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In MCTB (Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha), Daniel Ingram describes the following exercise.

I sit quietly in a quiet place, close my eyes, put one hand on each knee, and concentrate just on my two index fingers. Basic dharma theory tells me that it is definitely not possible to perceive both fingers simultaneously, so with this knowledge I try to see in each instant which one of the two finger’s physical sensations are being perceived. Once the mind has sped up a bit and yet become more stable, I try to perceive the arising and passing of each of these sensations. I may do this for half an hour or an hour, just staying with the sensations in my two fingers and perceiving when each sensation is and isn’t there.

What I found most curious about this, was the assumption that "it is definitely not possible to perceive both fingers simultaneously" and that this assumption is supported by "basic dharma theory".

I understand that sensations arise and pass, but I feel like I have experienced multiple sensations simultaneously and/or the sensations of multiple body parts have formed a single sensation. I'd like to hear other people's thoughts on this.

In the form of specific questions: I can feel tingling in all of my fingers simultaneously. Does this refute his assertion that "it is definitely not possible to perceive both fingers simultaneously"? Or am I not understanding something? I suspect the latter and am hoping to be enlightened. I'm also curious what "dharma theory" he is most likely referencing? Thanks in advance for any response.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ChrisW Aug 8 '16 at 21:49
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That's kind of an advanced book.

There are no body parts within each of our own bodily experiece, only sensation.

Unless you are a natural you can't see how fast the mind works or see if awareness arises simultaneously in the beginning. It's all a blur until we have practiced long enough.

I guess your being taught to see things as they are in your own experience. While one does this kind of practice one sets concepts aside. Ideally even Dhamma theory could be put aside when one gets the hang of the practice.

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Basic Buddhist theory says that you can only know one thing at a time. If you have two hands held in front of your face then you might think "This is my right hand" so at that moment you know your right hand. Then you think "This is my left hand", then you have knowledge of your left hand but you forgot your right hand momentarily.

Usually this process of knowing and forgetting goes by very quickly. You might think that you can feel the wind,see a dog and hear a car at the same time but actually you're rapidly shifting from one object to the next.

I want to clarify one point of confusion on this. Going back to the two hands example, if you have the two hands in front of your face you might think "These are hands" so at that moment you have knowledge of "hands" but you no longer have the knowledge of "left hand" or "right hand". The two hands become a single object in the mind.

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    Thanks Hugh, can you point me to where this is stated or suggested? – chuckles Aug 8 '16 at 22:07
  • I honestly have never come across it in a sutta. I've heard it several times in dhamma talks where the speaker asks a trick question like "how many suttas do you know right now?", or when the speaker is answering "Did the Buddha know everything?" and they say that he could know any one-thing but not everything at once. – Hugh Aug 8 '16 at 23:38
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    The latter is said here: "It is not possible that a brahman or contemplative could know everything and see everything all at once." Dharmafarer's commentary though relates that to something else, i.e. that the Buddha could know/see the past but not (except in general terms) the future. – ChrisW Aug 9 '16 at 12:49
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It may feel like you have experienced multiple sensations simultaneously and/or the sensations of multiple body parts have formed a single sensation. However, this is unrelated to Daniel's exercise because Daniel is referring to the specific exercise of two discrete sensations (rather than a blur of sensations).

For example, now it is a relatively cold morning where I am (6:00 am) but I am not wearing a shirt (having just left the warmth of being wrapped in a blanket). If I turn my mind to meditation, I can feel breathing sensations but can also feel the cold chill on my skin, particularly my lower arms, at the same time.

Where as Daniel has placed two index fingers on his knees, which are difficult to cognise exactly simultaneously because they are very specific & small sized sensations. Interesting exercise.

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It doesn't seem like a sutta to me. I'm guessing it's Abhidhamma.

You noticed, did you, that Daniel Ingram is describing some switching or vibrating (alternating) very rabidly (e.g. 30 times per second)? Something that rapid might seem continuous.

For example in A Manual of Abhidhamma (Abhidhammattha Sangaha)

The time-limit of such a consciousness is termed one thought-moment. The rapidity of the succession of such thought-moments is hardly conceivable by the ken of human knowledge.

... and,

When, for instance, a person looks at the radiant moon on a cloudless night, he gets a faint glimpse of the surrounding stars as well. He focuses his attention on the moon, but he cannot avoid the sight of stars around. The moon is regarded as a great object, while the stars are regarded as minor objects. Both moon and stars are perceived by the mind at different moments. According to Abhidhamma it is not correct to say that the stars are perceived by the sub-consciousness and the moon by the consciousness.

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