Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
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Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana

Post by firststeps » Sat Sep 07, 2013 7:07 pm

Hi everyone! First post here. :)


I don't know much, if anything, about Buddhism outside of what I've read on Wikipedia, but a friend of mine who went on a Vipassana retreat got me into meditating with him a few weeks ago. I have found the experience of meditating with him to be extremely calming and peaceful overall.

I have pretty awful social anxiety which has had a terrible impact on my life. But I've noticed that when I'm meditating it feels like I'm sort of laying down my burdens for a little while. Instead of getting wrapped up in cycles of self-doubt (and at my worst, self-loathing), it feels like a huge wave of pure relief to spend even a small amount of time doing something simple, just observing the breath at the point of my nostrils and the way that feels, instead of obsessing about me, me, me, how I talk, how I look, etc.


Anyway, I've started reading Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana on the recommendation of someone online, and I love how clear and straightforward it is compared to Wikipedia explanations which provide no examples or elucidation. Still, there are bits that I could use some help with, if someone would be kind enough to help. In the book, he says:
Mindfulness is present time awareness. It takes place in the here and now. It is the observance of what is happening right now, in the present moment. It stays forever in the present, surging perpetually on the crest of the ongoing wave of passing time. If you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is memory. When you then become aware that you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is mindfulness. If you then conceptualize the process and say to yourself, "Oh, I am remembering", that is thinking.

Mindfulness is non-egoistic alertness. It takes place without reference to self. With Mindfulness one sees all phenomena without references to concepts like 'me', 'my' or 'mine'. For example, suppose there is pain in your left leg. Ordinary consciousness would say, "I have a pain." Using Mindfulness, one would simply note the sensation as a sensation. One would not tack on that extra concept 'I'. Mindfulness stops one from adding anything to perception, or subtracting anything from it. One does not enhance anything. One does not emphasize anything. One just observes exactly what is there - without distortion.
This was really important to me, because before this whenever I came across the whole notion of the present-time awareness thing, I was confused about how you could maintain that state while at the same time using memories or planning - stuff you obviously need to do in life.

The thing I'm struggling with is the last sentence of the first paragraph. Is he saying that that mode of thinking is something to be avoided in mindfulness meditation? And if so, why is it incorrect? Is it because of the "I" part involves egotistic alertness he warns against in the second paragraph? Or is it because you're saying something to yourself internally instead of just observing the remembering?

Thank you for reading! :jumping:

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Re: Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana

Post by Samma » Sat Sep 07, 2013 7:42 pm

Yes MiPE does talk about mindfulness as non-conceptual. But this is somewhat controversial and not everyone would agree. EG this quote by Bhikkhu Bodhi in What Does Mindfulness Really Mean:
Since mindfulness plays the key role in such meditations as recollection of
the Buddha, the perception of the body’s repulsiveness, and mindfulness of death, it is also hard to see how mindfulness can be essentially non-conceptual and non-discursive. In certain types of mindfulness practice, conceptualization and discursive thought may be suspended in favour of non-conceptual observation, but there is little evidence in the Pali Canon and its commentaries that mindfulness by its very nature is devoid of conceptualization. In some types of mindfulness practice emphasis falls on simple observation of what is occurring in the present, in others less so.
Even in the simple observational stance, there is a dichotomy in how mindfulness is applied. Mindfulness may be focused on a single point of observation, as in mindfulness of breathing, especially when developed for the
purpose of attaining concentration (samadhi). But mindfulness may also be open and undirected, accessing whatever phenomena appear, especially when applied for the purpose of developing insight (vipassana). Still other types of mindfulness practice make extensive use of conceptualization and discursive thought, but apply them in a different way than in ordinary thinking. Instead of allowing thought to drift at random, governed by defiled emotions, habit patterns, and practical survival needs, the meditator deliberately uses thought and concepts to keep the object before the mind

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Re: Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana

Post by mikenz66 » Sat Sep 07, 2013 9:06 pm

Welcome Firststeps,

As Samma says, there's nothing specifically wrong about conceptualizing. Bhikkhu Bodhi's quote is very useful in drawing some distinctions between several possible applications of mindfulness. This is important, because it is easy to become confused if you compare instructions from different teachers, who are taking different approaches.

The approach that Bhante G (and many others) is discussing in the quote you gave involves becoming more and more aware of exactly what is going on. So, as Bhante G says: 'If you then conceptualize the process and say to yourself, "Oh, I am remembering", that is thinking.' In that case you should recognise that you are thinking about the experience, rather than just observing it.

The Buddha gave this training advice to Bahiya, which is relevant to the instructions we are discussing here:
"Herein, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: 'In the seen will be merely what is seen; in the heard will be merely what is heard; in the sensed will be merely what is sensed; in the cognized will be merely what is cognized.' In this way you should train yourself, Bahiya. ...
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .irel.html
Of course, this is an advanced practice, and, as Bhante G indicates, most of us will often find ourselves thinking, rather than observing...


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Re: Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana

Post by firststeps » Sat Sep 07, 2013 10:53 pm

Thank you to you both! That was really useful.

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