The First Jhāna

The Wobble (Vitakka and Vicāra)

POSTCARD#469: All jhānas are states of unmoving bliss, almost. However in the first jhāna, there is some discernable movement. I call this movement the “wobble” of first jhāna. One is aware of great bliss, so powerful it has subdued completely the part of the ego that wills and does. In jhāna one is on automatic pilot, as it were, with no sense of being in control. However, the bliss is so delicious  that it can generate a small residue of attachment. The mind instinctively grasps at the bliss. Because the bliss of the first jhāna is fuelled by letting-go, such involuntary grasping weakens the bliss. Seeing the bliss weaken, the mind automatically lets go of its grasping, and the bliss increases its power again. The mind then grasps again, then lets go again, Such subtle involuntary movement gives rise to the wobble of the first jhāna.

This process can be perceived in another way. As the bliss weakens because of the involuntary grasping, it seems as if mindfulness moves a small distance away from the bliss. Then the mindfulness gets pulled back into the bliss as the mind automatically lets go. This back-and-forth movement is a second way of describing the wobble.

The wobble is, in fact, the pair of first jhāna factors called vitakka and vicāra. Vitakka is the automatic movement back into the bliss; vicārra is the involuntary grasping of the bliss. Some commentators explain vitakka and vicāra as “initial thought” and ”sustained thought” While in other contexts this pair can refer to thought, in jhāna they certainly mean something else. It is impossible that such a gross activity as thinking can exist in such a refined state as jhāna. In fact thinking ceases a long time prior to jhāna. In jhāna vitakka and vicāra are both subverbal and so do not qualify as thought. Vitakka is the subverbal movement of mind back into bliss. Vicāra is the subverbal movement of mind that holds on to the bliss. Outside of jhāna such movements of mind will often generate thought and sometimes speech. But in jhāna vitakka and vicāra are too subtle to create any thought. All they are capable of doing is moving mindfulness back into bliss and holding mindfulness there.

One-Pointedness (Ekaggatā)

The third factor of the first jhāna is one-pointedness, ekaggatā. One-pointedness is mindfulness that is sharply focused on a minute area of existence. It is one-pointed in space because it sees only the point-source of bliss, together with a small area surrounding the bliss caused by the first jhāna wobble. It is one-pointed in time because it perceives only the present moment, so exclusively and precisely that all notion of time completely disappears. And it is one-pointed in phenomena because it knows only one object – the mental object of pīti-sukha – and is totally oblivious to the world of the five senses and one’s physical body.

Such one-pointedness in space produces the peculiar experience, only found in jhāna, of non-dual consciousness, where one is fully aware but only of one thing, and from one angle, for timeless periods. Consciousness is so focused on the one thing that the faculty of comprehension is suspended a while. Only after the one-pointedness is dissipated, and one has emerged from the jhāna, will one be able to recognize these features of the first jhāna and comprehend them all.

The one-pointedness in time produces the extraordinary stability of the first jhāna, allowing it to last effortlessly for such a long period of time. The concept of time relies on measuring intervals from past to present or present to future of from past to future. When all that is perceived within the first jhāna is the precise moment of now, then there is no room for measuring time. All intervals have closed. It is replaced with timelessness unmoving.

One-pointedness of phenomena produces the exceptional occurrence of bliss upon bliss, unchanging throughout the duration of the jhāna. This makes the first jhāna such restful abode.

In academic terms, ekaggatā is a Pali compound meaning “one-peakness.” The middle term agga (Sanskrit agra ) refers to the peak of a mountain, the summit of an experience, or even the capital of a country (as in Agra the old Moghul capital of India). Thus ekaggatā is not just any old one-pointedness, it is a singleness of something soaring and sublime. The single exalted summit  that is the focus of ekaggatā in the first jhāna is the supreme bliss of pīti-sukha.

Joy Happiness (Pīti-sukha)

Indeed the last two factors of the first jhāna are pīti and sukkah, which I will discuss together since they are such a close-knit pair. In fact they only separate out in the third jhāna, where pīti cease and leaves sukha “widowed.” Therefore only after the third jhāna, can one know from experience what sukha is and what pīti was, Here it is sufficient to explain the pair as one thing.

These two factors of the first jhāna refer to the bliss that is the focus of mindfulness, and which forms the central experience of the first jhāna. Bliss is the dominant feature of the first jhāna, so much so that it is the first thing that one recognizes when reviewing after emerging from the jhāna. Indeed, mystic traditions more recent than Buddhism have been so overwhelmed by the sheer immensity, egolessness, stillness, ecstasy, ultimateness, and pure otherworldliness of the first jhāna thsy they have understood the experience as ‘union with God.’ However, the Buddha explained that this is but one form of supramundane bliss. The first jhāna is the first  level. Even though after emerging from the first jhāna, one cannot conceive of an experience more blissful. There is much more!  

Each level of bliss has a different “taste,” a quality that sets it apart. These different qualities can be explained by the diverse causes of the bliss. Just as heat generated by sunlight has a different quality than heat caused by a wood fire, which in turn is different from heat generated by a furnace, so bliss fueled by different causes exhibits distinguishing features.

The distinguishing feature of the bliss of first jhāna is that it is fueled by the complete absence of all five senses activities. When the five senses have shut down, including all echoes of the five senses manifesting as thoughts, then one has left the world of the body and material things (kāmaloka) and has entered the world of pure mind (rūpaloka). It is as if a huge burden has dropped away. Or, as Ajahn Chah used to describe it, it is as if you have had a rope tied tightly around your neck for as long as you can remember. So long, in fact, that you have become used to it and no longer recognize the pain. Then somehow the tension is suddenly released and the rope is removed. The bliss you then feel is the result of that noose disappearing. In much the same way, the bliss of the first jhāna is caused by the complete fading away of a heavy burden, of all that you took to be the world. Such  insight into the cause of the bliss of the first jhāna is fundamental to understanding the Buddha’s four noble truths about suffering.

Summary of the First Jhāna

In summary then, the first jhāna is distinguished by the five factors, here compressed into three.

1 + 2. vitakka-vicāra: experienced the “wobble,” being the fine subtle movement in and out of the bliss.

3. ekaggatā: experienced as nonduality, timelessness, and stillness.

4 + 5. pīti-sukha: experienced as a bliss surpassing anything in the material world, and fuelled by the complete transcendence of the world of the five senses.

Continued next week: 6th May 2022

The Jhānas III: Bliss upon Bliss upon Bliss

The Landmark of all Jhānas

POSTCARD#468: From the moment of entering a jhāna, one will have no control. One will be unable to give orders as one normally does. When the will that is controlling vanishes, then the “I will” that fashions one’s concept of future also disappears. Since the concept of time ceases in jhāna, the very question “What should I do next?” cannot arise. One cannot even decide when to come out. It is this absolute absence of will, and of its offspring, time, that gives the jhānas their timeless stability and allows them to last sometimes for many blissful hours.

Because of the perfect one-pointedness and fixed attention, one loses the faculty of perspective within jhāna. Comprehension relies on comparison –relating this to that, here to there, now with then. In jhāna, all that is perceived is an unmoving, enveloping, nondual bliss that allows no space for the arising of perspective. It is like that puzzle where one is shown a photograph of a well-known object from an unusual angle, and one has to guess what it is. It is very difficult to identify some objects  without  looking  at  them  from  different  angles.  When  perspective  is  removed,  so  is comprehension. Thus in jhāna not only is there no sense of time but also there is no comprehension of what is going on. At the time, one will not even know which jhāna one is in. All one knows is great bliss, unmoving, unchanging, for unknown lengths of time.

Afterward,  when one has emerged from the jhāna, such consummate one-pointedness of consciousness  falls  apart.  With  the  weakening  of  one-pointedness,  perspective  reemerges,  and  the mind  has  the  ability  to  move  again.  The  mind  has  regained  the  space  needed  to  compare  and comprehend. Ordinary consciousness has returned. Having just emerged from a jhāna, it is the usual practice to look back at what has happened and review the jhāna experience. The jhānas are such powerful events that they leave an indelible record in one’s memory store. In fact, one will never forget them as long as one lives. They are easy to recall with perfect retention. One comprehends the details of what happened in the jhāna, and one knows which of the jhānas it was. Moreover, data obtained from reviewing a jhāna form the basis of the insight that leads to enlightenment.

Another strange quality that distinguishes jhāna from all other experience is that within jhāna, all the five senses are totally shut down. One cannot see, hear, smell, taste or feel touch. One cannot hear a crow cawing or a person coughing. Even if there were a thunderclap nearby, it wouldn’t be heard in a jhāna. If someone tapped you on the shoulder or picked you up and let you down, in jhāna you cannot know this. The mind in jhāna is so completely shut off from these five senses that they cannot break in.

A lay disciple once told me how, completely by chance, he had fallen into a deep jhāna while meditating at home. His wife thought he had died and sent for an ambulance. He was rushed to hospital in a loud wail of sirens. In the emergency room, no heartbeat registered on the ECG and no brain activity was seen by the ECG . So the doctor on duty put defibrillators on his chest to reactivate his heart. Even though he was being bounced up an down on the hospital bed throughout the force of the electrical shocks, he didn’t feel a thing. When he emerged from the jhāna in the emergency room, perfectly all right, he had no knowledge of how he had got there, nothing of ambulances, and sirens, nothing of body-jerking defibrillators. All that long time he was in jhāna, he was filly aware, but only of bliss. This is an example of what is meant by the five senses shutting down within the experience of jhāna.

Summary of the Landmarks of All Jhānas

It is helpful to know, then, that within a jhāna:

1. There is no possibility of thought;

2. No decision- making process is available;

3. There is no perception of time;

4. Consciousness is nondual, making comprehension inaccessible;

5. Yet one is very, very aware but only of bliss that doesn’t move;

6. The five senses are fully shut off, and only the sixth sense, mind, is in operation.

These are the features of jhāna. So during a deep meditation, if one wonders if it is jhāna or not, one can be certain it is not. No such thinking can exist within the stillness of jhāna. These features will only be recognized upon emergence from a jhāna, using reviewing mindfulness once the mind can move again.

Continued next week 29 April 2022

Mind Contemplation

POSTCARD#459: Bangkok: Editor’s note, continuing with our text “Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond” by Ajahn Brahm. This section is the study of the Four Foundations Of Mindfulness, which Ajahn refers to as the Four Focuses of Mindfulness.

This  third  focus  of  mindfulness,  observing  the  citta  or  mind  consciousness,  is  one  of  the  most difficult  to  practice.  Most  people’s  meditation  is  not  developed  sufficiently  to  even  see  mind consciousness.  Mind  consciousness  is  like  an  emperor  covered  from  head  to  toe  in  five  thick garments: his boots go up to his knees; his trousers go from his waist to his calves; a tunic stretches from his neck to his thighs and along his arms to his wrists; gloves cover his hands and forearms; and a helmet covers all of his head. Being so completely covered, the emperor cannot be seen. In the same way, mind consciousness is so completely clothed by the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch that you cannot see it underneath.

To see the emperor, you have to remove his clothes. In the same way, to see the citta, you have to remove the five external senses. It is the task of the jhāna to remove the five senses and reveal the citta. Thus you cannot even start to practice this third focus of mindfulness until you have experienced a jhāna. For how can you contemplate citta when you haven’t really experienced it? It would be like contemplating the emperor when all you can see are his (or her?) clothes.

Investigating the nature of citta is also like investigating the nature of gold. Before chemists even begin to test the material, they must ensure that the sample of gold is purified of all other elements and that what they have is 100 percent pure gold. Similarly before you begin to investigate the nature of citta you have to ensure that this mind consciousness if purified from all other types of consciousness, i.e., that the five external sense-consciousnesses have been abandoned. Again, this can only be done after emerging from a jhāna. Then superpower mindfulness takes the jhāna experience just past, a sustained experience of the citta set apart from the five sense, as its object of investigation. Only in this way will the truth be seen, that the citta is anatta, that mind consciousness is subject to arising and passing, that is it “me’, or “mine”, nor a self, that it is neither God nor cosmic-consciousness – that is just citta, a flame burning because of fuel.

Where the Citta Goes After Enlightenment

A flame depends on fuel. The word for “fuel” in Pali is upādāna. A candle flame depends on heat, wax, and a wick. If any one of those three “fuels” disappears, then the flame ceases. If a wind takes away the heat, the flame ceases. And if the wax is used up, the flame ceases. Once the flame ceases, it doesn’t go anywhere. There is no heaven where all good flames go to flicker for eternity. Nor does the flame merge with a comic transcendent Flame. It just ceases, that’s all. In Pali the word for a flame “going out” is nibbāna.

The citta too depends on fuel. The suttas say that citta depends on nama-rupa (body and objects of mind) and when nāma-rūpa ceases, the citta completely ceases (SN 47.42). It goes out. It “nibbānas”. It doesn’t go anywhere, it just cease to exist. Interestingly, the two famous bhikkhunīs Kisāgotamī and Pațācārā became fully enlightened when they saw the flame of a lamp go out (Dhp 275; Thig116).

The Nature of Citta

When you sustain superpower mindfulness on the pure citta, the nature of all types of consciousness reveals itself. You see consciousness not as a smoothly flowing process, but as a series of discrete, isolated events. Consciousness may be compared to a stretch of sand on a beach. Superficially, the sand looks continuous over several hundred metres. But after you investigate it closely, you discover it is made up of discrete, isolated particles of silicate. There are empty spaces between each particle of sand, with no essential sandiness flowing in the gap between any two particles. In the same way, that which we take to be the flow of consciousness is clearly seen to be a series of discrete events with nothing flowing in between.

Another analogy is the fruit salad analogy. Suppose on a plate there is an apple. You clearly see this apple completely disappear and in its place appears a coconut. Then the coconut vanishes and in its place appears another apple. Then the second apple vanishes and another coconut is there. That vanishes and a banana appears, only to vanish when another coconut manifests on the plate, then another banana, coconut, apple, coconut mango, coconut, lemon, coconut and so on. As soon as one fruit vanishes then a moment later a completely new fruit appears. They are all fruits but completely different varieties, with no two fruits the same. Moreover, no connecting fruit-essence flows from one fruit to the next. In this analogy the apple stands for an event in eye-consciousness, the banana for an incident of nose-consciousness, the mango for taste consciousness, the lemon for body consciousness, and the coconut for mind consciousness. Each moment  of consciousness is discrete, with nothing flowing from one moment to the next.

Mind consciousness, the “coconut,” appears after every other species of consciousness and thereby gives the illusion of sameness to every conscious experience. To the average person, there is a quality in seeing that is also found in hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. We can call that quality “knowing.” However, with superpower mindfulness, you will discern that this knowing is not part of seeing, hearing, and so on, but arises a moment after each type of sense consciousness. Moreover, this knowing has vanished when, for example, eye consciousness is occurring. And eye consciousness has vanished when knowing (mind consciousness) is occurring. In the simile of the fruit salad, there can’t be an apple and a coconut on the plate at the same time.

That Which Knows Is Not Self

Contemplating consciousness in this way—seeing it as a series of discrete, isolated events with no thing  continuing  from  one  moment  to  the  next—undermines  the  illusion  that  there  is  a  knower, constantly present, which is always there to receive the experience of the world. You are unravelling the last refuge of the illusion of a self. Previously, it may have seemed so obvious to you that “I am the one who knows.” But what seems obvious is often wrong. Now you see it as just a “knowing,” as mind  consciousness,  like  the  coconut  that  is  sometimes  there  and  sometimes  not.  Citta  is  just  a natural phenomenon, subject to ceasing. It cannot be me, mine, or a self. That which knows, citta, is finally understood as anattā.

Satipaṭṭhāna, as noted above, is practiced for the purpose of realizing anattā—no-self. The two last resorts of the illusion of a self or soul are the knower and the doer. If you identify with anything as the essential “you,” it will be one or both of these. You assume that you are that which does or that which  knows.  These  two  deep-seated,  long-held  delusions  are  what  stand  between  you  and enlightenment.  See  through  these  illusions  once,  and  you  are  a  stream  winner.  See  through  these illusions every time, and you are an arahant.

Continued next week 25 February 2022 with “Mind Object contemplation”

patience the sixth perfection 2

The World and Its Winds

Some of the chief sources of emotional pain are called the ‘worldly winds’: the gusts of Praise and Blame, Gain and Loss, Fame and Ignominy, Happiness and Unhappiness. These impressions trigger demand, anxiety and despair wherein we never feel good enough where and how we are. And like winds, they can blow through the heart at gale force and throw us completely off balance.

Take for example how powerful the experience of Praise and Blame can be! We can hunger for praise… even a little crumb of approval now and then. Then you feel jealous if somebody else is getting huge amounts of praise, and you are standing by the door, hardly noticed. As for blame, how we wriggle and contort to try to avoid it! We aspire to being liked, and we work at it, but still somebody doesn’t like us. Or maybe we blame ourselves.

The Buddha made a very helpful summary of blame: ‘They blame one who remains silent, they blame one who speaks much, they blame one who speaks in moderation. There is no one in this world who is not blamed’ (Dhp. 227). That applied to him, too, for the Buddha was blamed many times. So when we know it’s inevitable we can just focus on doing our best, all the time keeping our wisdom-ear cocked for the mind’s yearning for approval and its dread of disapproval.

Once the mind starts to even anticipate being blamed, a flurry enters into it. And when the blaming begins … our mind may try to come up with a rational explanation for whatever it was we’re being blamed for, rather than simply feeling where the blame is digging in and then drawing a line around it: ‘This is painful mental feeling.’ It’s a trigger, so we need to be extremely patient with that feeling.

Patience has to be learned by focusing on that painful feeling and not reacting. It’s a humbling lesson: to feel the pain, be patient with it and learn something about letting it pass through. Feel the impression in the heart and don’t shrug it off, don’t fight back, don’t go under. An impression is an impression. Don’t rely on it, don’t adopt it, don’t try to avoid it. Instead, understand it for what it is.

Then you can see the truth about someone blaming you. You made a mistake? Is there something you can learn from this? And you can see the truth about someone praising you. How much good will praise do for you? Doesn’t it deprive you of privacy? And that surge that you feel from gain… doesn’t it make you vulnerable to loss? These winds are there to teach you patience. Focus on how patience feels and value it. Then you can acknowledge specific mistakes you’ve made without taking on the sense of being a failure. And you can experience others’ gratitude or praise with a sense of gladness that they have received something of benefit. You don’t have to own it.

Learning the True Response

For an achievement that will provide long-lasting nourishment, we have to develop a response to unsatisfactoriness, dukkha. The Buddha’s encouragement was that dukkha must be understood. The unsatisfactory, inconclusive, never-quite-fitting, things going- wrong, unstable quality has to be understood in order to realize the place where it ceases. And in order to understand, we have to ‘stand under’ that unsatisfactoriness. We don’t pole-vault over it to the nice bit on the other shore. Instead, we stand under it as it cascades over us. When there is a complete standing-under, we feel the quality of that flood. You look to where things touch you, where things are felt.

You look at physical pain and see what that does to you. First of all you wriggle a bit to find a way to soften it; then you begin to get a little annoyed by it; then you get very annoyed by it. You think, ‘It’s not fair this is happening to me.’ Then you think, ‘Oh, I give up.’ But still it hasn’t gone. It didn’t go because you haven’t really given up; you were waiting for it to end, so you’ve only given up ninety percent. Eventually, it pushes you into a corner, and the only thing you can do is accept its presence and work on your reactions.

In that full allowing of conditions to be what they are, we stabilize our hearts and find peace. It’s like putting a boat into water. We make an ark of truth: ‘Conditions are like this,’ and in that truth, we don’t adopt the conditions as our own. This is important: you can’t drain the sea, but you don’t have to drown.

Why we feel overwhelmed, as if we’re drowning, is because the heart is ‘leaky.’ When it isn’t secure, perceptions and feelings flood in and cause it to sink. But even then it’s just mind-stuff — no sights, sounds, physical pains or harsh words, just the impressions of those. It is these impressions that mount up to a sense of overwhelm and alienation. And the heart can recycle them for years, even when their apparent external source has long disappeared.

These perceptions, moods and reactions arise dependent on the mind’s expectations, fragility or aims. We have to learn deeply that the approval of others, the success in our career, and the presence of what we love are not to be taken as given, not to be adopted as mine. This adopting of conditions is what knocks holes in our boat. But when these conditions can be held in the truth of their nature, the mind lets go and senses a freedom that doesn’t depend on supports. Gain, loss, praise, blame — you don’t have to go under. You can wear out the reflex of hanging on to the world. But for this you have to be very patient.

(The ten perfections, continued next week 26 march 2021)

patience [khanti], the sixth perfection

POSTCARD#411: Bangkok: Ajahn Sucitto continues with an analysis of Khanti [patience], number six in the Ten Perfections, and draws attention to some interesting aspects of our everyday lives that may have gone unnoticed. Looking as well, at the strategies that are needed to find a way out of Suffering [Dukkha]  through Patience [Khanti].

The Buddha spoke of the restraint of holding the heart still in the presence of its suffering until it lets go of the ways in which it creates that suffering. That is, the mind/heart (citta) habitually creates suffering and stress through reacting to, holding onto or getting caught up with what life throws at us. All the perfections contribute to the lessening or dismantling of that Dukkha, but the specific quality of Khanti is to carry the heart through the turbulence of existence so that it no longer shakes, sinks or lashes out.

So when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, anxious for resolution to a crisis or beset with a migraine, it’s good to remember that the Buddha was here too and found a way through.

Acceptance Without Expectation

Patience has the gut-knowledge that recognizes that a problem or a pain is not something to run away from, get flustered by or be self-pitying about. It has the wisdom to know that we have to prioritize the steps through which we can resolve suffering. There may be any number of ways to arrive at the destination, but the first thing to do is to not react – to not rage, despair or get caught in mental proliferation.

Draw a line around the suffering, take a step back and know ‘that’s that.’ Recollect that we can be free of the suffering: that we can let go; we don’t have to take suffering in and adopt it as final, real and solid. Patience holds us present with the suffering in a spacious way, encouraging the mind to open. In its perfection, patience means giving up any kind of deadline, so the mind is serene and equanimous. But if the patience isn’t pure yet (and it takes time to develop patience!), the mind still feels pushy or defensive. Impure patience is the attitude: ‘Just hold on and eventually things will get better; I’ll get my own way in the end if I’m patient enough.’ This approach can temporarily block or blunt the edge of suffering, but it doesn’t deal with the resistance or the desire that is suffering’s root.

Pure patience is the kind of acceptance that acknowledges the presence of something without adding anything to it or covering it up. It is supported by the insight that when one’s mind stops fidgeting, whining and blaming, then suffering can be understood. Reactivity isn’t the truth of the mind; it’s a conditioned reflex, and it’s not self. Because of that, suffering can be undone, and when it is, the mind is free.

Therefore, all conditioned reflexes have to be understood as unreliable and dependent on causes and conditions. They’re not to be adopted as real and solid. Yet they do happen: holding on, expecting things to be satisfying or feeling cheated are immature responses. In order to undo these attitudes we must first be patient with them. The practice does urge us to stay with it and this requires us to grow stronger and broader rather than hide or run away. The process of bearing with the suffering is not a punishment but a voyage of growth.

The suffering that can be relinquished arises dependent on causes and conditions: on attitudes and assumptions that things should go our way, that life should be comfortable, and that society should be fair and peaceful. We look for conditioned phenomena to be satisfying, conclusive, reasonable, productive and so on. But taken as a whole over a period of time, they aren’t. So we cause ourselves and others suffering when we expect them to be so.

We can organize and create supportive conditions such as health and education and laws, but those conditions have to be constructed and maintained, they’re not a given norm. And suffering doesn’t abate: anxiety and depression are now the number one disease of the developed world. Here we find the widespread pain of being driven to attain material goals that are never fulfilled or fulfilling, and the anxiety of competitive pressure and loneliness.

(Continued 19 march 2021)


 

energy, the fifth perfection 3

POSTCARD#410: Bangkok: Continuing with Ajahn Sucitto’s teachings on the Ten Perfections – described in Buddhist commentaries as noble character qualities generally associated with Bodhisattvas and enlightened beings.

The more you can value and live the path of clear thought, speech and action, the more you escape from worldly value judgments. The more you value and energize qualities of compassion and kindness, the more peace the pāramī will bring. Do we act with generosity or not? Do we care for other people? We can energize these qualities by putting attention into them, bringing them to mind in recollection and dwelling on them. Again: what we attend to, we energize; what is energized, governs our world.

Directing Energy to the Knowing

A traditional way of getting in touch with good energy is pūja, the act of honouring. Establish a shrine, image or devotional object, make offerings to it, and chant or bring forth your heart in faith. The image is there to generate a sense of offering, faith, trust, confidence and giving of yourself. Pūjā is done with the most genuine sense of trust, love and appreciation for what the image represents – the pure, the compassionate, the joyful, the wise.

The energy of doing things – the energy of arousing and gladdening oneself on the one hand, and disciplining, restraining and investigating on the other is aimed at emotional stability and fullness of heart. Apply mindfulness to the process of how you are aware. How much of knowing is additional interpretations and assumptions? Can there be a release from those?

For example, I recently had a cold; there was the feeling that my head was under pressure, with strong sensations around the brain and the eyes. The mind busy with: ‘How can I fix it? When is it going to go away? How can I get somewhere where the pain isn’t happening? Why does it have to be here?’ Then the thought arose: ‘Why do you bring the pain here? Why not leave the unpleasant sensation there? Then you can say the pain is ‘over there’, while all the mental responses, the knowing of the discomfort is ‘here’.

By being fully present and mindfully aware of unpleasantness, we can start to get a sense of it being over there and leaving it there. Then we have an area within which to abide peacefully, neither blocking nor making a big thing of a feeling. If we always attach to feeling as ‘here’, as ‘mine’ and ‘what I am’, then all our energy is used up in an activity that is pointless.

One learns to practise with the physical discomforts first, then it is easier to avoid getting caught in the mind stuff. It’s possible to step back from the thoughts, and find balance by being aware of them. And over time, you can do the same with your programs of habit. Awareness is the key, and as you touch into and say ‘yes’ to that awareness, it will bring you into balance with no further effort. The more you attend to this knowing, the more energy goes towards that knowing – away from mental patterns, physical sensation, mental feeling or emotion, and into a steady awareness of them.

Sometimes practice is about just holding a place, a point in your body, or a point in your mind, and not taking it any further than that. Just hold it carefully with dispassion so the body is held in awareness energy, and the mind settles into it. There is a healing faculty to energy that occurs when you stop ‘doing it’ and instead allow the energy to accumulate and enrich you.

This is the province of samādhi, concentration, or unification, which is a state of stable energy, wherein the body, heart and intellectual energies merge and are at rest. It has the energy of an enjoyment that isn’t based on the senses or the intellect, and it allows a resting in awareness.

Energy as a Factor of Awakening

If you are physically not very strong, you make your boundary fit that condition. Say ‘yes’ to fewer physical activities and ‘no’ to many more. Similarly, if you are not feeling emotionally robust, form a boundary for your aspirations that enables you to stay focused and mindful with ample energy.

It’s destructive to think, ‘I’m not as good as’ or ‘I’m better than,’ because if you do that, your mind doesn’t stay on its own ground but starts to pick and compare, to fault-find and to slight yourself or others. Instead, realize the

potential to end suffering! If your lifestyle can fit a set of aspirations, then say ‘yes’ to them and the boundary they represent, and give them all your energy!

In conclusion, there is an energy associated with establishing, with doing and with being, which leads towards attachment to a self-image and the burden that image represents. However we can arouse and nurture an energy beyond any image if we open up into the silence of the mind. In this place we are not monks or nuns, men or women, there is only a beautiful stable energy that supports letting go of burdens. This is why energy is one of the primary factors of Awakening.


 

energy, the fifth perfection (2)

POSTCARD#409: Bangkok: Continuing with Ajahn Sucitto’s teachings on the Ten Perfections – perfections of character necessary to achieve enlightenment – based on careful analyses of the smallest details of conscious experience.

We bring mindfulness to bear on the idea or impression that arouses our interest, and on the energy we put into following up on that interest. Wherever your attention gets established then that’s where your energy goes. And that energy and focus becomes your world. Whatever your central interests are, your heart takes on the concerns, values and energy that go along with that.

With mindfulness we can zoom in on what’s driving us. Then we can get a more tuned in understanding of ourselves than through the opinions of other people, or our own fault-finding attitudes. Does your energy come from interest and aspiration, from willingness of heart? Or is it caught up with trying to climb the wrong mountain?

We have to examine any unquestioned assumptions, bringing mindfulness to bear on the idea or impression that arouses our interest, and on the intentions and actions with which we follow up that interest. We can never arrive at the imagined perception, but we always experience the results of our intentions.  Therefore, examine, clarify and stay in touch with your intentions – not the imagined goals.

In the process of staying in touch with intentions, the thinking mind, with its obsessive energy, isn’t the problem. It’s what lies underneath thought that requires attention; the energy of mental perceptions and images of self. Look for the dominant emotional theme of thought – excitement, worry or doubt, and focus on that. Listen carefully to what comes up. Bring mindfulness and full awareness to bear and stay with the emotional theme. Where the energy of applying this action meets the energy of the emotion; here we find we are not struggling any more to focus our attention on it because something has clicked. Our awareness comes out of it by being bigger than the program1.

We tend to judge ourselves based on how others relate to us. Often this is because the boundaries we have placed around what we want and don’t want to pursue haven’t been developed with mindfulness. We’ve more or less gone along with assumptions rather than checking things out and consciously deciding yes or no. Those assumptions and the consequences of our actions then govern the mind and form who we are.

If we don’t have clarity over these impressions a lot of our actions take us to the wrong place. If you find it’s taking you to suffering and stress, investigate. If it has a true basis, then see what you need to develop or put aside. Maybe a sense of personal value has been challenged, and we keep looking to others to tell us that we’re OK. And, even though they say we are OK, if the boundary is damaged we still don’t know it deeply for ourselves. With that loss of deep knowing, the program rules and it will absorb all the energy you can give it. Your sense of your own worth, of who you are, has been established on the basis of an incoherent supposition. What’s needed is mindfulness based insight into what makes us tick.

When you want to determine where you want to apply energy, establish the ‘yes’ boundary around that which you truly want to pursue with aspiration. Clean out any pride or egotism and maintain it with investigation and recollection. The most far-reaching results come when we back up our aspirations and actions with mindful investigation. Offering service in a selfless way gives rise to confidence in oneself, once we know this, we don’t lose it; we have it as a refuge.

The initial element in this process is faith. Faith is the intuitive sense that there is meaning in our world, there are aims and energies that are worthwhile. There is willingness (chanda), you give of yourself freely and not because of what somebody else wants, says or does. There is beauty in the mind. Aspiration, the healthy willingness to do, ‘beautiful in the beginning.’ At that moment, you are not thinking, ‘What do other people think? Will I succeed? Am I capable of it?’ Make a leap of faith based on intentions, rather than perceptions of self and other. Give a ‘yes’ to the faith and a ‘no’ to the wavering speculation.

Note the difference between faith and belief. With faith, the energy is an opening of the heart. With belief, energy closes the mind by locking it onto an idea or theory. When you place faith in someone or something, it means you’ll take what they say seriously and give them clear attention. The Buddha emphasizes such faith has to be backed up by investigating the truth, and working with confidence through to realization.

programs1 : proliferating tendencies (anusaya) that are embedded in the mind’s awareness.

Image: A relief depicting Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva in Plaosan temple, 9th century Central Java, Indonesia

(continued 5 March 2021)


 

energy, the fifth perfection

Excerpts from: Pāramī – Ways to Cross Life’s Floods by Ajahn Sucitto

POSTCARD#408: Bangkok: Energy (viriya) is an unseen force usually, I notice it in the heat of the city, the density and flow of traffic. For a very long time I was unaware of energy in the body – only the lack of it. Other times I’d accumulate energy until I was bursting at the seams and embark on a great number of projects which I was never able to complete. I later learned from the Teachings, the wisdom of bringing energy (or energies) into balance in the body and taking the time to begin to be aware of how this works.

The mind is drawn to attraction, aversion or confusion… things I like, things I dislike, and everything in between that I don’t understand. These forces capture energy and overwhelm the mind. I find I’m totally engrossed with something that ends up being just not worth it – a kind of driven thing.

Mindfulness is able to direct energy to where we want to be (and to get away from where we don’t want to be). Energy is the wisely applied resource that resists the push of habits (sankhāra). Some of these psychological habits build up into programs – such as perfectionism, dependence on others, obsessive self-criticism and addictions.

When a program wells up, it floods attention, and our intentions tend to follow the push of the flood. These programs cripple our actions and well-being. In theory, being aware of the situation should lift us out of its grasp. But it often doesn’t because there is a block that stops awareness penetrating the programs. We even defend them: to the workaholic, their efforts are necessary to keep things going; to the alcoholic, liquor becomes a way of finding a fit in the world. These programs offer the security of an identity through a set of habits that kick in by default.

So, when the wave of insecurity or loneliness or passion hits awareness, it doesn’t face the risk and the discomfort of challenging the self-view and the world view that these programs present for us. Instead, awareness jumps on board. the reflex habit, with denial, distraction, blame, etc.

Energy is needed to resist that flood and direct awareness to firm ground. It’s about sustaining wise endeavor. Its chief function is to keep awareness alert at the places where we are likely to drift into automatic. Then the steady vitality of energy can replace the ‘drive and crash’ programs of habit.

We can use energy to investigate the nature of doubt, and suffering in general. Use  energy to enquire into ourselves with investigation and perseverance in order that we can put aside the causes that trigger harmful programs. This is how energy, applied to calm and insight, can free the mind from stress and suffering. Consider what channels our energy towards that which is supportive and nourishing. The most obvious area that we should consider is our ethical standards, what leads to harmful results and should be left aside. This reflection aims for a boundary between intentions and action. Then we can check before we cross that boundary.

We can bear in mind the reflection: ‘Is this for my welfare, the welfare of others, and does it lead out of suffering and towards peace?’ If the answer is: ‘No, this is doing me no good.’ Then there is a definite ‘no’ to that boundary. Make it firm, give it some energy, and it will look after you.

Practise some restraint. The mind works better if you don’t load it with unnecessary things to look at, buy, have or worry about. The mind can get swamped by useless input if we don’t establish that boundary. It can take a lot of careful and repeated ‘no’s,’ as well as the back-up of alternative ways to channel energy; actions of generosity, kindness. Remember too calming meditation to bring healing to the heart that’s been abused by any harmful pursuits.

On the other hand there has to be a ‘yes.’ For example: ‘I’ve made a commitment; I’m going to see this through.’ Establish that with care and give it some energy. And even if you fail from time to time, look into how the boundaries caved in or where they were too tight. Don’t say ‘yes’ to too many things. Establish a boundary around intellectual activity, because it can become a vast dimension that floods the mind with restless energy.

So, we can say energy has a fourfold application: first, to put aside what you feel is unhelpful, and secondly to keep guarding the mind against such unskilful influences; thirdly to establish what you sense is good, and lastly to support and encourage those skilful influences. And it requires wise discernment, advice from experienced people and trial and error to know what’s appropriate in a given situation.


(Continued 26 Feb 2021)

meditation with mindfulness

POSTCARD#407: Bangkok: I’ve been a Buddhist for more than thirty years – married to Jiab, a Thai Buddhist for that same length of time. Jiab, like most Thais, is a Theravādin Buddhist, she is active both in the English language and Thai meditation groups in the lineage of Ajahn Chah. We went to an International Buddhist temple in the North East, Wat Pah Nanachat, 1987 and there I met the monks who changed my life.

Years went by, We became part of the Kalyanamitra in Switzerland, I became part of the editorial team in publishing books on the Buddha’s Teachings, while looking at the whole thing with deepening understanding, and all of it evolving over and over.

Five years ago the headache arrived, I lost the starting point in meditation, then found it again somewhere else. Sadly, it wasn’t a priority in my life any more; the visits to the Neurologists, the meds to treat the pain, and coping with the side effects. This changed everything. I lost the sure-footedness I had acquired over the years. At the beginning of the headache days there was only the pain, the urgency and the medicine ‘blur’ overload. Things fell apart so often, I’d be picking up the pieces and realise I had forgotten completely the simplest of things.

Thus I seem to have lost so much in these crises, and the confusion in recovery then starting over, but I’m sure of one thing; if I hadn’t had the headache condition, I wouldn’t have been as motivated as I am to look for the way out of suffering (Dhukka, the first Noble Truth), and begin to uncover the mystery – I am still looking.

Things are more stable now, I’ve learned how to balance the meds with the headache. I go on (more slowly) with the study of Theravada meditation – I  never looked into Mahayana, and now there’s not enough lifetime left! It’s a pity because in recent years I discovered Advaita and Non-duality… a sense of the ancient.

I can sit on the cushion, with or without headache or meds and focus as best I can, on an object in the mind… see where that gets me (samatha). Or I can focus on the in-breath and out-breath (vipassanā) or a combination of both. You might have the impression that I know a lot about meditation but I’m just an ordinary practitioner of meditation with mindfulness – following the three steps: sīla (moral conduct), samādhi (concentration), and paññā (wisdom).

I depend on the wisdom of Buddhist monks such as Ajahn Sucitto for guidance, inspiration, insight and these moments of understanding. Here are some excerpts from “Parami – Ways to Cross Life’s Floods”. The section on Wisdom: Innate Clarity, Pannā Pāramī the Fourth Parami, beginning page 73.

“You might find it helpful to begin your meditation period by reflecting on the following four themes: goodwill; mortality; the good that you have done or that has been done to you; and the example of the Buddha or your immediate spiritual teacher. These will help to bring your mind into a balance of head and heart. As that effect is felt, select a meditation topic that your mind is now willing to be guided by.”

The following sections are on page 77

Wisdom Needs Meditation

“Meditation in the Buddhist sense means the cultivation of calm and insight (samatha-vipassanā), and the development of mindfulness (sati) and concentration (samādhi) to bring those about. Mindfulness is the faculty that bears a feeling, idea, process or sensation in mind…”

It helps me to understand Ajahn’s words when I can identify and focus on a few words – possible discussion points if there are any kind readers out there who’d like to comment (or help me with a better understanding). Please get in touch.

I understand samatha as tranquility meditation, meditating on an object, with the intention to reach those calm states. What we are looking at here is the combination of samatha (calm focus on one thing) and vipassana (insight) observing thoughts without attachment as they come and go. Also the clarity of Mindfulness (sati)… an inner watchfulness, on-the-spot awareness of the functioning of the mind, and interaction with the sensory world.

Samatha and Vipassana as well as Sati means there is the momentum to bring about samadhi, the pleasing calm mind state leaning towards Wisdom.

“Sustained, (mindfulness) counteracts scattered attention and impulsiveness. Concentration is the deepening into the steadiness that mindfulness brings, a deepening that becomes pleasurable. These two support calm. And when the mind is calm we can look into it and bring wisdom to bear on the roots of mental action. This penetrative inward looking, or insight, is needed because it’s often the case that we don’t really know or aren’t clear about the causes, motivations and effects of what we’re doing. The basis of action gets buried beneath the sheer quantity of action our minds get involved with.”

[The following section is on page 89] “Notice that when you acknowledge and focus on your thoughts and emotions, the mind enters the experience of being aware of them rather than being them. Notice that a blend of clear attention and emotional spaciousness supports this kind of awareness; and that the results of it are that one is calmer and wiser with regard to the mind.”

(Continued 19 Feb 2021)


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the word ‘nothing’

POSTCARD#406: Bangkok: Eyes looking out for anyone I know in a world full of face-masks. This displaced familiarity… we’re all strangers here but it seems like we’re friends. We’re all together in our locked-in state, thinking in quiet colors, blues and shades of gray. I’m seeing it in slow motion today due to my old friend, the pain in the head – triggered by wearing a mask too small for me – the elastic bands around the ears pulled tight, squeezing on the nerve.

Awareness of the headache as it peaks and breaks through like a Chinese Firecracker, the holding-on becomes the letting-go; hold-on, let-go, hold-on, let-go…

Suddenly mindfulness facilitates the disappearance of ‘self’… there’s no ‘me’ to whom this is happening. There’s no ‘self’ suffering from head pain, there is only pain… detached, seen as a quivering of the air held for a moment then gone.

There is no You, no I. No He, She, or It. See the third person singular, sitting there, an object in objective reality. No worries, no We, You, They. Personification and the lack of it, is a shared thing. It happens to all of us.

There is no permanent unyielding ‘self’ in a kind of mind-made algorithm that gets it to make sense and the knowing of it too. Self is a construct, language is a construct, everything is advisedly devised, contrived, improvised – perfect disguise. Cross my heart and hope to die: “this is who I am!”

The gypsy glancing glass-eyed gaze, searching through a sea of face masks for that sudden déjà vu, a hidden identity revealed: the prodigal son re-found, taken home embraced by long large arms of an extended family, comforting and warm.

Words strain and stretch to carry meaning. No sudden movement, no end, no beginning, leave everything in the continuous form of the present moment. No past and no future except for the placing of things in the right order.

Finding my way through a lifetime of sensory input remains the indefatigable task. Living with and looking after the mind/body organism and the world that is part of it; all this continues, quietly and with care – becoming an ongoing open-ended, analysis of the observed world and the observer of it, together as a oneness. Everything is integrated, nothing exists outside of this – really nothing, not even the word ‘nothing’.

“…we do not experience a succession of nows. This present now is the only now there is. The now in which the body was born is the very same now in which these words are appearing. It is the only now there ever truly is. [Rupert Spira]


Note: Not able to concentrate enough this week to publish the latest installment of the Ten Paramis. Look out, it’ll be there ASAP.