My thoughts on Buddism and notes from Joseph Goldsteen’s lectures.
Dec 26, 2021
Mind is the forerunner of all things. Speak or act with an impure mind, suffering follows as the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox. Mind is the forerunner of all things. Speak or act with a peaceful mind, happiness follows like a shadow that never leaves.
As we're about to act, or when thoughts or emotions are predominant, do we remember to investigate and reflect on our motivation? Do we ask ourselves, “Is this act or mind state skilful or unskillful? Is this something to cultivate or abandon? Where is this motivation leading? Do I want to go there?”
SAMPAJAÑÑA is the Pali term for the second quality of mind the Buddha emphasized in the opening paragraphs of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta. It is usually translated as “clearly knowing,” “clear comprehension,” or “fully aware.”
Cultivating clear comprehension, knowing what we’re doing and why is a profound and transforming practice. It highlights the understanding that mindfulness is more than simply being present. With clear comprehension, we know the purpose and appropriateness of what we’re doing; we understand the motivations behind our actions.
When we see our motivations, we can decide whether to act or not. Without Sampajanna, our unwholesome motivations may lead to actions, which may lead to the suffering of ourselves or others. This can be applied in most avenues of life, from deciding whether to eat something unhealthy excessively or being passive-aggressive towards another.
Clearly seeing will disassociate ourselves from our strong desires, thereby releasing you from its strong grip. It will help us understand why we're motivated in certain ways and course-correct our actions to more wholesome ones. For example, openly and calmly explaining to our partner why we feel unhappy, instead of defaulting to passive-aggressive behaviours.
This "seeing clearly" is, in fact, the meaning of the Pali word vipassanā, usually translated as "insight meditation."
All of us have a mix of motivations; not everything in our hearts is wise or wholesome. The great power of mindful discernment allows us to abandon what is unwholesome and to cultivate the good.
Mindfulness also serves to protect the mind from other unskillful thoughts and emotions. Without mindfulness, we simply act out all the various patterns and habits of our conditioning. Ajahn Sumedho, one of the senior Western monks of the Thai Forest tradition, quite aptly pointed out that, contrary to some popular beliefs, our aim should be not to follow the heart but to train the heart.
The most common understanding of mindfulness is that of present-moment awareness, presence of mind, wakefulness. This is the opposite of absentmindedness. Whenever we’re lost or confused about what to do, we can simply come back to the present-moment experience.
For most of us, there may well be ethical lapses of one kind or another. But our willingness to see them and recommit to non-harming both others and ourselves keeps us moving forward. As the Buddha said, “It is growth in the Noble One’s discipline when one sees one’s transgressions as such and makes amends in accordance with the Dharma by undertaking restraint in the future.” This is a much healthier and more beneficial approach than being weighed down by guilt over past actions.
In a discourse called “The Two Kinds of Thoughts,” the Buddha described different aspects of this supervising and guarding function of mindfulness. These aspects can help us understand some of the nuances of mindfulness and how to guard our minds against straying into unwholesome mind states. In this extract, the Buddha also highlights the usefulness of labelling your thoughts.
"Bhikkhus, before my enlightenment, while I was still only an unenlightened Bodhisatta, it occurred to me: ‘Suppose that I divide my thoughts into two classes.’ Then I set on one side thoughts of sensual desire, thoughts of ill will, and thoughts of cruelty, and I set on the other side thoughts of renunciation, thoughts of non-ill will, and thoughts of non-cruelty. “As I abided thus, diligent, ardent and resolute, a thought of sensual desire arose in me. I understood thus: ‘This thought of sensual desire has arisen in me. This leads to my own affliction, to other’s affliction, and to the affliction of both; it obstructs wisdom, causes difficulties, and leads away from Nibbāna.’ When I considered: ‘This leads to my own affliction,’ it subsided in me; when I considered, ‘This leads to others’ affliction,’ it subsided in me; when I considered: ‘This leads to the affliction of both,’ it subsided in me; when I considered: ‘This obstructs wisdom, causes difficulties, and leads away from Nibbāna,’ it subsided in me. Whenever a thought of sensual desire arose in me, I abandoned it, removed it, did away with it."
Whatever we frequently think of and ponder, that will become the inclination of our minds. Mindfulness has the power to show us what kinds of thoughts are arising, and in the case of unskillful ones, what we may have unknowingly been inclining our minds toward.
"There is one thing we always need, and that is the watchman named Mindfulness, the guard who is on the lookout for when we get carried away in mindlessness."
Joyfulness means there's no fear, no tension, no "ought to." There isn’t anything we have to do about it. It’s just this.
You may have experienced Andy from Headspace asking you to set your purpose towards the beginning of a meditation on Headspace. In particular, reflecting upon how your meditation can benefit others. This is pretty well backed by research, as a method of improving your capacity to be mindful.
In the sutta, after establishing the importance of posture, the Buddha emphasises the importance of setting your conscious intention to be mindful. It is a reminder to ourselves, "Yes, this is my purpose; this is what I’m doing here.” It’s a moment’s reflection about our intention, rather than simply sitting down and settling into a perhaps familiar drift of thought and fantasy. The manner in which we begin often conditions the entire direction of the sitting.
In addition to setting your intention, and using your posture to reinforce it, being mindful of how the various postures manifest during the day also reveals a lot about our states of mind. For example, as we walk, do we sometimes find ourselves rushing to go someplace or to do something? Rushing doesn’t necessarily have to do with speed; it indicates some state of anticipation, wanting, energetically toppling forward, even slightly, rather than being settled back in the moment with just what there is.
When we pay close attention, we see that almost all movements are an attempt to alleviate some kind of pain or discomfort. It's worth investigating this to see for ourselves what drives the many movements we make during the day.
"I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do." Even doing this for short periods illuminates the very transitory nature of feelings.
We might be doing walking meditation and the thought comes, "Let’s have a cup of tea." If we’re mindful of the pleasant feeling associated with that thought, then we go on walking. If we miss noticing this feeling, then we may be seduced by the idea that the cup of tea will make us happy, and not see that it’s just another quickly passing feeling in the mind.
The teaching the Buddha gave to his son, Rāhula: "You should see all phenomena with proper wisdom—this is not mine, this is not I, this is not myself." Understanding that the body is "not mine" helps free the mind from desire and grasping. We no longer claim ownership of either the physical elements of the body or the mind knowing them.
There is a story of one monk who every time he did something unmindfully would go back and do the action again. And after practicing this way for twenty years, he became an arahant. I like this story both for its suggestive practice and also because it speaks to a dedicated commitment to awakening.
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