Meditation Practice Dhamma
When you keep the breath in mind, you get all four frames of reference in one. The breath is “body,” feelings lie in the body, the mind lies in the body, mental qualities lie in the mind.
The four frames of reference when we sit in meditation: The breath is “body,” comfort and discomfort are “feeling,” purity and clarity are states of “mind,” and steadiness of mind is “mental quality.”
When practicing concentration, we have to imbue it with the four paths to success.
Chanda (desire): Have a friendly interest in the breath, keeping track of it to see, when we breathe in, what we breathe in with it. If we don’t breathe out, we’ll have to die. If we breathe out but don’t breathe back in, we’ll have to die as well. We keep focused on this, without focusing the mind on anything else.
Viriya (persistence): Be diligent in all affairs related to the breath. You have to be intent that “Now I’m going to breathe in, now I’m going to breathe out; I’m going to make it long, short, heavy, light, cool, warm, etc.” You have to be in charge of the breath.
Citta (attention): Focus intently on the breath. Be observant of how the external breath comes in and connects with the internal breath in the upper, middle, and lower parts of the body; in the chest — the lungs, the heart, the ribs, the backbone; in the abdomen — stomach, liver, kidneys, intestines; the breath that goes out the ends of the fingers and toes and out every pore.
Vimansa (discrimination): Contemplate and evaluate the breath that comes in to nourish the body to see whether it fills the body, to see whether it feels easy and natural, to see if there are any parts where you still have to adjust it. Notice the characteristics of how the external breath strikes the internal breath, to see if they connect everywhere or not, to see how the effects of the breath on the properties of earth, water, and fire arise, remain, and pass away.
All of this comes under meditation on physical events, and qualifies as the great frame of reference (mahasatipatthana) as well. When the mind has fully developed the four paths to success, complete with mindfulness and alertness, the results in terms of the body are the stilling of pain. In terms of the mind, they can lead all the way to the transcendent: the stages of stream-entry, once-returning, non-returning, and arahantship.
If you really develop concentration, it will result in the five kinds of strength: (1) conviction; when you gain conviction in the results you see coming from your efforts, then (2) persistence arises without anyone having to force you. From there, (3) mindfulness becomes more comprehensive in what you are doing, (4) concentration becomes firmly established in what you are doing, giving rise to (5) discernment of all things right and wrong. Altogether these are called the five strengths.
Tranquillity meditation (samatha) is a mind snug in a single preoccupation. It doesn’t establish contact with anything else; it keeps itself cleansed of outside preoccupations. Insight meditation (vipassana) is when the mind lets go of all preoccupations in a state of all-around mindfulness and alertness. When tranquillity imbued with insight arises in the mind, five faculties arise and become dominant all at once: (1) Saddhindriya: Your conviction becomes solid and strong. Whatever anyone else may say, good or bad, your mind isn’t affected. (2) Viriyindriya: Your persistence becomes resilient. Whether anyone teaches you the path or not, you keep at it constantly without flagging or getting discouraged. (3) Satindriya: Mindfulness becomes dominant, enlarged in the great frame of reference. You don’t have to force it. It spreads all over the body, in the same way that the branches of a large tree protect the entire trunk, without anyone having to pull them down or shake them up. Awareness becomes entirely radiant in every posture: sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. It knows on its own without your having to think. This all-around awareness is what is meant by the great frame of reference. (4) Samadhindriya: Your concentration becomes dominant, too. Whatever you’re doing, the mind doesn’t waver or stray. Even if you’re talking to the point where your mouth opens a meter wide, the mind is still at normalcy. If the body wants to eat, lie down, sit, stand, walk, run, think, whatever, that’s its business. Or if any part of it gets weary or pained, again, that’s its business, but the mind remains straight and set still in a single preoccupation, without straying off into anything else. (5) Paññindriya: Discernment becomes dominant within you as well, to the point where you can make the mind attain stream-entry, once-returning, non-returning, or even arahantship.
In order to divest our hearts of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, etc., we have to develop concentration, which is composed of seven basic qualities —
1. Mindfulness as a factor of Awakening (sati-sambojjhanga): The mind is centered firmly on the breath, aware of the body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities.
2. Analysis of present qualities as a factor of Awakening (dhamma-vicaya-sambojjhanga): We let the breath spread throughout the body, making an enlarged frame of reference. We know how to adjust, improve, choose, and use our breaths so that they give us comfort. We throw out whichever breaths are harmful and foster whichever ones are beneficial.
3. Persistence as a factor of Awakening (viriya-sambojjhanga): We don’t abandon or forget the breath. We stick with it, and it sticks with us as we keep warding the Hindrances from the heart. We don’t fasten on or become involved with distracting perceptions. We keep trying to make our stillness of mind stronger and stronger.
4. Rapture as a factor of Awakening (piti-sambojjhanga): When the mind is quiet, the breath is full and refreshing. We’re free from the Hindrances and from every sort of restlessness, like a white cloth that’s spotlessly clean. When the mind is clear in this way, it feels nothing but comfort and fullness, which gives rise to a sense of satisfaction, termed rapture.
5. Serenity as a factor of Awakening (passaddhi-sambojjhanga): The breath is solid throughout the body. The elements are at peace, and so is the mind. Nothing feels troublesome or aroused.
6. Concentration as a factor of Awakening (samadhi-sambojjhanga): The breath is firm, steady, and unwavering. The mind takes a firm stance in a single preoccupation.
7. Equanimity as a factor of Awakening (upekkha-sambojjhanga): When body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities are fully snug with one another in these two types of breath — when the mind stays with these aspects of the breath — it doesn’t have to fashion anything at all. It doesn’t latch onto any manifestation of good or bad. Neutral and unperturbed, it doesn’t approve or disapprove of anything.
1. Make a resolution, intending to keep mindfulness and alertness firmly focused. Keep continual watch over the mind to keep it with the breath in line with your original intention. Keep warding off the Hindrances, the various distractions that will come to spoil the energy of your concentration. This is mindfulness as a factor of Awakening.
2. Once the breath is well cleansed and purified, let this purified breath spread to care for the body throughout its various parts. Once the body is nourished with this purified breath, it becomes purified as well. Our words and thoughts become purified, too. What we experience now is pleasure and ease. Or, if you want to use the breath to care for any particular part of the body — a great deal or a little, heavily or lightly, blatantly or subtly — you can do so as you like. This is analysis of present qualities as a factor of Awakening.
3. Tend to the breath, keeping watch over the mind, not letting it stray off in search of other preoccupations that would break your original resolution. Don’t grow discouraged in the face of weariness or difficulties for body or mind. Be resolved on cutting away obstacles, whatever direction they may come from, even if you have to put your life on the line. (The breath is solid.) This is persistence as a factor of Awakening.
4. When these first three qualities are fully developed and pure, they give rise to a feeling of brightness, fullness, and satisfaction. The breath is full. This is the breath of cognitive skill (vijja). In other words, the breath lies under the direction of mindfulness. This is rapture as a factor of Awakening.
5. When the mind stays with the full breath, it doesn’t waver or loosen its grip in the wake of any passing distractions, as when sounds strike the ear and so forth. Feelings are still experienced as they are felt, but at this point they don’t give rise to craving, attachment, states of being, or birth. Awareness is simply aware. This is serenity as a factor of Awakening.
6. When awareness is solid and sure, radiant and full in every way, knowledge arises. We both know and see what our present condition comes from and where it will go. We see this so clearly that we will perceive kamma and its results, both in ourselves and other people. This is concentration as a factor of Awakening.
7. Once the mind has followed these steps from the first to the sixth and then lets go to be still with a spacious sense of relaxation, not fastening onto any sign, preoccupation, or anything at all, that’s equanimity as a factor of Awakening.
When we understand all seven of these qualities and can develop them in full measure within the heart, they all come together at a single point in a single moment.
The reason we’re taught to develop these seven qualities in our breathing is so that we can still the feelings within us — because feelings lie at the essence of the Hindrances. The Hindrances are the breath impregnated with ignorance and darkness. When this happens, we’re like a person standing in the darkness who can’t see himself or anyone else, because we lie fermenting in our defilements, full of conditions. This is the ordinary breath, untended and undirected. It’s full all right, but full of darkness. This state is the important one that cuts and closes off our path. Only when we get rid of these Hindrances will the mind be radiant and bright, seeing the Dhamma clearly in terms of both cause and effect.
When mindfulness saturates the body the way flame saturates every thread in the mantle of a Coleman lantern, the elements throughout the body work together like a group of people working together on a job: Each person helps a little here and there, and in no time at all — almost effortlessly — the job is done. Just as the mantle of a Coleman lantern whose every thread is soaked in flame becomes light, white, and dazzling, so if you soak your mind in mindfulness until it’s aware of the entire body, both the body and mind become buoyant. When you think using the power of mindfulness, your sense of the body will immediately become thoroughly bright, helping to develop both body and mind. You’ll be able to sit or stand for long periods of time without getting tired, to walk for great distances without getting fatigued, to go for unusually long periods of time on just a little food without getting hungry, or to go without food and sleep altogether for several days running without losing energy.
As for the heart, it will become pure, open, and free from blemish. The mind will become bright, energetic, and strong. Saddha-balam: Your conviction will run like a car running without stop along the road. Viriya-balam: Your persistence will accelerate and advance. Sati-balam: Your mindfulness will be robust and vigorous. Samadhi-balam: Your concentration will become unwavering and resilient. No activity will be able to kill it. In other words, no matter what you’re doing — sitting, standing, walking, talking, whatever — as soon as you think of practicing concentration, your mind will immediately be centered. Whenever you want it, just think of it and you have it. When your concentration is this powerful, insight meditation is no problem. Pañña-balam: Your discernment will be like a double-edged sword: Your discernment of what’s outside will be sharp. Your discernment of what’s inside will be sharp.
When these five strengths appear in the heart, the heart will be fully mature. Your conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and discernment will all be mature and pre-eminent in their own spheres. It’s the nature of mature adults that they cooperate. When they work together on a job, they finish it. So it is when you have these five adults working together for you: You’ll be able to complete any task. Your mind will have the power to demolish every defilement in the heart, just as a nuclear bomb can demolish anything anywhere in the world.
When your concentration has strength, it gives rise to discernment: the ability to see stress, its cause, its disbanding, and the Path to its disbanding, all clearly within the breath. We can explain this as follows: The in-and-out breath is stress — the in-breath the stress of arising, the out-breath the stress of passing away. Not being aware of the breath as it goes in and out, not knowing the characteristics of the breath: This is the cause of stress. Knowing when the breath is coming in, knowing when it’s going out, knowing its characteristics clearly — i.e., keeping your views in line with the truth of the breath: This is Right View, part of the Noble Path. Knowing which ways of breathing are uncomfortable, knowing how to vary the breath; knowing, “That way of breathing is uncomfortable; we’ll have to breathe like this in order to feel at ease”: This is Right Consideration. The mental factors that think about and properly evaluate all aspects of the breath are Right Speech. Knowing various ways of improving the breath; breathing, for example, in long and out long, in short and out short, in short and out long, in long and out short, until you come across the breath that’s most comfortable for you: This is Right Action. Knowing how to use the breath to purify the blood, how to let this purified blood nourish the heart muscles, how to adjust the breath so that it eases the body and soothes the mind, how to breathe so that you feel full and refreshed in body and mind: This is Right Livelihood. Trying to adjust the breath so that it comforts the body and mind, and to keep trying as long as you aren’t fully at ease: This is Right Effort. Being mindful of the in-and-out breath at all times, knowing the various aspects of the breath — the up-flowing breath, the down-flowing breath, the breath in the stomach, the breath in the intestines, the breath flowing along the muscles and out to every pore — keeping track of these things with every in-and-out breath: This is Right Mindfulness. A mind intent only on matters of the breath, not pulling any other objects in to interfere, until the breath is refined, giving rise to fixed absorption and then liberating insight: This is Right Concentration.
When all of these aspects of the Noble Path — virtue, concentration, and discernment — are brought together fully mature within the heart, you gain insight into all aspects of the breath, knowing that “Breathing this way gives rise to good mental states; breathing that way gives rise to bad mental states.” You let go of the factors — i.e., the breath in all its aspects — that fashion the body, the factors that fashion speech, the factors that fashion the mind, whether good or bad, letting them be as they truly are, in line with their own inherent nature: This is the disbanding of stress.
May each and every one of you meet with progress and happiness.
May the merits of this Gift of Dhamma bring much benefit to all.
Sadhu sadhu sadhu