Cautious about practicing consistent vipassana with mental health issues?

On the cultivation of insight/wisdom
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purist_andrew
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Re: Cautious about practicing consistent vipassana with mental health issues?

Post by purist_andrew » Sun Jun 24, 2018 7:30 pm

rightviewftw wrote:
Sun Jun 24, 2018 4:07 am
I am not familiar with the author you are quoting but any method where some of the practitioners end up in mental institutions sounds dodgy.

[snip]

Apart from the Corruptions of Insight i don't see what can go wrong if one is practicing correctly.
Hi RightView,

I am familiar with the basics of the progress of insight you have posted but some of these authors (Ingram, Mahasi, U Pandita) explain them in great detail. I understand from what I have read that knowing the experiences you can expect or are experiencing during meditation is helpful for the practitioner in his journey to Nibbana, to chart progress know what to expect next, and to validate to him or her that they are on the right path. Therefore, just as much as studying the suttas I want to know the ins and outs of the stages of meditation.

The author I mentioned, Ingram is one who says he has done something extreme by making the stages of insight very explicit in extreme detail, and he himself refers to Mahasi's Manual of Insight as a further reference for someone who has done the same as he himself (this book just came out last year and I have read some of it but not all). Something most Western dhamma books have not done for whatever reason.

...If you read Bhante G's Mindfulness in Plain English or some other meditation guides you might get the idea that the practice is very linear... that is, just keep practicing the same way for X years and you will attain Nibbana. However, it is apparent that the stages of progress are vastly different than each other, so it's good to know the "maps" as he calls them.

I think you are right about the four foundations of mindfulness to be practiced. I have some experience with anapanasati (as explained by Bhante G.) and to a lesser extent the Mahasi & U Pandita methods. I idealize to practice walking meditation outdoors maybe the home life as described in the suttas is a path of dust (as opposed to monastery the "open air", so can the outside be open air as well), your attention is scattered, but I don't want to ordain.

There are good Dhamma books about practicing a certain technique as primary and doing the rest of them in a secondary manner. I just want to know the stages of insight before I begin practice. I am too eager to practice to wait to finish study of the suttas to meditate, I will hopefully study mindfulness and have a more or less formal practice but as another poster said in this thread, daily life mindfulness (robertk said) while doing hobbies, work, etc, is possible. Personally I just need to try to let my speech stray from mindful speech as I have a tendency to indulge idle chatter during the day with friends and so on. The paramis are good as well. Also for me, to try to move away from idleness and towards diligence somewhat.

Thank you,
Andrew

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Re: Cautious about practicing consistent vipassana with mental health issues?

Post by purist_andrew » Sun Jun 24, 2018 7:33 pm

dylanj wrote:
Sun Jun 24, 2018 6:30 am
If you are sane enough to read the Dhamma you are sane enough to practice it, & practicing it will remove whatever degree of insanity & mental illness you might have.
Hi Dylan,

I agree for the most part and this has been my experience. So this is why I was surprised by Ingram's warnings. In the past when I was skillful with meditation, it helped with my depression enormously and was helpful in healing from old substance abuse as well. For me, the last thing to consider is maybe opening to some non-Dhammic things, too, I get kind of obsessed and avoid mundane things. For example, as I mentioned in another post on this thread, having a craft for a layperson is mentioned as a blessing in the Maha Mangalla Sutta (Discourse on Blessings).

Edit: There is even a quote in either Mahasi or U Pandita's book, I think the latter, maybe the book "On the Path to Freedom" about how the minds of non-noble ones are a mess, and even that "satipatthana overcomes lunacy."

Thank you,
Andrew

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Re: Cautious about practicing consistent vipassana with mental health issues?

Post by rightviewftw » Sun Jun 24, 2018 9:26 pm

purist_andrew wrote:
Sun Jun 24, 2018 7:30 pm
I just want to know the stages of insight before I begin practice. I am too eager to practice to wait to finish study of the suttas to meditate, I will hopefully study mindfulness and have a more or less formal practice but as another poster said in this thread, daily life mindfulness (robertk said) while doing hobbies, work, etc, is possible. Personally I just need to try to let my speech stray from mindful speech as I have a tendency to indulge idle chatter during the day with friends and so on. The paramis are good as well. Also for me, to try to move away from idleness and towards diligence somewhat.

Thank you,
Andrew
If i were to give general advice not knowing your personality i would make these points but keep in mind that i can only go on my own experience because i never trained others;

1. There is nothing wrong with just merely training concentration before one undertakes vipassana or mixing the two
2. It is not necessary to study the insight knowledges and the progression of insight because it is difficult to reconcile it with practical experience because insight is not something tangible like an idea, it is more like a faculty being developed and sharpened.
3. The Corruptions of Insight are good to know but here too one should also not expect anything in particular, when practiced correctly the meditator deals with them swiftly and they pose no problems. It is like this is pleasure, this is seeing [images], it's all just not so interesting and one moves on observing it arise and cease without getting caught up in it, as if they are nothing special and completely mundane as other phenomena.
4. Dry insight is not the only way
5. Manual of Insight is a good read nevertheless, as to what regards Insight Knowledges it might be problematic and cause more corruption of insight, this one in particular;
2. Clear, lucid, and distinct understanding of arising and passing away of mental and physical phenomena, as well as easily understanding the three characteristics due to reflection on them. One can begin to assume that the knowledge arose by itself due to observation of phenomena and not as result of reflection
If this happens one can note "knowing, knowing" or "speculating, speculating" or "suspecting, suspecting" if one is suspecting that an insight arose or " doubt, doubt" if doubting it, also one can note excitement or wanting, just isolate it as it appears to you so it can do no harm and keep going
I think the manual is very good anyway and id recommend it.

Also it is very good if you get a teacher to guide you because he can do interviews and make you pay attention to things that you might be missing by asking questions designed to make you look.

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Re: Cautious about practicing consistent vipassana with mental health issues?

Post by dylanj » Mon Jun 25, 2018 4:28 am

purist_andrew wrote:
Sun Jun 24, 2018 7:33 pm
Hi Dylan,

I agree for the most part and this has been my experience. So this is why I was surprised by Ingram's warnings.
Ingram is far from trustworthy or a spiritual authority. & actually the notion that dhamma practice can be a problem for mental health is most common, I think, among westerners who tend towards a secularized, materialist Buddhism. It's based on a purely medical & not psychological or spiritual view of mental health. & I also notice it among Vajrayanists & some Mahāyānists in which case it might be true ;), because their practices can be very wild & untamed.
susukhaṁ vata nibbānaṁ,
sammā­sambud­dha­desitaṁ;
asokaṁ virajaṁ khemaṁ,
yattha dukkhaṁ nirujjhatī


Oh! extinction is so very blissful,
As taught by the One Rightly Self-Awakened:
Sorrowless, stainless, secure;
Where suffering all ceases


etaṁ santaṁ etaṁ paṇītaṁ yadidaṁ sabbasaṅkhārasamatho sabbūpadhipaṭi nissaggo taṇhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaṁ

This is peaceful, this is excellent, that is: the stilling of all preparations, the relinquishment of all attachments, the destruction of craving, detachment, cessation, extinction.

danielmingram
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Re: Cautious about practicing consistent vipassana with mental health issues?

Post by danielmingram » Wed Aug 01, 2018 8:49 pm

Might check out the excellent book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness, by David Treleaven, for a bit more information on mental illness, trauma, and meditation. Might check out the scholarly work of Drs Willoughby Britton and Jared Lindahl regarding the phenomenology of meditation practice. Might talk with people such as Dr Sean Pritchard in Vancouver, dharma teacher and psychologist, about intensive meditation and mental illness. If you can get in touch with Jack Kornfield, he is a highly respected meditation teacher who also has trained in psychology and published scholarly studies on the effects of meditation, and I would bet you would benefit from conversation with him: try emailing Spirit Rock. In short, consult with well-respected experts and see what they have to say on the topic.

Most meditation centers screen for mental illness before people go on retreats there, and you should consult with any teacher and center that you were considering to find out what they are comfortable with handling.

Saying that any meditation technique that can sometimes lead to exacerbating mental illness is necessarily a bad one would be like saying any exercise that isn't perfectly safe or that can't exacerbate old injuries or physical problems is a bad one: one would be left with very few exercises one could safely perform.

Driving down the highway is clearly vastly more dangerous than meditation, yet most of us do it all the time.

Still, to present intensive meditation as perfectly safe would be irresponsible. If I said that training for an Ultra-marathon was perfectly safe, or that power-lifting was perfectly safe, or that rock-climbing was perfectly safe, you would clearly think me ignorant.

Yet, if I were to say, as I do in my book, that going on an intensive silent meditation retreat where you practice for 16-18 hours per day and learn to intentionally hallucinate (visualize) things like deities, etc. is not perfectly safe for people with mental health issues, suddenly there is blowback from people who appear to be saying that such practices are perfectly safe for everyone. Is that really fair and honest?

Are there really responsible meditation centers that know what they are doing who would dispute my claims that people sometimes freak out when they do very intensive meditation and that underlying mental health conditions can make this more likely? How is it that, by trying to do the right thing and be open and honest about what can cause what, this is somehow looked at as bad?

It would be like saying that we shouldn't list the possible side effects of meditations in the package insert, or shouldn't discuss the risks of surgeries with patients: would you really back this sort of medical practice arguing that all medications and surgical procedures are safe? Clearly not, and yet, somehow people have this notion that meditation must be entirely benign and that no problems can result from it despite all the evidence to the contrary.

When I was hanging out and living in the Burmese Vihara in Bodh Gaya, India, in the winter of 1995, the abbot and resident Theravada monk there was complaining that the winter retreat season had begun again, which included all sorts of teachers from various traditions, hosting retreats attended by all sorts of practitioners from around the world, and he said that it was basically inevitable that this year, like every year, some retreatants would go psychotic, and that the retreat managers tended to just unceremoniously drop these psychotic yogis off at his Vihara to let him deal with them, which he thought was irresponsible and sub-optimal from all points of view.

Check out the numerous reports of people having mental difficulties arising from meditation practice found on www.dharmaoverground.org, reports that come from many traditions and techniques, Buddhist and otherwise. I am not saying that these practices aren't amazing, just as I would say that lots of sports and exercises can be amazing for the body, but they are not entirely risk free, and the risk clearly goes up when people have underlying mental health problems and when the dose gets a lot higher, such as on very intensive retreats.

Best wishes sorting out how best to benefit from the wisdom of these traditions. As recommended above, keep sane, reasonable, experienced teachers and mental health practitioners in the loop, cultivate good dhamma friends, and report honestly what happens as a result of any meditation practice you do.

Daniel M. Ingram, author of the book in question

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Re: Cautious about practicing consistent vipassana with mental health issues?

Post by cappuccino » Mon Aug 06, 2018 10:02 pm

said by the Arhat:
As even a little excrement is of evil smell, I do not praise even the shortest spell of existence, be it no longer than a snap of the fingers.

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