The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby IanAnd » Fri Jan 28, 2011 6:24 am

The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness — Part One
What Is Mindfulness?


Of all the instruction passed on to us by Siddhattha Gotama recorded in the Pali suttas that is aimed at diminishing our sense of suffering and dissatisfaction with life, if there were one piece of advice he could give and emphasize as being the fundamental key in this process, there is no doubt in my mind that it would entail the advice to develop sati. As is recorded in the Samyutta Nikaya (SN 46.53; v 115) he said, "But sati (mindfulness), bhikkhus, I say, is always useful." And from the Anguttara Nikaya (AN 8.83): "All things can be mastered by mindfulness." All of which begs the question: what does it mean to be mindful? In what way, Gotama, do you mean: "Be mindful!"

Having a clear understanding of the definition of this term is essential if one is to correctly apprehend the enormous gravity of what Gotama was pointing at. Where the history of sati's translation in the English language is concerned, it has been suggested by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, among others, that the British scholar who coined the term "mindfulness" to translate the word sati "was probably influenced by the Anglican prayer to be ever mindful of the needs of others — in other words, to always keep their needs in mind. But even though the word 'mindful' was probably drawn from a Christian context, the Buddha himself defined sati as the ability to remember, illustrating its function in meditation practice with the four satipatthanas, or establishings of mindfulness."

In terms of "being mindful of the breath" during anapanasati meditation, sati can be defined using the very simple concept of "keeping the breath in mind" as one is meditating. Which simply means being aware of the present moment actuality of the breath on in-breathing and on out-breathing. Yet when we look at the etymological derivation of the Pali word "sati" we find, as Ven. Thanissaro has suggested, that sati is related to the verb sarati which means "to remember" or "to recall or recollect."

And while sati does have this connotation with regard to memory, there is evidence in the suttas to suggest that it also has to do with "that which facilitates and enables memory." As Ven. Analayo has written, "What this definition of sati points to is that, if sati is present, memory will be able to function well. Understanding sati in this way facilitates relating it to the context of satipatthana, where it is not concerned with recalling past events, but functions as awareness of the present moment. In the context of satipatthana meditation, it is due to the presence of sati that one is able to remember what is otherwise only too easily forgotten: the present moment.

"Sati as present moment awareness is similarly reflected in the presentation of the Patisambhidamagga and the Visuddhimagga, according to which the characteristic quality of sati is 'presence' (upatthana), whether as a faculty (indriya), as an awakening factor (bojjhanga), as a factor of the noble eightfold path, or at the moment of realization."


Therefore if mindfulness is present (upatthitasati) it can be understood to imply presence of mind, in as far as the direct opposite of this is absent mindedness (mutthasati). Having a presence of mind implies that, endowed with sati, one is wide awake in regard to the present moment. Such presence of mind with regard to whatever one does or says will be clearly comprehended by the mind, and thereby more easily remembered later on.

From this brief examination of the way in which the word sati is used in the discourses, it becomes apparent that the breadth of its application carries a gravity of meaning that is vital to our comprehension if we are to correctly interpret the use of this word translated as "mindfulness." From this presentation, then, it seems reasonable to assume that sati combines both "present moment awareness" as well as "recollection," as in, for example, recollecting what the Buddha has taught. Although based on this nuance of what is recollected this could refer to almost anything that is relevant to the present moment circumstance which adds to one's knowledge in being able to act in a skillful manner.

In some Buddhist quarters sati has also been translated as "attention," which also gives credence to its translation as "present moment awareness." There is a story in the Zen tradition which illustrates this point very succinctly. A monk once asked his teacher, "What is the fundamental teaching in Buddhism?" The Master replied "Attention." The student, dissatisfied with the answer said, "I wasn't asking about attention, but I want to know the essential teaching in Buddhism." The Master retorted again, "Attention. Attention. Attention." So, whether it carries the inference of "presence of mind," "recollection," or "attention," it seems certain that the universal essence of Buddhist practice is to be appreciated and found in this singular word: mindfulness! Which, in Zen parlance, is basically telling us to: "Wake up, and pay attention!" Be here now in this moment! Don't let your mind go wandering off the present subject.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby IanAnd » Fri Jan 28, 2011 6:30 am

The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness — Part Two
Mindfulness and The Path of Calmness and Insight


In the early days of the spreading practice of the Buddhadhamma (i.e. during the period of time in which the Buddha lived and taught), often referred to as "early Buddhism," Siddhattha Gotama taught a two-pronged approach to the practice of meditation which, in its essence, can be summarized as: "Calm the mind and develop clear seeing." These two aspects of meditation contemplation are known as samatha (meaning "calm" or "tranquility") and vipassana (literally "clear seeing," but more often translated as "insight"). This system of teaching samatha and vipassana — the "and" here indicating that they were to be taught together as one simultaneous method of meditation training — worked very well throughout the Buddha's lifetime, producing countless ariyas (noble ones or followers of the Buddha's Dhamma) and arahats ("awakened ones" or "one who has awakened"), as Gotama wandered back and forth across the plains of northern India stopping here and there to deliver his discourses on the Dhamma.

After the Buddha's demise and after the sangha of monks First Council of recitations given by five hundred arahats established the suttas (primarily the Pali Nikayas and later what came to be the Chinese Agamas; the discourses of the Buddha) and the vinaya (the rules of discipline for the monastic community) as the authenticated word of the Buddha, inevitably there came to be divisions in thought among the sects that began to form and develop as a result of their differing take on the original teachings of Gotama. These differences of opinion eventually led to the various schools of what came to be known as the fledgling religion of Buddhism.

(As an aside, it is interesting to note that in all the Pali scriptures there is not any mention of the word "Buddhism" or even the idea of any religion called Buddhism. Gotama never used the word and refused to ascent to a successor as head of the sangha after his death. Before he died he implored his followers to take the suttas and the vinaya that he had taught them as their teacher and refuge after the occasion of his death. He was well aware of how his teachings were liable to be altered and changed once he was no longer on the scene to set things straight, and he wanted to give succeeding generations of followers a reliable guideline by which to adhere with regard to the authentic teaching which they should use to settle any disputes about what was Dhamma and what was not. If a teaching is not found in the suttas or the vinaya, then it was not to be considered authenticated Dhamma, i.e. as coming from the Buddha's mouth and having his approval.)

Once the sangha of monks and nuns broke up into smaller groups, each with their own particular views on certain issues, it was inevitable that individual teachers would emerge and appeal to one group or another, and that differing ways of teaching the Dhamma would evolve. Yet as long as these groups taught essentially the same Dhamma and vinaya and recognized the validity of each other's ordination lineage, movement and relative harmony between the groups would present little problem. And as Rupert Gethin points out in his book The Foundations of Buddhism, "Since the Vinaya left monks and nuns largely free to develop the Buddha's teachings doctrinally as they saw fit, there would be little incentive to provoke a schism on purely doctrinal grounds."

As accomplished and learned monks arose within the monastic community and methods of recording and preserving the teachings were developed, groups of accomplished monks gathered to compile what are known as the commentaries on the written Dhamma. As the suttas and the vinaya came to be compiled in written form, and as the various sects of "Buddhism" grew and developed in India and throughout China and the countries in southeast Asia, it was inevitable that these sects developed their own sense of "Buddhist doctrine" and how best to present and teach this body of knowledge.
I'm not certain just when the idea of separating samatha from vipassana as separate practices all their own began (there are some indications that this may have begun even during ancient times, at sometime within the first few centuries after the Buddha's death), but in the more recent history of the twentieth century, evidence of this split is more clear-cut. Accomplished meditation masters in southeast Asia (Mahasi Sayadaw chief among them) decided that it was easier to teach these two abilities to lay practitioners separately, and so they began to teach it this way in order to better assist their students to develop these abilities more efficiently. As a crop of American and other Western practitioners who had trained with these masters in the East returned home to teach, they too continued this practice of teaching samatha and vipassana as separate practices.

There's really nothing wrong with doing this as long as one realizes that these two aspects of meditation training were originally meant to be taught side by side, and that insight (vipassana) into the practice of calming meditation could help speed up one's development of samatha while, conversely, developing a calm mind could help speed up the development of "clear seeing" within the practice method of vipassana. Some people develop insight first and then calm, while others develop calm first and then insight follows. Still others develop the two in tandem, slipping seamlessly back and forth between the two within the space of a single sitting session. This latter (third) type seems to be the natural outcome of a certain type of individual who is given to following their intuition. The important idea to take away from this is that samatha and vipassana are not competing methods of meditation, but rather are two qualities of mind that a person may develop or become endowed with, and that they ought to be recognized as being developed together.

Whether or not one wishes to develop one so-called method of meditation (samatha or vipassana) as a separate practice is up to the individual. As mentioned before, there is really nothing wrong with this. What was important for me personally to recognize was that for insight to arise, I needed a calm mind; I needed first to create the condition and space for insight to arise before it would arise on a relatively consistent basis. Yet even so, insight nevertheless arose during my practice to develop calm; it arose in the form of being able to clearly see what was needed in order to enter absorption. So, in that sense, insight (clear seeing or vipassana) into the process of absorbing the mind in an object (a samatha practice) was necessary in order to develop jhana so that I could turn around and use that to explore insight into phenomena.

For a more complete explanation about the issue of calm and insight as it is viewed from the discourses, please see Thanissaro Bhikkhu's essay One Tool Among Many, The Place of Vipassana in Buddhist Practice.

As for a practical take on this issue, I offer my own experience on this subject, which may mirror the experiences of many others who have been through this within their own practice. Before I even knew anything about how to go about performing insight meditation as it was being taught within more structured programs of development such as the one that Mahasi Sayadaw taught, I knew intuitively that before anything effective could happen which might foster unbinding, that I needed to calm the mind down first in order to just gain a foothold on what was there in terms of phenomena to be observed. I wanted to explore these deep states of meditation to see where they would lead, and so I practiced to attain absorption, which is a samatha meditation method.

It took a few weeks to develop, but eventually I came to be able to recognize (at least in a vague way; "vague" meaning that I wasn't always certain about being able to identify, in terms of sensation, two of the initiating factors of absorption: piti and sukha) all the signs of absorption, the arising and subsiding of the four (or five, depending on which definition one follows; the fifth factor, according to the commentarial tradition, being ekaggata or one-pointedness) primary jhana factors necessary for the first jhana to arise and so forth.

As I was able to attain to deeper and more subtle levels of calm, an inner faculty of mind would sometimes quite naturally take over, and the mind would be treated to the sudden arising of insight about this or that (whatever subject I might have been concentrating on at the time). On many occasions this arising of insight occurred without my intending it to occur, and seemed to be the quite natural outcome of having calmed the mind. There were times when I might have been reading about some aspect of the Dhamma beforehand, and during the course of the absorption attainment, the mind would naturally incline toward insight about that aspect of the Dhamma. Kind of like priming the pump, you could say.

From the perspective of a more mature practice, it is clear to me that Gotama's method of teaching meditation (that is, as it is explained in the discourses) is meant to allow the natural inclinations of the mind to take over. It becomes an effortless process the deeper one goes into it. If a person follows Gotama's instruction to "go practice jhana" as opposed to the more modern direction being given by many contemporary meditation teachers to "go do vipassana" that the necessary faculties for unbinding the mind will be more quickly and efficiently developed. Yet, as I say, it is up to the individual practitioner to decide for himself.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby IanAnd » Fri Jan 28, 2011 6:37 am

The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness — Part Three
How Practicing the Establishments of Mindfulness Leads to Meaningful Contemplation


Typically beginning meditators generally find that after a few weeks of practicing they run into a roadblock of some kind. "Nothing really happens when I sit. What should I be doing differently?" More often than not, this impression occurs with practitioners who do not have either a plan of practice to follow or a meditation teacher to guide them or both. They read a few books about meditation, become enthusiastic and decide to practice in order to pursue the benefits of practice, and begin with no firm conceptual purpose or guidance in place. This can also be the case when someone decides to take up Buddhist meditation. Because engaging in a practice based on Buddhist techniques can often be confusing and difficult to fully apprehend if one is not being lead by someone experienced in the practice.

One of the first things to look for is: Do I have a clear idea about what it is that I am to be doing and where it is going to lead me? Am I able to clearly see and verify the plan of approach so that it is distinctly and conspicuously set in the mind as a plan of action that will help me accomplish my goal: the ending of suffering. If a person has chosen the Buddhadhamma as their path to this goal, it becomes incumbent upon them to fully realize the gravity of their choice if success in the effort is what they seek. This means that one is assumed to have arrived at the full realization that the Path which the Buddha recommended is the Noble Eightfold Path, which means the development of Right View, Right Thought (or Intention), Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration (or Contemplation). Each of these areas need to be attended to from the very beginning of the practice, right through until formal awakening occurs. After awakening occurs, it is assumed that they will continue to be practiced as a matter of mindful contentment.

Those who are not clear about this path would do themselves a favor by reading and comprehending Bhikkhu Bodhi's small book The Noble Eightfold Path, The Way to the End of Suffering. But don't just read it and then set it aside, thinking that it is just a nice set of platitudes which are too difficult for you to focus your attention upon. If you are not willing to take the Noble Eightfold Path seriously, then you are not willing to take the practice itself very seriously either. If, however, you are serious about accomplishing this work, then do yourself a favor and become crystal clear and internally convinced about what it is that you wish to accomplish. Because otherwise, you will only end up sabotaging your own efforts and wasting your time.

While reading the suttas about meditation can be helpful and used as a general guide for practice, it can often only make matters seem worse if one is unable to obtain further clarification when needed. Discourses like the Anapanasati Sutta or the Satipatthana Sutta, while they are very inspirational and encouraging, seem like they are for advanced practitioners and don't really seem to give the aspiring beginner any kind of practical idea about how to go about pursuing their instruction. One reads, for instance, about the four tetrads of mindfulness of breathing and becomes anxious. "How am I to practice all of this? I can barely remember the first tetrad while meditating, much less all the rest. My mind is too diffuse. What can I do?" This can become frustrating and demoralizing, leading a lesser mind to just give up.

Yet, like anything else in life, one needs to realize that if they start out slow and gradually build up speed, that things are bound to get better. If you take each instruction as its own module and endeavor to develop just that one instruction, then eventually you will end up practicing and developing all the instructions like a master. Buddhist meditation challenges us to accomplish seemingly simple tasks, which in the end can turn out to be more difficult to accomplish than we first imagined.

The four satipatthanas or establishments of mindfulness refer to mindfulness of the body (material form or rupa), mindfulness of feeling (vedana), mindfulness of the mind (citta) or mind states (citta ayatana), and mindfulness of mental phenomena or mind-objects (dhammas). If all you do is begin your practice pursuing mindfulness of the body as a starting point, this is enough of a focus with which to begin. Later on, you can move onto mindfulness of feeling, mind states, and mind objects, one at a time. Being able to establish mindfulness of the body will allow you to begin noticing all the thousand-and-one phenomena that go on with the body, things that you probably don't or haven't customarily observed happening because it is often below your conscious level of focus.

Practicing mindfulness of the body (or feeling, mind states, or mind objects) is a satipatthana practice, which means "establishing mindfulness" on whatever object one is focused upon observing. If one has first developed a sufficient level of concentration (samadhi) in order to keep the mind stable and focused, then one is ready to pursue the development of satipatthana. While satipattana practice may at first seem like an advanced practice (because it involves developing discernment of phenomena), it is actually what the Buddha recommended to all new monks as the next logical step on the path of development that serious practitioners should consider taking. In the discourses, Gotama stated that the practice of satipatthana is "the direct path to realization." That alone should tell you how important this practice is. Satipatthana is nothing less than what modern meditation teachers term and refer to as vipassana or insight meditation.

Being able to just lightly follow along with the breath, to become aware of when you breathe in a long breath or when you breathe in a short breath, begins the development of sampajañña, which means "clear comprehension" or "clear knowingness." Developing sati-sampajañña (or "mindfulness and clear knowing") is an immediate objective that any beginning meditation practitioner can rejoice in having accomplished. Because it means the beginning of being able to actually "establish" mindfulness itself! Mindfulness of the physical and mental phenomena that you experience on a daily basis. This is a huge accomplishment, even though you might not at first understand it. It also signals the beginning of the development of a key component in the path to awakening: the ending of ignorance.

Suffering is ended by becoming aware of that which is the cause of suffering and seeing it as it actually is: as impermanent, unsatisfactory, and without self. If you recollect (that is, if you are mindful), the first noble truth, that suffering exists in life, commands one to "Know me (i.e. dukkha) absolutely!" The second noble truth involves becoming aware of the arising of suffering, its origin within the mind-body complex. The second noble truth commands one to "Abandon me!" To abandon suffering, that is. The third noble truth, the eventuality of the cessation of suffering, deals with the interruption or ending of suffering. It commands one to "Realize me!" To realize the process necessary for the ending of dukkha. And the fourth noble truth, the way leading to the ending of suffering, this is the noble eightfold Path that commands one to "Develop me!" To develop this noble eightfold Path.

So it is that by becoming aware of the body and the nature of the phenomena associated with it, of feeling and how it arises and subsides while affecting one's perception of name and form, of mind states and how these arise and subside, and of mind objects and their true nature as impermanent, unsatisfactory, and without self that one is gradually brought to the realization that nothing in this world is worth clinging to. And all of this occurs because mindfulness of the true nature of these four areas of phenomena has been established. Thus the establishing of mindfulness leads to the direct path to realization.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby IanAnd » Fri Jan 28, 2011 6:44 am

The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness — Part Four
Cultivating Mindfulness and Concentration


While mindfulness (sati) and concentration (samadhi) go together like salt and pepper, they are different yet related qualities of mind. Mindfulness ordinarily operates on a broader more inclusive scale than concentration, yet each is aimed at focusing on specific aspects of phenomena. Mindfulness can entail an awareness of a general and broad number of phenomena simultaneously while concentration bores in and focuses on only one phenomenon at a time. Mindfulness provides a whole array of different yet related information for the mind to consider in any given situation or circumstance, while concentration focuses on only one object of awareness at a time.

Concentration conditions the mind for unification on an object or subject of contemplation. In doing so, concentration fosters the fourfold development of: 1. a pleasant dwelling in this very life (jhana), 2. of knowledge and vision of the Dhamma, 3. of mindfulness and clear comprehension of phenomena, and 4. of the concentration that leads to the destruction of the taints. Therefore as the Buddha once stated (AN 8.30): "This Dhamma is for one with a concentrated mind, not for one who is unconcentrated."

It is interesting to note that one's general overall ability at mindfulness can become enhanced by the practice of states of deep concentration, and that deeper levels of concentration are developed only after mindfulness becomes well established. The development and perfection of each quality of mind is complemented by the other. Like samatha and vipassana, these two qualities also mutually support one another.

Through practicing deep levels of concentration, the mind's ability becomes gradually reconditioned to remain in the present moment without becoming distracted and yet with high alertness if sati is established. At least this has been my experience. Although in my case this may also have been influenced by the chosen object of concentration: the breath. If my mind ever becomes inattentive or unfocused, simply placing attention back on the breath for a few seconds usually revitalizes and re-establishes mindfulness (sati). Of course, you have to do this with the intention of establishing mindfulness; it is a conscious volitional effort, in other words. (Also, this is one of the major advantages of using the breath as a meditation object. It is always with you to be used as a trigger for re-establishing mindfulness.)

One aspect of the establishment of mindfulness and how it assists in meditation entails the development of presence of mind and alertness. When we realize that many of us tend to function in a rather inattentive, unfocused way, resulting in a rather superficial experience of life, we begin to see the need for training this errant attention in a more systematic way. In conjunction with this it is also interesting to note that the simple act of establishing mindful alertness in this way can assist us in our practice of meditation. It helps to eliminate the hindrance of sloth and torpor as well as to diminish the effect of the other four hindrances.

In the two Satipatthana suttas (MN 10 and DN 22), the Buddha gives the following instruction: "And how, monks, does a monk abide contemplating the body as body? Here a monk, having gone into the forest, or to the root of a tree or to an empty place, sits down cross-legged, holding his body erect, having established mindfulness in front of him. Mindfully he breaths in, mindfully he breaths out. Breathing in a long breath, he knows that he breathes in a long breath, and breathing out a long breath, he knows that he breathes out a long breath. Breathing in a short breath, he knows that he breathes in a short breath, and breathing out a short breath, he knows that he breaths out a short breath. . . ."

This simple instruction to "establish mindfulness" in front of oneself (i.e. prior to entering meditation) is key if one is to have a fruitful and significant meditation sitting. The kind of mindfulness being alluded to here is an alert mindfulness, much in the same way as if one were a hunter's prey and being hunted. If you've ever observed animals — dogs, cats, birds, ground squirrels, rabbits, etcetera — in the wild, you will have noticed that they are always ALERT. Especially wild animals, because they are either looking for food or attempting to escape becoming a meal for some other animal predator. If you will stop, right now, and vividly imagine yourself in the latter situation (i.e. being the prey for another animal) while paying close attention to the affective phenomena that arise within your awareness, you will have a graphic idea what it means to be mindfully alert in the way that the Buddha spoke about in his instruction to "establish mindfulness."

In such a state, the senses are on high alert: sight, hearing, smell, and tactile sensation primarily. This state of high alertness is fostered by high (emotional) energy (viriya), if you know what I mean. Viriya is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. This is what the Buddha meant when he mentioned viriya as a factor of enlightenment. It is this state of high energy that maintains the mind in the present moment, that maintains presence of mind. I use this example only to convey the idea of the kind of energy being spoken about here. And it need not be motivated by fear, as in the example given; but at any rate, the energy expended by the mind will be highly alert and fully aware of the immediate atmosphere (i.e. of the significance of the present moment circumstance).

When you establish this kind of mindful alertness, the odds of being able to enter absorption (or jhana) are increased ten fold, because one of the primary conditions for inducing the jhana experience has been set in motion: that of mindful awareness. An adept meditator (i.e. one who is well experienced in being able to enter at will into absorption) will be able to use the cultivation of this level of sati as a ready doorway to entering absorption within the first few breaths of his meditation. Absorption is merely "fixed" or "full" concentration (appana samadhi). It is a highly magnified state of concentration, which, if you are able to enter it, is difficult to mistake. (For more about jhana, see A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread.)
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby IanAnd » Fri Jan 28, 2011 6:48 am

The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness — Part Five
Mindfulness: An Antidote for States of Sluggishness and Torpor


Rare is the meditator who has not had trouble at one time or another with the hindrance of sloth and torpor. It is often difficult to know what to do when one's meditation session becomes fraught with drowsiness or sleepiness. One can attempt to fight through it, successively endeavoring time and time again to reestablish attention on the object of observation. But this can become quite tedious very quickly, and is generally not a recommended course of action for dealing with this problem. You have to be able to get to the root of the problem before you can satisfactorily fix it.

One of the first things to check for is whether or not one has received sufficient rest. If not or if one is so drowsy that falling asleep is more desirable than making the attempt to stay awake, then taking a short nap may very well solve the problem. If this isn't the case, then one may need look for other solutions. The standard suggestions for overcoming drowsiness include: throwing light on the subject in terms of exposing one's eyes to bright light in order to goad alertness; splashing one's face with cold water to help stir alertness; practicing walking meditation before deciding to take up sitting meditation in order to establish mindful alertness; and physically jumping up and down, doing calisthenics to shock the body out of its lethargy. Sometimes these work, and sometimes they have little or no effect. Yet, whatever the case may be, there is usually only one culprit for this symptom: that being the lack of mindful alertness having been established beforehand.

Cultivating continuous mindfulness is something that virtually has to be committed to in one's practice from the very beginning, if one can be brought to the realization about how important this actually is. If this is not emphasized from the beginning, then the practitioner is likely to encounter problems with the hindrances throughout the inception of their practice in meditation.

In truth, establishing continuous mindfulness may very well be a long term goal for the majority of beginning practitioners. In beginning a practice, however, it may be sufficient enough to be able to establish mindfulness on a momentary basis during discrete periods of time. Scientific studies have shown that people can be attentive to something for only brief lengths of time before they have to remind themselves, moment by moment, to return to it if they wish to keep being attentive. That is, continuous energetic attention — the type that can observe events over a long duration of time — has to be stitched together from short intervals. This is what the mature cultivation of mindfulness is for: it keeps the object of one's attention and the purpose for the attention in mind on a more or less continuous basis.

In the previous section, the quality of "mindful alertness" was discussed. It is this energetic quality that is injected into one's practice when continuous mindfulness eventually becomes fully established. Yet, even when one is still working on establishing continuous mindfulness, this momentary quality of mindful alertness is what suppresses the hindrance of sloth and torpor. Many times, once this momentary energetic alertness is established and used in order to successfully enter a state of meditation, it may continue to function quite on its own, without much prodding, i.e. without the necessity of having to restitch (or bring back) attention on the object of meditation. This all depends upon how well developed one's sati is to begin with. For one with little or minimal development in sati, he should expect to have to restitch attention back on the object until his general mindfulness is better developed.

(As I wrote the immediately preceding paragraph, it occurred to me that I may be describing what many meditation teachers describe as being either "access concentration" (upacara samadhi) or "momentary concentration" (khanikha samadhi) with regard to absorption meditation. From my own standpoint, I have tended to view this as having established "energetic mindful alertness." Yet, I would readily agree that this kind of "energetic alertness" does have some relationship to concentration (samadhi) in its various intensities and forms.)

One other suggestion for overcoming sleepiness at the beginning of meditation comes to mind, a solution I discovered quite by accident, but which worked quite well when I used it. I would occasionally have trouble maintaining alertness (meaning avoiding drowsiness) if I attempted to meditate directly after awakening in the morning. Usually, time is precious in the morning, and I would want to get through my practice first before focusing on accomplishing other activities that still needed to be attended to. When I would take some time to just sit and read about the Dhamma before beginning my sit, I noticed that the extra time it gave me to fully awaken and become mentally alert was well worth the added expenditure of time (even though I would often be attempting to keep a tight schedule in order to get everything done before I had to be off to work). This added effort in the form of reading helped me to establish the mindful alertness necessary for a fruitful meditation session.

No matter what solution you try, it is important to be aware that in most cases the reason that you're having difficulty with drowsiness (or whatever other hindrance may be bothering you) is because you have not taken the time to establish mindfulness beforehand. If you take the time to do this, you will not regret the time and effort spent doing so, as you should soon enough begin to notice a palpable improvement in the effectiveness of your meditation sessions.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby IanAnd » Fri Jan 28, 2011 6:53 am

The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness — Part Six
The Significance of Mindfulness to The Path of Awakening


If, after having read this brief series about the establishment of mindfulness, you take any one idea away from it, let it be the realization that mindfulness, as much as if not more so than anything else, occupies an all important role in the practice of the Buddhadhamma. In the quintessential discourse which embodied the practice of the Dhamma as a whole, the Maha-satipatthana Sutta of the Digha Nikaya (translated as The Greater Discourse on the Establishments of Mindfulness), Gotama stated, in unequivocal terms, his solution to the primary soteriological problem (dukkha) facing mankind as he had come to understand it from his own direct examination.

In the first Noble Truth, he had stated the problem: that dukkha or suffering (dissatisfaction) inescapably exists in life. In the fourth Noble Truth, he provided the solution he had arrived at: which was the noble eightfold path. And in the Maha-satipatthana Sutta he underscored the practice of establishing mindfulness of four important areas of our experience as being the distinctive element necessary in the path leading to the cessation of dukkha. At the outset of this discourse, he stated:

"There is, monks, this one way to the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and distress, for the disappearance of pain and sadness, for the gaining of the right path, for the realization of Nibbana: — that is to say the four establishments of mindfulness."

Anyone who has casually read anything about the practice of Buddhism knows that one of the most written and talked about qualities of the practice is mindfulness (sati). And yet in many instances mindfulness does not receive enough emphasis as a quality to be regularly cultivated. In some modern literature it is often treated as a second class quality, as a necessary yet unassuming background activity while other qualities (like compassion, equanimity, lovingkindness etcetera) are given more significance. Yet, a careful reading of the discourses discloses that this was not the manner in which Gotama approached this issue of establishing mindfulness. The very heart of the Dhamma he taught is suffused with the entreaty to be ever mindful in each moment, to guard the gateway of the mind with regard to unwholesome thought, speech, or action. If you have read and, moreover, correctly understood the discourses, there is virtually no room to debate this point.

Aware that his monks would have difficulty establishing mindfulness due to the lax conditioning of their minds, Gotama designed a training regimen to keep the pressure on his monks to improve their mindfulness by imploring them to be ever heedful lest their sati lapse and they commit an offense through thought, word, or deed. That this was part of the monastic discipline served the training of the monks well; however, lay practitioners were rarely exposed to this level of training wherein the judgment of their peers was ever around them (except when in the presence of the monks or the Buddha where they were usually on their best behavior and therefore more mindfully aware of their circumstances).

Since this method of practice worked well for the monks, there's no reason to doubt that it will work for lay practitioners who also struggle with the practice of mindfulness. Therefore, the way to cultivate the establishment of mindfulness is to expect of oneself, at all times, not to break any of the precepts or warnings for self-restraint. In the beginning, this will take some effort on the part of the practitioner, who no doubt will fail in many instances. Yet as the practice and mindfulness grows to becomes more developed, the amount of effort will seem to diminish as the new habit takes hold of the mind. In this way a person gradually develops self-control through the monitoring of his own behavior while at the same time cultivating the establishment of mindfulness. True, this does take a committed stance of mind to undertake. But then only an insincere person will flinch at the idea of holding himself to its practice.

For those seeking to enhance their practice of the meditation technology, the cultivation of mindfulness and clear comprehension (sati-sampajañña) are two indispensable tools leading to the improvement of one's ability to establish mindfulness. This entails becoming ever watchful or alert with regard to the present moment. Mental alertness, as discussed before, will go a long way toward enabling a meditator to accomplish whatever goal he is endeavoring to pursue. As one becomes more aware of the conditioned mechanisms at play in the mind as it responds to stimuli, one is more able to begin breaking these conditioned mechanisms down and thus abandoning them. As more and more of these unconscious mechanisms are recognized and abandoned, mindful alertness becomes more and more established, until it may seem that all that remains is mindful alertness, and one wonders why one ever allowed one's mind to become heedless.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby rowyourboat » Fri Jan 28, 2011 9:08 am

IandAm, well done for highlighting issues like right intention, viriya, sila etc. In the development of mindfulness. Samadhi deserves a special mention in the scheme of things- if the Buddha praised on thing more than mindfulness it was Samadhi. If he praised one thing more than Samadhi, it was developing the intention to become a stream entrant.
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby Nyana » Sat Jan 29, 2011 9:57 pm

Good stuff Ian.

All the best,

Geoff
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby alan » Sun Jan 30, 2011 1:57 am

meditation technology?
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby IanAnd » Sun Jan 30, 2011 5:16 am

alan wrote:meditation technology?

You have doubts?

Among other statements:

In the two Satipatthana suttas (MN 10 and DN 22), the Buddha gives the following instruction: "And how, monks, does a monk abide contemplating the body as body? Here a monk, having gone into the forest, or to the root of a tree or to an empty place, sits down cross-legged, holding his body erect, having established mindfulness in front of him. Mindfully he breaths in, mindfully he breaths out...."

Without mindfulness, meditation, meaningful meditation (in the Buddhist sense) is not possible.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby alan » Mon Jan 31, 2011 1:52 am

technology?
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby IanAnd » Mon Jan 31, 2011 4:51 am

alan wrote:technology?

Yes. As it states in the introduction to this forum: "Approaching meditation from the perspective of the Sutta Pitaka."

If you're looking for a debate, you will have to take it to the debate forum. It will not be tolerated in this thread.
Last edited by IanAnd on Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Jan 31, 2011 4:57 am

IanAnd wrote:
alan wrote:technology?

Yes.

If you're looking for a debate, you will have to take it to the debate forum. It will not be tolerated in this thread.
You might want to define what you mean by "technology." if is something that prompts a debate, then that can be carried out in the appropriate venue.
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SN I, 38.

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People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby alan » Wed Feb 02, 2011 4:05 am

Ian,
You're a smart guy and I appreciate your good (but overly long) posts. Thought it would be clever to make the shortest possible response. That is just my slightly odd sense of humor. No offense intended.
I'm just wondering what you meant by "technology". Doesn't seem to apply to meditation. You've laid out the basics very well. But at a certain point doesn't it become a self-sustaining, evolving, emotional endeavor? I'd argue that without a creative impulse, meditation just becomes dry bones.
Maybe I misunderstood you?
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby octathlon » Wed Feb 02, 2011 4:36 am

Hi Ian,
I like the way you describe and explain things, sometimes helping me understand concepts that I wasn't getting before. For example the alert mindfulness of the prey animal. I've been remembering that when slipping into torpor and it helps.
:thanks:
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby IanAnd » Wed Feb 02, 2011 5:22 am

alan wrote: I'm just wondering what you meant by "technology". Doesn't seem to apply to meditation. You've laid out the basics very well. But at a certain point doesn't it become a self-sustaining, evolving, emotional endeavor? I'd argue that without a creative impulse, meditation just becomes dry bones.
Maybe I misunderstood you?

You were the one who used the word "technology." You define what you mean by it.

I was only responding to what seems to be the widest definition of the word in relation to the points I made. That's all. Maybe you have misunderstood. Wouldn't be the first time someone has misunderstood. Don't make this into something more than it is.

All I'm saying is that mindfulness is an important factor in "Buddhist" meditation. Nothing more, nothing less. And that even Gotama recognized — and emphasized — this (although he wouldn't have characterized it as "Buddhist").
Last edited by IanAnd on Wed Feb 02, 2011 5:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby IanAnd » Wed Feb 02, 2011 5:28 am

octathlon wrote:Hi Ian,
I like the way you describe and explain things, sometimes helping me understand concepts that I wasn't getting before.
:thanks:

You're welcome. That's the only reason I continue to post here, so that people can understand concepts and practices that they weren't able to understand before. It's all about communicating what I know to be true and what helped me to make progress. That's all.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 02, 2011 5:29 am

IanAnd wrote:
alan wrote:
I'm just wondering what you meant by "technology". Doesn't seem to apply to meditation. You've laid out the basics very well. But at a certain point doesn't it become a self-sustaining, evolving, emotional endeavor? I'd argue that without a creative impulse, meditation just becomes dry bones.
Maybe I misunderstood you?

You were the one who used the word "technology." You define what you mean by it.

I was only responding to what seems to be the widest definition of the word in relation to the points I made. That's all. Maybe you have misunderstood. Wouldn't be the first time someone has misunderstood. Don't make this into something more than it is.

All I'm saying is that mindfulness is an important factor in "Buddhist" meditation. Nothing more, nothing less. And that even Gotama recognized — and emphasized — this (although he wouldn't have characterized it as "Buddhist").
Actually, you used the word first here: viewtopic.php?f=33&t=7110#p113083


For those seeking to enhance their practice of the meditation technology, the cultivation of mindfulness and clear comprehension (sati-sampajañña) are two indispensable tools leading to the improvement of one's ability to establish mindfulness.

The onus falls to you to offer, as requested, a definition of the term in question.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby IanAnd » Wed Feb 02, 2011 5:43 am

I don't recall every little word from everything I've ever written. This was written months ago. Besides, I've already given you the definition I used in a post above.

Meta-discussion removed - Mike
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Re: The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

Postby alan » Thu Feb 03, 2011 2:18 am

Maybe you wrote it months ago, but your brief series of posts on Jan. 28 concludes with a reference to meditation technology. Just wondering what you meant by that.
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