Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

The cultivation of calm or tranquility and the development of concentration
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manas
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Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by manas » Tue Jun 18, 2019 9:14 pm

Hello all,
I'm currently moving house. It's a pretty stressful time, still packing to do, could not afford to fix broken windows, so worried about agents taking all the bond to fix them, maybe they won't be satisfied with the cleanliness after I have left it also (I've strained my lower back, there is simply only so much I can do, I'm working through discomfort), etc etc. It's an externally stressful time.

Anyway, I've struggled with mental calm for as long as I can remember - unlike some here who can 'enter and remain in the first jhana', I just 'train for calm'. I suppose jhana happens when the mind is ready, not when we want it, which is generally sooner! Having said that, my faith in the Doctrine is stronger than I can ever recall previously - and while I'm no sotapanna, I can at least honestly say, this is the most profound and truthful teaching I've ever encountered, and it does seem to do what is claimed for it - it leads towards calm, and (whether or not it leads to the permanent cessation of stress, which I accept on faith for now), I can at least attest to this much: it reduces stress, not just by having faith, not just by engaging in certain practices, but through seeing certain truths about the nature of the mind and 'the world' - which sets it apart from all other paths & doctrines, which lack this level of profundity - thus it seems to be heading in that direction (ie, the cessation of stress). :smile:

Anyway, anapanasati is generally a temporary refuge of sorts; it has the effect of calming my mind (and body), and the positive effects seem to spread throughout the day. However, during this tumultuous time, when I must uproot myself from the lovely solitary dwelling I've enjoyed for so many years, and move into a friend's living room - no more real privacy for me, from tonight on i'm 'couch surfing' until (or if?) I find a share situation where I get a private room to myself - I'm finding my mind is even more unruly than usual. Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact this much, on our meditation practice? It's frustrating. I would have thought that, my increased conviction in the Dhamma, would grant some level of 'immunity' from difficult external situations, but that's not how things are working out.

Thank you for reading.
Last edited by manas on Tue Jun 18, 2019 10:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.
“It would be better for the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person to hold to the body composed of the four great elements, rather than the mind, as the self. Why is that? Because this body composed of the four great elements is seen standing for a year, two years, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred years or more. But what’s called ‘mind,’ ‘intellect,’ or ‘consciousness’ by day and by night arises as one thing and ceases as another." - SN 12:61 (excerpt)

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Sam Vara
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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Jun 18, 2019 9:54 pm

manas wrote:
Tue Jun 18, 2019 9:14 pm
I'm finding my mind is even more unruly than usual. Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact this much, on our meditation practice? It's frustrating. I would have though that, my increased conviction in the Dhamma, would grant some level of 'immunity' from difficult external situations, but that's not how things are working out.

Thank you for reading.
Hi Manas,

Yes, I have found that difficult circumstances such as you describe have a huge impact upon my meditation; especially the sort of meditation that aims at calm.

My advice, for what it's worth, is to see this as a completely natural fact about the world, and accept it if you can. That's just what minds do. It is also worth using that time to note and reflect upon the feelings of loss or irritation or mental clinging that arise when your mind doesn't do what it used to.

The other thing to do is to dwell upon your increased faith and understanding, and be grateful for it. Who knows, it might be that it's actually more useful for you at the moment than the elusive calm.

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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by manas » Tue Jun 18, 2019 10:31 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Tue Jun 18, 2019 9:54 pm
manas wrote:
Tue Jun 18, 2019 9:14 pm
I'm finding my mind is even more unruly than usual. Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact this much, on our meditation practice? It's frustrating. I would have though that, my increased conviction in the Dhamma, would grant some level of 'immunity' from difficult external situations, but that's not how things are working out.

Thank you for reading.
Hi Manas,

Yes, I have found that difficult circumstances such as you describe have a huge impact upon my meditation; especially the sort of meditation that aims at calm.

My advice, for what it's worth, is to see this as a completely natural fact about the world, and accept it if you can. That's just what minds do. It is also worth using that time to note and reflect upon the feelings of loss or irritation or mental clinging that arise when your mind doesn't do what it used to.
Thanks, Sam Vara. I ended up doing something like that during the sitting this morning. Could not remain with the breath for more than two consecutive breaths at a time - what a mess! - and despite sincere effort, the mind kept drifting into daydreams. I was about to quit in frustration - no point sitting, if it's just bringing up irritation - but I tried something that has worked before, in such situations: "I will just remain awake and aware, and not get frustrated by all the noise and mental chatter in the background, nor attempt to silence it via refocussing on the breath (that wasn't working this morning); wherever the mind goes, from moment to moment, I will simply remain aware of it, keeping the breath in the background, as it were, and only gently inviting the aware and awake mind, to land upon it, whenever possible." Things were better after that, but I can't say I've read that in the suttas; or is simply 'watching wherever the mind goes, simply remaining aware and alert' a valid meditation practice? I thought we are supposed to focus on the breath as exclusively as possible.
“It would be better for the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person to hold to the body composed of the four great elements, rather than the mind, as the self. Why is that? Because this body composed of the four great elements is seen standing for a year, two years, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred years or more. But what’s called ‘mind,’ ‘intellect,’ or ‘consciousness’ by day and by night arises as one thing and ceases as another." - SN 12:61 (excerpt)

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Sam Vara
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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by Sam Vara » Tue Jun 18, 2019 11:05 pm

manas wrote:
Tue Jun 18, 2019 10:31 pm
is simply 'watching wherever the mind goes, simply remaining aware and alert' a valid meditation practice? I thought we are supposed to focus on the breath as exclusively as possible.
Have a look at this. I find it really useful whenever meditation goes awry.
If I go back to that first meditation class in Thailand: the monk gave us some advice on how to sit upright in a state of relaxed alertness, and start paying attention to the sensations that accompanied the process of breathing. I couldn’t have followed more than a breath or two before my mind was wandering. In fact it was careening on a wave of speculations, memories, and analyses. Every now and then I would steer my attention back to the breath sensations, and be able to maintain that for a few seconds before a fresh tide of thoughts came washing in. This is pretty much the standard beginner’s meditation. Nevertheless, what struck me deeply was that here I was witnessing my mind. And that was strangely peaceful, even reassuring: somehow I didn’t have to make anything out of my thoughts, or even out of my mind. It was just something happening. Moreover, if I was witnessing my mind, who was I, and whose mind was this?
The whole thing is well worth reading:

https://ajahnsucitto.org/articles/the-eightfold-path/

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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by sunnat » Wed Jun 19, 2019 2:38 am

It's a path of truth. Recognising reality as it is. By walking the path one reaches the various stages when it's time. Craving it to be otherwise is not the path.

re : " - no point sitting, if it's just bringing up irritation - " the irritation in a moment is a truth of that moment. Just another experience that has risen only to pass away. Awareness of it is progress, the very point of sitting. Peace.

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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by Srilankaputra » Wed Jun 19, 2019 4:41 am

manas wrote:
Tue Jun 18, 2019 10:31 pm
Things were better after that, but I can't say I've read that in the suttas; or is simply 'watching wherever the mind goes, simply remaining aware and alert' a valid meditation practice? I thought we are supposed to focus on the breath as exclusively as possible.
Isn't this what satipattana practice is?
Being the knower, as the Thai monks would say.
Anapanasati is included in satipattana imo.

Personally I think it's only natural that the mind will flow out to external things when there are many duties to attend.
O seeing one,we for refuge go to thee!
O mighty sage do thou our teacher be!

Paccuppannañca yo dhammaṃ,
Tattha tattha vipassati

“Yato yato mano nivāraye,
Na dukkhameti naṃ tato tato;
Sa sabbato mano nivāraye,
Sa sabbato dukkhā pamuccatī”ti.

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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by samsarictravelling » Thu Jun 20, 2019 2:59 am

manas wrote:
Tue Jun 18, 2019 10:31 pm
- but I tried something that has worked before, in such situations: "I will just remain awake and aware, and not get frustrated by all the noise and mental chatter in the background, nor attempt to silence it via refocussing on the breath (that wasn't working this morning); wherever the mind goes, from moment to moment, I will simply remain aware of it, keeping the breath in the background, as it were, and only gently inviting the aware and awake mind, to land upon it, whenever possible." Things were better after that, but I can't say I've read that in the suttas; or is simply 'watching wherever the mind goes, simply remaining aware and alert' a valid meditation practice? I thought we are supposed to focus on the breath as exclusively as possible.
Just some Theravada teachings I read in the past, that maybe may be connected with what you wrote:

...Any identification, any possession that is clung to, is what stops us from reaching transcendental reality. Now we can easily see this clinging when we cling to things and people, but we cannot easily see why the five khandhas are called the five clung-to aggregates. That is their name, and they are, in fact, what we cling to most. That is an entire clinging. We don't even stop to consider when we look at our body, and when we look at our mind, or when we look at feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness — vedana, sañña, sankhara, and viññana. We look at this mind-and-body, nama-rupa, and we don't even doubt the fact that this is my feeling, my perception, my memory, my thoughts, and my awareness of my consciousness. And no one starts doubting until they start seeing. And for that seeing we need a fair bit of empty space apart from views and opinions.

...

...That shift I like to compare with a kaleidoscope that children play with. A slight touch and you get a different picture. The whole thing looks quite different with just a slight shift.

Source: 'Meditating on No-Self: A Dhamma Talk (Edited for Bodhi Leaves)' by Sister Khema, © 1994. https://accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors ... bl095.html

----------------------------------------------------

"Now what do you think, Sona. Before, when you were a house-dweller, were you skilled at playing the vina?"

"Yes, lord."

"And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were too taut, was your vina in tune & playable?"

"No, lord."

"And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were too loose, was your vina in tune & playable?"

"No, lord."

"And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were neither too taut nor too loose, but tuned[1] to be right on pitch, was your vina in tune & playable?"

"Yes, lord."

"In the same way, Sona, over-aroused persistence leads to restlessness, overly slack persistence leads to laziness. Thus you should determine the right pitch for your persistence, attune[2]the pitch of the [five] faculties [to that], and there pick up your theme."

Source: 'Sona Sutta: About Sona'/Anguttara Nikaya 6.55, translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu, © 1997. https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... .than.html

----------------------------------------------------

Please excuse me if I do not reply to any reply of yours or others to this reply post of mine.

From,
Ai

manas
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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by manas » Fri Jun 21, 2019 8:52 pm

If you have followed this topic at all, please read this.

I believe I may have not only overestimated my level of 'seeing', but worse still, misrepresented the Buddha - something serious, that I wish to formally apologize for.
I can at least attest to this much: it reduces stress, not just by having faith, not just by engaging in certain practices, but through seeing certain truths about the nature of the mind and 'the world' - which sets it apart from all other paths & doctrines, which lack this level of profundity - thus it seems to be heading in that direction (ie, the cessation of stress).
As per the definition of 'dukkha' in the standard First Noble Truth description, I'm not sure this is correct. Even if I had attained even a basic level of 'seeing for myself, some of the truths contained in the Dhamma' (in particular, that the five clinging-aggregates are inconstant, stressful and not-self), does this really 'reduce' stress, or merely point us in the right direction, give us an impetus as it were, to practice for the right ending of stress? Considering this: If I misrepresented the Teaching here, I apologize; I did not intend to. Furthermore, I now suspect my level of 'conviction based on understanding' is lower than I thought at the time i wrote this post. I'm going to be more quiet on this Forum, not presume to be able to say much about the Dhamma, as I suspect I've not 'realized' much at all, to be honest. :( I will ask questions and listen to answers, but not presume to know too much at this stage.
Last edited by manas on Fri Jun 21, 2019 9:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
“It would be better for the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person to hold to the body composed of the four great elements, rather than the mind, as the self. Why is that? Because this body composed of the four great elements is seen standing for a year, two years, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred years or more. But what’s called ‘mind,’ ‘intellect,’ or ‘consciousness’ by day and by night arises as one thing and ceases as another." - SN 12:61 (excerpt)

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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by budo » Fri Jun 21, 2019 9:05 pm

manas wrote:
Fri Jun 21, 2019 8:52 pm
If you have followed this topic at all, please read this.

I believe I may have not only overestimated my level of 'seeing', but worse still, misrepresented the Buddha - something serious, that I wish to formally apologize for.
I can at least attest to this much: it reduces stress, not just by having faith, not just by engaging in certain practices, but through seeing certain truths about the nature of the mind and 'the world' - which sets it apart from all other paths & doctrines, which lack this level of profundity - thus it seems to be heading in that direction (ie, the cessation of stress).
As per the definition of 'dukkha' in the standard First Noble Truth description, I'm not sure this is correct. Even if I had attained even a basic level of 'seeing for myself, some of the truths contained in the Dhamma' (in particular, that the five clinging-aggregates are inconstant, stressful and not-self), does this really 'reduce' stress, or merely point us in the right direction, give us an impetus as it were, to practice for the right ending of stress? If I misrepresented the Teaching here, I apologize; I did not intend to. Furthermore, I now suspect my level of 'conviction based on understanding' is lower than I thought at the time i wrote this post. I'm going to be more quiet on this Forum, not presume to be able to say much about the Dhamma, as I suspect I've not 'realized' much at all, to be honest. :( I will ask questions and listen to answers, but not presume to know too much at this stage.
You're overanalyzing and are too hard on yourself.

Keep it simple, satipathana off the cushion, satipathana + concentration (one pointedness, jhanas) on the cushion.

Yes, changing your lifestyle will affect concentration, this is the whole reason monkhood exists, because the lay life is difficult and the homeless life is like a "polished shell", as the Buddha says.

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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by santa100 » Sat Jun 22, 2019 1:52 am

manas wrote:Could not remain with the breath for more than two consecutive breaths at a time - what a mess! - and despite sincere effort, the mind kept drifting into daydreams.
Notice there's a common thread in all daydreams: they're always about some character, probably about the self in most cases, sometimes about one's loved one or one's enemy. So try that tactic the Buddha taught in the Bahiya Sutta and try to remove the notions of "I", "mine", and "myself" as much as possible, and see if that helps.
Ud1.10 wrote:Then, Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bāhiya, there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress."

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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by samsarictravelling » Sat Jun 22, 2019 3:12 am

manas wrote:
Fri Jun 21, 2019 8:52 pm
If you have followed this topic at all, please read this.

I believe I may have not only overestimated my level of 'seeing', but worse still, misrepresented the Buddha - something serious, that I wish to formally apologize for.
I can at least attest to this much: it reduces stress, not just by having faith, not just by engaging in certain practices, but through seeing certain truths about the nature of the mind and 'the world' - which sets it apart from all other paths & doctrines, which lack this level of profundity - thus it seems to be heading in that direction (ie, the cessation of stress).
As per the definition of 'dukkha' in the standard First Noble Truth description, I'm not sure this is correct. Even if I had attained even a basic level of 'seeing for myself, some of the truths contained in the Dhamma' (in particular, that the five clinging-aggregates are inconstant, stressful and not-self), does this really 'reduce' stress, or merely point us in the right direction, give us an impetus as it were, to practice for the right ending of stress? Considering this: If I misrepresented the Teaching here, I apologize; I did not intend to. Furthermore, I now suspect my level of 'conviction based on understanding' is lower than I thought at the time i wrote this post. I'm going to be more quiet on this Forum, not presume to be able to say much about the Dhamma, as I suspect I've not 'realized' much at all, to be honest. :( I will ask questions and listen to answers, but not presume to know too much at this stage.
I just noted a coincidence. I was checking a discussion started by lavantien in the past -- viewtopic.php?f=42&t=34536 -- and saw you posted the exact Sona Sutta -- even the exact part -- I posted here in this discussion of yours. You posted on June 9, 2019. I posted more recently on June 19, 2019, which is 10 days later. What a coincidence. I never ever remember reading your Sona Sutta quote ever before my Sona Sutta quote, never having interest in what the 'serious practictioner' lavantien (or some others) had to say, until reading his discussion today. If I ever skimmed that discussion in the past and somehow your post was in my subconscious, well, still, when I posted my Sona Sutta post, I never ever knew consciously you ever posted the same Sona Sutta already. But that's an if it ever happened (that I skimmed in the past and your post was subconsciously in my mind). If not, what a coincidence. :D

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----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
As always, I apologize if I do not reply to yours or any other person's reply post to this.

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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Jun 22, 2019 3:58 am

budo wrote:
Fri Jun 21, 2019 9:05 pm
Yes, changing your lifestyle will affect concentration, this is the whole reason monkhood exists, because the lay life is difficult and the homeless life is like a "polished shell", as the Buddha says.
As Budo says, good external circumstances can help a lot. That's why there is a monastic lifestyle, and versions of this lifestyle for lay people (uposotha days, retreats, etc).
Certainly one should try to make the best out of current circumstances, but I'd be wary of clinging to the idea that good progress should be possible under any circumstances. That may be an obstacle to working out ways of improving the circumstances, which may be much more fruitful than just trying to put up with them.

:heart:
Mike

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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by Akashad » Sat Jun 22, 2019 6:58 am

No not external circumstances, I find myself while travelling or away from my house thinking oh maybe if I don't have a room for myself I can't meditate,there's a lot of people I can't meditate but it never works like that, like clockwork when I pay attention to the breath Vicara and vitakka develop regardless but what Can interfere or disturb is Internal circumstances for example if I break the sila or don't have the habit of resting my attention on the breath through out the day or if I go a few days without meditating or if I change my meditation object too frequently then I'm back at that dreadful place where I have to develop vittaka and vicara just to anchor and rest with the breath.Mostly internal circumstances is what will interfere with samadhi.But I think that only works if vicara and vitakka are developed if their not then you would need a quieter environment or just a much longer time to get the mind to habitually turn to the breath.

It's actually a good thing to practice when external circumstances aren't conducive because you develop greater concentration.For example if your used to practicing with noisy neighbours and loud music and lots of moving around, just imagine what will happen when things are quiet.It's always a blessing in disguise. 🙏

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Re: Can 'difficult external circumstances' impact on samadhi practice?

Post by manas » Sun Jun 23, 2019 7:41 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Tue Jun 18, 2019 9:54 pm


My advice, for what it's worth, is to see this as a completely natural fact about the world, and accept it if you can. That's just what minds do.
"That's just what minds do..."

Thank you, this advice helped me to let go of the irritation, to stop the self-recrimination. No point getting angry at the mind, it's just operating according to cause-and-effect. The 'self-recrimination' was indeed, a symptom of identification with 'the mind' as somehow being 'mine'. I found that, sending metta to 'the mind', not only meant being able to remain more present amidst all the changing phenomena due to not judging, but also, the mind itself calmed down more.

Thank you also, to all others who commented; I have learned something from all of your advice. I still have some cleaning to do at my old place, then have to hand back the keys to the agents, then have to get ready for surgery on my right eye, on this coming Thursday, what a time! So I've decided to be more forgiving, to not get angry at Nature as it were, but rather, keep putting forth good causes instead; practicing for calm, not trying to somehow force it to arise, which of course, doesn't work! This mind, it would seem, isn't 'mine', but it is certainly my responsibility. I know that sounds odd, but it's a perception that came up yesterday during the sitting. The perception was more pronounced during the sitting; that too, I can't just bring on by force, but I will try and be kinder, more gentle, whilst still putting forth effort. I recall Ajahn Chah saying, it's like training a child; if we are too soft on it, it won't learn, if we are too harsh, it also won't learn; we need to find the right balance.

If mods want to move this to 'Personal Experience' they may, since it's kinda morphed into that; in any case, I feel a sense of resolution for now, the way forward is more clear to me.

Thank you to everyone who commented, I do appreciate all the advice. :anjali:
“It would be better for the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person to hold to the body composed of the four great elements, rather than the mind, as the self. Why is that? Because this body composed of the four great elements is seen standing for a year, two years, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred years or more. But what’s called ‘mind,’ ‘intellect,’ or ‘consciousness’ by day and by night arises as one thing and ceases as another." - SN 12:61 (excerpt)

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