'This is the direct path for the purification of beings. For the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation. The disappearance of pain and grief. And the realisation of nibanna.
Namely the four foundations of mindfulness.' - the Buddha
Foundation number one: Mindfulness of the body
- Awareness of the four postures: walking, standing, sitting, and lying down.
- Mindfulness of breathing. (anapana-sati)
- Sati-sampajanna. Awareness of the present moment. Knowing where one is. What one is doing. One's behaviour, of that which is appropriate, that which is non-delusion.
- Reflection on the 32 parts of the body:
Head hair, Body hair, Nails, Teeth, Skin
Flesh, Sinews, Bones, Bone Marrow, Kidneys
Heart, Liver, Diaphragm, Spleen, Lungs
Large Intestines, Small Intestines, Stomach, Faeces, Brain
Bile, Phlegm, Pus, Blood, Sweat, Fat
Tears, Grease, Saliva, Mucus, Oil of the Joints, Urine
- Analysis of the four elements: earth, water, fire, air. (Both within the body and outside the body.)
- The cemetery contemplations and marana-sati (mindfulness of death).
Foundation number two: Mindfulness of feelings
1. Mindfulness of pleasant feelings, mindfulness of neutral feelings, mindfulness of unpleasant feelings. Awareness of them both within oneself and within others.
2. Mindfulness of pleasant wordly feelings, neutral worldly feelings, unpleasant wordly feelings. Both within oneself and within others. I find contemplation of the eight worldly winds can be helpful here:
pain and pleasure,
gain and loss,
success and failure,
praise and blame.
3. Mindfulness of pleasant spiritual feelings, neutral spiritual feelings, and unpleasant spiritual feelings. Both within oneself and others. This is to do with the spiritual path and its fruits.
Awareness of the rising, flowing, and fading away of feelings.
Foundation number three: Mindfulness of the mind
Knowing when the mind is:
Greedy or not
Lustful or not
Angry or not
Hateful or not
Conceited or not
Selfish or not
Deluded or not
Confused or clear
Collected or scattered
Expansive or contracted
Developed or undeveloped
Meditating or not
In samhadi or not
Liberated or not
Awareness of the rising, flowing, and disappearance of these states of mind.
Foundation number four: Mindfulness of dhammas
1. The five hindrances to samhadi:
1. Longing, 2. aversion, 3. stagnation, 4. agitation, 5. doubt.
Awareness of the manifestation, origination, and disappearance of the five hindrances.
'And when one knows that these five hindrances have left the mind. Gladness arises, and from gladness comes delight, from delight one's body becomes tranquil, and with a tranquil body one feels happy.
And with happiness one's mind easily enters samhadi. And being thus detached from unwholesome states of mind one enters and remains in the first jhana...' - the Buddha (D. 2:75)
2. The five aggregates of clinging:
Identifying with the body.
Identifying with feelings.
Identifying with perceptions and memory.
Identifying with mental formations.
Identifying with consciousness.
Awareness of the manifestation, arising, and dissolution of the five aggregates of clinging.
3. The six external and six internal sense bases:
1. Eye and visual objects.
2. Ear and sounds.
3. Nose and smells.
4. Tongue and tastes.
5. Body and tangible objects.
6. Mind and mental objects.
Knowledge of them, of their arising, and the letting go of them. And through not clinging to them, the future non-arising of the fetters that originate dependent on both.
4. The seven factors of enlightenment:
Mindfulness -> Investigation of dhammas -> Energy (right effort) -> Joy -> Calm (serenity) -> Samhadi (deep stillness) -> Equanimity.
Knowledge of their presence, their arising, and their development.
5. The four noble truths
1. Knowledge of suffering (which is to be understood)
Old age, sickness and death is suffering.
Separation from those we love is suffering.
Identifying with the body, feelings, perceptions, memories, thoughts, ideas, moods/emotions, and consciousness is suffering.
Feeling regret and remorse for past actions is suffering.
Not getting what one wants is suffering.
Depression and fatigue is suffering.
Taking things personally is suffering.
and so on...
In short, clinging to and identifying with changing (impermanent) phenomena that is outside our control, is suffering. We are all fated to become separated from what we love and hold dear. None of us have the power to stop that. Everything is transient.
2. Knowledge of the cause of suffering (which is to be abandoned)
The three aspects of craving are the cause of suffering. The Buddha describes them as:
1. craving for sense-pleasures (kama-tanha), which feeds the defilement of greed.
2. craving for non-existence (vibhava-tanha), wishing for things to be different, wishing for something not to be, not to exist. This feeds the defilement of hate or aversion.
3. craving for existence (bhava-tanha). Feeds the defilement of delusion.
(N.b. Tanha is a Pali word often translated as either craving, thirst or desire.)
(N.b. II - The five links at the centre of dependent origination can be helpful to keep in mind here: .. sense impressions -> feelings -> craving -> clinging/identifying -> becoming ...)
When one has seen the sign of anicca (change and impermanence) at a deep level. It is hard to un-see it. It has a profound change on one. Wherever one looks, one sees the transient nature of things, and starts to naturally become disillusioned with materiality; and not as caught up by the things of the world anymore. One sees through it. Sometimes from bitter painful experience, by making poor choices and having to live with the results, which is part of learning too. Don't beat yourself up for that, we all do it. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we learn our greatest lessons from failure.
As one gets less ignorant and wises up, one stops clinging to things, realising it is changing phenomena that is outside one's control. And then the craving starts to fade.
And with non-attachment, letting things be, letting them go, cessation occurs.
3. Knowledge of the end of suffering (which is to be realised)
Lasting peace of mind and contentment. Freedom from suffering. The realisation of nibanna, the deathless. The happiness of no longer being driven around and harassed by the defilements: greed, aversion, and delusion. This stopping, this ceasing of tanha brings relief, and frees the mind of stress and sorrow.
The mind in its un-harassed original state is luminous, radiant like the sun coming out from the behind the clouds. (The clouds in this metaphor being greed, hate, and delusion.)
4. Knowledge of the way that leads to the end of suffering (Which is to be developed)
This is the noble eightfold path. The way that leads to the cessation of suffering. All the path factors are important. Leaving any of them out is like leaving out an important component of a motor vehicle, it won't start or be able to reach its destination if any are missing. All these parts need to work together in harmony.
1. Right view: in brief, mundane right view is knowing that good karma comes from thoughts, words, and actions of giving, kindness, and clear-seeing.
And bad karma comes from thoughts, words, and actions of greed, hate, and delusion.
Supra-mundane right view is the four noble truths. It's called supramundane because it is what leads to the four classical stages of enlightenment.
2. Right intention: Non ill-will, non-greed, non-cruelty. (The practise and cultivation of the brahma-viharas (The sublime abidings) is helpful here.)
3. Right speech: to speak truthfully, to avoid malicious and divisive speech, to refrain from harsh unkind speech, and to refrain from idle pointless speech.
4. Right action: To refrain from taking the life of any living creature. To refrain from taking that which is not given. To refrain from sexual misconduct.
5. Right livelihood: Having abandoned wrong livelihood. One continues to make one's living with right livelihood. This is an occupation or lifestyle that does not cause harm to one self or others.
6. Right effort:
In the words of the Buddha:
1. One generates the desire for the prevention of unwholesome states of mind by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and striving.
2. One generates the desire for the abandonment of unwholesome states of mind by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and striving.
3. One generates the desire for the arising of wholesome states of mind. By making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind, and striving.
4. One generates the desire for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase, and full development of wholesome states of mind. By making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind and striving.
Right effort is also about tuning the energy of effort and attention so it is niether too tight, nor too loose. One has to experiment and find a sweet spot that works just right. It is like tuning a musical instrument, when you get it in tune it makes sweet music and there is progress and flow.
7. Right mindfulness:
This is the four foundations of mindfulness.
Having removed longing and dejection in regard to the world.
1. One abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, clearly-comprehending (knowing), and mindful.
2. One abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent, clearly-comprehending, and mindful.
3. One abides contemplating mind, as mind, ardent, clearly-comprehending and mindful.
4. One abides contemplating dhammas as dhammas. Ardent, clearly-comprehending and mindful.
8. Right samhadi:
This is defined by the Buddha as the four jhanas. Four deep states of meditative absorption. The joy and pleasure described in the verses is a whole body experience. It is the feeling of the inner body.
1. First jhana: Quite secluded from the world, secluded from unwholesome states of mind (the five hindrances). One enters and remains in the first jhana. Which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought (or attention). And has the joy and pleasure born of seclusion (from the five hindrances).
(There is a bit of a wobble in the first jhana, as one keeps applying and sustaining attention to the meditation object. But after a time there comes a point when the attention becomes stable and centred with the object, then it becomes effortless. One can let go of the applied and sustained attention then, take off the stabilizers and just flow with the momentum as a mindful passenger. Mindfulness is what leads to the jhanas and remains present throughout them all.)
2. Second jhana: With the subsiding of applied and sustained thought. One enters and abides in the second jhana. Which is accompanied by self-confidence and unification of mind (deep composure). Is without applied and sustained thought and has the joy and pleasure born of samhadi.
3. Third jhana: With the fading away of joy. One abides in equanimity. And mindful, clearly-comprehending, still feeling pleasure in the body. One enters and abides in the third jhana. On account of which the nobles one say: 'One has a pleasant abiding, who has equanimity and is mindful.
4. Fourth jhana: With the dissolving of pain and pleasure, and the previous disappearance of sadness and joy. One enters and abides in the fourth jhana. Which has neither pleasure nor pain. And has mindfulness purified and born of equanimity.
Hopefully I haven't got any of that wrong. I am going from memory. This is something I chant to myself every now and then to remember the practise, it is an evolving chant, that changes and grows as I learn more.
But I find it helpful to go over what I have learnt like this. It can also help bring some faith, courage, energy and determination when I feel disheartened, or lack the motivation to practise.
After some lengthy chanting like this, it can feel easier to settle into meditation. It is a bit like sweeping the floor of the mind to make it more inclined towards samhadi.
I take up the training to be truthful.
And to speak from a deep place within.
To listen from there as well.
May I always receive others with a warm presence.
So they feel comfortable speaking their truth.
Truth is the antidote to delusion.
If there is no honesty when looking at the mind,
not much progress can be made on the spiritual path.
May I transform all these feelings of regret
for lies I've told in the past.
Into wisdom, that informs my discernment here and now.
Let me only speak the truth if it is kind, beneficial, and appropriate;
Otherwise let me wholeheartedly practise noble silence.
May I have the mindfulness and discernment
to know the right time to speak;
and the right time to remain silent.
The power of a truth can heal. There are stories in the suttas where the Buddha's disciples spoke or chanted a truth to people who were sick, (one time this included the Buddha himself when he was sick) and the power of that truth healed them.
The power of a spiritual truth can have a healing effect on the mind and body.
How does one know such a truth?
Because it resonates deep within,
Rings your entire being like a bell.
When a person hears a truth like this it can heal them.
Feel quite depressed today. The fatigue is overwhelming, tried to meditate but it was hopeless, I just can't seem to do it when I feel like this. I don't know what to do when I feel like this. I feel tired of everything.
I know the Buddha was right about the four noble truths. But for some reason I just really struggle with the practise. I guess I'm just not noble. I am trying, my heart wants to get there, but greed, aversion, and delusion is not easy to remove from the mind.
I am growing increasingly jaded about everything, even the spiritual. It is so hard to generate and feel joy at the moment. Yesterday I got so angry about stuff. I felt disheartened, and thought I should be better than that, I am a Buddhist and I have been practising this for a few years now and I know better, yet I couldn't seem to help the angry outbursts. It is the same with greed, It is like there is an override switch in the mind and I can't help but grab an extra handful of peanuts, or say yes to intoxicants. I really hate the fifth precept, I enjoy intoxicants and wish the Buddha hadn't created that precept. I do not enjoy being sober. Even with meditation, its not as good as getting high.
I doubt I will get enlightened in this life. I think I might be a bodhisattva. I keep seeing signs of this, and I had a spontaneous moment of what is called bodhicitta, many years ago, before I even knew about the Buddha's teachings. I want my enlightenment to be for the benefits of as many beings as possible; yet at the same time I feel reluctant to spend aeons perfecting my character so I can become a Buddha one day. I am really tired of existence now, I long for nibanna. I am starting to see that existence itself is suffering. Yet I do care for the Earth and other beings. But I also see I am identifying with this and that is delusion.
I need to practise some single-pointed attention and get away from the thought energies and the world. It is so hard to do this when I am fatigued, but I can't sleep either, so I am stuck in this limbo of being unable to find any relief from this unpleasant state of mind. Then I remember the four noble truths:
Knowledge of suffering (which is to be understood)
This is suffering alright, this is how it feels to suffer.
Knowledge of the cause of suffering (which is to be abandoned)
The three kinds of craving: greed, aversion, and the self.
greed is the desire to acquire something
aversion is the desire for things to be different than what they are
delusion is the desire to become something; or to not become something. The way we identify with things and take it all personally. This is also to do with the desire for existence, the conceit: I am.
Yes those three are definitely in the mind just now, and I can see that suffering arises from them. So how does one abandon them?
Well first off I should stop judging the contents of the mind, as that is not helpful and is actually feeding the unwholesome problem of aversion. I reflect some more... craving for intoxicants is present in the mind which is unpleasant and dissatisfying... there is aversion towards the default consciousness as it feels like a prison and inhibited, dull and there is this feeling of wanting to hammer a masonry nail through my temples... there's a longing for things to be different... and delusion is present in the mind. I am taking it all personally, identifying with it, making it into a story of self, there is the conceit I am, I exist.
I need to stop fighting it, let it be, but that doesn't mean I should continue to go along with it either. I can give it room to be there without judging it or identifying with it, and just gently abandon it, by placing my attention somewhere else. This mood is not something that can be solved intellectually, whatever I think about will be coloured by my mood. So thoughts are not helpful now, I must withdraw from the thought processes and settle the mind. Try to find some equanimity and let go of the craving, the clinging and identifying.
The body feels unpleasant to pay attention to at the moment, it aches, there's pain and the fatigue is unbearable. So I decide to use space as a meditation object, be anchored with the sense of space, let the thoughts, sensations and feelings continue, but choose not to react to them. infinite space is large enough to contain everything, but is not the things it contains.
This sort of helps me to find the resolve to sit and meditate. At first it is not easy. I feel aversion towards meditation sometimes, especially when depressed. So I have to endure the taints, the greed, aversion, and delusion, and make a determintation to sit there very still and not follow it or get involved with it. Keep returning my attention to the meditation object.
It is hard, and takes a while, but there comes a point when the longing, aversion and self-centredness starts to dissolve and then the mind becomes more still and starts to enjoy the stillness, and the restlessness calms and the mind doesn't want to be any place else. The sense of self disappears, there is just change, energy flowing from one moment to the next, time is change. This thing I call a self is just a flow of processes brought about by causes and conditions. It feels good to forget the self, I realise I am one with the universe, I am made out of elements that come from the universe, I am not separate from the universe, I am not separate from nature.
Knowledge of the end of suffering (Which is to be realised)
I notice greed, aversion and delusion is no longer present in the mind. I feel the relief that comes from this. To no longer be driven around by desire, to just stop. How wonderful it feels when the mind stops harrassing itself. I ask myself what is nibanna? What is the unconditioned? The deathless? The Buddhist suttas define it as the mind unhindered by greed, hate, and delusion. Nibanna is the end of suffering. The end of craving. It is an element that is always here, it doesn't go anywhere when the Buddha's teachings disappear, but it takes a Buddha to find a way to realise it again when the dhamma gets forgotten.
Knowledge of the way that leads to the end of suffering (Which is to be developed)
I notice after the meditation that slowly but surely the craving and conditioning starts to come back again. It was only a temporary relief, oh and there is the self again... I am not yet fully liberated from suffering. This is going to take time and I will have to be patient. The way out of suffering is the noble eightfold path. This is what needs to be developed:
This is the law of karma, that good karma comes from thoughts, words and actions of generosity, kindness and clarity. Bad karma comes from thoughts, words, and actions of greed, hate, and delusion.
Supramundane right view is the four noble truths. They lead to the four paths and fruits of enlightenment.
Sometimes called right thought. The three right intentions are: intention of non-greed, intention of non ill-will, and intention of non-cruelty
Is to abstain from false speech, to refrain from divisive and harmful speech, to refrain from harsh and unkind speech, and to refrain from pointless time-wasting speech.
To abstain from taking the life of any living creature. To abstain from taking what is not given. To abstain from sexual misconduct.
One should abandon wrong livelihood and take up right livelihood. Earn a living that does not cause harm to oneself or others. It can also be lifestyle, as some people are retired or out of work for other reasons. So right lifestyle is another way of looking at it. One should live comfortably, and avoid the extremes of austerity as that can generate aversion and agitation in the mind. But one should also be careful not to over indulge in luxury as that can generate greed and laziness in the mind. Find a middle way as best one can with one's circumstances.
These are the four right efforts
1. One generates the desire to prevent unwholesome states of mind arising, by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind and persevering. To do this one avoids unwise attention to the attractive and unwise attention to the fault (both in oneself and in others). Nip it in the bud before it takes over the mind. Stop trouble before it starts.
2. Should an unwholesome state of mind arise, then one generates the desire to abandon that unwholesome state of mind by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind and persevering. Sometimes this is merely a dismissal and it is gone, and other times it needs to be brought down in stages.
Unwholesome states of mind here refer to the five hindrances: greed, aversion, dullness/laziness, agitation, and doubt.
3. One generates the desire for the arising of wholesome states of mind by making effort rousing energy, exerting one's mind and persevering.
4. One generates the desire for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase and full development of wholesome states of mind, by making effort, rousing energy, exerting one's mind and persevering.
Wholesome states of mind refer to the seven factors of enlightenment: mindfulness, interest and investigation of right view, effort and energy, joy, calmness and serenity, samhadi, equanimity.
Other wholesome states of mind to cultivate are kindness, generosity, friendliness, sorrowless empathy, joy in the happiness of others.
This is the four foundations of mindfulness.
Having removed longing and dejection in regard to the world. One abides contemplating the body as the body, ardent clearly comprehending and mindful.
One abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful.
One abides contemplating states of mind, as states of mind, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful.
One abides contemplating dhammas as dhammas, ardent clearly comprehending and mindful.
The Buddha defines right samhadi as the four jhanas, or four stages of meditative absorption.
Quite secluded from worldly pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states of mind (the five hindrances). One enters and abides in the first jhana. Which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought. And has the rapture and pleasure born of seclusion from the world and the five hindrances.
With the subsiding of applied and sustained thought. One enters and abides in the second jhana. Which is accompanied by self-confidence and unification of mind. Is without applied and sustained thought. And has the rapture and pleasure born of samhadi.
With the fading away of rapture. One abides in equanimity. And mindful, clearly-comprehending, still feeling pleasure with the body. One enters and abides in the thrid jhana. On account of which the noble ones say: 'One has a pleasant abiding who has equanimity and is mindful.'
With the subsiding of pain and pleasure. And the previous disappearance of sadness and joy. One enters and abides in the fourth jhana. Which has neither pleasure nor pain. And has mindfulness purified and born of equanimity.
These four stages of meditation must not be rushed. The Buddha recommends mastering each stage before moving on to the next. Right samhadi is a difficult factor of the path to learn and master, it is also one of the fruits of the path. Indeed I am still trying to learn this one, which is why I have not written about the eighth factor of the path yet. When I am more experienced with right samhadi I will right an article about it one day. Apparently even people at the first and second stages of enlightenment find right samhadi challenging. It is not until one reaches the third stage of enlightenment that one can successfully enter and remain in the jhanas at will. Which makes me think the jhanas are an important skill for completely removing greed and aversion from the mind. From there delusion is also weakened significantly, but doesn't go away completely until the fourth and final stage of enlightenment is reached.
Sorry for this long piece of writing. I think this will be the last thing I write for a while.
Peace and love
One trick Buddhist monks apparently have for helping them learn breath meditation is to put some menthol under their nostrils (-:
I accidently did this today when doing an olbas oil inhalation to help with my sinuses. I accidently got some under my nostrils, and can confirm it does make breath meditation more interesting, and also seemed to help a little bit with the brain fog.
I am not sure olbas oil is the best thing to put under the nose though, must research some skin-friendly alternatives (-:
Went out for a walk in the rain. Felt like there was a horse race of thoughts going on in my head. I watched them patiently, and noticed how I felt as well, how the thoughts affect the body; and vice versa how the body affects the thoughts. I felt restless and agitated, anxiety was present in the mind, and I noted how unpleasant these feelings are. Suffering feels like this.
I observed that the cause of it was once again thoughts to do with greed, hatred, and delusion. I reflected on what is meant by delusion, and there was this Aha! moment and I suddenly saw that the root of all delusion is the conceit: I am.
I noticed then that whenever I felt suffering present in the mind, thoughts about the self were also present. This mental construct we carry around with us like a heavy suitcase: the self. It is unpleasant, it is stressful, bossy as well, has all these wants and needs, and resentments, it is tiring having a self... and... how nice it feels when one puts it down like a heavy bag one has been carrying without realising. How pleasant it feels to stop identifying with things, to stop taking things personally, to stop longing, to stop feeling angry. How happy it is to forget the self. I think the happiest moments in my life are when I have forgotten the self.
I then reflect there never actually was a self, it was all a mental construct, an illusion, when one looks closely at it, it can't stand up to the light of day. But the sense of self is still needed to function in the world, so I must use it like a tool to survive; but how nice it feels to not cling to it, to not identify with it anymore (-:
I think that's the reason for the dark night, to see the self for what it is which can be hard to see; but then it is liberating, when one sees how it is this clinging to this delusion of self that causes us suffering, and the realisation that one doesn't have to hold onto it, it is perfectly okay to let go of it, because it was never there in the first place.
Nibanna (Nirvana) is an element that is always here, it always has been here, and always will be. Another name for it is 'the deathless' because unlike conditioned phenomena it is permanent, it never ceases, and it is unaffected by change. Another name for it is the unconditioned.
The noble eightfold path is the training that frees the mind from greed, hatred, and delusion. Which then enables one to experience the deathless, nibanna.
The knowledge of nibanna disappears and gets forgotten in time though, and it can remain unknown for very long stretches of time. And then apparently it takes a Buddha, a Tathagatha to re-discover it and teach other beings how to experience it again.
I like the metaphor of the mind being like a garden.
In the beginning, gardening involves effort. One has to choose the seeds carefully, prepare the soil, ensure the conditions are right for those seeds. Plant them, water them, nuture the seedlings that sprout, protect them from predators, and keep the young plants safe until they are big and strong enough to take care of themselves. These are the seeds of non-greed, non-hate, non-delusion.
At the same time there are many dormant seeds in the soil from a previous garden, a previous existence. And when these sprout, these are the weeds that have to be removed from the garden; because if nothing is done about them, they will eventually take over, become difficult to manage, and create a canopy of leaves that shade the garden and starve the plants you are trying to cultivate of light, water and nutriment. These weeds are greed, hatred, and delusion. And they sprout from the seeds of longing, aversion, and ignorance.
In the beginning one has to put in the right causes and conditions for the garden to grow and flourish. This involves a sense of self, the ego. The ego is the gardener, and one uses that sense of self, that craving for becoming to do the gardening project.
If the work is not fully done in time for the ending of the seasons and the death of winter. Whatever seeds are in the soil at the end, will sprout to become the next garden, our new life in the Spring.
If we have cultivated non-greed, non-hate, non-delusion, even if a few seeds of greed, hate, and delusion remain and manage to sprout in the next garden. The weeding will be easier and less onerous than before; and the seeds of non-greed, non-hate, non-delusion will be present in the soil in larger quantities, and they will also sprout to greet us on the other side, and be hardier and easier to cultivate, much stronger and better at defending themselves and holding their own.
It can be a gradual process that may take many seasons. But eventually there will come a point when enough effort has been made. The garden has flowered and born fruit. and from that point the garden will be able to take care of itself; then the gardener will no longer be needed and the ego can step aside. Greed, hate, and delusion will never take root in the mind again. And what is left is peace and the end of suffering. Nibanna.
I quite like looking at it like that (-:
I am learning how to notice my moods better, and if my state of mind is unwholesome, I will look at what my thoughts are doing. And like a shepherd guarding his sheep, I try to steer them back in the right direction, towards the wholesome. Towards non-greed, non-hatred, non-delusion.
I use the word 'non' because there are many wholesome mind states that are not greed, hate, or delusion. And it is helpful to have many wholesome states to choose from. It can be tiring to feel kind, loving, or joyful all the time, and that's alright, because there are other wholesome states one can cultivate and use instead. It is good to have a wide palette to choose from and experiment with.
If my thoughts have strayed into the territory of greed, hate, and delusion, depending on the mood I am in, steering them away from those fields, can be as simple as interrupting the herd of thoughts with a gentle nudge, whereupon they will immediately stop what they are doing and happily go back in the right direction.
Other times it can involve the need to talk the thoughts into wanting to go back in the right direction, which means learning ways of talking to myself that helps to change the state of mind I am in, this sometimes results in me giving myself a dhamma talk, or writing an article like this. Or if I am not feeling I can do anything like that, I will use the voice of another, ( i.e. listen to a dhamma talk, a podcast, read an article or book) and use their voice to talk me into a better state of mind.
But there are times when my thoughts can be racing and chaotic. And then it is like trying to shepherd a stampeding herd of buffalo. On those occasions I will practise something I dub the megaphone technique.
Named after scenes in movies where there's a crowd of people all talking loudly and at once. Perhaps they are excited about something, or argueing over this and that, perhaps they're panicking. Someone then walks into the middle of the group with a megaphone and makes it squeek loudly and everyone suddenly stops talking and turns to face the person with the megaphone.
My megaphone is to attempt to become aware of all the bodily sensations happening at once in the present moment, and flood the mind with these sense impressions, and keep bringing my attention back to this experience, so that I am constantly interrupting the thought processes with this sensory overload. It can work, and help bring some relief and composure back to the mind.
There are other megaphones that also work, some are gentle, such as surrounding myself with the colour red, yellow, or blue, like an aura. Some soothing like paying attention to the air element, or water element, the solidity of earth, the warmth and energy of the body, or just being aware of my feet, hands, or any part of the body that feels better than being in the head.
It's basically just something to distract the mind and help it settle into a more tranquil state and regain some composure. Tranquility is a wholesome state of mind. One can be creative with this. These examples are just things that work for me, everyone should experiment and find what helps them. It is our subjective experience that matters here, forget about trying to make it fit in with any scientific theory, this exercise isn't about that. It is about taking what comes naturally to us, and making it into something supernatural.
Sometimes the thoughts don't respond well to anything, so I will let them continue in the background, but choose not to let them bother me, I become unattached to them. I choose not to judge them, not to follow them or identify with them. Just let them be, like background noise, and choose to place my attention on something else that is happening in awareness, something in the present moment that helps bring some peace and composure back to the mind, and then I can focus on a task at hand better without feeling harrassed by the thought processes.
The ability to choose where we place our attention is something we can all learn. And it is an aspect of the mind we can have some control over. It is also useful to learn how to tune the energy of attention so it is neither too forceful, nor too lax. Like cupping a little bird in your hand, if you cup it too tightly it will hurt the bird; but if you cup it too loosely it will fly away. How do you make attention comfortable and stable. How do you get into a flow? How do you keep the mind interested in something so that attention wants to stay there willingly and not want to be anywhere else? That's the questions we have to ask ourselves if we want to train the mind.
It is challenging, so remember to cut yourself some slack. Try not to compare yourself with others, be okay with where you're at in your practise. Don't judge others or yourself when failure happens, which it will. And if another judges you, just remember that other people's practise is their practise. Some people have been at this a while and are advanced. Others are just starting out. We are all at different levels, and that's okay, let others be where they're at, and concentrate on your own practice. Go at your own pace. Be comfortable with where you're at. That is where you come from and meet the world. Development is a gradual process, and that's okay, it isn't a race, nobody gets extra brownie points for getting there before anyone else, the prize at the end, nibanna, is exactly the same experience for everyone. If you persevere in a way that doesn't stress or break the mind, you will get there, in your own time, in a way that works for you. It is important not to strain the mind, to take care of it, rest it, nurture it, to be gentle, be kind to it, a friend, it is not your enemy, it is where you live. If you are making progress you are making progress. Whether that progress is fast or slow doesn't matter. Enlightenment is not a race or a competition. It is a gift that you give to yourself, and noone else can give it to you. Others can guide you, share their wisdom, but the onus is on you to do the work, noone else can.
Mindfulness of the mind (citta-anupassanä)
The third foundation of right mindfulness is about being aware of our state of mind, our mood, emotions, attitude.
It is a wonder that the human mind is able to look at itself and know its state at all. That it is able to both observe itself and act at the same time. In Buddhism there are six senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind. The sixth sense is called the mind sense because it is able to look at itself. The mind can be detached from the five senses of the body, but it cannot be detached from itself.
Consciousness happens in distinct and discrete moments, but happens so fast that it gives the impression those separate moments are happening at the same time. And perhaps what is happening when the mind is watching itself, is there is a discrete moment of consciousness, followed closely by another where the mind is noting that moment of consciousness, like the mind playing a game of tennis with itself.
These mind moments are always changing, and the feeling of there being a permanent observer watching the mind is just an illusion, the observer is not really there, it is just a transitory conscious moment in a sequence of discrete causal events. A stream of conscious moments with no substantial self behind it. Not me, not mine, not self.
Thankfully the Buddha keeps the task of watching the mind simple and advises us to keep track of just eight states of mind and their opposites. He teaches us to note whether the mind is:
- greedy or not,
- hateful or not,
- deluded or not,
- collected or scattered,
- developed or undeveloped,
- surpassable (easily overcome) or unsurpassable (invincible),
- in lucid stillness (samhadi) or not,
- liberated or not.
The Buddha purposely says greedy or not, hateful or not, deluded or not, because there are many wholesome emotional states that are not greedy, hateful, or deluded. So one can replace the word 'not' with any of those.
The Buddha advises one to note the manifestation, arising and passing away of these states of mind, as well as to contemplate these states of mind internally and externally. I think when he says internally and externally he means to contemplate and understand the state of mind of other beings as well as one's own.
However one should remember that just mere awareness and noting states of mind is not all there is to this practise. Noting can be helpful in the beginning to help one become aware of these states of mind and get skilled at spotting them quickly. But ultimately one is training to remove these negative states of mind altogether and bring into being wholesome ones to replace them, such as the seven factors of enlightenment which is covered in the fourth foundation of mindfulness.
Much of our suffering comes from these negative states of mind. In fact the cause of suffering is greed, hatred, and delusion. And the end of suffering, nibbana is when these three poisons have been permanently removed from the mind. When the mind is no longer harrassed by greed, hate, and delusion it is luminous and shines like the moon that comes out from behind the clouds.
To free the mind is no small task though. It is challenging, as these tendencies of the mind are strong, and they will resist your efforts to remove them, so one has to do this gradually and pace oneself. Avoid straining the mind by exerting too much effort, as this is counterproductive and will lead to more harm, more suffering. This path is not a quick fix, it takes time and patience, and perseverence. So be gentle with yourself, be compassionate and kind. There has to be some effort, else nothing will change, but too much effort will cause burnout and psychological distress. So one needs to tune the effort so it doesn't strain the mind nor make one lazy and unmotivated. Those negative states will keep coming back over and over, and often one's progress and development comes from making mistakes, from one's failures. So don't be hard on oneself for not being perfect and not knowing everything, just keep persevering and being patient. Learn from mistakes and try try try again. As one makes progress and gets more developed, one gets faster at removing and replacing these negative states, until it becomes like second nature, and then a new habit structure of the mind is formed and then one becomes unsurpassable.
The Buddha said that anger is a great stain on the personality but fairly easy to get rid of. Greed is a lesser stain on the personality and hard to get rid of. Delusion is both a great stain on the personality and very hard to get rid of.
Anger is painful, so it is easier to motivate oneself to get rid of anger, it is always accompanied by an unpleasant feeling. Anger can arise from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and ideas in the world around one. And the world can try to make one angry on purpose. It will say you should be angry about this, angry about that, why aren't you angry? If you are not then there must be something wrong with you. Everyone else is angry about it, you should be too. There can be pressure sometimes socially to be angry. But one does not have to follow the rest of the world. You do not have to reflect the world or other people's anger. The Buddhist path is all about how you feel, are you suffering or not? To feel anger and hatred is suffering. There's enough anger and hatred, enough suffering in the world, why add to it. One is actually doing a service to the world when in the midst of all the craziness, anger, and hatred, one remains serene, at ease, and filled with loving-kindness and compassion.
Greed is hard to remove and is also a bit trickier to spot as it is a mix of pain and pleasure. Greed here is a general term that also covers lust and craving for intoxicants.There is pain in wanting something and not getting it, but there is also gratification when one does get what one wants, even though that gratification is transient, it is still not easy to motivate the mind to get rid of greed. Again the world will be advertising, pushing the buttons of craving, telling you that you need this or that, that your life is not complete without something it is trying to sell you. But again one does not have to be greedy, does not have to want these things, can find contentment without them. Even if the rest of society thinks you are strange for not wanting those things. One has to look at the drawbacks of greed, how hard one has to work for worldly-pleasures, how expensive they are, how the material things you accumulate can be taken away from you by others, how they are impermanent, can break and don't last, how they do not lead to lasting happiness, how it all leads to misery in the end, all that is beloved and pleasing to us will become otherwise, one is fated to become separated from all one loves and holds dear. If one is serious about ending suffering, one has to decide: do you want money, sex, and intoxicants? Or do you want enlightenment?
Delusion is the root of both anger and greed. And delusion comes from ignorance. In Buddhism it is knowledge of the four noble truths and the deep understanding of them which brings wisdom and deliverance from ignorance.
Samhadi or lucid stillness, is a state of mind where greed, hatred, and delusion is temporarily suspended, it is not permanent and the negative mind states will return, but in samhadi one gets a taste of what the mind is like when it is not being harrassed by these psychic irritants. Right samhadi is a composed state of mind, serene, wholehearted, lucid and still. A mind collected and unified, the connection to big mind and divine consciousness, and the next factor of the noble eightfold path. Right mindfulness takes you to the doorstep of right samhadi and also stays throughout the experience of it.
I will stop here as I am feeling a bit tired and think perhaps I have written enough for a brief summary of what I am learning. Mindfulness of the mind should always be practised in the context of the noble eightfold path and not separate from it. All factors of the path must be practised together to reach the destination. If any of the factors are left out, the vehicle to nibanna won't work.
May you feel safe, well, happy, and peaceful.
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