Mahasi instructions and the interview process

On the cultivation of insight/wisdom
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Ruud
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Mahasi instructions and the interview process

Post by Ruud » Wed Mar 22, 2017 4:17 pm

In most instructions for the Mahasi method the process of meditation is basically described as being aware of what is happening in the present moment, and then noting/labeling that experience. But sometimes (for example in 'In this very life' of Sayadaw U Pandita) also instructions are given how to report about your meditation during interviews. Interestingly it always describes a three step process:
  • Identify the object
    Note/label the object
    Describe what happened
And the example given is of an apple in a hand. First you see the apple, then you note it 'apple, apple' and then you describe the apple as red, shiny and round.
So in a way these instructions show a little more information about in what way you are supposed to be aware when using this technique. Now, during my practice I ran into the following couple of problems/questions:

When paying attention to what is happening, how is that different from identifying and noting a new object? In other words, what's the difference between noting 'apple, apple, apple' while being aware it is red and shiny, with noting 'apple, red, shiny'?

How are you supposed to describe sensations that do not normally have a description? For example, I can hear a sound, note it as 'hearing, hearing', but then, without engaging in the content of the sound, what more can I describe about it? Same with rising and falling of the abdomen, I 'know' what it feels like when it rises or falls, but unless I really start disecting it (which leads back to the problem in my first question), how do you describe that, except with the label you just already put on it?

I know that these questions would probably be non-issues if I actually had contact with a real life teacher to give me a real interview, but unfortunately I'm not in the position right now where that will happen any time soon. So I was wondering whether the people here, who might have more experience with the method and/or interviews, could shine some light on these questions.

Thanks in advance,

Ruud
Bhikkhus, this spiritual life is not lived for the sake of deceiving people and cajoling them; nor for the benefit of gain, honor, and praise; nor for the benefit of winning in debates; nor with the thought: ‘Let the people know me thus.’ But rather, this spiritual life is lived for the sake of restraint, abandoning, dispassion and cessation. —AN 4.25

Whatever is will be was. —Ven. Ñānamoli, A Thinkers Notebook, §221

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Mahasi instructions and the interview process

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Wed Mar 22, 2017 4:43 pm

For example, if you feel a painful sensation in your knee, first you note it as "Pain, pain." If it persists, continue to note it and investigate the painful sensation. “Where exactly is it?” “Does it always arise in the exact same place?” “Does it get more and more intense or fluctuate?” “Is the painful sensation experienced as hardness?” “Is it burning?” “Is it throbbing?” “If you do not pay attention to it, does it fade away?”

With the abdominal movements, likewise, when you're able to keep your attention on them for some time, how do you experience them? “Is it a single rising or falling movement?” “Is it pressure or tension?” “Is it a whole succession of movements, one after another, until the rising or falling are complete?”

Investigation of phenomena (dhammavicaya sambojjhaṅga) is a vital factor in the practice of insight. We must know the meditation objects' specific characteristics (hardness, softness, etc.) as well as their general characteristic (impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self).

The two jhāna factors of initial application (vitakka) and sustained application (vicāra) are involved here, like picking up a brass bowl, then rubbing it.

Chanmyay Sayādaw's Vipassanā Meditation Guidelines may also be helpful.
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Goofaholix
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Re: Mahasi instructions and the interview process

Post by Goofaholix » Thu Mar 23, 2017 12:13 am

I'm not familiar with the specific instructions you mention but it strikes me for a start that you may have mis-identified what is meant by object. It's not about apples or oranges, thee are concepts, it's about sense experience.

So if you see an apple it should be something like;
Identify the object: seeing
Note/label the object: sight, pleasant feeling tone
Describe what happened: not hungry, lost interest, returned to the breath.

So if you taste an apple it should be something like;
Identify the object: tasting
Note/label the object: sweet/sour, texture, pleasant feeling tone
Describe what happened: craving for more.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

R1111
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Re: Mahasi instructions and the interview process

Post by R1111 » Thu Mar 23, 2017 1:32 am

Second Bhikkhu Pesala's post. In case of seeing the apple note how seeing is diffrent moment to moment as well, is it really the same seeing all the time? Is it the same light touching your eye? Is seeing the apple a stable experience, what happens hen you blink or hear a sound?

You should be made aware that technically you are noting in Past sence as in noting recognition of an experience as per Satipathhana or a more accurate description and/or reflecting on its nature.

Most Rupa is relatively stable and various sense-cosnciousness arise subsequently and incredibly fast, so in the example of looking at an apple one can note aspects of what is being experienced in the context of the concept of "looking at an apple" so one would note "seeing/looking" as one kept looking one would perhaps reflect, noting "reflecting as it was noticed as a second (Mind) Satipatthana as consciousness goes back and forth between Eye base and Thinking Base, perceiving and grasping thoughts and forms, one can try noting faster whenever you notice a jump between diffrent sense-base-consciousnesses as in you notice any changes in posture, movements, feelings, etc and note what it was as per Satipatthana or better defined.

What will often happen is that you will notice things arising and ceasing overwhelimngly fast, so you can just note "knowing" it to be so and perhaps being "overhwhelmed" or "doubting" if it(overwhelmingess or doubt) arises and slow down or pick a more solid, clearcut theme. also use "knowing" "knowing" universally if you know what happened or what can be said to have happened or be happening, ie you know there was sustained attention, or you know you are kind of lost, have made a decision or have come to a conclusion in your reasoning, if you know you hold a view etc.

Anothing important thing is If you think to yourself that you are noting too fast, definitely slow down, if you think that its too slow, pick it up a notch. i definitely didnt mean for this post to sound like one should try to catch everything, however OP made me suspect like OP maybe wasnt noting enough, it is definitely damaging to be overly focused on speed of noting, not too fast and not too slow.

Noting "knowing" is in general one of the most important Dhammas to note, also when you know it is an apple that you are seeing, note knowing. Whenever there is doubt about the noting, note the doubt as well.

Ruud
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Re: Mahasi instructions and the interview process

Post by Ruud » Thu Mar 23, 2017 6:21 am

Just to clarify first, the apple example in not an instruction for how to do this method. It is the description Sayadaw U Pandita gives as an illustration of how to report (in 'In this very life' pp.16-17).

I felt that this description gave some more information on the process. But from the responses I see that I indeed might have taken the example too far. Maybe I was making the object too much into an object, instead of observing a flow. So there is not just the characteristics of the object, but also how things change.

Bhante, thank you for your help and I'll look into the subjects you indicated and reread Chanmyay Sayadaw's instructions (it has been a while).

Goofaholix, as I described above, even though I did not take it as direct instructions, I think I did get a mistaken idea from it. Well spotted :)

R1111, I do think I also have indeed a little problem with wanting to note as much as possible and constantly feeling outrun. Add to that drowsiness that I tend to get when meditating, making it even harder to note everything, and you get the confusion described above. It happens very often I notice something new happening but will only note/label it later after finishing my current noting (which is incorrect, I know, but since I noticed it, I feel it should be noted). I know that technically this is not even possible, because only one thing can be noticed at a time, but I guess that just displays the shallowness of my concentration :cry: Very often in this case it is advised to note that feeling, but that to me seems to only add one more noting to the stack...
Bhikkhus, this spiritual life is not lived for the sake of deceiving people and cajoling them; nor for the benefit of gain, honor, and praise; nor for the benefit of winning in debates; nor with the thought: ‘Let the people know me thus.’ But rather, this spiritual life is lived for the sake of restraint, abandoning, dispassion and cessation. —AN 4.25

Whatever is will be was. —Ven. Ñānamoli, A Thinkers Notebook, §221

paul
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Re: Mahasi instructions and the interview process

Post by paul » Mon Apr 03, 2017 8:47 pm

"I felt that this description gave some more information on the process. But from the responses I see that I indeed might have taken the example too far. Maybe I was making the object too much into an object, instead of observing a flow. So there is not just the characteristics of the object, but also how things change."

From the Vism. the terminology is 'general characteristics' (anicca, dukkha, anatta) and specific characteristics (to a particular object) of which the former are of most importance, particularly anicca from which the other two are generally said to be derived. In like manner it is also necessary to come back to the general teaching rather than becoming obsessed with one teacher's methods just as in his training he had a thorough grounding. Knowledge of the general characteristic of impermanence should be developed along the lines of the contemplations on impermanence of the body, including external materiality as laid down in the first foundation of mindfulness. People find this hard because of the emotional connotations of death but it is an essential exercise. The characteristic of impermanence does not become apparent because when rise and fall (birth, maturity, death) are not given attention it is concealed by continuity. Seeing the apple only at it's ripest stage, red, shiny, round, is a perversion driven by the primal unwholesome root of desire; let the apple decay and experience its full life cycle. Organic objects are good for this because their life is in a more or less short time frame, but inanimate objects also have a cycle of existence which is to be known.

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