I've had discussions from time to time with Robert and other followers of Ajahn Sujin's Abhidhamma-based approach to the Path. This approach emphasises the development of Right View and it is sometimes suggested that almost any sort of formal meditation practise is necessarily misguided as the meditator is trying to "get something" or "develop something" and in the process just enhances a sense of self.
Abhidhamma in Daily life, by Nina Van Gorkom writes:
My general response to such criticisms is that they do have a point, and presumably some teachers teach badly, but that the teachers I know recognise such problems. However, perhaps it is worth considering such warnings carefully.So long as one has not become a sotapanna one may deviate from the right Path, there can be wrong practice. There is wrong practice when, for example, one thinks that there should be awareness only of particular kinds of nama and rupa, instead of being aware of whatever kind of nama or rupa appears. People may for example believe that lobha, dosa and moha should not or cannot be objects of mindfulness. However, akusala cittas are realities which arise because of their appropriate conditions, they are part of one’s daily life. If one selects the objects of awareness, one will continue to cling to a concept of self who could exert control over one’s life. Some people believe that vipassana can only be developed when sitting in a quiet place, but then they set rules for the practice, and thus, they will not be able to see that mindfulness too is anatta.
Something that came up in a recent discussion with Robert and Alexander on E-Sangha was that what many teachers call “mindfulness” (sati) is actually “perception” (sanna) and that we can’t actually force sati to happen, it just arises due to conditions.
Interestingly, Joseph Goldstein points out exactly this in a talk I listened to recently - that paying attention to things (e.g. the “noting” in Mahasi-style practise) is sanna. However, according to the Abhidhamma, sanna is one of the proximate causes for sati (the other being sati itself).
It's the first talk at this link if anyone is interested...
When I talked to one of my teachers yesterday he said, basically "yes, the meditation instructions are actually for sanna so the instruction to 'develop sati' is misleading, since sati just happens, but it seems to be the normal way to describe it to beginners..."
I’ve often talked to him about the "wanting something" trap in meditation. When I mentioned that thoughts like "soon I'll feel relaxed and pleasant" still arise when I start walking or sitting he laughed and said "you know better than that...".
Hmm… but those thoughts arise dependent on conditions...