Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

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Alobha
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Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby Alobha » Fri Feb 08, 2013 6:26 pm

Hey everyone,

there's a couple of things about the "noting" techniques i'd like to get clarifying advice one.

What do I mean by "noting" techniques: It's often recommended to use a mental note to develop mindfulness, like regulary mentally repeating "Buddho" while watching the breath or while walking mindfully (or "OM" etc.). Some noting techniques use a note for every activity (like "drinking, drinking, drinking" while one drinks something or "stretching, stretching, stretching" while stretching the body). It's a technique that is often suggested when doing mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of the breath. The technique can be applied to other forms, too (like mindfulness of feeling --> "unpleasant, unpleasant, unpleasant", mindfulness of mental fabrications "thoughts, thoughts, thoughts" and so on.)

I actually hesitate to use the noting technique because I have many doubts about whether it is a good thing to use.

The problems I see:
1. Instead of watching the breath, one can easily watch the mental mantra instead.
2. Where the mind is supposed to only focus on one objects, there are two objects now. The mental thought and the actual activity. Instead of letting go thoughts, one hangs on to them in form of this constant stream of mental noting.
3. One is creating another habit with constant effort, which is creating lots of mind activity and can be tiresome.
4. It's often said that one should start off with the noting, but I never see an explanation when to end using it. Where is the breaking point between "noting is useful" and "let go of noting because it becomes a distraction" ? When does one know one should drop the tool? For how long should one use it?

While it's often acknowledged that the noting-technique has its limits, the actual limits or downsides aren't talked about. So naturally, I hesitate to use it.
However, mindfulness during breathing meditation has been coarse for a while and I'm stumped because I don't know what to do about it. I feel rather confused nowadays by the hundreds of books about the topics and I've read more than one already - I just want to do the chores and not read 20 others books for an instruction that the Buddha explained in less than 400 words (Yeah, the whole anapanasati instruction is that short.).

I guess I should give noting a try because I don't know what I could try else but I want to understand the technique more properly before I use it (as far as I know, the Buddha never taught this mental "noting" in the suttas either.)

So... clarifications are greatly appreciated.

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Fri Feb 08, 2013 6:47 pm

The Buddha did indeed teach the noting technique. For example, in the Pali text of the Satipatthana Sutta it says:

"Gacchanto vā, 'Gacchāmi't pajanāti. When walking, he knows, "I am walking." (or simply "When walking, he knows, 'Walking'.") Likewise, When a lustful mind is present, he know, "The mind is lustful." etc.

The noting is the mental factor of jhāna called vitakka, which applies the mind to the object being noted. Without it, the mind will just wander here and there at random. In the second jhāna stage, the initial application will no longer be needed as attention will be sustained on the object currently being observed. Nevertheless, it is never really dropped, as the mind won't remain in deep concentration forever. Whenever attentiveness begins to slacken, one needs to resume noting, or if secondary objects distract the mind from the primary objects, the secondary objects need to be noted as "hearing, hearing," or "thinking, thinking," and so on.

To explain the importance of noting in detail will take too long. If you read the whole of "In This Very Life" with great care and patience, the vital importance of noting everything in detail will become clear, but only if you practice intensively in conjunction with reading or listening to teachings. Theoretical knowledge and practical experience are poles apart.

Care and Respect might be a good place to start.
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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby Billymac29 » Fri Feb 08, 2013 10:21 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:The Buddha did indeed teach the noting technique. For example, in the Pali text of the Satipatthana Sutta it says:

"Gacchanto vā, 'Gacchāmi't pajanāti. When walking, he knows, "I am walking." (or simply "When walking, he knows, 'Walking'.") Likewise, When a lustful mind is present, he know, "The mind is lustful." etc.

The noting is the mental factor of jhāna called vitakka, which applies the mind to the object being noted. Without it, the mind will just wander here and there at random. In the second jhāna stage, the initial application will no longer be needed as attention will be sustained on the object currently being observed. Nevertheless, it is never really dropped, as the mind won't remain in deep concentration forever. Whenever attentiveness begins to slacken, one needs to resume noting, or if secondary objects distract the mind from the primary objects, the secondary objects need to be noted as "hearing, hearing," or "thinking, thinking," and so on.

To explain the importance of noting in detail will take too long. If you read the whole of "In This Very Life" with great care and patience, the vital importance of noting everything in detail will become clear, but only if you practice intensively in conjunction with reading or listening to teachings. Theoretical knowledge and practical experience are poles apart.

Care and Respect might be a good place to start.


:goodpost:

Thank you bhante
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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby reflection » Fri Feb 08, 2013 11:45 pm

I'd say: Forget reading. Forget trying to get your head around it and judge a book by it's cover. As you said, you should just try it. Some people use it as their main technique, others use it as a tool now and then (me included), and some don't like it at all. You don't know how you'll react without trying.

My experiences:
1. You can have some control of focusing more on the breath or mantra.
2. If you put the breath in front, the mantra will fade away.
3. It is a bit of effort, but you need to find a balance between too much effort and too little effort. Where this balance is, can vary, so to have some different tools, is useful.
4. When the mantra stands in the way of deeper peace, the mind will drop it by itself.

I find it a useful tool when the mind is restless and hard to get on the breath. And useful when you are not really meditating, but for example eating. I note: "feeding the body" as a reminder it is not about the taste. I don't see it as an essential part of meditation though, and think you can do without. But don't throw it aside without trying.

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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby Digity » Sat Feb 09, 2013 6:15 am

It's just a tool...use it when it makes sense. Don't be hampered by it. Frankly, I'm not a big fan of noting...I've felt it takes me out of the direct experience. However, it has it role...especially when developing concentration and you get a distracting thought and you just note "thinking".

P.S. I agree. Less reading!
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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby Chiong » Sun Feb 10, 2013 10:15 am

I once also had a similar discussion with a monk. I asked him why is "noting" so important. His reply is similar to Bhante and i.e. the satipathana sutta did mentioned "Herein, monks, a monk when experiencing a pleasant feeling knows, "I experience a pleasant feeling" ". This is an example for the other 3 foundation of mindfulness.

I asked the monk if "noting" which is a function of the perception skandha necessary to "knowing" . He asked how ?

Can you "know" something without the interpretation of the perception skandha ? And therein lies the key - the answer !

An interesting follow on from the rendering on knowing there is this strange statement :

"Thus he lives contemplating feelings in feelings internally, or he lives contemplating feelings in feelings externally, or he lives contemplating feelings in feelings internally and externally."

This is repeated for the other 3 foundation of mindfulness.

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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby barcsimalsi » Mon Feb 11, 2013 12:53 pm

Noting is useful to my practice.
Each time i was noting, it counters the proliferation of thoughts with just knowing without responding thus helps reduce restlessness.
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:The Buddha did indeed teach the noting technique....

Noting is good. :thumbsup:

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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby Spiny Norman » Mon Feb 11, 2013 2:58 pm

Alobha wrote:4. It's often said that one should start off with the noting, but I never see an explanation when to end using it. Where is the breaking point between "noting is useful" and "let go of noting because it becomes a distraction" ? When does one know one should drop the tool? For how long should one use it?


I used noting mainly off the cushion as an support for mindfulness - but not all the time. I use a simple approach with single words like "thinking" or "ache".
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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby FatDaddy » Mon Feb 11, 2013 2:59 pm

Digity wrote:It's just a tool...use it when it makes sense. Don't be hampered by it. Frankly, I'm not a big fan of noting...I've felt it takes me out of the direct experience. However, it has it role...especially when developing concentration and you get a distracting thought and you just note "thinking".


I feel the same way, even though I have been listending to noting instructions for years. From my experience, phemomenon occurs so rapidly and with such nuanced variation that coming up with a word to label it with seems too abstract.

For those of you who practice noting , do you use a word to note each phenomenon even at deeper levels of conventration? What am I missing here?

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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby Alobha » Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:55 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:The Buddha did indeed teach the noting technique. For example, in the Pali text of the Satipatthana Sutta it says:

"Gacchanto vā, 'Gacchāmi't pajanāti. When walking, he knows, "I am walking." (or simply "When walking, he knows, 'Walking'.") Likewise, When a lustful mind is present, he know, "The mind is lustful." etc.


I believe it is only one interpretation of the Satipatthana Sutta that knowing means making mental notes. As I have stated above, there are several reasons as for why I have doubt about this interpretation (and of course, most points haven't been answered by anyone here so I stand uncorrected that there are problems with noting). But I'm clueless and still very inexperienced so I don't know for sure.

Chiong wrote:I asked the monk if "noting" which is a function of the perception skandha necessary to "knowing" . He asked how ?
Can you "know" something without the interpretation of the perception skandha ? And therein lies the key - the answer !

As far as i'm concerned, the noting technique is not just sanna-kkhandha (perception). By creating a mental note it rather belongs to the group of sankhara-kkhanda (mindformations). I already outlined my concerns relating to this and it is possible to learn without relying on mental notes. We learn non-verbally everyday. Motoric learning for example is done non-verbal. Training of perception faculties might for that reason also be rather non-verbal.
Verbal support makes sense where we try to establish a mechanical pattern, like a pattern of dancing steps (left forward backward left right), but when we are said not to force the mind into a pattern (breath in now! Breath out now!), but just to watch it.. well, with the noting technique, I regulary felt as if the notes were pushing the breath into breathing in or out. When "breathing in long" comes up in the mind as a note, one can slighty force the breath to go longer or breath in earlier than one would otherwise do without the influence of mental notes on the breath.

The concerns I see don't look like a trivial thing to me (hence for the importance often given to the Satipatthana Sutta), yet nobody adresses them in regard to the noting technique. I looked at the satipatthana sutta numerous times and depending on the translation and the reader, it could either be a direct instruction to use the noting technique or a direct instruction to not use it at all. Or something inbetween if one wants to see it like that.

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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby polarbuddha101 » Mon Feb 11, 2013 10:39 pm

If you don't want to use the noting technique then don't and if you want to give it a try then I'd say try it out for a month or so and if it bothers you then drop it. Sometimes when I'm going about every day sorts of things and I realize I am not being aware or mindful I will note what I am doing just to give me an initial push back into being non-verbally aware of what I am doing so maybe try something like that as well.

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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Feb 12, 2013 3:42 pm

Alobha wrote: I looked at the satipatthana sutta numerous times and depending on the translation and the reader, it could either be a direct instruction to use the noting technique or a direct instruction to not use it at all. .


I don't recall anything in the Satipatthana Sutta which could be taken as a direct instruction not to use noting - could you give an example?
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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby Chiong » Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:32 am

Alobha wrote:As far as i'm concerned, the noting technique is not just sanna-kkhandha (perception). By creating a mental note it rather belongs to the group of sankhara-kkhanda (mindformations). I already outlined my concerns relating to this and it is possible to learn without relying on mental notes. We learn non-verbally everyday. Motoric learning for example is done non-verbal. Training of perception faculties might for that reason also be rather non-verbal.
Verbal support makes sense where we try to establish a mechanical pattern, like a pattern of dancing steps (left forward backward left right), but when we are said not to force the mind into a pattern (breath in now! Breath out now!), but just to watch it.. well, with the noting technique, I regulary felt as if the notes were pushing the breath into breathing in or out. When "breathing in long" comes up in the mind as a note, one can slighty force the breath to go longer or breath in earlier than one would otherwise do without the influence of mental notes on the breath.
.............


I also did asked the monk "do you know first and then note or do you note then you know ? "

Mind formations is actually more complex and often resulted from multiple streams of thoughts and often also involve emotions.

A simple noting is just that a simple noting. It arose from conditioning....it is this conditioning we are actually trying to abandon.

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Re: Usefulness and dangers of "noting" techniques

Postby ricebowl » Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:44 pm

It has been a while since I last sat down and did some serious meditation, however as a rule of thumb I recall that it is helpful to have a quiet, simple environment without too many distractions (particularly of the sensous kind) and have one's eyes and senses relaxed adequately. I type from memory -- the occasional cough and "what's up" from a good-meaning guy next to you can affect whatever "noting" that you are practising -- still it matters where it matters most (and I'm referring to the distractions being a meditator's best enemy and friend).

Sound arising, sound falling..
Breath arising, breath falling..
Sound arising, sound falling..
Thought arising, thought falling..
Feeling arising, feeling falling..

And where there is a kettle boiling nearby (you really shouldn't be boiling water while doing meditation in another room), be mindful of your surroundings as well.

A gentle tinge of metta (i.e. loving kindness meditation) may help at times with most forms of meditation techniques..

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