Absorption in Insight Meditation

On the cultivation of insight/wisdom
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rightviewftw
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Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by rightviewftw » Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:01 am

I want to share this excerpt from A Discourse on the Sallekha Sutta by Mahasi Sayadaw.
Absorption in Insight Meditation

Insight meditation and absorption have some characteristics in common. When the practice of mindfulness is well established at the exploratory stage, i.e. knowledge by comprehension (sammasanañāna), there are initial application (vitakka), sustained application (vicāra), joy (pīti), bliss (sukha), and one-pointedness (ekagattā). Thus, whenever the meditator observes any phenomenon, his insight meditation is somewhat like the first absorption with its five characteristics.

When the meditator gains insight-knowledge of the arising and passing away of all phenomena, he is fully aware of an arising object without initial or sustained application. He has intense joy, bliss, and tranquillity, thus his meditation is somewhat like the second absorption with its three attributes.

The disappearance of the light, and so forth — the corruptions of insight (upakkilesa) — marks an advance in the insight-knowledge of the arising and passing away of phenomena. Then there is no joy, but bliss is very intense. The mind is tranquil and free from distractions. The meditator has the bliss and one-pointedness that are characteristics of the third absorption.

The higher levels of insight-knowledge such as knowledge of dissolution (bhangañāna), wherein the meditator sees only the passing away usually have nothing to do with joy. They are characterised by equanimity and one-pointedness. The former is especially pronounced at the stage of knowledge of equanimity about formations. At this stage the insight meditation is akin to the fourth absorption with its two attributes of equanimity and one-pointedness.

Furthermore, at times the meditator’s whole body disappears, giving him the impression of being in space. At that moment he is like a person absorbed in ākāsānañcāyatana jhāna. At other times, attention is fixed exclusively on consciousness and then the meditator’s state of consciousness resembles viññānañcāyatana jhāna. On occasions, it seems as though he were noting nothingness, a state somewhat like ākiñcaññāyatana jhāna. Sometimes the consciousness may be so transcendental that it becomes non-existent, a state on par with that of nevasaññā-nāsaññāyatana jhāna.

These characteristics that insight meditation has in common with absorption often leads to complacency, which is an obstacle to spiritual progress. In meditation it is necessary to note these unusual experiences and reject them. In the Sallekha Sutta, the Buddha, after pointing out the misleading nature of absorption, proceeds to spell out the practice of effacement that is calculated to root out defilements.

I also wonder if one could use the pleasant feelings of varying intensity ranging from occasional to pervasive which arise of insight meditation to enter the first absorbtion?

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JamesTheGiant
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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by JamesTheGiant » Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:22 am

rightviewftw wrote:
Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:01 am
I also wonder if one could use the pleasant feelings of varying intensity ranging from occasional to pervasive which arise of insight meditation to enter the first absorbtion?
Yes you can. I don't remember which Ajahn told me this, but at one stage he advised me to drop the breath awareness, and use the Sukha (of Piti-Sukha) as the meditation object instead. That sukha is present all the way into jhana, so it can be used.

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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by rightviewftw » Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:43 am

JamesTheGiant wrote:
Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:22 am
rightviewftw wrote:
Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:01 am
I also wonder if one could use the pleasant feelings of varying intensity ranging from occasional to pervasive which arise of insight meditation to enter the first absorbtion?
Yes you can. I don't remember which Ajahn told me this, but at one stage he advised me to drop the breath awareness, and use the Sukha (of Piti-Sukha) as the meditation object instead. That sukha is present all the way into jhana, so it can be used.
Thanks for the information. Do you think one should keep noting as in "i am feeling a pleasant feeling" or "pleasure, pleasure"?

jabalí
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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by jabalí » Sun Jul 01, 2018 12:59 pm

Offtopic, but interesting quote from page 159:
Cause of Confusion:
Some people do not appreciate meditation since they do not take the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta seriously. The Buddha’s teaching is simple and straightforward, but they mix it up with the teaching of the Abhidhamma and Commentaries — hence their confusion

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cjmacie
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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by cjmacie » Sun Jul 01, 2018 3:11 pm

That quotation in the OP looks like the Sayadaw may be aligning the 4 jhanas with various of his 16 stages of the progress of insight, much like the "vipassana jhana-s" as described in more detail by the Sayadawgyi Pandita (Chapter 5 in "In This Very Life" http://www.aimwell.org/inthisverylife.html).
rightviewftw wrote:
Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:43 am
JamesTheGiant wrote:
Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:22 am
rightviewftw wrote:
Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:01 am
I also wonder if one could use the pleasant feelings of varying intensity ranging from occasional to pervasive which arise of insight meditation to enter the first absorbtion?
Yes you can. I don't remember which Ajahn told me this, but at one stage he advised me to drop the breath awareness, and use the Sukha (of Piti-Sukha) as the meditation object instead. That sukha is present all the way into jhana, so it can be used.
Thanks for the information. Do you think one should keep noting as in "i am feeling a pleasant feeling" or "pleasure, pleasure"?
"Noting", as per Mahasi's writings (and retreat instructions to this day at Panditãrãma centers) should get beyond the verbalization fabrication as soon as possible. It's really more "knowing" phenomena, becoming progressively more intense as one deepens the insight with greater concentration.

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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by rightviewftw » Mon Jul 02, 2018 3:20 am

cjmacie wrote:
Sun Jul 01, 2018 3:11 pm
"Noting", as per Mahasi's writings (and retreat instructions to this day at Panditãrãma centers) should get beyond the verbalization fabrication as soon as possible. It's really more "knowing" phenomena, becoming progressively more intense as one deepens the insight with greater concentration.
Do you mean that one should stop using the noting in favor of knowing? I've never read this in Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw's writings, where is this from?

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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Jul 02, 2018 3:59 am

rightviewftw wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 3:20 am
cjmacie wrote:
Sun Jul 01, 2018 3:11 pm
"Noting", as per Mahasi's writings (and retreat instructions to this day at Panditãrãma centers) should get beyond the verbalization fabrication as soon as possible. It's really more "knowing" phenomena, becoming progressively more intense as one deepens the insight with greater concentration.
Do you mean that one should stop using the noting in favor of knowing? I've never read this in Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw's writings, where is this from?
The terminology is confusing. Some teachers use "noting" to mean giving a name (such as "seeing"). However, if we call giving the experience "naming" and the bringing of attention to the experience "noting", then it is important to remember that the "noting" is the key thing, and the "naming" is just a particular method to improve the "noting".

Different teachers have different opinions about when you should drop the "naming". Some quite soon, others only after a lot of experience, when the noticing gets really fast and the naming becomes too cumbersome.

Personally, I use naming whenever I can, since, for me, it cuts down on mental proliferation. And it can also be really useful in cases where the experience is confusing, and it's not clear exactly what it is. If I can find the right "name" it can become clearer...

:heart:
Mike

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rightviewftw
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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by rightviewftw » Mon Jul 02, 2018 6:21 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 3:59 am
rightviewftw wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 3:20 am
cjmacie wrote:
Sun Jul 01, 2018 3:11 pm
"Noting", as per Mahasi's writings (and retreat instructions to this day at Panditãrãma centers) should get beyond the verbalization fabrication as soon as possible. It's really more "knowing" phenomena, becoming progressively more intense as one deepens the insight with greater concentration.
Do you mean that one should stop using the noting in favor of knowing? I've never read this in Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw's writings, where is this from?
The terminology is confusing. Some teachers use "noting" to mean giving a name (such as "seeing"). However, if we call giving the experience "naming" and the bringing of attention to the experience "noting", then it is important to remember that the "noting" is the key thing, and the "naming" is just a particular method to improve the "noting".

Different teachers have different opinions about when you should drop the "naming". Some quite soon, others only after a lot of experience, when the noticing gets really fast and the naming becomes too cumbersome.

Personally, I use naming whenever I can, since, for me, it cuts down on mental proliferation. And it can also be really useful in cases where the experience is confusing, and it's not clear exactly what it is. If I can find the right "name" it can become clearer...

:heart:
Mike
I think it is wrong to stop noting and i have never seen Mahasi Sayadaw himself advice to stop noting at any point, not even when he talks about the Sekha training does he ever mention not-noting. Therefore i am curious where cjmacie read this in Mahasi's writings.

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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by Crazy cloud » Mon Jul 02, 2018 6:29 am

Maybe noting is another word for "praying", and when one stops noting activly is when the one taking notes has vanished and only a process of aware noting goes on ...

I have no clue, just throwing things into this space ... :juggling:
If you didn't care
What happened to me
And I didn't care for you

We would zig-zag our way
Through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain

Wondering which of the
Buggers to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing
- Roger Waters

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cjmacie
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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by cjmacie » Mon Jul 02, 2018 9:40 am

rightviewftw wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 3:20 am
cjmacie wrote:
Sun Jul 01, 2018 3:11 pm
"Noting", as per Mahasi's writings (and retreat instructions to this day at Panditãrãma centers) should get beyond the verbalization fabrication as soon as possible. It's really more "knowing" phenomena, becoming progressively more intense as one deepens the insight with greater concentration.
Do you mean that one should stop using the noting in favor of knowing? I've never read this in Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw's writings, where is this from?
Going to the first two Mahasi texts that came to mind.

1: in Practical Vipassana Exercises – a relatively brief focus on instructions
(notes going thru)
…mental note...
...keep the knowing mind on [the object]…
...knowing mental intention prior to action...
...knowing here-now mind-matter, not reflection into imagination...
...sense object processes more easily noticed than pure mental processes...
[recognize and dismiss purely mental, like imagining, reflecting, thoughts… they activate sense of self/I rather than knowing rising/falling of sense phenomena where there's nothing really there]
mental process of noticing accelerates... phenomena seen arising, falling quicker...
the meditator cannot possibly keep pace with the quick succession of varied experiences if he attempts to notice them by name
...
page 31 … note mentally, not verbally... what you name or say doesn't matter. What really matters is to know or perceive...
page 42
eventually to know clearly there are only material quality of object of attention and the mental quality that notices it – namarupa

2A: in the major work The Treatise on the Method of Vipassana Insight Meditation, Chapter 5
(1984 translation by U MIN SWE)
page 10
The ability to know each successive occurrence of the mental and physical processes at each of the six sense organs in acquired only when insight contemplation is fully developed. Since you are a beginner whose attentiveness and power of concentration are still weak, you may find it difficult to keep the mind on each successive rising movement and falling movement as it occurs. In view of this difficulty, you may be inclined to think: "I just don't know how to keep my mind on each of these movements." Then simply remember that this is a learning process. The rising and falling movements of the abdomen are always present, and therefore there is no need to look for them. Actually it is easy for a beginner to keep his or her mind on these two simple movements. Continue with this exercise in full awareness of the abdomen's rising and falling movements. Never verbally repeat the words rising, falling, and do not think of rising and falling as words. Be aware only of the actual process of the rising and falling movement of the abdomen.

2B: same work as translated as Manual of Insight
(2016 trans. Hla Myint, ed. Steve Armstrong et al)
page 3 (same passage as above)
True vipassanā practice is awareness of all of the mental and physical phenomena that are constantly arising at the six sense doors. However, in the beginning, because one’s concentration and awareness are not strong enough, it will be difficult to observe all of the phenomena that are constantly arising. One will not be skillful enough to follow all of the objects, or may get caught up in searching for an object to note. For these reasons, one should initially focus just on the rising and falling of the abdomen, which are occurring all the time and noticeable enough to observe without much difficulty. Later, when practice matures, one will be able to note the objects as they arise. So one should note the movements of the abdomen as “rising” and “falling,” concurrently and continuously from moment to moment. The meditator should do this mentally, not audibly.

Note: This comparison illustrates the degree to which the newer translation has reorganized the content, and taken-out Mahasi's voice and personalized teaching, so to speak.


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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by cjmacie » Mon Jul 02, 2018 11:38 am

rightviewftw wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 10:28 am
Looks like one ought to keep noting mentally but there is no need to name everything...
Yes.

"Noting" is perhaps a s/w unfortunate word to use as in English it's connotation is rather light -- taking note of, noticing. The sense the Sayadaw Mahasi uses, more clearly in discussions of more advanced stages in the progress of insight, is a penetrating realization of how the mind works every moment, at first how it behaves in reacting to sensory stimuli, and later in the subtler purely mental processes (which for beginners too easily can lead astray from momentary presence). More a sort of "gnosis" one might say. (The words "note", "know", etc. derive from the same Indo-European word root as Greek gnosis.)

That sense of thorough penetrating realization also suggests how, as the Sayadaw teaches, vipassana insight and the concentration that goes with it ultimately become virtually identical in intensity with jhana absorption.

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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by rightviewftw » Mon Jul 02, 2018 1:08 pm

cjmacie wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 11:38 am
rightviewftw wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 10:28 am
Looks like one ought to keep noting mentally but there is no need to name everything...
Yes.

"Noting" is perhaps a s/w unfortunate word to use as in English it's connotation is rather light -- taking note of, noticing. The sense the Sayadaw Mahasi uses, more clearly in discussions of more advanced stages in the progress of insight, is a penetrating realization of how the mind works every moment, at first how it behaves in reacting to sensory stimuli, and later in the subtler purely mental processes (which for beginners too easily can lead astray from momentary presence). More a sort of "gnosis" one might say. (The words "note", "know", etc. derive from the same Indo-European word root as Greek gnosis.)

That sense of thorough penetrating realization also suggests how, as the Sayadaw teaches, vipassana insight and the concentration that goes with it ultimately become virtually identical in intensity with jhana absorption.
The way i do it is i will note as in mentally verbalize rising - falling or in -out breath when i direct attention to those realities but if i notice ie sensations on the nostrils while observing the rising or falling i dont note the sensations at the nostrils, i just know that i noticed it and may note knowing if it seems fit. I also verbalize mentally "sitting, sitting" and the "touching". I notice too much to make a mental note of everything but if i did not note anything i think it would be impossible to focus and fulfill the instructions such as these;
...When sitting, he discerns, 'I am sitting.'...
"And how does a monk remain focused on feelings in & of themselves? There is the case where a monk, when feeling a painful feeling, discerns, 'I am feeling a painful feeling.' When feeling a pleasant feeling, he discerns, 'I am feeling a pleasant feeling.' When feeling a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he discerns, 'I am feeling a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling.'...

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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by cjmacie » Tue Jul 03, 2018 6:23 am

rightviewftw wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 1:08 pm
...
The way i do it is i will note as in mentally verbalize rising - falling or in -out breath when i direct attention to those realities but if i notice ie sensations on the nostrils while observing the rising or falling i dont note the sensations at the nostrils, i just know that i noticed it and may note knowing if it seems fit. I also verbalize mentally "sitting, sitting" and the "touching". I notice too much to make a mental note of everything but if i did not note anything i think it would be impossible to focus and fulfill the instructions...
That seems to correspond to the Sayadaw's instructions which appear to favor employing more explicit noting when the mind catches itself having drifted off into pure mental imagination or reflection. And observing that too explicit noting (to the extant of verbal fabrication) can slow down the mind when it begins to develop more skill and can observe momentary sensory phenomena more rapidly.

Two things impress me whenever I go back through the Sayadaw's writings / instructions, and also when listening to the opening instructions at a weekend retreat with the Mahasi-Pandita-lineage Sayadaw at the nearby Tathagata Meditation Center:

1: The admonition to apply oneself so entirely – every moment when awake, and even when going to sleep or first waking back up. On the one hand, it's not easy to do that; the degree of dedication approaches that usually only available to monastics who pursue a life of total renunciation. Also it could be said to gradually involve a sort of absorption, seclusion from any opportunity for hindrances to gain any firm footing. In his more theoretical writings, the Mahasi Sayadaw calls that vipassana khanika samadhi – insight and concentration working together moment to moment. I think one would have to admit maintaining that process for any length of time could be called an "absorbing" activity.

2: Though the instruction is clearly focused on the vipassana method, it's not enforced dogmatically, in the sense that both the Mahasi Sayadaw and the nearby Sayadaw abbot will readily admit the validity of using, for instance anapanasati attention to the breath at the nostrils, or the total absorption of jhana samadhi when the practitioner is so inclined, and can use those methods to the same goal. The seemingly dogmatic attitude I've found more in less advanced teachers and often random commentators, e.g. on internet forums.

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Re: Absorption in Insight Meditation

Post by rightviewftw » Tue Jul 03, 2018 8:18 am

cjmacie wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 6:23 am
rightviewftw wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 1:08 pm
...
The way i do it is i will note as in mentally verbalize rising - falling or in -out breath when i direct attention to those realities but if i notice ie sensations on the nostrils while observing the rising or falling i dont note the sensations at the nostrils, i just know that i noticed it and may note knowing if it seems fit. I also verbalize mentally "sitting, sitting" and the "touching". I notice too much to make a mental note of everything but if i did not note anything i think it would be impossible to focus and fulfill the instructions...
That seems to correspond to the Sayadaw's instructions which appear to favor employing more explicit noting when the mind catches itself having drifted off into pure mental imagination or reflection. And observing that too explicit noting (to the extant of verbal fabrication) can slow down the mind when it begins to develop more skill and can observe momentary sensory phenomena more rapidly.

Two things impress me whenever I go back through the Sayadaw's writings / instructions, and also when listening to the opening instructions at a weekend retreat with the Mahasi-Pandita-lineage Sayadaw at the nearby Tathagata Meditation Center:

1: The admonition to apply oneself so entirely – every moment when awake, and even when going to sleep or first waking back up. On the one hand, it's not easy to do that; the degree of dedication approaches that usually only available to monastics who pursue a life of total renunciation. Also it could be said to gradually involve a sort of absorption, seclusion from any opportunity for hindrances to gain any firm footing. In his more theoretical writings, the Mahasi Sayadaw calls that vipassana khanika samadhi – insight and concentration working together moment to moment. I think one would have to admit maintaining that process for any length of time could be called an "absorbing" activity.

2: Though the instruction is clearly focused on the vipassana method, it's not enforced dogmatically, in the sense that both the Mahasi Sayadaw and the nearby Sayadaw abbot will readily admit the validity of using, for instance anapanasati attention to the breath at the nostrils, or the total absorption of jhana samadhi when the practitioner is so inclined, and can use those methods to the same goal. The seemingly dogmatic attitude I've found more in less advanced teachers and often random commentators, e.g. on internet forums.
How i see it the full-time practice is essential not only for the initial attainment of the path but also for the re-attainment of fruition and the attainment of the higher Paths. I think having the jhana or not having it makes a lot of difference also for one who has attained the first path and is resolved on the higher path because it can be stressful not being able to be absorbed in fruition of the first path and the practice is somewhat more daunting compared to someone who practices for the second path and has a jhana. In case of the one who practices for re-attainment it is also essential to practice wholeheartedly because the insight must be quite strong for the absorbtion in the fruition even if it is already attained.

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