Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
freki
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Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by freki »

I'm confused by Ajahn Brahmavamsa's description of the basic method of meditation, as it is described in his book "Mindfulness, Bliss And Beyond".

This is how I (not) understand it:
He distinguishes 7 stages which are build upon each other. Each stage is the foundation for the next one and should therefore be mastered before continuing.

Stage 1 is called "Present-Moment Awareness". The description: "giving up the past and the future", with many examples and explanation why thoughts about past and future are unnecessary or misleading, but not fruitful during meditation. Okay, I understand everything that is written, and I can agree with it, but how can I put this into practice?
I really tried hard to not think of the past and neither of the future. It doesn't work at all.

Stage 2 is the "Silent Present-Moment Awareness", which is stage 1 without any thoughts, the "truthful silence of the mind", no commentaries. Now this is even worse. Brahm gives lots of reasonable explanations why silence is better than noise. I wholeheartedly agree. My mind agrees, but just won't follow for longer than a few moments.

So how can I "give up", "let go" and reach these stages? What exactly can I do to not lose myself in present, past or commentaries?

Now what others do is to observe "something" to calm the mind (samatha). But observing the breath is stage 3, and silent present-moment awareness must be mastered before observing the breath. So obviously Brahm's system is not about "observe the breath to calm the mind", it's "calm the mind to observe the breath".

I'm confused. Did I miss something? Will this be explained in later chapters?

cheerio,
freki
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Guy
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by Guy »

Hi Freki,

Welcome to the forum. :hello:

Don't expect the mind to all of a sudden come to a halt, it will swing back and forth from the past and future for a while. How long "a while" is depends on you, do you have a very active mind during the day? It might take seconds, minutes, days or months, but eventually your mind will get settled into the present moment for longer and longer periods. Even if your mind only settles down for a fleeting moment during a half hour meditation, that's great! Make the most of it, encourage your mind to value those moments.

Also make sure to keep a smile on your face, especially once you have arrived at the present moment. Smiling helps the mind to associate present moment awareness with happiness and it will WANT to go there, you won't have to force it. A lot of people, especially in the modern world, spend their whole lives being restless and compulsive, always feeling like they "have to do something" - this kind of compulsiveness can take a while to de-program. So be kind, be gentle and be patient with your mind.

As for silence, the mind might not stay silent for very long if you are new to meditation, that's normal. Sometimes as new meditators we can develop the wrong idea that thinking is "bad" and so we develop an aversion to it. This is too violent of an approach, you need to be peaceful and kind. There is nothing wrong with thinking, the trick is to learn to appreciate the gaps between the thoughts. The gaps between your thoughts might not be very long at first but they are definitely there. With mindfulness you will notice these gaps more and more and eventually what happens is these gaps get longer and longer. It might seem weird the first time your mind is silent for a whole minute, and you will inevitably start thinking again, this is natural. Again, it takes time, just keep gently bringing the mind back. Practice makes perfect.

So in summary - Be patient, be kind, be gentle, be peaceful, don't worry, no expectations.

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm
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mikenz66
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by mikenz66 »

Hi Freki,

Have you listened to some of Ajahn Brahm's guided meditations at http://bswa.org/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; ?

See this page: http://www.bswa.org/audio/podcast/Guide ... ns.rss.php" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
and download a few of his Friday Guided Mediations. He varies the instructions a bit, but basically goes through the sequence with extra little hints. It's been a while since I listened to any, so I can't be too specific.

The Saturday Meditations go into more depth.

I don't really practise his technique much, but his instructions about getting into the present moment are very good. Problem is, I've kind of internalised them so it's hard to give you specific hints.

Metta
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kc2dpt
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by kc2dpt »

In a word: practice.

Training the mind is like training an animal. The animal wants to run around and do it's thing. Patient repetition gradually transforms the animal into one that is obedient. Develop the habit of seeing what the mind is doing. If it's going to past or future, gently bring it back to the present. After a million times, maybe the mind will wander off less and come back to the present faster. :meditate:
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.
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Kare
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by Kare »

For a moment, I thought this thread was about Johannes Brahms. Maybe meditating to his symphonies, I thougt ... :rolleye:
Mettāya,
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Jechbi
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by Jechbi »

Hi freki,
freki wrote:I really tried hard to not think of the past and neither of the future. It doesn't work at all.

...

So obviously Brahm's system is not about "observe the breath to calm the mind", it's "calm the mind to observe the breath".

I'm confused. Did I miss something?
If you're "trying hard not to think," then you're actually putting your mind to a great deal of effort and work. The process of "calming the mind" involves recognizing that the mind is turbulent and not worrying about that. I think Ajahn Brahm has another talk where he describes trying to overcome his passionate fantasies. He decided to give himself an hour a day to just let them rip, no holds barred. As soon as he did that, he said, the passionate fantasies lost their staying power. They stuck around because he was fighting so hard against them.

This meditation thing is not a quick fix, as I'm sure you know. It's a reflection of everything else you do in life throughout the day, off the cushion. There are lots of things we do to make the mind turbulent, and there are lots of things we can stop doing to allow the mind to calm down. Keep up the skillful effort!

Metta
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
freki
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by freki »

Thanks for your answers. Now new questions arise right away, as I can be a compulsive thinker :tongue: (That's one reason I was attracted to Brahm's method.)

First, I'm trying, I'm aware that it won't be easy, Brahm talks a lot of effort. Okay, I'm prepared for lots of effort, if the goal is worth it! But I think I don't understand the instructions. Where should I direct my effort? I can remain in the present only if I turn my attention to something, for example sounds, birds, sensations, sweat running down my back, but that's not what is explained. He writes things like "give up the baggage of past and future" and "do not think about <foo> and <bar>".

#1: To what should I direct my mind? I know lots of things where I should not direct my mind, but that doesn't help.

#2: Do you have any idea how long I should be able to keep up present-moment awareness, until I've mastered it enough to proceed to silent present-moment awareness? And how long should I be able to do the silence thing until I'm good to start observing my breath?
Have you listened to some of Ajahn Brahm's guided meditations at http:bswa.org/ ? //
I listened to one of these but it was not very good, mostly silence, hardly any instructions. Maybe I chose unlucky.

#3: Can you recommend any in particular, because there are so many?


And finally, it takes "a lot" of time. The book claims "The goal of this meditation is beautiful silence, stillness, and clarity of mind.". How long to achieve this? Maybe there is a better method for me. Suppose I sit twice 30 minutes a day: How many days until I should either note a difference - or call my money back?

#4: How long should I practice before I can judge if this meditation works out for me?


cheerio,
freki
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kc2dpt
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by kc2dpt »

freki wrote:#1: To what should I direct my mind?
You shouldn't. Directing the mind is a few steps on. Things will occur in the present - smells, sounds, thoughts - note them and then note whatever comes next. There's plenty happening in the present moment but we're usually too busy chasing after the past and future to notice.
#2: Do you have any idea how long I should be able to keep up present-moment awareness, until I've mastered it enough to proceed to silent present-moment awareness? And how long should I be able to do the silence thing until I'm good to start observing my breath?
2 hours, 37 minutes, and 14 seconds.
How long to achieve this? Maybe there is a better method for me. Suppose I sit twice 30 minutes a day: How many days until I should either note a difference - or call my money back?
This is the sound of the agitated mind. This kind of thinking is precisely why one needs to meditate. You need to give up on the consumer mentality.
#4: How long should I practice before I can judge if this meditation works out for me?
Really, it sounds like you are all set up to fail even before you being. How long will really depend on the individual. Some proceed fast and some proceed slow and some go their whole lives without progress. It depends how calm your mind already is, how turbulent your life is (how much you stir it up every day), how well you implement the Buddha's instructions, how honestly you apply yourself, etc.

I would say, without knowing you or anything about you, that if you practice for an hour every day (either two 30 min sessions or one big session) every day for a month and see no difference in your mind... then you are probably doing it wrong and should find a teacher.
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.
nathan
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by nathan »

I've spent many hours for many years meditating and I've tried out a lot of methods, at length, so I am willing to pass along what I've learned and you can take it or leave it, ok?

You are beginning and so this can be a very fortunate thing because you haven't learned any bad habits yet.

So here's my advice. It will sound very similar to Ajahn Brahm's advice but it will be even simpler and I'm not going to answer any fancy questions either.

The untrained mind just wanders around like an untrained dog. To train the mind you first of all have to put it on a leash and get it used to taking commands and instructions. This is yoking the mind or mind yoga. Making the mind fit for meditation.

It is important to select an object for your meditation and stick with it. It is important to stick with it because that is the basis for every other aspect of making progress and it continues to be more important than anything else. The way to consider this is that every time you change objects, for the first few years, you are basically starting over from scratch. I always recommend the breath and sometimes people don't like the breath and after a while they want to change to something else. It doesn't matter what object you select, you will soon enough be bored of it, frustrated by it, hating it, sick of it, etc.. So, we'll use the breath, Brahm likes it, I like it and eventually you will like it too or else you won't be meditating anymore like probably 99% of people who have started and then given up. Why do they give up? Imho, because they are wimps. Meditation is hard work, maybe some of the hardest work there is. To prove this you don't even need to meditate or have a meditation object. Just set a timer for one hour and sit down. Don't get up, don't do anything else, just sit there until the hour is over. Try it, you'll see that just this, sitting there, with no other objective whatsoever, is pretty hard to do. Probably won't be more than 20 minutes and you will have a hundred reasons why you would rather be doing something else.

So, for a routine, after getting up in the morning, spend 30 min. just paying attention to your breathing. Nothing else should be allowed to become the object of your attention. Pay attention to your breathing and only to your breathing. It's not at all important how you pay attention to it or where or why, just that you do. In the evening before going to sleep do the same for 30 min.. Also throughout the day, at every moment of opportunity, take note of breathing; every time you have to wait in line or wait for a traffic light or whatever. Every time the mind wanders away from paying attention to breathing as soon as you realize you drifted bring it back to paying total attention to breathing. Forget about past or future or sleepy or restless or anything else that comes up. When you realize that you are no longer aware of breathing just go back to it. As your mind steadies on being aware of breathing you can begin to examine breathing in more depth with more concentration and more precision. That's more than enough instruction for a year or two.

It probably seems like not enough instructions, but it is maybe too much already. Meditation is very different from other kinds of work. It will take a few years to really see why this is so. In the meantime, every time you have a question, drop it and return to paying attention to your breath, every time some strange experience arises and seizes your attention, drop it and return to paying attention to your breath. You are probably thinking, "But I have all these questions, and want to have all kinds of experiences, I don't want to do this kind of boring, endlessly repetitive work." I am saying, yes, I understand, but if you go off chasing all of that you will not ever get what you want from meditation - real results. I am saying do this basic, simple, repetitive exercise for a few years and then a few more years first.

Forget about making "progress" or "getting answers" or having experiences. First you need to have the skill to do all that and appreciate all of that. So do this for a few years, same way, all the time, not expecting anything at all to come of it. Without having the skill first, you will never get to any of that other stuff anyways.

You will discover, in due course, that this will get you there significantly faster than any other way. You can take my word for it or not.

all the best
take care
:anjali:
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
rowyourboat
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by rowyourboat »

I agree with nathan here
this is simply my take on ajhan brahms method: meditation masters often try to teach advanced methods that they themselves didnt follow as beginners. if your mind is already calm to some degree through meditation it becomes easy enough to do silence of the mind etc and this would be the best way forward as it would lead to greater clarity and calmness of mind. But for a beginner it would be better to have an object to anchor the mind to, which will help it stop getting swept away with thoughts. Everybody starts with the breath.

I might also add that doing 30 min of walking meditation is great way to settle the mind for the more harder mindfulness of breath. Walking meditation uses a grosser object -so is easier to follow at the start.

good luck! dont be in a hurry and you will be fine!

:anjali:
With Metta

Karuna
Mudita
& Upekkha
nathan
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by nathan »

Absolutely. Walking while maintaining continual mindfulness of the breath is one of my favorite practices. I have had all day walks that were like compressing a week of retreat time into a day. Even an hour of this will be both excellent for overall fitness and also boost concentration significantly.
:thumbsup:
:anjali:
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by kc2dpt »

rowyourboat wrote:this is simply my take on ajhan brahms method: meditation masters often try to teach advanced methods that they themselves didnt follow as beginners. if your mind is already calm to some degree through meditation it becomes easy enough to do silence of the mind etc and this would be the best way forward as it would lead to greater clarity and calmness of mind. But for a beginner it would be better to have an object to anchor the mind to, which will help it stop getting swept away with thoughts.
It seems to me you are misrepresenting Ajahn Brahm's teachings and slandering him in the process. Do you know what methods Ajahn Brahm used as a beginner? Or are you just assuming it was something other than what he teaches? If you actually look at his teachings you'll see he does not skip the easier breath meditation in favor of more advanced methods. Rather he considers breath meditation to not be the easiest place for a beginner to start. Rather than try to focus on one object, he suggests it is easier to allow the mind to focus on whatever it is drawn to as long as it is in the present and not past or future. If you think about it, this makes sense.

focusing on the present = leaving past and future
focusing on the breath = leaving past and future and also leaving anything in the present other than the breath
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.
nathan
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by nathan »

Peter wrote:[...he considers breath meditation to not be the easiest place for a beginner to start. Rather than try to focus on one object, he suggests it is easier to allow the mind to focus on whatever it is drawn to as long as it is in the present and not past or future. If you think about it, this makes sense.

focusing on the present = leaving past and future
focusing on the breath = leaving past and future and also leaving anything in the present other than the breath
It can be more difficult to add all of these expectations because the mind in the beginning is too unrestrained and cannot be mindfully applied. Adding the attention to the breath removes complex concerns such as following when attention is in the present which involves noting chains of speculative or re-collected thought. The present is all that is happening, no need to think that anything one is aware of is not in the present, all that is known arises and passes in the present.

Attending to the breath is a direct link to the present. As breath sensation is tactile, gross, subtle, long short, it is suitable for vipassana and as it is continual between birth and death it is available for concentration and jhana.

By attending to the breath there is a body sense object and this added kind of awareness that is like weight lifting because it takes an added effort to be aware of breathing apart from whatever other forms of awareness may arise and pass. It is both consistently a part of being and continually changing in response to all else that is known by the mind and body. So this is a way of developing both the energy for concentration and the steadiness of attention for insight no matter what else is happening.

I find the capacity to direct attention that is gained via calm and concentration are what makes it possible to succeed in observing all the other aspects of dhamma with the appropriate insight to be at peace and be able to act with wisdom and compassion.

This has been my simple discipline for a long time, to not let my mind simply be enslaved to my body or the minds fabrications but to be as mindfully aware of how things really are as is possible. Still it comes down to the breath all the time because it is like the flame of being, together with silence, that seems to speak most directly to finding peace within and without.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by kc2dpt »

Nathan, I'm not sure what you are arguing about. Ajahn Brahm teaches breath meditation and jhana meditation. He simply teaches these as steps that are built upon present moment meditation. Different people will like different approaches to meditation. I do not see any need to criticize one or extol the other. If you want to focus on whatever arises in the present moment as a build up to focusing on breath later, that is fine. If you want to focus on breath now then that is fine too.
The present is all that is happening, no need to think that anything one is aware of is not in the present, all that is known arises and passes in the present.
All that one is aware of is in the present. However, sometimes one takes what arises in the present as a springboard for thinking about the past or future. If I smell a sandwich I might a] be mindfully aware of the present smell of the sandwich or b] think about a sandwich I had last week that was really good or c] think about how I might want to make a sandwich later after I'm done meditating. In the case of and [c] the mind is no longer aware of what is arising in the present but is instead wrapped up in past or future. So while it is true anything on is aware of is in the present it is untrue that the mind is always focused on what is arising in the present. (Of course, one could be aware of a presently arising memory of the past or a presently arising wish for the future but that's not usually what happens with ordinary unmindfulness.)

I think in a distracting environment it can be a challenge to remain focused only on the breath. I think if one is habitually going off into past and future and can develop their mind to the point where they are aware of only the present - whether that be the feel of the breath or the sound of children playing nearby or the smells from a nearby kitchen - if the mind can be brought wholly to the present then that is a worthy accomplishment. If one can further keep the breath on only one object - such as the breath - then that is an even more worthy accomplishment. So too teaches Ajahn Brahm.

Forgive me, but I do not see any need for rowyourboat to question Ajahn's motives or experience nor do I see any need for you to argue for a different form of meditation. Can't a person ask abut a perticular method without it turning into a debate of whose method is best? :group:
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.
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kc2dpt
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Re: Brahm's Basic Method of Meditation

Post by kc2dpt »

To try to get back to the OP's question and away from the debates...
freki wrote:#1: To what should I direct my mind? I know lots of things where I should not direct my mind, but that doesn't help.
In fact most (if not all?) meditation methods are about stopping something rather than starting something. Stop going to past and future. Stop spinning stories. Stop jumping around from object to object. Even the jhanas are described in terms of stopping. For example, the transition from first to second jhana is described as "the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations"; the transition from second to third jhana as "the fading of rapture"; from third to fourth jhana as "the abandoning of pleasure". Samadhi, sometimes translated as "meditation", also means stilling or calming. That's what meditation is: stilling the mind. Just as still lake waters allows one to see all the way to the bottom of the lake, a still mind allows one to see stress and the causes of stress.

Of course, this can be unintuitive or difficult for us when we are only used to doing more, creating more, becoming more. Even our language works against us. We say we are doing meditation or we are becoming calm. But really meditation is the act of not doing and calm is the result of ceasing to become. I have found it helpful to think like this: look out for where your mind should not be going. Just doing that will result in your mind going where it is supposed to. All by itself. If you are stopping the mind from going to past or future then it will automatically be in the present, no directing on your part is necessary. I hope this is helpful.
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.
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