Forest Sangha Newsletter
October 2001



Silence and Space; Luang Por Sumedho
Clarity of Insight; Ajahn Chah
Energy; Aj Sucitto
Form; Sister Thaniya

Ajahn Sucitto's response to a few questions from the teachers and students of the Deep Spring Centre in Michigan, December 2000.

Question: Could you share with us what you came to teach in the workshop about energy at the Centre for Buddhist Studies in Barre, Massachusetts?

Ajahn Sucitto: Yes. My motivation for it was a recognition that sometimes people mistake energy for effort. They try to make an effort, but the energy is not there. So they are pumping the gas pedal but there is no fuel in the tank. Then they think, 'There is something wrong with this car or maybe I am not pumping hard enough.' My interest was to try to create a greater sense of how to arouse energy, how to sustain energy, how to modulate energy when there is too much or it is going the wrong way, how to enjoy it, and then the results of it in terms of mindfulness and samadhi, the brahmaviharas and so forth.


I can feel my body, I can feel moods, am aware of thoughts, aware of subtle energies, aware of all those things yet, I am none of those, but I am not other than them either.

I see energy as having three avenues that we can approach it through: body energy; heart energy, which is our aspiration, our inspiration, our emotional base; and the energy of intelligence, our ability to think, to decide, to know. I was trying to present ways in which all three of those could be properly activated. We did particular forms of standing and movement for body energy. We did various devotional practices, to enhance the sense of the group. I was trying to encourage that not as, 'There are fourteen other people here who will probably bother me,' but, 'I am in a safe place, I have fourteen friends.' We did things like serving each other food rather than just going and getting our own. Then chanting together. Or, first of all, just making sounds together so not starting from the awkwardness of 'I cannot chant.' That was very nice because one is working on an empathetic basis and also dealing with a subtle resonance. Voice, I think, is very significant because it always has an emotional tone to it.

We made a lot out of offering to the shrine, using water and various things. The idea being that we did it with a thought in mind, 'This is for the welfare of beings,' and connected that to a mood of the heart. We also did a fair amount of meditation. Then we had a couple of hours of study in the morning where I would present some texts and we would have a debate - our grey matter got a little bit of massage there! A certain intellectual interest is also energising.
Question: Many people are studying what I would call a psychological path. A lot of these have to do with healing of personality through the ego, the super-ego. How does this work in with vipassana practice and the Dhamma?

Ajahn Sucitto: I would say that Dhamma practice is about healing and about liberation. The two are not opposites. Liberation comes out of healing; healing is the first step. Actually healing is a kind of liberation from the grosser effects of greed, hatred, delusion, and also from the grosser activations of those things in oneself. The Buddha would often use the word 'liberation', not as an ultimate state, but to say things like, 'When your mind is focused on benevolence for that time you are liberated from the taint of ill will.' So one should regard liberation as something that can refer to something temporary and relative as well as an ultimate goal.

It seems that the quality of citta - which is often translated as 'mind' or 'heart' - is an awareness that is affective, and has a physical expression, an emotional expression and an intellectual expression. The very here-and-now sense of what we are is citta; the sense of 'who I am.' I can feel my body, I can feel moods, am aware of thoughts, aware of subtle energies, aware of all those things yet I am none of those, but I am not other than them either. Citta is the receptivity that can respond to all that. Now that has to be healed because very often that process is marginalized or constricted. We can feel, 'It is not completely safe to be here.' People can be held in their bodies or held emotionally, then there is only a certain narrow band of emotional stuff that is allowed to happen. The rest of it is not allowed, it is buried - it is there but it is not there. Then citta has shut down cells in it, closed passages. They are there but they are closed, or rarely visited, or not ventilated, in terms of body, emotion, and even our agility of mind. The mind has only a certain wave band of experience that can be conceived of and articulated.
The first of the four foundations of mindfulness is, 'body in the body.' Not just the body as we normally conceive it; but the totality of embodiment, which is full of all sorts of subtle energies, warmth, and vibrations. So feeling the 'body in the body' is not purely our ideas about body, the visual description of it or whether it is male or female; feeling the quality of embodiment means getting in touch with energetic patterns. Energetic patterns in the body are very much associated with emotional patterns and mental patterns. When you come to experiencing the energetic basis of awareness, you come across the boundaries between body, heart and mind. I guess most of us would recognise that when we're depressed, our body does sag; when we're uptight, our shoulders do reach our ears and our jaw locks - this is not done consciously. So I think a lot of healing work is done to make much more flow and openness between the embodiment experience, the feeling resonance, emotional experience and the understanding, noetic awareness.

The standard practices of mindfulness, samadhi (concentration), metta (loving kindness) are enormous enhancements in terms of health, they make awareness healthy. Citta becomes whole. Referring to the healthy mind, the Buddha said, 'This citta is bright and luminous.' And also, 'This I call the supreme abiding place, the pleasant abiding in the here and now.' This is the healed mind. Then liberation from that is the recognition that this experience is not self; this very experience does not belong to anybody, there is no need to keep inflecting the notion of 'I am' onto it. The first aspect of practice has to do with the area that we might call basically 'samatha', settling, or healing. The second aspect of the practice is vipassana or insight. The two should help and support each other. I think that where a lot of current therapies are working is in dealing with issues that previously would have been dealt with in terms of Right View, and precepts and virtue. These are sources of tremendous self-valuing. If you look in the scriptures, it is apparent so many times, the Buddha would say, 'If you have Right View, then you recognise the power of your own actions.' It is basically seeing cause and effect. 'I am the captain of my ship. I am potent. I can steer out of this storm. I am not stuck in this.' Virtue means I have value in myself that I do not want to tarnish or lose.

As we all know, the nitty-gritty of it is when we come to the hindrances. This is where the sense of self-value is really put to the test because on many occasions we will think, 'I am the hindrance.' But the way the Buddha expressed it is: when someone has a beautiful face, and sees something ugly around their neck, it is not the person who is ugly. The whole attitude is, fundamentally we are in a blessed situation. We are beings of virtue, and confusion has happened. Rather than, 'I am finding out about the truth of myself now... I really am a frantic, crazy, control freak.' This can happen if you find yourself caught in a hindrance and there is not good health. I think psychotherapists are making worthy attempts to free up that area.

Question: When you are talking about embodiment, how would you help people to experience energy in the body?

Ajahn Sucitto: I think primarily it has to do with dissolving tension. The sense of solidity that we have is actually an energetic experience. The base state of energy is the sense of massiveness, solidity - the earth element. By working with tension alone and letting go of what is unnecessary in terms of effort, in terms of holding, there is a softening and there is energy. Energy is released because energy is used up in these negative unnecessary patterns of tension, holding, strain. So the first way would be to learn how to relax or open up what is solid and make it more dynamic.

The second way has to do with attuning to the dynamics of energy. So when one breathes in and breathes out there is an energy experience. To my mind it is quite crucial in terms of anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing) because it is said in the teaching on it, almost hypnotically, over and over again, 'In-breathing, out-breathing.' It does not say 'breathing' or even 'watching the breath'. It says,

'In-breathing, out-breathing.' How do you know the difference between an in-breath and an out-breath? It is not through sensation, it is though energy. When you breathe in you brighten: when you breathe out you calm. When you breathe in you sharpen: when you breathe out you soften. These are energetic experiences. You can recognise the whole rhythmic process, which is the very thing that is keeping you alive. It flows fully and pleasantly. Then you are experiencing energy as a dynamic and as a sign in meditation. You can feel it moving and be aware of the track of energy. You can start to experience it radiating through the body when you breathe.

Not to go on too long about it, but hindrances also have an energetic expression. Every hindrance tends to tighten and contract, with the sense of loss of pliancy, loss of vibrancy; vitality is captured. Restlessness is tense. Dullness is contracted in a deflated way; you feel the mind lose its flexibility, its ability to scan or be agile. It is a staleness of mind and a loss of body tone. Dullness is amazing because you can know that all you have to do is walk up and down, but the mind is so stupid that you can still sit there and think, 'I'll just work with it. I need to calm down.'

Ideally, if one can register a skilful, energetic tone, one that is not hyper nor flat, nor pushing forward nor dragging back - a balanced tone - then you can detect hindrance when it comes up because you start to feel the pressure. You get a little bit of speed here, a little bit of stiffening there. I liken it to a stream in which you get vortex patterns; these vortex patterns are like the hindrances. If the stream is going well and it flows past the vortex it will gradually pull that vortex out into itself; and similarly we can capture the energy of a hindrance. Of course, it happens the other way around sometimes. But even with that, in retrospect, one can recognise what has happened - mostly you were up in your head. Energy is not good or bad, but with hindrances you get dissociation up into your head, then the story starts, and we're somewhere else. And very often we try to deal with the story, and maybe tidy up the plot, instead of just going to the energy and diverting the flow.