Author Topic: Shamatha for purification of the mind?  (Read 2108 times)

Teej

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Shamatha for purification of the mind?
« on: September 17, 2016, 07:49:05 AM »
Hello,

I am new to this community, and I'm very grateful to this forum for helping me realize that whatever difficulties I'm experiencing now is part of progress. I'm currently undergoing 'The Dark Night' phase of my meditation. I've been practicing under Goenka lineage for two years now and I've seen much changes in me esp. just right after my first course (probably it's the A&P phase). My incessant thinking got less and I felt I reacted neutrally to situations. This was also the time I got so many things material wise (maybe, as a reward from Dhamma?).

However, during my second course, it was a lot different. I felt like I regressed. So much tension from my mind and body had resurfaced. From then on, I've been on/off depression. It's been really hard. I got more anxious than usual. I couldn't focus or work on specific tasks. I lost many things (e.g. job) because of my disturbed mind. Though I do know that everything is anicca. I'm so so scared of death and thinking people around me would die; although I realize these are only sankharas I suppressed before.

A week ago, I've practiced Shamatha, and it seems to work. I had less fearful and gory thoughts compared to when I practiced Anapana. I calmed down a bit. However, I am wondering since Anapana can bring out all the negativities -- anger, pain, traumas onto the surface, it means it's cleansing the mind, which is a good thing. But how about Shamatha, doesn't it suppress the thoughts even more? or can I make sure that by practicing it I can also purify my mind and mental defilements just like what Anapana + Vipassana is doing?

I will be truly grateful if you can help me here through your answers and experiences.

With metta,
TJ

stillpointdancer

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Re: Shamatha for purification of the mind?
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2016, 11:21:12 AM »
I think that Shamatha meditation, such as mindfulness of breathing, neither 'cleanses' nor 'suppresses' thoughts. It gives the mind something else to concentrate on for a while so that it can deal with thoughts that do arise in a different way, maybe with a bit more objectivity than before. When stuff like you describe happens to me I know I need to go back to my basic meditations, like mindfulness of breathing, for a few months.

It might be that you need a little time out from courses, to just sit with these simple but powerful meditations for a while, and to not worry about making progress. The Dark Night of the Soul bit could be useful to dwell on years down the line, but may not be for now.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Teej

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Re: Shamatha for purification of the mind?
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2016, 12:16:39 PM »
Thank you Stillpointdancer, do you mean that I should focus more on breathing exercises for now rather than vipassana? Do you prefer anapana or shamatha? Apologies if I misunderstood.  And yes I agree, I plan to take a time out taking courses after courses. It might be a source of another sankhara of attachment. I am grateful to you.

In love and light,
TJ

Laurent

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Re: Shamatha for purification of the mind?
« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2016, 01:41:34 PM »
Hello,

I am new to this community, and I'm very grateful to this forum for helping me realize that whatever difficulties I'm experiencing now is part of progress. I'm currently undergoing 'The Dark Night' phase of my meditation. I've been practicing under Goenka lineage for two years now and I've seen much changes in me esp. just right after my first course (probably it's the A&P phase). My incessant thinking got less and I felt I reacted neutrally to situations. This was also the time I got so many things material wise (maybe, as a reward from Dhamma?).

However, during my second course, it was a lot different. I felt like I regressed. So much tension from my mind and body had resurfaced. From then on, I've been on/off depression. It's been really hard. I got more anxious than usual. I couldn't focus or work on specific tasks. I lost many things (e.g. job) because of my disturbed mind. Though I do know that everything is anicca. I'm so so scared of death and thinking people around me would die; although I realize these are only sankharas I suppressed before.

A week ago, I've practiced Shamatha, and it seems to work. I had less fearful and gory thoughts compared to when I practiced Anapana. I calmed down a bit. However, I am wondering since Anapana can bring out all the negativities -- anger, pain, traumas onto the surface, it means it's cleansing the mind, which is a good thing. But how about Shamatha, doesn't it suppress the thoughts even more? or can I make sure that by practicing it I can also purify my mind and mental defilements just like what Anapana + Vipassana is doing?

I will be truly grateful if you can help me here through your answers and experiences.

With metta,
TJ

Hello and welcome to this forum,

What do you mean about samatha and anapanasati?
I guess both are the same thing. Samatha is the generic term on applying attention to an object and anapanasati describes the technique of samatha applied on respiration.

It seems to be a reccuring problem with Goenka's vipassana technique that people tend to regress some time after their retreat.
I guess Goenka does not emphasize enough on samatha/anapanasati importance, saying the more vipassana you do, the best it is. But anapanasati is hugely important, especially in this kind of vipassana taught by S.N Goenka, and especially in everyday life where mind tends to get agitated.

When you are agitated, or/and have not a lot of time to practice, i suggest you to practice anapanasati most of the time. As you have practiced vipassana goenka technique during one course, you should naturally "feel" when it is better to switch to vipassana again.

Also, understand that the vipassana technique taught by S.N Goenka is a samatha in movement. In this particular technique, the focus and stability of mind are very important. It is helpful to take some time before moving attention from an area to an other and to practice slowly and carefully, just like when you do anapanasati, which is difficult when mind is agitated.

I also find that the metta taught by S.N Goenka is weak. I find the widespread method more efficient. Actually, metta is a kind of samatha, and Goenka does not teach it as this. I do not really criticize this, because in Goenka's teaching, metta will develop itself by purifying mind, which is also true, and then he teaches metta as a consequence of vipassana.
I prefer to practice the widespread method for metta, where it is seen rather as a practice, a cause, wishes. I find it more efficient.

With metta.


« Last Edit: September 17, 2016, 01:47:32 PM by Laurent »

Teej

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Re: Shamatha for purification of the mind?
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2016, 02:11:36 PM »
Laurent,

I came across this thread and to some meditators there seems to be an issue in anapana technique:


.....

Wherever your focus, though particularly at the nostrils, my answer will be the same and the same as advice I have often repeated. I think you may be trying too hard to concentrate without having first established a calm base of Shamatha meditation practice. Meditation begins as relaxing into your bodymind and reconnecting body and mind through total awareness of breath.

Awareness occurs throughout the body and mind through the distributed nervous system, though is of course centred in the brain - as the final organ of cognition of all perceptions.

There is a particular issue with Anapana at the nose. By focussing one's attention on the nose one is primarily using the 5th Cranial nerve, the Trigeminal nerve, as the  conduit of sensation to the brain. This means that most of the meditative activity is taking place entirely in your head because the Trigeminal nerve directly enters the brain stem and does not pass through the spinal cord.

The Buddha did not teach to focus breathing on the nose. For westerners who are often "head heavy" in their general way of living - and to some extent disembodied because of our cultural preference and conditioning towards rationality - this can be a particular and significant problem.

The Buddha taught:

Quote from: www.accesstoinsight.org
"There is the case where an aspirant -- having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building -- sits down cross-legged, holding the body erect and setting her (4) awareness before her. Always aware, one breathes in; aware one breathes out aware.

"Breathing in long, one discerns that one is breathing in long; or breathing out long, one discerns that one is breathing out long. Or breathing in short, one discerns that one is breathing in short; or breathing out short, one discerns that one is breathing out short. One trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the entire body and to breathe out sensitive to the entire body. One trains herself to breathe in calming the entire body and to breathe out calming the entire body.
"

So according to the Buddha the focus of meditation is the entire breathing experience and body, not the nostrils. And the prime first goals are awareness or sensitivity to the entire body and relaxation or calming.

This is important because when one is meditating in this way, as opposed to nostril-focussed Anapana, one is using/activating many other nerves and neurological systems - particularly the Vagus, or 10th Cranial nerve, "The Wanderer" - so called because it wanders down the neck, into the chest and abdomen and controls and senses the larynx, other parts of the speech and hearing apparatus and senses the visceral muscles of the chest, trunk and abdomen including the diaphragm and the organs including your heart (though control of the diaphragm is principally by the Phrenic nerve and the heart by the Cardiac nerve, you also want these fully activated).

The Vagus nerve amongst other things is responsible for:

Quote from: Yale School Of Medicine
Provides visceral sensory information from the larynx, esophagus, trachea, and abdominal and thoracic viscera, as well as the stretch receptors of the aortic arch and chemoreceptors of the aortic bodies .

 
Thus by focussing on the entire breathing process in the body one is activating many more nerves - particularly the Vagus, a very important nerve to have properly activated, and is actively reconnecting body (through the Vagus and other nerves) and mind (through awareness).

Anapana (focussing on the nostrils or area between lips and nostrils) or any other kind of breath meditation can be too forced, too aimed at achieving concentration and still mind. Anapana at the nostrils can heighten this imbalance due to the fact that most westerners live in their heads to a large degree.

Still mind can be quickly achieved by Anapana or any other over-forced breath meditation - but it becomes a form of self hypnosis and I believe this is what you are experiencing and describing.


.....


1) If you are focussing on the nostrils, then stop doing so for the reasons I have outlined, namely: (i) It is not what the Buddha taught and (ii) it is physiologically more likely to lead to self-hypnosis.

2) Develop awareness of your whole body breathing. Relax more during your meditation and feel the breath entering your lungs, feel the abdomen stretching out to accommodate this.  "train (yourself) to breathe in sensitive to the entire body and to breathe out sensitive to the entire body. Train (yourself) to breathe in calming the entire body and to breathe out calming the entire body." Let thoughts, feelings and emotions arise, be aware of them but do not engage of them. If you do then when you realise return to awareness of whole body breathing, noting the deviation from practice without self criticism.

My strong sense is that you are self-hypnotising and that proper calming, breathing Shamatha meditation, as described above, will overcome this obstacle.

Don't believe or disbelieve me. Try it for yourself for some time and see what difference in your experience occurs. It may take some time to get over the way you have been doing it until now if Anapana on the nose has been your practice.

Also do not be afraid to have the eyes open a little, looking gently at the floor 1 - 2 metres in front of you. The eyes should be relaxed - as in when sleeping - but not forcefully closed, when meditating.



So it seems it's best to breathe out of the body and not focusing mainly on nostrils. Do you think this technique is better?

With metta,

Teej

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Re: Shamatha for purification of the mind?
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2016, 02:18:27 PM »
I thought Samatha was focusing on entire breathing experience, and anapana was focusing only on the nostrils. Apologies for the vagueness.

Laurent

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Re: Shamatha for purification of the mind?
« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2016, 04:25:29 PM »
There are no problems, Teej,  it could be my mistake, depending on the sources of informations we have. Those are only terms, the important is to clearly precise what we are actually talking about, behind words.
I recently discovered that a lot of people seem to have issues with Goenka's method, so i probably won't suggest it to anyone now, though it has always been beneficial for me.
I recently tried to practice the method described by Matthew, and found it very efficient too, so i greatly recommand it if you have any problems with the Goenka method.
Techniques are only tools, the important is they are conform with the dhamma.

Best regards.

Re: Shamatha for purification of the mind?
« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2016, 09:42:54 AM »
I thought Samatha was focusing on entire breathing experience, and anapana was focusing only on the nostrils. Apologies for the vagueness.

According to my knowledge and experience Samantha deals with awareness. Anapana as taught by goenkaji deals with concentration.
One can say Samantha is vipassana in a way.
Samantha instructions are breathing in I relax my body and bodily fuctions , breathing out I relax my body and bodily functions.
Anapana as taught by goenkaji is breathing in I will concentrate on the sensations arising in a smallest portion of the body, breathing out I concentrate on the sensations arising in a small portion of the body.

But anapanasathi sutta if you read it talks about the above mentioned Samantha instructions. There is no where mentioning of above anapana instructions.

Goenkaji gives the anapana only to give a practitioner a little experience of working of mind and learning to work with it. That is the reason in 10day course least amount of importance is given to anapana meditation.

Again the vipassana meditation is little tweaked to add scanning from head to toe because if one follows the above mentioned Samantha instructions one gets stuck on relaxing the unpleasents sensations and the mind becomes preoccupied by unpleasant sensations and goes blind to relaxing present and neutral sensations.

So in a way experimenting with all instructions, analysing why a perticular change is present from original sutras in teachers teachings. If found useful only then adopting it till it is required and knowing exactly why you r holding on to the instructions and letting go of the instructions when required is an important step where many get caught.

All this is written based on my experience of the techniques. Needs and experiences can change from practitioner to practitioner.

stillpointdancer

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Re: Shamatha for purification of the mind?
« Reply #8 on: September 19, 2016, 10:43:22 AM »
Thank you Stillpointdancer, do you mean that I should focus more on breathing exercises for now rather than vipassana? Do you prefer anapana or shamatha? Apologies if I misunderstood.  And yes I agree, I plan to take a time out taking courses after courses. It might be a source of another sankhara of attachment. I am grateful to you.

In love and light,
TJ

It's hard to make generalizations, as all form of meditation are connected. Some say that you only need to find one simple meditation that suits you, and insight will inevitably follow. I can only say that when I feel that I need a break from vipassana meditation, I fall back on mindfulness of breathing and metta meditations for a while. If you have developed something basic like that to protect you when the going gets rough, then you have more confidence in sticking with the rough stuff sometimes.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

 

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