Part 1 - Movement into Stillness
The following teachings draw strongly from my own Buddhist training. These derive originally from early Buddhism as recorded in the Pali Canon texts which were later compiled by Buddhaghosha in his “Visuddhimagga” (5th Century C.E. India) and Chi-I in his “Dhyana for Beginners” (6th Century C.E. China).
To go deeper we have to stop, be still. I would like to advocate the practice of sitting meditation as a natural conclusion to posture work practice and a vital opportunity to work on the mind directly. In stillness, and by that I mean physical stillness, we can begin to see the movements of the mind itself, its tendencies, predilections, fluctuations and its fluid and flighty nature. We can see and experience directly and can begin to differentiate between skillful and unskilful states of mind and we can begin to work with these directly too.
I will employ the model of samatha/vipassana is here, a model which comes from the Buddhist meditation tradition. Put simply it can be translated as something like calming and seeing clearly.
Samatha is the cooling, calming down or quietening of our mind. The root causes of our unstable, unhappy mind are temporarily assuaged. As the mind becomes quieter more malleable and more absorbed a degree of contentment, fulfillment and happiness arise. You may have noticed when engaged in an activity wholeheartedly and enthusiastically you are naturally happy, absorbed and focused.
In Vipassana we see directly how these root tendencies are frustrating even hurting and entrapping us and we begin to let go, even let go or sever more permanently these roots at the root. We can drop once and for all habits and tendencies that lead to strife, we begin to really grow up We grow up in the sense of grow into a happy, or at least more contented, responsible and free human being.
I am speaking to "yogis" here, "hatha yogins" for sure and I want to say that yoga can lead quite quickly to a "good feeling". After even a short asana practice, physical and psychological tensions are released, a mild euphoria can be felt, one feels more present in the body, more connected, more embodied, more alive. We become more concentrated, "gathered up", integrated and happier. I think we can experience this physical and mental well being from any (not overly strenuous) physical activity provided we bring awareness to what we are doing. It can be a considered a mild and easily accessible level of samatha in our being.
Meditation gives us the opportunity to take this samatha experience deeper into our being. It is best approached as a gradual process and for this reason I would recommend a daily meditation practice. The are many benefits and I think the benefits far outweigh the expense of giving time and energy to sitting practice. Meditation allows you to cultivate samatha in your mind stream, calming the body/mind and creating a sense of spaciousness in our life and experience. It also allows you to get in touch with how you really are and connect with whats going on internally. We begin to connect with deeper streams and currents in our being. We are giving time to listen, be receptive and open to our experience and the world about us.
An important ongoing dimension to this listening and tuning into yourself more deeply paves the way for you to listen and open up to others and begin a process of deepening our relationships with others.
If we want these qualities in our life in seems natural to honor and respect this desire by setting aside some time, say 20/30 minutes each day or 4/5 times a week to cultivate these qualities.
Its helpful to meditate with others. Meditating with others creates mutually supportive ambient. Meditating with others we discover a new way of being intimate and sharing a creative space together.
How to meditate
I will describe here a simple approach to meditation based in awareness of the body, breath and heart/mind, each element is important and we need to attend to each to create a skillful meditation practice. Take your time to gather yourself up in the practice. As you proceed you will find you become more concentrated, present and clearer. Relax, do not force your mind or body. Its helpful to see your practice time in three stages; beginning, middle and end. Spend some minutes arriving, tuning in and settling. Then have a definite period of making an effort to cultivate awareness. Finally have a period of some minutes winding down and letting go of the practice. The process of gathering yourself together, integrating body, heart and mind begins, over and over again.
It is worth pointing out early that in this meditation or any other meditation method that I am teaching here the practice is not about necessarily feeling good. It may be that pleasure arises as a consequence of practicing but our main concern here is becoming aware and having the intention to transform our mind by cultivating a skillful attitude towards ourselves and others. So it is possible to feeling lousy, even irritable and angry and preoccupied and in pain, but also to begin to meditate bringing a patient awareness to our experience this then working its magical transformation.
1. Posture - we are looking for a stable posture with a clear stable foundation where we can give weight to the earth. The posture needs to upright and well aligned so that the joints line up and the spine can express its natural curved form. (Sthiram - stability). With good alignment we can let go into the structure of the body and sit with the minimum muscular effort. We are then looking for a sense of balance, poise and ease in the form (sukham - ease). However some discomforts can be expected. We are embodied beings after all and some aches and pains are natural. Awareness of posture also includes the space one occupies and to some extent an awareness of the space and ambient around oneself. There is awareness of the posture, the room and others around us as well as the wider perspective of the terrain or landscape we are in. For example being aware of the background city environment or the mountains or sea, depends where we are sitting in a given session.
2. Breath in the belly - give attention, say 50% of your attention the the breath, feeling the breath in the abdomen, the rise and fall of the belly. This anchors our attention low in the body, earths or grounds our energy. The rest of our attention is with the posture itself and the emotional landscape of our experience.
3. Emotional landscape - in the practice we start to open up to and become familiar with our inner world. The overall attitude is one of embracing all, everything is acceptable and using the body as a container for our experience. We become receptive and open to the internal movement of emotion, the flow of thoughts, images and experience. Awareness of the breath and body simultaneously allow us to stay grounded and spacious and not get lost in particular thoughts and emotions. There is an ongoing process of coming back to, returning to the body and breath as it is happening now in our body. We are looking for or cultivating the felt sense of how the body actually is, not an idea of how the body is. There is an obvious connection here with the Yin Yoga practice.
4. Kindness - we connect with and cultivate an attitude of kindness, patience and generosity, a sense of being content with what is. Easy to say, but can be difficult to do, as a lot of us don't like ourselves. Look for elements of yourself you appreciate and like. Its helpful not to exclude any part of yourself however and we can say that any thought that arises is OK. See how these thoughts arise and then pass away. We don't need to get hooked in to a particular stream in our minds. Its helpful to come to the body, posture and breath experience again and again.
5. Faith or confidence - we can sit with a quality of nobility and elegance, almost a regal quality in our posture. This has an internal aspect too. We touch the quality of self worth, valuing the practice and the time we give to the practice. We can have confidence that the practice works and that we too are "workable", whatever is going on for us in a given time.
When we practice we engage all these elements together, 1, 2 and 3 are the mindfulness aspect of meditation, 4 and 5, the metta or maitri aspect (in Pali and Sanskrit) of love or compassion or lovingkindness.
Meditation posture - a checklist
1. Adjust your seat height and angle so that your back is relatively straight, and also relaxed. The pelvis will be slightly tipped forward (in ante-version) to facilitate the natural lumbar curve.
2. Make sure that your hands are supported so that there’s no strain in your shoulders or between the shoulder-blades.
3. Relax your shoulders, letting them roll back to open your chest. Let your shoulders move with your breathing.
4. Take a few deep breaths into the upper chest to allow your chest to open. Relax on the out breath, but see if you can keep a sense of space across the front of the chest as well as across the back body, between the shoulder blades.
5. Adjust the angle of your head, so that the back of your neck is relaxed, long and open, and your chin is slightly tucked in.
6. Relax your jaw, your tongue, your eyes, and your forehead.
You’re now ready to begin working on body awareness and relaxation.
Four Foundations of Mindfulness
The Satipatthana Sutta presents a traditional Buddhist teaching on Sati or mindfulness. A satipatthana is what we bring attention to: sati means awareness and upatthana means to place near. They give a way of looking at and describing our experience in terminology appropriate to the meditation tradition we are studying here.
It presents what are called the four foundations of mindfulness. These are;
1. the body and its movements - tangible reality of our experience (rupa)
2. feeling or rather feeling tone of our experience, either pleasant, painful or neutral (vedana)
3. emotion or heart-mind in relation to our experience (citta)
4. thoughts or views about our experience (dharmas)
Ana-pana sati - the Mindfulness of Breathing practice
This is a classical meditation practice common to many meditation traditions. In Pali, Ana is breathing-in and Pana, breathing-out and Sati is this word for mindfulness or awareness.
Benefits of Mindfulness of breathing practice
The primary benefits of this practice relate to become more clam, concentrated and contented, that is the development of samatha qualities. This practice provides a basis for going deeper seeing into the everchanging breath leading to Insight. Secondary and not unimportant benefits of this practice, also include improved immune function, the development of greater amounts of brain tissue, delayed aging, etc.
Before we can start on Stage 1, we need to do some essential preparation — what we could call “Stage Zero”. Stage 0 involves setting up your meditation posture, then taking your awareness through your body, relaxing as much as you can.
This meditation is not a breathing exercise, and we don’t control the breath in any way, simply letting it flow naturally in and out. We breathe an organic natural breath. Generally we inhale and exhale through the nose, unless perhaps the nose is blocked.
It’s natural for there to be a slight pause between the end of the in breath and the start of the exhalation, and a slightly longer pause between the end of the out breath and the start of the in breath. Again, we allow the breath to flow naturally, and there’s no question of deliberately holding the breath or controlling it in any way.
Sometimes it can be beneficial to take a few deep, long, breaths, or to breath more fully using the abdomen. This is done to encourage the body and mind to slow down. But if this is done it’s just for a few breaths, after which we let the breathing return to a natural rhythm.
Stage 1 Counting the Breath
Once you’ve taken a tour of your whole body, begin to focus on the physical sensations of your breath. Let yourself become absorbed in the sensations of the breath flowing in and out of your body. Notice how the sensations are always changing.
Then begin counting (internally) after every out-breath:
Breathe in - breathe out - 1
Breathe in - breathe out - 2
Breathe in - breathe out - 3
Breathe in - breathe out - 4
Breathe in - breathe out - 5
… and so on until you reach ten. Once you get to ten, start again at one.
Keep following the breath, and counting, for at least five minutes.
If your mind wanders, just come back to experiencing the physical sensations of the breath, and begin counting again.
Bring as much patience into the process as possible. It’s normal for a lot of thoughts to arise, and from time to time you’ll completely forget you’re supposed to be following your breath. Distraction is a normal part of the meditation process. Coming back gracefully with patience is the art of meditating.
Stage 2 Counting the breath
In the second stage of the practice we continue to count in cycles of ten breaths, the difference being that this time we count just before each inhalation. Whenever you regain your awareness after being distracted, bring your attention gently back to the breath.
Stage 3 Following the breath
In the third stage of this meditation practice we let go of the counting and simply follow the breath as it flows in and out.
Take an interest in the texture of the breath, how long or short, how deep or shallow. Where in the body do you feel the breath reach into.
Stage 4 Focusing on one point
In the fourth stage of this meditation practice we work on developing one-pointed concentration. This involves encouraging the mind to move to a more subtle level of perception by deliberately paying attention to very delicate sensations connected with the breath. By doing this we help produce a much deeper level of calmness in the mind.
Begin to narrow the focus of your awareness, so that you’re focusing more and more on the sensations where the breath first passes over the rims of the nostrils. You may even notice the sensations where the breath passes over the upper lip. If any of these sensations are hard to find, just notice the breath at the first place you can feel it as it enters and leaves the body.
Lovingkindness meditation- Metta Bhavana
The Metta Bhavana, or Development of Lovingkindness, practice is one of the most ancient forms of Buddhist practice, one that has been passed down in an unbroken line for over 2,500 years. Interestingly, the set of four practices called the Brahmaviharas is referred to in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a text strongly associated with the Yoga tradition.
The development of lovingkindness meditation practice is the practical means by which we learn to cultivate love for ourselves and others.
The practice helps us to actively cultivate positive emotional states towards ourselves and others, so that we become more patient, kind, accepting, and compassionate.
It is part of a series of four practices called the Brahmaviharas, which literally means divine-like (Brahma) abodes (viharas), which lead to the arising of:
- compassion (empathizing with others’ suffering)
- empathetic joy (rejoicing in others’ well-being and joy)
- and equanimity (patient acceptance of both joy and suffering, both our own and others’)
Buddhist theory teaches, and practice demonstrates, that happiness comes from empathizing with others and from seeing their well-being and their suffering as being important as our own.
It’s not that we set aside our own needs entirely and become martyrs in the popular sense of the word, but that we recognize that one of our needs is to help others meet their own needs. In meeting our need to help others meet their needs we find that we become happier: a layer of self-induced (and selfishness-induced) suffering starts to dissolve. We could say that developing a sense of connectedness with others and overcoming selfishness is the essence of the spiritual path.
Our attitude towards our self conditions our attitude towards others. It’s for that reason that in the development of lovingkindness meditation practice we begin by cultivating metta first for ourselves.
Ways of Cultivating Metta
Sometimes when people are beginning to learn lovingkindness meditation they think that lovingkindness is something that’s to be manufactured. And so they make lots of effort to try to generate some emotion, as if they’re trying very hard to wring some emotion from the heart.
And sometimes, if you make a lot of internal effort, you can become somewhat excited and convince yourself that you’re developing lovingkindness. But more often a sense of disappointment and even despondency sets in, because you don’t get the expected result. So this is not a very useful approach.
You can’t actually make emotions happen — all you can do is set up the conditions for them to arise and then see what happens. Love can’t be manufactured through meditation. It can’t be squeezed out of our being.
It’s a bit like growing seeds. You can’t make a seed grow. All you can do is provide warmth, water, and soil, and then be patient.
In cultivating feelings of loving kindness we’re encouraging ourselves to wish others well. So how do we set up the conditions for doing this?
The first thing is to become aware of how we actually are feeling just now. This is essential groundwork. Remember: whatever emotions you are feeling (good, bad, or even neutral) are fine. You can work with those emotions, and you can only start from where you are.
To get seeds of metta to grow, we need soil and water. The soil is our awareness: we need to keep our emotions in our awareness in order to cultivate positive emotions. So while in the Mindfulness of Breathing practice our focus is on the physical sensations of the breath, in the Metta Bhavana practice our focus is on our emotions.
An awareness of our emotions helps nourish us so that lovingkindness can flourish. As we stand back from our emotions in meditation — simply observing them — we find that negative emotions begin to subside and that positive emotions begin to flourish.
There’s an intelligence inherent in the aware mind that recognizes that negative emotions are fundamentally unsatisfactory and lead to suffering, and so energy is withdrawn from them. That same intelligence recognizes the fundamentally satisfying and enriching nature of positive emotions such as lovingkindness, and by dwelling upon positive emotions strengthens them.
But we don’t have to simply observe our emotions. We can directly cultivate positive emotion. This leads us to ask, what is the rain? The rain is the variety of methods we can use to encourage the development of the seeds of metta. There are four main methods that I have found useful:
1. Using words. You could try saying quietly within, as though dropping pebbles into a quiet pool of water and allow the ripples to gently pass through your heart and body;
May I be well
May I be happy
May I be free of suffering
May I grow in my love and wisdom
for latter stages change "I" for "you" or "they"
2. Memories. As you sit in meditation, recall a time when you felt good about yourself. You may have just been in a very good mood for no apparent reason. Or you may have just scored a significant achievement. Recall every detail of that time. The more vivid the experience, the more likely it is that you will recapture the emotions that you experienced then. Recall what you were wearing, the things you saw, how you held your body, any scents that you smelled, the things people were saying. Remember the details: the texture of your clothing, the brightness of the colors you saw, tones of voice. The more vivid your recollection, the easier it will be to re-experience the emotions you had that day.
3. Creative imagination. Think of an experience that would make you happy. Sometimes I imagine being on the beach in the summer. I imagine the light and the warmth of the sun, the sound of the waves and smell of the sea air.
You can think of anything that would bring you a true, deep sense of joy and well-being. You could imagine flying in a hot-air balloon over the Andes, or walking on the moon, or just lying on a beach.
4. Body and posture. The way you hold your body has a huge effect on the way you experience emotion. When you’re depressed, your chest sinks in, your shoulders slump, you don’t stand up straight, and your chin tries to move towards your chest. The flow of your breath is restricted and your body and brain cannot function effectively.
When your posture is like this it’s virtually impossible to be anything but depressed, and when you’re in this depressed, slumped, hopeless state, then it’s very hard to feel good about yourself.
Conversely, when you hold your body upright (but relaxed), with your upper body broad and open, and your head held high, then it’s much easier to feel good about yourself. It’s much easier to feel strong, and confident, and capable, and in fact it’s hard not to feel confidence when you hold the body in this way. The breath is able to flow freely and the body seems to be alive with energy.
The 5 stage Metta Bhavana practice
Stage Zero is what I call the initial stage of meditation, before the stages proper, in which we set up conditions that help the meditation practice to go well.
So first, set up your posture, and deepen your awareness of your body, taking your awareness into every muscle and relaxing as best you can.
In the first stage of the practice, set up your posture and deepen your awareness of your body.
Then become aware of how you are feeling. What emotions are present? You don’t necessarily have to label them, just be aware they are there.
These emotions will be your focus during the practice. Keep your attention focused on your emotions throughout the practice. If you get distracted, come back to your body, and then to your emotions.
To work with your emotions, use a word or phrase, or a memory, or your imagination. As you work with your particular method, be aware of what effect it is having on your emotions, which are your focus.
Stage 2 - Cultivating metta towards a good friend
A friend is by definition someone whose well-being is important to us. When they feel bad it upsets us, and when they feel good it’s pleasing to us. So a friend is someone we already have metta for, and what we’re doing is strengthening that metta.
It’s worth thinking in advance who we’re going to choose as the friend, otherwise we can spend much of the time deciding which friend we’re going to be meditating on.
In the second stage of the practice, think of a good friend, and wish them well. Decide in advance who you’re going to pick.
Stage 3 - Cultivating metta towards a “neutral person”
In this stage of the meditation practice we cultivate metta, or lovingkindness, towards someone we have no strong feelings towards. This person is not a friend, nor are we in conflict with them. We simply feel neutral towards them.
Most people in our lives fall into this category. If we walk along a city street or go onto a crowded store we encounter so many people that we put our emotions into neutral, and virtually ignore other people.
Life is simply too full of other people for us to have a real emotional relationship with all those we meet, and often people we have never met don’t seem real to us because we have never connected with them.
So in this practice we learn to take more seriously the well-being and the sufferings of those beings we habitually ignore and those that we habitually fail to connect with.
Stage 4 - Cultivating metta towards a “difficult person”
In this stage of the meditation we deliberately call to mind someone we are in a state of conflict with and we wish them well. This may be someone we are merely irritated with, or there may be a more deep-rooted conflict.
Here we are meeting our ill-will head on. Metta, or lovingkindness, is the emotional opposite of ill will, and so we are consciously evoking the image of someone we usually respond to with feelings of aversion in order that we can overcome them. This does not mean that we cultivate ill will in order to deal with it! It’s enough simply to call to mind someone we have difficulties with, and to wish them well.
Stage 5 - Cultivating metta toward all sentient beings
In this stage we develop a sense of expansiveness in our well-wishing. Although in earlier stages we have directed our lovingkindness towards one person, we now include many people, and not just people but all beings capable of feeling suffering and experiencing happiness.
Start with yourself, your friend, the neutral person, and the difficult person. See all four of you together, and wish all four people well. Try to do this equally for all four of you.Then spread your well-wishing out in wider and wider circles, until you are wishing that all sentient beings are well and happy.
Part 2 - Working in meditation
Just Sitting practice
This in a way has been described in Stage Zero of the Mindfulness of Breathing and Metta Bhavana practices. However, Just Sitting is a practice in its own right, as a stand alone practice.
There are 3 principal modes of employing the Just Sitting practice:
1. preparation for another practice
2. a way of "winding-down", or coming out of another practice
3. as a practice in itself
We have been employing the first two approaches to some extent already, called Stage Zero. In general, it is a good practice to give yourself some minutes after doing a practice, or doing anything for that matter, simply to relax and absorb the experience. Just Sitting, or doing the pose of relaxation (savasana) after a Yoga practice gives you the chance to make a smooth and conscious transition between activities. It involves in the simplest way, becoming aware of oneself through the Four Foundations of awareness.
What I described under the "How to Meditate" section; the five elements of awareness of posture and breath, awareness and containment of the emotional landscape and cultivating a sense of kindness, confidence or faith is really the basis for the Just Sitting practice as a practice in itself.
We simply continue with the cultivation of awareness and lovingkindness as an ongoing endeavor for the period of the practice without focusing on any particular part of our experience. we be aware and let go, be and aware and let go. We return again and yet again to this intention.
Just Sitting practice emphasizes the receptive and spaciousness aspect of listening and opening to our experience and it is appropriate to alternate the more active practices of Mindfulness and Breathing and Metta Bhavana with just Sitting as you see fit.
Knowing the mind
Buddhist psychology offers us a way of looking at an understanding some of the processes that take place from moment to moment in our day to day experience and through some simple analysis and comprehension of what is going on will enable us to work more creatively with these processes.
Put in simple terms our heart/mind can function upon the basis of skillful states (kusala) of mind suffused in love, generosity and understanding, what could be called the creative mind or function upon the basis of unskilful (akusala) states tainted by greed, hatred and confusion.
The Buddha said in the Dhammapada, an ancient collection of the Buddha's sayings:
- Experiences are preceded by mind, led by mind, and produced by mind. if one speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows even as the cart-wheel follows the hoof of an ox (drawing the cart).
- Experiences are preceded by mind, led by mind, and produced by mind. if one speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness follows like a shadow that never departs.
A useful explanation of the mind process can be seen in the Tibetan Wheel of Life often depicted in the doorway of Buddhist monasteries. This image is quite a complicated one. It is said to be a like a mirror representing the world in which we abide in all its richness and complexity. The part that I am interested to explore now is concerned with the outer rim of 12 images or links or nidanas. These represent the chain of becoming from the initial spark of consciousness around to birth, death. In a sort of kaleidoscopic, multi-dimensional, holographic manner each of the 12 links or nidanas has an effect on the other eleven. This represents the process of conditioned co-production, a conceptual expression of the Buddhas Awakening.
Tibetan Wheel of Life drawn by Dharmacari Aloka
The part that is interesting for us are the links between;
1. the boat with 5 people which symbolizes body and mind i.e. us
2. a house with 5 windows and a door, the 6 senses (including mind as the 6th sense)
3. lovers embracing, contact
4. arrow in the eye, feeling either pleasant, painful or neutral
5. man reaching for a drink, craving (or could be aversion)
6. a monkey grasping for a fruit in the tree, grasping
This sequence represents our mind process functions. The first four of this series are a passive process; having a body and mind, having the senses, there being contact and then a feeling (vedana) arising is a given, we can't do anything about that. The latter two represent the active or rather reactive phase.
That we can change or choose here is the essential teaching that we can learn through our practice of awareness. It could be described as the essential teaching of Buddhism. Awareness practices will enable us to not react, but respond creatively. I would like to define here as a response to our experience as being creative and a reaction to our experience as reactive. We can begin to choose to let love and generosity and clarity arise more fully and begin to let go of the reactive habits of grasping, pushing away and remaining in obscurity.
This is a gradual, transforming process of a life time(s).
1. sense desire (kāmmacchanda)
2. ill-will (vyāpāda)
3. sloth and torpor (thīna middha)
4. restlessness and worry (uddhacca kukkucca)
5. doubt (vicicchā)
1. Desire for sense experience. Our mind keeps getting drawn back to the sense-world. Sounds interest us. Colors distract us. Fascinating ideas may come up that we want to explore. We focus on people we know, the pleasures we seek, our plans for the future, and so on.
2. Ill-will, hatred or negative feelings. We are irritated by something or someone and can't let it go. A sound is irritating, or a person angers us, and we cannot let go of these negative thoughts.
3. Sloth and torpor. Dullness of mind (torpor) and heaviness of body (sloth) can be generated by a resistance to an unacknowledged emotion or simply from physical or mental exhaustion.
4. Restlessness and anxiety. Our mind is occupied by things we ought to be doing or would rather be doing. We have pressing concerns (real or imagined) that keep us from concentrating. We feel physically restless and want to fidget or move about.
5. Doubt and indecision. We have doubts about the meditation. Is this kind of practice a good one? Is the teacher competent? Can it actually do anything for me? Can I do the practice anyway? Because it often seems that something is not perfect, we convince ourselves that the meditation won't work, and we lose the motivation to practice.
Working with the Hindrances
The first thing to do is to recognize how your mind has wandered and Name it. This is Doubt! This is Sense Desire! Even just naming a hindrance can loosen its grip.
Next we have to Acknowledge it and allow it. Simply let it be! Don’t fight it!
Bring awareness and kindness to your experience and avoid getting into criticizing yourself. You can come back to faith in your own potential to grow and develop, and overcome specific hindrances.
Next come back to the general awareness, especially the Four Foundations of Mindfulness we looked at earlier: namely awareness of Body, Feelings, Emotions and Thoughts. Just check in with yourself to see what is going on in each of these fields of your being. What is going on in your body? What is the feeling tone? What emotions are there (in this case probably the hindrance you have identified already) and what thoughts are connected to it, like the foam on the top of the waves that are the emotions?
1. Consider the Consequences. Pay particular attention to what the feeling tone of whatever way your mind has wandered. Often, perversely, we think that to do anxiety or another hindrance is actually more pleasurable than not. Check this out for yourself! Sometimes the fact that these hindrances are familiar makes them feel more pleasurable than they really are. If we can pin point that it is actually not really enjoyable to do anxiety or ill will etc., we have a chance of lessening its grip on us.
2. Cultivate the Opposite. If we are feeling sense desire, we can cultivate contentment with our lot, or try and get more interested in the object of meditation. If it is ill will we are experiencing, then we can cultivate metta, or simply look for enjoyment in our experience. For restlessness and anxiety we can cultivate calm, especially paying attention to our body, and the weight of it. If experiencing sloth and torpor we can open our eyes, open a window, even get up and jump up and down a bit to get the energy flowing (don’t do this if you are meditating with others – they might think you a little strange!). And of course we can clarify any resistance outside of meditation. With doubt the opposite is commitment. The trick is to ‘just do it’! Forget about whether or not it is the right practice or whether you can do it or not – just do it as taught for the length of the practice. You can clarify any rational doubts afterward. Recognize any doubts that arise during the sit for what they are – a hindrance.
3. Sky Like Attitude. In Buddhism our minds are often said to be like a vast, beautiful, clear blue sky, and any thoughts or emotions imply clouds that are passing across it. What your mind has wandered to is not permanent – it has arisen in dependence upon conditions, and when those conditions cease it will pass away. Things arise, things pass away. There is no need to feel oppressed by them, feel cowed by them. So in this antidote, we try to simply allow things arise, and then allow them pass away, trying to develop perspective on them. It might be useful to think in terms of having Big Mind, and small mind. Your Big Mind is the clear blue sky, open and creative and free. Your small mind is the intellectual thoughts and emotional habits that manifest as distractions etc. which pass across, and sometimes even cloud over your true nature. But somewhere behind it all is your Big Mind, just as behind the clouds there is always the brilliant blue sky.
4. Suppress it. This really only works if what the mind has wandered onto is weak and you are not much caught up with it.
5. We can Go for Refuge. This is a technical Buddhist term that means to take refuge in your potential to grow and develop as a human, to become much more than you are at present. It is especially useful at the end of a sit. Rather than getting despondent about a sit that maybe was not very concentrated, you can reflect that this sit might not have been easy, but in the long run, you will keep plugging away, and the mind will wander less and you will develop clearer, calmer states of mind.
As we enter the process of meditation the energies of our body, heart, and mind will begin to gather up and integrate. This is the samatha process and we may find ourselves in what is called dhyana. Dhyana is the state of absorption, clarity and creatively. We can say it is an elevated creative state of consciousness. The higher dhyanas are said to be the most pleasurable and elevated states of consciousness we can attain as human beings, this side of Awakening. Look out for the elements as you explore your meditation practice.
Six factors characterize these states of dhyana;
1. One-pointedness, (Ekāgratā)
2. Movement of the mind onto the object, (Vitarka)
3. Retention of the mind on the object, (Vicāra)
4. Rapture, more in the body experience (Prīti)
5. Happiness or bliss, more in on the mind level experience (Sukha)
6. Equanimity (Upekṣā)
The Pali Canon has a delightful description of the first 4 of these dhyanas;
1. Just as a skilled bath attendant would pour soap powder into a basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water, so that the ball of soap powder would be entirely filled with moisture.
2. Just like a lake with spring-water welling up from below, the cool spring-water permeate and pervade, suffuse and fill that lake with cool water.
3. Just as in a lotus pond, there may be some of the lotuses which, born and growing in the water, stay immersed in the water and flourish without standing up out of the water, so that they are permeated and pervaded, suffused and filled with cool water from their roots to their tips.
4. Just as if someone were sitting wrapped from head to foot with a white cloth so that there would be no part of their body to which the white cloth did not extend; even so, the yogin(i) sits, suffusing the body with a pure, bright awareness so that there is no part of his entire body not suffused by pure, bright awareness.
Reflection and Insight
Buddhist practice is aimed at Insight or "seeing things clearly as they are". This Insight is a seeing through our greed, hatred and confusion to love and Wisdom at first via glimpses of Reality or "vision experiences" and further as Insight into Reality, where a wholly new awareness comes into being.
In this section I want to say a little about developing a reflective or Insight practice in meditation. In our model of samatha/vipassana, samatha is the cooling and integrating of our consciousness, vipassana is understanding in our hearts and seeing through the cause of our suffering and unhappiness, paving the way to a bigger, more liberated mind.
During your practice of meditation and day to day life explore these dynamics with in your being and from time to time reflect on the course and causes of your mind states. One can also reflect on Wisdom teachings from the Buddhist or other spiritual traditions. A useful and profound teaching from the Buddha is on the three laksanas or three "characteristics" or "marks" of conditioned existence.
Insight can be approached through cultivating specific factors: clarity, integration, sustained concentration/ absorption, positive emotion, faith or confidence trust, and single-minded dedication.
The first four of these we have been cultivating through our samatha practice so I would like to talk about faith or confidence-trust or sraddha in Sanskrit.
Sraddha (faith or confidence-trust)
This is not blind faith or superstition. Sraddha is the ability to perceive value and want to move towards it. It can be developed, refined and clarified. It has three qualtites:
1. A deep conviction of what is real, that Truth exists and existence has meaning. It is a feeling of confidence.
2. Lucidity as to what has value, which is a state of contentment, clarity and serenity.
3. Longing for what is possible. There is a desire to move towards what we value.
Sraddha is not something one can learn it has to be "caught". The traditional way of doing this is through study of the Wisdom texts and through devotional practice.
Buddhism describes conditioned existence characterised by the three laksanas; that it is unsatisfactory, suffering, or dukkha in Sanskrit; impermanent, or anitya; and devoid of self-hood, devoid of permanent unchanging individuality, insubstantial, or anatman.
Existence is conditioned in the sense that all phenomena arise upon the basis of other phenomena, this being a central theme in Buddhist descriptions of reality. We live with in a matrix of interrelations and interconnectedness. This was the Buddhas conceptual explanation or working out of his Awakening, the Wisdom or cognitive aspect of Awakening. We can say Love or Compassion for all beings was the visceral or affective aspect of Awakening.
Why talk of dukkha? Why reflect on suffering? The teaching of the Buddha was a realistic teaching in that he described our experience as a mixture of pleasure and pain and that to grow, to motivate us to wake up and free ourselves it would be useful to reflect on the fact that there is suffering and that through actions of body, speech and mind based in awareness and love we can begin to alleviate, even liberate ourselves, and others, from this suffering. Lets face it, if we were always happy and experiencing pleasure there would be little motivation to do anything! Dukkha is likened to the ill-fitting wheel (du, ill-fitting and chakra, wheel), more like a sense of unsatisfactoriness, rather than outright physical pain. Emotion after all is what moves us, so this appeal to the heart calls directly to the part of of that moves us, the desire to grow to be free of suffering, to be happy.
Anitya or impermanence describes our experience as one of change and flux, "life is a constant rearrangement" as a friend of mine says. This change is a fact of life. Resisting change can lead to frustration and suffering, dukkha. More positively, change means that nothing stays the same and that there is a potential to grow, become free, to become more loving, more aware.
The teaching on anatman or non-self or insubstantially, also in later Buddhism described as sunyata or "emptiness" or "voidness" is again a central and distinctive teaching of Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism. We are talking here as empty or void of anything substantial or permanent. This teaching is a deeper working out of the theme of impermanence. If everything changes, in no way can we talk about any fixed unchanging element, self or entity. It is sort of scary to think about it, right? But again it is a liberating concept in that in suggests that there is nothing fixed, permanent and therefore closed, tight and claustrophobic. One way of translating the word sunyata from the Sanskrit is to talk of the "open dimension of being", suggesting that the very deep and profound nature of all things is mysterious, unfathomable, open.
It is important to note that these Wisdom teachings of the Buddha are best approached from a strong sense of love, devotion and fearlessness. Qualities we can cultivate in our meditation and Yoga practice. On the basis of this calm, kindly mind bathed as it were in states of samatha we can approach "things as they really are" described by the three laksanas, as marked by dukkha, anitya and anatman or sunyata.
Useful Internet Links
www.wildmind.org – meditation teaching online
www.sudakayoga.com – Sudaka's website
www.windhorsepublications.com - books on Buddhism and meditation
- Life with Full Attention - Maitreyabandhu (2009)
- Meditation - The Buddhsist way to Tranquility and Insight (2004)
- Books by Pema Chödron - Wisdom of No Escape, Start where you are, Places That Scare You, When Things Fall Apart
- Wisdom beyond Words - Sangarakshita (Windhorse Publications 2004)
- Change your Mind - Paramananda (Windhorse Publications 2006)
- Buddhist Path to Awakening - Tejananda (Windhorse Publications 2004)
- Creative Symbols of Tantric Buddhism - Sangarakshita (Windhorse Publications 2004)
- The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti - translated by Robert A. F. Thurman (2001)
- Guide to the Buddhist Path - Sangarakshita (Windhorse Publications 2004)
compiled and written for Cihangiryoga, Istanbul
by Dharmachari Sudaka