The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

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The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

Postby Goob » Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:23 pm

Hello friends,

I'd like to apologize beforehand if this question has been covered in previous threads already. I was almost certain that it had but a search or two didn't generate anything that I thought matched.

I'm still a beginner at meditation so my question might not be the most sophisticated conceptually but here it goes:

Even though I've read fairly widely in the last few years I've been a follower of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's writings and talks for some time now because of his eloquence in expounding a very logical dhamma framework. I've especially taken an interest in the way he frames the meditation experience and the employment of 'fabrication' (sankhara) in order to further concentration and deepening states of samadhi. I don't have a quote handy at the moment but can find one later if pressed, but basically he says (and please correct me if you think my understanding of this is flawed) that the process of focusing your attention and perceiving the breath in the body is a fabrication in itself because it is still fashioned from the preceding stages in dependent co-arising which would thus make un-conditioned perception impossible. However, the process of fabricating these experiences in the right way works as an aid in focusing one's concentration. This makes very much sense to me.

With this explanation fresh in mind I attended a Goenka retreat a few days ago and was introduced to this particular movement's take on vedana and sankharas which brings me to my question:

Goenka talks about how after three days of his Anapana instructions absolute beginners to meditation can start experiencing the kalapas as subatomic particles arising and passing away on the surface of the skin and how this is the continuing arising and passing away of the whole bodily structure. This sounds relatively incredulous to me if it's intended to be taken literally. In his daily discourses Goenka is often heard talking about perceiving reality "as it is, not as you would like it to be" and observing the truth about the kalapas. It however sounds highly unlikely to me that anyone would think of these subtle bodily sensations as kalapas arising and passing unless one was given this framework of perception to begin with.

To my mind the act of focusing on a certain area of the body and/or perceiving it as myriads of kalapas an act of using perception and sankhara (in the case of shaping your experience) right there but no indication of this is given. At one time when I consulted the assistant teacher present about using the breath to focus on vedana he answered approvingly about using the breathing to pace the scanning but when I immediately after said that I like to use a perception of the breath opening up the whole body to experience the sensations more throughly he said "No, that's imagining things. We don't do that."

My thinking was at first that this is an instruction to so-called new students and that this experience of vedana is an aid to the practice and subsequent progress within the tradition will expound more on the relationship of this view of the body/perception. But I guess this is my question: is this role of using perception acknowledged in the Goenka tradition or do they speak of this 'objective reality' all the way thru? And how about other traditions that I'm less familiar with?
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Re: The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

Postby DAWN » Mon Nov 26, 2012 7:39 pm

richard_rca wrote:Goenka talks about how after three days of his Anapana instructions absolute beginners to meditation can start experiencing the kalapas as subatomic particles arising and passing away on the surface of the skin and how this is the continuing arising and passing away of the whole bodily structure. This sounds relatively incredulous to me if it's intended to be taken literally. In his daily discourses Goenka is often heard talking about perceiving reality "as it is, not as you would like it to be" and observing the truth about the kalapas. It however sounds highly unlikely to me that anyone would think of these subtle bodily sensations as kalapas arising and passing unless one was given this framework of perception to begin with.


You can also see this "subatomic" particles, like billions of particles of light wich dance in the space (but actualy in the mind), and hear them. It depend on samathi.

It's a jhanic factor, when Buddha said thus: (DN2) he speak about this feeling.
There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.
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Re: The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

Postby Goob » Mon Nov 26, 2012 8:15 pm

You can also see this "subatomic" particles, like billions of particles of light wich dance in the space (but actualy in the mind), and hear them. It depend on samathi.

It's a jhanic factor, when Buddha said thus: (DN2) he speak about this feeling.
There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.


Yes, but the point of my post wasn't to debate whether such particles actually exist the way they're described or whether it is ever possible to experience them at all, but if how the way sensations on the body are presented as being dissolving kalapas should be seen as a perception tool to concentration and conceptual insight rather than an objectively perceived reality for a beginner in the Goenka traditon, and also if the role of using perceptions/fabrications as aids are acknowledged in later stages of explications.

Not sure if the quote refers to what you're talking about either but then again I could be wrong.
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Re: The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

Postby Goofaholix » Tue Nov 27, 2012 1:21 am

As Thanissaro explained anything the mind perceives will have a degree of fabrication involved in the process, ideally we want to get the mind to the point where it is sensative enough and sharp enough to see all the factors conditioning our perceptions.

I think Goenka is saying much the same thing with kalapas but the way he explains it is a simplification, I don't think he want's you to believe every single tingle is a single kalapa arising and passing away rather it's how the mind can perceive this process of change once it has a level of sensitivity. So it's the sensativity and perception of the process that's important not the label we apply to explain what has occurred.
"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: The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

Postby DAWN » Tue Nov 27, 2012 3:16 am

Goofaholix :goodpost: :namaste:

richard_rca wrote:
You can also see this "subatomic" particles, like billions of particles of light wich dance in the space (but actualy in the mind), and hear them. It depend on samathi.

It's a jhanic factor, when Buddha said thus: (DN2) he speak about this feeling.
There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.


Yes, but the point of my post wasn't to debate whether such particles actually exist the way they're described or whether it is ever possible to experience them at all, but if how the way sensations on the body are presented as being dissolving kalapas should be seen as a perception tool to concentration and conceptual insight rather than an objectively perceived reality for a beginner in the Goenka traditon, and also if the role of using perceptions/fabrications as aids are acknowledged in later stages of explications.

Not sure if the quote refers to what you're talking about either but then again I could be wrong.


Yes, it's true, it was not the point of your post. But i felt some scepticism toward this point, thats why i reply. Friendly :anjali:

Actualy this perception is helpfull in mediation, because you can dwell peacefully, with comfort. The aim of Goenka, i think, is to learn peoples how take delight in practice, doint this way he is certain that peoples will practice after retreat.
Personaly, i meditate 1h morning, 1h at noon, 1h afternoon, 2h before sleeping every day. Why? Because there is comfort in practice.

This quote refers to what i'am talking, but translation of Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu is different from translation of Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi:
DN2
And with the delight and joy born of detachment, he so suffuses, drenches, fills and irradiate his body that there is no spot in his entire body that is untouched by this delight and joy born of detachment.

This description is more exactly describes this feeling.

:namaste:
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Re: The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

Postby Goob » Tue Nov 27, 2012 11:28 am

I think Goenka is saying much the same thing with kalapas but the way he explains it is a simplification, I don't think he want's you to believe every single tingle is a single kalapa arising and passing away rather it's how the mind can perceive this process of change once it has a level of sensitivity. So it's the sensativity and perception of the process that's important not the label we apply to explain what has occurred.


Yes, this was what I was thinking too - more like a framework for perception - but judging from his discourses, which are aimed at beginners I admit, this is not the case. He emphasizes again and again that what you are experiencing is in fact objective truth pertaining to the kalapas and that you are watching reality "as it is". I know this 'bare awareness Sati' debate has been going on in other threads so I don't wish to reanimate it again here but I would like to know if this is perhaps part of a gradual revelation of what the mind is up to and shouldn't be taken literally. If this is the case, doesn't it seem a bit dangerous to reinforce the to new students potentially very questionable idea of objective kalapas in a course you take again and again only to reveal that this is in fact a fabrication in much later stages.
I must say that this thing about the kalapas isn't the only questionable thing Goenka puts forth in some of his discourses though, but that's another story I guess.

Ben, perhaps you could answer this question in a satisfying way, being a long term student of the Goenka tradition.

DN2
And with the delight and joy born of detachment, he so suffuses, drenches, fills and irradiate his body that there is no spot in his entire body that is untouched by this delight and joy born of detachment.


I believe this is one of the similes for Jhana and I don't think that can be equated with Goenka's definition of a free flow of kalapas.
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Re: The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

Postby DAWN » Tue Nov 27, 2012 1:10 pm

Yes it's a similie.

I'am sorry, perharps i misunderstood your first post, my english is not perfect.
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Re: The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

Postby Goofaholix » Wed Nov 28, 2012 12:40 am

richard_rca wrote:Yes, this was what I was thinking too - more like a framework for perception - but judging from his discourses, which are aimed at beginners I admit, this is not the case. He emphasizes again and again that what you are experiencing is in fact objective truth pertaining to the kalapas and that you are watching reality "as it is". I know this 'bare awareness Sati' debate has been going on in other threads so I don't wish to reanimate it again here but I would like to know if this is perhaps part of a gradual revelation of what the mind is up to and shouldn't be taken literally. If this is the case, doesn't it seem a bit dangerous to reinforce the to new students potentially very questionable idea of objective kalapas in a course you take again and again only to reveal that this is in fact a fabrication in much later stages.


I've done at least half a dozen of his retreats and I've never understood what he is saying the way you have. What you are experiencing directly "as it is" is physical sensation associated with change, as opposed to thinking about the story of me sitting in the meditation hall blah blah blah.

I don't believe he ever tells you to experience kalapas, don't create a stumbling block out of background theory.

richard_rca wrote: I must say that this thing about the kalapas isn't the only questionable thing Goenka puts forth in some of his discourses though, but that's another story I guess.


Yes
"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: The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

Postby Goob » Wed Nov 28, 2012 8:33 am

I'm not "creating a stumbling block", I was merely listening to what Goenka was claiming repeatedly. If anything he's creating a stumbling block for people who find experiencing kalapas a bit too incredible. There was no indication from his part that one is utilizing perception as opposed to experiencing reality (which was something he claimed one is doing several times). You might be able to claim that there is more to what he's saying later on but you'd be a bit hard pressed to claim that he isn't saying the above things at all.

But, our differing interpretations aside, just to be clear, according to you Goofaholix, with the Goenka method one is in fact utilizing a perception to experience vedana and change on the body and thus it is not some pure reality devoid of fabrication, it is just not made explicit for beginners. Is this something Goenka himself would agree with?
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Re: The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

Postby Goofaholix » Wed Nov 28, 2012 9:42 am

richard_rca wrote:But, our differing interpretations aside, just to be clear, according to you Goofaholix, with the Goenka method one is in fact utilizing a perception to experience vedana and change on the body and thus it is not some pure reality devoid of fabrication, it is just not made explicit for beginners. Is this something Goenka himself would agree with?


Without perception nothing is perceived, so of course vedana and change cannot be perceived without perception.

The mind requires a degree of fabrication to interpret it's perceptions, the idea of the practise to go from a state where all experience is experienced through fabrication so everything is experienced second hand to one where the fabrication is minimised to only what is necessary.

Goenka doesn't talk about this in his ordinary course discourses, it is a beginners course, I don't know whether he would agree with what I wrote above or not. Thanissaro is more explicit talking about fabrication in this way than I've found with other teachers.
"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: The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

Postby Goob » Wed Nov 28, 2012 12:59 pm

Goofaholix wrote:
richard_rca wrote:But, our differing interpretations aside, just to be clear, according to you Goofaholix, with the Goenka method one is in fact utilizing a perception to experience vedana and change on the body and thus it is not some pure reality devoid of fabrication, it is just not made explicit for beginners. Is this something Goenka himself would agree with?


Without perception nothing is perceived, so of course vedana and change cannot be perceived without perception.

The mind requires a degree of fabrication to interpret it's perceptions, the idea of the practise to go from a state where all experience is experienced through fabrication so everything is experienced second hand to one where the fabrication is minimised to only what is necessary.

Goenka doesn't talk about this in his ordinary course discourses, it is a beginners course, I don't know whether he would agree with what I wrote above or not. Thanissaro is more explicit talking about fabrication in this way than I've found with other teachers.


I agree with what you are saying, about the relationship between fabrication and perception and about Thanissaro being more explicit about this relationship. Thank you for your answers, Goof.

And maybe I'm judging Goenka a bit too much based on his ten-day course discourses, but he's not making it too easy to square this understanding with his talk about not reacting to vedana and thus bringing up and eradicating old sankharas, which is pretty central to the technique, wouldn't you say? (I'd say all three fabrications are right there: bodily (breathing); verbal (directed thought & evaluation); mental (feeling & perception))That would mean that what he's really saying is that what one is doing is fabricating useful perceptions and then not eradicating old sankharas at all but... Yeah, what is he saying?
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Re: The role of perceptions in meditation vs. reality

Postby Goob » Fri Feb 01, 2013 10:11 am

I just found this thread: viewtopic.php?f=16&t=10653 which I think would kinda explain why no one is willing to engage in these things too much in the thread. I guess it's potentially highly controversial stuff and the discussions easily get out of hand.

It did answer a lot of my questions and reflected some of my own reservations though.

Thanks anyway!
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