Author Topic: Trying samatha instead of Vipassana  (Read 3608 times)

J0rrit

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Trying samatha instead of Vipassana
« on: June 22, 2013, 12:12:24 PM »
Hello there,

I need some advice about this:

I have an anxiety disorder: my anxiety keeps increasing and my teacher told me that it may be better for me to continue with samatha rather than with Vipassana. He thinks of this because due to my anxiety that is increasing I am not able yet to objectively look at my feelings and thoughts, I identify with them still too much. That's why he recommended continuing with samatha for a while, and after a while I could try starting with Vipassana again. What is the reason for this ?

Could someone give me some extra advice about this?

Furthermore, the best way to exercise samatha is to focus on the breathing going in and out at the nostrils, right? Or is it maybe better to take one point at the abdomen as if there is a coin on it?

Thanks in advance,

With metta

redalert

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Re: Trying samatha instead of Vipassana
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2013, 01:31:24 PM »
To get to the root level of our defilements, we need to develope a sharp mind that can penetrate to the deepest level. At this level one can observe anicca(impermanence), anatta(no-self), and dukkha(unease). It sounds like you are having a difficult time practicing vipassana with your current level of concentration. Your teacher would like you to develope your concentration further(sharpen the mind), this will ease the transition towards practicing vipassana.
This sounds like a good plan given the current level of anxiety you are experiencing.

The smaller the area of awareness the sharper the mind will become. I practice with the breath at the entrance to the nostrils, and transition to vipassana from this location. Others have much sucess with the abdominal area. Whichever area you work with see if you can sustain the level of awareness in this area for longer periods of time, 1 min undisturbed, then 2 mins undisturbed, 5 mins undisturbed etc... as your level of sustained awareness strengthens you will notice the breath becoming subtler and subtler this will require sharper concentration to follow. If the mind becomes distracted as it will ;) just start again with a stronger determination to remain with the breath for a longer period.


J0rrit

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Re: Trying samatha instead of Vipassana
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2013, 05:25:20 PM »
To get to the root level of our defilements, we need to develope a sharp mind that can penetrate to the deepest level. At this level one can observe anicca(impermanence), anatta(no-self), and dukkha(unease). It sounds like you are having a difficult time practicing vipassana with your current level of concentration. Your teacher would like you to develope your concentration further(sharpen the mind), this will ease the transition towards practicing vipassana.
This sounds like a good plan given the current level of anxiety you are experiencing.

The smaller the area of awareness the sharper the mind will become. I practice with the breath at the entrance to the nostrils, and transition to vipassana from this location. Others have much sucess with the abdominal area. Whichever area you work with see if you can sustain the level of awareness in this area for longer periods of time, 1 min undisturbed, then 2 mins undisturbed, 5 mins undisturbed etc... as your level of sustained awareness strengthens you will notice the breath becoming subtler and subtler this will require sharper concentration to follow. If the mind becomes distracted as it will ;) just start again with a stronger determination to remain with the breath for a longer period.

I dont see how to use the abdominal area for samatha ? There is not enough pointed concentration in this area, right ? And furthermore I cant see how you can practice Vipassana from the location of the nostrils, this is a too much one-pointed focus for practicing Vipassana, right? As I understand it, if you for example take one-pointed focus (for example on the abdomen), the concentration will be inbalanced with the mindfulness. So to practice proper Vipassana it is in my understanding important that you focus on as much sensations of the abdomen as you can feel, so the concentration will be not that great (temporarily concentration) that it overpowers mindfulness, and that you won't be aware enough of all other mental objects.

By the way, when practicing Vipassana my concentration can be very good and I can focus on my breathing very well after a minute of 15. Is just that I have an enormous anxiety in daily life and even if I can just objectively see my thoughts, the anxiety will still be there. Especially when I am alone, than I feel very anxious, even though I can objectively look at my thoughts....

Is this kind of right ?
« Last Edit: June 22, 2013, 05:33:42 PM by J0rrit »

J0rrit

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Re: Trying samatha instead of Vipassana
« Reply #3 on: June 22, 2013, 11:34:36 PM »
I read a lot of literature now...everything is saying something else. Can someone maybe explain to me in simple stepts to perform samatha and Vipassana.

By example:

Samatha: focus on the nostrils
Vipassana: focus on all of the sensations of the rising and falling of the abdomen, which makes concentration weaker (less one-pointedness) and therefore mindfulness strong(er).

There is so much information and I allready read a couple of books but nothing gives me the right answers...

Everything confusis me at this moment. . .

redalert

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Re: Trying samatha instead of Vipassana
« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2013, 02:28:13 AM »
Hey JOrrit,

I will try to convey my understanding of this practice as it has been taught to me in my tradition.

We think we know our bodies, we think we have control over them. If I give the command arm move, my arm moves, if I give the command eye blink, it blinks. But what about my heart, if I give the command heart stop beating, it does not obey this order it continues to beat, if I command my stomach to stop digesting food it does not obey, it continues to digest food. The breath however works both ways, if I give the command take a deep breath, I take a deep breath, if i give the command take a shallow breath, I take a shallow breath, I can even stop breathing for a short period of time. But when I stop commanding the breath it goes back to its normal rhythm, it functions without the need to be commanded. Because the breath functions in this manner it acts like a bridge between these two levels of consciousness.

Now in my practice, I use the breath at the nostrils to develope concentration and a sharp mind. If my mind is dull, I begin just following the in breath and out breath as my mind concentrates and sharpens, I can feel the touch of breath, I can determine which nostril the breath is entering and exiting sometimes its from both, with further concentration the atmospheric temperatures of the breath becomes aparent, I notice the cool in breath and notice the warmer exhale. As concentration deepens the breath becomes very subtle and faint but I notice its continuity, there is no break like a constant waterfall from the nostrils to the upper lip. Even deeper a subtle sensation begins to become apparent on the tip of my upper lip, like a pulsing sensation. At this point I transition from anapana to vipassana, I switch my awareness away from the breath and give all importance to the sensations in this small area between the upper lip and nostrils.

Now, sensations(inner body energy) act like another bridge, a bridge between the dimension of form, and the dimension of the formless(nibanna). Observing these bodily sensations, we begin to penetrate past the aparent gross solidified sensations, we begin to witness these solidified sensations breaking up into very fast moving constantly arising and pasing away subtle sensations, a flow of energy.

Our job as meditators is to simply watch this process of mind turning into aparent solid matter, breaking up and changing back to mind without reacting. Like a bonfire burning, we simply watch the fire burn out without adding any new wood to the fire, it will take some time but eventually the fire will burn out. The trouble is that this is easy to understand but difficult to practice. Our old habit of the mind is to react with craving towards these pleasant subtle sensations and with aversion towards these gross intensified solidified sensations, we are constantly throwing more wood on the fire.

It is very important that we develope the ability to feel these subtle sensations, we need to work at the deepest level of mind to cut the roots of our defilements.

J0rrit

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Re: Trying samatha instead of Vipassana
« Reply #5 on: June 23, 2013, 08:46:34 AM »
Hey JOrrit,

I will try to convey my understanding of this practice as it has been taught to me in my tradition.

We think we know our bodies, we think we have control over them. If I give the command arm move, my arm moves, if I give the command eye blink, it blinks. But what about my heart, if I give the command heart stop beating, it does not obey this order it continues to beat, if I command my stomach to stop digesting food it does not obey, it continues to digest food. The breath however works both ways, if I give the command take a deep breath, I take a deep breath, if i give the command take a shallow breath, I take a shallow breath, I can even stop breathing for a short period of time. But when I stop commanding the breath it goes back to its normal rhythm, it functions without the need to be commanded. Because the breath functions in this manner it acts like a bridge between these two levels of consciousness.

Now in my practice, I use the breath at the nostrils to develope concentration and a sharp mind. If my mind is dull, I begin just following the in breath and out breath as my mind concentrates and sharpens, I can feel the touch of breath, I can determine which nostril the breath is entering and exiting sometimes its from both, with further concentration the atmospheric temperatures of the breath becomes aparent, I notice the cool in breath and notice the warmer exhale. As concentration deepens the breath becomes very subtle and faint but I notice its continuity, there is no break like a constant waterfall from the nostrils to the upper lip. Even deeper a subtle sensation begins to become apparent on the tip of my upper lip, like a pulsing sensation. At this point I transition from anapana to vipassana, I switch my awareness away from the breath and give all importance to the sensations in this small area between the upper lip and nostrils.

Now, sensations(inner body energy) act like another bridge, a bridge between the dimension of form, and the dimension of the formless(nibanna). Observing these bodily sensations, we begin to penetrate past the aparent gross solidified sensations, we begin to witness these solidified sensations breaking up into very fast moving constantly arising and pasing away subtle sensations, a flow of energy.

Our job as meditators is to simply watch this process of mind turning into aparent solid matter, breaking up and changing back to mind without reacting. Like a bonfire burning, we simply watch the fire burn out without adding any new wood to the fire, it will take some time but eventually the fire will burn out. The trouble is that this is easy to understand but difficult to practice. Our old habit of the mind is to react with craving towards these pleasant subtle sensations and with aversion towards these gross intensified solidified sensations, we are constantly throwing more wood on the fire.

It is very important that we develope the ability to feel these subtle sensations, we need to work at the deepest level of mind to cut the roots of our defilements.

Thanks for your answer! So if I understand you well, you begin your meditation always with samatha at the nostrils, and when concentration is strong enough you go through with Vipassana. But isn't Vipassana all about feeling the sensations in the abdomen and in the rest of the body, so you can 'jump' from mental object to object and just observe anything that comes up. As I understand you, you continue to stay focussed on the place between your nostrils and lip, but how I understand that that isn't really Vipassana, right?

Hopefully you have the time and effort the give me another good answer!

I'm really gratefull for your time,

greets

redalert

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Re: Trying samatha instead of Vipassana
« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2013, 11:24:36 AM »
To develope a sharp concentrated mind I work within the area between the base of the nostrils and above the upper lip, but my principal practice is vipassana, and at times I simply begin feeling sensations throughout the entire body.

At times the mind is undiciplined and I need to work within a smaller area constantly bringing the mind back to this point, sadly this is the case most of the time. But there are times when I can begin with vipassana. You are correct vipassana is not just about feeling sensations within this small area. Vipassana literally means to see things clearly, and this involves seeing things clearly throughout the entire framework of the body.

When there is sufficient ability to keep my mind focused where I place my attention and when the mind is sharp enough to feel these sensations I begin vipassana practice, This does not mean that my mind has reached ultimate concentration and is razer sharp it continues to strengthen as I practice vipassana. I begin by scanning the body part by part systematically( won't get into this in to much detail) and then in bigger parts feeling more of the body at once, and eventually being able to feel the entire body at once, in a single  inbreath I feel the entire body in a single outbreath I feel the entire body.

Observing this everchanging nature of this flow of energy in the body, and how thoughts affect this flow of energy, and training my mind not to react to this process is the practice. By simply observing this process with a calm balanced mind, the fire begins to burn out.

But remember even when we stop reacting to this process, and begin to simply observe,  we still have to burn through the old stockpile of wood!!!
« Last Edit: June 23, 2013, 11:32:46 AM by redalert »

J0rrit

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Re: Trying samatha instead of Vipassana
« Reply #7 on: June 23, 2013, 12:02:23 PM »
Allright, tnx for this. So instead of focussing just on the abdomen and sometimes also on the touching of my body on the cushion, it is crucial to work to feel all of the body at once, as you said. Is this what is meant with the 'breathing-body' ? Also I thought our attention could only by focussed on one thing at the time, instead of all of the body. So if I understand you properly, these are the steps for Vipassana:

- Start with a body scan
- Focus on the abdomen (part of the body scan I guess)
- And eventually this will lead to feel all of the body at once ( breathing-body ?),

What confusis me is that the Buddha never thaught this kind of practice, all he thaught is to follow your breath all the time (and he never described where to follow it, nostrils, abdomen or whatever). Maybe you can help me once more,

I really appreciate yourr help and time, can't say it enough I guess,

Greets
« Last Edit: June 23, 2013, 12:39:05 PM by J0rrit »

redalert

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Re: Trying samatha instead of Vipassana
« Reply #8 on: June 23, 2013, 09:45:39 PM »
So instead of focussing just on the abdomen and sometimes also on the touching of my body on the cushion, it is crucial to work to feel all of the body at once,  Is this what is meant with the 'breathing-body' ?

I think what your teacher wants is for you to not worry about vipassana at the moment, and to practice on building a sharp concentrated mind for now. Every retreat I have ever attended dedicates the inintial portion on this specific purpose. Without a sharp concentrated mind it is impossible to work at the subconscious level of mind and see this mind matter phenomenon arising and passing away. Even after a retreat it takes a dedicated daily practice to maintain the ability to work at this level. Have you ever attended a meditation retreat? It may be very beneficial as continuity of practice is an essential ingredient in cultivating a sharp concentrated mind. Unless you are blessed in this department.
It is crutial to feel the entire body at once, this shakes loose the deep rooted old stock of mental formations(sankharas) which otherwise would remain buried.
I believe this could be called the breathing body.
Also I thought our attention could only by focussed on one thing at the time, instead of all of the body. So if I understand you properly, these are the steps for Vipassana:

- Start with a body scan
- Focus on the abdomen (part of the body scan I guess)
- And eventually this will lead to feel all of the body at once ( breathing-body ?),

Its more like experiencing the inner body, there are literally trillions of these kalapas arising and passing away at any given moment in your body.  We need to develope the ability to experience these. This is the field of experiencial wisdom.
I don't want to get into technique with you, i'll leave that to your teacher in your particular tradition. There are many different techniques to teach people to experience this phenomenon, and you don't want to start mixing techniques. If you are interested in learning this particular technique then sign up for a 10 day goenka retreat, they have the proper facility to teach this technique to people.

What confusis me is that the Buddha never thaught this kind of practice, all he thaught is to follow your breath all the time (and he never described where to follow it, nostrils, abdomen or whatever).
Not according to the satipatthana sutta.

Mikeler

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Re: Trying samatha instead of Vipassana
« Reply #9 on: June 23, 2013, 10:53:02 PM »

I don't like the nostrils because it gives me a sense of being light headed, very ungrounded.

The abdomen is like a solid foundation which grounds me.

Btw, where are you learning meditation? I mean how did you find a teacher?

J0rrit

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Re: Trying samatha instead of Vipassana
« Reply #10 on: June 24, 2013, 07:22:20 AM »
At a Vipassana meditation centre in Amsterdam. It's the way of practise thought by mahasi sayadaw, that's why the Goenka-method confused me. The method according by mahasi sayadaw is mainly focused on the sensations in the abdomen instead of body-scanning, like the Goenka method. I think the method of mahasi sayadaw fits better for me, but I'm gone ask my teacher for a more precise explanation of the technique, and he can explain to me the exact difference between the goenka and mahasi sayadaw technique. I also read some people have succeeded in combining the two techniques, so I'm gone ask my teacher what he thinks of that.

Furthermore, the nostrils I use for Samatha only! I use samatha not only to sharpen my mind but to reduce anxiety when my anxiety gets to high throughout the day (I have an anxiety disorder). I also noticed that when I started doing both Vipassana AND Samatha, I don't uncosciously try to relax when doing Vipassana, because that is offcourse not the main point at all. I'm now better in just seeing the things as they are, nowing that I can use samatha later for my anxiety. I think this is a positive development.

Furthermore, my mind is sharp from time to time, but because of my anxiety I tend to use drugs (alcohol, benzodiazepines and sometimes even opiates) some now and than for a couple days in a row, which than reduces my mindfulness/concentration big time, and I need at least a week to 'recover' from that and become back at the same level of mindfulness.

 

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