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The Essence of Mindfulness is Continuity


Te Moata, New Zealand, November 2013

Translation from Burmese by Ma Thet and transcription and editing by ?

How to meditate

We have helpful and unhelpful qualities of mind [citta could be translated, heart/mind]. Meditation is using sati, awareness, to grow and strengthen the good qualities of mind. 

There’s the object, ‘what you know’ and there’s the mind, ‘that does the knowing’. Meditation is the work of the mind, not of the objects. In the Satipatthana Sutta, four objects are talked about: body, feelings, mind and dhammas [you could call dhammas nature i.e. all phenomena]. These are all objects, the objects are always there. What’s not always there is awareness; a mind that is knowing all these objects, or samadhi; a steady or stable mind, or right effort to be aware; the natural effort from confidence in the practice or wisdom.

The biggest mistake is practicing with our defilements – greed, aversion and delusion. When we practice with these qualities – unnoticed in our mind – they are how we practice. 

 

The Three qualities that do the work of meditation

The first quality that does the work is awareness itself. Do you know you’re sitting? Do you know you can see? How much energy does it require to know these things? Is that knowing tiring or difficult? We use a light awareness because we’re going to do it all day long. 

The essence of mindfulness is continuity; there is no time not to be mindful. Use a lot of energy and you’ll run out of energy; learn to use only what’s necessary. 

The mind experiences objects at the six sense doors. There’s no seventh sense object, just sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and mind. When you use awareness of these sense objects to develop good qualities of mind i.e. awareness, right effort to be aware, then you’re meditating.

Five of the object types are physical; one of them is the mind. When you know you’re seeing hearing, thinking, feeling etc, you’re mindful. Just notice, don’t put in more energy; look at it lightly and see what happens next. The difference between someone who’s mindful, and someone who’s not, is recognition of experience. We want to grow wholesome, skillful states of mind (i.e. awareness, right effort to be mindful, wisdom e.g. right attitude or recognizing wrong attitude), if defilements grow we’re practicing unskillfully. 

The second quality is samadhi. The English word ‘concentrated’ is a bit too strong (concentration in English actually refers to a combination of sati, viriya and samadhi in Pali i.e. mind is paying attention, making right unforced effort and is steady) so I call samadhi stability or steadiness of mind. Samadhi is a wholesome skillful state of mind, the cause of the steadiness is right attitude or right view. 

The third quality is effort. We need to make effort but we generally use too much energy. We want a result but so much of what we think say or do is motivated by the habit of greed. 

 

Right View

Right view is the most important aspect of meditation.

Right view and right thought together are right attitude; get these right, wise, or skilful, and the whole path will be wise. When you don’t have right view then wrong view is automatically there. Wrong view is attaching to experience as me or mine.

Right view of experience is viewing it as nature because nature isn’t personal; it’s cause and effect; view anything you experience as a natural event happening. What you’re experiencing, AND also the minds that are being aware, all that is nature. Is heat you? No, heat is just heat. Anything natural is neither good nor bad, it just is. 

Is quiet or loud better? When there’s judgement or preference the mind reacts if the opposite happens. Which is better: less thinking, or a lot of thinking? Actually, sound is sound, thinking is thinking, it’s nature. No pain and pain; when we think no pain is better, then every time there’s pain we don’t like it, and defilements get a chance to come in – because we had some wrong view.

  photo credit:   Tomasz Swinarski

photo credit: Tomasz Swinarski

The concept of ‘the object’

The object is that which is being known. In meditation ‘being an object’ becomes the nature of everything that’s being known. Because all it’s being is ‘an object that is being known’, it can’t be judged as being good or bad; all it is, is being known. When it’s quiet, you can know quietness, when it’s noisy you can know noisiness. It’s just being known, it’s neither good nor bad. 

When there’s pain, you know pain, when there is no pain you know there is no pain. Again it’s just an object. When somebody understands that something is just an object, because it’s being known, they don’t feel upset when there’s pain or any other unpleasantness. They celebrate that awareness is present.

Defilements are prevented when wisdom or understanding is there. The point of meditation is the arising of more wisdom because the more we understand the less the defilements are able to arise. Defilements are also objects; because we can know them there’s no need to fear them. Just know that they’re there and they’re a tool to develop more wisdom through watching them and understanding them. 

Whatever happens when you’re meditating, let it be, things are just happening, the objects have nothing to do with you. Everything that arises in the present moment is the result of conditions and causes. What you’re experiencing now is a result that you can’t change because you can’t change the past. What you can do in the present moment is act and your action will be to be mindful and bring in right view. To learn, we need to observe objectively. 

Insight-meditation is a learning process. You’re not going to try to control your experience, you’re not going to try to have good experiences or not have bad experiences, you’re just going to see what is happening as it is and see if you can stay with it. If you’re continuously aware you’ll learn from what is happening.

Right effort is patience and perseverance. Don’t use a lot of energy but keeping going. When you’re practicing steadily, unforced and with patience, you’ll get more energised. The longer you practice the more energised you’ll feel. If you’re getting stressed or tired something’s going wrong, stop and check; what’s the mind thinking? What’s the mind saying? What's the mind doing? What attitude has crept in?

Generally, when we have good experiences in meditation, we think it’s good meditation and when it’s difficult we don’t think it’s good meditation. When there's right practice, there's a sense of wanting to explore even difficult experiences. You’ll enjoy right practice, you’ll want to keep practicing. All experience can lead to good meditation which means that awareness continues with right view.

Don’t get over involved with what you’re watching. We take what we’re experiencing as the thing, but really, the meditation is the awareness. Am I aware now? If yes, then I’m meditating. We forget to check how we are being aware. Take a step back. Am I aware? What’s the quality of my awareness?

Someone asked, “when I go on retreat, my mind becomes calm after 3-4 days, what made it calm down?” His mind had been working for 3-4 days at being mindful; it’s how the mind works that makes it still or agitated. If, over 3-4 days, the yogi had used too much effort or had wrong attitude, he wouldn’t be peaceful. Right practice brings the right result; if we don’t do the right practice we can’t benefit fully from the practice. And to do the right practice we have to learn about the mind that is practising, by recognising how the mind works, what attitudes and views make it work well or not.

When does the mind practice well? When does it not practice well? We have to find out for ourselves how to practice right. When we don’t check our mindfulness and know whether it’s skilful or not, then it’s difficult to steady the practice. It’s not enough to know the objects, we need to remember the mind. 

The mind can be a little tricky to know, because it has no location, shape or colour, it’s not solid. So, how do you recognise the mind? Where do you look? At your heart? Or your head? We experience the mind through its activity, we know when the mind does something. You have a mind? Are you sure? What experience makes you say that you have a mind? When it thinks, you know that there’s a mind, when it feels you know there’s mind. There’s hunger and there’s wanting to eat, two different things. Hunger happens in the body, wanting to eat happens in the mind. Can you know the intensity of the eagerness to eat? 

The mind is that which knows, thinks and pays attention. We don’t have to do much because the mind is already doing it, that is its nature. We need to be aware to recognise the mind at work. In every moment the mind knows an object. If we're aware we’ll know that the mind knows something. If we’re not aware we just carry on, the mind knows but we don’t know that the mind knows.

 

Thinking

You can’t make the mind not think, if you try you’ll use a lot of energy. People use a lot of energy because they’re afraid of their thoughts; we get lost in our thoughts, we get sucked in. If we pay too much attention, using too much energy we become zombies and then the mind can’t think well. We can block thoughts artificially with concentration practice but that results in zombie behavior. Don’t be afraid of thinking, know the process of thought. Every moment of recognition is awareness. Don’t look at the story – the content – of the thoughts, recognize, ‘the mind is thinking’. The story is concept, what’s happening is thinking, look at the nature of what’s happening. Initially you might find that that’s difficult. The mind’s habit is to know the story and soon you’re lost in the story. When you recognize this, know, ‘the mind is thinking’ then gently bring attention to something obvious in the body, then the thought again, then the body. Don’t focus too much, relax, then you’ll notice your thoughts. When we’re not meditating we often don’t know we’re thinking. Then when we sit and meditate, suddenly the mind seems full of thoughts. When you know that, it means you’re aware.

There’s no wrong experience; everything can help us be aware and steady and grow our wisdom – if you have the right attitude. Without right view you’ll be upset by your experience. You’ll be angry if there’s noise, upset if there are thoughts, if there is pain – if you don’t have the right attitude. Without right attitude it’s difficult to develop steadiness. You build up a lot of samadhi during the morning then one bit of irritation and it’s gone. If you can’t handle defilements i.e. have right view towards them, you can’t maintain steadiness.

When you practice dhammanupassana (essentially this is a stage of understanding so these understandings are flowing in naturally) – the last foundation of mindfulness – everything is nature and all five hindrances become objects. You observe them in order to become free of them. That’s only possible if you don’t take it personally, when you look at it as nature. You look at it to figure out what is happening.

Chinese or American anger is still just anger; you need to understand that anger is nature and then you won’t feel like being angry. We can use concentration to suppress a defilement but it’s only temporary. When we let up on concentration, the defilements come up again with added force like a jack-in-a-box. 

Even if it’s a filthy disgusting mind, if you know it, that’s good. In that moment because you know, there’s right view, there’s steadiness, there’s wisdom. If the knowing has wisdom, the defilements will arise, be known and go. With right view, the defilements can’t take root.

When we’re still for a long time discomfort arises, that’s nature, not a problem. The mind doesn’t like it because that’s its habit. You can’t change that habit immediately. When you dislike someone and you keep thinking about them you get more upset every time you look at, or think about them. Pain is like that, if we look at it we’ll get more upset -remember this formula. 

If the mind has liking or disliking toward an object, that's when it isn’t yet a meditation object. It’s like having coloured glasses on. You like blue glasses, everything becomes a nice blue. You’ve got on red glasses that you don’t like, everything becomes red. You won’t see that ‘it is what it is’ because the mind is biased.

If you look at a flower, you keep looking because you like it. Look at the like or dislike feeling and not the flower (which has now become the object of the liking mind). Watch till the like/dislike subsides and then at the sense object again and see how the mind views it now. You’ll begin to understand how perception colours the experience. When the mind has anger, everything is irritating. When the mind has metta everything is cute.

When we’re angry the person is irritating, when we’re happy we love them. We think that the experiences have a life of their own but with right view, they’re nature. When the mind is not purified – through right view – it can’t understand. 

Now you know how to be aware, relax, be aware with just enough energy. Don’t tire yourself out with practicing. Whether body or mind doesn’t matter, be aware of yourself continuously.