Just as we're capable of changing the body at
will, the same applies to the mind. Changing the body can occur when we eat less and get
thin, eat more and get fat, drink too much alcohol and spoil our liver, smoke too much and
sicken our lungs. We can exercise to get muscles, or train to run fast or jump high, or to
become very efficient at tennis or cricket. The body is able to do many things which
ordinary people usually cannot do, because they haven't trained for that. We know, for
example, of people who can jump two or three times further than is common, or run ten
times faster than anyone else. We may have seen people doing stunts with their bodies,
which look miraculous. There are also people who can use their minds in seemingly
miraculous ways, which are really just due to training.
Meditation is the only training there is for the mind. Physical
training is usually connected with physical discipline. The mind needs mental discipline,
practice in meditation.
First we can change our mind from unwholesome to wholesome thinking.
Just like a person who wants to be an athlete has to start at the beginning of body
training, the same needs to be done for mind training. First we cope with the ordinary,
later with the extraordinary. The recollection of our own death brings us the realization
that all that is happening will be finished very soon, because all of us are going to die.
Even though we may not know the exact date, it is guaranteed to happen. With the death
contemplation in mind, it doesn't matter so much any more what goes on around us, since
all is only important for a very limited time.
We may be able to see that only our kamma-making matters, doing the
best we can every single day, every single moment. Helping others takes pride of place.
There is no substitute for that. Someone else can benefit from our skills and possessions
since we cannot keep them and cannot take them with us. We might as well give all away as
quickly as possible.
One of the laws of the universe is the more one gives away, the more
one gets. Nobody believes it, that's why everyone is trying to make more money and own
more things, yet it is a law of cause and effect. If we would believe it and act
accordingly we would soon find out. However it will only be effective if the giving is
done in purity. We can give our time, our caring, our concern for others' well-being. We
have the immediate benefit of happiness in our own heart, when we see the joy we have
given to someone else. This is about the only satisfaction we can expect in this life
which is of a nature that does not disappear quickly, because we can recollect the deed
and our own happiness.
If we really believe in our impending death, not just use the words,
our attitude towards people and situations changes completely. We are no longer the same
person then. The one we have been until now hasn't brought us complete satisfaction,
contentment and peacefulness. We might as well become a different person, with a new
outlook. We no longer try to make anything last, because we know the temporary nature of
our involvement. Consequently nothing has the same significance anymore.
It could be compared to inviting people to our home for a meal. We are
worried and anxious whether the food will taste just right, whether all the comforts are
there and nothing missing. The house should be immaculate for the guests. While they're
visiting we are extremely concerned that they're getting everything they could possibly
want. Afterwards we are concerned whether they like it at our house, were happy there, are
going to tell other friends that it was a pleasant visit. These are our attitudes because
we own the place. If we are a guest we don't care what food is being served, because
that's up to the hostess. We don't worry whether everything is in apple-pie order because
it's not our house.
This body is not our house, no matter how long we live. It's a
temporary arrangement of no significance. Nothing belongs to us, we're guests here. Maybe
we'll be present for another week or year, or ten or twenty years. But being a guest, what
can it matter how everything works? The only thing we can do when we are guest in
someone's house, is trying to be pleasant and helpful to the people we're with. All else
is totally insignificant, otherwise our consciousness will remain in the marketplace.
Doesn't it only matter to elevate our consciousness and awareness to
where we can see beyond our immediate concerns? There is always the same thing going on:
getting up, eating breakfast, washing, dressing, thinking and planning, cooking, buying
things, talking to people, going to work, going to bed, getting up...over and over again.
Is that enough for a lifetime? All of us are trying to find something within that daily
grind which will give us joy. But nothing lasts and moreover all are connected with
reaching out to get something. If we were to remember each morning that death is certain,
but now have another day to live, gratitude and determination can arise to do something
useful with that day.
Our second recollection may concern how to change our mind from enmity,
hurtfulness and unhappiness, to their opposites. Repeated remembering makes it possible to
change the mind gradually. The body doesn't change overnight, to become athletic, and
neither does the mind change instantly. But if we don't continually train it, it's just
going to stay the same it has always been, which is not conductive to a harmonious and
peaceful life. Most people find a lot of unpleasantness, anxiety and fear in their lives.
Fear is a human condition, based on our ego delusion. We are afraid that our ego will be
destroyed and annihilated.
This willingness to change our mind should make it possible to live
each day meaningfully, which is the difference between just being alive and living. We
would do at least one thing each day, which either entails spiritual growth for ourselves
or helpfulness and consideration for others, preferably both. If we add one meaningful day
to the next, we wind up with a meaningful life. Otherwise we have an egocentric life,
which can never be satisfying. If we forget about our own desires and rejections and are
just concerned with spiritual growth and eventual emancipation, and being helpful to other
people, then our //dukkha// is greatly reduced. It reaches a point where it is only the
underlying movement in all of existence and no longer personal suffering and unhappiness.
As long as we suffer and are unhappy, our lives are not very useful. Having grief, pain
and lamentation does not mean we are very sensitive, but rather that we haven't been able
to find a solution.
We spend hours and hours, buying food, preparing it, eating it, washing
up afterwards, and thinking about the next meal. Twenty minutes of recollection on how we
should live, should not be taxing our time. Naturally, we can also spend much more time on
such contemplations, which are a way to give the mind a new direction. Without training,
the mind is heavy and not very skillful, but when we give the mind a new direction, then
we learn to protect our own happiness. This is not connected with getting what we want and
getting rid of what we don't want. It's a skill in the mind to realize what is helpful and
This new direction, which arises from contemplation can be put into
action. What can we actually do? We have all heard far too many words which sound right,
but words alone won't accomplish anything. There has to be an underlying realization that
these words require mental or physical action. The Buddha mentioned that if we hear a
Dhamma discourse and have confidence in its truth, first we must remember the words. Then
we can see whether we are able to do what is required of us.
If we contemplate to be free of enmity, we can recollect such a
determination again and again. Now comes the next step: How can we actualize that? When
going about our daily life we have to be very attentive whether any enmity is arising, and
if so, to substitute with love and compassion. That is the training of the mind. The mind
doesn't feel so burdened then, so bogged down in its own pre-determined course because we
realize change is possible. When the mind feels lighter and clearer, it can expand.
Activating the teachings of the Buddha changes the awareness of the mind, so that the
everyday ordinary, activities are no longer so significant. They are seen to be necessary
to keep the body alive and the mind interested in the manifold proliferations that exist
in the world.
The realization arises that if we have been able to change our mind
even that much, there may be more to the universe than we have ever been able to touch
upon with the ordinary mind. The determination may come to make the mind extraordinary.
Just as in an athlete, enormous feats of balance, discipline and strength of the body are
possible, just so it is feasible for the mind. The Buddha talked about expanded awareness
as a result of proper concentration, time and time again. Right concentration means a
change of consciousness because we are then not connected to the usual, relative knowing.
Being able to change our mind's direction, we are no longer so enmeshed
in the ordinary affairs, but know that there must be more. Through having been
disciplined, strengthened and balanced, a mind can perform feats of mental awareness which
seem quite extraordinary, but are just a result of training. It means getting out of the
mental rut. If we have a wet driveway and drive a truck over it time and time again, the
ruts get deeper and deeper and in the end the truck may be stuck fast. Such are our
habitual responses that we have in our everyday affairs. Practicing meditation lifts us
out of those ruts because the mind gets a new dimension. Contemplation and resulting
action make a new pathway in our lives, where the old ruts are left behind... Those were a
constant reaction to our sense stimuli, of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching
and thinking. It's a great pity to use a good human life just to be a reactor. It is much
more useful and helpful to become an actor, which means deliberate thinking, saying and
It is possible to eventually have the kind of concentration where the
meditation subject is no longer needed. The meditation subject is nothing but a key, or we
can also call it a hook to hang the mind on, so that it will not attend to worldly
affairs. When concentration has arisen, it can be likened to the key having finally found
the keyhole and the door being unlocked. When we unlock the door of true //samadhi// we
find a house with eight rooms, which are the eight meditative absorptions (//jhanas//).
Having been able to enter the first room, there is no reason why, with practice,
determination and diligence, we cannot gradually enter into all of them. Here the mind
actually lets go of the thinking process as we know it and reverts to a state of
The first thing that happens when concentration has come together is a
sense of well being. Unfortunately there is a mistaken view prevalent that the meditative
absorptions are neither possible nor necessary. This view is contrary to the Buddha's
teaching. Any instructions he has ever given for the pathway to liberation always included
the meditative absorptions. They are the eight steps on the noble eightfold path
(//samma-samadhi//). It is also incorrect to believe that it is no longer possible to
attain true concentration; many people do so without even realizing it, and need support
and direction to further their efforts. Meditation needs to include the meditative
absorptions because they are the expansion of consciousness providing access to a totally
different universe than we have ever realized.
The mental states that arise through the meditative absorptions make it
possible to live one's daily life with a sense of what is significant and what is not.
Having seen, for instance, that it is possible to grow large trees, one no longer believes
that trees are always small, even though the trees in one's own backyard may be tiny,
because the soil is poor. If one has seen large trees, one knows they exist, and one may
even try to find a place where they grow. The same applies to our mental states. Having
seen the possibility of expanded consciousness, one no longer believes that ordinary
consciousness is all there is, or that the breath is all there is to meditation.
The breathe is the hook that we hang the mind on, so that we can open
the door to true meditation. Having opened the door, we experience physical well-being,
manifesting in many different ways. It may be a strong or a mild sensation, but it is
always connected with a pleasant feeling. Of that pleasure the Buddha said: "This is
a pleasure I will allow myself." Unless one experiences the joy of the meditative
state, which is independent of the world, one will never resign from the world, but will
continue to see the world as one's home. Only when one realizes that the joy in the
meditative state is independent of all worldly conditions, will one finally be able to
say: "The world and its manifold attractions are not interesting any more" so
that dispassion will set in. Otherwise why should one resign from that which occasionally
does give pleasure and joy, if one has nothing else? How can one do that? It is impossible
to let go of all the joys and pleasures which the world offers, if one has nothing to
replace them. This is the first reason why in the Buddha's teaching the meditative
absorptions are of the essence. We can't let go when we are still under the impression
that with this body and these senses we can get what we're looking for, namely happiness.
The Buddha encourages us to look for happiness, but we need to look in
the right place. He said we would be able to protect our own happiness. Even the very
first instance of gaining physical pleasure in meditation already illuminates the fact
that something inside ourselves gives joy and happiness. The physical well-being also
arouses pleasurable interest which helps to keep us on the meditation pillow. Although it
is a physical sensation, it is not the same sort of feeling that we are familiar with. It
is different because it has arisen from a different source. Ordinary pleasant physical
feelings come from touch contact. This one comes from concentration. Obviously, having
different causes, they must also be different in their results. Touch is gross,
concentration is subtle. Therefore the meditative feeling has a more subtle spiritual
quality than the pleasant feeling one can get through touch. Knowing clearly that the only
condition necessary for happiness is concentration, we will refrain from our usual
pursuits of seeking pleasant people, tasty food, better weather, more wealth and not
squander our mental energy on those. This is, therefore, a necessary first step towards
We are now entering mind states that go beyond the everyday, worldly
affairs...We all know the mind that is connected with ordinary matters. Such a mind
worries about all sorts of things, is anxious, has plans, memories, hopes, dreams, likes,
dislikes and reactions. It's a very busy mind. For the first time we may become acquainted
with a mind which doesn't contain all these aspects. Pleasurable well-being has no
thinking attached to it, it's an experience. Here we finally realize that the kind of
thinking we're aware of will not give us the results we had hoped for. It is just good
enough to project a willingness to meditate. We learn, even from that very first step,
that the world cannot do for us what concentration can do. Happiness independent of outer
conditions is far more satisfying than anything to be found in the world. We are also
shown that the mind has the ability to expand into a different consciousness with which we
had no previous contact, so that we gain first-hand experience of the fact that meditation
is the means for spiritual emancipation.
Because of having had this pleasurable feeling, an inner joy arises.
This gives the meditator the assurance that the pathway towards "non-self" is a
pathway of joy and not of //dukkha//. Thereby the natural resistance to
"non-self" is greatly lessened. Most people resist the idea that they are
"nobody," even after they have understood it intellectually. But being able to
experience these first two aspects of meditation, gives a clear indication that this is
only possible when the "self," which is always thinking, is temporarily buried.
Because when the self is active, it immediately says "Oh, isn't that nice," and
the concentration is finished. It has to be and experience where nothing says "I am
experiencing." The explanation and understanding of what one has experienced comes
This is a clear realization that, without "self," the inner
joy is a much greater and more profound nature than any happiness one has known in this
life. Therefore the determination to really come to grips with the Buddha's teachings will
come to fruition. Until then, most people pick out a few aspects of the Dhamma, which
they've heard about, and think that is sufficient. It may devotion, chanting, festivals,
doing good works, moral behavior, all of which is fine, but the reality of the teaching is
a great mosaic in which all these different pieces fall together into one huge, all
encompassing whole. And the central core is "non-self" (//anatta//). If we use
only a few of these mosaic pieces we will never get the whole picture. But being able to
meditate makes a great deal of difference in one's approach to that whole conglomerate of
teaching, which encompasses body and mind and completely changes the person who practices
We have to base our meditative ability on our daily practice. We cannot
hope to sit down and meditate successfully, if all we can think about are worldly affairs,
and if we do not try to reduce anger, envy, jealousy, pride, greed, hate, rejection in
daily life. If we use mindfulness, clear comprehension and a calming of sensual desires,
we have a foundation for meditation. As we practice in everyday affairs in conjunction
with meditation, we see a slow and gradual change, as if an athlete has been training. The
mind becomes strong and attends to the important issues in life. It doesn't get thrown
about by everything that happens.
If we can give some time for contemplation and meditation each day and
not forget mindfulness, we have a very good beginning for an expansion of consciousness.
Eventually the universe and we ourselves look quite different, based on our changed
viewpoint. There is a Zen saying: "First the mountain is a mountain, then the
mountain is no longer a mountain and in the end, the mountain is a mountain again."
First we see everything in its relative reality; every person is a different individual,
every tree is a particular kind, everything has some significance to our own lives. Then
we start practicing, and suddenly we see everything in its relative reality; every person
is a different individual, every tree is a particular kind, everything has some
significance to our own lives. Then we start practicing, and suddenly we see a different
reality, which is universal and expansive. We become very involved with our own meditation
and do not pay much attention to what is going on around us. We see an expansion and
elevation of our consciousness, know that our everyday reactions are not important. For a
while, we may pay attention to just that and to living in a different reality. In the end,
we come right back to where we were, doing all the same things as before, but no longer
being touched by them. A mountain is just a mountain again. Everything returns to the same
ordinary aspect it used to have, except it's no longer significant, or separate.
A description of an Arahant in the Discourse on Blessings (Mahamangala
Sutta) is: "...although touched by worldly circumstance, never the mind is
wavering." The Enlightened One is touched by worldly circumstances, he acts like
everybody else, he eats, sleeps, washes and talks to people, but the mind does not waver.
The mind stays cool and peaceful at all times.