People are often surprised to find it is
difficult to meditate. Outwardly it seems to be such a simple matter, to just sit down on
a little pillow and watch one's breath. What could be hard about that? The difficulty lies
in the fact that one's whole being is totally unprepared. Our mind, senses, and feelings
are used to trade in the market place, namely the world we live in. But meditation cannot
be done in a market place. That's impossible. There's nothing to buy or trade or arrange
in meditation, but most people's attitude remains the same as usual and that just doesn't
We need patience with ourselves. It takes time to change to the point
where meditation is actually a state of mind, available at any time because the market
place is no longer important. The market place doesn't just mean going shopping. It means
everything that is done in the world: all the connections, ideas, hopes and memories, all
the rejections and resistances, all our reactions.
In meditation there are may be momentary glimpses of seeing that
concentration is feasible, but it can't be sustained. It constantly slips again and the
mind goes right back to where it came from. In order to counteract that, one has to have
determination to make one's life a meditative one; it doesn't mean one has to meditate
from morning to night. I don't know anyone who does. And it doesn't mean we cannot fulfill
our duties and obligations, because they are necessary and primary as long as we have
them. But it means that we watch ourselves carefully in all our actions and reactions to
make sure that everything happens in the light of the Dhamma -- the truth. This applies to
the smallest detail such as our food, what we listen to or talk about. Only then can the
mind be ready with a meditative quality when we sit down on the pillow. It means that no
matter where we find ourselves, we remain introspective. That doesn't mean we can't talk
to others, but we watch the content of the discussion.
That is not easy to do and the mind often slips off. But we can become
aware of the slip. If we aren't even aware that we have digressed from mindfulness and
inner watchfulness, we aren't on the meditative path yet. If our mind has the Dhamma
quality established within, then meditation has a good chance.
The more we know of the Dhamma, the more we can watch whether we comply
with its guidelines. There is no blame attached to our inability to do so. But the least
we can do is to know the guidelines and know where we're making mistakes. Then we practice
to get nearer and nearer to absolute reality, until one day we will actually //be// the
There is this difference between one who know and one who practices.
The one who knows may understand the words and concepts but the one who practices knows
only one thing, namely, to become that truth. Words are an utilitarian means not only for
communication, but also to solidify ideas. That's why words can never reveal the truth,
only personal experience can. We attain our experiences through realizing what's happening
within and why it is as it is. This means that we combine watchfulness with inquiry as to
why we're thinking, saying and reacting the way we do. Unless we use our mind in this way,
meditation will be an on-again, off-again affair and will remain difficult. When
meditation doesn't bring joy, most people are quite happy to forget about it.
Without the meditative mind and experience, the Dhamma cannot arise in
the heart, because the Dhamma is not in words. The Buddha was able to verbalize his inner
experience for our benefit, to give us a guideline. That means we can find a direction,
but we have to do the traveling ourselves.
To have a meditative mind, we need to develop some important inner
qualities. We already have their seed within, otherwise we couldn't cultivate them. If we
want flowers in our garden and there are no seeds, we can water and fertilize, yet nothing
will grow. The watering and fertilizing of the mind is done in meditation. Weeding has to
be done in daily living. Weeds always seem to grow better in any garden than the flowers
do. It takes a lot of strength to uproot those weeds, but it is not so difficult to cut
them down. As they get cut down again and again, they eventually become feeble and their
uprooting is made easy. Cutting down and uprooting the weeds needs sufficient
introspection into ourselves to know what is a weed and what is a flower. We have to be
very sure, because we don't want to pull out all the flowers and leave all the weeds. A
garden with many weeds isn't much of an ornament.
People's hearts and minds usually contain equal amounts of flowers and
weeds. We're born with the three roots of evil: greed, hate and delusion, and the three
roots of good: generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom. Doesn't it make sense to try and
get rid of those three roots which are the generators of all problems, all our unpleasant
experiences and reactions?
If we want to eliminate those three roots, we have to look at their
outcrops. They're the roots underneath the surface, but obviously a root sprouts and shows
itself above the surface. We can see that within ourselves. Caused by delusion, we
manifest greed and hate. There are different facets of greed and hate, and the simplest
and most common one is "I like," "I want," "I don't like,"
and "I don't want". Most people think such reactions are perfectly justified,
and yet that is greed and hate. Our roots have sprouted in so many different ways that we
have all sorts of weeds growing. If we look at a garden we will find possibly thirty or
forty different types of weeds. We might have that many or more unwholesome thoughts and
emotions. They have different appearances and power but they're all coming from the same
roots. As we can't get at the roots yet, we have to deal with what is above the surface.
When we cultivate the good roots, they become so mighty and strong that the weeds do not
find enough nourishment any more. As long as we allow room for the weeds in our garden, we
take the nutriment away from the beautiful plants, instead of cultivating those more and
more. This takes place as a development in daily living, which then makes it possible to
meditate as a natural outcome of our state of mind.
At this point in time we are trying to change our mind from an ordinary
one to a meditative one, which is difficult if one hasn't practiced very much yet. We only
have one mind and carry that around with us to every activity and also to the meditation.
If we have an inkling that meditation can bring us peace and happiness, then we need to
make sure we have a meditative mind already when we sit down. To change it from busy-ness
to quiet at that moment is too difficult.
The state of mind which we need to develop for meditation is well
described by the Buddha. Two aspects of importance are mindfulness and the calming of the
senses. Internal mindfulness may sometimes be exchanged for external mindfulness because
under some circumstances that is an essential part of practice. The world impinges upon
us, which we cannot deny.
External mindfulness also means to see a tree, for instance, in a
completely new way. Not with the usual thoughts of "that's pretty," or "I
like this one in may garden," but rather noticing that there are live and dead
leaves, that there are growing plants, mature ones and dying ones. We can witness the
growth, birth and decay all around us. We can understand craving very clearly by watching
ants, mosquitoes, dogs. We need not look at them as a nuisance, but as teachers. Ants,
mosquitoes and barking dogs are the kind of teachers who don't leave us alone until the
lessons are fully learned. When we see all in the light of birth, decay, death, greed,
hate and delusion, we are looking in a mirror of all life around us, then we have Dhamma
on show. All of us are proclaiming the truth of Dhamma constantly, only we don't pay
We can use mindfulness to observe that everything in existence consists
of the four elements, earth, fire, water, air; and then check out what is the difference
between ourselves and all else. When we take practice seriously and look at all life in
such a way, then we find the truth all around as well as within us. Nothing else exists.
This gives us the ability to leave the marketplace behind where the
mind flits from one thing to the next, never has a moment's peace, is either dull and
indifferent or hateful and greedy. But when we look at that which really is, we're drawing
nearer to what the Buddha taught, out of his compassion for all the beings that are
roaming around in //samsara// from one //dukkha// to the next. He taught, so that people
like us may awaken to the truth.
We should neither believe nor disbelieve what we hear or read, but try
it out ourselves. If we give our wholehearted attention to this practice, we will find
that it changes our approach to living and dying. To be whole-hearted is a necessity in
anything we do. If we get married and are half-hearted about it, that cannot be very
successful. Half-hearted practice of Dhamma results in chaotic misunderstanding.
Whole-heartedness may have at its core devotion, and a mind which goes beyond everyday
thoughts and activities.
Another facet which goes together with mindfulness, is clear
comprehension. Mindfulness is knowing only, without any discriminating faculty.
Mindfulness does not evaluate of judge but pays full attention. Clear comprehension has
four aspects to it. First: "What is my purpose in thinking, talking or doing?"
Thought, speech and action are our three doors. Second "Am I using the most skillful
means for my purpose?" That needs wisdom and discrimination. Third: "Are these
means within the Dhamma?" Knowing the distinction between wholesome and unwholesome.
The thought process needs our primary attention, because speech and action will follow
from it. Sometimes people think that the end justifies the means. It doesn't. Both means
and end have to be within the Dhamma. The fourth step is to check whether our purpose has
been accomplished, and if not, why not.
If we live with these steps in mind, we will slow down, which is
helpful for our reactions. No inactivity, that is not the answer, but the meditative
quality of the mind, which watches over what we are doing. When we use mindfulness and
clear comprehension, we have to give time to investigate. Checking prevents mistakes.
Our wrong thinking creates the danger of making bad kamma and takes us
away from the truth into nebulous mind-states. The Dhamma is straight forward, simple and
pure. It needs a pure mind to stay with it. Otherwise we find ourselves outside of it
again and again.
External mindfulness can also extend to other people, but here we need
to be very careful. Seeing and knowing others engenders negative judgment. If we practice
external mindfulness towards other people, we have to realize that judging others is
making bad kamma. We can pay attention with compassion. People-watching is one of the most
popular pastimes but usually done with the intention of finding fault. Everyone who's not
enlightened has faults; even the highly developed non-returner has yet five fetters to
lose. What to say about ordinary worldlings? To use other people as our mirror is very
helpful because they reflect our own being. We can only see in others what we already know
about ourselves. The rest is lost to us.
If we add clear comprehension to our mindfulness and check our purpose
and skillful means we will eliminate much grief and worry. We will develop an awareness
which will make every day, every moment an adventure. Most people feel bogged down and
burdened. Either they have too much or too little to do; not enough money to do what they
like or they frantically move about trying to occupy themselves. Everybody wants to escape
mechanism that each one chooses does not provide real inner joy. However with mindfulness
and clear comprehension, just watching a tree is fascinating. It brings a new dimension to
our life, a buoyancy of mind, enabling us to grasp wholeness, instead of the limitations
of our family, job, hopes and dreams. That way we can expand, because we're fascinated
with what we see around and within us, and want to explore further. No "my"
mind, "my" body, "my" tree, but just phenomena all around us, to
provide us with the most fascinating, challenging schoolroom that anybody could ever find.
Our interest in the schoolroom increases as mindfulness increases.
To develop a meditative mind, we also need to calm our senses. We don't
have to deny our senses, that would be foolishness, but see them for what they are. Mara
the tempter is not a fellow with a long tail and a flaming red tongue, but rather our
senses. We hardly ever pay attention to what they do to us when they pull us from an
interesting sight to a beautiful sound, and back to the sight, the tough, the idea. No
Peace! Our constant endeavor is to catch a moment's pleasure.
A sense contact has to be very fleeting, because otherwise it becomes a
great //dukkha//. Let's say we are offered a very nice meal which tastes extremely good.
So we say to our host: "That's a very nice meal, I like it very much." The host
replies: "I have lots of food here, please stay around and eat for another two or
three hours." If we did, we would not only get sick in body but also disgusted in our
mind. A meal can last twenty or at the most thirty minutes. Each taste contact can only
last a second, then we have to chew and swallow. If we were to keep it in the mouth any
longer, it would become very unpleasant.
Maybe we feel very hot and go to take a cold shower. We say to our
friend waiting outside: "Now I feel good, that cold water is very pleasant." Our
friend says: "We have plenty of cold water, you can have a shower for the next five
to six hours." Nothing but absolute misery would result. We can enjoy a cold shower
for ten or twenty minutes at the most.
Anything that is prolonged will create //dukkha//. All contacts pass
quickly, because that is their nature. The same goes for sight, our eyes are continually
blinking. We can't even keep sight constant for the length of time we're looking at
anything. We may be looking at a beautiful painting for a little while and really like it.
Someone says: "You can stay here and look at the painting for the next five hours,
we're not closing the museum yet." Nobody could do that. We can't look at the same
thing a long time, without feeling bored, losing all awareness, or even falling asleep.
Sense contacts are not only limited because of their inability to give satisfaction. They
are actually waves that come and go. If we are listening to some lovely music, after a few
hours the same music becomes unbearable. Our sense contacts are mirroring a reflection of
satisfaction, which has no real basis in fact. That's Mara constantly leading us astray.
There's a pertinent story of a monk in the Buddha's time which relates
the ultimate in sense discipline. A married couple had a big row and the woman decided to
run away. She put on several of her best saris, one over the other, wore all her gold
jewelry and left. After a while the husband was sorry that he had let her go and followed
her. He ran here and there, but couldn't find her. Finally he came across a monk who was
walking along the street. he asked the monk if he'd seen a woman in a red sari with long
black hair and lots of jewelry around her neck and arms. The monk said: "I saw a set
of teeth going by."
The monk was not paying attention to the concepts of a woman with long
black hair, a red sari, and lots of jewelry, but only to the fact that there was a human
being with a set of teeth. He had calmed his senses to the point where the sight object
was no longer tempting him into a reaction. An ordinary person at the sight of a beautiful
woman with black hair, a red sari and lots of jewelry, running excitedly along the street,
might have been tempted to follow her. A set of teeth going by, is highly unlikely to
create desire. That is calming the senses.
If we come upon a snake, it's not an object of dislike, or destruction,
but just a sentient being that happens to be around. That's all. There's nothing to be
done, nothing to react to. If we think of it as a snake that could kill us, then of
course, the mind can go berserk, just as the monk's mind could have done, if he had
thought "Oh, what a beautiful woman."
If we watch our senses again and again, this becomes a habit, and is no
longer difficult. Life will be much more peaceful. The world as we know it consists of so
much proliferation. Everywhere are different colors, shapes, beings and nature's growth.
Each species of tree has hundreds of sub-species. Nature proliferates. All of us look
different. If we don't guard our senses, this proliferation in the world will keep us
attracted life after life. There's too much to see, do, know and react to. Since there is
no end to all of that we might as well stop and delve inside of ourselves.
A meditative mind is achieved through mindfulness, clear comprehension
and calming the senses. These three aspects of practice need to be done in everyday life.
Peace and harmony will result, and our meditation will flourish.