Mental Development in Daily Life

by Nina van Gorkom | 2000 | 31,190 words

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Part 9 - Right Concentration

A. The aim of the eightfold Path is wisdom, not tranquillity. But is there not tranquillity of the eightfold Path too? Samma-samadhi, right concentration, is one of the factors of the eightfold Path.

B. Samma-samadhi is the cetasika (mental factor) which is ekaggata cetasika (one-pointedness). Ekaggata cetasika or samadhi arises with every citta. Its function is to focus on an object. Each citta can have only one object at a time.

Samma-samadhi in tranquil meditation is concentration on the meditation subject, and the purpose is tranquillity.

Samma-samadhi of the eightfold Path arises together with samma-ditthi and samma-sati. Its object is a characteristic of nama or rupa which appears through one of the six doors.

A. You say that the function of samma-samadhi of the eightfold Path is to focus on the nama or rupa which is the object of mindfulness at that moment. It seems that we have to concentrate for some time on nama or rupa; but in that way there could not be mindfulness during our daily activities.

B. One-pointedness on the nama or rupa which appears does not mean concentration for a period of time, such as is the practice in samatha. Samma-samadhi of the eightfold Path arises with the citta which knows a characteristic of nama or rupa and falls away with that citta. There is concentration in vipassana, but it is a momentary concentration. In vipassana one does not try to concentrate for a long time on the reality which appears. The aim of vipassana is detachment through the development of wisdom.

Concentration in vipassana does not interfere with our daily activities. When we are talking to other people, for instance, there are nama and rupa appearing through the six doors. Why can there not be awareness of them? Mindfulness does not prevent us from talking. When a characteristic of nama or rupa appears it can be the object of mindfulness. Thus characteristics can be known more clearly.

A. What should I do to have more one-pointedness on the nama or rupa which appears at the present moment? There is mindfulness in my daily life, but there is not yet clear knowledge of the characteristics which appear. It seems to me that there can be mindfulness without knowing characteristics. is that right?

B. When one starts with the development of the eightfold Path there is not always clear knowledge of a characteristic at the moment of mindfulness. Moreover, there are many gradations of knowledge. The knowledge is bound to be very vague in the beginning, but, if there is mindfulness of nama and rupa more often, there will be a more precise knowledge of their different characteristics.

In vipassana you do not have to do anything special to have one-pointedness on the reality which appears; when there is samma-sati of the eightfold Path there is also samma-samadhi of the eightfold Path.

A. Some people say that in order to develop vipassana there must be samatha as a foundation. They think that when concentration is developed in samatha (tranquil meditation) it can become the samma-samadhi of the eightfold Path.

B. The aim of samatha is tranquillity in the sense of temporary elimination of lobha, dosa and moha. There are sati and panna in samatha too, but they are of a different quality. If one wants to cultivate jhana one has to know the conditions for the attainment of jhana. One has to know what can obstruct jhana. One has to be aware of one's cittas in order to know whether the jhana-factors have been developed to the degree that jhana can be attained. One has to encourage the mind in different ways when it needs to be encouraged. Thus there have to be sati and panna in samatha, but they are not of the same quality as in vipassana. In smith one does not achieve detachment from the concept of self. Only in vipassana can one develop the kind of wisdom which leads to detachment from the concept of self.

In vipassana the aim should be, from the beginning, the development of panna which knows realities. If one thinks that in order to accumulate a great deal of sati it is necessary to cultivate samatha before one develops vipassana, then samma-ditthi (right understanding) of the eightfold Path does not arise. The reason is that in samatha there is no awareness of the characteristics of nama and rupa appearing at the present moment.

Both in samatha and vipassana there are samma-sati and samma-samadhi (right concentration), but the quality of these factors is not the same in samatha as it is in vipassana. Only if samma-sati and samma-samadhi are accompanied by samma ditthi of the eightfold Path (the wisdom which knows realities) are they factors of the eightfold path.

A. In the case of nervous people, would they not be better developing at least some degree of samatha before they develop vipassana?

B. There is a difference between those who cultivate samatha because they have accumulations for it and it is natural for them to do so, and those who cultivate samatha because they think that it is a necessary condition for the development of vipassana. Such people do not realize that in samatha one does not learn to be aware of nama and rupa which appear through the six doors.

If nervous people were to study the Buddha's teachings and practise what he taught, they would gain a deeper understanding of their life. This understanding would help them more effectively.

A. I have heard it said that restless people should not study the Buddha's teachings because it may make them more confused. They should just practise, not study.

B. Every one of us is confused before we hear about the Dhamma. We are born with ignorance, because it is ignorance which conditioned our birth. We all have eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body-sense and mind; we all have lobha, dosa and moha, arising on account of what we experience through the senses and through the mind-door. But we do not know about those realities; we are ignorant.

However, in studying the teachings and pondering over them we start to have more understanding of our life. Could this clearer understanding of our life. Could this clearer understanding make us confused? Moreover, if we were to develop vipassana without studying we could not know what the right path is and what the wrong path is. We may confuse vipassana and samatha; we may think that we must develop samatha first before we can cultivate vipassana. We may think that mindfulness can be induced and thus we would not know the characteristic of samma-sati of the eightfold Path. We would not know that sati is anatta, not 'self'. The result would be that we become more attached to the idea of self, instead of less attached. We may think that we can experience realities, and that we experience the truth already. We should remember that studying the teachings is a necessary condition for the development of the eightfold Path.

A. But those who are just starting to develop mindfulness cannot have one-pointedness on nama or rupa. Should they not go to a special place such as a meditation centre where there is peace and quiet? Most people are so busy in their daily lives that it is impossible for them to be aware. In a meditation center they can really set their mind on being aware and can become one-pointed on nama and rupa.

B. The idea of going to a meditation center in order to see one's mind on being aware is motivated by a wrong understanding of sati. A center can be useful if one receives instruction in the Dhamma, but one should not think that one must go to a center in order to have mindfulness. Right understanding is the condition for the development of insight.
In a center there may be attachment to tranquillity. This is clinging. One may become more and more attached to tranquillity. When calmness is disturbed there are conditions for dosa. When people return to daily life they do not know how to be mindful, because daily life is not tranquil.

Some people think that they are 'in meditation' while they are in the center and that they are 'out of meditation' when they are in daily life. In the development of vipassana there is no question of 'in' or 'out'; we should be mindful at all times, no matter where we are.

A. I have heard it said that people who start to develop vipassana should be slow in all their movements, such as eating and walking, in order to have more mindfulness.

B. When you move your arm slowly in order to have more mindfulness, what types of citta motivate the movement? Is there desire?

A. Yes, there is the desire for sati.

B. Thus there are lobha-mula-citta. You think of the awareness you wish to have and you think of realities which have not yet appeared. You are clinging to the future instead of attending to the present moment. You are unaware of your desire for sati, and when other realities such as seeing or hearing appear, there is not mindfulness of them either. Thus there will not be detachment from the concept of 'self'.

When we are eating, defilements are bound to arise, as we have not eradicated them. But no matter whether we are eating quickly or slowly, there can be mindfulness of whatever reality appears. If one eats slowly in order to have more mindfulness, there is again clinging to the idea one has of sati. One does not know, however, what sati really is. I heard someone say that he is 'working' on awareness during meals. It appears from what he said that there is desire for awareness and that he does not realize sati is 'anatta', not 'self'. It is the same with those who walk in a special way in order to have more sati. They have the desire for sati, but they do not know what sati is.

We should not forget the second Noble Truth: craving is the origin of dukkha. As long as there is craving for nama and rupa there will be rebirth and thus no end to dukkha. When people want to develop vipassana and they crave for results, they forget this Truth. For instance, they want to know within a short time the difference between seeing and colour, hearing and sound; they wish to experience the arising and falling away of nama and rupa. But as long as they cling to obtaining the results of vipassana there is no way that they will come to know the truth. The way of the eightfold Path is long; in order to become detached from the concept of self, panna has to know every kind of nama and rupa which appears. panna can only be developed through being mindful of nama and rupa when they appear so that there will be precise knowledge of their different characteristics.

A. When there is more mindfulness there is more peacefulness too. I am inclined to be content with peacefulness and not to develop a keener knowledge of realities.

B. When there is mindfulness one is at that moment removed from akusala and so there is peace. Thus you see that there is tranquillity in the eightfold Path.

One may be attached to the peacefulness which arises when there is sati. This is a reality which can also be known when it appears: it is only a kind of nama. We can see how deeply rooted defilements are: if there is a lack of sati one regrets the lack of sati, but when sati arises more often one is attached to it. Awareness of all kinds of realities which appear is essential in order to become detached from the concept of 'self'.

If one is delighted that there is mindfulness more often one should not think that one has reached the goal. One should continue to develop a keener knowledge of the characteristics of nama and rupa. Therefore samma-vayama (right effort) is an indispensable factor of the eightfold Path.

As we have seen, samma-ditthi (right understanding) and samma-sankappa (right thinking) are the wisdom of the eightfold Path. Samma-vaca (right speech), samma-kammanta (right action) and samma-ajiva (right livelihood) are the sila of the eightfold Path. Samma-vayama, samma-sati and samma-samadhi are the three factors which are the concentration of the eightfold Path.

A. In the 'Maha-satipatthana-sutta' (Digha Nikaya) it seems that meditation subjects for samatha are also included in the four applications of mindfulness. For example, mindfulness of one's breathing, meditations on corpses and on the parts of the body are included in the mindfulness of the body. Why are samatha and vipassana not separated? I thought that we should not confuse the two.

B. Out of his great compassion the Buddha spoke about everything which is real. He knew the different accumulations of people and thus he used many different ways of explaining the truth to them; he taught all kinds of wholesomeness to them. Samatha and vipassana are different ways of mental development. There are subjects of meditation however, which can be used for both samatha and vipassana. For example, mindfulness of breathing and the loathsomeness of the body can be subjects of meditation for samatha; but they can also be the objects of mindfulness in vipassana.

All types of realities can be the object of mindfulness. When we read the Tipitaka we see that many things in the world can remind us of reality. For example, we may reflect on the 'parts of the body', such as hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, etc. Do we not notice parts of the body in daily life? All of us have hair, nails, teeth, skin. Is it not true that the parts of the body are loathsome? Are they not subject to decay? They can remind us of impermanence. We have many moments of unmindfulness, but the loathsomeness of hairs, nails, teeth, skin, or other parts of the body can remind us of reality; there can be awareness at that moment. There can be awareness of all kinds of namas and rupas which appear through the six doors. While one reflects there are moments of tranquillity; there is no lobha, dosa or moha. We should not cling to these moments of tranquillity or try to induce them in order to have more sati. Moments of tranquility arise when there are conditions; if we do not cling to these moments there can be mindfulness of the reality of the present moment.

The object which can remind us to be aware of the present moment are different for each of us, as we all have different accumulations. That is why the Buddha spoke about everything which is real. Some people have accumulations to reflect on corpses; when they see a dead person or a dead animal they are reminded of impermanence. For others the thought of corpses or the loathsomeness of the body is not helpful, but they have accumulations to think of the shortness of life; this helps them to have less attachment and aversion.

The whole world is full of reminders to cultivate sati and thus we should not be distressed about things which happen in our life; they can be the object of mindfulness. When we look into a mirror and notice that we are becoming older it reminds us at that moment to be mindful of nama and rupa. When we see grey hairs on ourselves or on other people they can be the object of sati. Are there not many things in daily life which are ugly or unpleasant? For example, a hair in our food, or our own or others' bad breath? These things can remind us of the reality of the present moment. They lead us to the most useful thing in life, to the development of panna.

Reflections on our own accumulations can lead us to awareness of the present moment too. We may notice how deeply rooted clinging is; we have accumulated it in countless lives. Do we wish to continue accumulating clinging or do we want to walk the way leading to the end of clinging? Even our akusala cittas can remind us to be aware at the present moment.

Sometimes, when we are not aware of our own cittas we may notice the cittas of others. We may notice their akusala cittas: their attachment, anxiety, ignorance and doubt. Or we may know of their kusala cittas: their generosity and their compassion. The cittas of others are also included in "Maha-satipatthana', because they can remind us of reality and thus they can be the condition for the arising of sati. Sati can then be aware of whatever nama or rupa appears.

There is not any reality which is excluded from the 'applications of mindfulness'. We do not have to do complicated things in order to develop the eightfold Path. That which is closet to ourselves, our daily life, can be the object of mindfulness at any time. Anything in the world can urge us to develop the eightfold Path, until the goal is attained: the eradication of lobha, dosa and moha.

We read in the 'Samyutta Nikaya' (Maha-vagga, Kindred Sayings on the Way, Chapter II, par. 9) that in Pataliputta the venerable Bhadda came to see Ananda and said to him:

'"The righteous life, the righteous life!" is the saying, friend Ananda. Pray, friend, what is the righteous life, and in what does it end?'
'Well said, well said, friend Bhadda... Well, friend, it is just that ariyan eightfold way, namely: Right understanding, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. The destruction of lust, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of ignorance, friend- that is what this righteous life ends in.'

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