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Textual basis for "bringing up lantent tendencies" and "purifying sangkharas"

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  • mikenz66
    Dear Venerable Pesala, I have practised Mahasi-style meditation for the last year and a half, and have also recently attended a Goenka retreat. I have a
    Message 1 of 5 , Nov 6, 2007
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      Dear Venerable Pesala,

      I have practised Mahasi-style meditation for the last year and a half,
      and have also recently attended a Goenka retreat. I have a question
      about the explanations given by various teachers about some of the
      meditation experiences.

      It seems common for teachers to talk about "bringing latent
      tendencies to the surface" to explain the various "random" things we
      experience (pain, light, pleasant an unpleasant mental states,
      memories, etc). Of course, we are advised to just observe these with
      equanimity...

      Goenka goes into more detail and says that in practising
      vedenaupassana by observing bodily sensations one "brings old
      sankharas to the surface". If we view them with equanimity they "pass
      away" (so are "used up"). Thus, by this process, we "become purified".

      This model is certainly useful to have in mind when trying to maintain
      equanimity as pleasant and unpleasant sensations arise.
      But I am wondering whether these interpretation are based on the
      Abhidhamma, the Commentaries, the Visuddhimagga, or are just a "modern
      interpretation".

      I guess my key question is whether there is an explanation in the text
      about these various "random" experiences that arise in the course of
      medtation.

      Metta
      Mike
    • Bhikkhu Pesala
      Strictly speaking, I don t see how latent tendencies could be brought to the surface. If feelings give rise to craving or aversion in the present then that
      Message 2 of 5 , Nov 8, 2007
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        Strictly speaking, I don't see how latent tendencies could be brought to the
        surface. If feelings give rise to craving or aversion in the present then that
        craving or aversion is no longer latent, but has arisen. However, if there
        were no latent tendency to craving or aversion, then craving and aversion
        could not arise (in a Non-returner or Arahant).

        The key point, I think, is that we need to acquire skill in abandoning
        unskilful mental states such as craving and aversion. We can only do this if
        they are present, not if they are merely latent. In simple terms, we have
        to do what we don't wish to do, and abstain from doing what we wish to
        do.

        "When ill-will is present he knows, 'Ill-will is in me.' When ill-will is absent
        he knows, 'Ill-will is not in me.' And he knows how the unarisen ill-will
        comes to be, and how the arisen ill-will is abandoned, and how the
        abandoned ill-will does not come to arise again in the
        future." (Satipatthana Sutta Dhammanupassana Nivaranapabba)

        A similar passage is repeated for each of the other four hindrances.

        We need to understand the realities arising and passing away in the
        present moment. We can only understand them properly if we observe
        them systematically and patiently at the very moment when they arise.
        Sitting and walking for all of our waking hours, day after day, with little
        sleep, little food, and no distractions such as entertainments is arduous,
        but it is not self-mortification.

        Why does strenuous meditation bring up the five hindrances? Because we
        have latent tendencies to greed, hatred, and delusion. How can we uproot
        the latent tendencies? By gaining insight into the three universal
        characteristics: impermanence, suffering, and not-self.

        All conditioned things are impermanent, when one sees this with wisdom,
        one becomes dispassionate towards the painful. This is the Path to
        Purification. (Dhp 277)

        All conditioned things are suffering, when one sees this with wisdom, one
        becomes dispassionate towards the painful. This is the Path to Purification.
        (Dhp 278)

        All phenomena are not-self, when one sees this with wisdom, one becomes
        dispassionate towards the painful. This is the Path to Purification. (Dhp 279)

        When we are not meditating, but busy indulging in and following sensual
        pleasures, would we be able to rightly understand the arising and passing
        away of craving and aversion? If we are lying in a warm bed on a cold
        morning, could we clearly understand attachment to warmth and aversion
        to cold? I don't think it will be easy if it is even possible. We need to swim
        upstream against the current of desire.
      • mikenz66
        Dear Bhikkhu Pesala, Thank you very much for your reply. If I could try to clarify my thoughts... ... terms, ... Thank you, I think I understand the concept of
        Message 3 of 5 , Nov 8, 2007
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          Dear Bhikkhu Pesala,

          Thank you very much for your reply. If I could try to clarify my
          thoughts...

          --- In SanghaOnline@yahoogroups.com, "Bhikkhu Pesala" <pesala@...> wrote:
          > The key point, I think, is that we need to acquire skill in abandoning
          > unskilful mental states such as craving and aversion. We can only do
          > this if they are present, not if they are merely latent. In simple
          terms,
          > we have to do what we don't wish to do, and abstain from doing
          > what we wish to do.

          Thank you, I think I understand the concept of abandoning craving and
          aversion by developing equanimity. Practising it properly of course is
          not always so easy...

          > Why does strenuous meditation bring up the five hindrances?
          > Because we have latent tendencies to greed, hatred, and delusion.
          > How can we uproot the latent tendencies? By gaining insight into
          > the three universal characteristics: impermanence, suffering, and
          > not-self.

          I take it that you are saying that I won't find a specific statement in
          the Canon, Commentaries, Visuddhimagga, etc, that "stuff arises in
          meditation because...." and that perhaps I should be content with the
          "common sense" argument that when I quieten down my mind in meditation
          I simply start to notice things that in "everyday life" I was
          overlooking. For example, there is a pain in my arm because I've been
          holding it awkwardly while typing, there is a worry in the back of my
          mind over something I should have done in a different way...

          I.e. the profound wisdom of the Buddha is not that these things are
          there, but how to deal with them by seeing them as anicca, dukkha,
          anatta...

          In thinking about this I realise that if I am not careful it is easy
          to overlook the teaching on the characteristics and start thinking of
          meditation as simply "burning off bad kamma", which would
          be a Jain-style wrong view. As you say, purification is only possible
          via insight.

          Metta :)
          Mike
        • Peter Tomlinson
          Thank you so much for your plain talk and writing, Bhikkhu Pesala. This is the sort of explanation and illustration that helps me to get going again with
          Message 4 of 5 , Nov 9, 2007
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            Thank you so much for your plain talk and writing, Bhikkhu Pesala. This is the sort of explanation and illustration that helps me to get going again with meditation.

            I believe you are quite right in what you have so accurately portrayed here, and I appreciate the Sutta references particularly.

            Pete Tomlinson

            Bhikkhu Pesala <pesala@...> wrote: Strictly speaking, I don't see how latent tendencies could be brought to the
            surface. If feelings give rise to craving or aversion in the present then that
            craving or aversion is no longer latent, but has arisen. However, if there
            were no latent tendency to craving or aversion, then craving and aversion
            could not arise (in a Non-returner or Arahant).

            The key point, I think, is that we need to acquire skill in abandoning
            unskilful mental states such as craving and aversion. We can only do this if
            they are present, not if they are merely latent. In simple terms, we have
            to do what we don't wish to do, and abstain from doing what we wish to
            do.

            "When ill-will is present he knows, 'Ill-will is in me.' When ill-will is absent
            he knows, 'Ill-will is not in me.' And he knows how the unarisen ill-will
            comes to be, and how the arisen ill-will is abandoned, and how the
            abandoned ill-will does not come to arise again in the
            future." (Satipatthana Sutta Dhammanupassana Nivaranapabba)

            A similar passage is repeated for each of the other four hindrances.

            We need to understand the realities arising and passing away in the
            present moment. We can only understand them properly if we observe
            them systematically and patiently at the very moment when they arise.
            Sitting and walking for all of our waking hours, day after day, with little
            sleep, little food, and no distractions such as entertainments is arduous,
            but it is not self-mortification.

            Why does strenuous meditation bring up the five hindrances? Because we
            have latent tendencies to greed, hatred, and delusion. How can we uproot
            the latent tendencies? By gaining insight into the three universal
            characteristics: impermanence, suffering, and not-self.

            All conditioned things are impermanent, when one sees this with wisdom,
            one becomes dispassionate towards the painful. This is the Path to
            Purification. (Dhp 277)

            All conditioned things are suffering, when one sees this with wisdom, one
            becomes dispassionate towards the painful. This is the Path to Purification.
            (Dhp 278)

            All phenomena are not-self, when one sees this with wisdom, one becomes
            dispassionate towards the painful. This is the Path to Purification. (Dhp 279)

            When we are not meditating, but busy indulging in and following sensual
            pleasures, would we be able to rightly understand the arising and passing
            away of craving and aversion? If we are lying in a warm bed on a cold
            morning, could we clearly understand attachment to warmth and aversion
            to cold? I don't think it will be easy if it is even possible. We need to swim
            upstream against the current of desire.






            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • Bhikkhu Pesala
            ... in ... I wouldn t go so far as to say that. There are very few, if any, monks who know everything that is said in the Canon, Commentaries, and the
            Message 5 of 5 , Nov 10, 2007
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              > I take it that you are saying that I won't find a specific statement
              in
              > the Canon, Commentaries, Visuddhimagga, etc, that "stuff arises in
              > meditation because...."
              I wouldn't go so far as to say that. There are very few, if any, monks
              who know everything that is said in the Canon, Commentaries, and the
              Visuddhimagga.

              I was going to quote the Culadukkhakkhandha Sutta, but I see that you
              realise the danger of that wrong view regarding burning up past kamma
              through self-mortification.

              Another quote from Chanmyay Sayadaw's Vipassana Meditation Guidelines

              • Pain is observed not to make it go away, but to realise its true
              nature.

              I'm also reminded of Ajahn Chah's saying about "The Equanimity of the
              Water Buffalo." It seems that a certain monk had a hole in the roof of
              his kuti, and when Ajahn Chah asked why he hadn't fixed it, he replied
              that he was practising equanimity. So we can
              even practice equanimity in the wrong way. 
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