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This morning we examine the nature of meditation itself, seeing it in terms of awareness, attention and method. We explore the nature of awareness, and how attention structures the field of awareness. From there, we look at issues in developing a meditation method.
We introduce the concept of “mindfulness,” which is the standard translation of the Pāli word sati. Sati literally means “memory,” and mindfulness refers to the act of remembering the present. The practice of mindfulness is associated with the felt continuity of awareness, and this is what we are aiming for in our practice.
We find ourselves alienated from the experience of body because of our habit of experiencing body through our concepts of the body, rather than through the direct experience of body sensation. Here we experiment with the four mahābhūta, or “great appearances,” earth element (pathavī dhātu), air element (vayo dhātu), fire element (tejo dhātu) and water element (āpo dhātu). These represent the elemental qualities of physical experience.
We introduce satipaṭṭhāna, the applications of mindfulness, as a “one-way street” (ekāyana magga) that leads direct to nibbāna. We examine the meaning of nibbāna, looking at it as an affective term that indicates life without the fires of attachment, aversion and delusion. And we discuss the relationship between the practice of tracking experience over time, and nibbāna itself.
This morning we experiment in using breathing as a meditation object, finding it as movement in the body, or air element (vayo dhātu). We practise precision in our mindfulness of breathing by tracking its location, its length, its shape or form, its clarity, its beginnings and ends. This opens up issues regarding both the nature of breathing and our relationship to breathing.
We examine the central activity of satipaṭṭhāna, that of anupassanā, or “tracking” experience over time. We do this by unpacking the sentence, “Here a bhikkhu, surrendering longing and sorrow for the world, lives tracking body as body … feeling as feeling … heart/mind as heart/mind … phenomena as phenomena, ardent, clearly understanding and mindful.”
This morning we look at what the Buddha means by vedanā, or “feeling.” We begin with a meditation experiment and go on to explore what the role of affect in the Buddha’s teaching, and in our practice.
We explore the section in Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta where the Buddha speaks of mindfulness of breathing (ānāpāna-sati). We see how the practice develops from natural awareness to mindfulness to understanding to training to sensing to calming, and we see how the nature of breathing itself transforms as our relationship to it develops.
A fundamental principle of satipaṭṭhāna practice is to take what distracts us, what prevents us from practising, and make it our meditation object. Here we look at using the thought-stream as meditation object. We learn how to attend to the process of thinking rather than get caught up in the contents of our thoughts.
Here we unpack Wu-Men’s comment to Chao-Chou’s “mu:” “For subtle realisation it is of the utmost importance that you cut off the mind road” (Wu-men Kuan, Case 1). What is the mind road? Why is it so important? And what does it mean to cut it off? We explore the role of concept and our relationship to concept in our meditation practice.
Here we examine the Buddha’s concept of citta, “mind” or or ”heart” or “heart/mind” or “soul,” and discuss its place within the practice of satipaṭṭhāna. Then we learn how to use emotion as a meditation object. We are concerned with the affective drives of the heart, what feeds our thoughts and actions. We learn how to drop beneath the narratives we tell ourselves and to aim our awareness on the elemental essence of emotion, thus revealing its emptiness.
We explore the role of the body in our meditation practice, using the Buddha’s practice of kāyagatā sati (mindfulness immersed in body) as our guide. We explore this practice using the Buddha’s instructions to Mahā Kassapa as our guide: “You should train yourself in this way: ‘I will not abandon mindfulness immersed in body associated with joy.’”
Here we learn to structure our attention more loosely, to enable us to see the object of awareness within the broader context of our attentional field. When we hold an object too closely we may miss the context within which it is held, including the one who is attending to it. When we learn to hold the object more loosely, we can appreciate the context within which it is held, and understanding (sampajañña, paññā) emerges within this context.
We look at the first three sentences of the chorus of Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, where the Buddha explains the arising of insight (vipassanā). We examine “tracking body as body internally and externally,” where the assumed boundary between self and other begins to dissolve. Then we look at how the practitioner opens into the perception of impermanence – “tracking the nature of arising and ceasing as body.” Finally, we examine the entry into emptiness, where the practitioner is mindful that “body is,” for understanding (ñāṇa) and the continuity of mindfulness (paṭisati).
We continue our exploration of how we can structure attention by practising indriya saṃvāra, or sense restraint. This practice represents a radical relaxation in which we rest our awareness and simply receive sense data without doing anything, without getting entangled in the data. This practice makes us sensitive to how difficult it is to stop “doing.”
This evening we unpack the sentence in which the Buddha presents the maturity of the practice: “And she lives independently, not clinging to anything in the world.” What does it mean to “live independently (anissito viharati)?” And where does clinging (upādāna) fit into this?
Here we begin a multi-part series of discussions on the nature and role of sīla, “ethics, virtue, morality,” in the Buddha’s teaching. We begin with Dhammapada 183 (“Not doing any wrong/Cultivating the wholesome/Purifying the heart – /This is what buddhas teach”). We then look at how the Buddha expresses the central question of human life, how we should live (DN 30), and finally begin our examination of the ethical teaching found in Kālāma Sutta (AN 3.65).
We examine the benefits of ethical conduct and the disadvantages of unethical conduct (AN 2.18). These range from the individual to the social to the cosmological, from how our behaviour affects our current psychological state and social position to how one dies and what happens next. Then we backtrack to Kālāma Sutta (AN 3.65) where we see how he does not take such cosmological beliefs for granted and how his ethical understanding works even when we do not posit a next world. Finally, we look at how ethical conduct is a foundation for meditation practice and ultimately leads to awakening (AN 10.1).
We continue with the benefits of ethical conduct, and in particular look at the process of awakening through realistic understanding and seeing, disenchantment, the fading of obsession, and the understanding and seeing that comes from liberation (AN 10.1). We go on to see how this path that leads from sīla to liberation is “nature” (dhammatā), just natural process (AN 10.2), and then look at the story of the acrobat’s daughter, in which the Buddha speaks of the importance of self care (SN 47.19).
We look at the Buddha’s politics and social ethics, through the story he tells of King Mahāvijita and his prime minister, where the prime minister argues for a policy of distributive justice to solve problems of social inequality and disorder (Kūṭadanta Sutta DN 5). We go on to the Buddha’s advice to shopkeepers (AN 3.20), and his attitude towards stinginess (SN 3.19).
Tonight we look at four things that are “wished fordesired, but difficult to gain, things; what leads to the acquisition of these desired things; and what to do with them, once we have them (AN 4.61)
We look at two brief passages. The first concerns hiri and ottapa, “two bright qualities that protect the world” (AN 2.9). This takes us into the area of guilt and shame, and their role. Then we look at how the Buddha sees the interrelationship between virtue (sīla) and wisdom (paññā), as like one hand washing the other (DN 4).