Inquiry. Meditation on the Breath and Meditation with no primary object. Q and A. With Christopher
This is the first transcription/adaption for reading of an Inquiry on an Insight Meditation retreat with myself. The person has given permission for the recording. The Inquiry sessions take place regularly on the retreats. Inquiry may last from a few minutes to 30 minutes or longer. The meditator sits beside Christopher at the front of the Dharma Hall.
Q. My question pertains to method of following the breath. When should the method be dropped? At times, It seems natural to drop the method. Is it laziness?
CT. There is the encouragement to use the method. The method then switches from breath to scanning the whole body. We witness the body as an expression of nature instead of a possession or identity. When is it appropriate to drop the method? How would we know? Is it laziness, or is it clarity? It is a good question. I will avoid answering it. Say a little bit about your practice, sitting there, and listen within to any benefits from the method. Know the limits of mindfulness of breathing as well. What are some of the benefits of the method of mindfulness of breathing?
Q. I follow the method is because it is part of the instruction. It does have the benefit of being an anchor to know when I am lost. If I don’t have an anchor, I may be lost for a longer period of time.
CT. You point out is a fine benefit. That’s central theme through the sitting meditation
Q. The method also brings about states of concentration.
CT. With method or no method in meditation, concentration can develop. We concentrate on the breath.
Q. The quality of sitting often changes in each meditation. Sometimes, it seems I am better off sitting without having a compulsive watching of the breath.
CT. The quality of each meditation is unpredictable. You might force and push yourself using a method. You can use a lot of willpower to stay concentrated on the breath. That can become tiring. What is the weak link in meditation without a meditation, such focussing on the breathing.
Q. I think sometimes it’s laziness.
CT. Exactly. Boredom, apathy, mental tiredness. It takes a lot of energy to stay with an object for half an hour or 45 minutes or more. Part of our exploration and practice here includes looking at the benefits of method and looking at the benefits of no method with meditation. What are the limits? What is the weak link for you in using a method, such as the breath?
Q. I sometimes I feel I just want to drop it.
CT. In the dropping of the method, is it clarity or laziness? What will tell you?
Q. If I experience more of an absorptive state, the method may drop away but the absorptive state stays.
CT. An excellent response. There is a quiet inner absorption, not superficial, not lightweight, nor indifference, nor apathy. You experience you are absorbed within. To use an analogy: A house is built with the support of scaffolding. It can then stand on its own. Mindfulness of breathing is a kind scaffolding. You are ground in meditation without the breath as a support. But what happens if after a little while, in the absence of the method, your mind begins to wander, daydream, space out.
Q. I watch the mind wandering. This can bring me back to a mind that is not wandering.
CT. We sit, being fully present, with absorption. We can pick up when the mind is wandering. You quietly come back to the method.
Q. Sometimes the mind tricks me into thinking that it does not need the method. Maybe at that point, the method is even more needed.
CT. You need to know yourself well enough through being clear, honest and truthful with yourself. Meditation method serves as a reference point, something to stay steady with. Use it well. Use for as long as it is needed. Be free to drop it. Be free to let it drop. The regular practice will inform you.
Q. Is it OK to attend an insight meditation retreat and sit for several sittings a day without following the method?
CT. The Pali word for insight is vipassana. Vi means to double and passa means to make contact with. This means clear seeing of what is happening. Insights can arise with method and without method. The Buddha never used the word vipassana as technique.
There is equal opportunity for the practitioner to come to insight with method and without method. The insights matter not method or no method.
Take one meditation at a time.