Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

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Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by retrofuturist »

Greetings,

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...
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.
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?

Metta,
Retro. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view?" (SN 5.10)

"Overcome the liar by truth." (Dhp 223)
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by Ben »

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.
I wonder how many 'technique based meditation' retreats Venerable has done.
As a veteran of many meditation retreats, Venerable's criticisms do not echo my own observations. In fact, in all of the meditation retreats I have attended, understanding the nature of things is precisely the object of the retreat.
Kind regards,
Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
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Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by retrofuturist »

Greetings Ben,
Ben wrote:In fact, in all of the meditation retreats I have attended, understanding the nature of things is precisely the object of the retreat.
I think the objective is unquestioned, the issue is more, what actually gives rise to that understanding?

We saw that question addressed in depth in the following public forum topic...

The causes for wisdom
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=15952

... but I wanted to call this out separate to that topic, as the aforementioned topic seems too mired in inter-sub-tradition (Sujinist vs Vipassana technique) polemnics.

Returning to Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's words...
Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli wrote: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.
Thus, "understanding" and "discernment" seems to be key.

Put in other words, techniques are presented to students as a means to achieve understanding, a "how to" approach... but do "understanding" and "discernment" require a "how to" separate from the endeavours to "understand" and "discern" themselves?

I think what Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli is trying to emphasize is that meditation ought to be approached as an active investigation of individual experience, rather than the passive execution of a checklist or sequence designed to make things occur. Also of importance is that the mind is active during meditation, regardless of whether it's doing active investigation or passive execution, and that that mental activity itself (vicara) must too fall within the scope of present-moment experience that is under investigation. If the investigator is perceived or delineated separately from the investigated in one's experience, then the subject-object duality of "I" and "what I observe" goes unchallenged, and the investigator will falsely be taken as Self, not anatta. And if self is allowed to be assumed in this (in contrast to perceptions of self being discerned as anatta), then nothing has really been achieved, since the purpose of the endeavour is to remove false assumptions of the Self, and the wrong and harmful thoughts that result from it.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view?" (SN 5.10)

"Overcome the liar by truth." (Dhp 223)
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by Ben »

Paul, I agree.
But how does understanding arise according to Ven NAnamoli?
For me, it is investigating the anicca characteristic of an object. It is direct and experiential.
Atapi Sampajjano Satima- as the saying goes.
With mettA,
Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by retrofuturist »

Greetings Ben,
Ben wrote:But how does understanding arise according to Ven Nanamoli?
Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli wrote:One understands things when one understands them, when the knowledge in regard to the nature of an arisen thing is there.
From reading his works, he encourages mindful efforts to understand what is happening ("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"), where understanding is developed through reading the Suttas etc. and using them as tools for investigating and understanding the nature of experiences.
Ben wrote:For me, it is investigating the anicca characteristic of an object. It is direct and experiential.
Yes, that is what is being promoted, with particular intent to upseating the false perception of Self.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view?" (SN 5.10)

"Overcome the liar by truth." (Dhp 223)
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by pegembara »

Anguttara Nikaya Sutta 5.3.26 is very interesting. It describes the 5 occasions when a person attains Ariyahood. These are:

Listening to the Dhamma: it brings joy, especially if one has an affinity for the Dhamma. This will naturally calm the mind and make it peaceful and tranquil. A tranquil mind easily becomes concentrated. With a concentrated mind, insight will arise.

Teaching the Dhamma: To teach the Dhamma, one needs to understand and reflect on the Dhamma. From here, joy also arises which will lead successively to tranquility, concentration and insight.

Repeating Dhamma: Although not common nowadays, it was quite common during the Buddha's time when books did not exist. At that time, the Dhamma was preserved and passed on to the next generation by people who memorised them through regular recitation. If monks are going to pass on the Dhamma, they have to be very familiar with the Dhamma. Thus, monks spent a lot of time reciting the Dhamma.

In fact, in those days, it was the monks' duty to repeat and recite the Dhamma. This constant repetition will make you very familiar with it. The first time you read, listen to or recite the Sutta, you will have a certain level of understanding. With greater repetition, your understanding becomes deeper and deeper. The similar sequence of joy, tranquility, concentration and insight follows.

Reflecting on the Dhamma: This involves contemplating, thinking and pondering on the Dhamma in its various aspects, validity and relevance to our daily lives. In this way, insight will arise through the same sequence of events.

During Meditation: According to the Suttas, this involves reflecting on the concentration sign (samadhi nimitta), which is rightly grasped and penetrated. The same sequence of joy, tranquility, concentration and insight follows.

It is crucial to note that out of these 5 occasions, only 1 is during meditation and the other 4 are out of meditation: listening, teaching, repeating and reflecting on the Saddhamma. One should, by now, see the importance of knowing the Saddhamma found in the earliest 4 Nikayas.

http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha163.htm
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by culaavuso »

retrofuturist wrote: 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?
Formal meditation practice seems to use instructions in terms of self and world in order to offer the opportunity to create particular circumstances where seclusion from sensual pleasures and unwholesome mental states may occur. These circumstances can set the stage for the arising of appropriate attention and an improved understanding of mental action and its consequences. With appropriate attention and clear knowing the understanding of direct experience as discussed by Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli may occur, and insight into the way that mental action relates to the presence or absence or appropriate attention and clear knowing may additionally occur. This can then provide the understanding of what it means to practice awareness of the experience of "impatiently-waiting-for-a-bus" in daily life. This in turn may result in a situation where the practice of dedicated periods of sitting practice are a natural consequence of action directed towards the cessation of suffering based on the insight gained from observing direct experience.

While the possibility of focusing on the ritual of the technique in terms of inappropriate attention may be provided by the circumstance of learning a specific technique with the goal of having particular experiences, the possibility of gaining a foothold in an understanding of phenomena in terms of appropriate attention may be provided as well.
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by retrofuturist »

Greetings culaavuso,

I'm just wondering what you mean by this...?
culaavuso wrote:Formal meditation practice seems to use instructions in terms of self and world...
Metta,
Retro. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view?" (SN 5.10)

"Overcome the liar by truth." (Dhp 223)
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by culaavuso »

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings culaavuso,

I'm just wondering what you mean by this...?
culaavuso wrote:Formal meditation practice seems to use instructions in terms of self and world...
That quote is an interpretation of the idea of instructions that contain "fairly random motions and performances" and following "certain prescribed steps" based on the idea that such a performance will "make one experience 'something'". Rather than directly addressing the nature of experience as it occurs, the steps may include a particular seated posture, a bodily configuration, a layout for the room in which the seating happens, or other instructions firmly rooted in a premise of a self as an actor and an experiencer that may win a prize of a particular experience of "something". The instructions may be given in a way that they can be understood from a conceptual basis where there is a self that is relating to a world in order to reconfigure the world in a way that benefits the self. Depending on how these instructions are approached, they might reenforce such a perspective or they might result in seeing through the concepts that underlie that perspective. This seems to be the difference between focusing on the technique for its own sake or seeing the technique as a circumstance which may simplify attempts towards understanding.
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by retrofuturist »

Greetings culaavuso,

Thank you for clarifying. Yes, I concur.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view?" (SN 5.10)

"Overcome the liar by truth." (Dhp 223)
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by alan »

I see it as active investigation, with creative involvement in the process.
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by SDC »

.....................
Last edited by SDC on Thu Jul 30, 2015 11:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by pulga »

Rightly or wrongly, Ven. Ñanavira's parato ghoso seems to have heavily influenced Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's understanding of the Dhamma. It comes down to whose "utterance" you place your faith in, and how mired in the interpretations of various teachers you're willing to become.
Dve'me bhikkhave paccayā
micchāditthiyā uppādāya.
Katame dve.
Parato ca ghoso ayoniso ca manasikāro.
Ime kho bhikkhave dve paccayā
micchāditthiyā uppādāyā ti.


There are, monks, these two conditions
for the arising of wrong view.
Which are the two?
Another's utterance and improper attention.
These, monks, are the two conditions
for the arising of wrong view.



Dve'me bhikkhave paccayā
sammāditthiyā uppādāya.
Katame dve.
Parato ca ghoso yoniso ca manasikāro.
Ime kho bhikkhave dve paccayā
sammāditthiyā uppādāyā ti.


There are, monks, these two conditions
for the arising of right view.
Which are the two?
Another's utterance and proper attention.
These, monks, are the two conditions
for the arising of right view.

Anguttara II,xi,8&9
"Dhammā=Ideas. This is the clue to much of the Buddha's teaching." ~ Ven. Ñanavira, Commonplace Book
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by acinteyyo »

Hi,
I agree mostly with Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli except for this statement:
"This means that investing effort into meditation techniques is fundamentally a waste of time if one is concerned with understanding the Dhamma"
I don't think it is "fundamentally a waste of time" but it certainly is important to keep in mind that a meditation technique is just what it is, namely a technique.
For example, if one is concerned with tightening a screw there are many techniques to tighten it. But the technique itself will not tighten the screw. One has to actually tighten the screw by tightening it. The act of actually tightening the screw is nothing else but applying an adequate technique in the right way.
The same applies for meditation techniques. Meditation techniques are mere tools in order to make understanding the Dhamma possible but the technique itself does not make the understanding neither does understanding follow by itself by applying a certain technique only. The intention to understand the Dhamma, intention for discernment and effort "makes" actual understanding happen.

The answer to the question what makes such understanding happen is simple: experience!
Like for any process it is observing the process until through comprehensive experience understanding of the process develops up to the point where the process is fully understood. Not the technique is whats crucial, its attentive observation of the Dhamma, of the nature of things which reveals its understanding.

Any technique is just a more or less helpful tool but understanding the Dhamma doesn't even necessarily need a special technique, one just needs to arrange adequate circumstances for the mind to become mindful and watch the processes happening when experience "happens". When one does this long enough with the right amount of effort, one will eventually understand "what's happening".

On the other hand, as long as one is concerned mainly with performing a certain technique and invests most or even all of his or her time in practicing and improving that technique, instead of applying it where it is necessary, then as a result the actual screw will never be tightened. No wonder that, in such a case, people are debating "attainments", "better and worse" techniques and kind of "need confirmations of some kind".

Wouldn't believing that this or that technique automatically lead to understanding be nothing else but a form of clinging to rites and rituals?
One may think sacrifices to a god may help him, others believe a certain technique leads to freedom...

best wishes, acinteyyo
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Re: Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli's notes on meditation

Post by retrofuturist »

Greetings,
N113 from Meanings wrote:
Q.: Am I right in thinking that “one who sees things as dhammas” can be
applied to the puthujjana phenomenologist?


A.: Yes. Obviously there are different degrees of this.

Q.: How does ānāpānasati help one to see things as dhammas?

A.: Seeing things as dhammas, or seeing one’s mind, means seeing the
experience as a whole. When you practise ānāpānasati that’s what you do—
through breathing (i.e. doing something) you see the experience of that
doing and your body, the whole thing, as being there, in the world, while
you are breathing (and the Buddha praised the breathing as something
to do in this practice because it is non-distracting, and utterly neutral
in itself, i.e. neither wholesome nor unwholesome). That’s how meditation
contributes to seeing your mind. When that phenomenon of your
mind is clearly established and unwavering, you are establishing your
samādhi, and you don’t have to be sitting crossed-legged for this. (When
you are mindful of the whole, as a phenomenon there, anything that arises
within that, i.e. a particular, won’t be affecting you—your mindfulness
will be uninterrupted.)

This is why there is no room for a ‘technique’ in this. Doing a technique
means trying to use a particular performance, or methodology
so that things would somehow ‘arise’ as phenomenon (or whatever the
meditator expects to see). This already implies a wrong view, namely
still giving the priority to the non-phenomenal objects in one’s world
(sensations, doing this then that, staying, moving, softening, expanding,
addressing bodily parts, etc., etc.). Even if the phenomena are somehow
seen after this, they are secondary to the non-phenomenal methodology,
which means that the nature of the experience as a whole remains unseen.
Experience as a whole, where the sign of your mind is, is already there,
given, regardless of whether you perform certain things or not. Believing
that going through the set of motions or things ‘to do’ is the way of
seeing the experience as a whole, means not seeing that experience as a
whole, and not knowing where to look for it either. Believing that going
through the set of motions and actions is the practice of Dhamma, is
sīlabbataparāmāsa (i.e. believing that you can act your way out of action).
(Not-knowing that the things are already there, you do a technique,
trying to reach those things that are already there. Since the experience
as a whole is already there, doing a technique to reach it, means that
it is not just redundant, it also implies not-knowing where the experience
as a whole is to be found. In this way the (belief in the) technique
obscures seeing the nature of the experience as a whole and, as long as
you are doing that technique (i.e. maintaining your belief), you put the
nature of things out of your reach—you are responsible for your avijjā.)
Whether you choose to stay with the breath or not, breath is there. Establish
your awareness of that and you have surmounted your particular
choice of breathing. (And if you fully understand it, you have uprooted
it—uprooted the action.) That’s how samādhi (i.e. the establishing of the
mindfulness correctly) aids understanding. It ‘aligns’ things the way
they fundamentally are, when you recognize that, you have understood it.
Then your understanding keeps the alignment, and alignment carries your
understanding. There is samatha and vipassanā.
N127 wrote:
One more thing, briefly: feel free to dismiss all the ‘meditative attainment’
attitudes and views about meditation (even Ven. Ñāṇavīra’s)
that are dominant in mainstream Buddhism. Those ‘attainments’ are
not something a person attains by going through the sets of motions
and prescribed techniques, but he attains it through the establishment of
mind upon that respective thing (i.e. cessation, or infinitude of space, or
consciousness, and so on). These things already involve some understanding
of what a thing (phenomenon) is, of arising, ceasing, persisting
while changing and so on. Knowing it, one can mindfully establish the
idea (dhamma) of it, i.e. one can ‘enter it’. The more one knows it, the
broader one’s mindfulness is, the easier that ‘entering’ will be (and the
longer it will last).
Metta,
Retro. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"Why now do you assume 'a being'? Mara, have you grasped a view?" (SN 5.10)

"Overcome the liar by truth." (Dhp 223)
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