How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

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manas
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How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by manas » Tue Nov 28, 2017 9:10 pm

Suppose one is sitting in meditation, and a revolting image or thought appears, as if 'out of nowhere'. Although one did not intend it, I presume it is still classed under sankhara-khandha, due to this explanation by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi:
A second major domain where the word sankharas applies is among the five aggregates. The fourth aggregate is the sankhara-khandha, the aggregate of volitional formations. The texts define the sankhara-khandha as the six classes of volition (cha cetanakaya): volition regarding forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects, and ideas. Though these sankharas correspond closely to those in the formula of dependent origination, the two are not in all respects the same, for the sankhara-khandha has a wider range. The aggregate of volitional formations comprises all kinds of volition. It includes not merely those that are kammically potent, but also those that are kammic results and those that are kammically inoperative. https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/aut ... ay_43.html
I take it from the line I've bolded near the end, that a revolting image that just comes up unbidden during meditation, while one is actually INTENDING to practice properly and focus on the breath, is still a 'volitional formation' despite the fact that, in the present moment, one neither intended it, nor likes it at all.

I would welcome clarification of any kind. Are images or thoughts like this, results of past kamma? Why would they arise, when our current state of mind is predominantly wholesome (ie, trying to meditate)?

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retrofuturist
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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Nov 28, 2017 9:34 pm

Greetings manas,

As a fabrication... as nama-rupa....

No different in that regard from any other sankhata-dhamma.

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)

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Sam Vara
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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Nov 28, 2017 11:13 pm

I think sankhara-khanda are treated differently by different commentators. Some seem to stress the volitional aspect, such that anything experienced involves the exercise of the will at some level. Others emphasise their conditioned or put-together nature; they have no aseity or self-existence.

I don't know for sure where they come from; the mind certainly works like that a lot of the time (i.e. supposedly "random" thoughts and images just popping up) and it is certainly not inconsistent, self-contradictory or irrational to consider them as the fruits of old kamma. It's not surprising for me that they do come up during meditation, because my state of mind is not exclusively wholesome at that time, and calmness and mental focus upon a meditation object can be broken quite easily. In this respect, intrusive thoughts or images are not all that different from the neighbour's barking dog, or my generalised restlessness at times.

In brief, how to regard them? My advice would be to regard them as not the meditation object, and leave it at that.
Last edited by Sam Vara on Tue Nov 28, 2017 11:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

paul
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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by paul » Tue Nov 28, 2017 11:21 pm

From the point of view of dynamics of training, such thoughts are simply an indication that a percentage of the mind remains untamed and it is letting you know that it can do what it wants. It means that right effort is a work in progress. Such thoughts will in fact increase in intensity the closer the practitioner gets to stilling them. The analogy of taming a wild animal is used in the suttas, for example SN 35:206.

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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by Saengnapha » Wed Nov 29, 2017 2:13 am

paul wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 11:21 pm
From the point of view of dynamics of training, such thoughts are simply an indication that a percentage of the mind remains untamed and it is letting you know that it can do what it wants. It means that right effort is a work in progress. Such thoughts will in fact increase in intensity the closer the practitioner gets to stilling them. The analogy of taming a wild animal is used in the suttas, for example SN 35:206.
:goodpost:

For me the operative phrase in this sutta is 'he remains without body-mindfulness established'. Establishing mindfulness seems to be the point and is relevant to the OP's question and difficulty.

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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by Garrib » Wed Nov 29, 2017 3:13 am

paul wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 11:21 pm
From the point of view of dynamics of training, such thoughts are simply an indication that a percentage of the mind remains untamed and it is letting you know that it can do what it wants. It means that right effort is a work in progress. Such thoughts will in fact increase in intensity the closer the practitioner gets to stilling them. The analogy of taming a wild animal is used in the suttas, for example SN 35:206.
You said it.

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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by alfa » Wed Nov 29, 2017 5:25 am

I just read SN 35:206.

What does 'mindfulness immersed in body' mean?

Because the sutta says that's the solution?

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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by paul » Wed Nov 29, 2017 5:39 am

It means the first foundation of the four foundations of mindfulness, as described in the Satipatthana sutta:
https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... .than.html

manas
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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by manas » Wed Nov 29, 2017 10:44 am

Thank you all for your comments. In my readings, I find different elucidations of the term, sankhara. I will go with Bhikkhu Bodhi's explanation that they can also be the result, rather than only the agent, of kamma. Perhaps as when we clean a house, some dust gets raised up? Anyway 'sabbe sankhara anatta', in whichever sense sankhara is intended. :smile:
Last edited by manas on Wed Nov 29, 2017 11:17 am, edited 1 time in total.

binocular
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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by binocular » Wed Nov 29, 2017 3:22 pm

manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 9:10 pm
Are images or thoughts like this, results of past kamma? Why would they arise, when our current state of mind is predominantly wholesome (ie, trying to meditate)?
But perhaps one has some issue with the practice itself, perhaps one has doubts about whether to commit to the Buddhist path or not, or perhaps one has some issue with one's Buddhist teacher, or something like that.

It seems quite likely that such issues, when denied conscious attention and festering unresolved, could surface in various forms of aversion and other unwholesomeness.
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

manas
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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by manas » Fri Dec 01, 2017 4:51 pm

binocular wrote:
Wed Nov 29, 2017 3:22 pm
manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 9:10 pm
Are images or thoughts like this, results of past kamma? Why would they arise, when our current state of mind is predominantly wholesome (ie, trying to meditate)?
But perhaps one has some issue with the practice itself, perhaps one has doubts about whether to commit to the Buddhist path or not, or perhaps one has some issue with one's Buddhist teacher, or something like that.

It seems quite likely that such issues, when denied conscious attention and festering unresolved, could surface in various forms of aversion and other unwholesomeness.
Well, it can happen that one gets to a stage where worldly paths are all seen as bollocks and a waste of time, but one still has lust and aversion, so perhaps the Buddhist Path, which steadily and in time challenges and cuts away at our deepest attachments, can involve some 'difficult perceptions'. The main thing is that any perception is impermanent, unsatisfactory and not self nor a possession of self, and upon reflection one might realize, it's no longer necessary to spend even a moment more worrying about it. However I thank everyone who has posted and rendered assistance. :anjali:

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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by JohnK » Fri Dec 01, 2017 7:53 pm

manas,
I just noticed the title "How to regard..."
I took French in High School, and "regarder" just means "to watch."
So the answer might be right there in your own title!

(In English, I think "regard" is a bit beyond mere watching to a concern with labeling, defining, considering how to "hold" something cognitively -- perhaps figuring out how to fit it into a structure of beliefs; potentially papanca inducing stuff!
I know there is debate about when mere watching is enough and when a more active approach is needed.
Typically, I think a more active approach is suggested for unwholesome (and especially stubborn) arisings.
In this case, as there seems to be no unwholesome intention, mere watching the arising and passing may be fine.
Of course, seeing any feeling, craving, clinging, etc. that might follow the "contact" with the mental image is also worth watching!
It looks like you already came to this conclusion anyway.
But I couldn't help pointing out the French Connection with regard to "regard.")
"...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.

Saengnapha
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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by Saengnapha » Sat Dec 02, 2017 3:23 am

JohnK wrote:
Fri Dec 01, 2017 7:53 pm
manas,
I just noticed the title "How to regard..."
I took French in High School, and "regarder" just means "to watch."
So the answer might be right there in your own title!

(In English, I think "regard" is a bit beyond mere watching to a concern with labeling, defining, considering how to "hold" something cognitively -- perhaps figuring out how to fit it into a structure of beliefs; potentially papanca inducing stuff!
I know there is debate about when mere watching is enough and when a more active approach is needed.
Typically, I think a more active approach is suggested for unwholesome (and especially stubborn) arisings.
In this case, as there seems to be no unwholesome intention, mere watching the arising and passing may be fine.
Of course, seeing any feeling, craving, clinging, etc. that might follow the "contact" with the mental image is also worth watching!
It looks like you already came to this conclusion anyway.
But I couldn't help pointing out the French Connection with regard to "regard.")
Can I ask 'what' is watching or regarding what? It seems to be that there is a part of the 'mind' that is the subject and a part that is the object. Somehow, this dichotomy has been created where one watches something. What is watching what!?

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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by L.N. » Sat Dec 02, 2017 3:34 am

manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 9:10 pm
I would welcome clarification of any kind. Are images or thoughts like this, results of past kamma? Why would they arise, when our current state of mind is predominantly wholesome (ie, trying to meditate)?
The six senses are constantly active, even when we are not paying attention or aware. We filter out what we don't need, and we focus on what is useful or what we think is important. If you sit and notice, you will find that there is constant sensation all over the body, a constant subtle noise in the ears, a constant and changing visual field when the eyes are closed, a constant taste on the tongue, etc. These sensations are always arising and passing, even when we are still. Same with the mind. Thoughts come and go. Synapses fire. It just keeps going and going. So out of the blue, a certain thought or image may arise.

Similarly, sometimes it is raining, sometimes the sun is shining, but there is always some type of weather outside. There is never "no weather," even when skies are calm and blue.

Intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts may be easier to notice and seem amplified when one is still. It's just stuff that happens sometimes (and with increasingly less frequency when one is on the path of sila).
Sire patitthitā Buddhā
Dhammo ca tava locane
Sangho patitthitō tuiham
uresabba gunākaro


愿众佛坐在我的头顶, 佛法在我的眼中, 僧伽,功德的根源, 端坐在我的肩上。

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Re: How to regard intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts in meditation?

Post by Saengnapha » Sat Dec 02, 2017 6:38 am

L.N. wrote:
Sat Dec 02, 2017 3:34 am
manas wrote:
Tue Nov 28, 2017 9:10 pm
I would welcome clarification of any kind. Are images or thoughts like this, results of past kamma? Why would they arise, when our current state of mind is predominantly wholesome (ie, trying to meditate)?
The six senses are constantly active, even when we are not paying attention or aware. We filter out what we don't need, and we focus on what is useful or what we think is important. If you sit and notice, you will find that there is constant sensation all over the body, a constant subtle noise in the ears, a constant and changing visual field when the eyes are closed, a constant taste on the tongue, etc. These sensations are always arising and passing, even when we are still. Same with the mind. Thoughts come and go. Synapses fire. It just keeps going and going. So out of the blue, a certain thought or image may arise.

Similarly, sometimes it is raining, sometimes the sun is shining, but there is always some type of weather outside. There is never "no weather," even when skies are calm and blue.

Intrusive, unwanted images or thoughts may be easier to notice and seem amplified when one is still. It's just stuff that happens sometimes (and with increasingly less frequency when one is on the path of sila).
The dichotomy of subject/object, mind watching mind, or however you want to explain it, is untouched by sila or any volitional activity. Acting in a certain way can minimize stress but it doesn't unbind the sense of self, the split into subject/object. Wise reflection brings this into focus, but you are helpless to stop this movement. Helplessness can lead to disinterest, disenchantment, and dispassion into the activity of 'I' making. Letting go of our samsaric views is a big step that very few ever make. As Meister Eckart said:'The kingdom of heaven is for the thoroughly dead'. The death he speaks of is of the self, nothing more. Or less.

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