Buddhasasana Home Page
A: I have a lot of worries and stress. I try to meditate in order to relax, but it is no use.
Thynn: In this fast-moving world, meditation is regarded as an instant remedy for life's ills. If you look upon meditation as merely a tranquilizer, you are underestimating its true value. Yes, relaxation does occur through meditation, but that is only one of its many results. Meditation in Buddhism is neither an instant cure nor just a stress-relieving measure.
Meditation in Buddhism means cultivation of the mind in order to achieve insight wisdom or pañña, ultimately leading to liberation or nibbana.
D: Nibbana aside, I want to meditate, but I cannot find the time.
When you speak of meditation, you may think of the type of meditation that is popular these days, the sitting form of meditation. But that form is merely an aid, a support to develop a mental discipline of mindfulness and equanimity. The form should not be mistaken for the path.
The popular notion is that you need to set aside a special time or place to meditate. In actuality, if meditation is to help you acquire peace of mind as you function in your life, then it must be a dynamic activity, part and parcel of your daily experience. Meditation is here and now, moment-to-moment, amid the ups and downs of life, amid conflicts, disappointments and heartaches -- amid success and stress. If you want to understand and resolve anger, desires, attachments and all the myriad emotions and conflicts, need you go somewhere else to find the solution? If your house was on fire, you wouldn't go somewhere else to put out the fire, would you?
If you really want to understand your mind, you must watch it while it is angry, while it desires, while it is in conflict. You must pay attention to the mind as the one-thousand-and-one thoughts and emotions rise and fall. The moment you pay attention to your emotions, you will find that they lose their strength and eventually die out. However, when you are inattentive, you find that these emotions go on and on. Only after the anger has subsided are you aware that you have been angry. By then, either you have made some unwanted mistakes or you have ended up emotionally drained.
R: How do you handle these emotions? I know that when I am angry I want to shout and throw things. Should I control these emotions or express them?
The natural inclination is to try to control the emotions. But when they are kept under a lid, they try to escape. They either rush out with a bang or they leak out as sickness or neuroses.
R: What should I do? Do I let my emotions go wild?
Certainly not. That is exactly what we don't want to do. That is another extreme -- to release your emotions impulsively. The important thing is neither control nor non-control. In either situation you are working up your desire to control. Neither situation is tenable. So long as this desire occupies your mind, your mind is not free to see anger as it is. Hence another paradox arises: the more you want to be free of the anger, the more you are not free of it.
To understand the mind, you have to watch and pay attention with an uncluttered, silent mind. When your mind is chattering away, all the time asking questions, then it lacks the capacity to look. It is too busy asking questions, answering, asking.
Try to experience watching yourself in silence. That silence is the silence of the mind free from discriminations, free from likes and dislikes, free from clinging.
Thoughts and emotions by themselves are just momentary and possess no life of their own. By clinging to them, you prolong their stay.
Only when your mind is free from clinging and rejecting can it see anger as anger, desire as desire. As soon as you "see," your mental process is fully preoccupied with "seeing," and in that split second anger dies a natural death. This seeing, or insight, called panna, arises as a spontaneous awareness that can be neither practiced nor trained. This awareness brings new insight into life, new clarity and new spontaneity in action.
So, you see, meditation need not be separate from life and its daily ups and downs. If you are to experience peace in this everyday world, you need to watch, understand and deal with your anger, desire and ignorance as they occur. Only when you cease to be involved with your emotions can the peaceful nature of your mind emerge. This peace-nature enables you to live every moment of your life completely. With this newfound understanding and awareness, you can live as a complete individual with greater sensitivity. You will come to view life with new and fresh perceptions. Strangely enough, what you saw as problems before are problems no more.
Staying with the Moment
R: You say I can meditate in daily life by cultivating sati (paying attention) in my mind. But I find that very difficult; my mind is too distracted.
Thynn: That is not unusual. You see, to focus on your mind as you function in everyday life, you need to turn your mind inside out. Indeed, your mind must be strong and focused in order to be mindful of itself. So naturally it is difficult to focus on your mind if you are agitated or distracted.
R: How can I start then?
Try being mindful of whatever you are doing at the moment -- walking, sitting, bathing, cleaning, looking at a flower. You can do this at any time and in any place. As you train your mind to focus, you will find you are less distracted. Later, as you go on, you can be mindful of your thoughts and emotions as they arise.
Suppose you are driving. You have to pay attention to the driving, don't you? Your mind has to be there at the time and place of driving, concentrating on the road, watching the other drivers. You cannot afford to be distracted too much by other thoughts. It is something like meditation on the task at hand. But often we do not carry out other tasks in this concentrated way.
D: Why not?
Probably because they are less dangerous than driving. But you can apply the same principle to other activities. Suppose you are eating. If your mind is distracted, you may not even be aware of tasting the food, let alone enjoying it. Only when you focus on eating can you really enjoy the food.
The same is true even in passive activities. Suppose you are sitting on a bus. Try simply to be where you are, rather than letting your mind wander. Train your mind to focus on your surroundings. Be aware of the other people on the bus, how fast the bus is going, and where it is going. This is a very good way to start meditation. Simply be where you are rather than letting your mind roam.
P: I have tried being mindful of the moment. But it is strenuous and I get all tangled up.
For goodness sakes, staying with the moment is only a figure of speech. It is not a commandment to be followed rigidly. This is not a proficiency test. You must understand this from the outset; otherwise you will be tied up in knots trying too hard every second of the day.
If you become too involved with staying in the moment, you lose the art of living -- of free flowing.
You must realize that staying with the moment is just a means to break the mind's old habits. Usually the mind flitters between thoughts and feelings about the past, present and future. Staying with the moment is just a way to train the mind to cease flitting.
It is not important that you be with the moment every single moment of the day. What is important is that you learn to get out of the constant mental run-around and to be more focused and grounded.
Once you break the habit of the roaming mind, you will find you are more centered and more with the present moment.
SD: What do we gain from this?
That is a very pertinent question. Of course, you will have better concentration, but you can achieve concentration without learning the art of meditation. Many activities -- golf, chess, reading -- enhance concentration.
SD: What is the difference between those activities and moment-to-moment meditation?
If you look into the process involved in those activities, you will see an element of desire -- the desire to achieve perfection, to win a game, to feel good, whatever. You are motivated by desire. Also, there is an end to the activity and so to the concentration. Concentration is also very important in meditation, but it is not everything. If we simply concentrate, we will not get any further benefit.
To meditate, it is crucial to be mindful without desire, without aversion, without likes and dislikes, and without goals.
If you can be mindful without judgments and without likes and dislikes, then you are practicing with an inner silence or equanimity, called upekkha in Pali.
This is true in both formal sitting meditation and in the informal, unstructured meditation we are discussing now. Two elements are involved: staying with the moment and viewing everything without likes and dislikes.
R: Oh, it's not that easy. We have to do more than just notice our surroundings.
No, it's not easy. That's why it's better to start slowly by focusing on a particular moment. You may not be good at it all at once. But you will find that this practice of staying with the moment facilitates the inner silence. If you concentrate on the moment, and if your concentration is good, then no stray thoughts will enter your mind. As you practice, not only will you be more focused, but you will also become more alert and sensitive to what is happening around you. When your mindfulness is strong, then you can direct your attention inward to your mind, your emotions or your thoughts.
SD: So just being mindful is not enough?
That's right. Being mindful is not sufficient. It is only a means. What is crucial is incorporating equanimity or upekkha into your mindfulness.
SD: Will upekkha lead to inner silence?
Yes, the only way that will lead the mind to silence is upekkha. Upekkha is not just a product of meditation training. It is itself a tool in meditation. When you become proficient at looking with equanimity at your own mind, your thoughts and your emotions, then this upekkha approach will also spill over into other areas of life. You will begin to listen, look, feel and relate to everything with upekkha.
Just mindfulness and concentration do not constitute meditation; equanimity must be a constant ingredient.
SD: Doesn't upekkha mean detachment?
Sometimes it is translated as detachment, but that translation is very inadequate. You have to understand that upekkha transcends both detachment and attachment. When you are detached, you may also become indifferent if you are not careful. This indifference can lead to dissociation and subtle rejection. Upekkha transcends not only non-attachment, but also rejection. The mind is very tricky and has many nuances you have to be aware of.
The full essence of upekkha is to go beyond attachment and detachment, beyond likes and dislikes, to relate to things as they are.
So it is crucial that you begin your mindfulness right from the start on the basis of upekkha, the nondualistic, the Middle Way. When you can view the world and your own mind or yourself with upekkha, then you are already on the right path of meditation.
Staying with More Moments
P: Sometimes it's a luxury to be mindful of a task with undivided attention. I only get frustrated if I try to be mindful of a task when my young children demand my attention. It seems like the only thing to do is to redirect my attention to the children and do the task on automatic pilot.
Thynn: I like your phrase "automatic pilot"! Again, I have to emphasize that being mindful is only a means to practice focusing. Don't compete with yourself. What you choose to pay attention to is entirely circumstantial. If the children need you, focus on them.
The only guideline is to avoid rigid conditioning.
This does not mean that if you are cooking vegetables, you must be absolutely mindful of the color and smell of the vegetables and ignore the children's questions. If you did that, you'd be clinging to the cooking.
P: Oh, so that's why I feel frustration?
Yes, because you are clinging. Once again, you must understand that upekkha should be in every act. If you can view cooking with upekkha, then you won't have a problem letting go of mindfulness on the cooking and you can redirect your attention to the child. Sometimes you can cook -- on automatic pilot, as you say -- and answer the child. Other times, if the child has a pressing need, you might find it better to stop cooking and really devote all your attention to the child. There are no set rules.
You can become attached to your mindfulness of the moment just as you can become attached to anything else.
This is very subtle, but understand from the outset that you can be bound by your own mindfulness!
P: If things are very hectic I cannot even redirect my attention to another activity, but find I have to just live in the chaos.
Well, letting go of the mindfulness can be appropriate. But we must also talk about living in the chaos. How do you deal with the chaos?
P: Sometimes I become involved in the chaos and get carried away by it.
Yes, if your mindfulness is not strong enough you can easily be drawn into the chaos. The mindfulness I am talking about is the mindfulness of your own mind. If you are not aware of your thoughts and your feelings about the chaos, you can easily slip into interacting in the situation, reacting to the chaos. Before you know what's happening, you are already storming through the chaos, thus creating more chaos.
If you are mindful of your own feelings as you notice the chaos, you can choose how to act in the situation.
Instead of being only aware of the outside chaos, stop and look directly into yourself and see what is there.
D: But that's not easy.
Of course not. But you have to start somewhere. As long as you are not silent inside, you will always be on a roller coaster ride with the outside chaos.
To look into yourself directly is to come back to your own source and to reach an inner equilibrium and silence. It is only from this inner equilibrium that you can view the outer chaos objectively.
When this happens you can see the chaos as chaos, as only a circumstantial situation. You'll see the cause behind the chaos and you can act accordingly. In short, when you penetrate to the heart of the chaos, you will spontaneously resolve it in the best way for the circumstances. This is what is called penetrating insight wisdom, or panna.
P: Do you mean we should be passive in a chaotic conflict?
No. Again, there is nothing rigid about it. One situation may require a firm hand that cuts right through to the heart of the matter. If you are acting with awareness it will be the right action. Another situation might require that you become quiet and not generate more confusion. If you stop and look, you will know what to do in each situation. If you view both the chaos and your mind with upekkha, you will know what to do and will not be bothered by the chaos.
P: If we stop to look, how can we react to others in the right way? We wouldn't have time to think of what to do.
This is the most difficult part to explain. We are so used to functioning with the intellect that it seems quite impossible to function in any given situation without conceptualizing. You see, here we are talking about insight or panna. It's a paradox: insight does not arise unless the conceptualizing stops altogether. In a chaotic situation insight can arise only when we stop conceptualizing about the chaos. Mindfulness of our own mind will in fact stop the conceptualizing that our minds normally go through. When the mindfulness is strong enough and there is total silence in the mind, then insight will spontaneously arise as to how best to deal with the situation at hand.
D: I have another question. I find I can stop being emotional, right in the middle of a difficult interaction, but then I don't know where to go from there. Since I am studying Buddhism and learning to practice the Buddhist way, I feel I should react with more compassion. But I may not feel compassionate. Because I don't know how to go on, I go back to my old conditioning of either resentment or aggressiveness.
My dear, this is only a phase in your own progress. You have come this far. It is possible to go further. Look into the process involved in your mind right in the midst of reacting. When you are able to stop in your tracks, you are already doing quite well.
It is only when you start intellectualizing again that you get into trouble. If you have the notion that as a practicing Buddhist you should be compassionate, then you are setting up an image of yourself. As soon as that thought is allowed to come into your mind, you are not free. At that moment your mind is filled with the desire to fulfill your own image as a practicing Buddhist.
When the mind is not free, there is no chance for true compassion to arise.
It is as simple as that. Only when you free yourself of preconceived perceptions of yourself can spontaneous compassion arise. When you are free of concepts, you will act spontaneously and compassionately as well as creatively.
Meditation in Action
D: You say we can work on meditation in our everyday lives. What is the best way to start?
Thynn: Generally speaking, your mind is caught up with the external world and you react to the world in an automatic and habitual manner. When you are preoccupied with the external world, you grossly neglect your mind. The most crucial thing is to realize that you have to redirect this external focus of attention inward, toward your own mind. In other words, learn to be attentive to your mind in the context of daily living -- as you eat, work, tend the children, cook, clean, whatever.
R: Do you mean I have to take note of everything that comes into my mind? That would be incredibly difficult. Suppose I'm driving. How can I notice my mind and still pay attention to the road?
That's a very relevant question. It's impossible to take note of your mind all of the time. You would tie yourself up in knots and run off the road. Instead of going to an extreme, begin by concentrating on one particular emotion in yourself. Choose the emotion that bothers you the most, or the one that is most prominent in you. For example, if you tend to be a temperamental kind of person, start by watching your anger. If you are easily hurt, then work with your mood swings. Pay attention to whichever emotion is most noticeable and troublesome to you.
For many people, anger is a good starting point because it is easily noticed and dissolves faster than most other emotions. Once you begin to watch your anger, you will make an interesting discovery. You will find that as soon as you know you are angry, your anger will melt away by itself. It is very important that you watch without likes or dislikes. The more you are able to look at your own anger without making judgments, without being critical, the more easily the anger will dissipate.
You may find in the beginning that you notice your anger only when it is about to end. That is not important. The important thing is to decide that you want to focus on your anger. Gradually the watching will become more and more natural. Before long you will notice, suddenly, in the midst of a fit of anger, that your anger drops away without warning. You will find yourself just being aware and no longer entangled in the anger.
A: Can that really happen?
Of course. You see, when you make an effort to turn your attention inward, you are reconditioning yourself. Before this, you were only looking outward. Now you are conditioning yourself anew to look inward some of the time. This looking inward can become habitual; it becomes a kind of conditioning in which your mind automatically focuses on itself at all times. In the beginning this may not be frequent, but don't be discouraged. As time goes on, you will be surprised to find you are aware of your anger sooner than before.
This awareness, when it becomes stronger, will spill over to other emotions. You might find yourself watching your desire. In that watching, the desire will resolve and you will be left only with the awareness. Or you may watch sadness. Sadness is slower to arise and resolve than some other emotions. The most difficult emotion to watch is depression. But that too can be done with stronger mindfulness.
As you get into the swing of it, you will find your awareness becoming sharper. At the same time, the episodes of anger will get shorter and less frequent. As the intensity of anger lessens, you will find you are grappling less and less with your emotions. In the end, you will be surprised to find that you can be friends with your emotions as never before.
R: What do you mean? I can't imagine ever being comfortable with anger.
Because you are no longer struggling with your emotions, you can learn to look at them without judging, clinging or rejecting them. They are no longer threatening to you. You learn to relate to your emotions more naturally, like a witness. Even when you are faced with conflicts and filled with emotions, you can be equanimous with them. As you become more stable, you can deal with conflicts without losing your emotional balance.
D: If my awareness becomes more and more sensitive, is it possible for my mind to know anger as soon as it arises?
Certainly. You see, as your mindfulness becomes stronger and more alert, your mind becomes more aware of its own workings. When mindfulness is complete and dynamic, then you know anger as soon as it arises; as soon as you know it, it begins to dissolve.
D: I have tried watching my anger and I can even see it die down for a moment, but it comes back again and again. Why?
In the initial stages, when mindfulness is still weak and incomplete, anger may die for a moment as you watch. Then, the mind may revert back to its old, habitual angry state. The old conditioning is still strong and you have yet to master the art of mindfulness. You are so used to intellectualizing about the cause of anger -- who's to blame, why the conflict escalated, and so on. In fact, this is the mind going back to its treadmill of reacting in the old ways.
You yourself restart the old cycle of creating the anger, thinking about the anger, reacting according to the anger. Here you have anger-intellectualizing- reacting in a vicious cycle.
The purpose of learning to pay attention to anger with a silent mind is to break this cycle of anger and the intellectualization on anger.
The only logical solution is to stop intellectualizing the conflict and simply watch your own mind in the midst of confusion.
R: Do you mean I should just stop thinking in such a situation and do nothing but watch my mind?
That's exactly what I mean.
SD: Suppose I find it difficult to focus on anger. What should I do?
If that is the case, then focus on milder emotions like aversion and desiring. The same thing will happen when you do that. As soon as you are aware of aversion, you will find its intensity decreases; and when your mindfulness becomes strong, the aversion or desiring will resolve. As you proceed and build up your mindfulness, you will find you are able to go on to stronger emotions like anger, craving and greed.
SD: What about problem solving? How can I work my way through complicated situations in which anger and judgment interfere with mindfulness?
It is the same in complicated situations. Let's be very clear -- be mindful and watch without judgment. The mindfulness itself trains one towards a pure and simple mind, devoid of judgment and discrimination. To be mindful is a transcending act -- transcending anger, transcending judgment. So, if you master the art of mindfulness, you will no longer react with anger or judgment, because paying attention is itself a transcending act.
M: What about other people? How can I react to others? I still need to react to get out of a conflict situation.
That is exactly the point. Most often you are just reacting rather than acting. You are reacting in the ways you have been conditioned. The way to stop reacting is to break that conditioning.
Stop rationalizing. Stop the thinking mind and train it to experience itself by watching itself.
When the mind stops its roller-coaster thinking, it sees the entire situation as it is. This is crucial. The seeing, the awareness, is total.
You have to start with yourself. Make the decision to watch the mind and then see the process. Although you start with yourself, the actual seeing encompasses the total situation. You stop seeing yourself in isolation and see yourself instead in the context of the whole situation.
Then, there is no longer an outside or inside. You are part of the whole. "You" now, are not as important as "you" used to be.
Before, you saw your situation and your own importance and you needed to guard your identity, to control the situation. Now, when you see no division between yourself and others, when you are no more or no less important than others, only now are you able to grasp the whole situation, as it is, with clarity. Now you see very clearly where the problem lies, and instead of reacting, you simply act.
D: Can you give us an example from everyday life?
Would one of you like to give an example?
P: Let's say my young child is crying because I won't allow him to have something he wants. If I stop to look, I see my own annoyance and frustration. I even feel anger, because I cannot reason with the child. The moment I see that anger, it dissolves -- and rather than responding to my son in anger, I am able to be understanding, yet firm, towards him. It's strange, because suddenly I know how to deal with the problem. I don't get involved in his anger and frustrations, or my own. He seems to pick up on this and he becomes calmer too.
Yes, that's it. At that moment of seeing your anger, you transcend your own feelings of anger and frustration. You become centered. You no longer generate conflict, and because you are calmer, naturally the child responds.
More often than not, your actions are so complete that the conflict will not continue; you no longer generate reasons for continuing the conflict. This complete, non-generating action in Buddhism is called right action, or samma kammanta in Pali. This right action is what I mean by meditation in action. By so doing, you are already on the Noble Eightfold Path.
Letting Go and Picking Up
J: Why is "letting go" so important in Buddhism?
Thynn: The term "letting go" has become a catchword in Buddhist circles. It is true that "letting go" is crucial for arriving at self-realization of inner freedom, but you have to understand how to let go.
J: What are we supposed to let go of?
Let go of your clinging. Let go of the motivating desire behind whatever you're doing. It may be a desire to succeed, to be perfect, to control others or to glorify yourself. It doesn't matter what it is specifically; what matters is the desire behind your act. It is easy to mistake the act for the desire.
To let go is to let go of clinging to desire, not to let go of the act.
We have been talking about stopping and looking at emotions. Try to stop and look at an act; see if you can identify the desire propelling it. When you see the desire, you can also detect the clinging to the desire. When you see the clinging, you see it resolve and you spontaneously let go.
R: There are so many things in life I don't want to renounce or let go of.
Of course not. We don't let go for the sake of letting go. There is a parable about a Zen master who was approached by a pupil. The pupil asked, "I have nothing in my mind now; what shall I do next?" "Pick it up," replied the master. This is an excellent example of the negation that comes with proper understanding, as opposed to pure nihilism.
If we are bound to the concept of letting go, then we are not free. When we are not free, understanding -- panna -- does not arise. But if we truly see the clinging to desire and let go of it, our act becomes a pure act, without any attendant tensions or frustrations. When the act is pure and simple, we can accomplish more with less stress. At that point, you are "picking up" just as you are "letting go."
D: Why is letting go so difficult? I can watch my other emotions like anger and hatred, but it is much harder to see desire and clinging.
That's because desire and clinging precede anger and hatred. In any fit of emotion -- and our mental formations occur so very fast -- we can only identify gross emotions like anger and hatred. Desire and clinging are much more subtle, so it takes stronger samadhi to be able to see them.
You have been conditioned since you were very young to relate everything to yourself. As soon as you learn to recognize people and things, you're taught how to relate these to the "I" and "mine"-- my mom, my dad, my toy, etc. As you grow up you're taught how to relate ideas and concepts to yourself. You have to learn that so that you can function properly in society.
But at the same time, this process slowly and unconsciously creates a concept of selfhood, and you build up your ego. This buildup is strengthened by the values of society. You learn to compete, to achieve, to accumulate knowledge, wealth and power. In other words, you are trained to possess and to cling.
By the time you are grown up, the concept of ego-self has become so real that it is difficult to tell what is illusion and what is reality. It is difficult to realize that "I" and "mine" are temporary, relative and changeable. The same is true of all that is related to "I" and "mine." Not understanding that "I" and "mine" are temporary, you struggle to keep them permanent; you cling to them. This desire to try to keep everything permanent is what makes it so difficult to learn to let go.
M: I have trouble accepting the Buddhist idea of self as an illusion.
You have become so used to functioning with the "I" and "mine," so used to thinking your "self" is real, that it is naturally difficult to understand the Buddhist way of thinking. The "I" and "mine," being illusions themselves, survive only by clinging to illusions of their own making. They cling to all kinds of mental possessions -- be they power, wealth, status or whatever -- which are themselves conceptual creations of the mind with no substantial reality. In short, they are also illusions.
R: If "I" is an illusion and not reality, how can "I" get rid of the "I"?
How can you get rid of something that never was?
M: I feel that if I let go of "I" and "mine," I would lose my identity. How can I exist if I let go of everything? Won't I become cold and unfeeling? It sounds scary, like living in a vacuum.
You have to understand that what you lose is merely an illusion. It never was. You empty the mind of illusion about self. Just let go of the illusion.
In fact, you are not losing anything. You just remove an imaginary screen before your eyes. In the process you gain wisdom, or panna. From this wisdom unfold the four virtues of unconditional love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. These virtues manifest themselves as concern, humanness and sensitivity to others. When you have panna you can fully experience the beauty and warmth that is within all human relationships.
That is why letting go is not losing your illusory ego. You are actually uncovering a great treasure.
If you just stopped thinking for a while and sat back to reflect on your own mind, you would be surprised to realize that you are at peace. Even if you agree with me, you might argue that this peace is only temporary. So be it. But let us look into this peaceful tranquil state, temporary or otherwise, since it is already with us -- without our having to make any effort at all at being peaceful.
You were born with this peace-nature of the mind; otherwise you would not be what you are, would you? You did not run around meditating to bring about this peace to yourself: you did not learn from someone or some book to make possible this peaceful state in yourself. In other words, "you" had nothing to do with it. Peace is a natural mind-state in every one of us. Peace has been there since the day we were born and it is going to be there till the day we die. It is our greatest gift; so why do we think we have no peace of mind?
Experiencing peace is like looking at our hands. Usually, we see only the fingers -- not the spaces in between. In a similar manner, when we look at the mind, we are aware of the active states, such as our running thoughts and the one-thousand-and-one feelings that are associated with them, but we tend to overlook the intervals of peace between them. If one were to be unhappy or sad every minute of the twenty-four-hour day, what would happen to us? I guess we would all be in the mad house!
Then why is it that we supposedly never are at peace? It is simply because we never allow ourselves to be so.
We enjoy battling with ourselves and our emotions so much that the battle becomes second nature to us. And we complain that we have no peace of mind.
Why don't we leave aside all these complicated ideas for a while and simply contemplate this peaceful nature of ours -- since we are fortunate enough to have it -- instead of frantically trying to find peace of mind someplace else? How can we find something elsewhere, when it is already in ourselves? Probably that is the reason why we often do not find it.
We do not have to do anything to have this peace, do we? Mind is by itself peaceful.
But we do need to do something to our minds in order to be angry or sad.
Imagine yourself enjoying a moment of quiet. Suddenly something disturbs your enjoyment. You start up at once, annoyed or angry at the disturbance. Why? Because you dislike the interruption. Your mind "acts." It dislikes. It sets up thoughts of dislike, followed by annoyance, anger and a whole series of reactions.
Thought moments are extremely fast, so you don't notice the moment of the mind setting up thoughts of dislike. We generally think that the outside situation is what is responsible for our annoyance. But even during the most durable and miserable experiences of our lives, we find moments when our minds are distracted from the cause of misery and we are relatively free from the devastating emotional state. Once we set our minds back on the event, the unpleasant feelings come rushing in again immediately. When these emotions subside, what happens to them? We seem to take it for granted that they end up or phase out somewhere outside of us. But if they had their origin in the mind, they must surely end in the mind. If they had their origin in a peaceful state, then they would surely end in that peaceful state also. It is only logical.
Let us contemplate this peaceful state. We recognize it before emotions have set in and also after they have disappeared. What about the in-between times? Is peace destroyed during the time that we have been angry or sad? We are so used to implying that this or that destroys our peace of mind that we have come to assume that peace of mind is a contrived state that can be arrived at or deleted at will.
But this is not the case. Peace and tranquillity are part and parcel of our own mental makeup. If they are destroyed during emotional upheavals, our minds might as well be destroyed too. Peace is the essence of our own innate nature and can never be destroyed.
Peace is with us every single moment of our life, but we do not recognize it. This is because we are ignorant about peace -- most of the time we are too preoccupied with the external world and our own running thoughts and emotions to be aware of it. We have lost touch with our inner selves, with what is the best in us. We frantically try to find the answer outside when all the time peace is sitting there, silently waiting until we come home to it.
If we agree that have innate peace, what do you think gives us non-peace? From the standpoint of peace of mind, thoughts by themselves are neither good nor bad. It is only when the concepts of "I" and "mine" arise that the mind is thrown into conflict. Likes and dislikes quickly follow these concepts of self. This where the real trouble begins.
A thought by itself is okay. Let's say you've lost your keys. It happens. The problem begins when you start judging the fact that you misplaced your keys. "I dislike it when I lose my keys.... I like it so much better when I have my keys and I can continue my busy schedule." You might go on with your thinking: "Why am I so careless? It must have been because the children were rowdy." Then you might put your thoughts into words: "Look what you made me do -- I was so busy with you that I lost my keys." You might put those thoughts and emotions into physical actions by rushing around looking for the lost keys.
All this commotion stems from your reaction to a couple of misplaced keys. Let's go back to what prompted the commotion. When you had the thought, "I lost my keys," you weren't able to let go of that thought. Instead, you immediately jumped into likes and dislikes. Feeling, conflicts and frustrations are born from this dichotomy of likes and dislikes. You allowed yourself to be swept away by your judgments, your feelings, your frustrations.
But let's look at the thoughts for a moment. They arise, and by their own accord they fall away. That is, unless we cling to them. If we allow thoughts to continue their normal span, they will naturally fall away. All thoughts are subject to the universal law of impermanence, anicca.
For those of you who are familiar with Buddhism, you know this law of change. You accept it in many aspects of your lives. But can you apply it to the most important area of all -- your mind? Can you watch thoughts and emotions as they arise in your mind? Can you allow them to naturally fade away, without clinging to them? Or do you indulge in letting the "I" grasp onto a thought, an emotion?
By their nature, thoughts are transient, unless the "I" interferes and refuses to let them go. By clinging to thoughts and emotions, the "I" prolongs the emotion-span -- on and on. It is the "I" which insists on clinging to thoughts and emotions that creates non-peace.
Peace has nothing to do with the "I." It is not "my" peace. As long as you think you own peace -- as long as you think, "I like my peace" -- then you will not experience peace.
A friend of mine, a spiritual educator, came up with a metaphor that may help explain the process. Let's take the phrase, "I like peace." If we eliminate the "I," then we are left with "like peace." If we go further and eliminate the "like," then all that remains is peace. Peace is something that can be felt but not owned. Peace can be experienced when we eliminate our ideas of likes and dislikes about peace.
P: It sounds as though we can do something to realize this state of peace ... that we can purposely eliminate concepts of "I" and likes and dislikes.
Thynn: No, this example is just a metaphor. Realization of peace does not come with "doing" anything with your mind, nor does it come with "not-doing." "Doing" and "not-doing" are just more concepts to cling to. Right? When you can let go of your ideas of how to obtain peace, of what to do and not do, then your mind is silent and you can experience peace. As long as your mind is rushing back and forth between likes and dislikes, then your mind is too busy to experience peace. When the mind calms and is silent, then you can realize its innate peaceful nature.
Meditation on Peace-Mind
Many have asked how to go about finding inner peace. Once you have recognized that peace is not an induced state, but an innate-natural state, that is exactly where you begin. There is absolutely nothing to do but look within yourself and recognize peace this very moment. When you recognize peace in your mind, you have in fact already experienced peace.
If you do recognize your own peaceful moments at times, then you are already started. Never mind if this recognition is very brief. You can make this peace-moment the base from which to investigate your own mind. This can be the focal point from which to launch your investigation. And surprisingly, you will find this is also the home base to which you return.
You may find that it is not easy to come back to this peace-moment. That is not important. It is more important to decide that you want to pay attention to your own mind. We are so conditioned to looking outward that our minds have fallen into a kind of mental groove. It is difficult to rise up and leave that groove because it is easy and comfortable there. To turn outward attention inward is difficult unless one has the "will" to do it.
In your initial attempts to see peace-moments, they may be very infrequent and brief, but that is all right. It may even be that the more you try, the more difficult seeing peace or peace-moments becomes. If that is the case, just let go. Very often the awareness of peace-moments is unforeseen; it comes when you least expect it.
You may ask whether there is a specific method to "see" these peace-moments. And I would say no -- not beyond the "will" to pay attention to the mind. Paying attention requires no particular time or place. It goes on while you go about the daily business of living, playing, doing the one-thousand-and-one chores of what is called life. There is nothing to do beyond this. There is just something specifically you should not do and that is to let opinions, judgments and discrimination crowd your mind. The mind watching itself needs to be whole so that it can pay complete attention.
When you start discriminate, your mind becomes preoccupied with making judgments. Your mind ceases to be free. Then you cannot see or experience the peace within yourself.
In order to understand how things move in space, you must be able to see the whole panorama of space as well as the objects in it. Without space, objects cannot have motion. Objects may be affected, but the space will never be affected. The objects may disintegrate in space, but the space remains.
Your home base -- the peace-nature of the mind -- is just like physical space outside your body. Within you is the space of consciousness where thoughts and emotions move about. As with the outside space, it is because of this space- mind that thoughts and feelings can arise freely and also cease freely. If your mind is already crammed, there is no room for anything to arise in it.
If you can "see" this space clearly in yourself, you also see what is rising and falling more clearly. At first, you may notice only the falling -- because it is more obvious. You will find yourself less involved with your own emotions and thus more at your home base. And the more you are at your home base, the more at peace you will be with yourself and with the world.
You may not have found perfect peace as yet, but at least you will find a breathing space in yourself, a respite. This is the time you learn to be friends with your own mind and your emotions. You will find that you no longer wrestle with them as before. The beautiful part is that you will find yourself loosening up inside. This loosening up may not appear important to you, but actually this first step is always the most important. When you are not in a tightly bound, self-inflicted tangle, you can look at yourself more objectively.
Never mind, if you do not see the rising. There is time for everything. Even when you "see" the falling away, you will notice a change. You will already experience peace. Keep on "experiencing" this peace as you would experience a good cup of coffee or a scoop of ice cream. After a while, you will find that you can "experience" your emotions without getting involved in them. Since you are more at home base, you will find that your feelings are in and of themselves fleeting.
For example, you may be surprised to find that feelings do not stay for a long time without your own invitation and your clinging to them. You will also see that they are part of the natural phenomena of the mind. In Buddhism, all phenomena are impermanent, are not of the self, and are themselves the basis of suffering.
Becoming aware of your feelings in this way is like discovering a new friend. When you realize that thse transient feelings have no power of their own, they cease to threaten you. This realization gives you a positive feeling, because you are no longer overwhelmed.
As you find out more about yourself in this way, you will also find that you reside more and more in your own peace home base. You will also realize this peace has always been there. It is just that you were so engrossed in trying to get rid of your frustrations that you had neither the time nor the skill to see this peace that is already there. In fact, peace-mind has been there all along for you to rediscover.
The path to inner peace is quite simple. You complicate it by thinking that the method should be difficult. You are conditioned to achieving this, accomplishing that. Your mind is in perpetual motion. Of course, you must earn a living, feed your family, make friends, take your children to school. That is the business of living. But if you perpetuate this frantic mode as the mode of your search for peace, you won't find peace.
What we are concerned with is slowing down ... so you can understand yourself, and experience what is already there. When you are already at the home base, do you need to do anything to stay there?
You need only to wake up and realize you have always been home.
We must be aware that this kind of meditation is a way of investigating and understanding ourselves, of awakening to our actual state of mind, to all the mental formations that arise and fall. It is an entrance to ourselves. We will discover the bad things as well as the good, but in the end the investigation will pay off. For now we can find an opportunity to discover our own wondrous inner depths and draw upon the essence of what is the best in us.
J: I still don't understand how we can make the mind silent.
Thynn: You must realize that you cannot make the mind silent. The more you try to silence the mind purposefully, the more you tie yourself up in knots. The more you try to quiet your mind, the more you propel it into activity. If you try to vanquish your mind, you'll find that the action of subduing is itself disquieting. You see, a mind that is already unquiet cannot deal with a nonquiet mind. This vicious cycle perpetuates a continuous state of frenzy.
M: What do you mean by silent mind? If there is no action in the mind, aren't we paralyzed? How can we function?
A silent mind is not a dead or static mind. A mind is dead or static when it is dulled with ignorance of oneself. In Buddhism, this ignorance is called avijja. Self-conceit, anger, greed and confusion cloud the mind. The mind may be active with greed, hatred and anger, but that mind is dead to the world and to others. Totally wrapped up in its own confusions, that mind is insensitive to the needs of others. This is a true paralysis of the mind, which renders it unable to open up to others. A truly silent mind, on the other hand, is alert and sensitive to its surroundings. This is because a silent mind is devoid of judging, clinging or rejecting. The silent mind is free from hatred, anger, jealousy, confusion and conflict.
J: It sounds so beautiful! How can we achieve this silent mind?
The mind is silent when it transcends the duality of liking and disliking. Generally we perceive the world through a conceptual framework based on a dualistic way of thinking. As soon as we perceive something, we judge it. Let's say we judge that it is good. As soon as we judge something as being good, then anything opposing it automatically becomes bad. We constantly divide our conceptual world in this polarized manner; we set up good and evil, beauty and ugliness, right and wrong, according to our own standards.
M: But we have to discriminate in order to function in everyday life. I'm not going to eat a rotten apple. It would make me sick. I have to judge this apple rotten, that one ripe and good to eat.
Of course you need to make judgments to function in this world. You need to recognize a good apple from a bad one. This is rational, not emotional, judgment. But usually we don't stop at making rational judgments. We go on to impose our emotional judgment of likes and dislikes onto our perceptions. We dislike a rotten apple, don't we? Therefore, we cling to our dislike of it.
Suppose someone offers you a rotten apple. How would you feel?
M: I would be annoyed.
Yes. And if they gave you a big beautiful apple?
M: I'd be delighted.
Do you see how your emotions are built up around your own likes and dislikes? When you find something that appeals to you -- an idea, a person or a thing -- then you want to cling to it, to possess that idea, person or thing. You become caught up in the duality of beauty versus ugliness, good versus evil, on and on.
Let's go back to your big, beautiful apple. Suppose someone snatches your beautiful apple away?
M: I'd be very annoyed.
There you see. Where's the problem?
M: Oh, you mean the apple is not the problem, but we are?
Exactly. Apple is just apple, good or rotten. You can take it or leave it. You can make a rational judgment about it. But our problem is that we make emotional judgments instead. This is what we need to be clear about.
When we make emotional judgments, we set up ripples in our minds. These ripples cause larger ripples and soon a storm is brewing. This storm disturbs the mind. In all this we lose touch with the silence in the mind, the peace within. It is only when we can calm these ripples that the mind can reside in its own silence, its own equanimous state. When the mind can rest in its own stillness it can see things as they are. I call this silent mind, "peace- mind."
If we don't allow the mind to be silent, we make emotional judgments and then we get into trouble. Here is where the battle starts, within ourselves and outside of ourselves.
J: Oh, I see. We cling to what we judge to be good, right or beautiful, and reject its opposite.
Yes, you've got it.
J: But how do we break out of this duality?
Remember, duality is a creation of our conceptual minds. We love to cling to what we have created. The duality we create becomes a personal possession. "I" want to hold onto "my" idea of right, "my" idea of beauty, "my" idea of good. Our minds become rigid, and we end up looking at the world through narrow blinders.
J: How can we free ourselves from this fixation?
By being mindful. When you are mindful of yourself judging in that moment, the judging will stop. Once you stop judging, "seeing things as they are" will follow naturally. Eventually, you will become more equanimous; your mind will stop and look instead of running around in circles. When the mind is busy judging, clinging and rejecting, it has no space for anything else. Only when you stop discriminating can you see things as they are, and not as you think they are or want them to be. This is the only way to transcend the duality of likes and dislikes.
Once we transcend duality, once we break through the boundaries of our own conceptual framework, then the world appears expanded. It's no longer limited by our tunnel vision. When the bondage is broken, then whatever has been dammed up within us all these years has a chance to emerge. Love -- and along with it, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity -- come forth and bring sensitivity to others.
In the past, our energy was sapped by conflict, frustration, anger, rejection, etc. This conflict was exhausting. Now free from conflict, we can redirect ourselves toward harmonious living and meaningful relationships with others. Only then does life become worth living, because now we can experience fully each moment in its freshness. We can also see our relationships with others in a totally new light. Now we can truly live in harmony.
Four Noble Truths in Daily Life
Thynn: The Four Noble Truths are the cornerstone of Buddhism. Understanding them helps us in daily life. The First Noble Truth is dukkha, or suffering. The Second Noble Truth is samudaya, or craving. The Third Noble Truth is nirodha, or cessation of suffering. The Fourth Noble Truth is magga, the Eightfold Noble Path, leading to cessation of suffering.
M: When I hear the First Noble Truth, that life is suffering, I think Buddhism is a pessimistic, negative philosophy.
Yes, some people misunderstand it that way. But this is because the teaching has not been fully understood. When dukkha is translated as suffering, it is understood as gross physical suffering. But in truth, dukkha can be experienced on many levels; the actual meaning of dukkha encompasses the whole range of human experience from very subtle dissatisfaction to gross misery. Dukkha is the inescapable fact of old age, illness and death. It is being separated from what one likes, enduring what one dislikes.
At the most profound level dukkha is the failure to understand the insubstantiality of all things. Everything is insubstantial; nothing is concrete, nothing is tangible. To be ignorant of or go against the natural state of impermanence is itself suffering.
Buddhism seems negative only if one looks at the First Noble Truth in isolation. But if you look at the Four Noble Truths collectively, you will find that they are positive, because the three other noble truths show the way out of suffering.
M: But how do we incorporate the Four Noble Truths into daily life?
Thynn: That is not difficult. To begin with, you have to see dukkha in its entirety before you can see your way out of it. You don't have to be in physical or mental agony to understand dukkha. It is everywhere around you. Right now, how do you feel about the pounding noise next door?
[Noisy construction work was going on at a neighbor's house.]
M: I feel irritated because I want to have a peaceful experience and listen to you and learn what you are talking about. In fact, I'm trying to eliminate the noise from my consciousness, but I can't.
Because that is not the way to solve the problem.
M: The noise annoys me and I want to stop it. I have a craving for the workers to stop.
Well then, you have already set up a desire that the noise should stop. How did the desire arise? It arose from your dissatisfaction with the current situation. In other words, you desire a peaceful circumstance right now. Since you can't have it, you are annoyed. There is already aversion in your mind.
Suppose you were in the midst of doing something that was very important to you. Then this aversion might flare up into overt anger, hatred or even violence. Aversion is already a stressful state. Anger, hatred and violence bring on even greater stress and suffering, both to oneself and to others. These are the truths that we have to face in every moment of our daily lives. But we are not aware of this aversion and suffering. We blame our dukkha on someone or something else.
This lack of awareness is called avijja, or ignorance -- that is, ignorance about the Four Noble Truths. This ignorance is described as an unawakened state. If you wake up to your own state of mind, right now, you will see what is happening there.
Can you look into your own mind this very moment and see what is happening there?
M: See what?
What happens to the annoyance.
M: When I become aware of the annoyance, it sort of lessens.
As soon as you become aware of the annoyance, the aversion fades away. It resolves in the mind.
M: Yeah, a little bit.
Is it still there?
M: You mean the annoyance? It's much less. It is still there but it is much less now. [laughter] I see. So it's not a question of putting the irritation out of your mind. It is a question of accepting the fact that your mind is irritated and annoyed.
You are right. The issue is not the noise. It is your reaction to the noise. You have to deal with yourself first before you deal with the noise. Now, what are you going to do about it?
M: That's my next question. We have a number of choices. We can move away from the noise. We can ask the workers to stop hammering. We can continue to sit here and try to maintain our awareness of the noise in order to minimize the irritation.
You have to be clear. Is it the awareness of the noise or the awareness of your own state of mind?
M: Awareness of my own state of mind regarding it.
Right. There are many situations in life when you will not be able to eliminate external factors. We cannot eliminate or control most of the external factors in our lives, but we can do something about ourselves. You begin with yourself. Since you are born with a free will, it is absolutely up to you what you want to do with yourself.
M: Are you saying that since I cannot make the noise go away, I can just choose to accept it?
You must understand the difference between accepting things blindly and accepting them intelligently. Acceptance can be complete only when you harbor no judgments.
Now let's go back to the Four Noble Truths. Your dissatisfaction with the noisy circumstances is the First Noble Truth of Suffering -- dukkha. Your desire or craving for peace is the Second Noble Truth -- samudaya -- which is the cause of dukkha. Now as soon as you look within yourself and resolve the annoyance, you are free from the cycle of desire-aversion-desire. Aren't you ? Now look into yourself again.
M: The annoyance is already gone! It is amazing that you had to bring the noise back again into my awareness.
Let's look at what we've been going through. You have seen that it is possible to break the cycle of suffering by merely looking into your own state of mind. This in actual fact is mindfulness of the mind, which is the basis of satipatthana meditation in Buddhism.
Do you see now how practicing mindfulness can lead to the end of suffering?
M: No, not yet. How does mindfulness relate to the acceptance of the noise?
The acceptance is the result of mindfulness. The act of mindfulness is a transcending act. It transcends likes and dislikes, and purifies our vision. We see things as they are. When we see or hear things as they really are, acceptance comes naturally.
M: You are aware of the noise. You get rid of the clinging to silence and you accept the noise. You accept that the noise will be part of the experience.
There is not even "you" there. There is just acceptance.
The acceptance comes from the freedom of the mind in the moment. As soon as the cycle is broken, you no longer feel annoyed. When your mind frees itself emotionally from the noise, it assumes a state of equanimity and acceptance.
M: You're not expecting it to stop and you're not expecting it to get louder.
That's right. You are free of any conceptualizing regarding the noise. You arrive at a point where you can just hear it as it is. With that hearing of the noise as it is, acceptance is already part of the situation. You can't force yourself to accept it. That's why I am very careful using these words. When you say, "I accept," that usually means...
M: I am in control.
Yes, that's right and that doesn't really solve the problem. The kind of acceptance we are talking about is a natural spontaneous absorbing of the environment, being one with it.
M: Oh, I see. There ceases to be a division between the noise and my experience of the noise. So there is nothing to accept or be annoyed about.
Right. Now let us go back to your experience right this minute. Are you still irritated by the noise?
M: Not anymore. I'm completely free of it. You mentioned mindfulness being the foundation of meditation. How does that work?
Yes. Mindfulness of one's own mind at any moment is part of the practice of satipatthana. In this particular instance, your own mindfulness of annoyance is contemplation of the First Noble Truth -- dukkha. Your mindfulness of the desire for peace and of clinging to silence, which is the cause of dukkha, is contemplation of the Second Noble Truth -- samudaya. The moment that you become free of the annoyance is nirodha -- the Third Noble Truth. In this case, the cessation of suffering is momentary, so it can be called tadanga nirodha.
M: And the Fourth Noble Truth?
When you practice mindfulness you are in fact practicing magga, the Noble Eightfold Path. You are making the right effort, called samma vayama, to be mindful, called samma sati, of your annoyance. As a result, your mind becomes collected, which is called samma samadhi. When you transcend your dislike of the noise and your irritation ceases, at that moment you are able to regard the sound as it is. This is called samma ditthi or right view. It is samma sankappa, right thinking, when you are not expecting it to get louder. You are able to verbalize the situation with proper insight, called samma vaca. Now do you still feel like running away from the noise?
M: Not anymore. At first I did. I might have said or done something nasty if I had had the chance.
But you didn't and that is samma kammanta, right action.
M: You mean no action in this context is right action?
Yes. So you can see how by practicing mindfulness with equanimity in daily life, one is already applying the Four Noble Truths and integrating the Noble Eightfold Path as living meditation.
Unity of the Noble Eightfold Path
In Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is the guide to the attainment of liberation. If it is to be understood and incorporated into our daily lives, it must be viewed in terms of unity of mind, speech and action. The Path can be explored in such great detail that one could get lost in digressions. To avoid that, we take a practical, accurate and holistic view of the Path. We look at it in terms of wisdom, ethical conduct and concentration, or -- in Pali -- panna, sila and samadhi.
1. Right understanding (samma ditthi)
2. Right thinking (samma sankappa)
Ethical Conduct (Sila)
3. Right speech (samma vaca)
4. Right action (samma kammanta)
5. Right livelihood (samma ajiva)
6. Right effort (samma vayama)
7. Right mindfulness (samma sati)
8. Right collectedness (samma samadhi)
Even these three aspects of the Path, although identified separately for clarification, are not separate. In actual practice, with proper understanding, sila, samadhi and panna are assimilated in each moment, in every thought, word or deed.
Take, for instance, sila, or ethical conduct. How does one refrain from wrong speech and action? First of all, what is right speech and wrong speech? Are they not relative to time, place and person? Is there such a thing as absolute right and absolute wrong? We can go on and on without coming to a definite conclusion, and by so doing we veer away from ourselves -- that is, from our minds.
The purpose of sila is to refrain from hurting others by way of harmful speech and action -- but how much restraint we can impose on ourselves at all times? We react to our environment in such a habitual way that we may already have hurt others before we realize what has happened in the mind. This is because we are conditioned to neglect our own minds in our daily life. Our attention is almost always directed outward. This preoccupation with the outer world is what we have to transcend.
Although we are dealing with verbal and physical acts, all of these originate from the mind itself. The actions of the mind, speech and body occur in such rapid succession that there seems to be no interval in between. As soon as a thought has arisen, we find ourselves speaking or doing something. We find that we cannot control speech and bodily behavior fast enough to refrain from harmful speech and action. But sati (mindfulness) on the mind renders it alert to its own actions of speech and body.
How do we redirect our attention to our own mind? This was the Buddha's purpose in laying out the path of mindfulness. The objective of cultivation of the mind is to learn to break the habitual preoccupation with the external world so that we become more aware of what is happening in us, in our own minds, as we go on in life. As soon as mindfulness, samma sati, occurs, we find that the mind acts no more; it stops like a witness to watch the inner state. When this watching becomes a constant habit, second nature, the cycle of reacting mindlessly to the environment is broken. In this moment of breakthrough, "seeing" or "awareness" occurs: crystal-clear perception of things as they are, of people, situations and things properly in perspective, free of discriminations, likes and dislikes. From this new insight thre follows right thinking, right speech and right action, relative and appropriate to each specific circumstance and instance. Then the question of what is absolutely right or absolutely wrong no longer arises.
Thus, in terms of the Noble Eightfold Path, as soon as we pay attention to our mind, there is already samma vayama (effort) and samma sati (mindfulness). When samma sati is full and complete, the mind enters instantaneously into khanika samadhi (momentary concentration), which brings forth panna (wisdom). Wisdom sees things in the right perspective, samma ditthi. Wisdom brings samma sankappa (right thought); and thereby samma vaca (right speech), samma kammanta (right action) and samma ajiva (right livelihood.)
Hence it is possible in every conscious moment that sila, samadhi and panna are all three incorporated in our daily business of living -- while we eat, work, play and struggle. In short, our life itself becomes the Noble Eightfold Path.
MS: You have translated samma samadhi as "one-pointedness of mind" or "right concentration." Isn't, textually speaking, samma samadhi an absorption in the four jhanas? One-pointedness of mind can be right- or wrong-pointedness of mind and, therefore, may not fit the true understanding of samma samadhi. This distinction becomes important when we talk about meditation and concentration in daily life.
Thynn: Well, samma samadhi is generally translated as one-pointedness of mind or right concentration. But when it is expounded in detail it is described in two categories: jhanic absorption as in samatha meditation, and khanika samadhi (momentary concentration) as in vipassana meditation of the dry- visioned (sukkha-vipassaka) path of daily life.* Thus I personally think it should not be translated as absorption in the four jhanas only. In this I am following the commentarial rather than the canonical tradition.
You are correct, though, that one-pointedness of mind can be of the right or wrong kin, because the power of the concentrated mind is enormous and can be directed toward harmful activities if not governed by wisdom. This is exactly why the Path sould be understood and practiced in a holistic manner. If you take meditation out of the context of the Noble Eightfold Path, without morality or the pursuit of wisdom (panna), then naturally it cannot be called samma samadhi. In the case of meditation in daily life, what is important is the arising of wisdom (panna) as a sequel of mindfulness in the moment as a preventive to harmful thoughts, words, action or livelihood.
A traditional elaboration of the Noble Eightfold Path is given at the end of this book.
Dynamics of Meditation
M: What really scares me about meditation is the idea of becoming completely without thought, completely mindless.
Thynn: Let me clarify your usage of "mindless" and "completely without thought." Mindless in your context would mean that the mind is totally absent, without any consciousness, a vacuum. This is not possible. Without consciousness we would be dead. "Completely without thought" means consciousness exists, but no thoughts are present. This is possible in meditation, but only under certain conditions. In some forms of sitting meditation it is possible to reach a state where the mind is absolutely quiet, one-pointed and absorbed in itself. This is called jhanic samadhi. In this meditative state, the person cannot function.
M: I don't think I could be completely without thought. It sounds like I would become like a zombie.
It is only a temporary state, which one comes out of. But we have been talking about another way of meditating, a way that sidesteps the problems of jhanic samadhi. If you practice mindfulness in everyday life as you have experienced just now, you do not go through absorptive states.
M: It sounds like daily-life meditation is a more active process than I had thought. How does the mindfulness process relate to this kind of meditation?
Let's be clear. The process is active whether one is in formal meditation or in a daily-life situation. In the sitting practice, although the body is stationary, the mind is actively watching; it is mindful of the body or the mind. Meditation is a mental discipline that ultimately leads the mind to a purified state.
M: In daily-life meditation, is the mind actively watching itself through a state of no thought?
Yes. When your mindfulness is at its peak, you can experience states where thoughts fall away. But the no-thought state lasts for only a split second. You experience a heightened awareness that is one-pointed as well as absolutely quiet. This momentary one-pointedness of the mind is called khanika samadhi. Although it is not as prolonged as the samadhi states in sitting meditation, khanika samadhi has the same intensity and quality. In khanika samadhi, thoughts fall away and the mind arrives at its purest state.
M: If thoughts fall away, does it mean that no "I" exists in that moment?
Yes, but only momentarily.
M: If no "I" exists in that moment, what does exist? What happens in that moment of no thought?
When split-second samadhi occurs, in that moment there is no thought, but only an absolutely pure and heightened consciousness. It is at that moment that panna or insight awareness arises. The person experiences pure vision, ditthi visuddhi. In Pali, ditthi means view and visuddhi means purity. So, it means pure vision.
Although this experience may be brief, it is timeless and infinite; it is a moment of transformation. It is the moment when the "I" and "mine" resolve. After that moment of no thought, pure vision is followed by thought, but the thoughts, emotions and actions are not in the old habitual routine. In the moment of an absolutely still and quiet mind, pure vision (panna or insight), love and compassion arise from our inner depths. Subsequent thoughts and actions are tempered with love and compassion.
You see, meditation does not make you into an inert, unthinking, unfeeling person, my dear. In fact, meditation brings out the best in you -- love, warmth and sensitivity to all beings.
The practice of mindfulness, whether within the sitting meditation or in this daily-life meditation, is an active, ongoing process. In the sitting practice, although the body is stationary, the mind is actively watching and mindful of the body or the mind. Likewise, in meditation in daily life, the mind is actively watching itself regardless of posture and time. The mental discipline involved in each form is what is most crucial and ultimately leads the mind to its purified state. It is not the postures that lead to enlightenment, though postures are useful in helping the mind to quiet itself. If you understand this clearly, you can meditate anywhere and anytime.
L: I've just finished a retreat at a meditation center and I am having some difficulty adjusting to the outside world. It was so tranquil in the center that I find it very difficult to cope with the sights and sounds and all the confusion outside. How can one cope with the transition?
Thynn: Your experience is not unusual. Many people find themselves in the same kind of situation when they first leave a meditation center. In the retreat, conditions for peace and quiet are established, and meditation can be practiced without disturbance. While you are in the retreat, you become temporarily conditioned to these quiet circumstances. So when you come out, you find the bombardment of the sights and sounds difficult to handle.
L: How can one better cope with the transition?
Let's look at how your mind functions inside and outside the retreat. When you were in the retreat, you were practicing mindfulness intensively. Your mindfulness was in a very high gear. When you came out, you probably left the mindfulness behind, didn't you?
L: Ha! I actually did.
There you are! As soon as you left the retreat, you changed gear. You let your mindfulness go and you were back to your old unmindful state. When you are suddenly faced with the confusion in the outside world, you find it difficult to handle. The difficulty arises because you separate meditation from daily experience. Actually, the mindfulness you have learned in the retreat should equip you better to face the outside world.
L: How's that?
Well, first you must overcome the impression that mindfulness can only be practiced in the retreat and at a particular time and place. This conditioning renders it difficult for anyone to bridge the gap between the retreat and the outside world. In the retreat, you have learned to be mindful sitting cross- legged with your eyes closed. Now that you are out of the retreat you can practice the same kind of mindfulness, but you have got to be able to do it with your eyes open, while you deal with a myriad of problems and bombardments.
L: Isn't that difficult?
Nothing is too difficult if you know how. Probably the first thing you learned in the meditation retreat was how to be in the present moment. You can also practice that outside. You can be mindful of everything you do -- cooking, washing up, bathing, driving, walking. You can be mindful of just about anything.
Not only that, but in the retreat you invariably learn to watch your mind like a witness, without likes and dislikes. In daily life you can watch your mind like a witness in the same way. You can watch your aversions to sights and sounds as they come to you. Let them come and let them go. Be equanimous to your feelings about the outside world, and your equanimity will overflow to the outside world itself as well.
As you are witness to your own reactions to the outside world, you will also become a witness to the sights and sounds, and not be so disturbed by them. When you become quite good at this, you will actually be living with an inner retreat whatever your circumstances, whether quiet or not. All the world may go round and round, but your inner world will be still and you will find you won't need a separate time and place to meditate.
L: What about setting up a time to practice at home in the course of the day?
It is fine to do that if you can be equanimous about that set period of practice. You see, what happens with most people is that they become dependent on that meditative practice and find they cannot function the whole day properly if they do not have the chance to sit and meditate in the morning.
L: Why is that?
It is a form of conditioning like everything else. It is like being addicted to the morning cup of coffee or tea. You can become addicted to meditation also. Although this is definitely not a bad conditioning per se, there are many subtleties that one must be aware of in meditation. The mind is very tricky, and one must always be aware of how the mind can be trapped.
L: Then what does one do in such circumstances?
The most important thing is to develop equanimity toward your own practice. It may be the most difficult thing to do because, like everything else, one becomes attached to the meditative practices. We learn to be equanimous with other things, but forget to be so with our own practice.
L: If we can be equanimous with our practice, will it be possible to set aside a time for meditation and yet maintain an equilibrium through out the day?
That will be possible if you can be equanimous and at the same time mindful outside the practice session. Then you can be good at meditating, both in and out of the set period.
[0. Contents] [1. Introduction] [2. Freedom to begin]
[3. Living Meditation] [4. Reflection on Meditation] [5. Creative Living]
[6. Appendix] [Back to the Buddhasasana Home Page (English)]