Right concentration as a basis for wisdom?

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
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starter
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Right concentration as a basis for wisdom?

Post by starter » Tue Dec 07, 2010 4:08 pm

Hello friend,

Though this is my first post on the meditation forum, many of you are my "old" friends who have helped me greatly before. I owe the progress I've made so far to such generous help.

I'm reading Ven. Thanissaro's Dhamma talk collection Meditation4 (available at ATI), and am puzzled by the following paragraph:

"After all, the purpose of concentration is to be aware all around as a basis for discernment. Discernment can arise only when you're aware all around. If your concentration is the sort that blocks things out, it's not going to be a good basis for discernment. You won't see unexpected connections. You'll have huge blind spots in your range of awareness where all kinds of things can hide."

I have the following questions concerning this paragraph:

1) Are the jhanas the sort of concentration "that blocks things out", especially the sphere of nothingness & the sphere of neither perception nor non-perception?

2) I thought the jhanas are good basis for discernment because the mind will be unified on one point and become still and steady. Then after emerging from the jhanas such a mind can do its wonderful job on insight meditation. However, this paragraph seems to suggest that the concentration should be aware all around instead of being unified, and that insight meditation should be done based on a samadhi ("access concentration"?) with such all-around awareness?

Thanks a lot for your "Dhamma Dana"! Metta,

Starter

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Cloud
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Re: Right concentration as a basis for wisdom?

Post by Cloud » Tue Dec 07, 2010 5:00 pm

Samatha-Vipassana seems to be enough to calm the mind and be able to focus on an anchor as well as observe mindfulness of all phenomena as they arise and fall. Jhana can show a deeper reality of the mind, but the work-horse of our practice is the cultivation of insight. The part jhana has to play is rather more limited than some make it out to be; it has its place.

Richard
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Re: Right concentration as a basis for wisdom?

Post by Richard » Tue Dec 07, 2010 5:07 pm

Hello Starter,

I have also been reading these meditation talks, which develop some ideas already stated in the three previous "Meditations" series. There seems to be an old controversy over how much concentration is needed in order to do effective insight meditation, and Thanissaro seems to be an advocate of developing a lot of concentration first. However, he does not view concentration as a matter of having a narrow focus on one object; rather he talks about using the breath to develop a "sense of openness and ease" which allows the mind to see more clearly. He also thinks that sati and samadhi are not two distinct methods of meditation, but must always work together. I am still groping through these issues myself, and welcome input from anyone else.

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kirk5a
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Re: Right concentration as a basis for wisdom?

Post by kirk5a » Tue Dec 07, 2010 5:31 pm

Is this thread about actually practicing the instructions there or is it about the theoretical background for the instructions there?

Putting every meditation instruction into rigid theoretical categories is not a prerequisite for practicing them.

Here's another sentence from Meditations 4: "So there's room for experimentation; there's room for you to learn what works for you. Keep this in mind as you practice."
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

rowyourboat
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Re: Right concentration as a basis for wisdom?

Post by rowyourboat » Tue Dec 07, 2010 6:33 pm

Hi Starter,

Do you know how Sila is helpful in developing Samadhi? Do you know how Samadhi helps in developing Panna?

with metta

Matheesha
With Metta

Karuna
Mudita
& Upekkha

starter
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Re: Right concentration as a basis for wisdom?

Post by starter » Tue Dec 07, 2010 6:53 pm

Hi friends,

Thanks for your very prompt help. I'm a beginner with about 6 months experience in buddhism. I wonder if the samatha-vipasana method Cloud mentioned is Ānāpānasati?

As to kirk5a's comment, I think one should at least understand the instructions before practicing them. I'm just trying to understand what the method mentioned in that paragraph actually means before I can start to practice it. Are such discussions allowed in this forum?

As to Matheesha's comment, yes I understant "Sila is helpful in developing Samadhi and Samadhi helps in developing Panna", but I wonder what's the relevance to my questions.

With metta,

Starter

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kirk5a
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Re: Right concentration as a basis for wisdom?

Post by kirk5a » Tue Dec 07, 2010 7:07 pm

starter wrote: As to kirk5a's comment, I think one should at least understand the instructions before practicing them.
In the section titled "One Point, Two Points, Many Points" there is not a single mention of jhana. This indicates you are not trying to just "understand that paragraph" but come to a grand theoretical framework understanding of the instructions there, before practicing them.

Your questions about the jhanas of nothingness and neither perception or non-perception are like someone watching a race on TV and wondering - when drafting a Formula One car at 200 mph, what is the correct method to pass in such a situation?

What's actually much more fun and interesting and useful is to actually get out there and drive grampas Buick around town. The questions from that experience would have some practical relevance.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

Kenshou
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Re: Right concentration as a basis for wisdom?

Post by Kenshou » Tue Dec 07, 2010 7:20 pm

I wonder if the samatha-vipasana method Cloud mentioned is Ānāpānasati?
It could be, it's not like there's only 1, but anapanasati fits the bill. Anapanasati as per the anapanasati sutta can lead a person to jhana [link], which is well and good, or if not, the development of concentration and mindfulness to a less "unified" degree, which is still perfectly good. This is ignoring the fact that (to return to a question in your first post) the exact nature of jhana is one of those things with a lot of interpretations for you to muck through yourself. Though I believe that from a more "suttic" perspective, which I (not like I matter in this, but more importantly:) and Thanissaro Bhikkhu who you quoted prefer, the 4 "rupa" jhanas are not of the block-stuff-out variety per say, and though the mind is firm within the theme of concentration it's not immobilized to the extent that vipassana can't be done. [link] The arupa jhanas block out the physical senses to a greater extent though it isn't until the "dimension of nothingness" that vipassana isn't possible. In MN 111, for example, notice the difference in the passages on the infinitude of consciousness and dimension of nothingness.

But all that garble aside I'd echo what kirk5 has said about getting out there and doing it. The debate on weather jhana (aka, concentration) must be an extremely deep stillness of mind that must be emerged from before vipassana is possible or is not so restrictive and not exlusive of vipassana is an old debate, it's best to keep on going and find what works for you. I'd bet that both methods work, really.

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