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”

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.


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