Archive for December, 2005


The Four Parameters of Clinging- Ajahn Pasanno

Even with the simple practice of attending to one in-breath and one outbreath, we can see how quickly the mind rushes in and starts to fill up the space with different kinds of thoughts, perceptions, images, memories and fantasies. The mind is looking for something to do. This is totally ordinary and normal. But where does it come from?

It’s interesting to investigate what the Buddha described as the four parameters of upadana, or attachment and clinging. The root of the word "upadana" is "fuel" or, as Ajahn Thanissaro often translates it, "sustenance." The image is of a fire that sustains our existence — whether it is our actual physical existence or the mental existence of who we think we are, who we think we aren’t, or who we think we should be.

How is that all sustained? How is it maintained? What are we feeding our minds and hearts? The Buddha points to the four types of clinging as that which holds on to the modes of existence that create our ways of being. The first is attachment to sensuality, or kamupadana. It’s pretty ordinary, straightforward and easy to recognize — the fundamental desire for gratification, pleasure and stimulation. The sensual hit that seems to make life worth living. It may also keep us locked up pretty tight, but the belief at the time is that seeking gratification is better than doing nothing. Of course, we don’t really know what "doing nothing" is because we keep filling up our time.We get bored pretty quickly if there is nothing stimulating, so we look for something to keep us excited and interested.

The Buddha was once asked, "What is it that prevents us from being enlightened, being liberated in this very life?" He replied that it’s attachment to sensual pleasures — sensual delight through the eye, ears, nose, tongue, body. "One with craving and clinging is unable to experience nibbana in this very life; one without clinging is able to experience nibbana in this very life."

During our meditation, when we watch the mind go back again and again to clinging, we recognize how deep a tendency it is. The mind is looking for an object. That’s its habit. In the Buddha’s teachings, this is not a moral or ethical statement.We Westerners may add the belief: It’s a bad thing, I’m a bad person for doing that. But the Buddha is just pointing for us to look at the result. If happiness and freedom is what one is looking for, does clinging to sensuality bring about the desired result?

The second type of clinging is ditthu-padana, or clinging to views. This is the tendency of the mind to seek out a viewpoint or opinion where everything is clear: This is right, I’ve got the answer, I’m happy now. Of course, life doesn’t actually work like that. The Buddha calls this the thicket of views, the wilderness of views, the contortion of views: I’ve got it all figured out. Now everything is safe and comfortable for me. It doesn’t take very long for this house of cards to come tumbling down or to be challenged in one way or another. The Buddha is pointing to our tendency to seek security, peace, well-being and happiness in our views and perspectives.

Third, the Buddha points to silabbatupadana, or clinging to rules and vows, to precepts and practices that one assumes will lead to purity. Oftentimes it’s translated as "attachment to rites and rituals." One becomes attached to superstitious beliefs like receiving blessings by being sprinkled with holy water or by bathing in the Ganges, which were common practices in the time of the Buddha. The mind carries it through in so many ways.We try to do the right thing, to get everything lined up in our conduct or through our practices. Spreading lovingkindness, doing dedications of blessings, even seeing everything as anicca, dukkha, anatta — these can be just as much a rite or ritual as anything else. Simply repeating in the mind "this is impermanent, unsatisfactory and not self" will not purify one. This is definitely a practice the Buddha taught, but it’s important to be attentive to how it is being held.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do certain practices or devotional rituals. But just doing these practices is not what is going to bring about purification. True accomplishment comes when we really give ourselves to the practice, putting in effort in a way that is not self-oriented or self-fixated. Are we able to drop what "I want to get out of it," or the obsession with getting everything right, even in terms of the precepts? One has to recognize that the training is for the attenuation of clinging and attachment. What really wears us out is when we don’t notice our attachments, clinging and seeking. The idea of "I’m doing the practice" gets in the way of being attentive to what’s happening in the heart and mind.When we are attentive, we can actually do the practice and enjoy it, delight in it and benefit from the results.

The last form of attachment is clinging to the belief in self, attavadupadana. "Atta" means "self," and "vada" means "teaching" or "belief." The self has a function, but we get caught up believing in the story or even the doctrine of it, which then creates havoc. It’s important to recognize how the sense of "me" and "mine" insinuates itself all the time — craving and clinging around the feelings of "’I’ need to have this, it has to be this way for ‘me’." These thoughts are the seeds for the different strands of a proliferating mind. As we are sitting and practicing, watching the breath go in and out, the sense of "me" and "mine" comes looking for a place to land, a story to spin. Can we just be with the breath and observe that? We don’t have to resolve it, to fight with it, to change it into anything else. That would also be attachment to the belief in self. Just be with the sensation of the breath, coming back to the elemental nature of experience. Feel the solidity, hardness, tangibility, fluidity, movement. This is life; this is what it all boils down to in the end, the sensation of the elements. They are not me or mine, not even consciousness or the feeling of being alive. Investigate the simplicity of experience.What pulls us out of that: what form of clinging is operating, how does it work, where does it take us?


Samatha and Vipassana meditation- Chanmyay Sayadaw

Samatha and Vipassana meditation

There are two types of meditation in Buddhism. One is Samatha meditation; the other is Vipassana meditation. Samatha here means concentration. Vipassana here means insight or experiential knowledge of bodily and mental phenomena. Of these two types of mental training Samatha meditation is practised to attain higher concentration of the mind, peaceful and blissful living and the cessation of suffering. Vipassana meditation is practised to attain not only deep concentration of the mind but also liberation from all kinds of mental and physical dukkha or suffering, through realisation of our body-mind processes and their true nature.

As I explained to you, Samatha meditation is practised to attain higher concentration of the mind. So when you practise Samatha meditation, the first type of mental training or mental culture, you have to concentrate your mind on a single object of meditation. You want to concentrate your mind on a single object very deeply. That object may be a concept or observed reality, but most Samatha meditative objects are concepts. There are also a few objects which are observed reality as the object of meditation in the first type of training and Samatha meditation. But whatever the object may be the aim of Samatha meditation is to obtain deep concentration of the mind, or the higher concentration of the mind.

So you have to take a single object and focus your mind on it. When you focus your mind on this object gradually the mind will be concentrated on it very deeply. But in the beginning of the practise your mind may go out or wander. Your mind doesn’t stay with the object always. Sometimes it just goes out and thinks about something else. It wanders and goes astray. Then you have to bring the mind to the object and focus it on that object again and again. Whenever the mind goes out you bring it back and focus it on the object of meditation. In this way your mind gradually becomes concentrated well on the object of meditation.

As you have practised it for some days or months the concentration becomes better and better, deeper and deeper. Finally the mind is absolutely concentrated on the object of meditation as its absorbed into the object of meditation. Such a state of mind which is absorbed into the object of meditation is called jhana, or apana in Pali. Jhana means ‘fixed as’, or absorption. When the mind is totally fixed to the object of meditation it’s called jhana, fixed mind. And also it is called absorption, apana.

Jnana has four stage, or five stages, in accordance with the teaching of the Buddha. So, the second stage of jhana concentration becomes better than the first. Then the third stage, the concentration better than the second. So with the fourth. As long as the mind is deeply concentrated on the object of meditation its free from all mental impurities such as desire, greed, lust, hatred, anger, ignorance, and jealousy. Because there are no impurities in the mind which is absorbed into the object of meditation you feel happy and peaceful, and calm and tranquil. Tranquillity, serenity and calmness is the result of Samatha meditation.

But in ancient times there were some devotees who practised Samatha meditation with a view to obtaining supernormal powers such as clairvoyance and clairaudience. These supernormal powers can be attained based on all the four jnanas, of the four stages. When a meditator is skilled in entering any stage of jnana he can then proceed with his meditation in order to attain psychical or supernormal powers. But though he may be able to attain them through the four stages of jnana, concentration, he is not able to rightly understand the intrinsic nature of mental and physical phenomena. He is not able to destroy any mental defilement because the purpose of Samatha meditation is to obtain deep higher concentration of the mind and psychical or supernormal powers. Because he is not able to uproot any of the mental defilements such as anger, hatred, desire, and craving, he cannot get free from all kinds of suffering, mental or physical, because these mental defilements are the causes of the suffering, dukkha. As long as one can uproot or exterminate these mental defilements, mental impurities, he is subject to suffering, dukkha.

The aim of Vipassana meditation is to free oneself from all kinds of dukkha, mental suffering and physical suffering, through realisation of the body-mind processes and their true nature. So if you are able to realise mental and physical phenomena as they really are you can do away with all kinds of mental impurities or mental defilements which arise dependent on misunderstanding or ignorance of mental and physical phenomena and their true nature. That’s why we have to practise Satipatthana Vipassana meditation, insight meditation.

But you may practise Samatha meditation with a view to gaining some deep concentration on which your insight knowledge is built. Such a kind of Samatha meditation is more beneficial than that which I explained to you for the purpose of higher concentration and supernormal powers. So in ancient times, in the time of the Buddha some meditators developed Samatha meditation further, first of all so they could gain some degree of concentration such as access concentration, and if was possible jnana concentration or absorption concentration. When they had attained absorption concentration or jhana concentration they made this the basis for Vipassana meditation or Insight Meditation.

Here access concentration means that neighbouring concentration to jnana concentration. When you have attained access or neighbouring concentration you are sure to attain jnana concentration, absorption concentration, in a short time. If the purpose of a meditator is to practise Vipassana meditation based on excessive concentration he or she can attain this by means of Samatha meditation. Such kind of Vipassana meditation is known as Vipassana meditation or insight meditation preceded by Samatha meditation.

So Vipassana meditation is of two types: The first, Vipassana meditation, insight meditation is preceded by Samatha meditation. The second is the pure Vipassana meditation or insight meditation not preceded by Samatha meditation. The first type of Vipassana meditation or Insight Meditation is practised by those who have ample time to devote to their meditation. They have to spend maybe three or four months on Samatha meditation. And when they are satisfied with their attainment of jhana concentration they proceed with Vipassana meditation.

Pure Vipassana meditation is practised by those who haven’t enough time to devote to their meditation like yourselves, because you do not have three or four months or six months or a year for your meditation. So you can spend about ten days on your meditation. For such meditators pure Vipassana meditation is suitable. That’s why we have to conduct a ten days Vipassana meditation retreat. Actually ten days meditation is not enough. The period is too short a time for a meditator to succeed in any noticeable experience in his meditation. But there are some who have some experience in Vipassana meditation who when their meditation experience becomes major can attain the higher stages of insight knowledge of the body-mind processes of their true nature. Although you can spend just ten days on your meditation, if you strive to attain the deep concentration with a strenuous effort without much interval or break in the course of your meditation for the whole day, then you are able to have some new experience of meditation. So the point is to practise intensively and strenuously as much as you can.


Preparatory Stages

Before you practise insight meditation there are some preparatory stages you should go through. The first the Pali scriptures mention is when one has spoken contemptuously or in jest or malice to or about a noble one – a puggala in Pali – who has attained some state of sanctity or enlightenment in accordance with the teaching of the Buddha. Then he should apologise to the Buddha. He should apologise that noble one, a puggala. If he is not available here, if he is deceased, he should make apology through his meditation teacher. I think you need not do this because you may not have spoken ill of any noble one, a puggala, because you may not met such a person in Australia.

The second stage is that you should entrust yourself to the Lord Buddha who teaches the technique of Vipassana meditation, by interesting yourself in the Buddha you can go through your course happily and peacefully. Though you may have unwholesome or dreadful visions in your meditation you won’t fear them because you have entrusted yourself to the Buddha. Also you have to place yourself under the guidance of your meditation teacher so he can frankly instruct you without any hesitancy. If you do not place yourself under the guidance of your teacher he may not be reluctant to instruct you even though you have some defects in your practise.


Four Protective Meditations

When you have done this you should develop the Four Protective Meditations for some minutes. These four are (1) recollection of the Buddha’s attributes; (2) development of loving-kindness or metta towards all living beings; (3) reflection upon the loathsome nature of our body; (4) reflection on the nature of death.

When you recollect the attributes of the Buddha you can select one of nine attributes. Out of these nine attributes of the Buddha you can choose the first or the second or any of the nine as the object of your meditation and reflect on it. Here Arahat is the first attribute. Arahat means the Buddha who is worthy of honour because he has completely destroyed all mental activities and attained to the cessation of all kinds of dukkha. You have to recollect this achievement of the Buddha, thinking about its meaning. That’s the worthiness of honour through his attainment of the cessation of all kinds of suffering by destroying all mental defilements so he lived in peace and bliss and happiness. When you recollect these attributes you feel happy and brave to face any kind of dukkha or suffering in the course of your meditation as well as in your daily life. This must be done about two minutes.

Then you have to develop your metta, loving-kindness, the feeling of loving-kindness towards all living beings, wishing all living beings peace and happiness, and free from all kinds of mental and physical suffering, dukkha. This feeling of detached love is developed in yourself. Then you feel happy and tranquil, your mind easily concentrated on any object of meditation. This must be done about five minutes.

After that you have to reflect upon the loathsome nature of the body, thinking about its repulsiveness such as blood, pus, phlegm, intestines, and so on. This body is full of these impurities and repulsiveness. The result is you are detached from this body to a certain extent because you find it loathsome or repulsive. This also must be done about two minutes.

Then after that you should reflect upon the nature of death. Life is uncertain, death is certain. Life is precarious and death is sure. Everyone who is born is subject to death. So all men are mortal. In this way you have to think about the surety of death for every living being. You can arouse strenuous effort in your practise by thinking, `I’ll have to practise this meditation strenuously before I die, or before I am dead.

This is what the Buddhist meditational texts mention as a preliminary stage for both the Samatha meditator and Vipassana meditator. They are not compulsory, not indispensable. But the texts mention they should be done. These four protective meditations, recollection of the Buddha’s attributes and development of loving-kindness, metta, towards all living beings is the most important thing for a meditator to pacify his distracted mind and also to practise meditation happily and peacefully.


Four sublime states of mind

Four sublime states of mind have been taught by the Buddha:

  • Love or Loving-kindness (metta)
  • Compassion (karuna)
  • Sympathetic Joy (mudita)
  • Equanimity (upekkha)

In Pali, the language of the Buddhist scriptures, these four are known under the name of Brahma-vihara. This term may be rendered by: excellent, lofty or sublime states of mind; or alternatively, by: Brahma-like, god-like or divine abodes.

These four attitudes are said to be excellent or sublime because they are the right or ideal way of conduct towards living beings (sattesu samma patipatti). They provide, in fact, the answer to all situations arising from social contact. They are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, and the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence. They level social barriers, build harmonious communities, awaken slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revive joy and hope long abandoned, and promote human brotherhood against the forces of egotism.

The Brahma-viharas are incompatible with a hating state of mind, and in that they are akin to Brahma, the divine but transient ruler of the higher heavens in the traditional Buddhist picture of the universe. In contrast to many other conceptions of deities, East and West, who by their own devotees are said to show anger, wrath, jealousy and "righteous indignation," Brahma is free from hate; and one who assiduously develops these four sublime states, by conduct and meditation, is said to become an equal of Brahma (brahma-samo). If they become the dominant influence in his mind, he will be reborn in congenial worlds, the realms of Brahma. Therefore, these states of mind are called God-like, Brahma-like. They are called abodes (vihara) because they should become the mind’s constant dwelling-places where we feel "at home"; they should not remain merely places of rare and short visits, soon forgotten.

In other words, our minds should become thoroughly saturated by them. They should become our inseparable companions, and we should be mindful of them in all our common activities. As the Metta Sutta, the Song of Loving-kindness, says: When standing, walking, sitting, lying down, Whenever he feels free of tiredness Let him establish well this mindfulness – This, it is said, is the Divine Abode. These four – love , compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity – are also known as the boundless states (appamanna), because, in their perfection and their true nature, they should not be narrowed by any limitation as to the range of beings towards whom they are extended. They should be non-exclusive and impartial, not bound by selective preferences or prejudices.

A mind that has attained to that boundlessness of the Brahma-viharas will not harbor any national, racial, religious or class hatred. But unless rooted in a strong natural affinity with such a mental attitude, it will certainly not be easy for us to effect that boundless application by a deliberate effort of will and to avoid consistently any kind or degree of partiality.

To achieve that, in most cases, we shall have to use these four qualities not only as principles of conduct and objects of reflection, but also as subjects of methodical meditation. That meditation is called Brahma-vihara-bhavana, the meditative development of the sublime states. The practical aim is to achieve, with the help of these sublime states, those high stages of mental concentration called jhana, "meditative absorption." The meditations on love, compassion and sympathetic joy may each produce the attainment of the first three absorptions, while the meditation on equanimity will lead to the fourth jhana only, in which equanimity is the most significant factor.

Generally speaking, persistent meditative practice will have two crowning effects: first, it will make these four qualities sink deep into the heart so that they become spontaneous attitudes not easily overthrown; second, it will bring out and secure their boundless extension, the unfolding of their all-embracing range.

In fact, the detailed instructions given in the Buddhist scriptures for the practice of these four meditations are clearly intended to unfold gradually the boundlessness of the sublime states. They systematically break down all barriers restricting their application to particular individuals or places.

In the meditative exercises, the selection of people to whom the thought of love, compassion or sympathetic joy is directed, proceeds from the easier to the more difficult. For instance, when meditating on loving-kindness, one starts with an aspiration for one’s own well-being, using it as a point of reference for gradual extension: "Just as I wish to be happy and free from suffering, so may that being, may all beings be happy and free from suffering!" Then one extends the thought of loving-kindness to a person for whom one has a loving respect, as, for instance, a teacher; then to dearly beloved people, to indifferent ones, and finally to enemies, if any, or those disliked.

Since this meditation is concerned with the welfare of the living, one should not choose people who have died; one should also avoid choosing people towards whom one may have feelings of sexual attraction. After one has been able to cope with the hardest task, to direct one’s thoughts of loving-kindness to disagreeable people, one should now "break down the barriers"(sima-sambheda).

Without making any discrimination between those four types of people, one should extend one’s loving-kindness to them equally. At that point of the practice one will have come to the higher stages of concentration: with the appearance of the mental reflex-image (patibhaganimitta), "access concentration" (upacara samadhi) will have been reached, and further progress will lead to the full concentration (appana) of the first jhana, then the higher jhanas.

For spatial expansion, the practice starts with those in one’s immediate environment such as one’s family, then extends to the neighboring houses, to the whole street, the town, country, other countries and the entire world. In "pervasion of the directions," one’s thought of loving-kindness is directed first to the east, then to the west, north, south, the intermediate directions, the zenith and nadir.

The same principles of practice apply to the meditative development of compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity, with due variations in the selection of people. Details of the practice will be found in the texts (see Visuddhimagga, Chapter IX). The ultimate aim of attaining these Brahma-vihara-jhanas is to produce a state of mind that can serve as a firm basis for the liberating insight into the true nature of all phenomena, as being impermanent, liable to suffering and unsubstantial.

A mind that has achieved meditative absorption induced by the sublime states will be pure, tranquil, firm, collected and free of coarse selfishness. It will thus be well prepared for the final work of deliverance which can be completed only by insight. The preceding remarks show that there are two ways of developing the sublime states: first by practical conduct and an appropriate direction of thought; and second by methodical meditation aiming at the absorptions. Each will prove helpful to the other. Methodical meditative practice will help love, compassion, joy and equanimity to become spontaneous. It will help make the mind firmer and calmer in withstanding the numerous irritations in life that challenge us to maintain these four qualities in thoughts, words and deeds. On the other hand, if one’s practical conduct is increasingly governed by these sublime states, the mind will harbor less resentment, tension and irritability, the reverberations of which often subtly intrude into the hours of meditation, forming there the "hindrance of restlessness."

Our everyday life and thought has a strong influence on the meditative mind; only if the gap between them is persistently narrowed will there be a chance for steady meditative progress and for achieving the highest aim of our practice. Meditative development of the sublime states will be aided by repeated reflection upon their qualities, the benefits they bestow and the dangers from their opposites. As the Buddha says, "What a person considers and reflects upon for a long time, to that his mind will bend and incline."

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December 2005
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