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  • Mindfulness vs. Concentration

    Hi All. I'm a new member here. What brought me to this site is the fact that it's very difficult to find other Buddhists where I'm located (S. America) who work with a visual nimitta or even Anapanasati. I have been meditation for a couple of years (1 to 2 hours a day, everyday) without a formal teacher by following the instructions as presented by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (Mindfulness of Breathing) as well as read the books by Ajahn Brahm. Thank you very much for having this forum. Without it, many individuals such as myself would virtually have no one to turn for immediate guidance. Thank you!

    I have a couple of questions:

    1. if tactile nimittas arise during the breathing, should they be completely ignored? Buddhadasa says that these too can be used to
    concentrate on them, but he speaks of many different nimittas arising during the process. I have no preference but don't want to be
    confused by the unpredictability of the nimittas.

    2. since it's impossible for me to gauge someone else's proper mental effort during meditation, what would you say is the proper relationship or ratio between mindfulness and concentration during meditation? Is it more focused concentration (70%) and only 30% of mindfulness? Or is it more mindfulness (70%) and only 30% concentration? Or is it 50/50 or how is it? By "mindfulness" I mean "being aware of the breathing", by "concentration" I mean focusing on the breathing itself. Can you provide me for a good recipe with some good ratios? I need to know where to exert the most energy and where to exert the least.

    3. To be honest, I never understood what "applied thought" is. Is this "concentration"? And "discursive thought" the analyzing of the meditation process?

    4. several times I have heard happening to others (and has happened to me), of suddenly seeing oneself's encircled by a whitish/creamish/goldenish glow/light surrounding the body. In my experience this has been accompanied by a feeling of a benevolent love (not too overwhelming) and being literally almost inside an oven (no pain though). In my case it has happened for no apparent reason that I can understand, and others can't seem to explain what it was and how they got there.

    Can you please tell me what this was? All I know is that I fell into some day-dreaming for a couple of seconds and when I refocused my attention I saw a very bright nimitta and the rest just happened by itself. This has happened around 4 or 5 times.

    5. Can you please tell us how important is it to have the chakras fully activated before one can enter into Jhana? Is Jhana analoguous to having activated Kundalini? The reason why I ask is because nearly everyone speaks of "cultivation" of the practice. The Buddha stated that he had felt the "winds" prior to doing mindfulness of breathing, that he had felt a terrible "pain" in his head and stomach. This sounds similar to kundalini awakening. Basically what I'm trying to find out if it's possible for most mortals to enter Jhana without having first raised their kundalini or activated all the chakras. In other words, perhaps someone can theoretically sit there and do everything right but because they don't have enough of this energy activated already, they won't be able to reach Jhana?

    6. very often during meditation (after the 40 to 50 minute mark usually, I start seeing some very clear imagery (almost like a vivid dream/image) of the ocean and vasts bodies of water. It happens frequently enough that I would like to find out what it means. Most of the time it seems like I'm floating either right on top of the water although I've never seen my "body" there, it's just water with some monotonous waves.

    For now, this is all. I look forward to seeing the replies. Thanks in advance!

    Dan

  • #2
    Dear Dan,

    if tactile nimittas arise during the breathing, should they be completely ignored?
    The idea of "tactile nimittas" is controversial. It seems to me that such a nimitta would be difficult to distinguish from the plain experience of joy and happiness (pīti-sukha), which is an important part of meditation already prior to the arising of the nimitta. In other words, it may be difficult to distinguish between ordinary joy and happiness and a tactile nimitta. By way of contrast, the advantage of the "visual" nimitta is that it is a clear experience apart from, or in addition to, the feeling of rapture and happiness. For this reason it is easier to gauge your progress with a visual nimitta. At least this is how it seems to me.

    I would suggest you ignore the tactile nimitta, and go for the visual one instead.

    what would you say is the proper relationship or ratio between mindfulness and concentration during meditation?
    I am not sure if this distinction is useful. Remember that mindfulness leads to samādhi. The way I see the progress of meditation is along the following lines. As the mind settles down, the breath tends to naturally arise in one's awareness. The transition from being distracted (or being tired or whatever) to watching the breath therefore comes about quite naturally. It is best to avoid the kind of willpower that is implied in choosing the "ratio between mindfulness and concentration", as you put it. Willpower is always opposed to true peace. As the breath becomes more and more stable, the mental focus gradually becomes stronger. At a certain point joy will arise, and this joy will provide the glue (as Ajahn Brahm likes to say) that keeps the attention on the breath. The process at this point is self-sustaining, and it gradually tends to deepen all by itself.

    To be honest, I never understood what "applied thought" is. Is this "concentration"? And "discursive thought" the analyzing of the meditation process?
    The meaning of these two words, "applied thought" and "sustained thought", vitakka and vicāra in Pali, varies with the context. In non-meditative contexts they mean "thought" and are used as such throughout the suttas. In deep samādhi, however, particularly in the first jhāna, it is only the very last vestige of vitakka and vicāra that remains. Since thought can be described as a movement of the mind, vitakka and vicāra in first jhāna is the most refined movement of mind possible, before they both cease completely in the second jhāna. This is why the Visuddhimagga describes them as the mind moving onto its object (vitakka; in first jhāna the object is the bliss), and the mind holding on to the object (vicāra). Even prior to jhāna this is the basic function of these two mental factors.

    several times I have heard happening to others (and has happened to me), of suddenly seeing oneself's encircled by a whitish/creamish/goldenish glow/light surrounding the body. In my experience this has been accompanied by a feeling of a benevolent love (not too overwhelming) and being literally almost inside an oven (no pain though).
    This sounds to me like your mind is brightening up, as a consequence of which you perceive light. The feeling of benevolent love is a sign that the hindrances are lessening, and probably also the result of the arising of joy (pīti). The sense of being in a "an oven" is probably due to the external world becoming more remote. Remember that the process of meditation is a gradual overcoming of the five external senses, and in that process you will gradually feel more and more self-contained, as if the external world gets cut off. It sounds to me like your samādhi is developing well.

    Can you please tell us how important is it to have the chakras fully activated before one can enter into Jhana?
    The problem here is one of language. I don't really know what these terms mean; they are not used in the suttas or generally in Buddhist circles. What you need to enter deep samādhi is stillness and joy and happiness. If these are present in sufficient strength, nothing can stop you from entering jhāna.

    When the Buddha stated that he "had felt the 'winds' prior to doing mindfulness of breathing" and "that he had felt a terrible 'pain' in his head and stomach", you are presumably referring to the ascetic practices he performed before gaining awakening, described in such suttas as MN36. But don't forget that these practices were wrong, and did not lead to awakening. Nowhere does the Buddha encourage this sort of practice, and they are certainly not part of the Buddhist path.

    very often during meditation (after the 40 to 50 minute mark usually, I start seeing some very clear imagery (almost like a vivid dream/image) of the ocean and vasts bodies of water. It happens frequently enough that I would like to find out what it means. Most of the time it seems like I'm floating either right on top of the water although I've never seen my "body" there, it's just water with some monotonous waves.
    It is quite common for people to have all sorts of unusual perceptions as the mind becomes more quiet. Most people are fascinated by these perception, but they rarely seem to have any specific meaning. Most of the time they are likely to be mere fabrications of the mind. I would suggest you simply ignore this imagery and go back to the breath or the nimitta. What you really want to do is to unify the mind to the point where you go beyond all such mental imagery.

    With metta.

    Comment


    • #3
      Mindfulness vs. Concentration

      First, thank you VERY MUCH for taking the time to respond to each of my questions. Please see some additional comments below in red.

      The idea of "tactile nimittas" is controversial. It seems to me that such a nimitta would be difficult to distinguish from the plain experience of joy and happiness (pīti-sukha), which is an important part of meditation already prior to the arising of the nimitta. In other words, it may be difficult to distinguish between ordinary joy and happiness and a tactile nimitta. By way of contrast, the advantage of the "visual" nimitta is that it is a clear experience apart from, or in addition to, the feeling of rapture and happiness. For this reason it is easier to gauge your progress with a visual nimitta. At least this is how it seems to me.

      I would suggest you ignore the tactile nimitta, and go for the visual one instead.

      Ok, thanks.

      I am not sure if this distinction is useful. Remember that mindfulness leads to samādhi. The way I see the progress of meditation is along the following lines. As the mind settles down, the breath tends to naturally arise in one's awareness. The transition from being distracted (or being tired or whatever) to watching the breath therefore comes about quite naturally. It is best to avoid the kind of willpower that is implied in choosing the "ratio between mindfulness and concentration", as you put it. Willpower is always opposed to true peace. As the breath becomes more and more stable, the mental focus gradually becomes stronger. At a certain point joy will arise, and this joy will provide the glue (as Ajahn Brahm likes to say) that keeps the attention on the breath. The process at this point is self-sustaining, and it gradually tends to deepen all by itself.

      From what I understand then, I should then just focus on the breath alone all throughout and the process will practically unfold on its own all the way to the nimitta? Do you try to focus/be aware of every milli-second of the breath duration, or you just focus more broadly on the in breath and then on the out breath as a whole? In other words, I noticed that the more forcefully or the more narrowly I scrutinize the breath, the mind starts to brighten very quickly. The first nimitta (the one that looks like a light house), I can usually raise it within 1 to 2 minutes, it then vanishes after 30 seconds to a minute due to the mind scattering. I can make the mind become pretty bright (not too bright like a bright nimitta though) and the other low intensity nimittas appear 3 to 5 times during a 60 minute sitting. I hardly ever experience any joy or happiness at all though.




      The meaning of these two words, "applied thought" and "sustained thought", vitakka and vicāra in Pali, varies with the context. In non-meditative contexts they mean "thought" and are used as such throughout the suttas. In deep samādhi, however, particularly in the first jhāna, it is only the very last vestige of vitakka and vicāra that remains. Since thought can be described as a movement of the mind, vitakka and vicāra in first jhāna is the most refined movement of mind possible, before they both cease completely in the second jhāna. This is why the Visuddhimagga describes them as the mind moving onto its object (vitakka; in first jhāna the object is the bliss), and the mind holding on to the object (vicāra). Even prior to jhāna this is the basic function of these two mental factors.

      Ok, I see. Thanks.



      This sounds to me like your mind is brightening up, as a consequence of which you perceive light. The feeling of benevolent love is a sign that the hindrances are lessening, and probably also the result of the arising of joy (pīti). The sense of being in a "an oven" is probably due to the external world becoming more remote. Remember that the process of meditation is a gradual overcoming of the five external senses, and in that process you will gradually feel more and more self-contained, as if the external world gets cut off. It sounds to me like your samādhi is developing well.

      I mis-communicated the "inside an oven" analogy. Perhaps I should have said inside a "hot" oven as the body feels very, very hot, I can even smell something burning. The glow of light surrounding the body I can see it with the eyes wide open. Is this samadhi?

      The problem here is one of language. I don't really know what these terms mean; they are not used in the suttas or generally in Buddhist circles. What you need to enter deep samādhi is stillness and joy and happiness. If these are present in sufficient strength, nothing can stop you from entering jhāna.

      When the Buddha stated that he "had felt the 'winds' prior to doing mindfulness of breathing" and "that he had felt a terrible 'pain' in his head and stomach", you are presumably referring to the ascetic practices he performed before gaining awakening, described in such suttas as MN36. But don't forget that these practices were wrong, and did not lead to awakening. Nowhere does the Buddha encourage this sort of practice, and they are certainly not part of the Buddhist path.

      OK, I just wanted to make sure that the chakras being all open and activated wasn't a requirement, as I may have heard otherwise in the past.

      It is quite common for people to have all sorts of unusual perceptions as the mind becomes more quiet. Most people are fascinated by these perception, but they rarely seem to have any specific meaning. Most of the time they are likely to be mere fabrications of the mind. I would suggest you simply ignore this imagery and go back to the breath or the nimitta. What you really want to do is to unify the mind to the point where you go beyond all such mental imagery.

      OK.

      With metta.

      Comment


      • #4
        Dear Dan,

        From what I understand then, I should then just focus on the breath alone all throughout and the process will practically unfold on its own all the way to the nimitta?
        Yes.

        Do you try to focus/be aware of every milli-second of the breath duration, or you just focus more broadly on the in breath and then on the out breath as a whole?
        A broad focus on the in- and out-breath as whole is usually fine. Don’t “try” too much to focus, because force will tend to disturb the natural ease that is required to go deeper. If you can just stay with the breath, the experience will tend to deepen by itself. One of the most important qualities you need is patience.

        I hardly ever experience any joy or happiness at all though.
        The joy and happiness are very important. They are two of the most important signposts that you are moving in the right direction. First jhāna is characterised by joy and happiness, but the joy begins long before you get to jhāna.

        I mis-communicated the "inside an oven" analogy. Perhaps I should have said inside a "hot" oven as the body feels very, very hot, I can even smell something burning. The glow of light surrounding the body I can see it with the eyes wide open. Is this samadhi?
        People experience these things differently. But normally the body feels very much at ease as you approach samādhi, usually nice and cool.

        With metta.

        Comment

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