Author Topic: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?  (Read 7763 times)

Purple

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Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« on: September 15, 2014, 03:49:45 PM »
After years of basic shamatha practice, interspersed with long bouts of zazen at my local zen center, I discovered Mahasi Sayadaw's style of meditation. Several months ago that became my main form of practice. Since last year I've read Daniel Ingram's book Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha and studied quite a lot from this emerging school of enlightenment-centric Buddhism headed up by Mr. Ingram as well as Vince Horn of the Buddhist Geeks podcast and Kenneth Folk of Kenneth Folk Dharma. They all base most of their current practices and teachings on Mahasi's instructions.

I've searched this site numerous times trying to glean opinion and ideas about this method and these people but it's a pretty broad search and I couldn't really narrow the results enough for a coherent picture. I realize the most popular answer on this site to "is the Mahasi method just a gimmick?" would be "what is your own experience with it, Purple?", so let me answer that.

So far it's been pretty damn good.  I find the noting technique Mahasi espoused focuses my meditation and keeps me alert and aware. I don't know if it's leading specifically to the path of insight Mahasi described and Mr. Ingram maps so assiduously in his weird little book, but it feels helpful. I find it both refreshing and odd that this method - as well as these new teachers - has a very specific, very detailed syllabus of exactly what to expect, when to expect it, and how to handle it.

But so far it's working for me. My question remains, however, for those of you with more experience than me: Is this just a gimmick? A modern shortcut for people to impatient for the traditional shamatha/samadhi/jhana/vipassana route? Mahasi didn't create this method but he streamlined it for laypeople with busy, secular lives. Is that a good or bad thing? I've heard most of the arguments: the jhana method can trap people in its bliss but the Mahasi method of "dry insight" avoids that. The jhana model takes many lifetimes but the Mahasi method can bear fruit in this lifetime. Blah blah blah. You can find "facts" to support anything out there.

It seems like the more traditional route would produce deeper mindfulness, better samadhi, and a peace and serenity that would be useful in daily life and not just a vehicle for enlightenment. But it also seems like the Mahasi style produces results, at least for me.

Just curious, everyone. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Matthew

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2014, 11:55:55 AM »
The Buddha had lots of lay followers, some of whom were Arahants. If this practice was needed I'm sure it would appear in the historical record from the time but it's actually a modern invention. I haven't read Ingram's book but from the sound of it you are having difficulties working out where in its "assiduously" mapped territory you are!

Labeling can be useful: in the beginning it helps put a gap between experiencing for example "a thought" and returning to mindfulness. Personally I see it as a transitional tool though. You have to learn to ride the bike for yourself, however, and your experience may differ from mine.

Good to hear from you Purple.
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Goofaholix

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2014, 09:01:52 PM »
No Mahasi technique is not a gimmick and I'm not sure why you'd ask that question, it's probably the most influential technique that has come out of Theravada Buddhism in modern times.  However unlike Goenka it has been spread in a very decentralised way so has undergone varying degrees of modification.

Most IMS teachers teach with this technique as a foundation, though to varying degrees have modified or softened it.  It's common in Thailand for centres setup for lay retreats though some like Ajahn Tong have deviated from the main point and are teaching it as a concentration technique.  It's common in Malaysia.

In Burma it has been the most widely practised technique for decades, if you want t o practise it as Mahaisi taught it in a very methodical way then it's best to do so with a Burmese teacher.

I found it a good technique to get a grounding in but find it too clunky and mechanical, meditation should be an intuitive process and weeks of mental noting for 14 hours a day doing everything at snail speed can get tiresome. 

Matthew

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2014, 11:35:46 PM »
...
I found it a good technique to get a grounding in but find it too clunky and mechanical, meditation should be an intuitive process and weeks of mental noting for 14 hours a day doing everything at snail speed can get tiresome. 

That sounds as though your experience is similar to mine Goofaholix ... "a good transitional tool"?
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Purple

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2014, 01:32:46 AM »
The Buddha had lots of lay followers, some of whom were Arahants. If this practice was needed I'm sure it would appear in the historical record from the time but it's actually a modern invention.

But haven't the original methods of vipassana been lost? If they were still being practiced just as the Buddha taught we'd be nipple-deep in arahants by now. Most of the styles of vipassana today were created in the 19th and 20th centuries because those passed down from the Buddha's time evaporated. The suttas present several different methods, not all of which agree with each other, and often lacking concrete details.

I found it a good technique to get a grounding in but find it too clunky and mechanical, meditation should be an intuitive process and weeks of mental noting for 14 hours a day doing everything at snail speed can get tiresome. 

This was one of my fears. It's a little clunky sitting for half an hour noting the entire time. I don't think I could get all the way through an entire retreat that way. Over the past few weeks I've noticed that I can sometimes drop most of the mental noting after my mind becomes settled. So I'll still notice that my mind has drifted away and I'll usually mentally say "thinking," but that's about it. If I notice pain I don't think "pain," I just see it and move on. If I hear a loud noise I don't think "hearing," I just see it and move on.

And, as Goofaholix mentioned, I also feel meditation should be more of an organic, intuitive process. I've had good results from the Mahasi method but perhaps it's more because it's a new technique for me. Maybe after some time I'll figure out how to best relax and modify it, as so many IMS teachers have.

Thanks for the input, guys.

Goofaholix

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2014, 02:33:53 AM »
This was one of my fears. It's a little clunky sitting for half an hour noting the entire time. I don't think I could get all the way through an entire retreat that way. Over the past few weeks I've noticed that I can sometimes drop most of the mental noting after my mind becomes settled. So I'll still notice that my mind has drifted away and I'll usually mentally say "thinking," but that's about it. If I notice pain I don't think "pain," I just see it and move on. If I hear a loud noise I don't think "hearing," I just see it and move on.

It's a common misconception that noting means labelling.  Labelling is when think a word in your mind like "hearing", "rising", "falling" etc.  this is helpful when your getting started or when the mind is scattered.

Noting is when you are aware that something happened, there might be a split send of mental acknowledgement but no word is necessary, so it should be very quick and light.

You should progress from noting and labelling to just noting but people build the habit of labelling and teachers have to explain things with words so people get the idea that it's all about the words and can't let go of the labels.

So it should progress from very structured to a balance between structure and intuition.

Purple

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2014, 04:01:04 AM »
That makes good sense and I think it's the direction I'm heading. Heavy noting at the beginning of a sit which, as you say, helps when your mind is scattered. Then progressing to a faster, lighter touch as everything settles.

Matthew

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2014, 06:37:22 AM »
Quote
But haven't the original methods of vipassana been lost? If they were still being practiced just as the Buddha taught we'd be nipple-deep in arahants by now. Most of the styles of vipassana today were created in the 19th and 20th centuries because those passed down from the Buddha's time evaporated. The suttas present several different methods, not all of which agree with each other, and often lacking concrete details.

Yes, lost, general lack of arahants AFAIK - and these modern methods don't seem to be spitting them out either (there were several thousand in the Sangha when the Buddha died).

And again, yes, the Suttas often seem confusing or contradictory. Which is why I agree with this sentiment:

Quote
And, as Goofaholix mentioned, I also feel meditation should be more of an organic, intuitive process

That /\ is very much part of what I mean by "Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project."

Good to know you are gaining some benefit from the practice.

M
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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2014, 06:41:57 AM »
No, none of these techniques are gimmick. All these techniques are used to lay down the foundation of the building. They are here to calm the mind so that a meditator can take the next step. Calming the mind can be done in many ways just like you can build a foundation of a building. What's important is the building. Foundation has done its work.
Once the mind is calm all the activities of the mind are clearly observable. So next step is not taught in depth by any teachers.
It is taught in one word. LET GO. K 2 words  :D
A calm mind can clearly see what it means and will start working on its own applying whatever technique it has found works in letting go.

The problem is many meditators are hunk up is building the foundation. Work hard , use any method, finish the foundation...

Purple

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #9 on: September 19, 2014, 04:13:56 PM »
No, none of these techniques are gimmick. All these techniques are used to lay down the foundation of the building. They are here to calm the mind so that a meditator can take the next step. Calming the mind can be done in many ways just like you can build a foundation of a building. What's important is the building. Foundation has done its work.
Once the mind is calm all the activities of the mind are clearly observable. So next step is not taught in depth by any teachers.
It is taught in one word. LET GO. K 2 words  :D
A calm mind can clearly see what it means and will start working on its own applying whatever technique it has found works in letting go.

The problem is many meditators are hunk up is building the foundation. Work hard , use any method, finish the foundation...

Maybe gimmick was the wrong word in my original post. I suppose what I'm wondering is if Mahasi's method differs too greatly from the original method (whatever it might be). Or if it's a bastardization. The Buddha taught that jhana was the path to liberation, that only jhana solidified concentration to an effective degree for deep insight. Mahasi maintained that jhana was unnecessary. His method is a hybrid that supposedly builds concentration as it fosters insight. There is no foundation stage, where the meditator calms his mind and focuses his attention. It's everything all the time.

I know these are just quibbles. I realize that every meditator must find what works on their own. I'm just naturally curious about these things and I enjoy talking about them. I know the menu isn't the meal, but I like reading it.

Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #10 on: September 19, 2014, 04:53:16 PM »
You depend way too much on Buddha.
Analyse your progress , know the results required, experiment with complete focus on end results. Stand on your own 2 legs.
« Last Edit: September 19, 2014, 04:56:16 PM by siddharthgode »

Tobin

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #11 on: September 19, 2014, 09:34:28 PM »
I really enjoy Mahasi's method. I don't use it during my formal practice, but when I'm at work or in a public area it helps me connect with the world around me. Sometimes I try to pick out all the sounds I can hear in one area and it's like a beautiful symphony that never fails to make me smile. I wish I could stay connected with the myriad of noise all the time, but I'm not quite there yet.

So, I guess I can't say whether or not it's a gimmick, but it has certainly opened my eyes to a lot of things that I hadn't noticed before. I will definitely be keeping this method in my pocket, even if others say it can become a hindrance, as I haven't found anything else yet that keeps me in the moment with better quality.
Regards,
Tobin

Goofaholix

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #12 on: September 21, 2014, 09:11:49 AM »
Maybe gimmick was the wrong word in my original post. I suppose what I'm wondering is if Mahasi's method differs too greatly from the original method (whatever it might be). Or if it's a bastardization. The Buddha taught that jhana was the path to liberation, that only jhana solidified concentration to an effective degree for deep insight. Mahasi maintained that jhana was unnecessary. His method is a hybrid that supposedly builds concentration as it fosters insight. There is no foundation stage, where the meditator calms his mind and focuses his attention. It's everything all the time.

I don't believe the Buddha taught that "jhana is the path to liberation".  It is part of the path and a useful skill to develop, but it is not "the" path, the path has 8 components and jhana is only one of them.

Unfortunately jhana is often not obtainable for someone who has a busy mind, family, career, and mortgage, and even without those often needs conducive conditions over a sustained period.  Dry insight techniques give us a chance to develop insight first rather than bang our head against the jhana brick wall, and develop concentration also.  I'm sure if I had had a jhana or bust type attitude in my early days, it would have been bust.  Over time insight practice leads to a mind that is settled and doesn't cling, this is a mind more inclined to jhana.

Purple

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #13 on: September 22, 2014, 11:31:41 PM »

Unfortunately jhana is often not obtainable for someone who has a busy mind, family, career, and mortgage, and even without those often needs conducive conditions over a sustained period.  Dry insight techniques give us a chance to develop insight first rather than bang our head against the jhana brick wall, and develop concentration also.  I'm sure if I had had a jhana or bust type attitude in my early days, it would have been bust.  Over time insight practice leads to a mind that is settled and doesn't cling, this is a mind more inclined to jhana.

I totally get the dry insight approach and it makes sense. Mahasi refined this method specifically for the people you're talking about: those with busy minds and lives, families and careers. There's no doubt it's made a big impact on my practice. But, as others have pointed out, the ceaseless noting can get tiresome. I'd like to reduce the chatter in my mind. Sometimes noting practice leads to that; sometimes it seems to increase it.

But I seem to be experiencing a natural progression with this technique. I usually begin a meditation session with it. As I settle in I note all sorts of things: hearing, warmth, pressure, tension, pain, thinking, remembering, fantasizing, etc. As the session continues, the noting often begins to drop away on its own. My mind will lightly touch the things that I would have been mentally noting at the beginning of the sit. The big things still seem to get noted, thinking being the main one. This seems to lead organically to a calm, concentrated state of mindfulness which I can then use to silently examine whatever arises.

So it's one step after another, keeping at it, seeing what works the best. Sometimes I just do samatha practice, especially when I'm very anxious or frustrated. It's more calming than insightful but often that's what I need. And I'm becoming much more interested in MBSR. The more I learn about it the more of the dharma it appears to contain.

Goofaholix

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #14 on: September 23, 2014, 01:24:39 AM »
It sounds like you are on the right track.  Labelling is only useful to help you start seeing experiences objectively and for when the mind is very coarse.

I'd recommend you checkout the teaching of Sayadaw U Tejaniya http://sayadawutejaniya.org/ his teacher started out as a Mahasi teacher but he has since moved away from the mechanical aspects of Mahasi technique.  One of his teachings is that in Mahasi technique people usually end up with the mind "going out" to the various objects that arise, this can make it very tiresome, instead what you should do is put your effort into maintaining a mind that is open and aware, then the objects "come to" the mind which is much less tiresome.

Purple

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #15 on: September 23, 2014, 04:27:45 AM »
It sounds like you are on the right track.  Labelling is only useful to help you start seeing experiences objectively and for when the mind is very coarse.

I'd recommend you checkout the teaching of Sayadaw U Tejaniya http://sayadawutejaniya.org/ his teacher started out as a Mahasi teacher but he has since moved away from the mechanical aspects of Mahasi technique.  One of his teachings is that in Mahasi technique people usually end up with the mind "going out" to the various objects that arise, this can make it very tiresome, instead what you should do is put your effort into maintaining a mind that is open and aware, then the objects "come to" the mind which is much less tiresome.

Thanks, I'll check him out. I can understand the notion that the Mahasi method encourages one's mind to "go out." And it does indeed get tiresome. I certainly don't think I'd be able to continue it for the duration of a retreat. Always assuming I can afford to go on a long retreat sometime.

Spiny Norman

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #16 on: September 24, 2014, 12:57:42 PM »
It's a common misconception that noting means labelling.  Labelling is when think a word in your mind like "hearing", "rising", "falling" etc.  this is helpful when your getting started or when the mind is scattered.
Noting is when you are aware that something happened, there might be a split send of mental acknowledgement but no word is necessary, so it should be very quick and light.

I find occasional labelling and noting very helpful as an aid to maintaining mindfulness off the cushion.

Goofaholix

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Re: Is Mahasi Method Just A Gimmick?
« Reply #17 on: September 24, 2014, 08:59:50 PM »
I certainly don't think I'd be able to continue it for the duration of a retreat. Always assuming I can afford to go on a long retreat sometime.

Bear in mind Mahasi technique is really designed for retreats, on a retreat you have a daily interview with your teacher where you are expected tell him/her all the things you've noticed over the last day.  This keeps you on edge, energises you to keep looking, you don't want to turn up to the interview empty handed.

 

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