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Natural Awareness; No Need for Exertion

Sasanarakka Buddhist Sanctuary, Taiping, Malaysia April 28, 2012

Transcription and editing by Nancy Cheah


Everybody knows we practise mindfulness meditation. First, we need to know about awareness / mindfulness. In Samatha or Vipassana, or any meditation, first, we need to know about the object and the mind – the experience part and the mind part. Experience is the object; mind is “meditating”. In Satipatthana Sutta, the emphasis is on kayanupassana, vedananupassana, cittanupassana and dhammanupassana – these are the objects.

Watching with the body sensations is kayanupassana. Watching with feeling – pleasant, unpleasant, neutral – is vedananupassana. Watching or being aware of the skilful or unskilful mind, the wholesome or unwholesome mind, any mind – is cittanupassana. When kayanupassana becomes impersonal – nature, that is dhammanupassana. These four kinds of foundations of awareness are what we call ‘experience’ – the object part. 


Now, we talk about the meditating mind – how to meditate, how to think and how to use. So, object is not meditating; the mind is meditating. If you practice with craving, aversion and delusion, then the practice has become wrong. Therefore we need to know about the state of our mind. What states of mind are we meditating with?

Another way is we can use our six sense doors. Everybody has the six sense doors and hence, six objects. We use these six objects to develop our quality of mind. Meditation is cultivation – to develop good qualities of mind. Mindfulness meditation is – we try to cultivate awareness, samadhi, effort, faith / confidence and wisdom. So, meditating mind must be pure – wholesome mind. You cannot mix with the defilements. If you mix meditation with the defilements, then the practice becomes very difficult – there will be suffering and tension. In regards to the meditating mind, you need to know about the meditating mind or awareness mind or the watching mind. 


First, you need to know about awareness – the meaning of awareness; the nature of awareness. People often misunderstand about the awareness / mindfulness. They use too much effort and too much energy because they want something. ‘Puthujjana’ means a lot of craving / a lot of defilements. So we are puthujjanas – we have lots of craving and defilements. Each time we think, talk and do, there are craving, aversion and delusion. This is the habit that is happening automatically. 

Even when meditating, the defilements can also arise, because of habit. So, we need to check our qualities of mind. What states of mind are we meditating with? Awareness is Sati. Sati means not forgetting the right object. Don’t forget the right object - don’t forget the right nature, the right information and the right things. Awareness is, not forgetting the real nature of the right object. In not forgetting, there is no need to force too much. People try to know the object too much hence they use too much energy. It is already the nature of the mind to know an object. The definition of mind is – ‘can know’ and ‘can think’. It can know an object and it can think. The mind has to be thinking and knowing something. Thus there is no need to force the mind to know the object – this nature is already there. 

For example, do you know – are you aware – that you are sitting? Since there are beginners here, I want to give examples of awareness nature. Do you know you are sitting? Also, do you know you are hearing? Do you know you are seeing? When you start to know, do you recognize you are seeing? Just now, when we emphasized about seeing, you recognized that you were seeing. In the morning, upon waking up, we are already seeing but we do not recognize that we are seeing. So, do you recognize or know that you are seeing? How much energy do you need to just know? Not much, right? Now that you understand what I mean, you can recognize. 


Awareness is like this – do not need too much force to know the object. We can recognize our sense doors – that’s already awareness there. We know we are sitting. We know we are touching. We know we are hearing. We know we are seeing. That is enough. 

Do you think that is difficult? Do you think that is tiring? Not tiring, right? You can practice for the whole day, no problem! If you focus and concentrate too much the whole day, you will become very tired. A lot of energy is lost. If you practise the right way, you understand the nature of awareness and you can practise continuously. The mind quality becomes stronger and stronger. How is it happening opposite then? In the beginning, you are very awake. After 25 or 30 minutes, the mind calms down and it slowly becomes sleepy. The mind is not awake because it is not working properly. Also, the mind does not understand what is happening.

As much as you can, practise without too much focusing or too much concentration. To be mindful, there is no need for too much energy. It is just recognizing as much as you can but continuously. The important thing is consistency – practise again and again – this is the nature of right effort. Effort is not to be used to know the object. That is not the job of effort. Effort nature is to maintain continuity in awareness. This is the true job of Right Effort – NOT use energy to know the object!

Awareness is not forgetting. Effort means continuous effort – continuous practice. Instead of using energy, we need to use the wisdom nature – which is ‘interest’. We need to have interest. Why are we aware? What is the motivation? Why we are mindful – have you any idea? Is it just because the teacher says so? We must have a clear idea why we are aware. The answer is, we want to understand; we want to know.


Many yogis practise anapanasati or rising-falling for many years but they do not really understand about the anapana nature or rising-falling nature. This is because their motivation is to calm the mind. They don’t want to understand. Their idea or motivation is just for calming down. That is why they use the object. The aim for Vipassana meditation is not to calm down, but to UNDERSTAND. That’s why we are watching – we are aware continuously and learning. You must have interest to understand. Just knowing the object is not enough. In the background, there must be some wisdom. For example, in the practice of anapana or rising-falling, I ask a question: “Why is the abdomen rising?” Answer: “Because of breathing” – this answer is you realize experientially, right? 

That is also how my teacher guided me. He asked why the abdomen was rising and I answered that it was because of breathing, because I knew. Then he asked me why there was breathing arising and I could not answer. I started to think but he did not want an intellectual understanding. I didn’t know the experiential understanding so he asked me to explore. A week passed and still I could not find the reason – because of craving – I wanted to know the answer very much. Craving was pushing me – I practised very hard but could not understand. Later, I let go, then while I was practising normally and simply – I could see, I could experience that because there was intention to breathe, breathing happened. That was the experiential understanding: from the experience, you know very well about it. When we are aware, and the motivation is to know as in learning something, then wisdom can arise.

Then I used more questions: “Abdomen rising because of breathing or the other way around? Which one first – breathing or rising?” If you focus on only one object, the answer will be wrong. People often have the idea that ‘cause’ happened first then ‘effect’ later. But nature is not like this, sometimes ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ happen simultaneously. In the body, there is no vacuum – it is full of air – you can breathe – breathing and rising happen at the same time. So, it is with interest that we observe well. Many of you practise rising-falling. Let me ask you, “In rising-falling, is there intention?” No answer? You have been practising for a long time. I will not give the answer yet – you find out. 

Another question: “When your index finger touches your thumb, what are you aware of?” [Answers from yogis: touching sensation, heat, feeling, intention to touch, vibration, hardness, softness] If I ask you to pay attention – be aware of the touching, every yogi follows the instruction and hence targets the touching. If you only follow the instruction strictly and targets the object – touching – then the mind cannot see or know other things. So, don’t fix the target. 

Ok, back to index finger touching thumb, how many touching sensation – one or two? Roughly, no need to be detailed! This is a very simple experience, yet if you don’t know, how then can you understand? How to become a Sotapanna

Some of you say one some say two – not clear, right? You are not sure because the mind is focusing too much. If your awareness is more “open”, then you can see nature – there are two objects. Next question: “Which is more obvious, index finger or thumb? If you say thumb is more obvious, why?” It depends on what your mind pays attention to. If the mind pays attention to the thumb, then thumb is more obvious. The mind is also involved. People always think in terms of the physical, they don’t know about physical and mental relationship. This is an example, using a simple object, of how you can be interested. Meditation is like this. How can you be sleepy then? 


Why is one sleepy? It is because there is no wisdom – no motivation. One just targets an object, being aware and aware, calms down and nothing more to do, enjoying the peace and calm – then craving comes – effort gets less and less … la-la land!

If there is interest, the mind is not sleepy. The mind is probably aware with wisdom; and with awareness + wisdom together, the mind is very awake and alert. However, people generally tend to use too much effort. In the beginning, there’s full of effort – then it gets weaker – soon they are not thinking anymore – then the mind calms down – and with no motivation in the background, sleepiness comes! 

When the mind calms down, that is the time wisdom must be working. Awareness of awareness, sampajanna, or wisdom – must be there. If you apply this way of meditation, sampajanna or wisdom has to arise – this is the nature. In the background, there’s already the knowing of what is appropriate, whether necessary or not. Wisdom must be growing. 

Some people are very mindful, but they don’t know what to do. I see some yogis who are very mindful during practice, but at mealtimes, they forget to queue! This should not be. If you are aware, the understanding of ‘suitable or not’ or ‘necessary or not’ will be there. 

In the Satipatthana Sutta, satisampajanna – awareness must be followed by sampajanna. If you want to understand, you must practice with wisdom. In the beginning we do not know how to investigate. Therefore, first we try to be aware of the experience – to know what is going on. The first step is to try to know the object – recognize the object – what is happening – to just know first – what is happening in the physical process, what is happening to the mental process. First is to KNOW the experience – to RECOGNIZE the experience – and later to UNDERSTAND. That is why we are aware. We are aware because we want to understand. So, do be careful about what you are trying? Trying to calm down? Trying to be what you want? Trying to get what you want? Or trying to get the Dhamma the way you want it? What are you trying?


Meditation is very simple – trying to recognize – very simple indeed. But it is made difficult because the motivation is craving. We are always craving for something. That is why we must strive to understand, to know. Trying to know does not need much energy – just not to forget the present moment or not to forget your sense doors – that is enough. Is it difficult to know your sense doors? You know you are hearing. You know you are seeing. Is that difficult? Just continue maintaining awareness of your sense doors – any door. The physical object, the physical door is more obvious. That is why many people start at the physical door. You can start with any object. Use an obvious object but not to focus on it all the time. Begin with being aware of one object, slowly then, you need to recognize several objects. 

If your awareness becomes sharp and stronger, you can see more objects – this is the nature of awareness. As your awareness becomes stronger and sharper, it can receive more objects. It won’t follow the object but instead, receive more objects. However many people misunderstand by thinking that the mind which knows many objects, is scattering mind or wandering mind. This is not true as it means awareness is getting better. 


In the beginning, we cannot be aware of even a simple object. Slowly, as awareness becomes better, it can receive more objects and at many sense doors – all at the same time. This is not wandering or scattering mind. This is awareness getting sharper – which should be – for awareness that is sharper can receive more objects. 

Awareness does not need too much energy. There is no need to force or use a lot of energy to be aware of the object. Just recognize the present moment and maintain that. Continue being aware. If the mind stays with the ‘bodily’ (doors) for a long time, it can receive objects: seeing, hearing, body sensations, thinking, feeling, and slowly the mind can know. If you fix the object and focus on only one object all the time, the mind cannot know other things. That is why do not use too much energy to be aware. Try to know, to recognize the object, as best as you can. If your awareness gets sharper and you can see many objects, then that is the time the mind can start to investigate – later. What is happening? Why is this? This is later. First, the job is just to recognize the object, which is the experience. 


The wisdom that is working is Right View. Right View is very important. We already have wrong views. The wrong view is the belief in the idea of a “self”. Nature is a physical process and a mental process. But we believe it as “me” – personal. Because of this already existing wrong view, we need to think about Right View first. Hence, we need to use knowledge, second hand knowledge – Right View – as a nature. These physical and mental processes are nature. Nature means ‘cause and effect’ process. There’s nobody there – because of the cause and effect process – it becomes nature. Everything that is happening in the present moment is due to past conditioning – EFFECT. We cannot avoid this. Physical and mental processes are happening. We cannot avoid the happening but we need to know about this nature - there is a cause. So, the cause and effect process is nature – nobody there. 

For example, when you watch your bodily sensations, you can recognize the 4 elements. Think over this: the heat is a human being? The heat is being? You cannot say it is somebody. Heat is just heat. Coldness is just coldness. Heat, coldness, hardness, softness are all nature. If you understand this, it is the same for the mind processes: knowing, feeling, perception, intention and volition. They are nature too – mental processes – different activities of the mind. 

 Mind processes are nature; physical processes too, are nature. You must think this way. Nature means it is neither good nor bad. Nature is nature. When we judge the nature as good, craving happens. When the mind judges the nature as bad, resistance happens. We try to think about nature as it is, not good or bad – just as an experience. Experience is just an experience. We are not trying to judge it as good or bad. 


Objects – we need to know the meaning of objects. Object means – known by the mind. The mind can know. ‘Being known’ is object. ‘Knowing’ is mind. They are happening the way they are. They do their jobs. 

Objects are happening all the time but our mind is in a state where awareness is not good, samadhi is not good, effort is not good and also wisdom is not good. Therefore, we need to cultivate these qualities of mind. This is meditation. Objects are already there. We need to think about this nature. Also, we need to have right information. 

In meditation, sound, thinking and pain are usually the problems. “Which is better – noise or silence?” “Silence better?” If you have this idea, each time the noise comes, you will be upset. When you think it “better”, that it is good, when the opposite happens, there will be resistance. Sound is an object – it is ‘being known’. Silence is also an object – it too ‘being known’. You can experience silence, right? They are objects. Silence is silence – not ‘good’. Noise is noise – not ‘bad’. They are objects – experience. 

“Which is better – more thinking or less thinking?” [… laughter …] Now, you are getting smarter. You are able to answer because of Right View. You have right understanding and right knowledge, therefore you can think the right way. What is important is whether you are aware. Don’t complain about what is happening. Experience is due to past conditioning – effect. You cannot control it or change it. We are not trying to change. We are trying to recognize. When there is more thinking, recognize that there is more thinking. When there is less thinking, recognize that there is less thinking. The important thing is; when the object is there, the mind is not craving or angry towards the object. This is Right View. When there is Right View, the mind will not resist too much, or attach too much. Right View is wisdom. 

“Which is better – pain or no-pain?” Actually, when one understands that pain is an object and no-pain too, an object, there won’t be resistance to the pain. Also, when pain disappears, the mind will not be overly happy. This is different for many of us – who are tolerating the pain – when the pain disappears … sigh … relief! We are happy that the pain is gone because we have no understanding that pain is an object. When the pain is gone, we also do not realize no-pain is an object. You can experience no-pain, right? But you do not know this experience is also an object. 

We can only recognize obvious objects like pain or sound. We can’t recognize no-pain and silence as objects. For example, at night we only notice the cricket sound. We do not know that beyond the cricket sound, there is silence. 

You need to know the meaning of an object. Every moment, the mind can know that ‘being known’ is the object. Object is the experience – experience is just an experience. We should not judge it but the mind is very fast in judging. For beginners, when there is less judgment, the mind is more relieved/relaxed, thus can be more mindful. For advanced yogis, they just need to know that there is judgment – that is enough. Beginners cannot have too much agitation in their observing mind. Hence they need to think about not judging as a nature – as the object. When the mind is a little relieved, then they can be aware. Advanced yogis need not think this way. Since they already understood about nature and object, they only need to recognize that the mind is judging. 


Right View, right attitude – very important. We are not trying to create anything. We are not trying to resist anything. We are trying to recognize what is happening now – in the present moment. 

Don’t fix the time. Don’t fix the object. The mind needs to be open. We want to know whatever else the mind can know – this way, the mind becomes more awake and more alert. Don’t fix. Don’t target. Don’t fix the future. Don’t fix the time – for example, “I want to do one hour sitting meditation” – by fixing, the mind cannot be stable – it keeps thinking of the one hour, even before the hour is up. Be open. 

When is meditation time? It is every moment! It is important to be aware all the time – whatever you do – wherever you go – sitting, standing, or when doing daily activities – you must maintain the awareness continuously. 

Just recognize yourself – your sense doors. Once, a yogi told me that while he was driving, he noticed a car passing by. Was that meditation awareness? No! Everybody also knows that. So, what kind of awareness is considered meditation? In the case of the passing car, you recognize seeing and hearing happening. When you know the sense doors, your awareness is the meditation awareness. Knowing only the concept is not meditation awareness. “The car is passing by” is a concept. Everybody knows this. The difference with meditators is that they know their sense doors. Throughout the whole day, how many times do you recognize that you are looking? People are deluded. They do not recognize this. 


Seeing is important. Without seeing, it is difficult to think and get things done. But people are thinking and moving around – they forget that they are seeing and looking. Looking is important because much of the ‘personal’ sense arises through the eye-door. If your eyes become blind, much you cannot do. Therefore, for those who keep recognizing seeing, awareness becomes a nature because we are looking almost all the time. Each moment if we keep recognizing that looking is taking place – awareness becomes automatic. For this reason, we need to practise recognizing seeing and looking because we see and look the whole day, except when we sleep. 

Do you know you are looking? Now, as you are looking at me, are you aware of it? Just recognize that you are looking at me. It is not difficult because the mind already does that automatically – obviously paying attention. In seeing and hearing, the mind function is the same, only the sense doors are different. When you pay attention with the eyes that is called looking. When you pay attention with the ears that is called listening. Without listening, we can hear. Without looking, we can see. Without focusing, we can know. We can know the object. Looking and listening have the same function as paying attention – they are functions of the mind – only the sense doors are different. 

I encourage you to practise seeing and looking. Many yogis practice meditation for years but they do not know how to practise seeing and looking. This shouldn’t be. If you are skilful in meditation, you must be skilful at any of the six sense doors. Besides it is important in daily living, where we constantly see and look. If you only practise with closed eyes, it is difficult when it comes to daily living. For a yogi who is skilful at recognizing seeing and looking, the awareness will be automatically there. Our eyes do lots of work. 

Each time when hearing, you can meditate too. Just like seeing, hearing too is an object. We should be skilful at this. Seeing and hearing are obvious activities in daily living. So, I really encourage you to practise when doing daily activities. When sitting – you can choose whether to open or close your eyes. Meditation is not the job of the eyes but the MIND! So, why do you close your eyes when meditating?

A yogi told me, “I’m afraid to open my eyes because my samadhi will be gone.” If this is the case, you can only meditate with closed eyes. You cannot meditate when your eyes are open. This kind of samadhi is not true samadhi – if by opening eyes it will be gone – then it is of little use! Samadhi arises not because of the eyes, but because of the mind. When there is Right View, right awareness and continuous practice – samadhi is already there. In daily activities, you need to practise with the eye object – recognizing seeing and looking – it is not difficult