«Mindfulness In Plain English By Ven. Henepola Gunaratana Preface In my experience I found that the most effective way to express something in order ...»
Every second of your existence thereafter is changed. The meditator who pushes all the way down this track achieves perfect mental health, a pure love for all that lives and complete cessation of suffering. That is not a small goal. But you don't have to go all the way to reap benefits. They start right away and they pile up over the years. It is a cumulative function. The more you sit, the more you learn about the real nature of your own existence. The more hours you spend in meditation, the greater your ability to calmly observe every impulse and intention, every thought and emotion just as it arises in the mind. Your progress to liberation is measured in cushion-man hours. And you can stop any time you've had enough. There is no stick over your head except your own desire to see the true quality of life, to enhance your own existence and that of others.
Vipassana meditation is inherently experiential. It is not theoretical. In the practice of mediation you become sensitive to the actual experience of living, to how things feel.
You do not sit around developing subtle and aesthetic thoughts about living. You live.
Vipassana meditation more than anything else is learning to live.
Eastern science has recognized this basic principle for a very long time. The mind is a set of events, and the observer participates in those events every time he or she looks inward.
Meditation is participatory observation. What you are looking at responds to the process of looking. What you are looking at is you, and what you see depends on how you look.
Thus the process of meditation is extremely delicate, and the result depends absolutely on the state of mind of the meditator. The following attitudes are essential to success in practice. Most of them have been presented before. But we bring them together again here as a series of rules for application.
1. Don't expect anything. Just sit back and see what happens. Treat the whole thing as an experiment. Take an active interest in the test itself. But don't get distracted by your expectations about results. For that matter, don't be anxious for any result whatsoever. Let the meditation move along at its own speed and in its own direction. Let the meditation teach you what it wants you to learn. Meditative awareness seeks to see reality exactly as it is. Whether that corresponds to our expectations or not, it requires a temporary suspension of all our preconceptions and ideas. We must store away our images, opinions and interpretations someplace out of the way for the duration. Otherwise we will stumble over them.
2. Don't strain: Don't force anything or make grand exaggerated efforts.
Meditation is not aggressive. There is no violent striving. Just let your effort be relaxed and steady.
3. Don't rush: There is no hurry, so take you time. Settle yourself on a cushion and sit as though you have a whole day. Anything really valuable takes time to develop. Patience, patience, patience.
4. Don't cling to anything and don't reject anything: Let come what comes and accommodate yourself to that, whatever it is. If good mental images arise, that is fine. If bad mental images arise, that is fine, too. Look on all of it as equal and make yourself comfortable with whatever happens. Don't fight with what you experience, just observe it all mindfully.
5. Let go: Learn to flow with all the changes that come up. Loosen up and relax.
6. Accept everything that arises: Accept your feelings, even the ones you wish you did not have. Accept your experiences, even the ones you hate. Don't condemn yourself for having human flaws and failings. Learn to see all the phenomena in the mind as being perfectly natural and understandable. Try to exercise a disinterested acceptance at all times and with respect to everything you experience.
7. Be gentle with yourself: Be kind to yourself. You may not be perfect, but you are all you've got to work with. The process of becoming who you will be begins first with the total acceptance of who you are.
8. Investigate yourself: Question everything. Take nothing for granted. Don't believe anything because it sounds wise and pious and some holy men said it. See for yourself. That does not mean that you should be cynical, impudent or irreverent. It means you should be empirical. Subject all statements to the actual test of your experience and let the results be your guide to truth. Insight meditation evolves out of an inner longing to wake up to what is real and to gain liberating insight to the true structure of existence. The entire practice hinges upon this desire to be awake to the truth. Without it, the practice is superficial.
9. View all problems as challenges: Look upon negatives that arise as opportunities to learn and to grow. Don't run from them, condemn yourself or bear your burden in saintly silence. You have a problem? Great. More grist for the mill. Rejoice, dive in and investigate.
10. Don't ponder: You don't need to figure everything out. Discursive thinking won't free you from the trap. In mediation, the mind is purified naturally by mindfulness, by wordless bare attention. Habitual deliberation is not necessary to eliminate those things that are keeping you in bondage. All that is necessary is a clear, non-conceptual perception of what they are and how they work. That alone is sufficient to dissolve them. Concepts and reasoning just get in the way. Don't think. See.
11. Don't dwell upon contrasts: Differences do exist between people, but dwelling upon then is a dangerous process. Unless carefully handled, it leads directly to egotism. Ordinary human thinking is full of greed, jealousy and pride.
A man seeing another man on the street may immediately think, "He is better looking than I am." The instant result is envy or shame. A girl seeing another girl may think, "I am prettier than she is." The instant result is pride. This sort of comparison is a mental habit, and it leads directly to ill feeling of one sort or another: greed, envy, pride, jealousy, hatred. It is an unskillful mental state, but we do it all the time. We compare our looks with others, our success, our accomplishments, our wealth, possessions, or I.Q. and all these lead to the same place--estrangement, barriers between people, and ill feeling.
The meditator's job is to cancel this unskillful habit by examining it thoroughly, and then replacing it with another. Rather than noticing the differences between self and others, the meditator trains himself to notice similarities. He centers his attention on those factors that are universal to all life, things that will move him closer to others. Thus his comparison, if any, leads to feelings of kinship rather than feelings of estrangement.
Breathing is a universal process. All vertebrates breathe in essentially the same manner.
All living things exchange gasses with their environment in some way or other. This is one of the reasons that breathing is chosen as the focus of meditation. the meditator is advised to explore the process of his own breathing as a vehicle for realizing his own inherent connectedness with the rest of life. This does not mean that we shut our eyes to all the differences around us. Differences exist. It means simply that we de-emphasize
contrasts and emphasize the universal factors. The recommended procedure is as follows:
When the meditator perceives any sensory object, he is not to dwell upon it in the ordinary egotistical way. He should rather examine the very process of perception itself.
He should watch the feelings that arise and the mental activities that follow. He should note the changes that occur in his own consciousness as a result. In watching all these phenomena, the meditator must be aware of the universality of what he is seeing. That initial perception will spark pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feelings. That is a universal phenomenon. It occurs in the mind of others just as it does in his, and he should see that clearly. Following these feelings various reactions may arise. He may feel greed, lust, or jealousy. He may feel fear, worry, restlessness or boredom. These reactions are universal.
He simple notes them and then generalizes. He should realize that these reactions are normal human responses and can arise in anybody.
The practice of this style of comparison may feel forced and artificial at first, but it is no less natural than what we ordinarily do. It is merely unfamiliar. With practice, this habit pattern replaces our normal habit of egoistic comparing and feels far more natural in the long run. We become very understanding people as a result. we no longer get upset by the failings of others. We progress toward harmony with all life.
Although there are many subjects of meditation, we strongly recommend you start with focusing your total undivided attention on your breathing to gain some degree of shallow concentration. Remember that you are not practicing a deep absorption or pure concentration technique. You are practicing mindfulness for which you need only a certain degree of shallow concentration. You want to cultivate mindfulness culminating in insight and wisdom to realize the truth as it is. You want to know the working of your body-mind complex exactly as it is. You want to get rid of all psychological annoyance to make your life really peaceful and happy.
The mind cannot be purified without seeing things as they really are. "Seeing things as they really are" is such a heavily loaded and ambiguous phrase. Many beginning meditators wonder what we mean, for anyone who has clear eyesight can see objects as they are.
When we use this phrase in reference to insight gained from our meditation, what we mean is not seeing things superficially with our regular eyes, but seeing things with wisdom as they are in themselves. Seeing with wisdom means seeing things within the framework of our body/mind complex without prejudices or biases springing from our greed, hatred and delusion. Ordinarily when we watch the working of our mind/body complex, we tend to hide or ignore things which are not pleasant to us and to hold onto things which are pleasant. This is because our minds are generally influenced by our desires, resentment and delusion. Our ego, self or opinions get in our way and color our judgment.
When we mindfully watch our bodily sensations, we should not confuse them with mental formations, for bodily sensations can arise without anything to do with the mind.
For instance, we sit comfortably. After a while, there can arise some uncomfortable feeling on our back or in our legs. Our mind immediately experiences that discomfort and forms numerous thoughts around the feeling. At that point, without trying to confuse the feeling with the mental formations, we should isolate the feeling as feeling and watch it mindfully. Feeling is one of the seven universal mental factors. The other six are contact, perception, mental formations, concentration, life force, and awareness.
At another time, we may have a certain emotion such as resentment, fear, or lust. Then we should watch the emotion exactly as it is without trying to confuse it with anything else. When we bundle our form, feeling, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness up into one and try to watch all of them as feeling, we get confused, as we will not be able to see the source of feeling. If we simply dwell upon the feeling alone, ignoring other mental factors, our realization of truth becomes very difficult. We want to gain the insight into the experience of impermanence to overcome our resentment; our deeper knowledge of unhappiness overcomes our greed which causes our unhappiness;
our realization of selflessness overcomes ignorance arising from the notion of self. We should see the mind and body separately first. Having comprehended them separately, we should see their essential interconnectedness. As our insight becomes sharp, we become more and more aware of the fact that all the aggregates are cooperating to work together.
None can exist without the other. We can see the real meaning of the famous metaphor of the blind man who has a healthy body to walk and the disabled person who has very good eyes to see. Neither of them alone can do much for himself. But when the disabled person climbs on the shoulders of the blind man, together they can travel and achieve their goals easily. Similarly, the body alone can do nothing for itself. It is like a log unable to move or do anything by itself except to become a subject of impermanence, decay and death.
The mind itself can do nothing without the support of the body. When we mindfully watch both body and mind, we can see how many wonderful things they do together.
As long as we are sitting in one place we may gain some degree of mindfulness. Going to a retreat and spending several days or several months watching our feelings, perceptions, countless thoughts and various states of consciousness may make us eventually calm and peaceful. Normally we do not have that much time to spend in one place meditating all the time. Therefore, we should find a way to apply our mindfulness to our daily life in order for us to be able to handle daily unforeseeable eventualities. What we face every day is unpredictable. Things happen due to multiple causes and conditions, as we are living in a conditional and impermanent world. Mindfulness is our emergency kit, readily available at our service at any time. When we face a situation where we feel indignation, if we mindfully investigate our own mind, we will discover bitter truths in ourselves.