Kammatthana: The Place of Work

Kammatthana is a place of work, and here it means where one works on one's mind. In virtually everyone the mind is forever thinking and concocting, leading to the arising of lust (raga) and greed (lobha), hatred and aversion (dosa) and to the birth of delusion (moha). The mind is then enveloped in the contrivings of issues and affairs and habitually smothered in defilements. Such a disquieted and unstill mind can find no peace, just as there is no rest for the waves of the sea.
The mind infiltrated with such defilements is so biased and unbalanced that it can't recognize the truth, can't see conditions for what they really are. For instance, the mind bound up with lust or greed must incline towards the pleasant, attractive side of things, creating a predilection for a certain thing. Liking it, one becomes biased and it will then appear 'perfect,' 'good' or 'quite nice' --depending on how much one favours it. Even if something is really not at all good, one assumes it to be so because one is attracted to it through the prejudice of lust and greed.
When the mind is warped by hatred, it will then take the negative side and turn away from things. Whatever is hated the most will then appear 'totally bad' or --according to the level of one's aversion-- 'plainly bad' or 'not so good,' etc.
The mind imbued with delusion finds it even harder to see the truth. It's as if one is half-blind, seeing things only dimly. Even one's conjectures probably do not accord with the truth because the mind is already obscured with delusion.
Lust, greed, hatred and delusion not only unbalance and agitate the mind but also block the development of wisdom (pannya) which would be able to penetrate to the actual state of things. The Lord Buddha therefore taught about the two places which can be established for working on the mind, the two kammatthana:
Samatha kammatthana is the mind's working place to develop calm (samatha).
Vipassana kammatthana is where the mind can attain insight (vipassana) into the truth.
Working for calm is the first step because the mind needs relief from the defilements which bind and envelop it. One can then practise for insight as the tranquil mind is balanced and free from the bias of the defilements. Whatever is then investigated can be seen clearly for what it really is, and this is where insight begins to develop.

The Refuges (Sarana)

Just as the earth receives and supports our footsteps, so it is necessary, right from the beginning in developing these work places, to have a shelter and solid foundation for the mind. The mind's true refuge is the Triple Gem (Ti-Ratana): the Buddha, the Dhamma , and the Sangha.
One must first determine the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha as one's true refuge, and recollect and contemplate their special virtues and qualities. Thus, the Lord Buddha is truly the Awakened One; the Dhamma is truly the Way of practice to the end of all defilements and suffering; and the Sangha are those who are truly following the Dhamma Way to its fruition. The cultivating of a profound appreciation for the qualities of the Triple Gem requires a deep understanding of what the Buddha taught: that it indubitably leads to the ending of all suffering. The more one can perceive the profundity of Dhamma the more one can appreciate the achievement of the Lord Buddha. One's mind will then go for refuge to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha without hesitation or wavering.
Establishing one's mind in the Refuge of the Triple Gem is the preliminary step in the development of the kammatthana working places. So will you all please resolve to accept this refuge for your minds, securing a trust and faith in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha --and also a trust and confidence in your own ability to practise. This especially applies to the kammatthana work which you have determined to practise. Know that it leads to calmness and tranquillity, to wisdom and insight. It is the true and certain support for your mind.
Precepts and Moral Virtue (Sila)

Now the ground or foundation for the mind's support can be laid. This is moral virtue (sila) which is actually the natural (pakati) state of the mind undisturbed by the defilements. These defilements will incite and force the mind into intending (cetana) and setting into motion wrong actions through body and mind. Sometimes you may find yourself unable to maintain this natural state of mind because of business or work affairs, etc. However, once you enter the place of Dhamma practice, you must firmly resolve to refrain from wrong, unskilful behaviour. In other words, do not break the five precepts(1).
At this present time you must be especially careful to guard the natural virtue of the mind. Do not allow it to be pulled down into unskilful ways. When you can sustain this natural state of mind, you will find the mind endowed with moral virtue. Once this virtue is present, it forms the foundation on which to rest and base the mind. When your mind has such a foundation, together with a refuge safeguarding your Dhamma practice from any of the defilements' attacks, then an opportunity opens up: an opportunity to follow the way of kammatthana and establish a place to cultivate your own mind.

4th August 2504 B.E. (1961)

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The Foundations of Mindfulness: Satipatthana

The Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutta) directly takes up and explains the training of the mind. In fact the Lord Buddha even said that it is the only way to transcend sorrow, to see the Dhamma that needs to be seen and to come to the end of suffering with the realization of Nibbana. This, therefore, includes the perfection both of calm and insight. However, one initially needs to know about the basis of practice, the kammatthana. This, as I have mentioned previously, means a place of work --a work place for the mind. It requires the determination to establish a foundation for one's practice. But where can one find this base for one's concentration?
Endeavouring to establish the mind in the affairs of external objects --a visual object, a sound, odour, taste, tangible or mental object(2)-- can only lead the defilements to infiltrate the mind. The mind is then based in the defilements rather than in the kammatthana. Thus the decision of exactly where to direct and base one's practice becomes crucial.
The Lord Buddha taught that we should direct our attention back inside ourselves. The foundation for the mind's development will be found right here inside ourselves and not at all in external things. To be more specific, inside oneself refers to the body (kaya), feeling (vedana), mind (citta) and mental objects (dhamma) --all complete in each one of us.

Body (Kaya)

Turning one's attention back to oneself, looking from the outside in, one first comes across this body. One notices that, whether awake or asleep, a basic and essential function is breathing. There must also be one or another bodily postures --walking, standing, sitting or lying down. There are then the secondary positions such as, when walking, one bends the arms and legs or one turns and glances around. Even as you are sitting here now there is always a certain natural way for positioning your feet for sitting.
Then there are the other parts to this body (rupa-kaya) made up of the external and internal organs, etc. Externally there is the hair on the head, body hair, nails, teeth and skin, and internally such things as flesh, tendons, bones, bone marrow, bile, kidneys, heart, etc.
These bodily constituents can all be reduced and considered in terms of elements (dhatu). For example, the organs which tend to hardness come under the earth element; those which are fluid, under the water element; those that are 'heating,' under the fire element; and those that produce motion, under the wind element.
As long as all these elements are properly associated together, the whole body appears normal; but should they disperse then what's left is a dead body. For example, if the wind element fails then the breathing ceases. The body then becomes bloated and decays until only bones remain, and eventually even those skeletal bones will disintegrate. Before its formation this body did not exist, and so in the final event it returns to nonexistence. This is the section on the body.

Feeling (Vedana)

In a living body where the elements are in harmony together there is also feeling: Pleasant feeling (sukha-vedana), painful feeling (dukkha-vedana) or neutral feeling which is neither-painful-nor-pleasant (adukkha-m-asukha vedana)(3). For example, this body experiences feelings of cold and heat, of softness and hardness.

Mind (Citta)

An intact body with elements smoothly functioning together forms a support and resort for the mind. The state of everyone's mind varies. Sometimes lust is uppermost and sometimes it subsides; sometimes there is hatred or delusion and sometimes they subside.

Mental Objects (dhamma)

Examining the mind to a deeper level, one finds that it is always involved and concerned with various affairs, some of these being good, some bad, and some in between. These follow the principle of the Pali phrases:
Kusala dhamma all mind objects which are wholesome.
Akusala dhamma all mind objects which are unwholesome.
Abyakata dhamma all mind objects which are indeterminate or neutral.
These are all found in one's mind.
So we can now say that this body, these feelings, this mind and these mental objects are together what make up myself, and right here is where the Discourse advises us to base our attention and mindfulness. In actual practice though, we first concentrate on just one of these bases.

Concerning the Breath

The first point is that to use the in-and-out breathing as the base for establishing mindfulness. A living body must always have breath but we never pay any attention to it. So our practice is now to bring mindfulness to bear on this natural breathing pattern.
The Lord Buddha explains (in the Discourse) that one holds the body erect(4) and firmly establishes mindfulness. Mindfully one breathes in, mindfully one breathes out. Instead of sending the mind off elsewhere, one concentrates it wholly on the breath. This will lead to a more subtle awareness. Breathing in a long breath, be aware of it. Breathing out a long breath, be aware of it. Be aware of a short in-breath and a short out-breath, but do not tense or force the breathing. Just let go and breathe naturally --but be aware.
The Discourse then continues with instruction to note the whole body. Experience and know your whole body as the breath goes in and out. Expand your awareness to cover the whole body including both the mental group (nama-kaya) and the corporeal group (rupa-kaya).
Considering the mental group, be aware of the state of the mind, of the present condition of your mindfulness and concentration. How are they at this moment? Note the body through awareness of its posture and position. How are you sitting? From the soles of your feet upwards, and from the crown of your head downwards: Be completely aware of your body.
After we fully accomplish this awareness of both groups, the Discourse then goes on to teach about calming the in-and-out breathing. This does not involve any forcing or holding of the breath, but is a natural calming down. When the mind becomes refined, so in turn does the breath. The Lord Buddha taught that if the mind is unquiet then the breathing will be rough and gross. However, should the mind become calm, then the breathing also becomes more refined and subtle. Sometimes the breathing may even seem to have stopped, but there is no need to panic. You have simply calmed down while the breathing still remains.

The Four Fundamentals of Practice

You must have energy and determination (atapa) in your practice, and this includes conscientiousness . For example, you determine to practice for a specified time period and so must therefore fulfill that aim without any slackness or cutting short. Even though you may feel frustrated and want to give up, you must carry on to accomplish your objective. With such conscientiousness everything develops smoothly and well. Thus atapa is the first essential in the practice.
The second principle is awareness and clear-comprehension (sampajannya) of oneself at all times. Don't be absent-minded or negligent by falling asleep or losing mindfulness. Permitting sleep and allowing your attention to fade indicates a lapse of clear-comprehension in your kammatthana practice. This is like straying from the path and falling into a chasm or pit. Therefore, awareness and clear-comprehension must be well guarded and supported. They thus form the second fundamental in the practice.
The next principle, mindfulness (sati), is awareness fixed and firmly established without any drifting from the chosen object(5). Should another mental object suddenly interrupt leading to rapture (piti) or excitement, then don't lose yourself in it but quickly return to your base. For example, reject all distractions and turn your full attention back to the in-and-out breathing.
Once mindfulness is well established, your practice can develop without the harm that may arise from absent-mindedly drifting away with the thoughts and moods that have arisen. The harm comes when you too readily abandon mindfulness and become a heedless daydreamer. Therefore, steadfastly establish your mindfulness. Don't allow it to drift away. This is the third principle.
The fourth principle is to overcome hankering and dejection concerning the world(6). This is an important point, for whenever one encounters a pleasant mental object in one's practice, one must consider it as a deceit and a false perception. Likewise, if an unpleasant experience arises --such as a mental image (nimitta) which provokes fear-- then one must again be mindfully aware that none of it is real. Being neither-glad-nor-dejected with anything that arises, one continually brings mindfulness back to the established object and anchors it there. In this way concentration (samadhi)(7), and eventually wisdom (pannya), will arise and one's practice will progress well.
These four fundamentals are essential for everyone who practises. If they are dispensed with, the practice is thereby abandoned --with possibly harmful results. But with these principles well established, one's practice can only be beneficial and develop well.

5th August 2504 B.E. (1961)