Thursday, May 28, 2015

FAQs, continued

Original FAQs article

Q: Do you recommend Goenka Vipassana meditation?

A: I get this question quite frequently in response to my oft-read critique of Goenka Vipassana.  In my opinion, attending a Goenka Vipassana retreat can be an instructive experience.  Most people have not had the opportunity to practice attention manipulation for a period of 10 days.  If nothing else, being distraction-free (no TV, no smartphone, no internet, no news, no social media) will probably "detox" your brain.  Being distraction-free and silent for ten days can bring up thoughts and feelings which otherwise remain submerged.  I recommend the retreat with the proviso that one should be slighly careful not to get brainwashed by Mr Goenka's lectures, his teachers and his organization.  They don't try too hard and are quite gentle, but given that many people fall into their archaic Buddhist ideology, the risk is quite real.

Q: If not Goenka meditation, what type of meditation do you practice and recommend?

A: I am assuming you want to practice meditation to become more peaceful and gain more insight into yourself and into your environment.  A calmness practice, or a retreat from the bustle of civilization, might help.  Sitting in nature, reading a classic, watching a slow film, taking a long walk, fishing, sitting silently and observing one's thoughts or breathing, going on a solo hike or road trip, ... are some example activities.  If you have time and if your environment permits, you could perform some experiments to learn more about how your mind works: staying silent for a few days, being blindfolded or ear-plugged for an entire day or more, being in an unfamiliar surrounding, being in a poor neighborhood or a hospital or a burial ground or a police station or a strip club or a courthouse, stretching your psychological and physical comfort zones, ...


observer said...

Self knowledge is easy enough to know empirically.
Who am I empirically? A flow of experiences.
However in this flow of experiences I do not feel everything is I for example the objects I see are not I etc.
I may feel that the body is I, but from an infant to child to adult the body has changed but no change is in the I.

Then I might say that mind is I, but I remains as is even if the mind is angry or peaceful or happy or sad.

This I is always the subject in the experience. It remains unchanged, while everything else keeps changing.

This invariable I is consciousness or Brahm.

Harmanjit Singh said...

The self is not a localized "center". A modified Buddhist position about the "self" is actually quite close to Dennett's latest theories (the multiple-drafts-model).

Do note that a lot of Buddhism is bunkum, this is one of the few things which they kind-of guessed ok. Also note that despite the Buddhist conception of no-self, they heartily believe in reincarnation and past lives which is, despite all the subsequent acrobatics, a contradiction.

Buddhist position: the "self" is just a label ("Just as, with an assemblage of parts, the word chariot is used, so when the aggregates exist, there is the convention of being." Samyutta Nikaya 5.554)

Multiple Drafts model: "The conscious self is taken to exist as an abstraction visible at the level of the intentional stance, akin to a body of mass having a "centre of gravity". Analogously, Dennett refers to the self as the "centre of narrative gravity", a story we tell ourselves about our experiences. Consciousness exists, but not independently of behaviour and behavioural disposition, which can be studied through heterophenomenology." (

To ask who am I or where am I assumes I exist as a little "ghost in the machine" somewhere. The easiest answer to the question "who am I" is to point to yourself (the body), since the self is not in the arm or in the leg or in the hind-brain, but is just a convenient label for some processes happening inside the body.

Ramana was foolish enough to take the physiological self-pointing as a metaphysical indicator of where the self is: in the heart region (!). ( )

observer said...

Note: Reposting, had posted in the wrong place:

Knowledge begins with observing and recognition and labeling.

Self knowledge is no different.

Here is how, observe the process of experiencing:

In each experience there is a subject? Yes

Is the subject the same in each experience? Yes

Does the subject change as the objects change? No

How many subjects? One

Is the body the subject or object? Object

Is the mind the subject or an object? Object

Hence the subject is quite different from the objects lets label it something, we can call it consciousness or you can call it the self or atma or brahm.

Its a simple matter of observation and labeling, no need to read abstruse theories and whatnot.

Venkat said...

I think that at the end of the day, the real question is whether one considers it possible that consciousness can exist outside a physical body. A dog, a chimpanzee, a mentally challenged child and an adult with an IQ of 150 are all evolved in different ways to generate thoughts and feelings. The anger that they experience is quite similar in how it's experienced (as a feeling-based though or a pure feeling), but the methods that they use in solving a problem, for example, are different. All of it ultimately involves neurons interacting with each other. Even neurologically, it is hard to think of a separate centre for the self. I type these words with input from my motor cortex , but then whose motor cortex is it? Who or what is sending this input to the motor cortex? And from where? Ultimately, such a line of questioning leads us to conclude that although a 'self' exists, it's perhaps a amalgamation of various electro-chemical neurological process.

observer said...

Venkat, you are asking if consciousness exists outside of a body. This assumes that space is primary. Taking the vedantic axiom if space is not primary and experience is primary then all space is an experience wholly inside consciousness, it is meaningless to ask if consciousness can exist in empty space.
If it seems difficult consider the analogy of the dream, in the dream world the space and time is wholly inside your mind, and yet you take a body in it and occupy space. Is the question whether consciousness exist in the dream world space detached from a body meaningful?

Anonymous said...

self as the "centre of narrative gravity"

Excellent! Thanks for that link

observer said...

You can keep the contemporary scientific worldview, and still get immense benefit by assuming self knowledge is describing you qualitatively, while the underlying basis is still neurons.

Thus consciousness mind etc are still say neural phenomenon under the hood, but you know them qualitatively on a higher level. You understand yourself as consciousness instead of the ever changing mind and its thoughts.

Visitor said...

Reading a classic exposes you to madness of writers. got to be careful.

Baba Shivarudra Balayogi's meditation available free online. Wonderful.

And do these courses, not just vipassana but all others, if only to ditch them. At least you will get an experience of meditation.