniques. Where one is trying to remould worldly emotion into other-worldly emotion, these 3 bojjhaṅga seem to be the best candidates as the means to overcome the opposing anusaya.
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Buckwheat » Thu Sep 20, 2012 3:08 pm

Hi Sylvester,

Ven Thanissaro, in his meditation instructions, does allow for one to relax into jhana until it is a nice solid state, until one is able to repeatedly and quickly enter that state. At this point, where one is very familiar with the state of jhana, one will observe that intentions are still shaping the experience and always have been. Now one must investigate how to remove another layer of intention in order to access deeper jhana. Rinse and repeat.

At least that's how I understand it, and I hope that clarifies some issues you have with his technique.

This is not the best reference out there, but it's the one I could find quickly this morning: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... mbers.html
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Dmytro » Thu Sep 20, 2012 6:15 pm

Hi Sylvester,

Sylvester wrote:I worry about his philosophy, which calls for a very sustained presence of intention that appears to be directed towards "analysis of states" at every point of a sitting.

And there is a place and time for dhammavicayasambojjhaṅga. But, do the suttas endorse his recommendation that analysis of states should be applied all the time?


It is simply impossible to apply the analysis of states all the time. He doesn't recommend it.

Could dhammavicayasambojjhaṅga have a place in the progression of meditation that culminates in the jhanas? Dhammavicayasambojjhaṅga is a very discursive and analytical mental activity.


To get a feel of what Ven. Thanissaro recommends, you can read his article "The skill of restraint":

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... #restraint

Skilful and and unskilful states are felt in the body. Dealing with them and "centering" is much like physical activity - e.g. walking on a tightrope. There's no discursive mental activity involved. And, with time, this "centering" becomes much of a habit, going on its own.

If you look at the last quote above, it is still that same insistence that intention must be contemporaneous with the attention in order to qualify as attention that is appropriate.


I don't see this in his quote.

Where you sit passively in equanimity in the face of the defilements, you are whittling away craving.


In my experience, this weakens the defilements that call for action, but can even strengthen the defilements that call for inaction, including some types of craving.

And if you read Ven T at pp 46 and 47 regarding the direction of appropriate attention to the 4 Noble Truths, that technique is #1 on MN 2's scale.


MN 2, Sabbasava sutta, doesn't offer a scale, it just classifies the defilements.

If you are looking for scale of methods, it can be found, for example, in Vitakka-santhana sutta.
Ven. Thanissaro brings to life the subtlest and long forgotten method - redirection of attention to another perceptual image (nimitta).
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Billymac29 » Thu Sep 20, 2012 10:39 pm

may all be well
:smile:
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Sylvester » Fri Sep 21, 2012 3:10 am

Much obliged, Dmytro, for your thoughts.

Dmytro wrote:It is simply impossible to apply the analysis of states all the time. He doesn't recommend it.


Phew! That's a relief to hear. But I could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given how he suggests from his exposition of the jhanas that vipassana proceeds within those silent states...

Ven. Thanissaro brings to life the subtlest and long forgotten method - redirection of attention to another perceptual image (nimitta).


That is to his great credit. What is to his discredit is his unfortunate broadside at bare-awareness, as if it has no place at all in the graduated path of meditation.
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Buckwheat » Fri Sep 21, 2012 3:02 pm

Billymac29 wrote:First, he defines consciousness wrong.


That is a statement that needs some support.

Billymac29 wrote:The quotes he's grabbing from well respected vipassana teachers are being dissected in the totally wrong way....

...being mindful isn't something that always translates into "sati" in pali. When one says mindful they don't always mean 'sati'.


Maybe this inconsistency is problematic?

Ven Thanissaro is trying to straighten out misconceptions of a dozen different approaches, from vipassana to zen, so of course every criticism is not directed at every teacher. The apple thing is HUGE in zen, and I have seen a teacher look very much as if he was indulging in sense desire while he was "being mindful" of food, thus Ven Thanissaro warns of the danger of sensual clinging in that method. Why so defensive?
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Billymac29 » Fri Sep 21, 2012 9:01 pm

Buckwheat wrote:
Billymac29 wrote:The quotes he's grabbing from well respected vipassana teachers are being dissected in the totally wrong way....

...being mindful isn't something that always translates into "sati" in pali. When one says mindful they don't always mean 'sati'.


Maybe this inconsistency is problematic?

Ven Thanissaro is trying to straighten out misconceptions of a dozen different approaches, from vipassana to zen, so of course every criticism is not directed at every teacher. The apple thing is HUGE in zen, and I have seen a teacher look very much as if he was indulging in sense desire while he was "being mindful" of food, thus Ven Thanissaro warns of the danger of sensual clinging in that method. Why so defensive?


Not defensive, just my observation.. :smile:
However I am so bewildered on why he would pool quotes out of other peoples' books, question them, and not actually try to contact the authors themselves for answers to his questions?? Did he call Joseph Goldstein to see if he interpreted his writing and his beliefs in the correct manner? Did he contact Bhante G to see if he understands Bhante G's view on what mindfulness is, what 'sati' is?? If I was writing an intellectual and informative book which was debating certain views, I would try to understand the points of view that I would be debating against. The clearest way of doing that, is to go right to the sources of the writing you are arguing.

The biggest problem I see with this whole thing in interpretation is language. The word MINDFUL has been around since the 1300's (middle english 'mindeful'). So this word has been used in english for hundreds of years, and has been used in sentences in varying ways. The way people are getting with translations, I think one would have to start asking if another's interpretation is of the pali term or the english way of using the english translation of that term.

may all be safe
:smile:
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby danieLion » Fri Sep 21, 2012 10:05 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
danieLion wrote: Try doing without all the functions and purposes remembering serves in your practice and you'll very quickly see just how much of it involves simply remembering. You'll also notice that doings like this are a very different activity than "bare awareness" doings like meditating on "whatever-comes-up."
Are you one of those who is advocating a strawman notion of "bare attention" and vipassana practice?

heck no
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby tiltbillings » Sat Sep 22, 2012 5:34 am

danieLion wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
danieLion wrote: Try doing without all the functions and purposes remembering serves in your practice and you'll very quickly see just how much of it involves simply remembering. You'll also notice that doings like this are a very different activity than "bare awareness" doings like meditating on "whatever-comes-up."
Are you one of those who is advocating a strawman notion of "bare attention" and vipassana practice?

heck no
Then your point is?
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby danieLion » Sat Sep 22, 2012 6:38 am

danieLion wrote:heck no

tiltbillings wrote:Then your point is?

i'm sceptical "having a point" would be helpful here (beyond "the point" i all ready made about how we generally underestimate the importance of remembering)...maybe it'd help me if you unpack the following
tiltbillings wrote:a strawman notion of 'bare attention' and vipassana practice"
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Goob » Sat Sep 22, 2012 7:43 pm

Yes, I too would like you to unpack that statement since it's been reapeated quite a few times in this thread now without any elaboration on where exactly Ven. T doesn't do your teacher justice. A couple of sentences of your understanding of the issue or perhaps a quote or two just to go beyond three word insinuations.
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Sep 22, 2012 8:35 pm

richard_rca wrote:Yes, I too would like you to unpack that statement since it's been reapeated quite a few times in this thread now without any elaboration on where exactly Ven. T doesn't do your teacher justice. A couple of sentences of your understanding of the issue or perhaps a quote or two just to go beyond three word insinuations.

Hi Richard,

I gave several examples of selective quotation back on the second page of this thread, where looking at the totality of what the people quoted were explaining showed clearly that none of these teachers teaches such a simplistic approach:
viewtopic.php?f=41&t=13538&start=20
There have been many more by others since then.

There are, of course, some detailed differences, and shifts in terminology and definition, but, as I said here:
viewtopic.php?f=41&t=13538#p201415
I don't see much that is different about Ven T when it comes down to nuts and bolts of practice.

Frankly, I generally try to just ignore where teachers (or their students) claim to have a better grasp of things than other teachers, and I've tried to only respond on this thread (or threads quoting other teachers who make similar claims) when I feel that they are misrepresenting their targets for criticism.

:anjali:
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Goob » Sat Sep 22, 2012 8:46 pm

Thanks Mike. I was more specifically addressing Tilt though.
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Buckwheat » Sun Sep 23, 2012 5:16 am

Hi all,

From a vipassana perspective, when you say "bare attention", what does "bare" refer to? ie: bare of what?

Ven Thanissaro seems to imply that bare represents unconditioned, but I have a feeling this is not the intention of vipassana teachers. In Ch 3 and Ch 4, his criticisms do seem overly sharp, which detracts from the beneficial points that are buried in a slew of criticism. But in Ch 5, his analysis seems to be getting back to a more beneficial approach. In the intro, he suggested readers may skip Ch 2-4. Maybe later editions will condense that matter by omitting some of the negativity. I do see his point for wanting to differentiate other teachers' interpretations of mindfulness, but there is a difference between constructive criticism and negativity. His tone seems off in these chapters.

Thanks,
Scott
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Re: New Book on Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Postby Dmytro » Sun Sep 23, 2012 6:24 am

Hi Mike,

mikenz66 wrote:I gave several examples of selective quotation back on the second page of this thread, where looking at the totality of what the people quoted were explaining showed clearly that none of these teachers teaches such a simplistic approach:
viewtopic.php?f=41&t=13538&start=20


IMHO, Ven. Thanissaro doesn't even attempt to present the full expositions of other teachers, since his aim is quite different.

Frankly, I generally try to just ignore where teachers (or their students) claim to have a better grasp of things than other teachers, and I've tried to only respond on this thread (or threads quoting other teachers who make similar claims) when I feel that they are misrepresenting their targets for criticism.


Ven. Thanissaro doesn't ever criticise other teachers personally, what he adresses is the unfortunate wording that may be confusing and misguiding.
AFAIK, he greatly respects many of the teachers he quotes.

:anjali:
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