This section is dedicated to questions on Mindfulness Meditation from many students all over the world. If you have a question that you would like to ask you can said it to this address: Send a Message
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QUESTION from Christoph: "Hello Stephen, there is still some unclarity about the two paths of Mindfulness meditation. I understand the following:
Samatha = Concentration to only one (primary) meditation object, e.g. the breath and later the lights (nimittas) , which can lead to the jhanas 1 - 8. I also understood, that after the jhanas there is"automatically" insight and mindfulness present, because of the deep experiences."
ANSWER: Yes some teachers believe and teach that insight automatically arises because of deep Jhana experiences, I teach you from my own understanding that more is needed then just absorption into Jhana. This is where you will find many teachers teach different paths, in the Theravadin tradition there is a disagreement over just how much concentration is needed and also in how deeply concentrated you need to be to follow the Buddhas path.
Concentration is one of the tools of the path but is not the only one.
QUESTION Continued: "My understanding is, that enlightenment is only possible via the jhanas ?"
ANSWER: Yes Jhana is part of the path, the question is what type of Jhana. The Buddha mentioned Jhana but he did specify the type. There are two types of concentration that Jhana is supported by:
Khanika Samadhi - momentary concentration develops to fourth Jhana and can be sustained in everyday life.
Appana Samadhi - fixed concentration develops to eighth Jhana and needs stationary posture with no distraction
When the mind is emerged in Jhana it is not possible to contemplate as the mind is in a state of non-duality - there is no separation between mind and object (nama / rupa). Contemplation is often done after emerging from Jhana on the Jhana factors still present in the mind, there are many Suttas on the Buddhas disciples doing this. To contemplate these factors to encourage wisdom to arise while the mind is no longer absorbed the contemplation is done using Khanika Samadhi using momentary absorption.
The difference between the two paths is not if Jhana is necessary, both paths agree that it is. The question is do you need to develop Jhana using Appana Samadhi (fixed concentration) first or can you develop the practice by developing Khanika Samadhi (momentary concentration) from the beginning.
QUESTION Continued: "My understanding is, that enlightenment is only possible via the jhanas ?"
Vipassana = Cultivating Insight/Mindfulness. My understanding here is, that this can never lead to jhanas, since the is no mental absorbtion to only one single meditation object possible, because the meditator has primary and secondary objects and jumps between the objects when they appear (absorbtion to an object impossible). The meditator also seems to stay with the body, while in Samatha the meditator does not feel the body anymore.
Is that understanding correct ?
ANSWER: No, this understanding is wrong, There is really no primary or secondary object, there is just the dominant object. Primary / secondary is a technique to train attention, eventually it is abandoned.
Khanika Samadhi (momentary concentration) can be developed to the fourth Jhana and sustained in everyday activities. Your confusion is with the meditation object - remember when we are meditating we are not developing the meditation object but the awareness of it. The factors of mind are being developed not the object that you are being aware of.
1. If you fix your attention on one object continuously without a break, your awareness of it will grow and the awareness of all other objects will fade, until all except the mind door shut down. 2. If you are continuously aware of the dominant object that arises at any of the six sense doors your awareness will grow and anything arising at the six sense doors will become more obvious to you.
Notice that both need continuous awareness of an object but whether you choose one object ignoring all others, or allow the mind to flow between object while being aware of it, both develop Jhana, just two different types. Both are continuously aware
QUESTION Continued: "There seem to be a lot of different methods for vipassana meditation out there, e.g.:
- Goenka Vipassana Technique
- Mahasi Sayadaw Method
- Modifications of Mahasi Sayadaw's Method's "invented" by Buddhist Monk's:
This is combined with watching the "rising" and "falling" and/or noting the positiong of the body like "sitting", "sitting" and/or with walking meditation and/or prostration rituals.For example they define "touchpoints" distributed over the whole body, e.g. legs, feet, back, front.
The meditator changes on purpose the object of meditation by moving the mind from object to object with each breath along a pre-defined order and notes it with "touching", "touching" when the mind "hits" the object."
ANSWER: Don't get caught up in techniques, each teacher passes on what worked for them. All techniques are just scaffolding to build continuous moment to moment awareness in everything. After all was the Buddha only aware while he was in seated meditation or did it permeate everything he did?
Pick one technique, trust one teacher and stay with it, find what technique you re comfortable with. We are all different, once you find it then stop questioning techniques and do your own research - not in books - in your own heart, through the practice.
Taking the practice into walking and prostrations is training you for mindfulness in all activities - daily life - as in the Satipatthana Sutta Sitting touching is used to build up concentration and also as an object when the breathing no longer appears to you during intensive practice.
QUESTION Continued: A friend told me he met a Monk in Thailand who teached him to follow the movements of body parts, like moving hands etc. somewhere in the Jungle. This is what confuses me. Are all these methods according to the teachings of the buddha ?
ANSWER: In the Satipatthna Sutta the buddha describes part of the practice as being aware of all bodily postures and movements, so this is correct as part of the practice but not all of it. Practice yourself and then answer this question, make the answer your truth not my truth.
Of course understand that any meditation teacher, including myself, may be deluded and following the wrong path, regardless of popular, famous or charismatic they are. Do the practice, refer back to the Satipatthana Sutta see if the instructions fit, put a question mark on all teachings, until you understand through your experience.
QUESTION Continued: After some deep meditation sessions I had an experience I never had before. I experienced the world around me (noise, seeing, etc.) like being kind of detached from it all (hard to explain). There was no commentator inside of me and I did not care about anything what happened around me. My mind was wide awake and sharp. Not sure If I should call it Trance.
ANSWER: Yes this is part of the path, you are experiencing Khanika Samadhi starting to develop - don't attach to it ,just use it as a tool to investigate - you are on the right path
QUESTION Continued: Another day I had a strong pain in my back and decided to sit through it without moving while noting "rising" and "falling". It became more and more painful, I felt a lot of heat in my body and the strong desire to move. Then I reached a point, where the pain was at it's climax. After that point the pain became weaker, but did not disapear completely.
Is that the correct way to do it ?
ANSWER: Yes just being with things that difficult be with and softening into them is the right path - keep watching
QUESTION Continued: In your talks about meditating with pain you mentioned, that we should watch the aversion against the sensation which is interpreted as painful by the mind. I was not able to "see" that aversion. I only recognized the pain and the desire to move.
If I understood you correctly, the aversion should come before the pain arises in the mind and if we catch it, the mind should not interpret the sensation as pain and instead just as a sensation.
ANSWER: Aversion is experienced as a "pulling away' this is separate from the sensations and the intention to move. If you relax into either the unpleasantness or aversion there will be no pain just sensations. If relax into the intension to move there may pain but you will not move
QUESTION Continued: On a further session I was watching the breath "rising", "falling" and noting the body posture by "sitting". The breath became weaker and weaker, very deep and long and it was hard to feel it anymore. Then my mind was kind of attached to the breath and it felt like everything happens in slow motion.
I was not able to note the posture or anything else anymore. I started to see pulsating light rings and then my meditation clock ended the session...
ANSWER: This is an effect of concentration developing - do not attach to it. Just observe it like any other experience and watch your relationship to it
QUESTION from Anomynous: This is really tough. I keep slipping into this feeling like I'm being smothered. I know there will be light. So I feel the feelings and how it feels - then what!!!! Feeling is still there. STill feel bad for what I might have done (what made me angry or whatever feelign it may be at the time) how can it be in the past when the past - something that just happened is still giving me such strong feelings.
ANSWER: Question:“This is really tough.”
It can feel that way but remember you dealing with your conditioned patterns, being with things that in the past you have been running away from. ‘Tough’ is a judgement, it is also just a feeling that is experienced, look at the game that is being played and you are the pawn, life is using ‘feeling’ to make you move. It may be tough to be with this feeling over time, but it is possible to be with it right now, this in reality is the only thing that is possible.
Question: “I keep slipping into this feeling like I'm being smothered. I know there will be light. So I feel the feelings and how it feels - then what!!!! “
Just be with the feeling, there is nothing else for you to do, what other choice do you have, you can’t run away from yourself? Keep watching the feeling, notice how hollow it is, notice that it can not hurt you, it can scream, shout, threaten but it has no other power then the power you give it. It is a toothless tiger, start laughing at it, let it know you have seen through the magicians trick, that it’s solidity is an illusion.
Question: “Feeling is still there.”
Did you expect it to go away? Is there really anything wrong with it being there?
The feeling is just doing what it is supposed to do. When I want it to stop raining do I just look out the window and watch it expecting it to stop? Can I stop the sun coming up and setting through the sheer will of my desire for it to go away?
The feeling is not the problem, it is just doing what it is supposed to do and when it has finished it will go away – everything goes away – nothing is permanent. The problem is that you want it to go away, you want to control what you experience and the very act of wanting to control things outside of your control is what causes you pain. The feeling itself contains no pain, it is no different to seeing a sight or hearing a sound, if you struggle against what is you will have pain.
Accept what you cannot control – with acceptance your relationship will change – when your relationship to what is changes the pain will go away – then you will just have a feeling, pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling they are all the same, hollow and insubstantial, they can’t hurt you, they only have the power, the substance that you give them.
Question: “Still feel bad for what I might have done (what made me angry or whatever feeling it may be at the time) What does feeling bad feel like? Is it a bad thing that shouldn’t be there or just trying to teach you something?
If you didn’t feel bad about things that you have done that caused pain to yourself or others then wouldn’t you just keep on doing them, feeling bad is your moral compass, it is a good experience, it protects you. If we didn’t feel the sensations of burning when we put our hand in a fire then we would get seriously burnt, are you saying that a fire shouldn’t have a feeling of burning? Isn’t that feeling there to protect us?
You are talking about something that is good, something that is your friend and saying that it is bad, can you see how funny this is, the delusion? Where would you be without this friend, without this warning of when you have hurt yourself or others?
Question: " How can it be in the past when the past - something that just happened is still giving me such strong feelings.”
It is in the past, where is it now? It exists nowhere other then as a memory and the memory only exists when you think about it in the present.
Don’t think the thought and the feeling from the past won’t arise in the present, why waste your time remembering something that will cause unhappiness, what a waste of life. The memory contains the emotional charge, this emotional charge was attached to the memory when you reacted in the past. When the thought arises and you think it, the feeling of the emotion attached to it arises in the present, if you do not want the feeling to arise stop giving value to the memory.
You are experiencing the result of past actions, the feelings are the karmic fruit of your choices, accept the fruit – it is a reflection of your past relationships to what was happening then, but it is not what is happening now, what is happening now is you are experiencing a feeling, it is neither good or bad within itself, it is your relationship to it that gives it its life, its potential
Just be with what you are experiencing, notice your resistance to it and soften in that resistance, when you do this you remove the suffering from the experience. Suffering is an optional extra, it is a relationship to what is happening, it has nothing to do with what is happening.
You are hanging onto a hot coal, why not open your hand and let go of it?
QUESTION from Anomynous: I've been walking around most of yesterday and now today feeling miserable and sad. I'm not sure if anything is troubling me or this is just part of how I've been on and off for last couple of months and needing to deal with things on a deeper level like we've been doing.
Obviously I don't want to feel this way. I started the day off with loving kindness meditation,, helped somewhat but now walking around like a loser who can't see all the goodness around her. This is just a feeling right? It shouldn't be affecting me right? Am I choosing to let this happen. I'm going to step away now and do some breathing and bring myself to the present, although I thought I was in the present but clearly not!
ANSWER:What you are experiencing is just a feeling, that is all it is, it is neither good or bad. You are still categorising feelings when they arise as good and bad – loving kindness feeling = good, feeling like a loser = bad.
Notice your tendency to think one is good, one is bad, in reality they are not good or bad, this is your judgement. Notice how your judgement of them is the problem not the feelings themselves, the judgement makes them good or bad. Start watching how you categorize everything in your life as things you like and things you don’t like – what is going on there?
What would it be like to not have the feelings define your happiness, in reality you can be happy regardless of what feeling is present. They are just feelings after all, just another experience like a sound or a sight, these are just an experience of touch – sensations in your body.
Just view them as you would a sight or sound, if you feel tension then use gentle breathing to relax into the resistance – the judgement