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This morning we examine the nature of meditation itself, seeing it as systematic training in attention in order to cultivate a clear continuity of awareness. We explore the nature of awareness, and discuss a variety of issues as they arise.
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.
Normally we experience body through our concepts about the body, rather than through the direct experience of body sensation. Here we experiment with the four mahābhūta, or “great appearances,” of 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 directly 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 learning to directly aware experience, without adding anything extra, 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 practitioner, 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.”
In satipaṭṭhāna practice we 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.
We look at the passage in Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta where the Buddha speaks of breathing meditation. We see how our relationship to breathing develops as practice deepens – from breathing, to breathing mindfully, to understanding breathing, to training breathing. And we see how as our relationship to breathing changes, the meditation object itself changes – from breathing, to the whole body (sabba kāya), to the body (as) construction (kāya saṅkhāra). Throughout, we develop a relationship of ever greater intimacy with experience.
Here we look at citta, which can be translated as “mind,” “heart,” “heart/mind” or even “soul.” Citta is our aware centre, the inner space within which we experience thoughts, feelings, emotions and so on. We focus on how moods and emotions become our meditation objects, and how this leads to seeing their emptiness.
The Buddha sees generosity (cāga) as a universal human value, a quality necessary for any civilised human life. We look at the how generosity is cultivated through the practice of dāna, “gift” or “giving,” placing this practice within the context of the economy of gift. This economy is characterised by three fundamental principles: there is no such thing as a free lunch; receiving is central; and everything circulates.
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 survey the first three of the four satipaṭṭhānas, the “foundations” or “domains” of mindfulness – the places where we station our mindfulness. These are body (kāya), feeling (vedanā) and heart/mind (citta). We see these domains represent a linear progression from less to greater ethical sensitivity; and we also see how feeling holds the practice together.
We continue our exploration of how we can structure attention by practising indriya saṃvāra, “restraining the senses.” 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.”
Tonight we explore the fourth satipaṭṭhāna, that of tracking dharma or dharmas (dhammānupassanā). Tracking dharma (singular) involves learning the conceptual framework that gives meaning to the experiences we undergo, and it is meaning that enables our life to transform. Tracking the dharmas (plural) entails learning to perceive our experienced world as simply a flow of phenomena that arise and cease dependent on conditions. This represents the maturity of insight into not-self (anattā).
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”) and then examine the question of how we should live (Lakkhaṇa Sutta DN 30). We finish with the ethical teaching of Kālāma Sutta (AN 3.65).
We continue with our exploration of sīla, looking at “the purpose and benefit of wholesome virtue” in terms of its role in the path that leads to awakening (AN 10.1). This includes the individual and social aspects of sīla, along with its psychological and cosmological aspects.
Tonight we begin by seeing progress in the path as natural process (dhammatā), a process that has its own momentum and does not depend on any external intervention (AN 10.2). We look at the teaching of the acrobat’s daughter, how the welfare of others begins with looking after ourselves (SN 47.19). We move on to the Buddha’s teaching on social justice (DN 5), and conclude with the Buddha’s advice to shopkeepers, where we see how he valued the ordinary activities of everyday life as part of the path to awakening (AN 3.20). We also discuss the teaching of kamma-vipāka, action and its ripening.
Tonight we look at the Buddha’s view on how wealth should be enjoyed and utilised (SN 3.19), and we continue with four things that are desired and difficult to gain, what leads to these four things, and what follows them (AN 4.61).
This morning we sum up what we have learned over the preceding week. The practice of satipaṭṭhāna is very simple: Be aware. When we try to be aware over a period of time, mindfulness becomes central. We learn how to remember the present, tracking the unfolding of experience over time. We discuss the characteristics of this practice, in both the retreat context and in our normal, workaday world.