Mind Object Contemplation

POSTCARD#460: Objects of the mind are the last of the four focuses of mindfulness. The mind objects listed in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta are the five hindrances, the five aggregates, the six senses, the seven enlightenment factors, and the four noble truths. I understand this list to represent examples of mind objects, and therefore other mind objects not mentioned in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, such as thought and emotions, may also be included.

Contemplating the Five Hindrances

As I’ve explained regarding contemplation of feeling (vedanā), the five hindrances must be abandoned before you can effectively contemplate anything. But how can you contemplate the five hindrances after you have abandoned them? As I stated above mindfulness can take as its object an experience that has already passed. Mindfulness includes memory. So superpower mindfulness can take up, for example, a previous example of sloth and torpor and hold that past experience still in its strong light long enough to see into its true nature. What you apprehend with superpower mindfulness is that these five hindrances are mere instances of images on the screen, that they are not yours or anything to do with you, as the following simile demonstrates.

An old school friend visited Jamaica many years ago. He went to see a movie in a drive-in theatre in a remote town well known for its violence. He was surprised to see that the screen was a two-foot thick reinforced concrete wall. It must have cost a fortune. People of that town, it turns out, were very fond of Westerns. However, when the story came to the inevitable gunfight, many members of the audience took out their own guns and joined in the action! If they didn’t like the sheriff, they shot at his image on the screen, or they blasted away at the Indians, or whomever else upset them. The owner of the theatre could not stop them from joining in the gunfights, and he had replaced so many bullet-riddled canvas screens that he built this indestructible concrete screen. Then his audience could join in the gunfights without ruin.

If, like these moviegoers, you identify images on the screen as real, you will want to shoot them. With mindfulness, however, you will see them as having nothing to do with you. When you see the hindrances merely as images on the screen of consciousness, you will not bother you ever again. You will be free.

Contemplating thought

Thought, the inner conversation, is an object of the mind that can generate immense suffering. It can manifest as restlessness, remorse, doubt, desire or ill will. As such, remorse is at the heart of the five hindrances. Persistent pessimistic thoughts lead to depression, even suicide. Obsessive fearful thoughts lead to paranoia. It should be obvious that there are great benefits to be won through contemplating thought according to this fourth satipaṭṭhāna.

Again, only superpower mindfulness can see through the con game that is thought. With ordinary mindfulness you tend to believe in the thinking, get caught up in it, even worship it as more truthful than reality. A hungry man goes to dine at an expensive restaurant and is handed the menu. He eats the menu, pays, and leaves. He is still hungry. The menu is not the food any more than thoughts are reality.

Superpower mindfulness sees that thought, at best, is one step removed from reality, and at worst it is completely removed. Ill will bends thought into anger, sensory desire inflates thoughts into lust, and restlessness twists thoughts into frustration. When seen clearly, thoughts can’t be trusted. Not even this one!

When satipaṭṭhāna sees thinking for what it truly is, a makeshift approximation,  then  we  experience  dispassion  with  regard  to  our  thinking.  The  sign  of  such dispassion and wisdom is that you can let go of thoughts at any time. The proof of such insight is your ability to be silent. In the suttas, a term for an enlightened one is santamuni, “silent sage.”

Contemplating Will

Another important mind object that I wish to discuss here is “will” (cetanā), which comes under the contemplation of the five aggregates (khandha) in this fourth satipaṭṭhāna. Will is “that which does” or the doer. As I mentioned above the will is one of the two last resorts of the illusion of self, along with the knower (citta). Contemplating the will, the doer, and seeing it as anattā is therefore crucial to the experience of enlightenment.

Years ago I was an active member of the Psychic Research Society at Cambridge University. Every year we would hire a professional hypnotist to demonstrate his craft, often to the great amusement of us students. Once the hypnotist put a receptive volunteer student into a deep state of hypnosis. In front of all the students the hypnotists told him that later in the evening when the hypnotist touch his left ear the student was to stand up and sing the British national anthem. And later after coming out from the hypnotic trance, when the hypnotist touched his left ear the poor student arose and sang “God Save the Queen”! He sang alone accompanied by great laughter. The most fascinating part of this demonstration was that, when questioned, the student was of the firm opinion that he had freely decided to sing the national anthem and gave some convoluted reason for it. It showed that even brainwashing appears to the brainwashed as free will.

You are deluded to think you are reading this of your own free will. My friend, you had no choice but to read this! Will is not the action of a being, it is the end product of a process,

When superpower mindfulness takes a recent experience of jhāna as its object it sees that will, the “doer” has completely ceased within that state. It has vanished for long periods of time. Contemplating a fully mindful state that is free of will allows you to see that “will”, “choice”, and the “doer” are not me or mine, not a self. Whatever you do is just a result of complex programming.

When I talk like this people get frightened. Such fear is a symptom that something you are so attached to, your will, is about to be taken away. We in the West are so attached to the delusion of free will, in fact, that we enshrine the illusion in our constitutions and declaration of human rights. You may raise objection that if there is no free will, why bother to generate the great effort needed for enlightenment? The answer should be obvious. You put forth great effort because you have no choice. It is only superpower mindfulness that has the strength to penetrate the barrier of fear erected by attachment and observe the process of will as it truly is. Like the thousand-petaled lotus, when the layer of petals that represent the “the doer” fully opens up, you see the unexpected, that there is no one in here doing all this. The will is anattā. Craving begins to unravel at this point.

Contemplating Emotions

The last of the mind objects that I want to discuss here is emotion. Emotion is that texture of mind categorized as depressed or inspired, guilty or forgiving, worried or serene, angry or compassionate, and so on. Emotions toss us around, and this often hurts. Emotions are mind objects, things that appear on the screen of consciousness, and are part of this fourth satipaṭṭhāna.

When I was already a young Buddhist I went to see the movie West Side Story. There is a heartbreaking scene at the end when the hero, Tony, runs to his lover, Maria, under a New York City streetlight, is shot, and dies in Maria’s arms. As their doomed relationship is tragically rent, they sing, “There’s a place for us. Somewhere a place for us.” Many in the audience began sobbing uncontrollably. Why did they cry? It was only a movie after all, just the play of light on a cloth screen.

When you are deluded by emotions you take them to be important, real, “mine”. You get so sucked in that you seek even unpleasant emotions like sadness repeatedly. Why is it that so many people go to a movie with a box of tissues knowing, from the reviews that it is a tearjerker? It is because they are attached to emotions, delight in them and identify with them. They don’t want to be free.

Superpower mindfulness focused on the emotions uncovers the reality of whether you want to be free or not. It pushes aside your preferences. You recognize that the emotions are seductive sirens beckoning you to their treacherous rocks. But in their essence they are but mind objects, causally conditioned like weather fronts passing overhead, having nothing to do with you. When you see the truth, you are detached from emotions and free from their tyranny.

Whatever is an object of the mind, whatever appears on the screen of consciousness – whether it be the five hindrances, thought, will, or emotions – can be put under the unremitting and penetrating beam of superpower mindfulness. There you will realise the completely unexpected. You will see what the Buddha saw under the Bodhi tree. The realization will dawn that all these events on the screen of consciousness, are just the play of nature not the play of God, not the play of a soul. There is nothing here. There is “nobody at home”. These mind objects are empty. They are no-self (anattā). The illusion has been seen through. You are now free, unaffected by any mind object.

The Buddha promised that anyone who practices the four satipaṭṭhānas diligently will reach the  state  of  either  the  non-returner  or  full enlightenment  in  seven  days.  Perhaps  you  now understand why many meditators have  been  disappointed  that  after  many  more  than  seven days  they’re  still  not  enlightened.  As  I  said  earlier,  the  reason  is  that  they  have  not  been practicing   satipaṭṭhāna   following   the   Buddha’s   instructions.   Try   it   and   see.   Develop superpower mindfulness generated by jhāna so you know for yourself how impotent ordinary mindfulness is. Put the citta (the knower) or cetanā (the will) under the spotlight of superpower mindfulness,  courageously  going  beyond  the  comfort  of  your  views.  Await  the  unexpected. Don’t second-guess truth. Wait with patience until the thousandth petal of the lotus fully opens to  reveal  the  heart.  That  will  be  the  end  of  delusion,  the  end  of  saṃsāra,  and  the  end  of satipaṭṭhāna.

Image: Buddha statue under construction at Khai Nguyen Pagoda, Vietnam, 2019, Photo credit MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Continued next week 4 March 2022 with “The Jhānas I: Bliss”

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”

Composition of the Body

POSTCARD#458: I remember when I was about eleven years old watching a television program on my parents’ black-and-white set that showed in gory detail major surgical operations common at that time. My parents and my brother had to leave the room, but they let me watch after I argued that the program was educational. I found it fascinating to see the innards of a body.

Many years later as a Buddhist monk I was eager to observe autopsies in Thailand and Australia. What fascinates me now is why some persons are repelled by the very thought of watching an autopsy, and often faint when they attend one. Even though we have all been taught biology at school, most of us are still in denial about the nature of our bodies. Why else would we faint or groan when seeing guts exposed?

We have a huge amount of attachment to this body, a delusion that causes us much suffering. By focusing superpower mindfulness on the composition of your body, you can penetrate the barrier of denial and fear and see the body as it truly is. It is just a body. Bits and pieces strung together and falling apart, neither beautiful nor ugly, neither strong nor weak. It is simply a thing of nature, not something of yours. Can you keep it fit and healthy forever? Can you stop it from dying? So who owns your body? Surely it must be obvious that nature owns your body, not you.

The sign that you have penetrated the truth of the body is the complete lack of fear about your own death. Another test of your insight is your response when a loved relative or close friend dies. If you receive a phone call telling you they have just been killed in a road accident and you reply, “Yes, that’s to be expected,” then you are free of attachment to the body.

The Corpse Meditations

Meditation on a corpse combines the contemplations of what a body is and what a body does. It produces revulsion at the beginning, insight in the middle, and liberation in the end. It’s powerful and effective.

A corpse from a road accident is quickly covered and sent to a funeral home, where it is embalmed and made up with cosmetics. The embalmer’s skill makes Uncle George look like he is happily sleeping rather than stone dead. We do not want to see a corpse as it truly is. We are more content to have the fantasy. Unfortunately, delusion demands a heavy price. The longer we delay understanding death, the more we will have to suffer from it.

When superpower mindfulness is focused on a corpse or on the clear memory of one, the dead body opens up like a thousand-petaled lotus and reveals the truth hidden deep beneath the surface. The corpse is teaching you that this is what your body does—it gets old, falls apart, and dies. This is the destiny of your body and all others. Such insight produces dispassion with regard to this body and disinterest in getting another body. Seeing a corpse disintegrate and return to its natural state proves once again who the real owner is—nature. No longer will you be attached to your body, take delight in your partner’s body, or fear death. And if the insight reaches to the core, then you will never again come to birth in another body.

Feeling Contemplation

The second focus of mindfulness is feeling (vedanā). This term needs explanation because “feeling” is not quite accurate as a translation. In English “feeling” has a wide range of meanings. It can mean both emotional states and physical sensations in the body. The Pāli word vedanā means that quality of every conscious experience—whether through sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, or mind—that is pleasant, unpleasant, or somewhere in between.

In English we use different words to convey pleasantness or unpleasantness in each of the six senses. If we’re relating to a sight, we call vedanā “beautiful,” “ugly,” or “average.” If we are talking about sound, vedanā is “sonorous,” “grating,” or “uninteresting.” If we’re describing bodily sensations, vedanā is “pain,” “pleasure,” or “dullness.” That agreeable quality which is common to beauty, melody, and physical pleasure is called sukha vedanā, or “pleasant feeling.” That disagreeable quality common to ugliness, discordance, and physical pain is called dukkha vedanā, or “unpleasant feeling.” That which is neither agreeable nor disagreeable is called “neutral feeling.”

It is to be remembered that the qualities that we perceive as beautiful, ugly, sonorous, pleasurable, and so on do not reside in the object. Otherwise we would all agree on what was beautiful or pleasurable. The agreeable, disagreeable, and neutral qualities are values that we add to reality through our conditioned mind. Again, vedanā means that quality accompanying every conscious experience that you feel as pleasant, unpleasant, or somewhere in between.

When mindfulness is strong and stable, you can investigate vedanā, present and past, without complicating the matter with desire and aversion. When the mind is weak in samādhi and the five hindrances are present, the mind reacts to unpleasant vedanā with aversion and responds to agreeable vedanā with desire. Such reactions stir the mind and distort the truth, in much the same way that winds stir up waves on a lake and distort the images of fish swimming below the surface. This demonstrates yet again the importance of jhāna experience prior to satipaṭṭhāna in order to suppress the five hindrances, especially desire and ill will, in order to have the capability to view the vedanā with complete dispassion.

The Rise and Fall of Vedanā

When the mind is still and free from both desire and aversion, it sees that sukha vedanā (pleasant feeling) is no more than a pause between two moments of dukkha vedanā (unpleasant feeling). Indeed, you can also discern that the intensity of the pleasure in sukha vedanā is directly proportional to the degree of unpleasantness that went just before, and the intensity of the pain in dukkha vedanā is measured by the amount of happiness that you have just lost.

In a chilling book describing imprisonment and torture as a political prisoner in Argentina during the 1970s, an author relates that his most painful experience was not the beatings or the sessions on “Susan” (the name the guards gave to the electric shock torture machine). The worst moment, after endless months of imprisonment, was when his persecutors handed him a letter from his wife. He had blotted out from his mind all memory of the happy years before prison in order to cope with the terror and hopelessness of the present. That letter brought up many warm memories of his wife and family, and made the darkness and agony of his situation even more unbearable. He cursed his wife for sending that letter and screamed deep inside, louder than he ever had under electric shock. As this story graphically illustrates, the intensity of your pain or discontent is proportional to the degree of the happiness that you recall has now vanished.

Vedanā Does Not Belong to You

Vedanā is thus clearly seen to be conditioned, in the same way that night conditions day and day conditions night. It is merely the dualistic play of nature. Vedanā is beyond your control and beyond anyone’s control. It is understood to be not mine, not me, not a self. Understanding vedanā in this way through superpower mindfulness, as just vedanā and beyond anyone’s control, gives rise to dispassion toward pleasure and pain. You realize with certainty that there can be neither permanent pleasure nor permanent pain. A perfect heavenly world is seen as a sensory impossibility, merely wishful thinking, and an eternal hell is similarly implausible.

Thus the purpose of this second focus of mindfulness is to gain the insight that vedanā is not mine, that pleasure and pain twirl around each other, two inseparable partners on the dance floor of saṃsāra. Craving becomes pointless. And when craving is finally abandoned, there is freedom from pain (and from happiness too).

Continued next week 18 February 2022 with Mind Contemplation

Satipaṭṭhāna and Anattā

POSTCARD#457: Bangkok: [Editor’s note: this excerpt is from ‘The Thousand-Petaled Lotus’, last paragraph, page 109 in the print copy: “… when petal number one thousand opens up, so beautiful and unworldly, then you see the famed jewel in the heart of the lotus. Do you know what that jewel is? – a diamond? a ruby? No it’s emptiness. You see the priceless gem of emptiness in the very heart of the body-mind and this is not what you would ever have expected. That’s how you know it is not just another petal. Emptiness is something of a completely different nature to every other petal, to every other thing. Nothing! To reach this far usually requires superpower mindfulness sustained on its focus for a very long time.

The Purpose of Satipaṭṭhāna

So what is the purpose of satipaṭṭhāna? The purpose is to see anattā, that there is no self, no me, nor anything that belongs to a self. As it says in the texts, “Such mindfulness is established enough to discern that there are just the body, feelings, mind, and objects of mind” and that these are not me, not mine, nor a self (this is how I (the author) translate a phrase in the suttas).

When you keep in mind that the purpose of satipaṭṭhāna is to uncover the delusion of me, mine, or a self, to see anattā or the “emptiness in the heart of the lotus,” then the way of practice becomes clear. In particular you can appreciate why the Buddha taught just four focuses for mindfulness: body, feelings, mind, and mind objects. He taught these four because these are the major areas where life assumes a “me” or a “mine.”

So the satipaṭṭhāna practice sustains superpower mindfulness on each of the four objects in order to unravel the illusion of a self. You have been deluded for too long, identifying with the physical body, regarding your feelings as yours (and therefor subject to your control), assuming the mind (the process of knowing) to be your self and attaching to the objects of mind as matters of concern to you.

Summary of the Preliminaries

1. vineyya loke abhijjhā domanassam – first abandon the five hindrances through the practice of jhāna.

2. satimā – be possessed of superpower mindfulness resulting from jhāna.

3. atāpi – diligently sustain that superpower mindfulness on the focus.

4. sampajāno – keep in mind the purpose of satipaṭṭhāna on each of the four focuses in turn.

Body Contemplation

In the Satipaṭṭhāna Suttas there are fourteen areas for focusing mindfulness involving the body. They are grouped as follows: (1) breath, (2) bodily posture, (3) bodily activity, (4) composition of the body, (5) the body seen as four elements, and (6) the nine corpse contemplations. Here, I will discuss briefly all but the fifth.

Breath

In Indian philosophy, the breath (prāṇa in Sanskrit) is sometimes considered to be the vital essence of a human being. Indeed, the Pāli word for “animal” is the same as the word for “breath,” pāṇa. Similarly, the English word animal is derived from the Latin animalis, meaning “having breath.” Certainly, in ancient times the breath was considered to be such an important part of life that it was thought to be almost identical to a self or soul.

By focusing superpower mindfulness on the breath, it is possible to experience the breath as an empty process, completely subject to conditioning, with no being in here doing the breathing. Moreover, in deep jhāna, we can experience the breath disappearing altogether (in the fourth jhāna) with no danger to life.

During my teacher Ajahn Chah’s long sickness, he would often stop breathing. On one such occasion the new nurse on duty became alarmed. He knew that Ajahn Chah must die one day, but he didn’t want it to happen on his shift! The attendant monks on duty that night reassured him that Ajahn Chah had done the same many times before and that it was just a sign of deep meditation. The nurse was still worried and so took blood samples every few minutes during the hours without breathing to ensure that the blood was still well oxygenated. After all, as long as there is enough oxygen available in the blood there will be no harm to the body. The nurse discovered that even though Ajahn Chah was not breathing for a long time, the oxygen level in the blood remained constant. In jhāna, the metabolism is so slowed down that you are using almost zero energy. You don’t need to breathe.

Why is it that ordinary people gasp when they are excited, or struggle for breath just before they die? Perhaps their attachment to their breath is deeper than they realized. Remember, satipaṭṭhāna uncovers attachments that are completely unexpected. When you experience the cessation of breath, then it is obvious that it is not yours at all. From that insight, attachment to breath unravels.

Bodily Postures and Bodily Activities

There are two ways to understand something: by contemplating what it is made of and by contemplating what it does. Here we are analyzing this body by contemplating what it does. It is an illusion to think that I am walking, standing, lying down, sitting, stretching my arm, and so on. The truth is that there is a body doing this, not an I.

Many high achievers in sports, the arts, or even meditation, describe a state of selflessness called entering the “zone.” When a famous classical Indian dancer I knew was asked how she could perform to such a high standard, she replied that she practices and practices, but when the performance begins, she deliberately forgets everything she has been taught. She “gets herself out of the way” and allows the dance to take over. This is a classic description of entering the zone. When the athlete is in the zone, she can move effortlessly, gracefully, and faultlessly. When the meditator is in the zone, he can watch samādhi deepen beautifully, seamlessly, and wordlessly. You clearly experience all this as mere process, with no being driving the process. It is anattā, no-self.

You observe bodily postures and activities with superpower mindfulness and quickly enter a zone where all bodily postures and activities are seen to be mere cause-driven processes, not self-driven ones. You become less of a control freak concerning this body. You detach and live at ease.

Some teachers mistakenly think that mindfulness must always be focused on activities in the present moment. In fact the Pāli word for mindfulness, sati, also means remembering. Superpower mindfulness can focus on an object many moments old, bore into it without the object fading, and uncover its truth.

For example, in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta one is asked to practice mindfulness focused on sleeping. Even arahants are not aware when they’re asleep, so what does this mean? Some translators have attempted to solve this question by changing the meaning of the exercise to mindfulness on falling asleep. However, the Pāli word used in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta means “in sleep,” and there is a different phrase for falling asleep, niddaṃ okkamati. The practice of mindfulness focused on sleeping means one uses a previous experience of having been asleep as the focus of superpower mindfulness in the present. It is mindfulness that takes an old experience as its object. This may seem pedantic to you now, but it becomes crucially important, as you will see, when I explain the focus of mindfulness on the citta (mind consciousness).

Continued next week 11th Feb 2022 with Composition of the Body

The Importance of Jhāna for Satipaṭṭhāna

POSTCARD#455: Bangkok: If mindfulness is like a light, meditation brightens that light. When I (the author) was a young monk at Wat Pa Nanachat in Northeast Thailand, I became quite peaceful by doing walking meditation in the hall. I would walk with my gaze on a spot on the concrete floor some two meters ahead. Then I had to stop. I couldn’t believe it, but the dull concrete surface began to open up into a picture of magnificent beauty. The various shades of gray and the texture suddenly appeared as the most beautiful picture I had ever seen. I thought of cutting out that section and sending it to the Tate Gallery in London. It was a work of art. An hour or two later, it was just a boring, ordinary piece of concrete again. What had  happened,  and  this  may  have  happened  to  you,  is  that  I  had  a  short  experience  of  “power mindfulness.” In power mindfulness, the mind is like a megawatt searchlight, enabling you to see so much deeper into what you are gazing at. Ordinary concrete becomes a masterpiece. A blade of grass literally  shimmers  with  the  most  delightful  and  brilliant  shades  of  fluorescent  green.  A  twig metamorphoses into a boundless universe of shape, color, and structure. The petty becomes profound and the humdrum becomes heavenly under the sparkling energy of power mindfulness.

What is happening is that the five hindrances are being abandoned. When they are gone the experience is like seeing through a windshield that has been cleaned of grime and dust, or hearing through ears that at last are unclogged of wax, or reflecting with a mind released from its fog. When you know the difference between power mindfulness and weak mindfulness as a personal experience, not a mere idea, then you will understand the necessity of jhāna prior to satipaṭṭhāna.

Jhāna generates “superpower” mindfulness. If power mindfulness is like a megawatt searchlight, then jhāna-generated superpower mindfulness like a terawatt  sun.

The Thousand-Petaled Lotus simile is used in this way because there are a thousand or so levels of reality to uncover. The practice of meditation takes many hours of sitting, uncovering many deep layers of delusion and wrong  ideas  about  yourself  and  the  world.  When  the  Buddha  taught  that  the  root  cause  of suffering  is  avijjā,  or  delusion,  he  did  not  say  that  it  would  be  easy  to  uncover.  Avijjā  is uncovered, as it were, in layers, like the opening of the lotus petals.

Recall that a lotus closes all of its petals at night. In the morning the first rays of the sun begin to warm the lotus. This is the trigger for the lotus to open its petals. It takes a long time, many minutes for the warmth to build up enough for the first layer of petals to open. Once the outermost petals are opened, the warmth of the sun can shine on the next layer of petals, and after a few moments of uninterrupted light they too open up. This allows the next layer to receive warmth the warmth and soon it opens up in turn. A thousand-petaled lotus requires a very strong sun sustained for a very long time to open every petal and reveal the famed jewel at its heart.

 In satipaṭṭhāna, the thousand-petaled lotus is a simile for this body-mind, that is, “you” – or whatever you like to call that which is sitting somewhere right now reading this page. The sun is a simile for mindfulness. You have to sustain power-mindfulness for a very long time on this body-mind to allow the innermost petals to open up. If the five hindrances are there, no insight happens, just as when there are clouds or mist, the sun cannot warm the lotus.

[Editor’s note: Here the author reviews the five hindrances, “obstacles that you will  meet  in  your  meditation  and  that  you  should  learn  to  overcome.” Key in: The Five Hindrances in the search box in the WordPress app. Then: The Second Hindrance, etc.] These  obstacles  to  deep meditation  are  called  in  the  Pāli  language  nīvarana.  Literally  that  means  “closing  a  door”  or “obstructing  entering  into  something,”  and  this  is  exactly  what  the  hindrances  do.  They  stop  you from entering into the deep absorption states, jhānas. They also obstruct or weaken wisdom and strengthen delusion.

These are the five hindrances in the usual order in which the Buddha lists them:

1. sensory desire (kāmma-cchanda)

2. ill will (vyāpāda)

3. sloth and torpor (thinā-middhā)

4. restlessness and remorse (udhaccha-kukkccha)

5. doubt (vicikiccā)

Basically, these five hindrances stand between you and enlightenment. When you know them, you have a good chance of overcoming them. If you have not achieved the jhānas yet, it means you have not fully understood these five hindrances. If you have gotten into such deep states, then you have overcome the hindrances. It’s as simple as that.

The Five Hindrances

1. sensory desire kāmma-cchanda – the compound kāmma-cchanda means ‘delight, interest, involvement with the world of the five senses. At the start of your meditation, place the mind beyond the reach of the five senses by returning to present-moment awareness [chapter 1, stage one, print copy, page 7]. Most if not all of our past and future is occupied with the affairs of the five senses. Through achieving present-moment awareness we cut off most of the kāmma-cchanda. [see also: silent present-moment awareness – stage two, print copy, page 11]

Continued next week, Friday 28th January 2022, with the review of the five hindrances

The Fifth Sixth & Seventh Step

Experiencing Joy and Happiness with the Breath

POSTCARD#450: Bangkok: Continuing with our text: Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator’s Handbook, by Ajahn Brahm.

In the fifth step of ānāpānasati, you experience joy (pīti) along with the breath, and in the sixth step you experience happiness (sukha) along with the breath. Because joy and happiness are difficult to separate, and since they usually arrive together anyway, I will treat them as one.

As your unbroken mindfulness watches the breath calming down, joy and happiness naturally arise like the golden light of dawn on an eastern horizon. It will arise gradually but automatically because all your mental energy is now flowing into the knower and not the doer. In fact, you are doing nothing, only watching. The sure sign that you are doing nothing is the tranquillity of your breath. In the early hours of the morning it is only a matter of time until the horizon glows with the first light of day, just as when you remain still with the calm breath it is only a matter of time until joy and happiness appear in your mind. Mental energy flowing into the knower makes mindfulness full of power, and energized mindfulness is experienced as happiness and joy, (pīti-sukha).

If you reach step four and are continuously mindful of a very calm breath but see no happiness or joy, then my advice is: “Don’t panic!” Don’t spoil the natural process with your impatience. When you do anything at this stage you just delay, or even prevent, the arrival of happiness and joy. Instead just deepen the experience of the continuous calm breath. Are you fully aware of the peaceful breath, or have interruptions crept in? Perhaps the lack of progress is because you are not continually mindful of only the breath. Has your breath stopped growing calmer? Perhaps the breath isn’t peaceful enough yet. If so, give it more time. This is a natural process completely independent of you. When mindfulness rests comfortably on the breath without any interruptions, and the sensation of breath becomes calmer and calmer, then happiness and joy will always arise.

It helps if you are able to spot pīti-sukha early. To do this you have to be familiar with what you are looking for. The happiness and joy that are associated with tranquillity can start off as extremely subtle. It is like someone who prefers hard rock attending a performance of classical music by Mahler, and who can’t comprehend why the audience pays good money to listen to such stuff. They just don’t get it. Or like the person who usually eats at cheap diners going for the first time to a five-star French restaurant and not appreciating the cuisine because their palate is too coarse.

As you meditate more and more, you become a connoisseur of tranquil mind states and will naturally apprehend the arrival of joy and happiness at an increasingly early stage.

The fulfilment of these fifth and sixth steps of ānāpānasati is precisely the same as reaching the stage of full sustained awareness of the beautiful breath in my basic method of meditation. The beauty of the breath at this stage is my way of describing the experience of joy and happiness. The breath at this stage appears so still and tranquil and beautiful, more attractive than a garden in springtime, or a sunset in summer, and you wonder if you will ever want to look at anything else.

The Seventh Step

Experiencing the Breath as a mind object

As the breath becomes ever more beautiful, as the joy and happiness grow in quiet strength, your breath may appear to completely disappear. In Chapter two I described this as the breath dropping away from the beautiful breath leaving only the beautiful. I also gave the example of the Grinning Cheshire Cat (Alice in Wonderland), who gradually disappeared leaving only the grin’ to depict this event. This precisely describes the passage from stage five and sixth, experiencing joy and happiness with the breath to stage seven where the breath is known only as a mind object.

To clarify this transition, I invoke  the Buddha’s analysis of consciousness into the six sense bases (SN 35) – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and the mind base of knowing. In the early stages of meditation you abandon seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting to the point where  these four sense bases completely shut down for a while. Then you let go of most of the activity of the fifth sense base, touching, by focusing on the touch (physical sensation) of the breath to the exclusion of everything else. The sixth sense base, the mind, is operating throughout. As you pass into this seventh step. Touching, now shuts down to leave only the sixth sense base, the mind, to know the breath. You are now experiencing the breath through a new sense base. 

Imagine an old friend, fuzzy-haired and bearded, who usually goes around in ordinary old clothes. Then he is ordained as a Buddhist monk. When you first see him in the monastery, you probably won’t  recognize  him  with  his  bald  head  and  robes.  But  it  is  the  same  old  friend  regardless. He appears different in the new setting, that’s all. In the same way, your old friend the breath usually goes  around  dressed in the sensations of touch  and  is  recognized  mainly through the fifth sense base. In the seventh step of ānāpānasati, your breath has transcended the world of the five sense bases, in particular the fifth sense base, and is now to be known only through the sixth  sense,  as  a  mind  object.  This  is  why  the  Buddha  called  this  step  experiencing  the  citta- sankhāra, the mind object.

So if your breath seems to disappear at this stage, be reassured that this is meant to happen, and don’t go disturbing the process by searching here and there for the previous perception of the breath. Instead, when the breath seems to disappear, ask yourself what is left? If you have followed the instructions carefully, the breath will only seem to disappear after happiness and joy have been established, and so what is left is happiness and joy. Your mindfulness has to be subtle and still to recognise this fine object at first, but with the familiarity born of long experience, the insight will come to you that this subtle happiness and joy is your old friend the breath, only now experienced as a mind object.

If you are unable to remain with this mind object, it is because there was insufficient joy and happiness before you let the fifth sense base shut down. You should train in cultivating a very beautiful breath with heaps of joy and happiness before you let the fifth sense base shut down. Then you will have a stronger mind object to watch. However, with much practice, you will know what you are looking for at step seven, the mindfulness will be more deft at holding subtle levels of happiness and joy, and you will be able to let go of the fifth sense base earlier and still be able to hold the weaker mental object.

Continued next week: 24 December 2021

Letting Be

POSTCARD#446: Bangkok: Continuing with Ajahn Brahm’s text: “Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond

Sometimes the best thing my mind needs at the moment is just to let things be. Basically, letting-be meditation is simply this second stage of breath meditation, just silent awareness of the present moment. It has to be silent, because to really let things be means you give no orders and have no complaints; you’ve got nothing to talk about. Letting be happens in the present moment. You’re aware of things as they appear right now, and you allow them to come in or stay or go, whenever they want. Letting-be meditation is like sitting in a room, and whoever comes in the door, you let in. They can stay as long as they like. Even if they are terrible demons, you allow them to come in and sit down. You are not at all fazed. If the Buddha himself enters in all his glory, you just sit here just the same, completely equanimous. “Come in if you want.” “You can go whenever.” Whatever comes into your mind, the beautiful or the gross, you stand back and let it be, with no reactions at all—quietly observing and practicing silent awareness in the present moment. This is letting-be meditation.

The Garden Simile

Many English men and women have gardens in their homes where they often spend many hours working. But a garden is to be enjoyed, not just to be worked in. So I advise my students that they should frequently go sit in their own garden and enjoy its great beauty.

The least adept of my students believe that they must mow the grass, prune the bushes, water the flower bed, rake the leaves, and get the garden perfect before they can sit down to enjoy it. Of course, the garden never is perfect, no matter how hard they work. So they never get to rest.

Mediocre students, on the other hand, refrain from work. Instead they sit in their garden and begin to think. “The grass needs mowing and the bushes should be pruned. The flowers are looking dry and the leaves really need raking, and a native bush would look better over there,” and so on. They spend their time pondering how to make their garden perfect rather than simply enjoying it. They too find no peace.

The third type of student is the wise meditator. They have done a lot of work in their garden, but now is their time for rest. They say, “The lawn could be mown, the bushes could be pruned, the flowers could be watered and the leaves raked—but not now! The garden is good enough as it is.” And they can rest a while, not feeling guilty about unfinished business.

Letting-be meditation is just the same. Don’t try to make everything perfect or tie up all those loose ends before you let things be. Life is never perfect and duties are never finished. Letting be is having the courage to sit quietly and rest the mind in the midst of imperfection.

Letting Be Can Become Quite Powerful

If your breath meditation or mettā meditation or any other type of meditation isn’t working, very often it’s because the foundation is incorrect. So just do the letting-be meditation. You can “sit out in the garden” and just let things be. Whatever is happening, that’s OK. Whatever you’re experiencing is fine—no preference, no choice, no good or bad, no argument, and no commentary. Just let things be. You can have a little bit of a inner speech, but only a commentary about “letting be.” Just be with what is. Just be with thoughts concerned with the meditation subject, but not about anything else. That way the meditation comes close to complete silent awareness of the present moment.

If I’m in pain, if I have a headache, stomachache, or some other ache, or if the mosquitoes are biting, I say, “Just let it be.” I don’t argue with it, don’t get upset about it. I just watch the feelings in my body as the mosquito pushes its nose into my flesh and itching sensations follow. “Just let things be.” If you’re lying in bed at night and you can’t go to sleep: “Let it be.” Or if there’s a pain that won’t go away: “Just let it be.” Just be with it. Don’t try running away. If demons have come into your room, you’re not going to push them out, but you’re not going to invite them to stay either. You’re just going to let them be. Letting be is the practice of equanimity.

Continued next week 26th November 2021

A Softening of the Mind

POSTCARD#445: Mettā meditation softens the mind and turns it toward care, goodwill, and acceptance. You become more selfless, less concerned with your own needs and more willing to peacefully interact with others. The emotion that is mettā feels delightful and pure. As you develop it repeatedly, it soon remains constant in your heart. You become a compassionate person, and your kindness is a source of joy to all beings and to yourself.

Mettā enables you to embrace another being just as they are. Most people find this impossible because of their fault-finding mind. They only see part of the whole, the part that is flawed, and refuse to accept it. Loving-kindness, on the other hand, embraces the wholeness of something and accepts it as it is. Through the practice of mettā meditation, you find yourself becoming less conscious of the faults in yourself and other beings, and more able to embrace them just the way they are. This ability to see the beauty in an object and ignore its flaws is a powerful aid to all types of meditation. To sustain your attention in the present moment, for example, you must accept the way things are now, embracing this moment and not being critical. When you persist in finding faults in the present moment, you will find you cannot remain there.

It is possible to combine mettā meditation with breath meditation. When you begin stage three, awareness of the breath, you observe your breath with loving-kindness. You think something like “breath, the door of my heart is open to you no matter how you feel, no matter what you do.” You will soon be looking at your breathing with compassion, embracing it as it is instead of finding fault. By adding mettā to the process of awareness, you have no expectations, since the breath seems more than good enough. Because of loving-kindness, you soon feel this attractive warmth toward the breath that brings joy to every in-breath and out breath. It becomes so nice to watch your breath that in a very short time you have reached stage five, the beautiful breath.

Taking Mettā into Jhāna

Jhānas are emotional summits and not intellectual heights. You cannot think your way into a jhāna, you can only feel your way in. To succeed you require familiarity with your emotional world, enough to trust in it silently without any controlling. Perhaps this is why female meditators seem to enter jhāna more easily than males. Mettā meditation trains everyone to become more at ease with the power of emotions. Sometimes you may cry during mettā meditation, even weep uncontrollably. If so, let it come. On the path to nibbāna we all have to learn to embrace the intensity of the purest emotions, and the jhānas are the purest of all. Therefore mettā meditation makes jhāna more accessible. You can even take mettā meditation directly into jhāna. When you have reached the stage described above where you are radiating this limitless golden glow of loving-kindness throughout the whole universe, drenching every sentient being with the immense power of your boundless love, then take the next step. Forget about all beings and ignore where the power is coming from. Focus your attention instead on the experience of mettā in itself. This step often happens  automatically with no decision coming from you. The meditation object is being simplified, freed from the perception of separate beings. All that remains in your mind is what I call disembodied mettā, similar to the disembodied grin of the Cheshire Cat in the simile in chapter 2. You experience this as a blissful sphere of gorgeous golden light in your mind’s eye. It is a nimitta. It’s the mettā nimitta.

A nimitta that is generated through mettā meditation is always incredibly beautiful, only sometimes it isn’t so stable. Excitement is the usual problem. However, its nature is so alluring that you cannot resist hanging out with such intense bliss. Thus, in a short time the brilliant golden mettā nimitta becomes still and you fall into jhāna. This is how mettā meditation takes you into jhāna.

the fifth hindrance – doubt

POSTCARD#438: Bangkok: Doubt can be toward the teaching, about the teacher, or toward yourself. Regarding doubt toward the teaching, you should have enough confidence by now to know that some beautiful results come from practicing meditation. You may have experienced many of them already. Allow those positive experiences to strengthen your confidence that meditation is worthwhile. Sitting in meditation, developing the mind in stillness, and especially developing the mind in jhānas are all tremendously worthwhile and will give you clarity, happiness, and understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.

With regard to teachers, they are often like coaches of sports teams. Their job is to teach from their own experience and, more important, to inspire students with words and deeds. But before you put your confidence in a teacher, check them out. Observe their behavior and see for yourself if they are practicing what they preach. If they really know what they are talking about, then they will be ethical, restrained, and inspiring. Only if teachers lead by example—a good example, that is—should you place your confidence in them.

Self-doubt—which thinks, “I’m hopeless, I can’t do this, I’m useless, I’m sure everyone else who practices meditation, except me, has got jhānas and is already enlightened”—is often overcome with the help of a teacher who inspires and encourages you. It’s the teacher’s job to say, “Yes, you can achieve all of these things. Many other people have achieved them, so why not you?” Give yourself encouragement. Have confidence that you can achieve whatever you want. In fact, if you have sufficient determination and confidence, then it’s only a matter of time before you succeed. The only people who fail are those who give up.

Doubt can also be directed toward what you are experiencing now: “What is this? Is this jhāna? Is this present-moment awareness?” Such doubts are hindrances. They are inappropriate during meditation. Just make the mind as peaceful as you can. Let go and enjoy the peace and happiness. Afterward, you can review the meditation and ask, “What was that? That was really interesting. What was happening there?” That’s when you’ll find out whether or not it was a jhāna. If while meditating the thought “Is this jhāna?” arises, then it cannot be jhāna! Thoughts like that can’t come up within these deep states of stillness. Only afterward, when you review those states, can you look back and say, “Ah, that was a jhāna.”

If you get into any difficulty in your meditation, stop and ask yourself, “Which of the hindrances is this?” Find out what the cause is. Once you know the cause, then you can remember the solution and apply it. If it’s sensory desire, just take the attention away from the five senses little by little and apply it to the breath or the mind. If it’s ill will, do some loving-kindness. For sloth and torpor, remember “give value to awareness.” If it’s restlessness and remorse, remember “contentment, contentment, contentment” or practice forgiveness. And if it’s doubt, be confident and be inspired by the teachings. Whenever you meditate, apply the solutions methodically. That way, the obstacles you experience won’t create long-term barriers. They’re things that you can recognize, overcome, and move beyond.

Preview of next week’s text:

“All the Hindrances emanate from a single source. They are generated by the control freak inside of you that refuses to let things go. Meditators fail to overcome the hindrances because they look for them in the wrong place. It is crucial to success in meditation to understand that the hindrances are to be seen at work in the space between the knower and the known. The hindrances’ source is the doer, their result is lack of progress, but their workshop is the space between the mind and its meditation object. Essentially, the five hindrances are a relationship problem.”

More next week Saturday 02 October 2021

the fourth Hindrance, restlessness and remorse

POSTCARD#437: Bangkok: The fourth hindrance is among the most subtle of hindrances. The main  component of this hindrance is restlessness of mind. But first let me briefly address the matter of remorse. Editor’s note: Here, Ajahn Brahm tells us the story of Angulimāla. I have moved it the end of this Chapter where you can read it there, for a wider picture of remorse.

Remorse

Remorse is the result of hurtful things that you may have done or said. In other words, it is a result of bad conduct. If any remorse comes up in meditation, instead of dwelling on it, you should forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. The wise are not people who never make mistakes, but those who forgive themselves and learn from their mistakes. Some people have so much remorse that they think they can never become enlightened. Forgiveness, letting go of the past, is what overcomes remorse.

Restlessness

Restlessness arises because we do not appreciate the beauty of contentment. We do not acknowledge the sheer pleasure of doing nothing. We have a fault-finding mind rather than a mind that appreciates what’s already there. Restlessness in meditation is always a sign of not finding joy in what’s here. Whether we find joy or not depends on the way we train our perception. It’s within our power to change the way we look at things. We can look at a glass of water and perceive it as very beautiful, or we can think of it as ordinary. In meditation, we can see the breath as dull and routine, or we can see it as very beautiful and unique. If we look upon the breath as something of great value, then we won’t get restless. We won’t go around looking for something else. That’s what restlessness is, going around looking for something else to do, something else to think about, somewhere else to go—anywhere but here and now. Restlessness is one of the major hindrances, along with sensory desire. Restlessness makes it so hard to sit still for very long.

I begin meditation with present-moment awareness, just to overcome the coarse restlessness that says, “I want to be somewhere other than right here, right now.” No matter what this place is, no matter how comfortable you make it, restlessness will always say it’s not good enough. It looks at your meditation cushion and says it’s too big or too small, too hard or too wide. It looks upon a meditation retreat center and says, “It’s not good enough. We should have three meals a day. We should have room service.”

Beware of finding fault in your meditation. Sometimes you may think, “I’m not going deep enough. I’ve been watching the present moment for so long, and I’m not getting anywhere.” That thought is the very cause of restlessness. It doesn’t matter how the meditation is going in your opinion. Remember that contentment is the opposite of a faultfinding mind. You should develop the perception of contentment with whatever you have, wherever you are, as much as you can. Be absolutely content with your meditation and it will go deeper. If you’re dissatisfied with your progress, then you’re only making it worse. So learn to be content with the present moment. Forget about jhānas, just be content to be here and now, in this moment. As that contentment deepens, it will actually give rise to jhānas.

Watch the silence and be content to be silent. If you’re truly content, you don’t need to say anything. Don’t most inner conversations take the form of complaining, attempting to change things, or wanting to do something else? Or escaping into the world of thoughts and ideas? Thinking indicates a lack of contentment. If you’re truly contented, then you’re still and quiet. See if you can deepen your contentment, because it is the antidote for restlessness.

Even if you have an ache in the body and don’t feel well, you can change your perception and regard that as something quite fascinating, even beautiful. See if you can be content with the ache or pain. See if you can allow it to be. A few times during my life as a monk I have been in quite severe pain. Instead of trying to escape, which is restlessness, I turned my mind around to completely accept

the pain and be content with it. I have found that it is possible to be content with even severe pain. If you can do that, the worst part of the pain disappears along with the restlessness. There’s no wanting to get rid of it. You’re completely still with the feeling. The restlessness that accompanies pain is probably the worst part. Get rid of restlessness through contentment, and you can even have fun with pain.

Develop contentment with whatever you have—the present moment, the silence, the breath. Wherever you are, develop that contentment, and from that contentment—out of the very center of that contentment—you’ll find your meditation will deepen. So if you ever see restlessness in your mind, remember the word contentment. Contentment looks for what is right, and it can keep you still. But restlessness will always make you a slave. The tyrant is the faultfinding mind. Subdue this tyrant through contentment.

After you’ve overcome the more general forms of restlessness, a very refined form often occurs at the deeper stages of meditation. I am referring to the time when you first see a nimitta. Because of restlessness, you just can’t leave it alone. You mess around with it. You aren’t content with the nimitta as it appears right now. You want something more. You get excited. Restlessness is one of the hindrances that can easily destroy the nimitta. You’ve arrived already. You don’t have to do any more. Just leave it alone. Be content with it and it will develop by itself. That’s what contentment is—complete non-doing, just sitting there watching a nimitta blossom into a jhāna. If it takes an hour, if it takes five minutes, if it never even happens, you’re content. That’s the way to get into jhānas. If the nimitta comes and goes, that’s a sign of restlessness in the mind. If you can sustain attention effortlessly, restlessness has been overcome. 

The story of Angulimāla (MN 86)

Angulimāla was a serial killer. He killed 999 people. He cut off a finger from each of his victims and put them in a garland he hung around his neck. The one-thousandth victim was to be the Buddha but, of course, you can’t kill a buddha. Instead the Buddha “killed him,” killed his bad ways, killed his defilements. Angulimāla became a Buddhist monk. Even a serial killer like Angulimāla could achieve the jhānas and become fully enlightened. So have you ever killed anybody? Are you a serial killer? You probably haven’t done anything like that. If such people can become enlightened, surely you can. No matter what bad things you’ve done in your past or what you feel remorseful about, always remember Angulimāla. Then you won’t feel so bad about yourself.

Continued next week, September 24th 2021, with the Fifth Hindrance, Doubt (Vicikicchā).