I'm keen to discuss the following article - http://pathpress.wordpress.com/2014/07/ ... editation/
Firstly, I'm keen to know people's thoughts in relation to the following aspects of the article...
His thinking accords with my intuition that much of what is promoted as Buddhist meditation doesn't truly match what the Buddha was communicating through the suttas. To that extent, when we do "meditate", what is it that we shoould be doing? Is it simply that we should be engaging in Right Mindfulness and Right Samadhi, as defined in the Noble Eightfold Path?Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli wrote:The practice of ānāpānasati or mindfulness of breathing represents a phenomenological exercise in developing the principle of simultaneity (akālikā dhamma). This is accomplished by the sufficient establishing of mindfulness and knowledge of what one is supposed to do and discern. [Which is why in order to correctly do any of the practices found in the Suttas, one needs the right view first.]
So, in order for any of these paragraphs to be intelligible, one will have to abandon the notions of “meditation techniques” and all the contemporary ideas of the practice of concentration, which is usually taught at the expense of mindfulness and with underlying wrong views (such as mystical absorptions and novelty experiences that then become a measure of one’s “success”). When a person hears the term ānāpānasati, he will be better off thinking “development of mindfulness” – the same mindfulness that he has to varying extents in his day-to-day experiences.
“Meditation techniques” are usually sets of fairly random motions and performances, idiosyncratic to the particular meditation teacher, that require one to follow certain prescribed steps which if performed correctly, and with some luck, will make one experience “something”. Often, in return, that same teacher would have to “interpret” back these experiences for one.
To put it bluntly: if one needs to be told by another, what the significance of one’s experience was, this means one has not understood it by oneself. It means one is still concerned with the particular aspects (i.e. the random contents) of one’s meditation experience, and one fails to see the general nature of it all. As a result, any external interpretation is regarded as an explanation, which means that phenomenology remains buried deep down under layers of pre-concieved ideas and assumptions. This holds true even more when it comes to the idea of “attainments”, which are also regarded as experiences that “happen” to one, almost against one’s will and as a result of “a very good technique” one has employed. There is a concealed irony there that escapes such people, because if one needs to be “confirmed” a sotāpanna, for example, by one’s teacher, this means one doesn’t know that one actually is a sotāpanna, which means that one can still doubt it, which in return means that one is not freed from the fetter of doubt, i.e. actually not a sotāpanna. The irony is further amplified if the teacher goes ahead and “confirms” one. If one is to actually understand what “being free from doubt” (and the other two fetters, characteristic of the sotāpanna) is, one would realize how non-applicable any external affirmation or denial is.
How obstructive to phenomenology (i.e. mindfulness) this whole way of practising is, can be seen from the nature of understanding. One understands things when one understands them, when the knowledge in regard to the nature of an arisen thing is there, and not when one successfully goes through a set of methods and observances that relies on almost mechanical set of motions one has to perform attentively. Any bodily act and any act that pertains to the bodily domain (such as the celebrated and misguided notion of “sensations” which involve observing different parts and aspects of one’s body) is simply irrelevant for the discerning of the nature of an arisen phenomenon. It is misleading and obstructive, because it is impossible to engage in a technique without the implicit belief that a set of motions, that the chosen technique consists of, performed in a particular mechanical order, will somehow, by itself, reveal the nature of things. By holding this belief and faith in a technique, one will not be trying to understand things, and by not making attempts toward the understanding, one will definitely remain devoid of it.
One sees things correctly - as phenomena - by understanding what the phenomenon is, and there is no technique that can make this magically occur. Thus, the closest to what one should do in order to obtain understanding is: trying to understand. For as long as a person is attempting to understand and see the nature of an arisen thing, that person might actually succeed in it, for it is certain that understanding cannot occur in someone who is not trying to understand. Incidentally (or not), there is never any mention of meditation techniques in the Suttas, but ‘understanding’ and ‘discernment’, as a way to reach the final freedom from suffering, is described and referred to countless times.
When one looks at the experience mindfully, it becomes apparent that regardless of the content of the particular experience, the nature of experience is present. So, whether it is the experience of “impatiently-waiting-for-a-bus,” or the experience of tiredness after a physical exertion, or strange and novel experience of a powerful light that occurred in front of me while meditating on a seven-day technique-based meditation retreat, all I should be concerned about is that an experience is there and as such it needs to be understood. This means that investing effort into meditation techniques is fundamentally a waste of time if one is concerned with understanding the Dhamma, and the most one can accomplish is relaxation, a sense of peace coming from withdrawal from the habitual world of senses, or – worse – fortification of the wrong views based on a misinterpretation of the nature of the novelty experiences. Either way, the results of any technique one might engage in, will remain worldly, and will draw its power from a temporary change of one’s environment, one’s usual way of regarding things. In any case, the “benefits” and “helpfulness” of a chosen technique will simply share the nature of a phenomenon of novelty that one is experiencing. As such, it means it will run out, and one will have to either do it harder, or change the technique.
If people attend meditation retreats as a form of a temporary escape from the busy and oppressing world, by all means they should do it, as often as they can. However, rather than engaging in a practice of a technique and “sensation watching,” they would be better off using their quiet time in trying to understand the nature of things according to the way the Buddha described it, whether sitting, walking or lying down. For it is that “nature” which the Dhamma means and refers to, and anything that is not dealing with this, or anything that is obscuring that very nature (i.e. phenomena) of things, consequently is not the Dhamma, no matter how “helpful” and “useful” it might be. In different words, one’s experience is phenomenological (i.e. the five aggregates are all simultaneously present in their respective domains), and this means that nature of things comes first, before anything one does based on that nature. Doing a technique in order to practice the Dhamma (i.e. see the nature of things) is like exiting the house, so as to be in it. It’s a contradiction in terms.