Training in Knowing
The how and why of meditation
“Long is the night to the sleepless.
Long is the road to the weary traveler.
Long is the cycle of rebirths to the unwise,
Who do not know the truth.”
Meditation is not easy, it is the most difficult of all things to become proficient in. If we handle it like we do most things we find too difficult in our lives, we’ll end up just not doing it. Most people must receive a discernable reward from the things they do or they will become bored with an activity. We will do some pretty uninspiring things for money. What will we do for the mind/heart? What are the rewards from meditating?
All our mental states come from the conditions of our own minds (citta). All the emotional ups and downs, all the control and lack of control, come from this one source. The mind is deep and subtle and mostly hidden to us. Even though it is the most important thing we possess, we pay much more attention to our external environment than to our own minds. We do not hesitate to repair our bodies and keep them healthy. We do not even think twice about repair to our physical belongings such as our cars, houses, clothes, and physical sources of pleasure. Yet most of us let the mind run full strength constantly without ever thinking about “repairing” or caring for it. We take that which is our most important possession for granted and often abuse it. Meditation is medicine and care for the mind, but we must see the patient.
When our own mind gives us trouble, we either take some mind-altering pills or we sleep or hide from our state. We may try and talk it away by sharing with others; this helps, but the cause is still there within. The most common trick is to occupy the mind with some other entertaining experience. One only need look around at how large and important the entertainment business is to see this truth. What are we escaping from? What we are searching for is relief from driving desires and needs that never come to an end. We want relief, relaxation, and freedom from tension; we want happiness and peace…of mind. We are escaping from our own minds. The trouble is that it’s our mind that is the cause. An untrained mind is a demanding and sometimes dangerous thing. The mind can be destructive, not only to ourselves, but to others. Repercussions of an act may reverberate long into our futures. The unseeing mind, the unseen mind, is the reason we are here, the reason we are born.
One cannot control the elements, birth, old age, death, change and separation from happy states as well as confrontations with unhappy states. But you can take charge of how the mind views and reacts to these states. You can learn to not want what you think you need, to recognize desires and what lies behind them (motivations and needs). Free from obsessions one can then do things that must be done and give up, without pain, that which is necessary to let go of, those things which are a source of anxiety and suffering. Joy and peace are the products of such a life.
Meditation is the development of inner peace, joy and tranquility, but most important of all, meditation is for the foundation and the development of liberating wisdom. It is seeing things as they are.
We wonder who we are, why we are the way we are, what drives us. There are some that spend thousands of dollars on a “mind doctor.” The doctor will end up telling you that you are not so different; everyone is the same to one degree or another. They will try and help you just learn to deal with it. People must just learn to handle or avoid all the stress and remain living with it their whole life. We are even given a new, cultured neurosis to replace another. You are a “liberated” person, and no one can step on you! Aggression is built up to replace shyness (can’t get ahead if you’re too shy or polite). Being uncaring of others is inserted to replace sensitivity in order to acquire personal gains. Ruthless, selfish drive is encouraged to replace satisfaction with one’s own modest personal pace. Aggression is redirected at parents and authority figures and we end up blaming others for internal hate or stress. This goes on and on but this does not “cure” the mind; it merely helps you to use the faults inside to your own best advantage, or redirect a neurosis at some “outside” enemy. The enemy is not outside; we war within. It is not much help that you know the name for a disease if you can’t cure it. Meditation cures the mind of its faults by letting you see clearly what’s there and throwing out what is at fault. At the same time meditation lets you understand, for the first time with insight, “the way things really are“. This seeing a thing for what it is releases its hold over the mind. It is a little like a person hearing a noise in the dark of night and speculating on all kinds of situations. Stress builds up until they turn on the light and see it’s just the cat. The first step in the release of stress comes from understanding what it is and what is the cause. When insights arise, causes may be abandoned.
Why do we fool ourselves? Why do others go to so much trouble to cover unpleasant situations or truths? Think to what extent civilization goes to cover up just physical faults. Even the human face does not escape being painted to enhance or to conceal… what? We see so clearly all the various faults in others but rarely our own shortcomings. The whispers of wisdom are gibberish; we don’t understand the language.
No one has to meditate. No one is forced to meditate. It is just there if you want it. It is there when you see the wisdom and need for it. There is nothing wrong with not meditating. But the status quo of most people’s existence is just a rather chaotic, unskillful way to live.
As for the goal of meditation, this varies from individual to individual. It depends on one’s religious beliefs and/or personal view of life’s meaning. Most religions do not teach re-birth or kamma and only Buddhism teaches the doctrine of no-self. It is therefore not surprising that non-Buddhists learn meditation for the immediate, this life, effect it has, the happiness here and now and are not directed towards the goal of enlightenment or Nibbana. It is perhaps not surprising that this is the goal of most Buddhists as well. In effecting a cure of a chronic and persistent disease using medicines, one does not expect to be fully recovered after the first dose; the patient just wants to continue surviving. Good health of the mind too is attained over a period of gradual training. The results of good mental health are peace and joy, true compassion for oneself and all beings. Morality, concentration and wisdom are the living practices of what the Buddha taught. The very desire for enlightenment can be a hindrance to progress; medicines can be addicting. High and lofty expectations can lead to early defeat and abandonment of the cure. Cures take time and you have been “ill” for eons. I will not tell you what your goal should be; that is up to you to determine for yourself.
Sila, the Preparation
In the treatment of a disease there are some things which must be avoided as detrimental to the cure and some things which must be followed, this is also true of meditation; First, there must be a sincere underlying desire to change oneself, to improve, to advance. This may seem like stating the obvious, but people do things for many reasons and the underlying motivation is not always apparent to oneself, let alone others. Be aware of your own motivations. Secondly, there must be an underlying principle of morality. Immoral people with immoral desires can meditate but the result will not bring happiness or wisdom. All religions have a moral standard or code of ethics but here we will speak of the Buddhist ethics.. These are the five precepts of Buddhism;
Abstaining from killing living beings.
Abstaining from theft or taking what is not given.
Abstaining from wrong sexual acts.
Abstaining from lies, gossip, harsh speech.
Abstaining from intoxicants.
These precepts establish a base for the mind/heart and protect it from degenerating. This includes self-restraint by way of body, speech and mind. Past acts by way of body, speech and mind tend to rise up progress. To have a basis in morality is to be guided and have principles in our acts by way of body, speech and mind. Morality also develops and strengthens mindfulness. The precepts make one dear to others. They promote respect and care for oneself. Morality frees one from remorse, which effects concentration.
On a meditation night or time do not eat a full meal. Eat after the practice. Things we ingest have an effect on practice. This does not include only food items but anything we put in the body.
Before meditating do not watch a disturbing film, listen to agitating music, read bad news or disturbing material. Don’t get involved in heated or unpleasant conversations. Even normal lengthy conversations will be of some disturbance. One tends to review past events during meditation. When the mind settles, it will search for objects to attach to and build on particuar incidents that it has collected and stored will be reviewed and retrieved to weave thought formations. This is especially true in reviewing daily events. Even good mind objects are to be put aside let alone disturbing thoughts.
Cultivate suitable conversations, sights and sounds, good thoughts at least tend to bring the mind to peace. We are not obsessed by good thoughts, the mind being the way it is. Generally, we are able to let go of pleasant and comforting thoughts more than their opposites.
Do not meditate with the idea of attaining some supernormal ability. In fact, do not meditate with any goal in mind at all, this gives rise to impatience. When you meditate there will be good days and bad days. If there is some goal that the mind sets, it often means that goal will not be achieved because the mind knows this already. The mind wants to be in charge of the situation as usual and will use such desires to achieve its own end.
Try to make sure all the chores are done and that there is not something that is waiting for you after meditation. If you start meditation with unfinished business, that is what the mind will latch onto. Something soaking in the wash, something not put away, someone to telephone…etc. Try to take care of necessary small chores before sitting and then forget those things left undone.
Friendship with wise, good and moral people – the talk, friendship and company of kind and good people is a great benefit to meditation. We hear things never heard before, we are inspired to do good and we hold better to the goodness we already have. We desire to improve ourselves by getting rid of unskillful things within us and we prevent the arising of new unskillful acts. The Buddha said that good friendship (friendship with the lovely) is the whole of the holy life.
Keep away from places and people that are immoral or a source of mental agitation. Immoral people and places cause a spiraling down of the heart as if weighted. Friendship with evil people increases that weight.
Meditation doesn’t just pop out of the void; there needs to be preparation. It is a bit like having an operation; there must be pre-surgical care and post-surgical care to ensure a successful treatment.
The Four Brahmaviharas help in easing in and out of bhavana (meditation/development):
These are known as the “Four Divine Abidings.” The Buddha taught them as a way to deal correctly with oneself and all living beings. The Buddha also called them “boundless” states (appamana) because they are not limited in what beings are included in them but are non-exclusive and impartial.
It is not easy to develop these “boundless states” because they are mental attitudes that go against the flow of the mind-defilements and habitual mind states. They are also subjects of meditation and are used to help achieve higher mental states of absorption or calm. Mediation also helps the four divine abidings sink into the heart and become rooted there and so they, in turn, support meditative calm states. One can dwell in any one of these states or practice all equally but they are four in number because they balance one another. They can also be used separately by choosing one for certain circumstances.
In meditation using the divine abidings is a way of beginning the process, easing into the right mind mode and state. In ending any meditation, it is the proper way to finish and keep the mind in a skillful and peaceful state. This entering and exiting is done by way of forward and reverse steps of the states. One begins meditation with loving-kindness and progressively goes through to equanimity then enters upon the meditation subject. Upon ending the meditation session one goes from equanimity through to loving-kindness. These steps make for a smooth and skillful entry and exit in the practice.
This practice can also be done when falling asleep and reversed upon waking. This prevents bad dreams and restless sleep. One will have a deep and restful sleep. When one awakens in the morning, the practice prepares one for the day ahead. Even if these states are lost quickly in the turmoil of the day, one can still recall them when mindfulness is strong.
To begin with, one uses oneself as the object of the practice. If you do not love yourself, have compassion, sympathetic joy or composure in and for yourself, you will not have it for others. It is not uncommon nowadays for people to feel self-loathing. It is important to feel loving-kindness for oneself. That is where to begin. Then expand outwards from yourself to loved ones, to those who are neutral (and all living beings in general) and finally to perceived “enemies” or those we have problems with. The states then extend in ever expanding, unlimited circles. There should be no desire attached to these feelings such as sexual desire or the desire to own, possess or control. If one cannot get past the “hated” groups then it cannot be considered unlimited or even neutral. Whatever one is able to achieve in this practice, one will “see” the results in the quality of the citta (mind/heart).
To help understand the qualities of these states, think about the following:
Loving-kindness: without desire to possess or control. There is no one to possess nor a possessor.
Without sexual content which is craving and “hot” and without wisdom.
Without thinking of “I,” which leads to delusional, selfish and qualifying thoughts.
Without selecting and excluding, which is a basis for bias.
Without being partial to those “useful” to us or of “no use” to us.
Knowing we are all subject to birth, old age, sickness and death and the stress of just living.
Compassion: removes the “narrowness” of the citta.
Reconciles us and gives insight into our own states by showing us the lives of others
Glimpsing the unfathomable rebirths of other beings as they come and go on an endless cycle.
Glimpsing the darkness that shrouds beings.
Understanding that some beings do evil, yet there is goodness there as well.
Cultivating the wisdom of having compassion on the defeated and helpless.
Sympathetic Joy: sharing in others’ happiness, no matter how small.
Gaining extra joy in life and seeing how joy inspires the citta.
Enriching the quality of our hearts by adding the joy of others.
Equanimity: seeing our own hearts and those of others, and realizing how difficult it is to achieve a balance in our own minds.
Seeing the rise and fall of all conditioned phenomena, cycles of birth and death, arising and passing.
Seeing the lack of control one has over one’s own heart and where the work lies.
Withstanding all the dukkha (stress) in life and gaining wisdom and strength from it.
Courage and determination, patience and foresight.
Developing insight into the laws of cause and effect.
Letting go of those things we are “burned” by.
Protection from the emotional storms of the heart.
All four of the Divine Abidings are objects of insight and wisdom. None of them are in any way a danger to oneself or others. They all arise in the heart and there they offer insight to those who watch. Their benefits are evident and incalculable. They prepare our heart’s dwelling in this life and the future.
Samadhi, The basic “how” of meditation
The following will be a step-by-step instruction and guide for beginners in meditation. It is not like a guide on how to put together a model toy or craft set. It is not a guide as in mathematical formulas or a recipe for baking a cake. It is much more akin to training a tiger (for some) or training a monkey (for others). It may well get the upper hand, at least in the beginning.
The first lesson you will learn is that you have less control over your own mind than you have control over anything else in your life.
Patience and loving-kindness for oneself are a prerequisite. Prepare from the very beginning for some frustration and confusing insights into what you have always thought was your mind.
Begin by establishing a posture. This sounds simple but so many stop right here and never get past this point. You may sit in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. There is also walking meditation on certain occasions. Establish a posture, but don’t let your mind necessarily dictate the easiest way. The seat should not be too comfortable (piles of cushions). The seat should not be too severe (hard floor without any cushioning). The “Goldilocks” approach is best used, just right for you. When the posture and seat are established, forget it. Whether you feel that you are leaning, crooked, unbalanced, falling, floating, made of lead or standing on your head, just forget it. If you listen to the spoiled mind that has always had its way and never been disciplined at this point, there is no use going on. It will try to get you to stop.
Remember, the mind knows you and all your weaknesses better than your normal consciousness. The mind is much older than “you” are and has always been in charge. The mind knows all those weak points and phobias even if you are unaware of them and it will use them to resist any restraint or training.
The second thing to do is to take a few deep breaths and then breathe normally. Do not force breathing. Breathe in and out and find your “home base.” The base is the place where you notice the breath passing in and out most clearly. Take your time. You have been breathing a long time, so there is no need to rush to find “home.” This may be the tip of your nose, upper lip, nostrils, sinus area, upper palate, etc. Wherever it is most noticeable, that is your “base.” You may notice the constriction of the air at that point or it may be the alternating warm/cool of the passing air as it goes in and out.
‘Fixing their mind upon the sign
And putting away extraneous objects,
The clever one anchors their mind
Upon the breathings in and out.’
Mindfulness: Mindfulness (Sati) is bare awareness. It is the striking of a gong in silence. Mindfulness is awareness in the ever present. The object of meditation must be cut off from the universe outside; it must be singular and held still.
There is no memory involved and the past and future must be let go of. When thought escapes mindfulness, it must be pulled back again before it spins off constructing thought formations.
Mindfulness is for the purpose of anchoring the heart in the present, holding the mind still to enable clear vision without the spinning wheel of thoughts interfering. Mindfulness does not pursue, it sits and is aware. If mindfulness abandons its seat, the “object” of mindfulness, then the seat will be taken over immediately by gross mind (ignorance). Mindfulness will be tempted, by ignorance using all things bright and attractive, to leave its seat. These are the things which ignorance knows we find hard to resist. Failing this, ignorance might frighten the heart into leaving its seat by anxiety provoking things, the prowling, dull gray wolves in the dark of the mind. The gross mind with its minions (ignorance and greed, hatred and delusion) has been in charge and on the throne for uncountable lifetimes; it knows the moves. Ignorance is extremely clever and single minded, craving is its power. Ignorance merely starts the engine; we supply the fuel from our own mind. If there is no mindfulness then whatever you are doing it is not meditation, it is merely a word label.
‘Just as a man who subdues a calf would tie it to a post, so here,
Should his own mind by mindfulness be firmly to the object be tied.
A seeker, concentrating on mindfulness,
Advances like flames,
Consuming the chains of bondage
Both great and small.’
Clear Comprehension: (Sampajanna). If mindfulness is the striking of a gong in silence, then clear comprehension is that sound reverberating on and filling that silence. Clear comprehension is the “sharp” of “sharp awareness.” Mindfulness can be turned to habit or memory when clear comprehension is not present. If mindfulness becomes dull and sleepy (becomes habitual perceptions) then clear comprehension brings the light back into the darkness and illuminates mindfulness. True mindfulness is clear and sharp, bright and aware. Clear comprehension brings thoroughness to mindfulness, penetrating to all places in the heart and leaving no dark corners for ignorance to hide in. Clear comprehension is the Dhamma-vise that holds mindfulness, and therefore the mind, in place for polishing by wisdom. Sampajanna also is another word for consciousness, intelligence, knowing and acting consciously with full knowledge of what one is doing.
Once the “home base” has been established, that is where your mindfulness and awareness must be placed and kept. It is just being “aware” of that spot. To make things easier in the beginning, there are some “props” or objects (arammana) to use. These are clever objects of a peaceful or neutral nature to anchor the mind. They are used only in the beginning and are later abandoned.
The object to use as an anchor for the mind to remain in place is called a “parikamma,” preparatory theme. I will give the most common here. First there is counting. This is done by counting the breaths from one to five and then back again at the point where the home base is. This is steadily repeated over and over again until the mind establishes good contact with the “base” at which time these props will automatically be dropped by the mind. There is no need to think about when they can be let go; this will happen of its own. In breath “one,” out breath “one.” In breath “two,” out breath “two,” and so on up to five. When five is reached, reverse the count. Do not count past five as this will cause the mind to wander and play truant. Do not count less than five, as it will cause the mind to “vibrate” and become restless. Another parikamma, which is used in Buddhist countries, is “Buddho” — the first syllable, “Bud” and the second syllable, “dho.” Again breathe in “Bud” and breathe out “dho” repeating over and over again. The word “Buddho” here does not refer to the Lord Buddha to “knowing” or “awareness.” If one likes one may choose and use any two- syllable word or any two one-syllable words “let go” for example. The word or words should have a calming or neutral but not emotional connotation.
Do not follow the breath in or out on its path. The breath awareness must be kept anchored at the base. Do not follow the breath in or out. The method has been explained as a city gatekeeper whose job is to count people coming in and out of the city. He does not care where they are coming from or where they are going. He merely watches and counts the people coming and going where they pass in front of him at the gate. Following the breath out causes discursive thought. Following the breath in causes inner thought fabrications.
You will find when you start, when your mind begins to calm, that you are a raving lunatic and that your mind is a Pandora’s box of illogical and meaningless nonsense. Uncalled for thoughts and emotions will pop up in seemingly random and senseless order. It is an educational experience to look into the depths of one’s own mind and hear the sound of it at work. Don’t worry too much about this; you are not any more crazy than anyone else in the world; it’s just that you are beginning to notice.
The first meditative experience is sometimes this confrontation with the things swept under the carpet of the consciousness. We have all been so used to living out of control with ignorance that we just take all this background noise for granted. From a Buddhist point of view, this has been going on for uncountable lifetimes.
Do not chase after sounds, smells, tastes, sights, sensations or thoughts. Note when these phenomena arise and disturb you, then let them go. Do not label these things but merely know or be aware of them as they are, without conceiving. The mind will grab at all disturbances and try to weave a story and emotional train out of them. Don’t fall for the bait. The mind does that all day long. It will get away with it in the beginning but after a time practicing, things will improve. The mind wants to be anywhere but where you have put it.
When the mind does attain stillness and simple awareness, then awareness of what “moves” may be investigated. The mind is still and then it ripples; it moves to an object. This object may be a thought, sound, sensation, smell, sight, feeling etc., but pay attention to what moves as opposed to the object. What is the difference between the still and the moving mind? That is the beginning of wisdom arising. You will develop peace, happiness and begin to see things as they really are, beyond our views and conceptions of them. When a thing is truly seen for what it is, wisdom arises and that thing is abandoned and can no longer be a source of anxiety or sorrow, a source of dukkha.
The Buddha said his teaching is one of “come and see,” “leading inwards to be seen by the wise for themselves.” Look at the mind and investigate whether or not it is calmer, happier due to meditation, review your practice. The mind is where you live; are you familiar with your own house? Look at the quality and associated mental states. You will find that the practice varies from sitting to sitting. One session will be smooth and wonderful and the next will be painful and irritating; many sessions will fall in between. Review what the events leading up to the practice was.. What did you eat? How much? What did you hear, see, speak of previous to meditating? What was the state of the mind as you sat down? What were your actions during the day? Reviewing will offer insights and help you fine-tune your practice. One can then eliminate the things done that disturb and create turmoil, or at least see them for what they are. But most important is to be aware of your own progress towards taming the mind, gathering happiness and wisdom along the Path.
Panna, Insight and Wisdom
The ultimate goal of meditation is to gain control of the mind sufficiently to use it as a tool to see truth. To develop insight there must be training in virtue and calm as explained above. There are those who say that “insight” may be practiced and calm is not necessary to attain results. This is perhaps possible in the case of one out of a million individuals. What is more common is the development of intellectual understanding, not insight. It is likened to someone memorizing a map in detail but never taking a step on the journey. The reality for the vast majority is that there are no short cuts.
When the mind is subdued and calm, free of ripples and wanderings, then the mind may be turned to the development of insight or wisdom. The practice of calm and one-pointedness of mind have immediate result in happiness and freedom from dukkha while under the influence of meditative states, but it does not last. Calm alone does not destroy the causes of dukkha. Calm is the scabbard, wisdom the blade. One may also use the subjects listed below mindfully to develop mundane Right-View. This means using the investigations without attaining to meditative calm but there must be mindfulness present to make it a type of meditation. Without mindfulness the exercises will become emotionally counter productive.
“Without wisdom there is no concentration.
Without concentration there is no wisdom.
Whoever has both concentration of mind and the power of wisdom
A good analogy is a laser gun. We can divide the tool into three major components; the structural part, the ruby and the beam of light. The structural part can be compared to the moral or virtuous aspects of the practice. In the laser, the structural part (virtue) holds the ruby steady. The ruby can be compared to the concentrated mind, the one-pointedness developed in meditation. The quality of the ruby (concentration) is important to the power of the light to produce a cutting beam. The light source can be compared to the object of contemplation, creating wisdom. As in a laser, if one of the components are missing then the tool will not cut; it will be of no use. A mind that is as yet untrained will not have the power of penetration, just as a poor quality ruby, full of impurities, will not have the power to cut. When that is the case, then the mind will not have insight arise but merely mundane knowledge and mundane understanding. A mind full of conceited views is an ego building detriment to the owner. A mindful and concentrated mind is powerful.
The subjects presented here are not only objects of meditative contemplation but also for the development of wisdom. The themes here mentioned make up what is called “Right View.” There are two levels of Right View: one is mundane and the other “Noble,” or supra mundane. Mundane Right View is a view of the world and oneself in accordance with truth. Right View guides one, cutting a path through an otherwise wild and dangerous terrain. One then makes wise decisions, becomes heedful and skilful in acts by body, speech and mind. As a mountain stream continuously wears deeper into the rock it flows over, the contemplation of Right View themes cuts a path through wrong view. When the depth of this stream of Right View reaches a certain point, then its flow becomes effortless and natural. Such a developed Right View then automatically flows on the correct course.
With the establishment of mundane Right View when the time comes to investigate, after the achievement of calm, the heart will naturally follow the path of Dhamma and present the mind with a proper and meaningful subject of contemplation. Then one will be ready for those flashes of insight, that penetrate and illuminate an otherwise dark mind. It is then that one suddenly sees what has always been there, hidden in the heart. This type of insight, without words or intellectualizations, gives rise to supra-mundane Right view, cutting bonds that have held the heart fast through incalculable time.
The object of investigation may be of several types but here we will mention only those most appropriate. The foundation for any contemplation is mindfulness. The selection for any one of these to be contemplated is the heart’s choice. These are:
The Four Foundations of mindfulness (Satipatthana)
This is a formula for the training of how and where mindfulness should be directed and developed. It is a method personally taught and stressed by the Lord Buddha himself. “Sati” means mindfulness and “patthana” means foundation or condition. These are used in conjunction with concentration (one-pointedness) but they can also be used for the development of mundane Right View and they take the mind to mundane states of calm. The practice develops the basis for concentration and insight.
The four objects of mindfulness are: the body, feelings, mind and mental qualities. These are all “in and of themselves.” This means that the object is taken as directly experience and not in reference to anything other than the pure object.
It should be noted here that in “mindfulness of breathing”, the breath is considered “body” just as the physical body.
Contemplation of the body. In the case of the breath it is being aware of the breath as mentioned previously. Contemplation of the physical body itself may be done from differing approaches which may be internal or external. It is made of the elements and made up of parts, like the parts of a car. This is the vehicle built and destroyed only to be rebuilt again by the heart’s constructions. Look at the body as parts, internal and external organs. What do we love the most about body? Hair, skin, teeth, nails, these are, in fact, all dead. One may be aware of the positions of the body when walking, sitting, standing, lying down or any activities the body is performing. One may investigate the body seeing it with the three characteristics of existence: dukkha, ever changing and without a permanent self. Investigate the conditions for the arising of body and the deterioration of the body. See how body goes its own way according to nature and truth. Contemplate the dukkha that comes of body due to wrong understanding when ego whispers that the body is self. Learn to know the body for what it is; take care of it but do not be confused by “I” or “Mine.”
“Whoever pervades the great ocean with his awareness encompasses whatever rivers and streams that flow down to the ocean. In the same way, whoever develops and pursues mindfulness immersed in the body encompasses whatever skilled qualities are on the side of clear knowing.”
Contemplation of feelings. There are three kinds of feelings: pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. See them in the same way as body: these feelings arise, persist for a short time and pass away according to conditions. They are without self, impermanent and are dukkha. Investigate how various feelings give rise to emotions and determine much of our actions. Observe how feelings arise and pass, out of control, based on conditions. What are the conditions for feeling? Feelings are the uninvited guests that walk through our six open doors. If the mind is an unguarded house, we are at the mercy of whatever enters, now delightful, now unpleasant. Such a house, in disarray with darkened corridors and a maze of rooms, harbors visitors, some welcome, some uninvited, hiding there. What is the true owner of this house?
“Pleasurable feelings arise in beings.
The feelings are built on by craving,
These beings cling to sensations, not letting go,
They are driven to experience dukkha over and over again.”
Contemplation of the state of the mind. Mindfulness is the glass in which the flame of our mind’s awareness is held still. Be mindful without judgment or bias, as a neutral observer, aware of the state of the mind at any given moment. That state of mind in and of itself. Do not get involved wanting to change it, just note it. It must be done with calm and equanimity. To involve oneself is to throw pebbles on a clear and still pond, distorting the vision of what lies beneath. It is the awareness of the general “color” of the mind. Is the mind hating, loving, greedy, sad, happy etc. One can also just be aware “there is mind.” See with the three characteristics, change, arising and passing away like all other phenomena, dukkha and no-self.
Contemplation of mental objects or qualities. These are the objects of mental activity and involve deliberate, directed mental investigation towards them. What are the mental objects present? Are there present sensual desires, anger, torpor, anxiety and restlessness, doubts? The Buddha compared these things to the impurities of gold. These must be burned off to reach the pure gold of the heart. Be aware of the presence of such mental impurities. Observe the arising and passing of such objects. One can merely be aware that “There are mental qualities present.” How do they come about and what do they feed on so that they become the demanding masters of our hearts? How are they abandoned? See them through the three characteristics. Mental states are like a shadow; mental objects are like a reflection, which is to be grasped as real? “What” is it peering into the mirror?
“He dwells contemplating the arising of phenomena…or the passing away of phenomena…or the arising and passing away of phenomena as mental objects. Or the mindfulness that ‘there are mental objects’ is established in him to the extent necessary for knowledge and mindfulness…”
Contemplation of the five aggregates of being. This is the essence of all and the importance of their contemplation cannot be over emphasized. Material (body), feelings, perceptions, thought formations and consciousness — see their arising and passing. Investigate their conditions and see them with the three characteristics. Is body the same as feeling? Is feeling the same as perception? Is consciousness identical with the other aggregates? What are the conditions for the arising of body, feelings, perceptions, thought formations, consciousness? This is the universe that we made and exist in. The ‘big bang’ of mind that can never outrun itself and, finally, by its own weight, self-destruct, only to expand and fill the cosmos of self again. The elements that make the body-cosmos are plain enough — earth, water, fire and air, but what of the space between the atoms, the things of elusive mind? Is there a center to this universe?
“He who has comprehended ‘name and form’ characterized by thought proliferations, which is the root of sickness within and without, is released from bondage to the root of all sickness, and is truly called the ‘The One who Knows,’ the ‘Such’.
Contemplation of the sense doors. There are six senses and their objects in Buddhism. These are: the eye and form, the ear and sounds, the nose and smells, the tongue and tastes, the body and sensations, the mind and mind objects. These are called “doors” because they qualify the mind or consciousness. These doors allow what is outside to enter and what is inside to exit. But it is more than just that, it is the setting in motion of conditioned, interconnected events. It is a tremor that passes through the psyche, setting off often uncontrolled and unmindful courses. The following pattern of conditions may be applied to all the senses mentioned above: The meeting of eye and form is contact; when there is contact there is eye-consciousness arising; when eye-consciousness arises there is feeling; with feeling there is perception; with perception there are thought formations and the chaotic proliferation of these thoughts in connection with eye and form, whether past, present or future. This proliferation of thought formations weaves a tapestry of views, full of craving, conceit and concepts. The threads of perceptions are connected by the mental factors and the idea of time as past, present and future. We weave pictures of events with our own ego figure placed in the center. The figure in the center of this tapestry is the weaver itself, a concocted, self-portrait. The figure in the center is “I am.”
“In whatever egotistic terms they think of an object, it is always and ever otherwise. This is where its falseness lies, the foolish, deceptive phenomena that it is.”
Contemplation of the four noble truths. Dukkha is variously translated as ‘suffering,’ ‘stress,’ and ‘unsatisfactoriness.’ It is not so much a pessimistic description of life but a studied conclusion of the nature of existence. Dukkha is not just personal, it is common to all beings, it is the condition of ‘being.’ Dukkha is suffering as in pain, both mental and physical. Dukkha is because all things are subject to change but most specifically, the heart. The third face of dukkha is that of conditioned existence; dukkha is because there is an “is,” dependent on all that went before and creating all that will be. Dukkha exists in opposition to Nibbana. If there were no dukkha there would be no “I,” if there were no “I” there would be no dukkha. Its cause is unending desire. Its cessation is the cessation of craving, the end of ego which stretches back in a beginningless past. The way to cessation of dukkha is virtue, concentration and wisdom. Dukkha is the results of the blindness due to the unseeing mind. But it is from this very dukkha that wisdom’s light ignites, allowing those who are mindful to see the path, to see Truth.
“The gift of truth is the highest gift.
The taste of truth Is the sweetest taste.
The joy of truth is the greatest joy.
The extinction of craving is the end of dukkha.”
Contemplation of the three characteristics of existence. The Buddha said all things are dukkha, impermanent and not-self. Right View has its roots in understanding these three characteristics. Existence, without wise action, is a gambler’s game, on small wins and gathering losses we live our lives, driven by desire for pleasure, desire to be and desire not to be.
“All conditioned things are subject to change.
All conditioned things are unsatisfactory.
All conditioned things are insubstantial.
All things are without a self.
When one realizes this truth, one feels wearied of dukkha.
This is the way to purification.”
Contemplation of Kamma: Kamma (Karma) is the moral law of cause and effect; it comprises intentional acts by body, speech and mind. Think of a past act, good or bad, that you have done and then look at the state of your mind. That is the result of Kamma. Results may flower immediately or the seeds may lie dormant in the mind’s earth until the conditions for growth are present. Kamma is not predictable. Kamma is not the cause of all that happens to us, but it is all that happens to us due to past intended acts. Kammic law can be said to be inherited possibilities, certainly not fate. Kamma is the movement of the mind in intended directions. The mind must therefore be guided in its movements so the Kamma produced is skillful and creates happiness and peace, and the heart becomes a place where wisdom will grow and gain freedom from bondage. The heart is guided by mindfulness.
“Mind is the forerunner of all actions.
All deeds are led by mind.
If one speaks or acts with a corrupt mind,
As the wheel follows the hoof of an ox pulling a cart.”
One can also ask the mind and listen for the answers. Like questioning a criminal, truth is not always apparent in the answer. What was the act? What was the motive? What was the need? What has such desires and motives? The “crime” can be solved and the culprit exposed by this technique. The important question is “what,” not “who.” It takes persistent searching and a concentrated mind to do this. Insights are sometimes painful because they are insights into the truth, into dukkha. But true insights are always liberating, like having a thorn removed. One must not use these forms of contemplation to take the place of concentration. You will be tempted to give the mind something to think about in place of concentration, a mental exercise, to combat boredom or the inability to concentrate. Without calm and one-pointedness these contemplations then become an escape into intellectualizing and not mind development. To best effect use the contemplations after the mind has attained to some degree of calm and one-pointedness. These contemplations are also kept in mind in everyday life to develop Right View, to see the world in the light of truth as it really is.
“There, where earth, water, fire and air no footing find,
There are the stars not bright,
Nor is there sun resplendent,
No moon shines there
Yet there is no darkness seen,
It is then when he, the Arahant, has in his wisdom seen,
From well and ill, form and formless, such a one is freed.”