In Mahasi Sayadaw's meditation instructions, he says "you will find the abdomen rising when you breathe in, and falling when you breathe out. The rising should be noted mentally as 'rising', and the falling as `falling' " but in Practice Insight Meditation it says "never verbally repeat the words, rising, falling, and do not think of rising and falling as words".

This seems to imply that we shouldn't label rising and falling at all, either out loud, or mentally. But when we note distraction we are instructed to give them a one-word label.

So this seems to me to be suggesting that we know rising and falling with direct awareness only, but we label distractions. But, equally, how does one note 'rising' and 'falling' without using the word, at least mentally?

So my question is. What should we label (if anything) rising, falling, and distractions? Or just distractions? Or maybe everything should just be noted with direct awareness?

1 Answer 1


They are not contradictory because they are two different methods of achieving the same result, Samatha. One tells you to label certain things, one tells you not to. Pick one and follow through. How do you know which one to follow? Experiment & see the results for yourself. Better yet, ask your teacher if you have one. But don't mix them.

how does one note 'rising' and 'falling' without using the word, at least mentally?

Through sensation. When you feel something, you don't have to mentally label it. For example, right now you are experiencing thousands of sensations but you are not labelling every single one of them. The weight of your body on the chair, the touch of your clothes against your skin, the wind, the ambient sounds going on in your room, the light hitting your eyes from the screen you are reading this. You can feel all this, without creating labels. That's how you note 'rising' and 'falling' through body sensation only.

The labelling is a habit that can be subdued. If you feel like you can't help but label it, then maybe Sayadaw's method is more suitable for you.

  • But these instructions are both given in "Basic Exercise 1" in Practical Insight Meditation. Because of this, I don't think they are intended to describe two different methods.
    – chipples
    Oct 25, 2021 at 12:38

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