What is the difference between the progress of "low intensive" meditators as opposed to "high intensive" meditators? By low intensive I mean like a meditator who has never been to a ten day intensive retreat and spreads sitting time over a longer period of time. By progress I mean Vipassana insight progress, Jhana progress or any other kind of meditation progress in any tradition.
I guess the short answer is that in general the more intensive meditation practice you do the more familiar you will become with the jhanas and the more insight you will experience. Larry Rosenberg in Breath by Breath does say that retreats are needed to experience certain levels of insight. However he does emphasise practice in everyday life even more.
However I don’t think things are that simple....
Intense practice isn’t necessary for insight
Willougby Britton in the Dark Night project has been analysing negative effects of meditation i.e. the dark night. This is a state that it’s possible (likely, certain???) to get to with a certain amount of practice. She says the two populations of people who appear vulnerable to this are
- Super intense meditators typically in their 20s to 30s who go to Asia, ordain and then spend 12 hours plus a day meditating.
- Middle ages practitioners who have been meditating for an hour a day for 10 to 20 years an maybe going on retreat once or twice a year.
The point being that both lower and higher intensity mediators do progress along the path but a different rates. The second population is doing enough and has a real and effective practice. That said the second group is still pretty dedicated but not outrageously so.
Retreats aren’t necessary for insight
Dipa Ma, the Buddhist master taught a nursing mother enough mindfulness practice that she attainted the first stage of realisation without leaving the house. So long retreats aren’t an absolute necessity for insight.
Even formal meditation practice isn't necessary for insight
The founder of dharmaoverground, Daniel Ingram, said in this Buddhist Geeks podcast that people can and do have genuine insight from yoga practice, on long marches in the military or even breath control classes for actors. So formal meditation isn't even necessary for insight.
I've heard the relationship between insight and meditation described in terms of being struck by lightening. If you hang around on windy moors in thunderstorms (i.e. meditate intensively) you are more likely to be struck by lightening (insight) than if you sit in front of a TV set and never go out (i.e. never meditate). However people that do habitually sit in front of the TV do occasionally get struck by lightening. Similarly people on windy moors in thunderstorms may never get struck no matter how often they go out and jump up an down with a foil hat on.
There's no guarantees - meditation just increases your chances. To use another analogy - you can't force plants to grow. You can only dig the soil, water the earth and put the best conditions possible there.
The problem with short sessions of meditation is that it takes time to get beyond our psychological problems and really start paying attention to our concentration object.
Thus there is great benefit in longer practice sessions, especially full-on retreats where the entire focus is on meditation for tens of hours at a time with minimal sleep...
Daniel Ingram, American author of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, a very self-empowering book, answers this question in-depth in Chapter 9.
(If you want to know more about the Stages of Insight, especially in line with this sort of subject, I suggest you read the entire book because Ingram's book is the best ever I've seen that covers it in depth, relating to many other subjects. And has some awesome parallel charts on his site.)
Before sharing the excerpt that will answer your question, first read the introduction to the chapter.
WHEN, WHERE AND FOR HOW LONG?
The best time to meditate is when you can, as in “get it while you can!” The best place to meditate is where you can, and the best duration is for as long as is available or necessary for you to get what you wish out of it. This may seem like an obvious answer, but people can sometimes get it into their heads that certain times are better than others and thus not meditate when that seemingly sacred time period is unavailable or interrupted. They may feel that certain places or special circumstances (special cushions, noise levels, etc.) are oh-so-necessary, and if these are not available then they may feel frustrated and unable to practice. They may feel that a certain minimal duration of meditation time is necessary, and thus find themselves unable to make use of what time they may have.
If you have two hours each day for meditation, great! If you have two jobs, six kids, and just can’t find more than ten minutes each day for meditation, make good use of what you’ve got. There have been times in my life when I was very grateful that I had twenty hours a day to practice. On the other hand, when I have only had ten minutes a day, I have been grateful for the sense of how precious those ten minutes were. Skillful urgency and well-developed gratitude for a chance to practice at all can allow us to really use limited pieces of time to their fullest.
If you can take off a month each year for intensive retreats, wonderful. If a weekend retreat once a year is all you can do, go for it. In short, honor where you are and what you can realistically accomplish given your current circumstances. If they are not entirely to your liking, and you want to take more time for practice, work on rearranging things a bit in a way that leaves you with a life that you still find fulfilling should you later decide to practice a bit less.
The answer to your question is found within below excerpt in bold.
DAILY LIFE AND RETREATS
A very related issue here is that of the world of retreats and monasticism and how it contrasts with the world of “daily life” or the life of a “householder.” Each has its own set of issues, but many of them overlap and the differences may be more question of degree than of dichotomy.
Now, it is true that the battle is not always to the strong, nor the race to the swift, but that’s the way to bet. In other words, those who do lots of practice in daily life, go on more and longer retreats, are more consistently able to concentrate and investigate quickly and precisely, pay attention more often during their daily activities, and have their morality trip more together are, on average, much more likely to make progress.
When on retreat, people have the opportunity to practice nearly all day in settings that are usually designed to be very conducive to clear, precise inquiry and depths of meditation. (Why so few people actually take advantage of these circumstances when they go on retreat is beyond me, and I will spend some time ranting about that later.) The point is that going on retreats can give opportunities for much faster and deeper practice to those who choose to really practice. Said another way, if you go on retreat, make good use of that time.
There is a huge difference between the experiences of people who do retreats halfway and people who really follow the instructions all day long. In my experience, there is no comparison between retreats I have done when I really powered the investigation from the time I awoke until I went to sleep at night, causing fast and profound progress, and when I took breaks here and there to think about things such as my issues and meditation theory, generally causing moderate to slow progress. While many people think that retreats are for more advanced practitioners, I think that a few retreats early in one’s practice can really jump start things, allowing one to then make much better use of meditation time off retreat.
I often think of the momentum that retreats generate in terms of rolling a boulder over a hill. If you get a long running start, pushing hard the whole way, you are more likely to be able to get the boulder rolling fast enough so that it rolls over the hill in one straight shot. If you push intermittently or half-heartedly, the boulder is likely to roll back when you get to the steep part of the hill, but you have worn the hill down a little bit, and you may also be a bit stronger for the exercise. Thus, it is possible to wear down the hill given enough time, but it is much faster to simply power over it the first time and move on to the next hill. I know of no obvious benefits from slow practice that fails to gain some footholds in the territory of concentration or insight.
Those who take the wear down the hill approach may eventually lose faith and interest, having done lots of work to little effect. Those who really apply themselves and cross a few hills early on through focused and consistent effort, such as retreats or really solid daily life practice, will have more of a sense of accomplishment and empowerment, and may have even put in less total time and effort than those who tried to wear down the hill. This irony should not be lost on those who want to be smart about developing their meditative skills.
For example, lets say that you could allocate 365 hours out of one year to formal meditation practice. Given a choice, I would be more inclined to take half of those hours, about 182, and do a 10 day retreat practicing hard and consistently 18 hours a day with minimal breaks at the beginning of the year, and then spend half an hour meditating each of the other days. I would be much more likely to cross into some interesting territory early on and overcome some of the initial hurdles than if I spent one hour each day for that year practicing well. The amount of time and effort is the same, but the effect is likely to be quite different.
A few odds and ends about retreats. First, retreats tend to have a semi-predictable rhythm to them. Realizing this allows us, if we have the time and resources to space, to choose how long a retreat we want to meet our meditative goals. Even if we are practicing well, the first few days of a retreat tend to be mostly about adjusting to the place, the posture, the routine, the people, the local customs, the schedule, etc.
Similarly, the last day or two of a retreat tends to bring up thoughts of what we are going to do next. Thus, to give yourself some time in the middle when you are not dealing with these things as much, I recommend greater than 5-day retreats when possible. It is not that benefit can’t be derived from shorter retreats, but there is something about those middle days that tends to make strong concentration and good practice easier to attain.
Second, every retreat center and tradition has its neurotic shadow aspects and downsides. This is inevitable, but by identifying them and realizing that there are ways to have them not slow our investigation down is helpful. One center where I have spent a bit of time is prone to attracting very serious, scowling people who trudge around in their walking practice like the slightest sound or glance from anyone around them might set them off like a bomb. I have been to another center where sometimes I have been the only meditator there, requiring me to have more self motivation and discipline. Another monastic center I have been to has the whole male hierarchy thing going which can cause all sorts of reactions from retreatants both female and male.
Then there are basically always neurotic things around food (huge topic, of which vegetarian vs. non-vegetarian is just the tip of the iceberg), bathrooms, quarters, showers, hot water, washing clothes and dishes, cleaning duties, heating and cooling (one place I have been to has cantankerous wood stoves in some buildings for heat, another in a tropical setting has open windows that let the mosquitoes swarm in), clothing (e.g. some centers have people wear white, others won’t tolerate skimpy or revealing outfits, some don’t care), fragrances, chemical sensitivities, incense, morning wake-up bells (too quiet, too loud, someone forgets to ring it at all), schedules, roommates (particularly those that snore, smell, are noisy or messy, etc.), strictness of silence, eye contact or the lack thereof, etiquette around teachers (e.g. to bow or not, to ask challenging questions or not, limits on the time we have access to them, their personalities and neurotic stuff, whether or not they speak the language we speak, etc.), etiquette of entering rooms with icons (e.g. whether to bow three times or not), the presence of icons or not (and which icons), and issues of the orthodoxy of ritual, dogma, posture, hand position, eating rituals, chanting, vows, etc.
This list doesn’t include issues of corruption, romances, cults of personality, affairs, crushes, miscommunications, vendettas, scandals, drug use, money issues, and all the other things that can sometimes show up anywhere there are people. In short, whatever you imagine that you or other people might have issues around, these are bound to show up sooner or later if you spend enough time in spiritual circles or retreat centers. While solo practice is an option, that doesn’t get you away from all of these issues and has its own set of downsides.
The crucial thing is to realize that great practice can occur in conditions far from perfect, particularly if we realize that all the sensations that make up these inputs and our reactions to them are all worthy of investigation and thus as much a source of ultimate and often relative wisdom as any other sensations. I have rarely had what I considered perfect practice conditions, but I have done well and you can also. That said, some centers, particular retreats, and teachers are better than others, and it is worth exploring and asking around. All these things can be particularly distracting and distressing for a first time retreatant, as often there are some naïve hopes, however unacknowledged, of walking into the Garden of Eden, sitting with the Buddha, and hanging out with the most evolved fellow retreatants one could imagine.
When off retreat, progress is still possible, particularly if one has used retreats to get past some of the initial hurdles (hills) and get a few tastes of what is possible. Do not underestimate the value of careful and honest awareness of what one is going during one’s life off the cushion. On the other hand, if you want to significantly increase your chances of tasting the fruits of the path, do your best to make time for retreats in a way that honors your spiritual goals as well as your other commitments. One of the reasons for monasticism is that your commitments become your practice, but there are plenty of people who have figured out how to live in the world and use retreats and strong daily practice to achieve the same effects. In fact, in this unusual time in history, there are plenty of places to sit for very little money and get great support for practice without having to deal with all the ritual, dogma and other hassles that are involed in ordination.
My meditation practice has always been simple
I will only speak about what has worked for me.
Never, have I had a set rule for meditation, but I have been consistent if I look back over my life. Hours of sitting meditation does not work for me. I need to be around nature with a connection and a flow of light energy. Walking meditation is my way into the stream.
I have been doing walking meditation for about 20 years. Actually, I never set out to do this. (I didn't know about Buddhism) With my circumstances and this kind of walking with nature, I have achieved so much for my personal progress. My walks rage from 30 mins - 2 hours. If I had been told or forced to do this for 20 years, I would never have started! - Buddhism found me years later and it all clicked into place.
- "Low intense meditation" - Ideally should be done after a "High intense meditation" session. The main purpose of a "Low intense meditation" sessions or daily practice for about 2 hours is to ensure you do not form new mental volitional formations and perceptions which was dissolved in a "High intense meditation" session.
- "High intense meditation" - You should start with "High intense meditation" and switch over to "Low intense meditation" with occupational "High intense meditation" session perhaps every year. A "High intense meditation" session helps in establishing a high degree of concentration and reasonable desolation of some Volitional Formations and Perceptions which otherwise you cannot doing "Low intense meditation".
What is the difference between the progress of "low intensive" meditators as opposed to "high intensive" meditators?
Progress is much slower for low intensive meditators.(not taking into consideration one's karma).
From personal experience the amount of time i sat meditating continuously directly correlates with meditation progress.In other words high intensive meditation resulted in meditation progress for me.
X hours of meditation= X Progress.Give or take.
but i cannot speak about others.As this is what i have observed,tried and tested and is true in my own life.This is my karma.No matter what i do i never seem to get more or less then what i put in.This is unfortunate because progress depends on how much effort i am willing to put in which at times can be a challenge.Some people don't have to do much.They just sit and they enter the Jhanas or gain insight but my karma is different.And so is yours.
Always remember cause and effect. So if you cause (Meditation) there will be an effect (Progress/Insight/Jhana).When,how much,how long,you'll have to observe,try and test it in your own life.
What is the difference between the progress of low and high intensive meditators?
the simplest answer for this question is the approach and the idea of meditation of the person, and their experience :)
Average (or low as you mentioned) - are people who are doing meditation but still have not fond the ultimate reason of it. simply said they want to gain some thing out of it. such as relaxation, reduce of stress etc. the paradox here is these are for sure benefits of meditation but not the core of it. hence it limits them to get in to deep stages of meditation cuz at the end there looking for something which is not the deeper meaning of it. hence they find that they have to put a lot of effort to meditate for even more than 30 min.
High intensive meditators - on the other hand are people who do it for the simple reason of joy. Yes Joy or Happiness. When ur looking for joy and Blissfulness in every moment of meditation it means the approach is now different. If you want to be happy right now that means that you will have to find peace with your self in the present moment situation of your meditation no matter which level you are. And the biggest Paradox is, when you are able to be happy in what ever stage in meditation (regardless of the stage you are in right now or the next), because now your finding joy in it, it takes you more deeper in to the rabbit hole(meditation). And this means that the more Blissful and joy you find your self the less you want to come out of it at all. So there is no huge effort but a simple case like, "putting a small effort in the right place."
But the ironic and funny part is some times to understand this by ur self it will some times take a lot of years in ur practice. It almost took me 10 years. But now i have told you the secret ;)
I hope this answer finds its way for the one who is close to the end of all suffering, and this helps you :)