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I have read that even hunger - a physical sensation in the body - is useful for an object of meditation. Given the fact that I am often hungry and am quite aware of this sensation in my body...and given the fact that I easily gain weight when I allow my hunger to dictate my actions (i.e overeat or eat without thought)...I thought it would be useful for me to see what insight I might get into examining this sensation more deeply.

I was wondering what others' experiences were with using hunger itself as an object of meditation. Normally I just try to focus on the breath (I am still attaining to the 1st level of concentration practice) but thought this might make for an interesting deviation. Assuming that this is a reasonable object for concentration practice, how do I actually go about it?

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    Depends on the type of meditation you do. Is it Samatha(concentration) or Vipassana(insight)? – Sankha Kulathantille Apr 7 '15 at 16:48
  • Whatever is useful. I am still very new, although I understand the basic difference between these two types of meditation, but don't have an idea which would be more appropriate. Quite honestly, at my stage, I don't really have the meditative tools sharpened yet, so insight meditation might not be appropriate for me. This is also why I pretty much focus just on the breath. My crazy mind is still all over the place a lot of the time. – Jeff Wright Apr 7 '15 at 17:02
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    A crazy mind is not an issue for insight meditation. You are not trying to calm it down in Vipassana. You don't focus on hunger in Samatha. You select something continuous and steady. But in Vipassana you should meditate on hunger or any other sensation that arises at any given time. Here's a good beginner's guide for you. – Sankha Kulathantille Apr 7 '15 at 17:12
  • See also topics about the sixth precept. – ChrisW Apr 8 '15 at 10:56
  • Mmm, 6th Precept - I just don't see how not eating after noon fits in with my lifestyle. And it flies in the face of everything we know about nutrition today. May have been a good idea 2500 years ago for monks, but not for me. :-) – Jeff Wright Apr 8 '15 at 11:53
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Absolutely... this is an important topic for new monks and intensive meditators alike. As the Buddha himself said in the Sabbasava Sutta:

“What taints, bhikkhus, should be abandoned by enduring? Here a bhikkhu, reflecting wisely, bears cold and heat, hunger and thirst, and contact with gadflies, mosquitoes, wind, the sun, and creeping things; he endures ill-spoken, unwelcome words and arisen bodily feelings that are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, distressing, and menacing to life. While taints, vexation, and fever might arise in one who does not endure such things, there are no taints, vexation, or fever in one who endures them. These are called the taints that should be abandoned by enduring.

Reflecting wisely means, of course, with sati, hence meditating.

Relevent, I think, is the Mahasi Sayadaw's discussion on self-mortification:

A wrong interpretation as to what constitutes self-mortification is being made by some teachers in contradiction to the teaching of the Buddha.

According to them, earnest, tireless effort required for meditation amounts to self-mortification. This view is diametrically opposed to the exhortation of the Buddha who advised strenuous, unrelenting exertion (labour) even at the sacrifice of life and limb to attain concentration and insight.

"Let only skin, sinew and bone remain. Let the flesh and blood dry up. I will exert incessantly until I achieve the Path and Fruition I work for." Such must be the resolute firmness of determination, counseled the Buddha, with which the goal was to be pursued.

Thus strenuous, relentless efforts in meditation practices for achievement of concentration and Insight should not be misconstrued as a form of self-torture. Leaving aside meditation practices, even keeping of precepts which entails some physical discomfort is not to be regarded as a practice of self-mortification. Young people and young novices suffer from pangs of hunger in the evenings while keeping the eight precepts. But as fasting is done in fulfillment of the Precepts, it does not amount to mortification.

For some people, the precept of abstaining form taking life is a sacrifice on their part; they suffer certain disadvantages as a consequence, but as it constitutes the good deed of keeping the precept, it is not to be viewed, as a form of self-mortification. In Mahādhamma Samādāna Sutta of Mūlapaṇṇāsa, the Buddha explains that such acts of sacrifice at the present time is bound to produce beneficial results in the future. The Buddha said; "In this world, some people abstain from taking life, causing some physical and mental sufferings to themselves. They take up the right view (of not killing) for which they have to suffer physically and mentally. These people, thus voluntarily going through suffering, to keep; the precepts, at the present time, will after passing away, attain the higher abodes of the devas. These ten meritorious deeds are known as good practices, which produce beneficial results in after life through suffering for the present.

Thus any practice which promotes Sīla, Samādhi and Paññā is not profitless, not self-mortification which is not to be indulged in, but beneficial and is in line with the Middle Path which should certainly be followed. It should be definitely noted that only that practice which does not develop Sīla, Samādha and Paññā but results merely in physical suffering constitutes self-mortification.

(from Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta)

As for a means to practice, it does depend on whether you are practicing samatha or vipassana. Practicing samatha, you would bear with it by ignoring it in favour of the main object of focus, e.g. the breath. Practicing vipassana, you would focus on the hunger as physical and mental aspects of experience, perhaps noting it as "hunger, hunger" or "feeling, feeling", as well as any associated mental and physical phenomena that arise surrounding the hunger.

Hunger, being an existential phenomenon, would not make a proper object of samatha meditation.

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Like Sankha said "it depends on what kind of meditation your doing"?

If your doing insight meditation you can meditate on the physical sensation of hunger.

However,if your doing concentration practice it is not useful to use the physical sensation of hunger. Why? Because physical sensations keep changing.In concentration practice you need a relatively fixed object to concentrate on.This will ensure greater stability in concentration.

So this depends on what kind of meditation you'd like to practice.

  • Thanks for making that distinction. Right now I am mostly doing concentration practice. I am looking forward to getting into insight meditation, but I don't feel my current ability to concentrate is sufficient for that yet. – Jeff Wright Apr 8 '15 at 11:54
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Being hungry has 2 parts:

  • physical sensation of hunger
  • thought proliferation due to this sensation like though of food, what you want to eat, etc. which cause more sensations due to sentiments and emotions associated with these memories when they come in contact with the mind sense door

You have to tackle this in couple of ways:

  • reduce though polifration
    • realise and return to the object of meditation. At this point ignore it.
    • calm down the fabrications at least the verbal fabrications to start with and mental fabrications
  • tackle the physical sensation
    • arising of gross sensations can be of limit in development of higher concentration and insight as it can be a distraction. But at some stage of meditation when you look at the sensation aware of the arising and passing, the sensation will dissappear. If that is the case use it to get rid of the sensation by looking at the arising and passing of phenomena but keeping your mind in balance so it does not turn into a craving to get rid of the sensation. At this point you are using the sensation of hunger as the object.

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