On so-called "Heart Practice"

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rolling_boulder
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On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by rolling_boulder » Tue Dec 12, 2017 4:44 am

Hello Dhamma Wheel,

I wonder if you will discuss something with me - something that seems almost "politically incorrect" to criticize in Western Buddhism. It's so amorphous that it is hard for me to even pin down a quote that illustrates well the view that I am examining.

To attempt to sum it up, I have been encountering a lot of teachings from highly respected monks that, to me, seem to be opposed to, or divergent from, the original teachings of the Buddha, despite mass acceptance of them as true Dhamma.

I want to believe that these monks are teaching authentic Dhamma in some roundabout way, but it's so confusing; from my perspective, the senior Western monks can't seem to agree on the fundamental point of how to meditate. It fills me with doubt and sucks away my confidence that the Dhamma can even be practiced in the modern era.

These teachings seem to share a common characteristic: "acceptance of the way things are" as the primary element of Buddhist meditation. I'm sure there are far better examples, but here is a quote from a certain senior Thai forest monk:
...this mind doesn't give us a chance to allow an experience to come to us so that we can learn from it...
So we make the effort to develop the patience and determination to just be with these difficult states of mind.
...We recognize the impatience, we watch it, and eventually it falls away. We do the same with restlessness and all of the other hindrances. We sense these things when they're coming up, but we're just with them, rather than willfully repressing them. We breathe with them and accept them. We accept them again and again.
Teachings of this nature generally seem to evasively wiggle around the canonical descriptions of right effort and the Buddha's continual insistence that unwholesome mind-states are not to be tolerated, to be annihilated, wiped out of existence, etc. Instead, they insist that awareness and acceptance of these mind states is the right effort to be made. Another important characteristic is that they all seem to strongly downplay the wholesome side of right effort, that is, the effort to increase wholesome states of mind and actively bring them into existence.

As far as I see it:
On the one hand, you could argue that this technique seems to be an application of the perception of non-self to the unwholesome states of mind.
On the other hand, it seems to be a very heedless teaching with respect to the real danger of unwholesome states; that they are not to be "accepted" but removed as quickly as possible, because they are causing bad kamma and habituating the mind to further unwholesome states.

I wonder if anyone else has noticed that there seems to be a real discrepancy here.
But I am aware that this issue is very subtle. My knowledge is limited so I will put this question out to the public.

Where is this idea coming from? Why are they teaching this way? Is this interpretation of Right Effort reasonable? Does it have any scriptural authority? Or is it all just wrong view?

I am anxious to hear some alternative views on this.
RB
The world is swept away. It does not endure...
The world is without shelter, without protector...
The world is without ownership. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind...
The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving.

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retrofuturist
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Dec 12, 2017 4:58 am

Greetings,

I have seen similar teachings taught, and similarly have had concerns about whether such instruction constitutes Right Effort. As you seem to be aware of the Buddha's actual instruction, I suggest you use that as a guide to parse the suitability of other instructions you encounter along the way.

Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

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

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

JohnK
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by JohnK » Tue Dec 12, 2017 5:26 am

rolling:
You may already know this: Thanissaro Bhikkhu shares your concerns to say the least.
Sure would be nice if this thread could stay fairly sane.
I do especially like you raising the question of where the more "just watch it" teachings came from. People learn from teachers, and surely this did not just arise "out of the blue," but I'm not enough of a historian of approaches to share much.

I do think that "just watch it" is intended to be a tool of purification -- for example, if you watch something unwholesome arise, the watching replaces identifying with the unwholesome; also coming to know the dukkha in the unwholesome; do/know this enough times and the unwholesome doesn't arise anymore; deeper satisfactions are followed. This is my sense of the logic anyway. And, I think the "just watch it" is intended to be one (perhaps preferred) tool -- sometimes more aggressive tools are suggested.
Then there's the other side of the coin which will probably be expressed soon.
"...the practice is essentially a practice, and not a theory to be idly discussed...right view leaves unanswered many questions about the cosmos and the self, and directs your attention to what needs to be done to escape from the ravages of suffering." Thanissaro Bhikkhu, On The Path.

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Mkoll
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by Mkoll » Tue Dec 12, 2017 5:49 am

It would be helpful if you could name the teachers you are saying promote this practice. This way, we can look at their teachings as a whole and place what you're quoting in the proper context. For all I know, the snippet you've quoted may be taken out of context and they do teach right effort along with the basic mindfulness of the hindrances practice that quote seems to point to. I'm not accusing you of this, but I'd like to see more of the picture before considering passing judgment.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

Ruud
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by Ruud » Tue Dec 12, 2017 6:22 am

I think that this ‘just watch it’ teaching, like JohnK also says, is a tool. But I also think that something important for understanding this technique has to do with realizing that ‘just watching’ is not the end-goal, but a step (possibly even the first step) on the path to understand important aspects of the Dhamma. One can look at wholesome thoughts, feelings etc. and see them rise and fall away, see their characteristics. But that is only half of the type of experiences that we can have. You must first observe before you can learn from it. So observing (not indulging in or hating) fear, anger, lust etc. can be very instructive and even give a direct experience why right effort is so important. I feel the problem mostly arises when the end-goal of why one is practicing is forgotten or changed and thereby gets turned away from the goal of the Dhamma. So only with right view are the other path factors properly supported.
Dry up what pertains to the past,
do not take up anything to come later.
If you will not grasp in the middle,
you will live at peace.
—Snp.5.11,v.1099 (tr. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Whatever is will be was. —Ven. Ñānamoli, A Thinkers Notebook, §221

SarathW
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by SarathW » Tue Dec 12, 2017 8:49 am

This way, we can look at their teachings as a whole and place what you're quoting in the proper context.
I think this is the proper approach to evaluate a teacher.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Sam Vara
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Dec 12, 2017 12:54 pm

rolling_boulder wrote:
Tue Dec 12, 2017 4:44 am

These teachings seem to share a common characteristic: "acceptance of the way things are" as the primary element of Buddhist meditation. I'm sure there are far better examples, but here is a quote from a certain senior Thai forest monk:
...this mind doesn't give us a chance to allow an experience to come to us so that we can learn from it...
So we make the effort to develop the patience and determination to just be with these difficult states of mind.
...We recognize the impatience, we watch it, and eventually it falls away. We do the same with restlessness and all of the other hindrances. We sense these things when they're coming up, but we're just with them, rather than willfully repressing them. We breathe with them and accept them. We accept them again and again.
Yes, I know exactly what you mean. The group I sometimes meditate with have such a wholehearted acceptance of this that they are a bit shocked when I refer to alternative approaches to meditation. In particular, they see Right Effort as the attempt to merely "stay with things as they are". The canonical support for this approach is normally given as the Satipatthana Sutta, as in
And how, monastics, does a monastic meditate by observing an aspect of the mind?

Here, a monastic clearly knows mind with lust as ‘mind with lust’. (1)

They clearly know mind without lust as ‘mind without lust’. (2)

They clearly know mind with anger as ‘mind with anger’. (3)

They clearly know mind without anger as ‘mind without anger’. (4)

They clearly know mind with delusion as ‘mind with delusion’. (5)

They clearly know mind without delusion as ‘mind without delusion’. (6)

They clearly know the contracted mind as ‘contracted mind’. (7)

They clearly know the scattered mind as ‘scattered mind’.

etc., etc.
https://suttacentral.net/en/mn10

This is something of a running issue, and there have been threads about this before. As JohnK says above, Ajahn Thanissaro and his followers have commented on it at some length. [Edit: This is, though, the first time I have heard it called "Heart Practice". Is this common?]

Having associated with the Thai Forest Tradition for a long time now, I have the greatest respect for those teachers, and have personally listened to their dhamma talks and guided meditation instructions - including the Ajahn who you quote. They are among the best human beings I have ever known. But, reading for myself what the Buddha said, I respectfully part company with them on this issue. I think this particular teaching is excellent in that it counters a very common Western tendency to approach meditation with a rigid "go get" attitude which can foster appetitiveness and undermine itself. But I have to make my own decisions as to what works for me now. At a later stage in my practice, it might be that I realise that I should have stuck with what they say; that the whole of the useful teaching is contained in this attitude to practice, and I just didn't understand it. Right now, though, I am where I am, and that means (for me) a wider view which includes more emphasis on Right Effort.

chownah
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by chownah » Tue Dec 12, 2017 2:14 pm

Isn't there a sutta about different ways to deal with "bad" thoughts? It gives four or five strategies with the first being the most preferable and the last (grit your teeth and force it out of you mind) the least preferable?....anyone know which one it is?
chownah

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ryanM
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by ryanM » Tue Dec 12, 2017 2:27 pm

chownah wrote:
Tue Dec 12, 2017 2:14 pm
[...]
MN 20 is it, I think.
sabbe dhammā nālaṃ abhinivesāya

"nothing whatsoever should be clung to"

JohnK
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by JohnK » Tue Dec 12, 2017 2:56 pm

Some related threads in case interested.
viewtopic.php?f=13&t=6590#p104646
viewtopic.php?f=13&t=25887&start=20
Many others I'm sure.
I think "heart practice" is meant to suggest opening the heart/mind to whatever is present in experience vs. the habit, for example, of distracting oneself immediately from experiencing dukkha by engaging in some fantasy about chasing some sense pleasure; unwholesome states needing to be allowed into awareness before they can be known. I think it may also point to getting out of identifying completely with ones thoughts/ideas/papanca; and opening up to know more of available experience.
"...the practice is essentially a practice, and not a theory to be idly discussed...right view leaves unanswered many questions about the cosmos and the self, and directs your attention to what needs to be done to escape from the ravages of suffering." Thanissaro Bhikkhu, On The Path.

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Mr Man
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by Mr Man » Tue Dec 12, 2017 5:29 pm

Hi rolling_boulder
Sounds like the teaching of Ajahn Chah or one of his disciples.

This is from a Q & A session with Ajahn Chah
http://www.buddhanet.net/bodhiny2.htm
Q: I still have many thoughts, and my mind wanders a lot, even though I'm trying to be mindful.

A: Don't worry about this. Just try to keep your mind in the present. Whatever arises in the mind, just watch it and let go of it. Don't even wish to be rid of thoughts. Then the mind will return to its natural state. No discriminating between good and bad, hot and cold, fast and slow. No me and no you, no self at all-just what there is. When you walk there is no need to do anything special. Simply walk and see what is there. No need to cling to isolation or seclusion. Wherever you are, know yourself by being natural and watching. If doubts arise, watch them come and go. It's very simple. Hold on to nothing.

It's as though you are walking down a road. Periodically you will run into obstacles. When you meet defilements, just see them and overcome them by letting them go. Don't think about the obstacles you've already passed; don't worry about those you have not yet seen. Stick to the present. Don't be concerned about the length of the road or the destination. Everything is changing. Whatever you pass, don't cling to it. Eventually the mind will reach its natural balance where practice is automatic. All things will come and go of themselves.

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Sam Vara
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Dec 12, 2017 5:41 pm

Mr Man wrote:
Tue Dec 12, 2017 5:29 pm
Hi rolling_boulder
Sounds like the teaching of Ajahn Chah or one of his disciples.
Yes, it's Ajahn Viradhammo, I believe.

JohnK
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by JohnK » Tue Dec 12, 2017 6:47 pm

This thread has me thinking.
First, rolling_boulder, your original post is very heartfelt (no pun intended) and appreciated.
I have recently become familiar with the some of the teachings of Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and it has raised similar concerns for me, however it has not come to head (yet?). For now, when I read his work and the teaching of Ajahn Chah (for example), they both seem like true Dhamma to me, and I take much inspiration from them both (maybe I'm just not reading critically enough!). I hope this thread becomes useful to you and you check back in.
Oh yeah -- I assume you have a teacher (seems like in another thread you said something about a monastery -- but maybe that was in the past) -- in any case, if you are in contact with a steady teacher, this seems like a subject to bring up (even if it is a bit challenging) -- doubt being the big deal hindrance.

Second, just an additional thought. It seems that "just watch it" is directed (explicitly or implicitly) to the weak link in the chain of DO. With enough established calmness of mind, watch contact and feeling and see/feel/know any subsequent grasping, clinging, becoming. Over time, this leads toward knowing suffering and its causes, leading toward disenchantment, etc. Sounds like true Dhamma to me. I seem to recall that Ajahn Buddadhasa's book on DO emphasizes this same weak link. This also seems consistent with Thanissaro's writing on DO where he suggests that the complexity of the DO system allows breaking the chain at numerous places, including the one just described.
(I'm just the type that likes trying to find underlying agreement where there is apparent disagreement.)
"...the practice is essentially a practice, and not a theory to be idly discussed...right view leaves unanswered many questions about the cosmos and the self, and directs your attention to what needs to be done to escape from the ravages of suffering." Thanissaro Bhikkhu, On The Path.

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bodom
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by bodom » Tue Dec 12, 2017 6:55 pm

Sometimes just watching a hindrance is enough to overcome it. When your watching anger mindfully you are no longer fueling it with stories that will make it grow. This approach is pure satipatthana, right mindfulness. Other times just watching is not enough and you need to employ more active measures to overcome it. This is where right effort comes in. Right Mindfulness is the more passive of the two. Right Effort the more active. It really depends on the situation which is most appropriate. I see no contradiction between the two approaches.

:namaste:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With no struggling, no thinking,
the mind, still,
will see cause and effect
vanishing in the Void.
Attached to nothing, letting go:
Know that this is the way
to allay all stress.

- Upasika Kee Nanayan

Caodemarte
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Re: On so-called "Heart Practice"

Post by Caodemarte » Tue Dec 12, 2017 10:32 pm

bodom wrote:
Tue Dec 12, 2017 6:55 pm
Sometimes just watching a hindrance is enough to overcome it. When your watching anger mindfully you are no longer fueling it with stories that will make it grow. This approach is pure satipatthana, right mindfulness. Other times just watching is not enough and you need to employ more active measures to overcome it. This is where right effort comes in. Right Mindfulness is the more passive of the two. Right Effort the more active. It really depends on the situation which is most appropriate. I see no contradiction between the two approaches.

:namaste:
Good posting!

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