Forest SanghaNewsletter April 1998

Self-naughting; Aj Sumedho
Discernment v's Self-Deception; Upasika Kee Nanayon
Meditation Class; Aj Sucitto
Dhammma Refugee ; Ajahn Viradhammo
Pilgrim's Way: the Place of the Buddha; Ajahn Candasiri

Signs of Change:


Meditation Class
Mindfulness of Walking
Ajahn Sucitto

Now, to practise mindfulness of walking, we find an open space. Ideally weshould try to have a path of about twenty paces, but in a house we'd probablyhave to circumambulate, to walk around a room, rather than backwards andforwards. We have to do the best we can if wer'e inside, but if there is agarden or driveway we can use that. It may drive the neighbours absolutelycrazy, they may wonder what we're doing, and generally think we've lostsomething! Because what we do if we are doing walking meditation is stand,and then walk straight forwards for about twenty paces, and then stop, standstill, turn round and walk back again - and we keep doing this, walking backand forth. While walking we keep the gaze, the attention of the eyes, lightlyfocused on the ground in front, say about two to three metres away, so thatthe head is ever-so-slightly angled down. Rather than looking at anything inparticular, we are just collecting attention; this is quite important becauseif we're just looking at everything around then we can get very distracted.What happens in walking meditation is that there are so many things that comethrough the mind anyway that it is very helpful to learn to sustain just alight, focused gaze that is not looking at anything in particular. Whilewalking up and down we very quickly notice that when we see things, the mindpicks up: "Ooh, look at that flower, that bird...", and the same withhearing, thinking or feeling; but the idea is to maintain a central positionso that things are just passing through that central position of walking.

To heighten it a little more, generally we try to focus the attentionon the feelings in the feet as we walk along. As with breathing meditationwhen we go, "in breath, out breath", with walking, the feeling's in the foot,the left foot, then the foot hits the ground, then the right foot hits theground. So that rhythm acts as a sort of base line, or underlying theme, thatwe keep referring to and bringing the attention back to through this changingrealm of sense-consciousness Then when we get to the end of the path we standstill, trying to expand the whole awareness from the soles of the feet up tothe top of the head, so we can imagine ourself like a pole or a tree, or thewhole body just standing, so that the whole body is attentive. We close theeyes, breathe in and out a few times, feeling what it is like to stand still.Then we turn around and walk back again. Stop at the end of the path, standstill, we give ourselves two or three breaths, turn round and then walk backagain; stay cool with it all. The mind will run all over the place,apparently, but instead of thinking of it as my mind running all over theplace, think of it as the place is running all over the mind - just lettingstuff run through as it will - and staying centred and peaceful about it; andthen contemplating and noticing the experience of the change of it all, theflow of it all.
We might try to use meditation as a way of blocking out, perhaps focusing onthe breath because of not wanting to be aware of guilt or fear.

Clear comprehension can be seen as reflecting, considering, and there arefour ways of doing this. Firstly, there is clear comprehension regardingpurpose. So, for example, when you sit to meditate, just notice what yourintention is. This may not be something that you have much feeling for. Youmight think, "Well, I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time", or,"it's seven-thirty". But if you're not clear about intent then in a way themind is not fully attentive, and things get done in an habitual way. One cancertainly do this with meditation, it can become just a something one does,without really knowing why, or what one is doing.

This doesn't mean that you need to have an intellectual analysis ofmotivations, but just to get the feeling of purpose that is there as one sitsdown to practise meditation. There may be a feeling of wanting to look atwhat one is doing, and being attentive to where one is at or of coming toterms with oneself - some feeling that the mind is inclining towardsattentiveness in a particular way. This can also help us to consider what weshould be focusing upon, which is important because it can sometimes be thecase that we focus upon things in order to not be aware of what's going on.We might try to use meditation as a way of blocking out, perhaps focusing onthe breath because of not wanting to be aware of guilt or fear. We can twistmeditation into a way of suppressing things that should actually beacknowledged and investigated; so instead of looking at the mind-state we'rein, we might look at a physical experience, whereas actually what would bemore significant would be to look at the mind-state. So we have to look atour sense of purpose: do we wish to understand, or are we trying to avoidsomething?

Another basis for clear comprehension is regarding domain or resort.This refers to where you place and sustain your attention: are we going tocontemplate body, feeling, mind, or what? And then to make a practice out ofthat so that one can really experience a bodily or mental process through arange of times and energies.... it means knowing what to focus on, and how tostay with it. And in the course of doing that, mental habits will bring upall kinds of challenges that will test one's skills. These obstacles are allthings that we can look at with mindfulness, so the on-going practice is tobe able to open up the fears and worries and nagging thoughts and moods thatwe have - to open up the Pandora's box of the mind and let a few things outto be examined, to be noticed and be seen as that which arises and ceases.That entails staying within the meditation theme so that aspects ofconsciousness that normally we either act upon or repress can be seen coollyand objectively. That allows us to let them go. To stay within the domainmeans to abide in the direct experience, rather than in conceptualinterpretations. Then an understanding will arise that allows the heart tofind peace, rather than explanations or criticisms or speculation. This iswhat is meant by finding the right resort, the right place, the rightfoundation as a basis for clear comprehension.

Another one is suitability, the suitability of the meditation object- choosing an object which will bring around the right results. So, forexample, maybe there's no point in focusing on the breath if you're verytired - you'd just fall asleep; neither is there a lot of point if the mindis very agitated, because we just can't get to it. In such cases it's best tofind a meditation object such as the feelings in the hand, or the feelings inthe head or body, or just the bodily posture. With sexual longing,contemplate the body in its constituent parts and elemental forms; withgrudges and aversion reflect on the personal harm that these states cause andexercise a broader viewpoint. Such exercises free up the mind's energy formore far-reaching goals. So what is suitable in terms of the meditationobject or in terms of effort means it's possible through meditation to bringup the right kind of effort that's neither strained nor forced, but it'senough so that your mind can apply itself purposefully.
And the fourth consideration, which in a sense, covers the others, is just tobe undeluded, clearly comprehending the state of mind. In other words, to beexperiencing these in and of themselves rather than as aspects of apersonality. This is tricky. It often entails, first of all, coming to termswith why we take the energies and permutations of mind so personally. What dowe base our self-esteem on? What have we been trained to think, or stimulatedto feel? Are those programmes and messages created and owned by ourpersonality - or isn't it the other way round? This doesn't mean denyingpersonality, but noticing that it is the agent rather than the author of ourlives. If you have self-pride you have self-aversion.
So there is always that need to keep a fresh angle on this stuff. We canstart to use a suitable object for meditation, such as the breath - the fullbreath - breathing in and out and notice what comes up. We may feel happy,calm, confused or restless; and then, if we can actually just sustainmindfulness that notices these mental experiences coming and going, then allis well and good. However, if, after some attempts, we just can't keep oursense of balance then we have to change and find another meditation object,such as just listening to the sound of the mind, or focusing on anotheraspect of the body.
Q. Is meditation just introspective and self-obsessed, just astudy of the self?
A. This kind of meditation helps us to centre on how things are tous, which is quite valid, because actually, what seems to be the world outthere is really just our picture of it. It is strongly affected by what wechoose to be aware of, how we receive that, and what we do about it; soreally the idea of the world and the self as separate is very misguided.
What is the world? Well, for a start, it's what you choose to look at.For example, blue-green algae may not mean very much to you, but it mightmean something to a biologist. It might be his whole world - he knowsblue-green algae, but knows nothing about legal systems. If you're in theteaching profession your world is very much that, or you read the newspapersand then the world seems to be Yugoslavia, Iraq or Somalia and an endlessseries of woes and horrors. So the world is what we choose to look at, orwhat is directed to us.
The world is also the way we perceive things. We can perceive things interms of ambition - how we're getting on at it - or we can perceive it interms of how we feel about it. We can see it as a frightening place, a placewhere you've got to get ahead. Or we can perceive the world as a place wherewe're supposed to be compassionate and kind. Those very attitudes willnaturally affect the way we perceive the world. Now, this can go on and on,but the point really is that we can't really understand the world until weunderstand ourselves, but that we don't really understand ourselves until weunderstand the world! Because the two are a totality, a continuity, differentends of the same thing. So you can look at one end of a stick or the otherend, but they're still the same stick.
It is certainly the case that some people who meditate can get intenselyobsessive and self-conscious, but that's not the idea of it. That's gettingit wrong - that's where we don't understand it; so meditation does involve anelement of reflection. Learning is important, because otherwise we do findourselves getting obsessed or stuck into selfishness which becomes refined inparticular terms, such as wanting to get away from it all, or to have somekind of pleasant experience, or become somebody special, with some specialesoteric knowledge. Those drives and instincts can happen in us, it's true,but the aim in this meditation is not to develop those, but to understand andtranscend them. When there's mindfulness and clear comprehension, when we'remindful of the mind, then we're also looking at the kind of desires we have.This is not to start being moralistic about desire, but just to notice whatdesire feels like, with the mind reaching out. The point is to understandthat movement of trying to hold something and have something, to be somebodyor to get somewhere - to really notice that feeling as not being whatmindfulness is about. Mindfulness actually sees it, and we let go.
So we are always coming back to the ground in meditation - to the placeof stability and coolness and steadiness and non-acquisition,non-achievement, non-becoming, non-obsession. It's a great earther. So themore we can do that, the more we actually can be open to what apparently isthe external world, because we're letting go of our defensiveness or ourgreed, our selfishness with it. We're more able to avoid following thosehabits - those patterns of mental behaviour - so we really can be much moreopen and responsive to the world through this kind of meditation, if it'sdone properly.
But it's also very much the case that we do have to go through theseobsessive states. Sometimes the mind comes up with the most foolishobsessions, ridiculous stuff that doesn't even make sense. So when we get anobsessive nagging thought the thing to do is not to get irritated by it -thinking we're going crazy, or asking what it means - but to notice and staycentred. We notice the thought arise and, instead of following it orbelieving in it or denying it, we just notice it as a thought that movesthrough the mind. The mind can think of anything, and will do so once westart to deprive it of anything in particular to think about. So the practiceis one of non-obsession and non-self - of seeing it all as just stuff, andletting it go.
Q. When you first start meditating do you just do it for shorttimes, then go for longer and longer, or just let it flow?
A. When I first began to meditate ... I started by doing 15minutes of sitting and 15 minutes of walking. I found that to alternatesitting and walking was good, because then I could get a whole half-hour in,whereas just to sit still for half an hour can be pretty strenuous at first,or really difficult because the mind can't stay with one object for verylong, so we can find ourselves getting physically very uncomfortable, orover-stressed trying to hold onto the particular meditation object. But if wealternate, do a little of one then a bit of another, have a break, then wecan actually sustain a meditation practice over a longer period of time. Thenof course we can build it up - to half-an-hour sitting, or an hour sittingeven, and so on... but one moment is better than nothing! If we start tothink in terms of how much we've got to do, then that particular thought isan obstacle. It's better to try to do it purposefully, in the way we'd do anyexcercise - doing it to a point where there is a little bit of push required,a little bit of stretching, not over-much, then developing it.