Bare Attention Concerns

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

Bare Attention Concerns

Postby Myotai » Mon Sep 23, 2013 12:06 pm

Hello everyone

I practice a form of Bare Attention not unlike my understanding of the Silent Illumination tradition of Zen. I have a concern though, I seem to get to a point of real calm but I am concerned as to whether this is a positive feeling or not. I endeavour not to become attached to it but it does have a feeling of the mind resting and not moving. Its really difficult to describe but I know the Zennies talk about "Resting in the cave of Ghosts" as a metaphor for a state of mental numbness that can be misinterpreted as a form of absorbtion.

How can we differentiate between positive mental calm and mental numbness?

Metta :anjali:
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby IanAnd » Mon Sep 23, 2013 4:00 pm

Myotai wrote:I practice a form of Bare Attention not unlike my understanding of the Silent Illumination tradition of Zen. I have a concern though, I seem to get to a point of real calm but I am concerned as to whether this is a positive feeling or not. I endeavour not to become attached to it but it does have a feeling of the mind resting and not moving.

Its really difficult to describe but I know the Zennies talk about "Resting in the cave of Ghosts" as a metaphor for a state of mental numbness that can be misinterpreted as a form of absorption.

How can we differentiate between positive mental calm and mental numbness?

All Buddhist inspired meditation techniques work on the presumption that the practitioner sets up mindfulness (sati) as a prerequisite to entering into meditation. As long as you are able to sense the quality of the mental control (lack of a trance-like state) that accompanies having established mindfulness, you are okay.

Once you sense the mind's becoming dull and somewhat listless, that is a signal to endeavor to establish mindfulness and not to let the mind go and do as it wills rather than as you will it to do. There is a difference between between consciously entering the calm and allowing a calm trance-like state to take over wherein you are just along for the ride without any control over where it is taking you. Mindfulness corrects this situation.

While absorption can have the feeling of being similar to a trance-like state, as long as you remain in control of the process through mindfulness, you will be able to direct the mind in whatever direction you deem necessary for your practice, and it will obey your direction. Dullness of mind takes over when you let go of this control and just follow along for whatever ride occurs.

Ideally, what you want to cultivate is mindfulness and clear comprehension together. Clear comprehension should alert you to any occasion where you are letting the mind control the course of your meditation rather than your own will being in control.

Make sure that you take some time at the beginning to establish mindfulness before meditating, and you should be okay.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Sep 23, 2013 7:16 pm

Hi Myotai,

Ian has some good advice. As he says, it's important to make sure that mindfulness is strong. Some previous discussions might have some relevance:
However, the most important thing I learned came out of discussing what I had thought was a minor problem --- that at the end of longer (1 hour) sits I tended to not be particularly mindful when switching back to walking. From this clue we diagnosed that I have a laziness hindrance. [Classically a corruptions-of-insight problem.] I can go on retreat, do a lot of sitting and walking, and develop enough mindfulness and concentration so that nothing particularly difficult comes up. And it's easy to "back off" the intensity and just keep it at the point where the mind is nice and stable, using the objects to just develop concentration, rather than increasing the investigation to go deeper, where the next layer of problems will arise.
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=11240

This is a slightly different problem, but I think it is still somewhat relevant: http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=41&t=13137

:anjali:
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby Samma » Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:22 am

Does this seem familar? Thanissaro, each and every breath:
"Delusion concentrationwe have already discussed in Part Two. It comes about when the breath gets so comfortable that your focus drifts from the breath to the sense of comfort itself, your mindfulness begins to blur, and your sense of the body and your surroundings gets lost in a pleasant haze. When you emerge, you find it hard to identify where exactly you were focused."

Interesting how vitaka (directed thought) is seen as antidote for dullness of mind (thina). But by its very nature choiceless awareness lays aside directed thought eh? If you are doing a zen practice, ask the zen guys?

As IanAnd says there should still be some sense of mindfulness and clear comprehension. Try and play around with the energy in mediation. As the Tibetans put it, not too much mental excitement nor mental sinking. Keep the balance and clarity.
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby pegembara » Tue Sep 24, 2013 4:21 am

It is a matter of balance between energy and concentration.

The 5 balas/ strengths.

Faith and Wisdom balance each other, as do Energy and Concentration. The Five Faculties are ‘controlling' faculties because they control or master their opposites.

Faith (saddha) - controls doubt
Energy/Effort/Persistence (viriya) – controls laziness
Mindfulness (sati); - controls heedlessness
Concentration (samādhi) - controls distraction
Wisdom/Discernment (pañña, prajña) – controls ignorance

"In the same way, Sona, over-aroused persistence leads to restlessness, overly slack persistence leads to laziness. Thus you should determine the right pitch for your persistence, attune[2]the pitch of the [five] faculties [to that], and there pick up your theme."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby Myotai » Tue Sep 24, 2013 12:04 pm

Samma wrote:Does this seem familar? Thanissaro, each and every breath:
"...It comes about when the breath gets so comfortable that your focus drifts from the breath to the sense of comfort itself, your mindfulness begins to blur, and your sense of the body and your surroundings gets lost in a pleasant haze. When you emerge, you find it hard to identify where exactly you were focused."


Absolutely! Thats it!

Is this something Thanissaro speaks about more in this book?
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby Samma » Wed Sep 25, 2013 2:39 am

Myotai wrote:Absolutely! Thats it!
Is this something Thanissaro speaks about more in this book?


There is the talk:
http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/y2010/101119%20Delusion%20Concentration.mp3
And this article
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... mbers.html
And occasionally elsewhere such as in wings to awakening.
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby Myotai » Wed Sep 25, 2013 1:03 pm

Samma wrote:
Myotai wrote:Absolutely! Thats it!
Is this something Thanissaro speaks about more in this book?


There is the talk:
http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/y2010/101119%20Delusion%20Concentration.mp3
And this article
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... mbers.html
And occasionally elsewhere such as in wings to awakening.


In the Access to Insight link he says:

The best state of concentration for the sake of developing all-around insight is one that encompasses a whole-body awareness. There were two exceptions to Ajaan Fuang's usual practice of not identifying the state you had attained in your practice, and both involved states of wrong concentration. The first was the state that comes when the breath gets so comfortable that your focus drifts from the breath to the sense of comfort itself, your mindfulness begins to blur, and your sense of the body and your surroundings gets lost in a pleasant haze. When you emerge, you find it hard to identify where exactly you were focused. Ajaan Fuang called this moha-samadhi, or delusion-concentration.


Thanks Samma, really helpful links - going to listen to the talk now!
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby skandha » Wed Oct 02, 2013 12:09 pm

Bare attention is certainly one of the skills to be developed according to the Satipatthana Sutta. I regard the following verse as an example in the training in bare attention.

"Or his mindfulness that 'There is a body' is maintained to the extent of knowledge & remembrance. And he remains independent, unsustained by (not clinging to) anything in the world. This is how a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself."

However there are also many skills mentioned in the Satipatthana, bare attention is only one of them. Some of these skills include being ardent, clearly comprehending as mentioned in other posts. So Satipatthana does not just stop at the point of bare awareness, it continues the training of mindfulness and seeing of the full breath of the arising and passing away of phenomena. At some point in the arising and passing away, there will be the aggregate of perception or recognition (sanna) arising and that may include some form of conceptual thinking.

Although there are also states where the mind become so quiet that out of the five aggregates, only the conciousness seem evident where the conciousness is reflecting on itself and no other external object. Perhaps this is another way of refering to bare awareness.
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby suriyopama » Fri Oct 11, 2013 7:51 am

An interesting read: Chapter 4 "The Burden of Bare Attention" from Thanissaro's book "Right Mindfulness"

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/rightmindfulness.pdf

"Chapter Four explains why the common modern view of mindfulness has to be rejected because it doesn’t do justice to the dual role of fabrication: both as a precondition for attention and sensory contact, and as a part of the path to the end of suffering and stress. This defect in the common view has practical consequences, in that it can provide only a limited range of strategies for putting an end to stress when compared to the strategies provided in the discourses."


One of the most striking features of mindfulness as taught in the modern world is how far it differs from the Canon’s teachings on right mindfulness. Instead of being a function of memory, it’s depicted primarily — in some cases, purely — as a function of attention to the present moment. Instead of being purposeful, it is without agenda. Instead of making choices, it is choiceless and without preferences.
...


Keep reading at: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/rightmindfulness.pdf
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby Myotai » Fri Oct 11, 2013 10:38 am

Thanks suriyopama!
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Oct 11, 2013 12:18 pm

suriyopama wrote:An interesting read: Chapter 4 "The Burden of Bare Attention" from Thanissaro's book "Right . . .
That book has been discussed at length here: viewtopic.php?f=41&t=13538 It is not without its problems, especially when it comes to the question of bare attention and the venerable's understanding of it.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Oct 11, 2013 12:27 pm

Here is a place to start in a discussion of bare attention:

    Bhikkhu Bodhi Page15
    BB 4: No problem to try to tie up this “loose end.” First, I used the phrase “the mind’s
    activity of attending to the object, the awareness of the object” as an attempt to make
    sense of the word ‘upaṭṭhāna,’ which is used in works like the Paṭisambhidāmagga and
    the commentaries to draw out the significance of sati. It wasn’t a direct “gloss” on sati
    itself.

    As a wholesome mental factor, sati is consistently explained in the same way as in the
    quotation from Vism XIV 141 (with the forms saranti, sarati, saraṇa, simply cognates of
    sati). So I don’t have any new definition of sati to offer. But I hope that I can explain how
    sati, as “bare attention,” can function as a wholesome mental factor. When I use the
    word ”awareness” or “attention” to render upaṭṭhāna, as representing sati in this role
    (which is just my hypothesis), this awareness is quite different from ordinary
    consciousness (viññāṇa), and this attention is different from manasikāra, the mental
    factor that performs the function of adverting to an object or selecting features of the
    objective field for closer focus. Sati, as bare attention, is never completely bare. When
    practiced in the full context of the noble eightfold path (even the path-practice of a
    worldling) it is, or should be, embraced by other factors of the path, most notably by right
    view, right motivation, and right effort (factors 1, 2, and 6); it is already supported by the
    three morality factors (3, 4, 5). As Ven. Nyanaponika first used the expression, sati is
    “bare” in that it is shorn of our usual emotional reactions, evaluations, judgments,
    conceptual overlays, etc., and is intended to lay bare the experienced object as clearly as
    possible.

    We should remember that sati, in the context of satipaṭṭhāna practice, is always practiced
    as part of an’anupassanā,’ and this word helps to bring out the role of sati. We usually
    translate ‘anupassanā’ as “contemplation,” thus ‘kāyānupassanā’ as “contemplation of
    the body,” but this might be somewhat misleading. It might be more accurate, and more
    literal, to translate it as “observation.” The word is made up of a prefix ‘anu’ which
    suggests repetition, and ’passanā’, which means “seeing, viewing.” So sati is part of a
    process that involves a close, repetitive observation of the object.

    page 16
    Several factors enter into anupassanā. According to the “satipaṭṭhāna refrain,” these are
    energy (ātāpī, “ardent”), clear comprehension (sampajāno), and mindfulness (satimā).
    Energy contributes the strength to fulfill the practice, but it is mindfulness that brings the
    object into the field of observation, and in many exercises (though not all) it does so
    simply through the act of attending to the object over and over, as simply as possible, and
    of attending to each object that presents itself on the successive occasions of experience.
    Mindfulness, as bare attention, is thus a key element in the process of adopting an
    “observational stance” towards one’s own experience.

    Mindfulness, as bare attention, however, isn’t just floating loosely in a void. In a
    meditative situation it will be anchored in a primary object, such as in-breathing and outbreathing,
    or the rise and fall of the abdomen. But whenever some other phenomenon
    arises and floats into the field of awareness, the meditator is advised to simply note it,
    without reacting to it, and then to bring the mind back to the primary object. If any
    reactions take place, such as enjoying the distracting object or feeling irritated by it, one
    should note the enjoyment or irritation, and again return to the primary object.
    Thus, if you have trouble seeing mindfulness–as bare attention–as a wholesome mental
    factor because it isn’t remembering one’s wholesome qualities or attending to
    bodhipakkhiya dhammas, the same problem could be posed in terms of mindfulness of
    breathing. A skeptic might say: “Yeah, I can see loving-kindness meditation, or
    compassion meditation, as a wholesome state, but mindfulness of breathing, why, you’re
    doing nothing but following your breath in and out. What could be especially
    ‘wholesome’ about that?”

    In the practice of bare attention, as used in the ”dry insight” system of vipassanā,
    mindfulness is used to note whatever is occurring on successive occasions of
    experience. As this is practiced continuously, over extended periods of time, the
    mindfulness builds up momentum. By means of this momentum, it is able to bring the
    “field of experience” into increasingly finer focus, until one can tune into the precise
    factors constituting any occasion of experience and distinguish them according to their
    place among the five aggregates. In this way, mindfulness paves the way for the
    discriminative understanding of the “constituted nature” of experience, allowing paññā to
    move in and discern the threads that make up the complex experiential occasion.
    Then because one is attending to the unfolding of experience sequentially across
    occasions of experience, the characteristic comes into sharp focus. One can see how each
    event occurs and vanishes, followed by the next event, which occurs and vanishes,
    followed by the next event, which occurs and vanishes. As concentration grows stronger,
    this ability to focus upon the arising and passing of events becomes more refined, so that
    it seems one is perceiving the arising and passing of cognitive events in terms of
    nanoseconds. Again, this uncovers, even more starkly, the characteristic of
    impermanence, and from there one can move on to the characteristics of dukkha and
    anatta.

    page 17
    Of course, one who gains the jhānas, and then uses the concentration of the jhāna to focus
    on the procession of experience, has even more powerful resources for gaining direct
    perception of the radical truth of impermanence. But even this must begin with some
    degree of “bare attention” to immediate experience.

    ...
    page 18

    “Sati, as bare attention, is never completely bare. When practiced in the full context of
    the noble eightfold path (even the path-practice of a worldling) it is, or should be,
    embraced by other factors of the path, most notably by right view, right motivation, and
    right effort (factors 1, 2, and 6); it is already supported by the three morality factors (3, 4,
    5).”

    You were worried that I had missed out on right thought, and further on in your letter you
    expressed concern about the need for proper motivation; but the factor often translated as
    right thought, sammā saṅkappa, is what I have here translated “right motivation” (it is
    elsewhere translated “right intention”). I’m not sure how the Tibetan translations render
    the second path factor, but the Pāli term suggests the purposive, motivational element in
    thought, rather than the cognitive, which is covered by right view. In my understanding,
    without right view or right intention, one could be practicing “bare mindfulness,” and yet
    that “bare mindfulness” is unlikely to develop into sammā sati, right
    mindfulness. Similarly, one could be practicing mindfulness of breathing, or
    contemplation of bodily sensations, or loving-kindness meditation, or perhaps even
    reflective meditation on the Four Noble Truths and dependent origination as applicable to
    this present life alone (no trespassing into unverifiable past and future lives), and these
    practices, while being “wholesome,” would still be deficient as Dharma practices.

    http://shamatha.org/sites/default/files ... ndence.pdf
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby Spiny Norman » Fri Oct 11, 2013 1:53 pm

We usually translate ‘anupassanā’ as “contemplation,” thus ‘kāyānupassanā’ as “contemplation of
the body,” but this might be somewhat misleading. It might be more accurate, and more
literal, to translate it as “observation.” The word is made up of a prefix ‘anu’ which
suggests repetition, and ’passanā’, which means “seeing, viewing.” So sati is part of a
process that involves a close, repetitive observation of the object.


I like Bhikkhu Bodhi's use of the word "observation", which I think gives a good feel for the actual experience. Sometimes I describe it as "paying attention."
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Oct 11, 2013 7:16 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
suriyopama wrote:An interesting read: Chapter 4 "The Burden of Bare Attention" from Thanissaro's book "Right . . .
That book has been discussed at length here: http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=41&t=13538 It is not without its problems, especially when it comes to the question of bare attention and the venerable's understanding of it.

Indeed, many of the criticisms here, and in Ven Thanissaro's book, seem to be simply a misunderstanding of what other teachers actually teach. The quotes from Bhikkhu Bodhi are just one example showing that other teachers have thought long and hard about these subjects.

:anjali:
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby Myotai » Tue Oct 15, 2013 11:05 am

Just listening to Thanissaro's talk entitled 'Delusion Concentration' and I think he has hit the nail right on the head for me regarding my OP.

He states that when we get to a point when following the breath when we drop it after sensing some pleasure (for me its a physical sense of not being aware of the body anymore)....instead of staying with the breath I have been telling myself that this feeling is somehow legitimate and to be valued rather than seeing it as a sense object like any other; and returning to the breath.

Obvious to some maybe, but wasn't to me!

:anjali:
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby daverupa » Tue Oct 15, 2013 3:56 pm

Myotai wrote:He states that when we get to a point when following the breath when we drop it after sensing some pleasure (for me its a physical sense of not being aware of the body anymore)....instead of staying with the breath I have been telling myself that this feeling is somehow legitimate and to be valued rather than seeing it as a sense object like any other; and returning to the breath.


The second tetrad of anapanasati suggests that, experiencing such pleasure while breathing in & breathing out, one can learn to calm the mind's tendency to build mentalities on/about the feeling, and in this way calm the mind's tendency to chain together thoughts and sensations into judgements, narratives, and so forth.

I found it to be easier to understand the technique through the first tetrad. Here, calming six-sense-body-intention-compilations is akin to backing away from controlling the breath and the rest, calming the whole body so one is less and less (re-)active, nor as heavily involved with that process. Just as with the eye sense base, so too with the mind sense base.

With the second tetrad there is a focus on the mind in terms of feelings, which may be where you're currently playing: in this case, you can calm the mind-intention-compilations (citta-sankhara) with a similar technique as for calming six-sense-body-intention-compilations (kaya-sankhara).

During anapanasati, all this happens with the breath as the worktable; if the breath gets lost, probably papanca happened, but that's just a time to reestablish mindfulness and get back to work:

MN 66 wrote:Just as when two or three drops of water fall onto an iron pan heated all day: Slow is the falling of the drops of water, but they quickly vanish & disappear. In the same way, there is the case where a certain person is practicing for the abandoning & relinquishing of acquisitions. As he is practicing for the abandoning & relinquishing of acquisitions, then — from time to time, owing to lapses in mindfulness — he is assailed by memories & resolves associated with acquisitions. Slow is the arising of his mindfulness, but then he quickly abandons [those memories & resolves], dispels them, demolishes them, & wipes them out of existence.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby Myotai » Wed Oct 16, 2013 8:25 am

daverupa wrote:
Myotai wrote:He states that when we get to a point when following the breath when we drop it after sensing some pleasure (for me its a physical sense of not being aware of the body anymore)....instead of staying with the breath I have been telling myself that this feeling is somehow legitimate and to be valued rather than seeing it as a sense object like any other; and returning to the breath.


The second tetrad of anapanasati suggests that, experiencing such pleasure while breathing in & breathing out, one can learn to calm the mind's tendency to build mentalities on/about the feeling, and in this way calm the mind's tendency to chain together thoughts and sensations into judgements, narratives, and so forth.

I found it to be easier to understand the technique through the first tetrad. Here, calming six-sense-body-intention-compilations is akin to backing away from controlling the breath and the rest, calming the whole body so one is less and less (re-)active, nor as heavily involved with that process. Just as with the eye sense base, so too with the mind sense base.

With the second tetrad there is a focus on the mind in terms of feelings, which may be where you're currently playing: in this case, you can calm the mind-intention-compilations (citta-sankhara) with a similar technique as for calming six-sense-body-intention-compilations (kaya-sankhara).

During anapanasati, all this happens with the breath as the worktable; if the breath gets lost, probably papanca happened, but that's just a time to reestablish mindfulness and get back to work:

MN 66 wrote:Just as when two or three drops of water fall onto an iron pan heated all day: Slow is the falling of the drops of water, but they quickly vanish & disappear. In the same way, there is the case where a certain person is practicing for the abandoning & relinquishing of acquisitions. As he is practicing for the abandoning & relinquishing of acquisitions, then — from time to time, owing to lapses in mindfulness — he is assailed by memories & resolves associated with acquisitions. Slow is the arising of his mindfulness, but then he quickly abandons [those memories & resolves], dispels them, demolishes them, & wipes them out of existence.


Thanks Dave,

So would you say that the pleasant feelings often accompanying practices are inherently a trap, to be ignored (unless pursuing Jhana)?

My understanding of traditions like Chan actively encourage this state as its an indication that we're 'just sitting' free from agitation from external stimuli ('dropping off body and mind')...what do you think?
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Oct 16, 2013 9:19 am

Myotai wrote:
My understanding of traditions like Chan actively encourage this state as its an indication that we're 'just sitting' free from agitation from external stimuli ('dropping off body and mind')...what do you think?
And just to add, that is not "bare attention."
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Bare Attention Concerns

Postby Myotai » Wed Oct 16, 2013 11:23 am

tiltbillings wrote:
Myotai wrote:
My understanding of traditions like Chan actively encourage this state as its an indication that we're 'just sitting' free from agitation from external stimuli ('dropping off body and mind')...what do you think?
And just to add, that is not "bare attention."



So what would 'Bare Attention' be in the Theravadin conext?
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