Ten stages of meditation when the meditation object is chanting instead of breat

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This topic contains 12 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Sanjeev 8 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #2700

    Sanjeev
    Member

    Chanting used to be meditation object before I read the Mind Illuminated book. I switched to breath as meditation object as I found difficulties with implementing the instructions on chanting. For example, how one can keep other sounds in peripheral awareness and the sound of mantra in the field of attention? Any background sound is given equal attention by the mind or ignored. Like peripheral vision, there is no peripheral hearing sense, I suppose. How following and noting can work in case of chanting a small mantra? Each stage presents a different challenge when applied to sound as a meditation object. I am happy with breath as my meditation object but these questions bother me. Am I missing something or have the wrong view as Culadasa in the book mentions that these 10 stages of mediation are equally applicable to many types of meditation. I cannot see them working on chanting.

    As for the chanting meditation I was doing before this is concerned, I will explain it briefly. I would chant a small mantra in low voice in sitting and listen to its sound while maintaining the peripheral awareness. If I forget to listen and mind wanders, I return to the sound of chanting.

    Thanks,
    Sanjeev

    #2701

    Mimi M
    Member

    Hi Sanjeev,
    I will try to answer your questions based on my own experience using a mantra practice.

    1. How can one keep other sounds in peripheral awareness and the sound of the mantra in the field of attention?

    This is very similar to the foreground/background of attention/peripheral awareness. You should have a larger percentage of your conscious power placed on the foreground, in this case the sounds of the mantra. The mind will fluctuate rapidly between what is in attention and what is in peripheral attention in the earlier stages at a subconscious level but try your best to spend more time on the mantra where your attention is residing. It is not easy, but the more you try, the more your skill will improve.

    2. How can following and noting work in the case of following a small mantra?

    You can use the same techniques of connecting and following the breath (in this case the mantra). Try counting at the end of each mantra and if that is not enough, try connecting to the parts of the mantra. For example, I use vedic mantras which have three notes(a tonic, a higher and a lower note) and I note the distinctions between the vibrations of each of the notes and when they happen in the mantra. You could break your mantra into component parts and examine those as you chant. All other sounds will be there but dimmer and in the background. The strength of your attention is at the mantra. If you find that you can still think easily over the mantra or that your drawn more to the background sounds anyway after trying all of these techniques, try changing your mantra to one that is less familiar so that your efforts for chanting it will be greater than any distraction.

    I find in my practice that doing both following a breath object sometimes and following a mantra as an object sometimes is a very helpful way of seeing the similarities between the types of meditation practices and getting nice benefits from both.

    I hope that helps.

    Namaste,
    mimi
    Teacher-in-Training

    #2704

    Darlene T
    Member

    Hello Sanjeev,

    I will simply add to Mimi’s suggestions. It seems to me that you might be trying to PLACE ATTENTION on both peripheral awareness and mantra, rather than allowing peripheral awareness to be the natural work of all the senses, with you simply receiving the sensory messages without over focusing on them. The work is in placing attention on the OBJECT in your case the mantra, and just noticing when peripheral awareness fades and intervene by waking up to the sensory information. Remember attention and awareness are from two different brain processes.

    N Darlene Tataryn
    (Teacher in Training)

    #2705

    Sanjeev
    Member

    Thanks, Mimi.

    “I use vedic mantras which have three notes(a tonic, a higher and a lower note) and I note the distinctions between the vibrations of each of the notes and when they happen in the mantra.”

    – Excellent suggestion. I had stumbled on it but was not consistent. Bored with one tone, I would change the tone. I had also thought about following the sensations in my lips and throat as chanting sound is produced. Have you tried this one?

    “Try counting at the end of each mantra and if that is not enough, try connecting to the parts of the mantra.”

    – Never thought of it and will use it to start my practice for 10 counts or so, as recommended by Culadasa in case of breath. I missed a simple generalization!

    “All other sounds will be there but dimmer and in the background.”

    -This bothers me most and was one of the main problems highlighted in my question. I can understand what a dimmer peripheral vision is and why it is dimmer. (Answer lies in the anatomy of eyes. There is a very small area on our retina that gives focus vision. Outer peripheral areas have blurred vision.) I can understand this distinction for focused attention and peripheral awareness (different parts of the brain and different cognitive process are behind these two different mechanisms, as explained by Culadasa.) But, what do we mean by a sound in the foreground and in the background? Our hearing sense has no such distinction, as far as I have understood it. Our hearing perception – verbal interpretation does have such distinction: we can focus on one sound to understand it and keep others in the background. That how we can listen to our friend in a noisy crowd! But, when we say that we have to pay attention to the sound of mantra, I think we are not supposed to think about it or try to analyze it- it is not like listening to our friend in the noisy crowd.

    I have one hint that can help here. Maybe sounds that are strong or non-interesting, can move to the periphery automatically. Maybe, if a sound is very faint or distant (like a small river flowing far away from us in a jungle) need our focused listening. But I do not know how it really all works.

    “I find in my practice that doing both following a breath object sometimes and following a mantra as an object sometimes is a very helpful way of seeing the similarities between the types of meditation practices and getting nice benefits from both.”

    Very true!

    #2706

    Sanjeev
    Member

    Hi Darlene T,

    “The work is in placing attention on the OBJECT in your case the mantra, and just noticing when peripheral awareness fades”

    Paying attention to the sound of the Mantra, what does that mean? I understand that it means paying attention to the sound of the mantra. The question is what about other sounds? What does it mean to be peripherally aware of them? I responded on this point to Mimi and copying my response here again. Have a look:

    “All other sounds will be there but dimmer and in the background.”

    -This bothers me most and was one of the main problems highlighted in my question. I can understand what a dimmer peripheral vision is and why it is dimmer. (Answer lies in the anatomy of eyes. There is a very small area on our retina that gives focused vision. Outer peripheral areas have blurred vision.) I can understand this distinction for focused attention and peripheral awareness (different parts of the brain and different cognitive process are behind these two different mechanisms, as explained by Culadasa.) But, what do we mean by a sound in the foreground and in the background? Our hearing sense has no such distinction, as far as I have understood it. Our hearing perception – verbal interpretation does have such distinction: we can focus on one sound to understand it and keep others in the background. That how we can listen to our friend in a noisy crowd! But, when we say that we have to pay attention to the sound of mantra, I think we are not supposed to think about it or try to analyze it- it is not like listening to our friend in the noisy crowd.

    I have one hint that can help here. Maybe sounds that are strong or non-interesting, can move to the periphery automatically. Maybe, if a sound is very faint or distant (like a small river flowing far away from us in a jungle) need our focused listening. But I do not know how it really all works.

    #2708

    Mimi M
    Member

    Hi Sanjeev,
    Let me know how it goes 🙂

    I do experience hearing like vision with a distinction between foreground and background. One of the first fruits of my meditation practice was that sounds that previously bothered me(like a heavy footed neighbor at 2am or a dog barking) do not bother me anymore and the reason is that I do not identify with them anymore so my conscious power does not go there but it goes to what I choose it to attend to instead(going to sleep). It helped me a lot to regard them as just sounds or manifestations of energy without regarding any associated content.

    Perhaps taking some time in an initial stage of identifying whatever arises in your peripheral awareness with labels would be helpful in setting a level playing field for all phenomena that arise: sounds, thoughts, sensations, emotions…anything that can arise through your sense gates. Then narrow the field of awareness incrementally and just watch things fall into the background as you refine your area of attention until it is just your mantra. Then the other sounds won’t have anymore power to distract you then any other rising phenomena. Essentially follow Culadasa’s four stages in getting to your meditation object but dwell a little longer in the first stage and add labels that are not content ridden.

    Namaste,
    mimi
    Teacher-in-Training

    • This reply was modified 9 months ago by  Mimi M.
    #2712

    Sanjeev
    Member

    Thanks for sharing. I cannot say that I can make a distinction between a sound in foreground and other sounds in background as for as listening sensation is considered. Both sounds appear at the same place. Unlike the breath felt at nose and other sensations felt in rest of the body- we can focus on breath and be aware of other. But how can I focus on the sound of breath and be aware of other sounds? Hearing sense is not helping me to make distraction here.

    Yes, the distracting sounds used to bother me in the beginning. But, they stopped bothering me later. Then, I could avoid paying attention to the distracting sounds in another sense. My ears were hearing both sounds equally but my mind would not be paying attention to other sounds. It’s like not paying attention to your friend’s words when you are lost in thinking.

    Your ears hear them but mind doesn’t pay attention closely.

    But, then similar thing would happen with mantra. Mind would not pay attention to it keeping it in periphery with other sounds and engage in a gross distraction. And, I would not know that attention has shifted from mantra to a distraction- I can still hear it in the peripheral awareness. Sometimes, for whole session, I would not be able to return my attention to mantra and keep it in peripheral awareness. Why? Because I didn’t feel the difference. If I asked myself was I listening to the mantra, I would say, yes, i can hear it as good as I can hear all other sounds. Or, it would be something like a very broad scope of attention. In stage 3 and 4, Culadasa answers such concerns for breath. But, I cannot answer them fully for sound.

    I don’t know I made me clear. Let me try a brief attempt again: I would be paying attention to mantra and a thought simultaneously by increasing the scope of attention or alternating between the two.

    I felt the sound allows you to do this.

    I have been chanting this way on and off for 15 years and I was still struck at stage 2 with occasional glimpses of stage 3.

    When I read Culadasa, I immediately recognised what the problem was. So instead of fixing the problem with my chanting, I thought to learn the method for breathing. It was so systematically explained in the book that the whole roadmap became clear to me. Just in few days, I could reach stage 3 and 4.

    Today, I did the chanting meditation instead of the breathing one inspired by your answer. I wasn’t able to say whether my attention stayed constantly on mantra for the entire 45 minuets. I can say that for breath in my best sessions. I fear I was engaging with the mantra as well as my thoughts simultaneously. No thought could become a gross distraction but I clearly remember what I was thinking. It means I was paying attention to them along with mantra. Did this happen to you? And, thanks for your reply.

    #2713

    Sanjeev
    Member

    Yes, we can have selective auditory attention and it improves if a same sound is selected again and again. This is what science says, “when attention is sustained on one auditory object within a complex scene, attentional selectivity improves over time”. Thanks.

    #2715

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Hi Sanjeev,

    In addition to the good advice that you have gotten from Mimi and Darlene, you might find the following post from Culadasa on attention and awareness to be helpful.

    http://dharmatreasurecommunity.org/forums/topic/questions-and-clarifications-about-peripheral-awareness

    Blake – DT Teacher

    #2716

    Sanjeev
    Member

    Dear Blake,
    I read this link as well as other posts by Upasana Culadasa. They cleared many confusions. I am wondering what I am calling peripheral awareness might be just alternating attention on most of the occasions.

    As I am writing this mail, I am peripherally aware of the ambient sounds in the background and my bodily sensations as well. Same thing happens during many other works and in meditation. When this doesn’t happen, when I am holding attention without peripheral awareness, I feel irritated at every distraction and get tossed away. This happens for tasks demanding too much attention like solving a complicated problem. Then, I loose all peripheral awareness.

    Is this description correct. Or, I am misidentifying alternating attention as peripheral awareness?

    #2721

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Hi Sanjeev,

    In the earlier stages, peripheral awareness is known mainly through alternation of attention, and that is fine. Any time something pops out of peripheral awareness and becomes clear it means that your attention has alternated to it, however briefly. It sounds like you might be checking to see if you have peripheral awareness, and when you do this it causes attention to move.

    A technique that I have found helpful is to put attention on the meditation object for a few seconds and then stop and briefly reflect on whether or not you were aware of anything else during that time. You might try this a few times during your sit or when you feel that you do not have peripheral awareness. If you were aware of anything other than the meditation object during that time, then you have peripheral awareness, and I wouldn’t worry about whether it is awareness, or if it is alternation of attention.

    You state the following. “As I am writing this mail, I am peripherally aware of the ambient sounds in the background and my bodily sensations as well.” This could be either peripheral awareness, alternation of attention, or a combination. If the sounds are a field of sound, then it is probably peripheral awareness, but it you hear individual sounds then it is probably alternation of attention. You might take a look at the fourth interlude for more information on this topic.

    The distinction between alternating attention and peripheral awareness is not always clear. You might start to notice, when your attention alternates, that you were aware of the distraction before it became an object of attention. Please remember that alternation of attention continues up until exclusive attention is mastered in stage 6. If you try for pure peripheral awareness (without alternation) in the early stages you will just frustrate yourself. As you keep practicing your experience will show you the difference between the two.

    Blake – DT Teacher

    #2724

    Sanjeev
    Member

    Dear Blake,
    Thanks for reminding the subtle difference between peripheral awareness and alternating attention to distractions. I will read the interlude again.

    #2781

    Sanjeev
    Member

    Now, I can reach stage 4 and 5 with both breath and mantra as meditation object. Yet, when I work with distractions, gross or subtle, I feel that breath is a better option because I can apply following and connecting to it. Can’ anyone using chanting a mantra as meditation object point various ways how can I use the techniques of following and connecting to mantra as the meditation object?

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