Ignorant awareness

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Ignorant awareness

Postby duckfiasco » Fri Dec 06, 2013 8:25 am

I just read a short sutra passage: "All things arise in your mind only when you pay attention to them." (A IV Eights IX. 3)
This brings up two issues for me relative to my experience of monkey mind.

First, I've made the most headway when not caring so much about the distraction but the moment right before.
I notice a subtle feeling of lifting off the object.
It feels like the attention slackens, then the floodgates of thoughts open.
But this can't be right, since there's not some independent monkey mind function that always runs in the background.
Doesn't it arise in conjunction with the shift of attention?
I'm baffled as to why the mind shifts from a calmer, steadier object to a proliferation of chaotic, tiring monkey mind, or how to weaken this habit.

The second part is since I recall the contents of distracting thoughts, I'm clearly experiencing some kind of awareness while distracted.
But the quality is so different.
When the breath is attended to, the mind is clear, relatively free from strong hindrances and agitation. What I think feels like a choice. The primary quality is I know I'm aware and what I'm aware of.
When the distraction is attended to, the mind is bubbling and the hindrances fly in and fly out. What I think is entirely conditioned by events that day, TV shows, songs, conversations... The primary quality is I don't know I'm aware and only afterwards can say what I was aware of.

Basically, I'm hoping to understand the mechanics of this "attentive awareness" versus "inattentive/ignorant awareness", and what others' experience of this kind of thing might be.
What causes this shift in awareness off the chosen object onto things far more dissatisfying and restless?
Am I totally off the mark about ignorant awareness? Just what is going on when we're distracted in meditation, and why is it evidently so alluring?

After spending so many meditation hours in endless daydreams, I'm trying to look for a deeper cause instead of just using mitigating techniques and hoping the root cause works itself out.
Like I've told another member here, I sometimes can't even take refuge before distractions swarm in. So it feels like time for stronger medicine than what I've tried so far!

Thanks for your insight :cheers:
Namu Amida Butsu
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Re: Ignorant awareness

Postby dimeo » Sat Dec 07, 2013 10:14 pm

since there's not some independent monkey mind function that always runs in the background.

What makes you say this? Why isn't this possible?

I'm baffled as to why the mind shifts from a calmer, steadier object to a proliferation of chaotic, tiring monkey mind, or how to weaken this habit


Maybe by practising more shamatha meditation you can reach a deeper calmer state of awareness.
Keep returning your attention to the breath.

Be aware of the rising thoughts, let them arise and then dissolve. When you know you are aware and what you are aware of this is good. Perhaps one step further is to ask "who" is aware and "what" is this that is observed. Know that these 'things' are inherently empty and are temporary and aggregate in nature. Observe the space within and let go of the discursive cognition.


I'm hoping to understand the mechanics of this "attentive awareness" versus "inattentive/ignorant awareness"
learning from direct experience is good. Also non clinging and nonconceptual awareness is important too. For example let say you go from one state to the other, watch it happen and let it come and go. Lets say you slip into "inattentive awareness" for a moment, as soon as you return to awareness you return your attention to the breath and being aware.

What causes this shift in awareness off the chosen object onto things far more dissatisfying and restless


Sounds like working with the 5 hinderances here: grasping / clinging and aversion, restlessness, worry and doubt etc. Maybe this will help: http://silentmindopenheart.org/articles ... ances.html

Just an ideas off the top of my head here, but you might try adding some things to your meditation practice, like breath work, Mantras, metta visualizations, humming OM, or counting breath with malas.

Read sutras that can help you with your work towards living the Nobel Eightfold Path. The teachings are full of advice about what is right concentration and reaching the jhanas.

Sounds like you are reaching momentary concentration (khanika samadhi), and you are working towards attainment concentration (appana samadhi) and eventually access concentration (upcara samadhi).

I wrote down a list of sutras that talk about the jhana's. I can add this if you want.
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Re: Ignorant awareness

Postby futerko » Sun Dec 08, 2013 1:21 am

duckfiasco wrote:First, I've made the most headway when not caring so much about the distraction but the moment right before.
I notice a subtle feeling of lifting off the object.
It feels like the attention slackens, then the floodgates of thoughts open.
But this can't be right, since there's not some independent monkey mind function that always runs in the background.
Doesn't it arise in conjunction with the shift of attention?
I'm baffled as to why the mind shifts from a calmer, steadier object to a proliferation of chaotic, tiring monkey mind, or how to weaken this habit.

It sounds like you are talking about the empty nature of objects of thought; endlessly cycling and interconnected, one image always suggests another, in other words, dependent origination.

duckfiasco wrote:The second part is since I recall the contents of distracting thoughts, I'm clearly experiencing some kind of awareness while distracted.
But the quality is so different...

A common metaphor is the idea of clouds in the sky. Some days there is a clear sky, but maybe a single cloud wafts across and it attracts our attention. It's easier to focus on the cloud as an object rather than the sky itself, which is more like the frame or horizon within which the objects appear. If we remain aware of the sky, the object floats across in the foreground and we still notice it, but without chasing it. Some days there is nothing but clouds, but we don't need to keep focusing on them in order to confirm the sky is still there.

edit: I guess what I am saying is that there will almost always be some movement in the foreground - the trick is to look past that movement and not follow it with your gaze.
we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar - Nietzsche
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Re: Ignorant awareness

Postby duckfiasco » Tue Dec 10, 2013 7:12 am

Thank you both :cheers:

dimeo wrote:
since there's not some independent monkey mind function that always runs in the background.

What makes you say this? Why isn't this possible?

I suppose it could be :) My experience of meditation though is like the sutta quote says, that stuff comes up in the mind simply because our innate ability to be aware of things, well, is being aware of things! What I mean is there isn't something like "monkey mind" which exists as an experience outside of currently experiencing it, like materialists might say. Instead, awareness shines on whatever conditions are currently playing out, but then because I don't realize how I respond with attachment and aversion, my own conditioning interprets a lot of things as unpleasant monkey mind to be crushed in the context of "now I'm meditating, go away!"

I think my issue for the longest time was thinking somehow that the appearance of thoughts and such, and my reaction of restlessness was the same thing. I'm starting to suspect there's a lot more choice going on here than I thought, but it's extremely subtle. Hence my kind of abstract pondering about "ignorant awareness" and why the mind would choose or be habituated to lean that way in the first place.

I hope that makes sense. Please correct me if I'm way off base.

I'm baffled as to why the mind shifts from a calmer, steadier object to a proliferation of chaotic, tiring monkey mind, or how to weaken this habit


Maybe by practising more shamatha meditation you can reach a deeper calmer state of awareness.
Keep returning your attention to the breath.

Be aware of the rising thoughts, let them arise and then dissolve. When you know you are aware and what you are aware of this is good. Perhaps one step further is to ask "who" is aware and "what" is this that is observed. Know that these 'things' are inherently empty and are temporary and aggregate in nature. Observe the space within and let go of the discursive cognition.

Yes, this is excellent advice. The only sticky point is what I may consider "letting them arise and then dissolving" may not actually be that, like the angry person who thinks something falling over is in itself the most annoying shit ever. It's hard while experiencing monkey mind to truly get to the root of it when by the very nature of the experience, you feel like you're being blown around in a strong wind. Believe me, I've caught myself being discursive about catching myself being discursive! Kind of a discursive sentence in itself :rolleye:


I'm hoping to understand the mechanics of this "attentive awareness" versus "inattentive/ignorant awareness"
learning from direct experience is good. Also non clinging and nonconceptual awareness is important too. For example let say you go from one state to the other, watch it happen and let it come and go. Lets say you slip into "inattentive awareness" for a moment, as soon as you return to awareness you return your attention to the breath and being aware.

The reason this feels urgent to me is that there doesn't seem to be any less crazy daydreaming sex fantasy whatever than when I started meditating. Clinging to results is one thing. Losing confidence because a basic aspect of Buddhism, taming the mind, seems totally unattainable is quite another.

I wrote down a list of sutras that talk about the jhana's. I can add this if you want.

I have to be careful with reading about the jhanas. They're like advanced piano concertos to someone who feels they can't even play with both hands yet :rolleye:
Thank you also for that link on the hindrances. I will give it a careful read :)

futerko wrote:It sounds like you are talking about the empty nature of objects of thought; endlessly cycling and interconnected, one image always suggests another, in other words, dependent origination.

One good thing to come out of all of this frustration: an appreciation for the dukkha of restlessness, the impermanence of those brief moments of concentration, and a (at this point) growing fear that there is no self that can take charge of this crazy mind and make it satisfying.

duckfiasco wrote:The second part is since I recall the contents of distracting thoughts, I'm clearly experiencing some kind of awareness while distracted.
But the quality is so different...

A common metaphor is the idea of clouds in the sky. Some days there is a clear sky, but maybe a single cloud wafts across and it attracts our attention. It's easier to focus on the cloud as an object rather than the sky itself, which is more like the frame or horizon within which the objects appear. If we remain aware of the sky, the object floats across in the foreground and we still notice it, but without chasing it. Some days there is nothing but clouds, but we don't need to keep focusing on them in order to confirm the sky is still there.

edit: I guess what I am saying is that there will almost always be some movement in the foreground - the trick is to look past that movement and not follow it with your gaze.

This is so helpful, thank you. It describes my experience well. I wrote in a journal that it feels like awareness is a beam of light. It illuminates whatever comes before it, in its various qualities. The breath is neutral, so it's like shining through a clear piece of glass. Distractions with their stories and vivaciousness are like a stained glass window, full of alluring colors and shapes. The awareness is merely aware, the distractions merely have their qualities... suffering takes root elsewhere, doesn't it?

I'll try cultivating more equanimity in the face of these things. I think a new kind of response is in order since the distracting thoughts and memories seem to come up whether I want them to or not.
Namu Amida Butsu
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Re: Ignorant awareness

Postby Jesse » Tue Dec 10, 2013 11:45 am

The only sticky point is what I may consider "letting them arise and then dissolving" may not actually be that, like the angry person who thinks something falling over is in itself the most annoying shit ever. It's hard while experiencing monkey mind to truly get to the root of it when by the very nature of the experience, you feel like you're being blown around in a strong wind. Believe me, I've caught myself being discursive about catching myself being discursive!


Let it blow and keep your focus on your breath, and relax. After a period of time it calms down. Even when it doesn't once you reach a certain point, all those thoughts, feelings and memories will no longer effect you, they will pass right through. If before they were solid, they will now be gas, they blow right past you and never touch you.

duckfiasco wrote:The second part is since I recall the contents of distracting thoughts, I'm clearly experiencing some kind of awareness while distracted. But the quality is so different...


There are always point in our meditation, where we can stop and consider our own state, or even directly think about something while maintaining concentration, It's probably very hard to deepen the meditative state while actively engaged in thinking, observing, but it's possible. I've read an exert from a book where a meditator would do this to evaluate his own psychological state in a sense, and then would continue meditation afterwards.
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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