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Just recently I changed my subject of meditation: I try to "watch" my mind while it is thinking. This nearly instantaneously makes my mind calm. It kind of stops my thinking. And this feels great. It's also easier to come back to this state, once my mind starts to wander around. I use this occasions to watch my mind as well.

[There is in principle an infinite regression (I could also watch my mind, watching my mind thinking), but I never came to make use of that.]

Is there some more guidance in the buddhistic literature or stuff that support this kind of meditation? Is there a name of this mental state?

  • sounds good to me – Andrei Volkov Dec 22 '15 at 16:26
  • @AndreiVolkov I just recently read something about reaching concentration (samadhi) via a four step way of meditation (dhyana), a so called pratice about four infinities: 1. First you concentrate on a object. 2. Then, you think "around" it. 3. Then you switch off these thoughts as well. 4. You reach a state of perception and non-perception, where you touch Nirvana. | Sometimes it feels that I go right to 3. with my practice. Do you think there is a relation to dhyana meditation? – draks ... Jan 13 '16 at 21:10
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From a samatha perspective, I would dissuade you from doing that. In the Japanese literature on sitting meditation, what you are experiencing is a momentary shift from the third to the second nen. You are suspending your thoughts about thoughts - which is good - but you are not putting yourself in the best position to stop any new thoughts that get generated from perception. For that, you need to work with the first nen and for that, you need a stable meditation object.

The mind is fickle. Anyone who has ever sat down on the cushion knows that. If you use your mind as an object, you are inevitably tying yourself to something that is going to shift around. To use another metaphor, it's like trying to build your house on a sand dune. There is no stability there. Anything constructed is going to topple over. Even if your technique does lessen your mental chatter, what exactly are you going to focus on after your thoughts lessen!

A meditation object like a kasina, a point on the body, or the breath are all fundamentally consistent. A blue disk is always a blue disk, the tip of your nose is always the tip of your nose, the breath, while it can be long or short, deep or shallow, is always going in and out. By working on one of these objects, one-pointedness is easier to establish. Slowly, you begin working with uncommented perception. Consequently, you enter and abide in the first nen. Calm arises and concentration strengthens. Perhaps most importantly at this stage in the game, a meditation object gives your mind something to focus on when your thoughts subside.

Side note: yes, it is true that you can focus on the space left when thoughts dissipate, but I would not recommend trying that at first. You really have to have your concentration dialed in before you'll be successful at that.

Side side note: I think a quick word about the nens is needed. They are very helpful for the purposes of meditative psychology - especially in OPs situation. The word nen comes from Japanese and it's one of those words that does not translate well into English. "Thought-moment" comes closest, but even that is a lousy rendition. Traditionally, there are two nens. The first is a moment of bare perception of something. It is the experience of, say, experiencing the breath or seeing a bird. The second nen is becoming aware of that experience e.g. "I see a bird" or "I'm aware of my breathing". Traditional Zen didn't take things much further than that. They figured by the time you reached the second nen in your meditation, you were already lost! ;-) In his book Zen Training, Katusuki Sekida adds the third nen. This third nen is comprised of thoughts about things that you become aware of. In our example of the bird, a third nen thought would be "that bird is flying". For the breath, a third nen thought was "I'm following my breath rather well" or "That was a long breath" (And here comes the Vipassana crowd ready to string me up! Heh.). Sekida's third nen is especially important in the modern world considering how much time people spend in it. The third nen is the unwinding ball of discursive thought.

What's important in regards to OP's questions is that for concentration to develop, we need to spend as much time in the first nen as possible. It needs to be cultivated since it is the only "thought-moment" were right concentration can be achieved. The method that OP is using does touch the second nen and perhaps even the first, but it doesn't stay there. There's nothing to hold him in place. It kind of like jumping. When we leap, we are momentarily airborne, but the force of gravity pulls us back to earth. We can only take to the air again once we return to the ground. OP takes to the air into the second or first nen when he becomes aware of thinking, but the gravity of the hindrances will bring him back down. The mind at this point is in free fall as it is neither applied nor sustained. He can only "jump" again into less complex nens once he touches his next thought. A meditation object, on the contrary, helps free us from the gravity of the hindrances. It keeps us rooted in the first nen. It's also what keeps us aloft - in applied and sustained thought - and ultimately what powers our ascension into jhana.

  • +1 thanks, after my thoughts lessen, I focus on emptiness. Every other object I previously focussed on, was much more distractive than "watching my mind". Googling "second zen", I found at "Zen Training": "The third nen will think for exampe: I know I noticed I had been thinking". Funny, sounds like a recursive application of what I described... – draks ... Dec 21 '15 at 21:08
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    A meditation object blue disc, etc, are fundamentally inconsistent. All compounded phenomenon are impermanent – Ryan Dec 21 '15 at 21:15
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    This seems like a good conversation, but not a good answer to the question – dgo Dec 22 '15 at 1:45
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    @Ryan fundamentally consistent in the sense of being a vehicle for meditative absorption e.g. something that can be learned/memorized, easily arises as a stable sign, and matures as an even stabler counterpart sign. The easiest objects to use for that have a consistent quality to them like a color (as in the colored kasinas), repetitive nature (i.e. the breath and air kasina), or a stable image that is easily visualized (i.e foulness meditations, parts of the body, fire and earth kasinas, etc.). For more detail on that than you could possibly ever want, see Vism. Chapter Five. – user698 Dec 22 '15 at 3:05
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    As I read the Question, I agreed with you that the OP's mind state might be an interesting discovery, but it will not hold up. Eventually the mind will say, "been there, done that" and it will not be arresting anymore. Something more is required. I think that you explained a good direction to follow and why. Something is going on in the First Nen (as I understand your explanation) which is vitally important. – user2341 Dec 23 '15 at 14:05
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Mindfulness of mind is one of the four Satipathanna, that is, foundations of mindfulness. This is the basis of meditation that the Buddha taught. Generally speaking, as far as I know, meditation based on the four Satipathanna is referred to as Vipassana.

How to meditate - Ven. Yuttadhammo

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Mind/Consciousness contemplation consists of:

  1. lust (sarāgaṃ) or without lust (vītarāgaṃ)
  2. hate (sadosaṃ) or without hate (vītadosaṃ)
  3. delusion (samohaṃ) or without delusion (vītamohaṃ)
  4. contracted (saṅkhittaṃ) or scattered (vikkhittaṃ)
  5. lofty (mahaggataṃ) or not lofty (amahaggataṃ)
  6. surpassable (sa-uttaraṃ) or unsurpassed (anuttaraṃ)
  7. quieted (samāhitaṃ) or not quieted (asamāhitaṃ)
  8. released (vimuttaṃ) or not released (avimuttaṃ)

(sourced from: Satipatthana Sutta)

The 1st 3 (1-3) relates to the three unwholesome roots and abandoning of it. The 3 unwholesome roots have sensations associated with them:

  • Pleasure - attachment / lust (hard to remove)
  • Pain - aversion / hate (easy to remove)
  • Neutral - ignorance / delusion (hard to remove 1)

The way to let go of them is to mindful of the arising and passing nature of the sensation or stimuli (what is felt) being absolutely equanimous without developing any further attachments, aversions or ignorance which is further elaborated in: Pahāna Sutta, Avijja Pahana Sutta 2 and (Akusala,mūla) Añña,titthiya Sutta. Also both Titth’ayatana Sutta and Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta both contain that 18 mental examination (mano,pavicāra) under Mind Contemplation (cittanupassana) of the mind in term of what is pleasant, unpleasant, neutral2. Also Indriya Bhāvanā Sutta contains a similar instruction in terms of faculties (the mind is also one faculty).

In addition the 1st 2 (1-2) relate to sensory desire (kāmacchanda) and Ill-will (vyāpāda; also spelled byāpāda) and 3 closely related to doubt (vicikicchā) as doubt can arise due to ignorance. Item 4 deals with the sloth-torpor (thīna-middha) and restlessness-worry (uddhacca-kukkucca). Much of this relate to Nīvarana,pahana Vagga and other 5 Hindrances related Suttas.

Item 5 deals with cultivating the Jhana factors and knowing their presence and absence. Saṅkhitta Dhamma Sutta further describes how this can be done in the context of the Satipatthana, i.e., to start with always bringing you mind to the object of your meditation (in your case the mind) and even though your mind is on the meditation object repeat the re direction of your mind to the meditation object. You can do this for any of the 4 Satipatthana contemplations. Generally this is considered to create verbal fabrications but with vise attention on any of the 4 foundation of mindfulness, being fully aware of arising and passing with utmost equanimity this will not be the case.

Item 6 deals mainly with path and fruit in my opinion. If you have reached the final goal it is unparsable.

Item 7 deals with the level of collectedness of the mind and absence of restlessness (uddhacca). You should be able to focus your mind on one object for closer examination. If you want to examine the break you mind stays with the breath. If is another object it stays with that. This lead to true knowledge and vision of reality as in (Dasaka) Cetanā’karaṇīya Sutta, (Ekā,dasaka) Cetanā’karaṇīya Sutta and many more Suttas.

Items 8 is presence or absence true vision and knowledge of liberation by letting go of the defilements as discussed in Pahāna Sutta, Avijja Pahana Sutta 2 and realise the final goal. This arises based on revulsion (Nibbida).

If you want to do an in-depth study your mind states can be correlated to Citta and Cetasika in Abhidharma.

Just recently I changed my subject of meditation: I try to "watch" my mind while it is thinking. This nearly instantaneously makes my mind calm. It kind of stops my thinking. And this feels great. It's also easier to come back to this state, once my mind starts to wander around. I use this occasions to watch my mind as well.

Essentially this falls under the Mind Contemplation as described above. Good that this is working out for you. When you have mindfulness thinking or concept proliferation generally stops and becomes calm as you are not producing new fabrications.

When your mind wonders be careful as this can lead to unwise attention due to Vipallasa (Vipallasa Sutta). Also wondering mind can lead to restlessness and also create verbal fabrications.

There is always some feeling associated with these mental states (121 mental states and some feeling associated with it - see chapter 1, Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma by Bhikkhu Bodhi). As in Pahāna Sutta and Avijja Pahana Sutta 2 you have to look at the arising and passing of the sensation that is felt associated with the thoughts and metal objects your mind encounters.

[There is in principle an infinite regression (I could also watch my mind, watching my mind thinking), but I never came to make use of that.]

Though we are dealing with the mind specifically, Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta mentions any form of consciousness has sensation associated with it, this would include the mind. So when you get mindful of the thoughts in your mind, with pratice, you will see there is some sensation arising with it. You have to look at the arising and passing of the sensations when watching you mind and thinking. With regard to thinking, this is Verbal Fabrications will also have sensations associated with it. Samma,ditthi Sutta - The Discourse on Right View does mention we have to abandon Verbal Fabrication (this is Thinking and Pondering according to: Cūla Vedalla Sutta, Mahā Vedalla Sutta, Kāma,bhū Sutta 2).

In addition to this consider incorporating some of what I have discussed above.

Is there some more guidance in the buddhistic literature or stuff that support this kind of meditation? Is there a name of this mental state?

Please click on the above links. Also have a look at:


1 Hardest to remove according to S.N.Goenka as it very difficult to be equanimous looking at arising passing this stage, arising and passing is very subtle and also there is a tendency of the mind to get bored when there are hardly any feeling. He further mentions that this experienced in Passaddhi which many mistake to have reached the final goal.

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On cognizing a mind-object with the mind,

one investigates the mind-object that the basis of mental joy,

one investigates the mind-object that is the basis of mental pain,

one investigates the mind-object that is the basis of equanimity.

"Bhikshu, this person is made up of the eighteen mental investigations": so it is said in this connection

Source: Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta

Cognizing a mental object with the mind, one examines the mental object as the basis for pleasure, or for pain, or for neither-pain-nor-pleasure

These eighteen mental examinations are the Dharma taught by me that is unrefuted, undefiled, blameless, uncensured by wise recluses and brahmins

Source: Titth’ayatana Sutta

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