To me, Buddhas enlightenment, which is called nirvana in Sanskrit and nibbana in Pali, is the goal supreme for the best kind of life. To me this suggests an ideal way of living where – Difficulties are dealt with competently and confidently as they arise, and do not deteriorate into real problems Experience helps to heal and release old hurtful memories, instead of compounding all that old pain Destructive additions are broken, one by one, and wholesome supportive habits cultivated instead Constructive, helpful win-win outcomes are intended, for the benefit of oneself and others Communication is aimed at strengthening the relationship, and not imposing ones views and will upon the other The mind is trained to step out of unnecessary, unhelpful thought during familiar daily tasks, and enjoy peaceful, regenerating quiet instead Human failings are explored only to that necessary to make useful decisions on what to do about the problem One looks for and recognizes the best in people, and addresses this divine aspect of humanity One makes time regularly to restore the Qualities of freedom into ones own heart and life Can Buddhas Enlightenment be for us too, if we go through the necessary training and transformation? Or is it reserved just for the senior monks?
And what are the relevant meditations? Buddhas Way of Being Free in Daily Life This is the fourth of Buddhas Noble Truths, and I discussed truths 1 – in detail in my articles ” … Philosophy Versus Buddhist Scriptures”. Truth 4 is traditionally divided into three sections and eight factors, namely – Wisdom : Right View and Right Thought. This section is about theory and philosophy, attitudes and values, opinions, intentions. Conduct : Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort. This section is about how you interact with others, and engage with the outside world. Religious moral codes play only a small part of this engagement and interaction.
Meditation : Right Effort, Right Mindfulness (samma sati), Right Concentration (samma samadhi = jhana). This section is about withdrawing from thought and talk, when resting, recuperating or doing routine tasks. Clearly, Buddhas Way of Being Free in daily life is more than just withdrawal from thought and talk to meditate! The detachment we need in daily life for Buddhas enlightenment is not detachment from the outside world, but Being the detached Observer of all the pain of our own defilement. Satipatthana Practice and Mindfulness An important part of Buddhas meditation is satipatthana practice, often called “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness” in Buddhism. The four satipatthanas are the four fields of practice, or four foci for attention, for samma sati; Right Mindfulness = the seventh Buddhist truth. In essence, satipatthana practice is about using your alone time to train your mind and tame your heart to avoid destructive extremes.
This helps to restore the experience of Liberation into your daily life. Here is the empowering nature of Buddhas wisdom. Your happiness need no longer rely on mere chance conditions. You can take on the training and taming of your own heart and mind, so that you are much more likely to be more happy more often in more different situations. This training and taming is achieved by consciously directing your attention to some chosen object, and consciously retrieving your attention to do so. There are 3 basic strategies – i. Repeatedly retrieve your attention from unnecessary and unhelpful thoughts, and place your attention on images, sounds and sensations instead. This reduces the compulsiveness and negativity of your thinking.
ii. Direct full attention to your own destructive emotions, and with courage feel them to their full extent. Have faith that they will not govern your attitudes and decision making, knowing the emotions are not your True Nature. Persist with this until they subside of their own accord. This reduces the insistence of uncontrolled emotions, and affords insight into their impermanent nature. iii.
When stability has been restored by practicing (i and ii) above, then direct your attention to Freedom, and thoughts that restore Freedom. This is related to the four traditional Buddhist satipatthanas I. The senses (kayanupassana) II. Thoughts and opinions (cittanupassana) III. Emotions (vedananupassana) IV. Liberation and ideas that trigger it (dhammanupassana) anupassana = to look at closely, i.e. devote your attention to, c.f vipassana = to look within, i.e. insight. sati = to attend to, so satipatthana = meditation objects to attend to. Samma sati (Right Mindfulness) is the seventh factor of the Buddhist noble eightfold path. So Buddhas meditation involves using your alone time to devote your attention in a certain way. To do this, we need to empty our mind of unnecessary thoughts, so the word mindfulness is unfortunate. The Satipatthana Sutta The doctrines that Buddhism quotes to define satipatthana practice are best presented in the Satipatthana Sutta (encoded MN10) and the Maha-satipatthana Sutta (encoded DN 22 or D22). These suttas are prominent in Buddhism. These two similar suttas or discourses are attributed to the historical Buddha, who lived in what is now northern India, 2500 years ago. He is usually referred to as “the Blessed One” (bhagava) in the Buddhist scriptures. They claim this satipatthana practice to be “the straight path to liberation and purification.” They claim that this practice will yield gnosis or full enlightenment within a period ranging from seven years to seven days, provided the monk has put away greed and suffering”. But these Suttas do not read like a meditation manual; the people who compiled them evidently had skills other than meditation. (See “Meditation Manuals” below) A complete 14 page translation of DN 22 from the canonical Pali by Bhikkhu Thanissaro is available in pdf format online from the accesstoinsight website. Unfortunately, it contains no Pali terms. The buddhanet website has a 47 page translation of DN 22 by U Jotika and U Dhammaninda, with key Pali terms included. The tipitaka website has all the Pali and English side by side, and is 38 pages long. “The Word of the Buddha;” sect 13 “Right Mindfulness”, by Ven Nyanatiloka (buddhasociety website), contains extracts of the D 22 with these key Pali terms included. The accesstoinsight and tipitaka websites have many other Buddhist scriptures, to compare with DN 22. Buddhist scholar-monks usually translate the “Four Foundations of Mindfulness” as : 1. The Body, (kayanupassana) 2. Feelings, (vedananupassana) 3. Mind, (cittanupassana) 4. Mental Qualities or Mind Objects, (dhammanupassana) I have summarized all the important parts of the fourteen (or forty seven) pages of the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, based on my extensive experience of Buddhism. We need a short summary to build objectivity instead of conformity to the essential message of the doctrine. The historical Buddha listed four satipatthanas 1. Body (kayanupassana) 2. Feelings (vedananupassana) 3. Mind (cittanupassana) 4. Mind Objects (dhammanupassana) He described how a Buddhist monk practices satipatthana” Satipatthana 1; Body ” a monk focuses on his breath, noting its length, and calming it.” “a monk discerns or knows whatever posture he is in” “when going or looking, moving his limbs, carrying his gear …eating, drinking, urinating & defecating, … a monk is alert.” “a monk reflects on this body, full of various kinds of unclean things …” “a monk focuses on the bodies organs, tissues, fluids, wastes …” “a monk focuses on the elements that comprise the body …” “a monk focuses on rotting human corpses (in minute detail) …” Satipatthana 2; Feelings “a monk discerns or knows when pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feelings arise.” Satipatthana 3; Mind “a monk knows or discerns when greed, hate or delusion are present or absent in him. He knows or discerns when his mind is concentrated or scattered, bound or released, cramped or expansive.” Satipatthana 4; Mind Objects “a monk focuses on the Buddhist doctrines of the five hindrances, the five aggregates, the seven factors of enlightenment and the four noble truths.” In General “a monk views his body as just a body, and not himself nor his own. Likewise for feelings and mind. This removes greed and suffering.” “a monk focuses on the arising or passing away of his own body, feelings and mind, and the body feelings and mind of other people.” “a monk does not cling to anything (except monks rules and doctrines).” “this practice is a straight path for liberation and purification.” “if a monk practices this for a period between 7 years and 7 days, it will yield gnosis (Thanissaro) or nibbana (U Jotika + U Dhammaninda), (provided he puts aside greed and suffering).” Comment The Limitations of Old Tradition Such instructions might be suitable for the dignity, dispassion and education of a Buddhist monk in a traditional monastery or to train a novice. Dignity and dispassion are essential to the status and influence of a Buddhist monk; they need them to direct the religion. More significantly, such scripture is foundational to Buddhist meditation, and Buddhist meditation is restricted to such scripture. In this modern age there is a great wealth of other meditation objects, and other techniques to deal with disturbing thoughts and emotions, other material which does not even rate a mention in old tradition. Moreover, the nature of spiritual liberation is better understood these days; the old power games that reserved it for the elite no longer rule society. The great danger of putting too much attention on religious tradition, is that your attention may become limited to it. You may then miss out on other theory and practice which might be the key to your breakthrough. For we seek meditation training for the spiritual liberation of ordinary people living in this modern world. Linking Old Tradition to Modern Knowledge We could choose to ignore such unsuitable religious material. Instead, we could just enjoy the beautiful peace and quiet of Buddhist meetings, venues and meditation, especially meditation retreats. Let those who have strange ideas keep them! Or these traditional scriptures might be useful food for thought , considering the writings of highly regarded contemporary authors and teachers. Much of the best selling book “Teach Yourself to Meditate” by Eric Harrison, is about training yourself to sense not think. This involves repeatedly retrieving your attention from unnecessary and unhelpful thinking, and placing it instead on sounds, visual images, body sensations and even the taste and smell of your dinner. To do this, we need to be aware of the thought just gone by. Labeling this thought is a useful technique. Perhaps the satipatthanas of body and mind have some relevance here. The only way we can focus on the body is through its five physical senses, which can all make excellent meditation objects, given proper instruction. Books by the contemporary author and sage Eckhart Tolle have sold millions of copies worldwide. One of his important teachings is to realize how destructive compulsive thinking is, and to develop some objective consciousness to your thoughts and emotions. Perhaps the satipatthanas on feelings and mind have some relevance here. In the Satipatthana Sutta, the Pali term for mind object (satipatthana 4) is dhamma. A Dhamma talk by a Buddhist speaker is about spiritual practice, usually based on a Buddhist doctrine or sutta. Perhaps the fourth satipatthana has something to do with spiritual practice and thus spiritual liberation, and not just Buddhist doctrine. Four Themes I Have Found Useful In my experience of 25 years on the spiritual path, with thousands of hours of formal meditation, some of it in the monastery, and many years exposure to Buddhism, I have found attention to four things very useful to my meditation training, namely – 1. The senses of the body, (kayanupassana) 2. Disturbing emotions, (vedananupassana) 3. Unnecessary and unhelpful thoughts, (cittanupassana) 4. Liberation and ideas that trigger it or lead to it, (dhammanupassana). Let me elaborate in my next three articles on meditation for Buddhas Enlightenment Sensing not thinking Dealing with disturbing thoughts and emotions Freedom and ideas that trigger it or lead to it. Eric Harrison and Meditation Manuals My articles are a discussion of Buddhas meditation and enlightenment. For a good meditation manual , I recommend those by Eric Harrison, the Perth meditation teacher, in Western Australia. Eric has taught over 15,000 people to meditate, and Perths population was under 2 million. His personality is light hearted and untroubled, and he displays keen intelligence. His bestselling book “Teach Yourself to Meditate” (~ 1992) is sold around the globe. His book “The Naked Buddha” (~ 2000) gives some startling new insights into Buddha Wisdom and Buddhism. The publisher is Piatkus. Erics meditation manuals are the best I know of. His latest book “How Meditation Heals” also gives some useful instructions. The Origin of the Satipatthana Sutta Eric Harrison is an excellent meditation teacher, but he is “just a layman” according to the zealous Buddhist, “and we go by what Lord Buddha taught.” Where does the Satipatthana Sutta and its doctrines actually come from? Consider this. When the religious zealot reads scripture that quotes the Founder of their religion, they like to believe they are reading the actual words spoken so many millennia ago – “a direct line to a fully enlightened being” as one Buddhist leader once wrote. But is this so? Where does scripture actually come from? An institution as powerful and influential in society as old religion inevitably attracts control freaks over the centuries. These included the chief scribe, a scholar with the most education. He had the responsibility and authority to determine the officially correct version of the records (especially scripture), in an era with little education, printing and libraries to protect books from the weather. The records needed to be recopied by hand almost every generation. The chief scribe has a reputation to establish and defend, often against competing ideas. It is inevitable that he will favor material that suits his political needs and his personality. He is an important decision and policy maker with much responsibility. In turbulent times, the need for control may increase. Well Expounded Dhamma The Dhamma Vandana chant is common in Buddhism, and illustrates the need for wise investigation instead of blind faith. It is short and to the point – “good spiritual teachings (svâkkhato bhagavatâ dhammo) are – Sanditthiko – to be seen directly, i.e. insightful Akaliko – not bound to time, i.e. in the here and now Ehipassiko – inviting one to come and see, i.e. inviting investigation Opanayaka – leading onwards to liberation Paccattam veditabbo vinnhuhiti – to be personally realized by the wise.