by Phra Ajaan Thate Desaransi
(Phra Nirodharansi Gambhirapannacariya)
(Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)
When you go to study
meditation with any group or teacher who is experienced in a particular form
of meditation, you should first make your heart confident that your teacher
is fully experienced in that form of meditation, and be confident that the form
of meditation he teaches is the right path for sure. At the same time, show
respect for the place in which you are to meditate. Only then should you begin
Teachers in the past used to require a dedication ceremony as a means of inspiring confidence before you were to study meditation. They would have you make an offering of five pairs of beeswax candles and five pairs of white flowers -- this was called the five khandha -- or eight pairs of beeswax candles and eight pairs of white flowers -- this was called the eight khandha -- or one pair of beeswax candles each weighing 15 grams and an equal number of white flowers. Then they would teach you their particular form of meditation. This ancient custom has its good points. There are many other ceremonies as well, but I won't go into them. I'll mention only a very simple, easy-to-follow ceremony a little further on.
Only after you have inspired confidence in your heart as already mentioned should you go to the teacher experienced in that form of meditation. If he is experienced in repeating samma araham, he will teach you to repeat samma araham, samma araham, samma araham. Then he'll have you visualize a bright, clear jewel two inches above your navel, and tell you to focus your mind right there as you continue your repetition, without letting your mind slip away from the jewel. In other words, you take the jewel as the focal point of your mind.
If you go to a teacher experienced in meditating on the rising and falling of the abdomen, he will have you meditate on rising and falling, and focus your mind on the different motions of the body. For instance, when you raise your foot, you think raising. When you place your foot, you think placing, and so on; or else he will have you focus continually on being preoccupied with the phenomenon of arising and passing away in every motion or position of the body.
If you go to a teacher experienced in psychic powers, he will have you repeat na ma ba dha, na ma ba dha, and focus the mind on a single object until it takes you to see heaven and hell, deities and brahmas of all sorts, to the point where you get carried away with your visions.
If you go to a teacher experienced in breath meditation, he will have you focus on your in-and-out breath, and have you keep your mind firmly preoccupied with nothing but the in-and-out breath.
If you go to a teacher experienced in meditating on buddho, he will have you repeat buddho, buddho, buddho, and have you keep the mind firmly in that meditation word until you are fully skilled at it. Then he will have you contemplate buddho and what it is that is saying buddho. Once you see that they are two separate things, focus on what is saying buddho. As for the word buddho, it will disappear, leaving only what it is that was saying buddho. You then focus on what it is that was saying buddho as your object.
People of our time -- or of any time, for that matter -- regardless of how educated or capable they may be (I don't want to criticize any of us as tending to believe in things whose truth we haven't tested, because after all we all want to know and see the truth) and especially those of us who are Buddhists: Buddhism teaches causes and effects which are entirely true, but why is it that we have to fall for the claims and advertisements which we hear everywhere? It must be because people at present are impatient, and want to see results before they have completed the causes, in line with the fact that we are supposed to be in an atomic age.
Buddhism teaches us to penetrate into the heart and mind, which are mental phenomena. As for the body, it is a physical phenomenon. Physical phenomena have to lie under the control of mental phenomena. When we begin to practice meditation and train the mind to be quiet and untroubled, I can't see that we are creating any problems at that moment for anyone at all. If we keep practicing until we are skilled, then we will be calm and at peace. If more and more people practice this way, there will be peace and happiness all over the world. As for the body, we can train it to be peaceful only as long as the mind is in full control. The minute mindfulness lapses, the body will get back to its old affairs. So let's try training the mind by repeating buddho.
Preliminary Steps to Practicing Meditation
Before practicing meditation on the word buddho, you should start out with the preliminary steps. I.e., inspire confidence in your mind, as already mentioned, and then bow down three times, saying:
Araham samma-sambuddho bhagava -- The Blessed One is pure and fully self-awakened.
Buddham bhagavantam abhivademi -- To the Blessed, Awakened One, I bow down.
(Bow down once.)
Svakkhato bhagavata dhammo -- the Dhamma is well-taught by the Blessed One.
Dhammam namassami -- To the Dhamma, I bow down.
(Bow down once.)
Supatipanno bhagavato savaka-sangho -- The Community of the Blessed One's disciples have conducted themselves rightly.
Sangham namami -- To the Community, I bow down.
(Bow down once.)
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhassa. (Three times).
(Think of the virtues of the Buddha, the foremost teacher of the world, released from suffering and defilement of every sort, always serene and secure. Then bow down three times.)
Note: These preliminary steps are simply an example. There's nothing wrong with chanting more than this if you have more to chant, but you should bow down to the Buddha as the first step each time you meditate, unless the place in which you are meditating is unconducive.
Now, sit in meditation,
your right leg on top of left, your hands palm-up in your lap, your right hand
on top of your left. Sit straight. Repeat the word buddho in your mind, focusing
your attention in the middle of your chest, at the heart. Don't let your attention
stray out ahead or behind. Be mindful to keep your mind in place, steady in
its one-pointedness, and you will enter into a state of concentration.
When you enter into concentration, the mind may go so blank that you don't even know how long you are sitting. By the time you come out of concentration, many hours may have passed. For this reason, you shouldn't fix a time limit for yourself when sitting in meditation. Let things follow their own course.
The mind in true concentration is the mind in a state of one- pointedness. If the mind hasn't reached a state of one-pointedness, it isn't yet in concentration, because the true heart is only one. If there are many mental states going on, you haven't penetrated into the heart. You've only reached the mind.
Before you practice meditation, you should first learn the difference between the heart and the mind, for they aren't the same thing. The mind is what thinks and forms perceptions and ideas about all sorts of things. The heart is what simply stays still and knows that it is still, without forming any further thoughts at all. Their difference is like that between a river and waves on the river.
All sciences and all defilements are able to arise because the mind thinks and forms ideas and strays out in search of them. You will be able to see these things clearly with your own heart once the mind becomes still and reaches the heart.
Water is something clean and clear by its very nature. If anyone puts dye into the water, it will change in line with the dye. But once the water is filtered and distilled, it will become clean and clear as before. This is an analogy for the heart and the mind.
Actually, the Buddha taught that the mind is identical with the heart. If there is no heart, there is no mind. The mind is a condition. The heart itself has no conditions. In practicing meditation, no matter what the teacher or method: If it's correct, it will have to penetrate into the heart.
When you reach the heart, you will see all your defilements, because the mind gathers all defilements into itself. So now how you deal with them is up to you.
When doctors are going to cure a disease, they first have to find the cause of the disease. Only then can they treat it with the right medicine.
As we start meditating longer and longer, repeating buddho, buddho, buddho, the mind will gradually let go of its distractions and restlessness, and gather in to stay with buddho. It will stay firm, with buddho its sole preoccupation, until you see that the state of mind which says buddho is identical with the mind itself at all times, regardless of whether you are sitting, standing, walking or lying down. No matter what your activity, you will see the mind bright and clear with buddho. Once you have reached this stage, keep the mind there as long as you can. Don't be in a hurry to want to see this or be that -- because desire is the most serious obstacle to the concentrated mind. Once desire arises, your concentration will immediately deteriorate, because the basis of your concentration -- buddho -- isn't solid. When this happens, you can't grab hold of any foundation at all, and you get really upset. All you can think of is the state of concentration in which you used to be calm and happy, and this makes the mind even more agitated.
Practice meditation the same way farmers grow rice. They're in no hurry. They scatter the seed, plow, harrow, plant the seedlings, step by step, without skipping any of the steps. Then they wait for the plants to grow. Even when they don't yet see the rice appearing, they are confident that the rice is sure to appear some day in the future. Once the rice appears, they are convinced that they're sure to reap results. They don't pull on the rice plants to make them come out with rice when they want it. Anyone who did that would end up with no results at all.
The same holds true with meditation. You can't be in a hurry. You can't skip any of the steps. You have to make yourself firmly confident that, "This is the meditation word which will make my mind concentrated for sure." Don't have any doubts as to whether the meditation word is right for your temperament, and don't think that, "That person used this meditation word with these or those results, but when I use it, my mind doesn't settle down. It doesn't work for me at all." Actually, if the mind is firmly set on the meditation word you are repeating, then no matter what the word, it's sure to work -- because you repeat the word simply to make the mind steady and firm, that's all. As for any results apart from that, they all depend on each person's individual potential and capabilities.
Once in the Buddha's time there was a monk sitting in meditation near a pond who saw a heron diving down to catch fish and eat them. He took that as his meditation subject until he succeeded in becoming an arahant. I've never seen a heron eating fish mentioned as a subject in any of the meditation manuals, but he was able to use it to meditate until he attained arahantship -- which illustrates what I have just said.
When the mind is intent on staying within the bounds of its meditation word buddho, with mindfulness in control, it is sure to grow out of its rebelliousness. We have to train and restrain it, because we are looking for peace and contentment for the mind. Ordinarily, the mind tends to be preoccupied with looking for distraction, as I have already explained, and for the most part it strays off to this sort of distraction: When we start meditating buddho, buddho, buddho, as soon as we focus the mind on buddho, it won't stay there. It'll run out to think of whatever work we are about to start or have left undone. It thinks about doing this and doing that until it gets all worked up, afraid that the work won't come out well or won't succeed. The work we've been assigned by other people or which we're doing on our own will be a waste of time or will cause us to lose face if we don't do as we've been told....
This is one of the distractions which prevent new meditators from attaining concentration. You have to pull your mind back to buddho, buddho, buddho, and tell yourself, "Thoughts of this sort aren't the path to peace; the true path to peace is to keep the mind with buddho and nothing else" -- and then keep on repeating buddho, buddho, buddho....
After a moment, the mind will go straying out again, this time to your family -- your children, your wife or husband: How are they getting along? Are they healthy? Are they eating well? If you're far apart, you wonder about where they're staying, what they're eating. Those who have left home think about those at home. Those at home think about those who have gone far away -- afraid that they aren't safe, that other people will molest them, that they have no friends, that they're lonely -- thinking in 108 different ways, whatever the mind can imagine, all of which exaggerate the truth.
Or if you're still young and single, you think about having fun with your friends -- the places you used to go together, the good times you had, the things you used to do -- to the point where you actually say something or laugh out loud. This sort of defilement is the worst of the bunch.
When you are meditating buddho, buddho, buddho, your defilements see that the situation is getting out of hand and that you'll escape from their control, so they look for things to tie you down even more tightly all the time. Never from the day of your birth have you ever practiced concentration at all. You've simply let the mind follow the moods of the defilements. Only now have you begun to practice, so when you repeat buddho, buddho, buddho to get the mind to settle down with buddho, it's going to wriggle away in the same way that fish try to wriggle back into the water when they're tossed up on land. So you have to pull the mind back to buddho.
Buddho is something cool and calm. It's the path for giving rise to peace and contentment -- the only path that will release us from the suffering and stress in this world.
So you pull the mind back to buddho. This time it begins to settle down. As soon as you feel that it's staying put, you begin to get a sense that when the mind stays put, it is rested and at ease in a way different from when it's not still, when it's restless and upset. You make up your mind to be careful and alert to keep the mind in that state and. . . Oops. There it goes again. Now it's taking your financial interests as an excuse, saying that if you don't do this or search for that, you'll miss out on a really great opportunity. So you focus your mind on that instead of your meditation word. As for where buddho has gone, you haven't the least idea. By the time you realize that buddho has disappeared, it's already too late -- which is why they say that the mind is restless, slippery and hard to control, like a monkey which can never sit still.
Sometimes, after you've been sitting in meditation a long time, you begin to worry that your blood won't be flowing properly, that your nerves will die from lack of blood, that you'll grow numb and end up paralyzed. If you're meditating far from home or in a forest, it's even worse: You're afraid that snakes will bite you, tigers will eat you, or ghosts will haunt you, making all kinds of scary faces. Your fear of death can whisper to you in all sorts of way, all of which are simply instances of you yourself scaring yourself. The truth is nothing at all like what you imagine. Never from the day of your birth have you ever seen a tiger eat even a single person. You've never once seen a ghost -- you don't even know what it would look like, but you fashion up pictures to scare yourself.
The obstacles to meditation mentioned here are simply examples. There are actually many, many more. Those who meditate will find this out for themselves.
If you hold buddho close to the heart, and use your mindfulness to keep the mind with nothing but buddho, no dangers will come your way. So have firm faith in buddho. I guarantee that there will be no dangers at all -- unless you've done bad kamma in the past, which is something beyond anyone's power to protect you from. Even the Buddha himself can't protect you from it.
When people begin meditating, their confidence tends to be weak. No matter what their meditation subject, these sorts of defilements are sure to interfere, because these defilements form the basis of the world and of the mind. The minute we meditate and make the mind one-pointed, the defilements see that we're going to get away from them, so they come thronging around so that we won't be able to escape from the world.
When we see how really serious and harmful they are, we should make our minds forthright and our confidence solid and strong, telling ourselves that we've let ourselves be deceived into believing the defilements for many lifetimes; it's time now that we be willing to believe the Buddha's teachings and take buddho as our refuge. We then make mindfulness solid, and fix the mind firmly in buddho. We give our lives to buddho, and won't let our minds slip away from it. When we make this sort of commitment, the mind will drop straight into one-pointedness and enter concentration.
When you first enter concentration, this is what it's like: You'll have no idea at all of what concentration or one-pointedness of mind is going to feel like. You are simply intent on keeping mindfulness firmly focused on one object -- and the power of a mind focused firmly on one object is what will bring you to a state of concentration. You won't be thinking at all that concentration will be like this or like that, or that you want it to be like this or like that. It will simply take its own way, automatically. No one can force it.
At that moment you will feel as if you are in another world (the world of the mind), with a sense of ease and solitude to which nothing else in the world can compare. When the mind withdraws from concentration, you will regret that that mood has passed, and you will remember it clearly. All that we say about concentration comes from the mind which has withdrawn from that state. As long as it is still gathered in that state, we aren't interested in what anyone else says or does.
You have to train the mind to enter this sort of concentration often, so as to become skilled and adept, but don't try to remember your past states of concentration, and don't let yourself want your concentration to be like it was before -- because it won't be that way, and you will just be making more trouble for yourself. Simply contemplate buddho, buddho, and keep your mind with your mental repetition. What it does then is its own business.
After the mind has first attained to concentration, it won't be the same way the next time around, but don't worry about it. Whatever it's like, don't worry about it. Just make sure that you get it centered. When the results come out in many different ways, your understanding will broaden and you'll come to develop many different techniques for dealing with the mind.
What I've mentioned here is simply to be taken as an example. When you follow these instructions, don't give them too much weight, or they will turn into allusions to the past, and your meditation won't get anywhere. Simply remember them as something to use for the sake of comparison after your meditation has begun to progress.