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Starting Out Small
- A Collection of Talks for Beginning Meditators
Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
Translated from the Thai by
Two Guardian Meditations
August 11, 1956
When you sit and meditate, keep observing two important factors:
The mind is a factor that's extremely fickle and fast. It likes to slip off looking for all sorts of nonsense, for things that bring us nothing but trouble. It doesn't like to stay in place. Now it goes running here, now it goes running there, bringing back different kinds of suffering. That's why we say that it's fickle and fast: easily diverted, hard to look after. Now, since our mind is so fickle and fast, the Buddha had to search for a method by which we can take this weak point and turn it around into something good. He teaches us to develop concentration by focusing on the body. In other words, he has us fix our attention on one of the really important factors of the body, the breath. The breath is what helps us find comfort and ease in all the parts of the body. It's what keeps the body alive. All of our sense doors -- the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body, and the mind -- depend on the breath to create the sensations by which they receive impressions of outside things and bring them in to have an effect on the body. For instance, the function of the eyes is to receive impressions of forms for us to see. The function of the ears is to receive impressions of sounds for us to hear. The function of the nose is to receive impressions of aromas for us to smell. The function of the tongue is to receive impressions of flavors for us to taste. The function of the body is to receive impressions of tactile sensations for us to touch. The function of the mind is to receive impressions of the various things that come in via these other five senses.
So when we meditate, we have to close all of these sense doors off tight. We close our eyes: we don't have to look at pretty sights or ugly ones. We close our ears, so that we don't listen to anything that isn't necessary -- i.e., anything that isn't beneficial to listen to. Only the words that advise us to do good should we listen to. As for the nose, it's necessary for life. If we don't have the nose as our breathing passage, we start having problems in the other parts of the body, so we keep it open. As for the mouth, we keep it closed. And as for the body, we keep it in one position, as when we sit with our legs crossed, like we're doing right now.
We have to try to keep these sense doors closed off, so that we don't use our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind in any other activity aside from practicing concentration. We herd the mind into one preoccupation, so that it stays in its home, the body, with the windows and doors all shut.
The mind is the heart-property or heart-element. The nature of the mind is that it's faster than the wind in the air, which flows to and fro, up and down, and never stays in place. So we have to bring our mindfulness into the mind so that we can take this weak point and turn it around into something good. This is called bhavana, or mental development through meditation. We focus on the breath and recollect the qualities of the Buddha. When we start off recollecting the Buddha in this way, we simply think of the word, buddho. We don't yet have to analyze what it means. Buddho is a name for mindfulness. It means being aware, being awake. But if we simply think of the word buddho, it doesn't fulfill all the factors for mental development through meditation. When we think the word, we have to steady and adjust it so that it stays in rhythm with the breath. When we breathe, we have to breathe just right, not too slow, not too fast, whatever feels natural. Then we think buddho back and forth with the breath, adjusting our thinking so that it merges with the breathing. That's when we can say that we're fulfilling the factors of meditation.
This is called recollection of the Buddha, in which we think of the qualities of the Buddha in an abbreviated way, depending on the breath as our focal point and keeping our mindfulness in charge of the thinking.
When mindfulness becomes one with the breath and with our awareness in this way, our various senses will grow even and calm. The mind will gradually grow more and more quiet, bit by bit. This is called getting established in the first "guardian meditation" -- recollection of the Buddha -- in which we use our thinking as a path of practice.
This kind of thinking gives results for Buddhists of all sorts. At the same time, it brings us into the factors that are helpful for the mind -- mindfulness and alertness -- the factors that support the mind in getting established in goodness.
The second guardian meditation is good will. The word good will -- metta -- comes from mitta, or friend. As a quality, it means love, benevolence, familiarity, intimacy. When we imbue our mind with good will, we escape from animosity and hostility. In other words, we should remind ourselves that we're going to stay with our friend at all times. We won't go wandering off. We won't leave our friend in a lurch. Our friend, here, is the body, because the body and mind have to depend on each other at all times. The body has to depend on the mind. The mind has to depend on the body. When people are friends they have to love each other, wish each other well, stick with each other, be intent on helping each other at all times. They don't abandon each other.
So tell yourself that when the body breathes in, you're going to stick with the breath. In Pali, the breath is called kaya-sankhara, or bodily fabrication, because it's what fixes the body to keep it alive. It's like the cook who fixes food in a home so that the people in the family can eat their fill and be happy. If there's something wrong with the cook, then there's going to be turmoil and chaos in the house. If the cook of the body -- the breath -- gets weird, everyone else in the body -- the properties of earth, water, wind, and fire -- will all have to suffer and get thrown into a turmoil as well. So we can say that the breath is the property that looks after all the properties in the body. For example, we inhale the breath into the lungs. There it cleanses the blood in the lungs, which gets sent to the heart. The function of the heart is to send the blood out to nourish all the parts of the body, so that the blood and the breath energy flow normally. If the breath isn't as good as it should be, the lungs won't be as good as they should be. The heart won't be good, the blood it pumps out won't be good, so all the various parts of the body will have to suffer as a result. This is when the properties of the body are said to be defiled.
If the mind really has good will for the body, then it has to look after the breath in the body to keep it functioning properly. So we have to keep after our "cook" to make sure that she isn't filthy, lazy, or apathetic. Otherwise, she'll put poison in our food to kill us, or filth in our food to make us sick. So we have to make sure that our cook is clean and pure in her habits, as when we breathe the qualities of the Buddha in with the breath.
The breath accompanied by buddho is called the sukka breath, or the clean, clear breath. When the master of the house is clean and circumspect like this, the cook will have to be clean and circumspect, too. All the employees in the house will have to be clean. In other words, when we're mindful, the breath that goes into the body will be a pure breath. When it reaches the heart, it will cleanse the blood in the heart so that it's pure as well. When the heart pumps this pure blood, sending it to nourish the body, the body will be purified, too. And then the mind will have to feel well. In other words, the heart is good, the nourishment in the blood is good. When the mind is in good shape like this, the blood won't become abnormal. And when this good blood is sent to nourish the nerves throughout the body, the body will have to function well. It won't feel tired or aching.
This is because we've adjusted our breath well, so that we can treat all kinds of diseases and pains. When the purity of the breath spreads throughout every blood vessel, the bad things already there in the body will have to scatter. Those that haven't yet appeared won't be able to appear. This will help the body to be balanced and normal.
When the breath is in good shape and the heart is in good shape, then the fire property in the body won't be too strong. If the breath isn't right, or if it's too hot, then the fire property gets thrown out of balance. When it grows too hot, the blood thickens and gets stuck in the capillaries, making us sleepy or giving us a headache. If it grows too cold, it gives us the shivers or makes us feverish.
So the breath is more important than any of the other the properties in the body. It assists the fire property, which in turn distills the liquid property. The liquid property in the body falls into two sorts: the part that hardens and turns into earth, and the part that stays liquid by its nature. When the breath functions properly, all the other properties function properly, and the body will feel rested and at ease.
This is called showing good will for yourself. The mind sticks with the breath, the breath sticks with the body, the body sticks with the mind. They don't abandon one another. They're affectionate, intimate, harmonious -- they're good friends.
When people stay together they become intimate and familiar with one another. If they don't stay with one another, they can't become familiar with one another. And when they're not on familiar terms, they don't really know one another.
When people are friends and on familiar terms, they trust one another. They tell one another their secrets. They don't hide what's going on. In the same way, when we become close friends with the body and on familiar terms, we're going to learn all the body's secrets. For instance, we may learn what kamma in the past led to the birth of the body the way it is -- what our previous lifetimes were like, what good and bad things we did, that led to the body's being like this or that. We'll learn how the four properties of the body function. We'll learn how things arise and pass away at the properties of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and intellect. We'll get to know the secrets of the various affairs connected with the body, because it will have to reveal its true nature to us in every way -- just as when we open the cover on a serving dish, enabling us to see what's there in the dish.
When we come to know how things function in the body this way, that's called vijja, or clear knowing. This sort of clear knowing arises from the stillness of the mind. When the body and mind are both quiet together, they give knowledge to each other. Just as with people: if we're friendly with them, they're bound to be friendly with us. If we're antagonistic with them, they're bound to be antagonistic with us. In the same way, when the body is friendly with the mind, the mind is bound to be friendly with the body. In other words, it can help the various parts of the body. It can help make the body act in line with its thoughts. If, for instance, there's a feeling of pain or weariness, we can gather the power of the mind at full strength to think of the feeling going away, and that feeling of pain or weariness may completely vanish, simply through the power of a single mental moment. People who have helped each other in the past have to help each other all the time. If we can help them, they're bound to be able to help us.
The ability to do this comes from the power of the mind that's capable of giving orders in line with its aspirations. When we can make our friend good through the power of our thought, then all our friends can become good. For example, when we think of purifying the breath, the breath will help improve the fire property. The fire property will help improve the liquid property. The liquid property will help improve the earth property. When all the properties help one another in this way, they become balanced and a help to the body, so that the body can be healthy.
As for the mind, it grows cool and calm. Anyone who comes near will pick up some of that calmness as well. Just like a mountain cool in its depths: whoever walks past will be cooled as well, even though the mountain didn't make a point of splashing water on them to cool them off.
Here we've been speaking about the body. As for the mind, when it's pure it gives even greater results. When we think using the power of the pure mind, the currents go faster than lightning through the sky, and they can go all around the world. If anyone wants to come and harm us, they can't get near, because the current of a pure, strong mind has the power to ward off all kinds of danger. Take the Buddha as an example: No one could kill him. People who thought of killing him, as soon as they got near him, saw him as their loving father. Those who were subject to the current of the Buddha's purity let go of their evil habits and turned into good people; they let go of their violence and viciousness, becoming gentle and mild. Angulimala, for instance: If he hadn't been willing to listen to the Buddha, he would have been swallowed up by the earth. But he was able to think, "The Buddha won't kill me. I won't kill anyone." He immediately put down his weapons, gave up killing once and for all, ordained, and became one of the Buddha's noble disciples.
So in the same way, we should think of the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha with every in-and-out breath. When we stay within the territory of the Dhamma in this way, it's as if we were having an audience with the Buddha himself. Even though -- when we keep thinking of the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha -- we keep going over the same old territory over and over again, what's wrong with that? Actually, when we use our powers of directed thought (vitakka) and evaluation (vicara) back and forth this way, the results we end up with are positive: a sense of fullness that spreads throughout every part of the body. The mind will feel full and bright. The heart will feel blossoming, established in the sense of fullness, or rapture (piti), that comes with thoughts of good will. When the heart is full in this way, it's at ease, just as when we've eaten our fill of food. And when the heart is full, its friend the body is sure to feel full and rested as well. We'll be at our ease both in body and in mind, just as when we see our children and grandchildren well-fed and sleeping soundly. This is called pleasure (sukha). And when we see that something gives pleasure to our children and grandchildren, we have to focus our efforts on it continually. This is how the mind reaches singleness of preoccupation (ekaggatarammana), entering into a state of peace, free from every sort of disturbance and danger.
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