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Re-energize the Mind with Continuous Mindfulness

Perth Retreat, 30 Nov 2013

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

Meditating mind and the object

In meditation, there are 2 parts: the mind and the object. The object doesn’t do the work of meditation; it is not our body that does the meditation, it is our mind. Bhavana means meditation, but it also means the work of the mind. 4 kinds of objects are described in the scriptures: body, feeling, mind and nature. Another way of thinking of the objects is our sense objects. We have 6 sense objects - the 5 physical sense objects: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and the mental object – they are already present. So, what Sayadaw wants to talk more about is actually what the mind does in meditation. 

What the mind does in meditation

How do we use our mind when meditating? In the mind 5 qualities – awareness, effort, concentration, faith and wisdom - will work to enable meditation. How does awareness work? How much awareness, how do you become aware, etc.? Awareness actually means remembering and not forgetting yourself; also not forgetting what is wholesome, what is right. So, to have awareness, we don’t need a lot of effort. 

Relaxed awareness

The kind of awareness that Sayadaw is talking about is more easily understood if we use words like recognize or remember. That’s the spirit of awareness that he’s talking about, not so much concentrating on something. Sayadaw says our minds are very tense for many of us because there are a lot of defilements, because the mind spends much energy on a lot of negative qualities and that makes the mind very tense. And learning to relax, using relaxing effort is part of the meditation; it actually is a way for the mind to let go of some of the defilements. So, the kind of awareness he wants us to use is relaxed awareness, not an awareness that makes us tense, but an awareness that leaves us relaxed. 

Notice seeing

There are some beginners in this retreat. Right now, just pay attention to yourself. Do you know you’re sitting? You notice that? Do you know you’re seeing? Are you sure? When do you notice you’re seeing? Now?  Yes, when it’s mentioned. That’s what he means…that’s what awareness is. Just to become conscious. All of us see, but we don’t realize that seeing is happening. We wake up in the morning, open our eyes and seeing starts happening. But do we notice that seeing is happening? How much energy do you use to notice that you’re seeing? Is it tiring to notice that you’re seeing, difficult to notice that you’re seeing? No; so meditation is not difficult. 

Make knowing continuous

What is difficult is to notice continuously. That’s the only difference between a meditator and a non-meditator; it is the presence of awareness. They see, you see, but how many know that they see? But if you know when you see and you know that seeing is happening, that’s meditation; normal persons see and all they see is what they’re seeing. For example, when an ordinary person looks at the floor he doesn’t realize that he is looking; all he does is just look.  Ordinarily when seeing is happening, we just look and we think about what we’re looking. Then feeling arises because we make meaning out of the things that we see. But when you’re conscious of the sense door, you’re conscious of “I am seeing” – that’s meditation. 

What are objects?

(6:00) Now he wants to explain about objects – an object is what you’re aware of, the thing that is being known. What the mind can directly experience or sense is the 6 sense objects. The concept of what the mind can sense is the extrapolation of the mind. For example, when you see the floor and you know it’s brown, then the mind has done more than just seeing. Another example to explain that, you cannot really know the leg, you can think and imagine what the leg looks like, but what you can feel directly is only a sensation. But then we interpret the sensation as ‘I have a leg’. 

Stick to seeing, not what is seen

What we are investigating in vipassana meditation is nature, not the concepts. In seeing, we want to investigate the nature of seeing, how the mind reacts to seeing and the experience of seeing. We don’t want to get spun into the things that we are seeing. I see a person, walls and floor; we don’t want to get into that story, just the experience of seeing. 

Get familiar with the 5 mental faculties

We’re talking about the 5 qualities of mind that we use to meditate and we have been talking about awareness. When we know more about these 5 qualities – awareness, concentration, faith, effort and wisdom – it makes meditation easier because we know how these 5 qualities are working. 

Practice awareness lightly and continuously

You now know that we don’t need a lot of effort to practice awareness – awareness is light but you have to practice continuously. The goal when you come to meditate is to remain in meditation the moment you wake up till you fall asleep at night. Because it’s a moment to moment practice, you don’t want to put in a lot of effort or you’ll be exhausted. If you maintain that light awareness throughout the day, over time it will become very natural and you’ll keep coming back to being aware. Awareness empowers the mind – the mind will feel stronger when there is more mindfulness.  

Interest is antidote of sleepiness

(9:17) Those who have meditated before, you’ll feel quite fresh now. But why after 30mins of sitting, you begin to be sleepy? Rather, it should be getting better and better, but you’re running out of energy. Actually, it’s a lack of interest. The 5 qualities are not working well – faith or interest is lacking. But after a few days of trying, it starts to get better and better. 

Re-energize the mind with continuous mindfulness

In everyday life, we are full of energy, but mostly we are energized by the greed and aversion in the mind, to strive and keep going. When we come to a retreat, we are told to give up our greed and aversion; then, we don’t have that energy to drive us anymore, and suddenly it feels soft and not strong enough to take subtle objects yet. To cultivate that energy, we just need to be mindful continuously and that will re-energize the mind (10.35). 

Effort = Soft Energy = Not giving up

The 2nd quality of the mind is effort – we normally think of effort as putting in a lot of power, drive and strive. It meditation, it is more of persevering, not giving up, trying again and again, patience. It is a soft energy, not a driving force. 

Concentration = stability of mind, comes from right view

Concentration is more like stability of mind, developed by having right view. When the mind has right view or right thought it feels stable because the mind is able to think in the right way. When you see things in the right way, you are neither attached nor adverse to the object; you see it as it is. So, we don’t’ need vast, deep reservoir of concentration to have a stable mind. If moment to moment we are conscious and there is continuity of awareness it will naturally bring this stability of mind. 

Right view must accompany awareness

Right view is a very important component of vipassana meditation. We may be used to a practice where we think mindfulness is something we do in a very solitary, concentrated, focused and striving manner. We think meditation should be like that, but we may not have heard of right view or wisdom about how to meditate as a companion and important component of meditation.    

When “Me’ attaches to the experience, think ‘Nature’

There is a strong attachment to the view of ‘me, I am, I exist’ for all of us. When we are aware of ourselves, this thought that ‘I’m being aware of me’ is very strong. When we look at the physical processes we think that they are happening to me. When we think of the mental processes, we think that ‘this is my mind’. So, talking about being mindful is not enough; it is not complete because we are aware of ourselves with this view - we are identifying with our experiences. 

So, how do we look at this thing we call ‘me’? You just look at it and see it as nature. That is how you want to see it. What is nature? In nature, things are not personal. The process of cause and effect where every effect is due to its causes is called nature. In nature there is not somebody or something. It is just a process. And in nature, there is no good and bad. Nature is just nature, happening naturally. 

For example, hot and cold are qualities of nature. Is hot or cold somebody? Is somebody hot? You can’t say that heat is somebody. Heat or temperature is a quality of nature. If we can understand this spin on it, this nature, than we can see that all physical processes consist of bare nature and so too are all mental processes. 

Mind = can know, think and direct attention

Mind is defined as that which can know, think and direct attention.  (15:15) These qualities are the nature of the mind, they happen on their own. We may think that we have to direct attention to know something. But in fact you don’t. Once something is known, the attention is already directed there. 

Using wisdom

Now he gives you this information and your mind thinks about it, processes and understands it. That’s wisdom – the 5th quality - working. When we practice vipassana meditation, we must use wisdom; it is essential. We must first hear about right view and how to use it when we learn to practice. This is the knowledge that is only available when the Buddha taught that there is mind and body and it is not a personality; just nature. Having absorbed this information, we want to hold it in our mind and then be aware. Otherwise, when you become aware of yourself and you see some defilements arising in the mind and you don’t have the view that it is the nature of the mind that is arising, then another defilement comes in - ‘Oh, I don’t want it to be like this”. 

Everything in the mind is nature, not ‘me’

Sayadaw says the Buddha says to know that the mind in which greed arises as just the mind in which greed arises. The Buddha didn’t say to know that ‘this is my mind’ with greed in it. He says everything in the mind is nature. When something happens in the mind, it is because the conditions have arisen for it to happen. But because the mind is happening at such speed, it all seems to be one solid mass, i.e. ‘me’. So, we think that everything that is happening in the mind is ‘me’. When not knowing arises, we think: I don’t know. When feeling arises, we think: I feel. When there’s anger and greed, “I’m angry” and “I’m greedy”. When there’s wanting, “I’m wanting” instead of just seeing that this or that is happening. 

Memory – good or bad – is just nature

Memory for example; sometimes we want to remember something but we can’t. And sometimes when we’re not thinking about it, we suddenly remember. That’s just memory and its nature. But we identify with it – ‘my memory is so good or bad’. Sayadaw is explaining this so that as we see more of the body and mind processes happening, it will help us not to identify with them so much and not think about: ‘why or what is this happening to me’. 

3 jobs of a yogi

(18:39) While we are in this laboratory of awareness, let whatever arises in the body and the mind arise, let it be, and look at it to see what is its nature. That’s the first step: whatever you notice to remember and understand that it’s just nature. After that, because you want to understand this nature, you want to stake out what you’ve noticed and keep an eye on it. Because you have right view, you don’t like or dislike what you have noticed. You accept it that it’s here so that you can observe it. 

The basic formula for beginner yogis is: 1. Have right view; 2. Be aware 3. Do it continuously. Right view means see what is happening as nature – know that nature is nature. So, right view, awareness and maintain awareness. Everything we experience at the moment is the effect of past conditions, past causes. Because it’s an effect, we cannot do anything to change it. What we can do is change the way the mind reacts to it. We can change the way the mind works as we experience the present moment. So, let the experience happen; we are not trying to control or change the experience. What we want to do is be aware of the experience. 

Sound, thinking and pain are just objects to be known, neither good nor bad

So, let’s think about it. It’s quiet or noisy. Which do you think is better? Whether you hear sound or silence, that’s just it. The rest is just our opinion of it. The boring, good, bad or ugly is just our opinion. So, our opinion changes the experience. When the mind thinks ‘this is boring’, we become bored. When the mind thinks ‘this is scary’, we become scared. You now know that the thought leads the experience. For someone who thinks that silence is good, then whenever there is a sound, it becomes a problem. The person is going to be frustrated when someone makes some noise. But all these are just ideas when we meditate. 

Is it good or bad to have a lot of thinking? Sayadaw says yogis are getting smarter – they won’t answer his question anymore because we always give the wrong answer. Whichever way we answer is the wrong answer because if we like one, we dislike the other. To see things as it is means just to see things as it is. There are many meanings to ‘as it is’ but for now it means that when you hearing you’re hearing and when you’re not hearing, you’re not hearing. Is it complicated? 

(21:10) He’s going to ask another question: pain and no pain, which is better? If we really understand that, we’re getting more mature, better at it. Pain is an object; no pain is also an object. If we understand that much, when there is pain, you won’t be too upset; and when there’s no pain, you won’t be too happy. And that is samadhi, stability of mind. So, one who has wisdom automatically has samadhi; for one who has right view, the stability of mind is already there, constantly there. So, you don’t need a lot of samadhi, you just need wisdom, information, right view. It’s only when you pair awareness with wisdom that you get good awareness. We think that mindfulness is something we have to put in lots of effort, we forget that mindfulness is something we have to put in wisdom rather than effort.


The Satipattana Sutta talks about having awareness with wisdom (sati-sampajanna). It talks about the 4 objects of awareness – body, feelings, mind and nature. These are not the only things mentioned in the scriptures. There is also the other side which is how the mind works to be aware. There are effort, wisdom and awareness. These 3 factors are in the mind when it is being aware. But few of us notice these qualities at work when we are meditating. 

Meditation is knowing what is happening
in the mind and body

(24:10) You sit in the meditation hall and what do you do? We are trying to know what is happening. Good or bad, let it be. If you know what is happening, that is good. So, what you’re trying to do is trying to know, trying to be aware and let whatever you’re knowing happen. And remember that it’s nature. So, if you’re doing a sitting meditation, you can be aware of anything that comes into your awareness. It is easier for beginners to be aware of the body than being aware of the mind. You can use your breath, rising and falling of abdomen or touching sensation to remind you to be aware. That can be your anchor, but you don’t have to only be aware of that. It is only to remind you, and you can continue to be aware of whatever else comes in. 

The anchor is only there to support your mindfulness so that it is strong enough to be mindful of anything. That’s how you use it. In vipassana meditation, we want to be able to be aware of anything because the goal is to understand; we have to be able to relate to all experiences that come into our consciousness. 

Meditation is using objects to strengthen
sati, samadhi and panna

Meditation is working to strengthen our awareness, stability of mind and wisdom by using the objects. The only difference is that for non-meditators when experiences arise, the mind becomes angry, greedy or deluded, but if we are mindful, we develop more awareness, stability of mind and wisdom from the experience. So, no object, no experience is ever a disturbance for the meditator if you have the right information and right view. If you don’t have the right view, the experience will disturb you. 

When reactions arise due to the object, watch the resistance or attachment in the mind, not the object

(26:45) When you sit, sometimes you can experience pain. If there is pain, remind yourself that it is nature. Don’t look at the pain; observe what is happening to the mind when it is experiencing pain. If the mind is feeling fine, there’s equanimity, then you can be aware of anything you want. But if the mind is resisting or attached to something, then you should watch the resistance or attachment as the object. For example, there is some noise and you don’t like the noise, then the dislike becomes your object, not the sound. What you do is you ignore the sound and observe the mind. Whenever the mind likes or dislikes something, the thing that the mind likes or dislikes is not the right object of meditation.

Beginners can start with being aware of the body

(27:56) It is easier for beginners to be aware of body processes – when you’re walking, if you know that you’re walking, that is good enough. You notice the lower part of your body moving, then slowly you can be aware of the whole body walking from top to toe.  If you can be aware of the mind that knows what is happening, for example, then you can be aware of that too.  For those who practice more, you can also be aware of what is happening in the mind when you’re walking – feelings and other interpretations. Then, it becomes more meaningful to walk. The more you observe yourself, the more you know.

Meditation is trying to be aware, not trying to sit, walk or stand

When you’re eating, all 6 senses are at work. So, please be mindful. And remember that meditation is not sitting or trying to sit. It is trying to practice using the mind. So, you’re not trying to sit, walk or stand. You’re trying to be aware. So do whatever you like, but be aware.