Page 1 of 4

Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Mon Jun 03, 2019 7:03 pm
by lostitude
Hello,

I know I'm out of my depth asking this sort of question, given my current level of practice, but it really bothers me so I'd appreciate your thoughts on this.
I wonder why experienced meditators, even after having experienced firsthand the absence of self and "understood" it, still have to carry on meditating for years and years.
I was under the impression that once you have understood something, that thing is understood, end of story, you don't need to go over it again and again for years on end.
The contrary makes me wonder if such a practice isn't more akin to convincing yourself that not-self is the truth, rather than simply observing this as a fact of life.

Thanks.

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Mon Jun 03, 2019 7:13 pm
by budo
Even if you're fully enlightened, meditation offers pleasant abiding.

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Mon Jun 03, 2019 7:41 pm
by Sam Vara
That's a good question.

It would help to know if you had in mind any particular "experienced meditators"; do you mean the Buddha's contemporaries spoken of in the suttas, or modern commentators and teachers?

It might be that these people claiming to have experienced something and to have understood it are merely "scratching the surface" of what there is to be experienced and understood. They make their initial declaration, only to find out that there are greater depths which need exploring. This is I think a real pitfall due to the fact that we are typically measuring experiences against textual accounts, and both are fraught with difficulties. The experiences are subjective and often fleeting, and we have no way of validating them, even to ourselves, and a very sketchy vocabulary for talking about them. And the textual accounts are from an ancient and (for most of us) alien culture which is difficult to understand. The absence of self is just one of the things which people can "see" or "experience", only to revise later as their experiences change.

Another aspect of this is the fact that, although you claim that "understanding" is once and for all, it doesn't always work like this. For factual, propositional understanding (such as how a theorem works, or how irregular verbs conjugate, or a diesel engine works) it often is the case that understanding once is enough. But my guess is that this is because once you have understood the propositions or components and verbalised it, you can mentally rehearse that understanding and keep it fresh. But with other types of non-verbal insight, it doesn't always work like that. Many of us are familiar with suddenly "understanding" a particular person or culture; the insight comes in a flash, and then disappears. We are left "knowing that we knew", and often trying to verbally represent that insight to ourselves so as to preserve it. But it is not (yet?) fully under our control, and eludes us.

This is a difficult thing to convey in an on-line situation like here on DW. People prefer propositions and logic, because then they can argue and prove people wrong. ("You think no-self is that, but you're wrong, because the Buddha said it's this"; "You're using a discredited definition of samadhi"; etc.) But this might be why people do have genuine and valuable insights, and then continue to meditate. They glimpse peace, and categorise it, but it turns out that there is something more peaceful. Or they glimpse peace, and are amazed by it, but then find that their mind is not always peaceful thereafter.

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 12:36 am
by DooDoot
lostitude wrote:
Mon Jun 03, 2019 7:03 pm
I wonder why experienced meditators, even after having experienced firsthand the absence of self and "understood" it, still have to carry on meditating for years and years.

Experienced meditators having experienced firsthand the absence of self and "understood" it do not have to carry on meditating for years and years. For example, considering the amount of scholarly work Bhikkhu Sujato has done in recent years, I appears unlikely he meditates very much (compared to his former practise when he lived in caves, etc). Yet the high degree & efficiency of his work gives the impression Bhikkhu Sujato has maintained lots of concentration. Or an attained meditator may, for some reason, be forced to carry on worldly duties (for example, must work to provide for aging parents or family). Such a meditator will not lose most of their meditative power. Or a senior monk with responsibilities in a large monastery may spend much time not meditating. Yet their mindfulness & liberation will not be lost.

However, for those who live the ordinary solitary unburdened monastic life, they meditate because this is the natural abiding of the mind. In other words, their mind has no choice but to dwell in meditation.

In summary, meditation is not an act of "doing". It is an act of "non-doing" or "abandonment". Therefore, the less the mind does, the more it meditates.

:smile:

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 12:48 am
by cappuccino
lostitude wrote:I was under the impression that once you have understood something, that thing is understood, end of the story, you don't need to go over it again and again for years on end.
like melting a glacier…

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 1:03 am
by JamesTheGiant
lostitude wrote:
Mon Jun 03, 2019 7:03 pm

I wonder why experienced meditators, even after having experienced firsthand the absence of self and "understood" it, still have to carry on meditating for years and years.
I was under the impression that once you have understood something, that thing is understood, end of story, you don't need to go over it again and again for years on end.
There's a good story which explains it:

We are all drowning in a deep ocean...
The sotapanna, someone who has experienced the truth of no self (etc), is someone who has struggled up to the surface of the water and managed to look up and see an island on the horizon, for just a brief minute.

The once-returner is someone who is swimming towards the shore with his eyes fixed on the island.

The non-returner is wading through the surf, the sand beneath his feet and the water up to his middle.

The arahat is sitting on the beach.
The end.

That's what I remember of the story anyway. I think it might be in some old teaching somewhere maybe even the Buddha taught it, I'm not sure.

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 1:35 am
by SarathW
When you understand Dhamma, you are more inclined towards seclusion.
That is meditation.

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 2:03 am
by SDC
lostitude wrote:
Mon Jun 03, 2019 7:03 pm
I wonder why experienced meditators, even after having experienced firsthand the absence of self and "understood" it, still have to carry on meditating for years and years.
Makes you wonder if their extensive experience is anything other than meditating in circles around themselves for years and years. :|

There should be very clear distinctions drawn between a highly developed monastic who routinely abides in peaceful states, and a practitioner [lay or monastic] who has been following a particular technique for a number of years. Time on the cushion does not imply wisdom. Unfortunately, in most Buddhist circles, there is no such distinction. No matter what you are doing on the cushion, as long as you have been doing it for a long time, people think you're experienced.

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 3:00 am
by pegembara
lostitude wrote:
Mon Jun 03, 2019 7:03 pm
Hello,

I know I'm out of my depth asking this sort of question, given my current level of practice, but it really bothers me so I'd appreciate your thoughts on this.
I wonder why experienced meditators, even after having experienced firsthand the absence of self and "understood" it, still have to carry on meditating for years and years.
I was under the impression that once you have understood something, that thing is understood, end of story, you don't need to go over it again and again for years on end.
The contrary makes me wonder if such a practice isn't more akin to convincing yourself that not-self is the truth, rather than simply observing this as a fact of life.

Thanks.
Understanding and experiencing is not the end of the story. The defilements keep dragging one back to samsara. Only an arahant has completed the task.
'Friend, concerning these five clinging-aggregates described by the Blessed One — i.e., form as a clinging-aggregate... feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness as a clinging-aggregate: With regard to these five clinging-aggregates, there is nothing I assume to be self or belonging to self, and yet I am not an arahant. With regard to these five clinging-aggregates, "I am" has not been overcome, although I don't assume that "I am this."'

"Friends, even though a noble disciple has abandoned the five lower fetters, he still has with regard to the five clinging-aggregates a lingering residual 'I am' conceit, an 'I am' desire, an 'I am' obsession. But at a later time he keeps focusing on the phenomena of arising & passing away with regard to the five clinging-aggregates: 'Such is form, such its origin, such its disappearance. Such is feeling... Such is perception... Such are fabrications... Such is consciousness, such its origin, such its disappearance.' As he keeps focusing on the arising & passing away of these five clinging-aggregates, the lingering residual 'I am' conceit, 'I am' desire, 'I am' obsession is fully obliterated.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... .than.html

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 3:21 am
by chownah
A real life analogy:
Long ago.......I knew how beneficial swimming was as an exercise and actually enjoyed it very much and there were very affordable places to swim which were easily accessible....but....I didn't do it because I imgagined (fabricated) a negative association with swimming. I knew and was fully convinced of its benefits and yet I imagined a drawback.

Same can be said for drug addiction, nail biting, over eating, the list is endless.
chownah

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 3:24 am
by Alīno
DooDoot wrote:
Tue Jun 04, 2019 12:36 am
In summary, meditation is not an act of "doing". It is an act of "non-doing" or "abandonment". Therefore, the less the mind does, the more it meditates.
I think this is a point :)
JamesTheGiant wrote:
Tue Jun 04, 2019 1:03 am
We are all drowning in a deep ocean...
The sotapanna, someone who has experienced the truth of no self (etc), is someone who has struggled up to the surface of the water and managed to look up and see an island on the horizon, for just a brief minute.

The once-returner is someone who is swimming towards the shore with his eyes fixed on the island.

The non-returner is wading through the surf, the sand beneath his feet and the water up to his middle.

The arahat is sitting on the beach.
The end.
:goodpost: :anjali:

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 5:00 am
by Srilankaputra
I think there is a difference between intellectually understanding and achieving one of the superhuman states with no falling away. Most of the dedicated practitioners fall under two categories. Either they accept the teaching with a modicum of faith or investigating the teaching with a modicum of understanding they are convinced of it's truth. What they are most afraid of is falling away without achieving their hearts desire. So they would practice until their last breath.

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 5:05 am
by Dan74-MkII
I think it is a good question and to riff on James's metaphor, even once on the beach, one can be carried out to see again by the strong samsaric currents, if not careful. To reach the shore is not to fully establish oneself on land.

Realisation is something to be maintained but more importantly, incorporated into every aspect of life and functioning. One may mistake the belief in the existence of the island for actually seeing it, and seeing it for actually reaching it. And even reaching it, at least according to other traditions, is no guarantee of staying there. Establishing in realisation is life's work.

There are many pitfalls in practice, that's why a wise guide is important.

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 6:54 am
by sentinel
lostitude wrote:
Mon Jun 03, 2019 7:03 pm
Hello,


I wonder why experienced meditators, even after having experienced firsthand the absence of self and "understood" it, still have to carry on meditating for years and years.
I was under the impression that once you have understood something, that thing is understood, end of story, you don't need to go over it again and again for years on end.


Thanks.
Hello lost ,

The Buddha teaching is quite systematic according to my understanding or what text always elucidate where it is a gradual training .
There is an alternative way of looking at this with regard to your question .
One possibility is one realized the not self , yet ,
that is one out two to go . Meaning realising not self (ie abandoning ignorance) does not mean the defilement of greed and hatred already been eradicated . There were 3 type of impurities to be abandoned i.e. ignorance greed and hatred .
That is why continuous training is needed .

Regards

Re: Understanding the truth of the dhamma? or convincing oneself of it?

Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 7:28 am
by sunnat
Instead of looking at it as going over it again and again look at it as working through a many layered heap where as you recognise a layer as not being self it is discarded and as long as you keep the silas and don't create new layers you move on to the next, layer after layer. This can and usually does take a long time. So what seems like a repetition is a progressive discard. The time taken is related to the degree of equanimity one has developed. There is no value in craving an experience whose time has not come. It will come, after all the rest. Not because it has been intellectually understood.