Digger's top 10 meditation observations

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Digger's top 10 meditation observations

Post by Digger » Sun Oct 31, 2010 12:19 pm

Can you please let me know if you agree or disagree with following. Your comments (and any additions to the list) are greatly appreciated:

1 - Regarding teaching / explaining meditation and jhanas, it is difficult to put into words abstract concepts (especially things that there are no "good" English words for or that are topics new and "foreign" to westerners) and things that occur in one's mind (a similar difficulty is trying to teach someone how to play harmonica because the student can't see what is going on in the teachers mouth while the teacher is playing).

2 - Meditation is one tool to take you "higher up the ladder" but it in of itself is not the end goal and it is not the only tool in the tool box.

3 - Someone can be a skilled meditator and still not be "enlightened".

4 - Someone can be a weak meditator and still be "enlightened".

5 - Someones preconceptions of what should happen and prior experiences may steer their meditation results (if you tell a meditation class that the mystical 49th jhana involves seeing a baked potato, someone will claim to see it, if someone claims they clearly saw that one of their past lives was a civil war soldier it may be because they saw a tv show about the civil war a few years ago and "jumped" to thinking this was a past life of theirs).

6 - Just because someone is Indian or Oriental, wears a robe and shaves their head doesn't necessarily equate to being a good meditation teacher.

7 - Just because someone is from the US or Europe, doesn't shave their head and doesn't wear a robe doesn't mean they are not a good meditation teacher.

8 - Concentration meditation is stilling the mind (getting it to stay in one place and shut up).

9 - Insight meditation is being able to focus on something and like those 3D posters popular in the '90's ( http://www.magiceye.com" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; ) the thing you are meditating on will eventually "pop" into clarity, truth, reality.

10 - There are stages of meditation that are "higher" but these are not necessary to become "enlightened" (i.e. one can get fairly high up the ladder without them but maybe not fully to the top).
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Re: Digger's top 10 meditation observations

Post by jcprice » Sun Oct 31, 2010 3:28 pm

Hi Digger,

Your list stimulated some thoughts, so I thought I'd share:

1. Largely agree with your point about the difficulty of explaining the meditation experience to non-meditators. It's hard to give directions for someone when they don't have the vocabulary to understand the landmarks, especially when there are subtleties that really matter. Or, it's hard to describe colour to a blind person.

2. Largely agree that meditation is a tool for progress, not the goal itself. The Eightfold Path is the whole toolbox to take you higher up the path. Meditation is only one of the factors.

3. Largely agree that someone can be a skilled meditator and not enlightened. All 8 factors are important, although it would seem that it's difficult to become a good meditator without strong foundations in the other 7 factors.

4. Disagree that someone can be a weak meditator and still be enlightened, depending on your definition of weak meditator. Clearly, if the Eightfold Path means anything, some material skill is required in meditation to become enlightened. However, I've not seen anything that indicates full mastery of the Jhanas is required.

5. Agree that preconceptions can steer the meditation experience can steer the experience. However, most people will have some kind of preconceptions about what meditation involves. Different teachers seem to have different approaches to managing this issue. It would appear that some teachers think that by setting the right kind of preconceptions can aid meditation experience; others attempt to err towards no preconceptions. The latter would appear to me to be more common.

6. There are definitely monks and "monks" that can't meditate or teach meditation.

7. I would guess that non-monks can be good meditation teachers. I haven't met any personally, I've certainly read books by some. Here, issues of how far along the meditation path you want to go might come into the discussion, but I don't know enough to address this point any further.

8. Explaining concentration meditation is tricky. This is the meditation that I practice the most (as taught by Ajahn Brahm and related teachers). How it's best explained depends on the target audience. For people who don't know much about meditation at all, the word "concentration" is a trap - a concentrated mind is the result, not the practice. The practice is progressively letting go until all that is left is a concentrated mind. Even that's clunky. See point 1.

9. Insight meditation, and the various schools of thought on it, are not an area of direct experience for me. For me, your 3d image simile seems a fair representation of Insight meditation traditions as I understand them. For me, as a Concentration Meditation practitioner, insight practice is something that happens when a concentrated mind is brought to bear on an appropriate object.

10. As in point 4, it is my current understanding that, in line withe the Eightfold Path, a certain level of competence in meditation is required for progress on the path, this doesn't necessarily mean full mastery of the Jhanas.

11. All of the above are views. All views are more or less skillful than the ones that they might replace. More skillful views lead to letting go and progress on the path. But they're all just views to be lightly held until they're traded in for something more useful. :)

With metta,


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Re: Digger's top 10 meditation observations

Post by Individual » Sun Oct 31, 2010 4:20 pm

Digger wrote: 3 - Someone can be a skilled meditator and still not be "enlightened".

4 - Someone can be a weak meditator and still be "enlightened".
Depends on your definition of meditation.

In the sense of sitting down and being concentrated, the kind of thing that leads to intelligence and supranormal powers, it's true. But in the sense of mindfulness of the factors of enlightenment, I would disagree. :)
Digger wrote: 8 - Concentration meditation is stilling the mind (getting it to stay in one place and shut up).
Again, this comes down to your definition. For most purposes, this is true. But that's not really "Right Concentration" in the fullest sense.

Right Concentration is stilling the mind when it's agitated by mobility (such as from strong emotion, like anxiety), but also mobilizing the mind when it is agitated by stillness (such as from sloth & torpor or ignorance, or craving for stillness, aversion to mobility).
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Re: Digger's top 10 meditation observations

Post by rowyourboat » Sun Oct 31, 2010 5:06 pm

IMO it is not possible to be a weak meditator and become enlightened within a theravada explanation of what enlightenment is.

Insight meditation is where one realises impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, non-self, to put it simply. The arising of anything else is not insight practice, it is something else.

Well-done for putting your thoughts out there for others to comment on. Not something everyone can do.

with metta

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& Upekkha

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