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I was listening to a talk on YouTube about vipassana practice as taught by Goenka. The woman doing the talk said that the Buddha taught that every time a stimulus enters the sense door there is a sensation in the body and it is these sensations that we react to not the stimulus itself. I have tried the body scan technique quite a few times but not very successfully and so have ended practicing Mahasi Sayadaws technique instead which is focusing on the abdomen rising and falling.
I have to say I'm not very aware of these sensations that are happening to every stimulus. Of course when I sit and meditate I notice some sensations such as itching, pulsing, pain etc but as far as the ones that are the result of every stimulus entering I'm not sure how I go about noticing those before I react. Also my understanding is that Buddhism also sees thought as a sense door so therefore thought also causes these sensations. Is that correct? In order to be a successful practitioner do I need to train myself to notice all these sensations? Is it good enough to just notice some like itching, trembling? Do I need to understand what causes them? Or is noticing them enough? Or do I need to notice the feeling tone associated? Or both?

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I was listening to a talk on YouTube about vipassana practice as taught by Goenka. The woman doing the talk said that the Buddha taught that every time a stimulus enters the sense door there is a sensation in the body and it is these sensations that we react to not the stimulus itself.

The Buddha taught it is a 'vedana' ('pleasant or painful feeling') at the sense doors that the mind reacts to rather than a physical sensation in the body.

For example, a pleasant feeling creates the reaction of love/lust/greed; an unpleasant feeling creates the reaction of hatred/anger/irritation; and mixed feeling creates the reaction of confusion.

(Note: Sensations in the body are 'sankhara/thought/stress formations' rather than 'vedana').

To know every 'vedana' at the sense doors is an extremely advanced practice and not a practise for formal foundational meditation development but an auxiliary practise.

The more formal foundational practise such as Anapanasati is developed, the more mindfulness at the sense door feelings can be practised.

I have tried the body scan technique quite a few times but not very successfully and so have ended practicing Mahasi Sayadaws technique instead which is focusing on the abdomen rising and falling.

The Buddha taught Anapanasati (Mindfulness With/When Breathing). Mahasi Sayadaw method is closer to Anapanasati than the Goenka method.

To be aware of bodily sensations is best done via awareness of breathing.

Also my understanding is that Buddhism also sees thought as a sense door so therefore thought also causes these sensations. Is that correct?

The mind is a sense door and thought is a sense object of this mind sense door. Yes. Thought is a sense object that can cause 'vedana' (pleasant & painful feelings). For example, you think of your job/work and a painful feeling arises, followed by emotions of hatred.

However, again, to practise on this level, that is, knowing the feeling exactly when it arises after the arising of the thought, is very advanced.

In order to be a successful practitioner do I need to train myself to notice all these sensations?

To be a Buddha, yes, the mind must notice all these feelings (vedana). But to successfully progress with practise, train in something more basic, such as Anapanasati.

Do I need to understand what causes them? Or is noticing them enough? Or do I need to notice the feeling tone associated? Or both?

All the above. However, this is very advanced as I suggested.

In summary, the Buddha did not teach the Goenka method & the Goenka method is an extreme interpretation of what the Buddha taught in Satipatthana.

Start with noticing the breathing flowing in & out of & moving in the body. Instead of rigid focus on the rise & fall the abdomen, maintain a more open relaxed awareness.

  • And again thieves have distroyed and stolen ways to reality... karuna. Would they like to show their face? If you believe that you could pressure someone to feed simply your livelihoods interst you are well informed to have less chance to have even wordly benefits from such. And for this reason was it say. – Samana Johann May 6 '17 at 8:42
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"The woman doing the talk said that the Buddha taught that every time a stimulus enters the sense door there is a sensation in the body and it is these sensations that we react to not the stimulus itself."

Let's take the stock description in the suttas as reference, using vision as example:

In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition, feeling comes to be [pleasant, painful, neither]; with feeling as condition, craving ...

Another stock passage is:

“With the cessation of that contact to be experienced as [pleasant, painful, neither], the corresponding feeling that arose in dependence on that contact ceases and subsides.

It should be clear that these are describing events going on through time: First something happens, than another. The practice is about noticing them and how they relate to each other. That's why stimuli are the objects of the practice.

With that said...

A common interpretation here is that it's not all stimulus that reach a sense door that we come to be aware of. For example, often there are many sounds happening around us and we are completely unaware of them (as I was when writing this paragraph), despite them reaching our ears. In this case, it's only when ear-consciousness arise (which is dependent on the sound and on the ear) that there's opportunity for contact.

That contact is, grossly speaking, the moment of "awareness" or "attention" for the stimulus, it's when we notice it, when we know "it happening". The absence of that contact means we are oblivious to that particular stimuli at that particular time, even if it reached the sense door.

Another example is some bodily discomfort that we only notice much later, even though it was already present for some time. Without contact, no painful feeling came to be from that discomfort, until the moment of contact.

Keep in mind that giving attention to the discomfort at two different moments means two different consciousness, two different contacts, and two different painful feelings. Finally, I called it simply "discomfort" but they are also not one and not the same as the other.

From contact as condition, a proliferation of things come to be. One of them is the feeling (vedana), which may be followed by our underlying tendencies of reactions to them. This feeling (vedana) is the most bare painful/pleasant response to what has been contacted. But then, for example, this chain may trigger a certain past memory of something painful, which creates another painful feeling. Then, this painful feeling is a response not to the first stimuli, but to the memory, and so on.

"I have to say I'm not very aware of these sensations that are happening to every stimulus."

Perhaps picking the few that are more prominent might be helpful?

"Of course when I sit and meditate I notice some sensations such as itching, pulsing, pain etc."

These are perfect. Since you seem to be practicing mindfulness exercises, here's an excerpt of a sutta dealing with this practice:

“Bhikkhus, while a bhikkhu dwells thus, mindful and clearly comprehending, diligent, ardent, and resolute, if there arises in him a painful feeling, he understands thus: ‘There has arisen in me a painful feeling. Now that is dependent, not independent. Dependent on what? Dependent on just this contact. But this contact is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen. So when the painful feeling has arisen in dependence on a contact that is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, how could it be permanent?’ He dwells contemplating impermanence in contact and in painful feeling, he dwells contemplating vanishing, contemplating fading away, contemplating cessation, contemplating relinquishment. As he dwells thus, the underlying tendency to aversion in regard to contact and in regard to painful feeling is abandoned by him.

-- SN 36.8

The point of that practice is to create a strong understanding and conviction about all and any stimuli that we may come to contact through our senses:

  • That they are impermanent
  • That they are not self
  • That they are unsatisfactory

A deeper understanding would involve being able to follow up on the chain of events for a particular stimulus: from the arising of consciousness, to contact, to feeling and, then, to craving, etc.

Finally, this practice also should lead to a certain degree of equanimity, as per the last sentence:

As he dwells thus, the underlying tendency to aversion in regard to contact and in regard to painful feeling is abandoned by him.

...which is an actual behavioral change, and a very practical benefit. It means that craving is also weakened.

"Also my understanding is that Buddhism also sees thought as a sense door so therefore thought also causes these sensations. Is that correct?"

Yes, mind is a sense door, thought is a sense object. With the arising of mind-consciousness, the meeting of the three is contact. With that contact as condition, painful, pleasant, or nor-painful-or-pleasant feeling arises.

"In order to be a successful practitioner do I need to train myself to notice all these sensations?"

If you notice only one and make it your experiment of investigation as above, that's already a success, isn't it?

Then, take the next one that comes up. As soon as you are comfortable with making the many incoming stimuli objects of analysis, go ahead. With samatha practices, it becomes easier and very natural to be able to direct the mind to a stream of stimuli, as we become more sensitive to our senses or...well, able to concentrate better.

"Is it good enough to just notice some like itching, trembling?"

I'd say it's good, but just noticing it's presence without the actual exercises as above is not good enough -- that is, in regard to the practice you are trying to do.

"Do I need to understand what causes them?"

By the suttas above, it's important to understand the conditions that make them arise, and the how they cease. Thus, we are taught in terms of the sequence of conditions above: consciousness, sense door, sense object, contact, feeling, etc.

This is because this is the very foundation that, according to the tradition, makes suffering come to be and makes it cease. Thus, by understanding them, the whole castle of suffering can be made to cease.

  • I'm a little unsure of what is meant by "...with that contact as condition..." Can you please explain a little more what this means? – Arturia May 5 '17 at 21:52
  • @Arturia Roughly speaking, consciousness is discriminative. Senses are exposed to noise. But when there's discrimination, "something" is cognized -- this is contact, a "conscious touch of 'object' on sense". A feeling (either pleasant, painful or neither-pleasant-or-painful) arises with that contact as condition, and ceases when that contact ceases. This chain is standard subject in Buddhism so feel free to create another Question to get better details about it. The only question I found on it was this – Thiago May 6 '17 at 5:12
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Just know that you felt something or noticed something into your five senses.for an example if you feel amgry just know that your are feeling angry. And then automatically you will give up that feeling(anger). Like that we should have a good comprehension about what we feel and notice into senses. In short just be aware of five senses. You do not want to spare a special time and do that,but just do your day to day activities with a good comprehension and awareness. In other words do them conciously.If you do so you do not want to waste your time on those meditations that are taught everywhere.

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Please focus your attention nothing but on breathing in and out at the very first attempt. As you concentrate more and more, you will know everything detail what occurring at these sense doors. Only the most distinct sensation you better note, after that just return back to breathing in and out. If you notice equal intensity sensation at different places, just focus one. Mind used to be working once at a time. Sometimes if you cannot note detail as itching, trembling because maybe it is so fast, just note "know it". Never think further what cause them or associated with which. Only then your concentration become sharpen in short time and you will know detail on whole body and then their changes.

  • But that's what have been doing for 6 years and it doesn't seem like I have learnt much at all – Arturia May 6 '17 at 20:45
  • Hi, Please don't forget pre-meditation things; like paying respect to triple gems, taking five precepts, spreading loving-kindness, forgive the wrong-doing of others, asking for forgiveness of any wrong-doing to others especially to triple gems either intentionally or unintentionally preferably through your meditation master eg Mahasi sayadaw, focusing strong belief in the method and the master you are practicing, sometimes you need sitting meditation duration longer than the present. Above all your strong belief lead to deeper concentration and khanika Samadhi and enlightenment. – MYO10293 May 13 '17 at 5:55
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Why not you try to contemplate on what the Buddha told Bahiya Daruchiriya: “Ditthe’ ditthamattam,” “Sute’ sutamattam,” “Mute’mutamattam,” “Vinnate’ vinnatamattam.”

"Then, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how your should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bahiya, there is no you in terms of that. When there is no you in terms of that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress."

If this is not done, then…
Forms seen causes loss of mindfulness if one dwells on their after-thoughts.
Sounds heard cause loss of mindfulness if one dwells on their after-thoughts.
Aromas smelled cause loss of mindfulness if one dwells on their after-thoughts.
Flavours tasted cause loss of mindfulness if one dwells on their after-thoughts.
Tangibles touched cause loss of mindfulness if one dwells on their after-thoughts.
Mental objects cognized cause loss of mindfulness if one dwells on their after-thoughts.

I just thought that this may help you in your meditation. 😊

  • Because that's not what I asked and also I have no clue what anything you have written and quoted means. Just looks like more vague mystical Buddhist jargon to me which generally just confuses me further. – Arturia May 5 '17 at 3:43
  • It is natural that one may encounter physical sensations and even types of discomforts when one starts seriously cleansing one’s mind. So all what I said was not to think too much about them, but to just observe what comes from your five senses and to just let go. Any type of body sensations means the mind is beginning to affect the body, and that one has made progress in the cleansing process. So one should start contemplating on the anicca nature when one starts any type of body sensations. – Saptha Visuddhi May 5 '17 at 3:52

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