The Buddha is constantly seen in the suttas encouraging his disciples to develop jhana. The four jhanas are invariably included in the complete course of training laid down for disciples. They figure in the training as the discipline of higher consciousness (adhicittasikkha), right concentration (sammasamadhi) of the Noble Eightfold Path, and the faculty and power of concentration (samadhindriya, samadhibala). Though a vehicle of dry insight can be found, indications are that this path is not an easy one, lacking the aid of the powerful serenity available to the practitioner of jhana. The way of the jhana attainer seems by comparison smoother and more pleasurable (A.ii,150-52). The Buddha even refers to the four jhanas figuratively as a kind of Nibbana: he calls them immediately visible Nibbana, factorial Nibbana, Nibbana here and now (A.iv,453-54).
- 'The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation' by Henepola Gunaratana
I’d like to explore the differences between “dry insight” and “tranquil insight” a little more if anyone would care to indulge me. Principally, claims that I’ve come across, by some “dry” vipassana practitioners, of difficulty experienced in terms of particularly, and maybe even characteristically, unpleasant stages of insight, even of negative effects to disposition? Is this necessarily inherent in dry insight practice? Or is it perhaps due to misapplication or misunderstanding of practice methods in some way? I’m sure you all have more experience and knowledge of these matters than I do, so I’d greatly value your input and insight, as it's a topic that I'm quite curious about and interested in.
Tiltbillings, I am right in thinking that you practice what could be referred to as “dry insight” vipassana? Earlier in this thread you mentioned that you have no interest in jhana, does that mean you don’t practice it? Or am I mistaken in that assumption? You also referred to Anapanasati practice as ‘conceptually busy’? I shared this view when it came to the Brahmaviharas, hence my initial reluctance to actually 'give it a go'. What I’ve come to find is that the instructions of anapanasati and even the brahamaviharas (specifically, in my case as practiced through Ven Vimalaramsi’s “style”), although requiring a bit of a learning curve in terms of understanding and integrating the methods into practice, after a while, as you rightly pointed out, the conceptual framework drops away and it becomes natural.
What is interesting is watching the occasional expressions of struggle we see here with a conceptual practice such as noting, which is a lot simpler than using the phrases of MN 118. If one takes MN 118 as having to be practiced by actually using the set phrases of the sutta, it is a more complicated practice, which certainly would involve a significant conceptual learning curve. And initially, and traditionally, such a practice of using MN 118 would, of course, require learning the sutta by heart. As one uses such a practice, becomes proficient with it, the conceptual framework begins to drop away, as happens with the noting practice.
Also, this idea of “conceptual busyness” is interesting in that perhaps Ven Vimalaramsi’s 'style' is found to be so particularly and swifty effective by quite so many who practice it (from what I can see), exactly because of its simplicity and accessibility; because of its easy to understand “distillation” of the long and well established practice instructions. In that it’s nothing new or revolutionary in terms of practice methods, rather the way the practice methods are delivered in terms of accessible and easily applicable instructions for western lay practitioners. The 6 R’s for example. It’s easy to remember and digest, and as Ven Vimalaramsi has pointed out is not a set of separate, individual “steps” rather, one “rolls their R’s” in what becomes a natural flow. Coupled with his intriguing angle on physical manifestation of craving and the meninges. I also admire his emphasis on the importance of understanding and seeing dependent origination in action. Although, I do believe the criticisms that he mixes in with his teachings is maybe doing the rest of his good work a disservice.
But, it is very much a case of whatever style of practice works best for the individual, obviously. As correctly pointed out before in this thread.
I suffer from a longstanding, reoccurring chronic illness which I have (amazingly) been able to 'manage' in terms of suffering and pain, through applying tranquil insight. Without the metta/loving kindness/tranquil aspect and intentional relaxing step I doubt I would have been successful in this due to habitual resistance and clinging/tension/contraction in response to the pain I usually experienced. Now when I have a "flair-up" I sit in tranquil loving kindness meditation. The first time I applied this type of meditation (I've tried applying what I'd call "dry" insight--in terms of not especially or intentionally integrating warmth, loving kindness, compassion into the actual meditation nor the relaxing step--to the illness when it's flared up times before, to no success. please forgive me if my description is unfair and inaccurate. Maybe the label 'dry insight' is totally off the mark here) to the symptoms successfully through patience, warmth, acceptance and all those wholesome qualities, as well as mindfulness and concentration, in short, the factors of liberation, coupled with the relaxing step/aspect the suffering of the pain dropped away and I experienced this 'pain' in a whole new and unexpected way; there was just different intensities, vibrations, pulsations, waves, textures, etc. of sensation, some jarring and sharp, some subtle and soft, flowing, pulsating etc. I'd see all these different "relationships" of sensations; see how a sensation arising in one area would set off a reactionary sensation in my head which would usually be met with anger or frustration or irritation, for example. It was not only like I was seeing it with new eyes, but that I'd released some sort of 'resistance' allowing this 'flow' to manifest in all it's varied and complex glory. At times it was even indescribably blissful and eventually I came to high equanimity in amongst this field of sensations / 'pain', actually, 'in amongst' and 'field' doesn't do it justice, it was just, simply thusness
, as "self" faded. Formally it had just seemed like a kind of indistinct or out-of-focus (hard to put it into words) but very real and strong agonizing pain which caused a lot of restlessness and irritation and suffering. It's difficult to convey my desire to share this with others who suffer from this illness for which there is no known cure (the medical world know very little about it's causes etc) because I have read that many suffer from depression because of it and even contemplate suicide.
Another reason I'm particularly interested in the most effective and simple way to apply practice instructions for lay practitioners who may have limited understanding of, or time to commit to, Buddhist studies, is because I work in health care and rehabilitation, and am training to become an Occupational Therapist. OT incidentally, employs a similar "philosophy" to Buddhism, in terms of a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. Treating the whole person, including mental, physical, environmental, occupational (activity), and interpersonal interactions, seeing them as interdependent aspects of the whole.
“We cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended on it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away.” ~ Chuang Tzu