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I have been practicing what I believe is insight meditation for over 5 or 6 years now in the Mahasi tradition but still very frequently I feel like I'm not doing it right or something. I suppose I thought that I would see some kind of change or have some insights but nothing much has changed and I can't say I've had any insights into the true nature of reality which is so often emphasised and mentioned.

I've started to do body scans but I'm unsure if I'm doing it right. I sit for a while and notice the breath then I start at the top of my head and go down the body part by part ie crown of head, back of head, forehead, eyes, nose, lips, chin, neck etc. But I have difficulty with this. I'm unsure how to focus on a body part apart from trying to see it in my mind.

I don't feel anything anywhere except for the air going through the nasal passages, sometimes the eyes flutter a bit, the abdomen rises and falls and the hands sometimes tingle or pulse. Everywhere else feels completely dead. Maybe I'm completely out of touch with my body and its sensations. I know they must be there but why can I not focus on them? Also sometimes I'll start at the head and then I realise I have wandered off for so long that the mediation is nearly over so I cannot even manage to scan the body at all!

Please don't tell me to read the scriptures or find a teacher. The scriptures bore me. I'm not a religious person. They are just so repetitive and convoluted that I don't find them helpful. They send me to sleep, and trying to find a teacher is impossible. I have attended Sanghas regularly on occasions and nothing ever comes out of it. I don't know how to approach people and say can you please be my teacher. The people at the Sanghas didn't seem to be open to having students.

  • Get Ajahn Brahm’s meditator handbook. – user13383 Jul 14 '18 at 12:42
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    If scriptures bore you that what do you expect to find on this site? – Gabe Hiemstra Sep 13 '18 at 12:14
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I have been practicing what I believe is insight meditation for over 5 or 6 years now in the Mahasi tradition but still very frequently I feel like I'm not doing it right or something.

You are practicing for 5-6 years but was it like 1 hour sitting every day for 5 years? Did you do any 10-day retreats? In all those years did you spend any days solely for meditation? If you have been doing it for that long, let's assume you have learnt the instructions and you are doing it right.

I suppose I thought that I would see some kind of change or have some insights but nothing much has changed and I can't say I've had any insights into the true nature of reality which is so often emphasized and mentioned.

The path of spirituality does not work like ordinary marketplace logic. Besides only doing insight meditation will not bring any significant change. Meditation or 'Right Mindfulness' is just one of the fold of the eightfold path of the Buddha. If you want to see a significant change then you have to follow the eight-fold path, you don't have an option of being selective.

I've started to do body scans but I'm unsure if I'm doing it right. I sit for a while and notice the breath then I start at the top of my head and go down the body part by a part ie crown of the head, back of head, forehead, eyes, nose, lips, chin, neck etc. But I have difficulty with this. I'm unsure how to focus on a body part apart from trying to see it in my mind.

After 5 years of practice, if you are still unsure and having difficulties with practice I will suggest you change the meditation you are doing. Samatha meditation is relatively easier and Zazen is what I will recommend to you.

Please don't tell me to read the scriptures or find a teacher. The scriptures bore me.I'm not a religious person. They are just so repetitive and convoluted that I don't find them helpful. They send me to sleep and trying to find a teacher is impossible. I have attended Sanghas regularly on occasions and nothing ever comes out of it. I don't know how to approach people and say can you please be my teacher. The people at the Sanghas didn't seem to be open to having students.

I see your problem is not as much as of the practice as much as it is about the frame of your mind. You have failed to understand the context of Buddhism and you have directly jumped to practice and expecting results. From your overall question, I understand you have missed studying the practice of, 'let-go', of not having 'Expectations', the importance of getting instructed about Dhamma along with meditation.

I agree that if you start reading the scriptures of Pali canon it's repetitive and at times boring, but there is an option available, and that is reading the commentary. I reckon you read the book, 'In the Buddhas words' by Bhikkhu Bodhi, that will put you in a greater context of Buddhism which will guide you towards the experiences you want.

If this is still boring to you, I will suggest that you read a few books by Ajahn Brahm, he is a Cambridge graduate in Physics, his words might resonate with you. And if you are hell-bent on having spiritual experience only through the medium of instructions on Meditation, in that case, I will suggest you read, Ajahn Brahm's book, 'Mindfulness, bliss and beyond', no boring scriptures straightforward instruction manual which takes you to la-la land.

About the teacher part, you really don't have to deal with real world people now that the internet is there. There are a plethora of videos on youtube teaching you the basics of Buddhism putting you in the right context. Watch Ajahn Brahms videos on youtube.

You don't have to approach anybody and ask to become a teacher, it doesn't work that way. A teacher is usually a highly ordained monk who professes to be a teacher, by himself or herself. Don't rely on people if they are not around you, the internet is there.

  • "Besides only doing insight meditation will not bring any significant change." This is absolutely untrue. People get enlightened by 'only doing insight meditation'. – Medhiṇī Jul 14 '18 at 16:21
  • @Medhiṇī yes but they are instructed in Dhamma and then they do insight meditation as only meditation practise. By that what I meant was, not knowing anything about Budha or Buddhism and only getting instructed in how to do insight meditation. This seems to be the case of the OP. – user13135 Jul 14 '18 at 16:24
  • Not sure what you mean by 'they are instructed in Dhamma and then do insight meditation.' I probably should have been clearer in my response as well. Insight meditation as taught by Mahasi encompasses the 8-fold path, in a practical way, meaning not reading and/or studying sutta's or hearing dhamma talks. Maybe for the OP it's best to keep with meditation. Maybe with enough practice the wish to also study the Dhamma will arise naturally. Who knows. ;) – Medhiṇī Jul 14 '18 at 16:48
  • @Medhiṇī by that I mean atleast you know about the nobke truth, 8 fold path, and some history of Buddha. IMO without any background whatsoever even if you are given best instructions in insight meditation its not possible to progress as the modern mind finds it meaningless. The OP is averse to scriptures and he also trying to find teacher so assuming he has no context whatsoever he wont be able to progress. What I am saying, the OP is the example. 5 years of practise and he still hasn't felt and change. – user13135 Jul 14 '18 at 16:53
  • @Friederick Clear :) I myself have no idea whether background knowledge is really necessary. If I would have to speculate I would say it must be possible without text book knowledge to become enlightened. But maybe only for people who have done a lot of groundwork in past lives or so. The universal characteristics are not specific for Buddhism, that's why I think it should be possible. Change is change for everyone. But, hey... who knows. This is just speculation. :) The lack of progress with OP can simply be wrong meditation practice. – Medhiṇī Jul 14 '18 at 17:00
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The scriptures say to feel the air moving, which includes going through the nasal passages, the abdomen rises and falls, etc. The scriptures don't teach body scanning.

  • Predictable answer. As I said Im not religious and do not refer me to scriptures. Can you read or you just choose to ignore? – Smithsonian Jul 14 '18 at 4:16
  • Bodyscan is superstition. – Dhammadhatu Jul 14 '18 at 6:34
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    “Please do not refer me to scriptures”, so how else in this ignorance would you like to know whether what you’re doing is right if not looking into the original source? – user13383 Jul 14 '18 at 7:22
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Likes of Goenka that taught methods of Vipassana body scanning are strange interpretations of one of the Satipatthana Sutra reflections on the body.

When you do Vipassana try to do it the way they teach it in Theravada, based on scriptures. It is much more “organic” approach.

Instead of trying to forcefully scan your body bit by bit, focus on whatever becomes the object of mindfulness and current attachment; leg pain, itching, thinking, hearing. Label it at least couple of times and then concentrate to see it dissolve and become something else like hearing the airplane - labelling it just “hearing, hearing, hearing....” or “thinking, thinking, thinking...” etc.

Your mindfulness will eventually have to come back to the breath in the area of sensations (abdomen rising typically) as it is present to be aware of when other formations are absent or just perish due to detachment - we breathe as we are alive and our body moves. Such mindfulness with the breath is the core of what insight should revolve around.

I was also once taught in the temple that it’s best to precede Insight meditation with 30-60 minutes of walking meditation so we sit down fully concentrated and ready for Vipassana.

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The following is not intended as ridicule. It is hopefully a skillful way of showing the error I think you might be making.

..........

I have been practicing what I believe is climbing for over 5 or 6 years now in the REI tradition but still very frequently I feel like I'm not doing it right or something. I suppose I thought that I would have scaled a couple of the 8000 meter peaks by now or have perhaps climbed one prominent one like Everest but nothing much has changed and I can't say I've had any success reaching the top of Olympus Mons which is so often regarded as "the ultimate climb" by my fellow Earthers.

I've started to climb the trees in my backyard and neighborhood, but I'm unsure if I'm doing it right. I usually begin by donning my climbing gear and grabbing my ice pick. I'm not sure how the ice pick is supposed to help, but the sales folks at REI said it was indispensable on the really hard climbs so I figure it must be really useful for what I'm doing.

I've gotten to the top of a few trees, but don't really feel any of the supposed exhilaration that comes from the higher altitudes. When I get to the summit I usually stop to take in the sights, but it all seems rather mundane. I know a successful summit attempt should should lead to feelings of accomplishment and a sense of grandeur, but it really doesn't in my experience. Not sure what I'm doing wrong.

Please don't tell me to join a climbing club or do any research into what climbing is all about. I know I probably don't have the best technique, but I would have thought I'd experience something by now. I'm not a person big on focused learning or discipline, I prefer to just do things and see what happens. Besides, the climbing community seems so serious and the materials I've seen describing proper technique or the accounts of others climbing are so boring for what so obviously boils down to just putting one foot in front of another on a continuous incline.

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    It should be "metres" not feet. Also you say it's meant to "show the error" but this doesn't seem like constructive criticism? The OP has explained specific difficulties ("scriptures convoluted and soporific" and "nothing comes out of attending Sanghas regularly" and "don't know how to ask someone to be a teacher") ... any advice about that? Or about what the Mahasi tradition says, about body scanning, or how to get insights into the true nature of reality? Or if you can't answer properly in this format, can you reference something that might be a relevant answer? – ChrisW Aug 13 '18 at 19:53
  • Hopefully the answer is sufficient. When the error is seen the answer to the other difficulties should be apparent. – Yeshe Tenley Aug 13 '18 at 20:03
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I may be wrong. But I suppose you have a restless mind and you do the meditation incorrectly.

Meditation is like driving a vehicle. You learn how to drive and path to arrive a destination from someone who has already arrived the destination using the same way (or from someone who knows the way and still keeps driving). He/she mentions some landmarks you'll pass along the way to ensure you're in the correct path. What if you only search the landmarks everywhere from the beginning? You forgot driving or soon you'll have an accident. You should only focus on driving. By this way, eventually you'll pass the landmarks that you've heard. If you see a landmark, don't be overjoyed from that and stare at the landmark. Just keep on driving and you'll be arrived at your destination.

There's a good simile has been provided for mindfulness meditation:

Think of a doorkeeper. He only pays attention to the ones who step-in and get-out. Does he look at someone all the way from passing the entrance to his/her destination? The answer is No. His focus is on the entrance and he pays attention to the ones who step-in and get-out. In mindfulness meditation, think of your mind as the doorkeeper. Breath-in and breath-out is like the ones who step-in and get-out.

By saying "body scan", I think you've meant turning to insight (vipassana) meditation from tranquility (samatha) meditation. For this you should first practice tranquility meditation very well.

Note: This is what I understood. I may be wrong but not Dhamma.

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I have been practicing what I believe is insight meditation for over 5 or 6 years now in the Mahasi tradition but still very frequently I feel like Im not doing it right or something.

That doesn't say much. There are several lines within the Mahāsi tradition; and all teach there own methods, which means that the results are different as well. At least that's what I've experienced so far.

So, what are you actually doing when you meditate? Also, how often and how long do you meditate? You can't expect progress with one hour a week, for instance.

My advice would be to do at least one hour a day. This is good enough when using Sirimangalo line of Mahāsi, when using the method of the U Pandita line the minimum amount of meditation a day would be three hours. (Not my own norm, but given to me by the teachers of the different lines.)

I dont feel anything anywhere except for the air going through the nasal passages, sometimes the eyes flutter a bit, the abdomen rises and falls and the hands sometimes tingle or pulse.

Could be just a communication/language thing, but just to make sure: Insight meditation uses experience (aka ultimate realities) instead of concepts.

You don't really feel 'air through nasal passages, or the abdomen rising and falling'. Be aware of what is actually there: cold, warm, hot, soft, hard, tension, the beginning of a sensation, the middle and/or the ending of a sensation. Stuff like that. Just note that.

Everywhere else feels completely dead.

That's totally fine. If this is your experience in that moment, then that is what it is. The absence of a sensation is also a valid experience. You don't need to do body scan.

Maybe this video can also give you some pointers. Btw, he is available for online one-on-ones. Check this community if you think the Sirimangalo style is your cup of tea.

Hope this can help you on your way.

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