Why Meditate?

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

Re: Why Meditate?

Postby tiltbillings » Fri May 18, 2012 11:11 am

mikenz66 wrote:
retrofuturist wrote:Frankly, such a Right Effort-geared analysis, combined with an honest appraisal of the constituent components of "dark night" (such as that provided by Mike) show the practitioner precisely how to progress through the phenomenon in question.

And, of course, lucky for us, an honest appraisal of progress is greatly aided by the collective experience and advice of ancient and modern teachers and practitioners of the Bhuddha-Dhamma.
Indeed.
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: Why Meditate?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri May 18, 2012 11:12 am

Greetings Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:So, the Theravada is not Buddha-Dhamma. Wow!. You are probably on ther wrong forum.

Buddha-dhamma is a subset of Theravada, and no known Buddha-dhamma is excluded from it.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby tiltbillings » Fri May 18, 2012 11:22 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:So, the Theravada is not Buddha-Dhamma. Wow!. You are probably on ther wrong forum.

Buddha-dhamma is a subset of Theravada, and no known Buddha-dhamma is excluded from it.

Metta,
Retro. :)
A subset? That's an interesting opinion, which make no sense, in my opinion. The Theravada (defined in terms of the Pali Canon and it commentaries) is, I would say, an expression of the Buddha-Dhamma. You have your opinion as to what is the Buddha Dhamma, and it seems Ron has his.
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: Why Meditate?

Postby retrofuturist » Fri May 18, 2012 11:31 am

Greetings Tilt,

Sure, and to clarify mine... there's Dhamma which is the natural law, independent of the person understanding it and interpreting it.

When an identifier is attached to it, it signifies whose perspective on that natural law is being discussed. In the Buddha's day, other's had their own take on the Dhamma and way of relating it to others, and in the last two and a half millennia, others have had different ways of relating it too.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby tiltbillings » Fri May 18, 2012 11:38 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Tilt,

Sure, and to clarify mine... there's Dhamma which is the natural law, independent of the person understanding it and interpreting it.

When an identifier is attached to it, it signifies whose perspective on that natural law is being discussed. In the Buddha's day, other's had their own take on the Dhamma and way of relating it to others, and in the last two and a half millennia, others have had different ways of relating it too.

Metta,
Retro. :)
Okay, but it still makes no sense to me to to refer to the Buddha-Dhamma subset of the Theravada. Also Dhamma in Buddha Dhamma carries multiple meanings.
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: Why Meditate?

Postby Ron Crouch » Fri May 18, 2012 3:29 pm

This really got into some counting-angels-on-a-pin territory pretty fast.

I'd like to address a couple of points that were raised that might be useful in terms of practice rather than which "ism" one identifies with.

The first is the use of the term "dark night". I know, I know. It's a Christian term. In some quarters it's a pretty bad thing to use anything Christian, and I get that. However, this is actually a pretty commonly used term among people who have been through it. I picked it up from my teacher, and thought he came up with it until another teacher corrected me and told me that the senior teachers at IMS had been using it behind closed doors for years, and that is where it slipped into the common lexicon among buddhist practitioners. Perhaps it's an American thing. So if most people here prefer we could stick with the term used in the Vissudimagga: "dukkha nanas".

But that is more angels on the pin. Here is the practice issue: what are these things? For those who are interested in the direct reference (and from the conversations here I think a lot of folks are), you can read about them in the Vissudimagga directly at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... on2011.pdf

However, the description of them doesn't start until the section labeled: "Purification By Knowledge and Vision of the Way" which begins, very ominously, on page 666. It is placed in the section of "Understanding" as opposed to "Morality" or "Concentration", and that speaks to another point raised here, which is this: why are these bad experiences part of the path if this is a path that leads one to let go of bad experiences? This is retro's point, I believe, when he raises the right effort issue.

What these are is a direct experience of the first noble truth, that is why it is in the "Understanding" section and not in the "Morality" section (where right effort is found). You need this first in order to let go of suffering. You can find info about that in the section on "The Three Kinds of Full Understanding", but I'll give the cliff notes here: first you understanding by "knowing" something (i.e. tasting it directly), second you understand it by "investigating" it (watching it arise and disappear many times), and lastly you understand it by letting go of it (no longer automatically seeing it as "me" or "mine"). When you go through the nanas you get a direct taste of each of the three noble truths: impermanence in the arising and passing, suffering in the dukkha nanas, and non-self in equanimity. The progress made through the nanas is essentially the process of letting go. You simply don't move to the next one until you have learned how to let go of the one you are in.

So, directly facing suffering and letting it go is a core part of what one does in insight practice. It's my personal opinion that it is also a core part of what folks are doing in other traditions too (hence the references to Christian terms and so on).
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri May 18, 2012 8:49 pm

Thanks Ron. This discussion has seemed a little strange to me. I've never had these dark night experiences, but I've done enough retreats to know that strange things can happen, and often do happen just when things seem to be going very smoothly. And I've talked with a number of people who have had such experiences, some experienced practitioners with good guidance, and one who managed to get to that state under his own steam (he's now a monk, and much happier).

As you say, the Commentaries also record these experiences of ancient practitioners, and I've given a number of sutta examples. The many encounters of practitioners with Mara include many more:
Then Mara the Evil One, wanting to arouse fear, horripilation, & terror in her, wanting to make her fall away from concentration, approached her & addressed her in verse:
That which is to be attained by seers —
the place so very hard to reach —
women can't —
with their two-inch discernment —
attain.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Thus, the idea that the Path will just flow smoothly, and that those experiencing such difficulties are not doing it right seems extremely unlikely to me.

:anjali:
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Mark1234 » Fri May 18, 2012 9:18 pm

Hi,

I am new to this forum and I have not read all the responses, only some - but I did get the general flavour of what was said.

Why meditate?

Meditation is an end in itself. It is not a means to an end.

Meditation should not be thought of as an ego driven activity. It is not about striving and achieving. It is about letting go.

* I am not an unenlightened person who has to do something in the future in order to become an enlightened person

* The unconditioned is not a reward for good behaviour or hard work; it is not an attainment

* The unconditioned is completely natural. It is unconditioned, which means it is not an artifact. It is not the product of some kind of exotic conditioning.

When we meditate therefore we are taking refuge in the Buddha. To be more precise, we are in fact taking refuge in the Buddho which is to say, the Buddha's way of seeing. That is the essence. The truth of the way it is. To be present in the present moment.

Don't expect magic. Don't think that the skies will open and choirs of Devata's will sing or that there will be unending bliss, but there is freedom from suffering. The unconditioned is ordinary, so ordinary, it is over-looked.

In fact the unconditioned is only the beginning, not the end. Learn to make it your refuge and whatever happens in life, we can cope and live mindfully without creating any suffering for ourself or others.

Now there are the Jhanna's but these are also anicca, dhukka, anatta. There is no refuge in the Samadhi.
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri May 18, 2012 9:30 pm

Hi Mark,

Welcome to the Forum.

Thank you for your post, which makes many good points. However, I'm a little puzzled by this statement:
Mark1234 wrote:In fact the unconditioned is only the beginning, not the end. Learn to make it your refuge and whatever happens in life, we can cope and live mindfully without creating any suffering for ourself or others.

and how it relates to statements in the Suttas such as:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... tml#beyond
"What lies on the other side of Unbinding [nibbana]?"

"You've gone too far, friend Visakha. You can't keep holding on up to the limit of questions. For the holy life gains a footing in Unbinding, culminates in Unbinding, has Unbinding as its final end. If you wish, go to the Blessed One and ask him the meaning of these things. Whatever he says, that's how you should remember it."

:anjali:
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby befriend » Fri May 18, 2012 9:40 pm

in the book a path with heart by jack kornfield i think wrote it, he talks about the dark night of the soul. i think weve all had little dark nights of the soul in our practices, would it not be scarey to the ego to see the true nature of reality? is it not scarey to see for split second there is no self. buddha was confronted with an army of demons from mara, that doesnt sound too pleasant.
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby manas » Fri May 18, 2012 10:00 pm

.
Last edited by manas on Mon May 21, 2012 8:02 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Travis » Fri May 18, 2012 10:03 pm

Ron Crouch wrote:@mikenz66- regarding the question of whether the path inevitably leads to a dark night, the answer is, unfortunately, "it depends." The issue rests on the kind of meditation a person is doing. In classical buddhism there is a distinction made between "wet" and "dry" insight, which is the difference between the insight knowledges (nanas) experienced directly after deep concentration ("wet" = jhana) or without deep concentration ("dry" = no jhana). If you are doing it wet, then the dukkha nanas (dark night stages) seem like a breeze, a mild bit of turbulence in an otherwise smooth flight. If you are doing it dry however, then the dukkha nanas can really rock your world - and not in a good way. In the old texts and commentaries they divide it up into these two types as if they were all or nothing, but in truth almost everyone mixes it up and so the ambiguous answer of "it depends." Essentially, it depends on how deep your concentration is and how well you use it to move through the insight stages. So, while everyone will go through the insights into suffering in one form or another, how you experience it depends a lot on your concentration. Stronger concentration equals less difficulty.
Hope that helps.


It seems to me that the "dukkha nanas" make a good case for practicing samatha-vipassana, so maybe the essay should be titled "Why Practice Dry Insight?" The drive that is the concluding "Why" in the essay seems like it would be sufficient to get through the complacency trap of jhana, and in a worse case scenario stuck in bliss>stuck in "dark night."
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby mikenz66 » Fri May 18, 2012 10:12 pm

Hi Manas,
manas wrote:Here is where I must question what you said above, Ron. I started out practising with an impure motivation. But if I had not made a start at all, I do not think I would have eventually arrived to the increased conviction and the (modest, yet improved) understanding I now have...

That's a very good point. It seems to me that most people starting on the path have much understanding of what it really involves. But that is inevitable in any sort of development.

In the Suttas we see that the Buddha taught as a gradual process, in line with the development of the students, beginning with dana and sila --- not the four noble truths and deep meditation. So perhaps it's not so much a case of "not starting" as "starting in the most appropriate way".

:anjali:
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Ron Crouch » Sat May 19, 2012 12:12 am

@ manas - there are a lot of people with that same experience. Good for them and good for you. It's a silver lining. There are just as many people though who don't have such a nice experience of it. And many really feel like they were suckered into something without being given all the important information up front. I don't worry about you. I worry about them. I see them all the time in my teaching practice.

That might seem like radical advice but you can find it from lots of other teachers out there. In fact, there is a whole thread on one of those quotes here: http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=77&t=4362

One teacher described it this way (paraphrasing): "You're either on the ride or off the ride. On the ride means ups and downs, terrible states and stages, and you have to finish. Off the ride means you are just going through the motions and trying to be a nice person."
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby retrofuturist » Sat May 19, 2012 12:30 am

Greetings Ron,

Ron Crouch wrote:There are just as many people though who don't have such a nice experience of it. And many really feel like they were suckered into something without being given all the important information up front. I don't worry about you. I worry about them. I see them all the time in my teaching practice.

Does this "important information" also involve a thorough grounding in the teachings of the Buddha?

I see risks in following a "meditation technique" which is designed to induce certain experiences, but in which the knowledge of the Dhamma that provides the context to these experiences is "outsourced" to a teacher. That "outsourcing" might be functional in a retreat situation or when there's regular ongoing contact with a teacher, but outside of that, the only person who is with the practitioner 24/7, is the practitioner themselves. If they understand the Dhamma, from the variety of different perspectives and angles from which the Buddha saw fit to teach it, perhaps they would be more equipped to manage the transition?

Possibly then, it's not a case of deterring those who are not hard-core, manly and committed enough to get to the end, but in encouraging the gradual instruction of the kind Mike mentioned above first, so they have a solid grounding in the fundamentals of the Dhamma before attempting practices which might otherwise induce "dark nights"? (such fundamentals including, Right Effort, mudita and other quite elementary things that seem very useful in the specified situation). There's a great many lay people who have benefited over the centuries from the wisdom of the Buddha... it seems a shame to deter the current generation from mental cultivation, on account of such things.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby robertk » Sat May 19, 2012 2:35 am

Just to note that according to the ancient Commentaries during any moments of genuine insight there can never be any unpleasant feeling, disgust, in the sense of averion in any way, fear, etc.
These ideas that people having insight will have unpleasant experiences seems to come from a major misunderstanding by some relatively recent meditation technique follwers/ leaders.
The terms such as dispassion and bhaya used in the visuddhimagga are desrbing a very calm understanding level of the nature of reality. Which is inherently unsubstantial.
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby dhamma_newb » Sat May 19, 2012 3:28 am

robertk wrote:Just to note that according to the ancient Commentaries during any moments of genuine insight there can never be any unpleasant feeling, disgust, in the sense of averion in any way, fear, etc.
These ideas that people having insight will have unpleasant experiences seems to come from a major misunderstanding by some relatively recent meditation technique follwers/ leaders.
The terms such as dispassion and bhaya used in the visuddhimagga are desrbing a very calm understanding level of the nature of reality. Which is inherently unsubstantial.



...it is worth investigating the language one encounters in Buddhist texts—especially the meaning of key technical words. The understanding of nibbida that lies on the near side of such investigation (turning away in utter disgust from the revolting world) is very different from the meaning that lies on the far side (deeply understanding the conditioned nature of constructed experience, thereby allowing a stance of non-attachment to all phenomena)." - Andrew Olendzki


http://archive.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2003/fall/dictionary_nibbida_fall03l.htm
The watched mind brings happiness.
Dhp 36

I am larger and better than I thought. I did not know I held so much goodness.
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Ben » Sat May 19, 2012 4:05 am

There are these roots of trees, these empty huts. Meditate, Ananda, do not delay, or else you will regret it later. This is our instruction to you.

This is what the Blessed One said. The venerable Ananda was satisfied and delighted in the Blessed One's words.

-- MN106 Anenjasappaya Sutta
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby Ron Crouch » Sat May 19, 2012 4:29 am

robertk wrote:Just to note that according to the ancient Commentaries during any moments of genuine insight there can never be any unpleasant feeling, disgust, in the sense of averion in any way, fear, etc.
These ideas that people having insight will have unpleasant experiences seems to come from a major misunderstanding by some relatively recent meditation technique follwers/ leaders.
The terms such as dispassion and bhaya used in the visuddhimagga are desrbing a very calm understanding level of the nature of reality. Which is inherently unsubstantial.



That is quite a claim. Could you cite what commentaries you're talking about? Even better would be to cite the source or link to it so we can read it for ourselves. What you are claiming seems to run right up against the Visuddhimagga's explanation of the insight knowledges - the direct source and paragraph is cited above and you can take a look for yourself. In it, there is a pretty crystal clear description of what the insight knowledges are like, so don't take my word for it - read it. Better yet, experience them for yourself and find out.

Here is what would be helpful. I'm making the claim that the Visuddhimagga describes the insights knowledges as difficult and having some suffering involved, and that some of this suffering is pretty intense, maybe even "terrifying." Here is a quote from the Visuddhimagga describing the 6th insight knowledge that supports this interpretation, on page 673 paragraph 29:


"As he repeats, develops and cultivates in this way the contemplation of dissolution, the object of which is cessation consisting in the destruction, fall and breakup of all formations, then formations classed according to all kinds of becoming, generation, destiny, station, or abode of beings, appear to him in the form of a great terror… When he sees how past formations have ceased, present ones are ceasing, and those to be generated in the future will cease in just the same way, then what is called knowledge of appearance as terror arises in him at that stage."

And just in case it wasn't clear, here is one from page 677, paragraph 41:
"And here (1.a.) what is terror is certainly (2.a) suffering…"

I urge you to read it directly for yourself.

Also, another important point you are making is that if you are having genuine insight, then you won't experience any suffering. That it will be very calm and dispassionate. Here is another gem from the Visuddhimagga warning against exactly that interpretation, from page 660 paragraph 21:

"Now, when he is a beginner of insight with this tender insight, ten imperfections of insight arise in him... what are these ten imperfections? They are: (1) illumination, (2) knowledge, (3) rapturous happiness, (4) tranquillity, (5) bliss (pleasure), (6) resolution, (7) exertion, (8) assurance, (9) equanimity, and (10) attachment."

To be clear, this paragraph is describing someone who gets to the first insight knowledge and pretty much stalls out because they are happy with it. This can be pretty common.
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Re: Why Meditate?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat May 19, 2012 4:44 am

Hi Robert, Ron,
[I haven't directly addressed Ron's post since I was writing when it was posted, but I hope the following is still relevant.]

robertk wrote:Just to note that according to the ancient Commentaries during any moments of genuine insight there can never be any unpleasant feeling, disgust, in the sense of averion in any way, fear, etc.

I think that's an interesting point. One, you've brought up before, but perhaps not for a while...
robertk wrote:These ideas that people having insight will have unpleasant experiences seems to come from a major misunderstanding by some relatively recent meditation technique follwers/ leaders.
The terms such as dispassion and bhaya used in the visuddhimagga are desrbing a very calm understanding level of the nature of reality. Which is inherently unsubstantial.

This is worth exploring, I think. Let's look at the relevant passage:
Visuddhimagga XXI
PDF Here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... index.html
[3. KNOWLEDGE OF APPEARANCE AS TERROR]

29. As he repeats, develops and cultivates in this way the contemplation of
dissolution, the object of which is cessation consisting in the destruction, fall
and breakup of all formations, then formations classed according to all kinds of
becoming, generation, destiny, station, or abode of beings, appear to him in the
form of a great terror, as lions, tigers, leopards, bears, hyenas, spirits, ogres, fierce
bulls, savage dogs, rut-maddened wild elephants, hideous venomous serpents,
thunderbolts, charnel grounds, battlefields, flaming coal pits, etc., appear to a
timid man who wants to live in peace. When he sees how past formations have
ceased, present ones are ceasing, and those to be generated in the future will
cease in just the same way, then what is called knowledge of appearance as
terror arises in him at that stage.

30. Here is a simile: a woman’s three sons had offended against the king, it
seems. The king ordered their heads to be cut off. She went with her sons to the
place of their execution. When they had cut off the eldest one’s head, they set
about cutting off the middle one’s head. Seeing the eldest one’s head already
cut off and the middle one’s head being cut off, she gave up hope for the youngest,
thinking, “He too will fare like them.” Now, the meditator’s seeing the cessation
of past formations is like the woman’s seeing the eldest son’s head cut off. His
seeing the cessation of those present is like her seeing the middle one’s head
being cut off. His seeing the cessation of those in the future, thinking, “Formations
to be generated in the future will cease too,” is like her giving up hope for the
youngest son, thinking, “He too will fare like them.” When he sees in this way,
knowledge of appearance as terror arises in him at that stage.
...
32. But does the knowledge of appearance as terror [itself] fear or does it not
fear? It does not fear. For it is simply the mere judgment that past formations have
ceased, present ones are ceasing, and future ones will cease.
Just as a man with
eyes looking at three charcoal pits at a city gate is not himself afraid, since he
only forms the mere judgment that all who fall into them will suffer no little
pain;—or just as when a man with eyes looks at three spikes set in a row, an
acacia spike, an iron spike, and a gold spike, he is not himself afraid, since he
only forms the mere judgment that all who fall on these spikes will suffer no
little pain;—so too the knowledge of appearance as terror does not itself fear; it
only forms the mere judgment that in the three kinds of becoming, which resemble
the three charcoal pits and the three spikes, past formations have ceased, present
ones are ceasing, and future ones will cease.

33. But it is called “appearance as terror” only because formations in all kinds
of becoming, generation, destiny, station, or abode are fearful in being bound for
destruction and so they appear only as a terror.
...

So, it seems that the Commentaries are saying that if one actually has that insight knowledge ("knowledge of appearance as terror").

Mahasi Sayadaw's Summary says:
6. Awareness of Fearfulness (bhayatupatthāna-ñāna)

When that knowledge of dissolution is mature, there will gradually arise, just by seeing the dissolution of all object-and-subject-formations, awareness of fearfulness {37} and other (higher) knowledges, together with their respective aspects of fear, and so on. {38}

Having seen how the dissolution of two things — that is, any object noticed and the insight-thought engaged in noticing it — takes place moment by moment, the meditator also understands by inference that in the past, too, every conditioned thing (formation) has broken up in the same way, that just so it will break up also in the future, and that at the present it breaks up, too. And just at the time of noticing any formations that are evident, these formations will appear to him in their aspect of fearfulness. Therefore, during the very act of noticing, the meditator will also come to understand: "These formations are indeed fearful."

Such understanding of their fearfulness is called "knowledge of the awareness of fearfulness"; it has also the name "knowledge of fear." At that time, his mind itself is gripped by fear and seems helpless.

{37} Bhay'upatthāna. The word bhaya has the subjective aspect of fear and the objective aspect of fearfulness, danger. Both are included in the significance of the term in this context.
{38} This refers to the knowledges described in the following (Nos. 7-11).

Are these two passages contradictory? Or is is that the mind "gripped by fear and seem[ing] helpless" is a precursor to the actual insight knowledge?

:anjali:
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