When focused exclusively on the target, at the same time keep yourself aware that, "This is the target of the mind. This is the mind examining. This is mindfulness, i.e., the act of remembering to keep the target in mind. This is discernment, which sees into the truth of the object under consideration."
Both methods work, although method (a) is suited for beginners and those whose sensitivities are not yet developed, while method (b) is suited for those who are sensitive and experienced. Both methods, though, if you practice them diligently, give rise to the same results, namely concentration and discernment.
In training the mind as explained above, no matter which method you choose, please don't let yourself wonder about whether or not you're going to attain concentration and discernment. And put aside all desires based on the various rumors and reports that get passed around by word of mouth. Just follow correctly the method mentioned in point 6, and you'll be doing fine.
At the same time, observe the approach you've been practicing to see how you brought the mind to the object, how you maintained mindfulness, and what happened to the mind as a result. If acting in that particular manner made the mind open and bright, keep at it until you're adept and able to do it all the time. But if the results weren't like that, i.e., just the opposite, then without delay use your powers of observation, in the way already mentioned, to make adjustments and corrections.
In observing how the mind behaves under training, some people will be able to observe their state of mind while the mind is still in that state; others, only after the mind has withdrawn from that state and stopped still for a moment. Both ways work. They are simply a matter of individual temperament. But if you don't use your powers of observation at all, progress in mental training will be hard to achieve and -- even if you do achieve it -- hard to maintain.
While you are training the mind, one thing -- strange and striking -- may occur without your intending it. That is, the mind will withdraw from its external objects and gather into a single whole, letting go of all labels and attachments dealing with past or future. There will be just bare awareness paired with its preoccupation in the present. This is something with no sense of inside or outside -- a condition whose features are peculiar to the mind itself. It is as if everything has undergone a revolution.
This is the mind coming to its own level, the bhavanga.
In this moment, everything has reference only to the mind. Even though life may still be going on, the mind when it reaches this level lets go of all attachments to the body, and goes inward to experience nothing but its own object, all by itself. This is termed bhava-citta, the mind on its own level. The mind on its own level still has a refined version of the five khandha complete within it, and so can still experience birth and states of becoming, and give rise to continued births in the future.
Reaching this state is somewhat like dozing off and dreaming. The difference depends on how much self-awareness there is. Those who are collected and perceptive will -- when the event first occurs -- be aware of what is happening and what they are experiencing, and so won't get excited or upset. Those who are gullible and not very mindful, though, will be just like a person who dozes off and dreams. When they come to, they will tend to be startled or get misled by the visions they may happen to see. But when they have trained themselves until they are skilled at giving rise to this state often, their sense of mindfulness will improve and their various visions will go away. Gradually they will gain insight until they see into natural conditions as they actually are.
The phenomenon discussed in point 8 -- even though it doesn't give rise to discernment capable of exploring into the logic of cause and effect in a wide-ranging way -- is still a preliminary stage in training the mind. It can suppress the five Hindrances and at the same time give rise to a sense of peace and well-being in the present. If it is properly developed so that it doesn't deteriorate, it will lead to a good rebirth in a future stage, in line with one's karmic background.
Incidentally, when visions and signs of various sorts appear, it's usually in the mental moment we are discussing here. But this doesn't mean that when the mind reaches this stage there will have to be visions of signs in every case. With some people and at some times, they will occur. With others and at other times, they won't. This is another matter of individual temperament -- and of other factors as well.
To be perfectly truthful, when it comes to the question of visions and signs that arise in the course of meditation, you can say that they're good only in the case of meditators who are quick-witted and astute enough to see through them; who -- when they see visions -- don't fall for them or latch onto them as being the self or as really belonging to themselves. They see the visions simply as visions, enough to use them as tools or a temporary dwelling place for the mind, and then let go.
As for people who aren't especially mindful or alert -- and who are gullible to boot -- when a vision arises they will get extremely excited and may even become so deluded as to lose touch with reality because they believe the visions to be something real and true. (How to deal with visions and signs will be discussed in point 11, below.)
In addition, people who have trained their minds to this stage are usually stubborn and bull-headed in their opinions, due to their strength of mind. When they think about something, they tend to see it from one side only.
They won't easily give any heed to the opinions of others, because they believe that their own opinions are perfectly reasonable and trust-worthy -- even though their opinions are self-serving and very much lacking in reason, and so easily pervert the way they see things.
But at any rate, whether or not visions and signs arise, they're not really what you want here, because aside from being defilements, clouding your discernment, they are also obstacles to the development of clear insight. The aim of training the mind is to let go of the five Hindrances and then to examine the khandha so that they become clear, to see them as they actually are to the point where you grow disenchanted with them, loosen your passion and fascination with them, and let them go, never to enter into and take hold of them again.
When you have trained the mind to be firmly established in absorption and concentration to the point where it is able to suppress the five Hindrances, then you should work at developing clear insight. Actually, clear insight may arise at the same time that you are working on tranquility. In other words, discernment may brighten so as to know and see clearly the truth that all conditioned things (sankhara) which arise are bound to disintegrate and pass away. They can't last. They aren't me or myself, but are simply natural conditions acting on their own.
When this sort of knowledge arises, it will make the mind become disenchanted and dispassionate with regard to all conditioned things. The mind will dwell entirely in a state of matured and chastened dispassion, no matter what it sees or hears, and no matter where. This is called clear insight occurring together with tranquility.
If, however, insight doesn't arise in this way, then when you have practiced tranquility meditation until the mind is firmly established, then you can select either a part of the body -- such as the bones or the intestines -- or else a topic which is occupying your thoughts at the moment, and examine it so as to see that all the things which the mind fastens onto as stable and real, as leading to true happiness, actually fall under the sway of the Three Characteristics. The way we assume things, saying, "This is this, and that is that," in line with our imaginings, is not in any way true. All conditioned things simply arise from their causes: unawareness, craving, attachment and kamma. When their causes are exhausted, they disband of their own accord. No one forces them to disband. Even the body we are living in is able to survive only in dependence on causes, such as breath and food. When these things are exhausted, the body has no meaning at all.
When you examine things in this way, using the power of a fully concentrated mind, you will reach the goal of the mind's training. The light of discernment will arise, complete with the insight into cause and effect you have discovered totally on your own. This is something which arises not from appropriating labels or theories remembered from other people, but from realizing the causes and effects that are entirely within your own heart. The mind will never again be deluded into becoming attached, passionate, pleased or displeased with any conditioned thing at all.
Incidentally, we can say that if the mind hasn't truly and clearly seen into the object of its meditation, then it hasn't really yet gathered itself together and settled down. But the reason why the training of the mind isn't called insight meditation before this point is because one's discernment is still weak in terms of cause and effect, and lacks circumspection.
To summarize: The purification of one's words and deeds has to begin with training in moral virtue. The purification of the mind has to begin with training in tranquility -- concentration and absorption -- until the mind has enough strength to suppress the five Hindrances. When the mind is adept at concentration and absorption, able to enter, withdraw and stay in place at will, then discernment -- the light of knowledge seeing into the truth of all natural conditions (sabhava dhamma), together with the causes for their arising and passing away -- will arise in a remarkable way.
This sort of knowledge may arise only to certain individuals in certain circumstances. But in any case, those who have trained their minds to this level should realize that a mind which has reached this point is fit to be trained to give rise to clear insight. They should thus take any aspect of the body or any mental phenomenon which occupies their thoughts, and examine it from the standpoint of the Three Characteristics, as explained above. Then they too will develop the light of insight, seeing clearly into all conditioned things -- and be able to uproot attachments to physical and mental phenomena of every sort.
Even though the mind is intangible, it has influence over the body and all things in the world. It is capable of bringing everything in the world under its control. Still, it isn't so vicious or savage as to lack all sense of good and evil. When a person of good intentions trains the mind to enter correctly into the path of the Buddha's teachings as explained above, it will be tractable and quick to learn, developing the wisdom to bring the body, which may be behaving without any principles, back into line. In addition, it can cleanse itself to be bright and clean, free from defilements, able to realize by itself truths that are subtle and profound, and to bring dazzling light into this world which is dark with blindness.
This is because the true substance of the mind has been, from the very beginning, something bright and clear. But because of the preoccupations which have seeped into it and clouded it, the brightness of the mind has been temporarily darkened, making the world dark as well. If the mind were originally dark, there probably wouldn't be anyone able to cleanse it to the point where it could give rise to the light of discernment at all.
So whether the world is to be dark or bright, whether it is to experience well-being or suffering, depends on the mind of each individual. We as individuals should thus first train our own minds well, and then train the minds of others. The world will then be free from turmoil.
The visions and signs that arise from the practice of meditation are a strange and uncanny affair. They may delude a gullible person of weak judgment into being so convinced of their truth as to lose touch with reality. For this reason, those who practice meditation should be cautious, examining and reflecting on them carefully, as I will now explain.
The signs that arise from meditation are of two sorts: visions and signs.
Visions: sometimes, when the mind gathers itself into its own level while we are considering our own body to see its unattractiveness, we will see the body as completely foul and decomposing, or as nothing more than a skeleton or a pile of ashes, etc. There are cases where this has caused people to become so repelled that they commit suicide.
As for signs: When the mind gathers, as already mentioned, a whispering voice may appear. It may be the voice of a person we respect, telling us to examine a particular truth, or to beware of a coming event; or else it may be the voice of an enemy who means to harm us, appearing to us just before he/she will come to do us harm -- which shows how the mental currents of different individuals impinge on one another. On the other hand, the same sort of thing may occur involving a person who means us well. Sometimes an unidentified voice may come to tell a truth which is thought-provoking and worthy of consideration, which meditators in general call the teachings and warnings of the Dhamma, or abhiñña.
It's not the case that visions and signs will occur to all meditators. With some people, no matter how refined a level their minds attain, visions and signs won't appear. With others, the mind may gather in a flash for a brief moment, and all sorts of visions and signs will appear. (Be careful not to concoct too many, though.) This depends on the individual's temperament. With people who are gullible and don't give much thought to what is reasonable, visions and signs tend to occur quickly and to grow all out of bounds, to the point where they can lose their bearings. So treat them with caution.
Question: Are visions and signs true?
Answer: Sometimes yes, and sometimes no, because they arise exclusively from jhana, and jhana is a mundane phenomenon -- and thus undependable. That is to say, they arise to a person practicing meditation whose mind gathers into the bhavanga without knowing what level it has reached or how it focused on, examined and put down its object. Visions and signs, whether or not they arise intentionally, are composed of a great deal of mental concocting and attachment, and are therefore unreliable -- because the visions and signs that arise when the mind is in the bhavanga are like the dreams of a person who lies down to sleep or simply dozes off. By and large, when they first occur, there tends to be some truth to them, but not much.
Question: Is jhana mundane or transcendent?
Answer: Jhana has only twelve or thirteen component factors, and they are entirely mundane. But if the person entering jhana is a Noble One using it as a tool or a dwelling place for the mind, then he or she will be able to use this mundane jhana at will, and dependably as well -- like an expert sharpshooter as opposed to a commoner, whose sword is just a sword.
Question: Are visions and signs a good thing?
Answer: Only for a person who knows how to make use of them in the proper way, without being taken in by them or attached to them. They aren't good for a person who doesn't know how to use them properly, who gets taken in by them, believing them to be true. Once attachment latches on, the act of mental concoction can make these visions and signs proliferate to the point where a meditator may lose control over his or her sense of reality. So they should be treated with caution and care, as I will now explain.
Visions and signs arise from the power of mundane jhana and are sustained by attachment and mental concocting. They thus fall under the Three Characteristics: They are inconstant -- they can't last; they are stressful; and they are not-self -- i.e., they aren't yours or anyone else's. They are conditions which do nothing but constantly arise and fall away in their own way at all times. Examine them so as to see their true nature in this way, and then let them go. Don't be deluded into latching onto visions and signs, which are the results. Instead, work at the cause, jhana, so that you become more and more adept to the point where you can attain it at will. The visions and signs will then take care of themselves.
Also learn to see the drawbacks of visions and signs. Once they arise and we get engrossed and deluded into latching onto them, they will cause our jhana to deteriorate, just as sound waves are an obstacle to a person trying to quiet the mind and explore phenomena which are subtle and deep, or as waves in clear water prevent us from seeing our reflection on the water's surface.
The visions and signs which appear to a meditator just beginning to attain jhana tend to be extraordinary and amazing. The acts of mental grasping and concocting will tend to fasten tightly to them, and they will be indelibly impressed on one's inner eye. If the above methods for curing and removing these visions and signs don't produce results, then try not to have the mind enter jhana. In other words, don't put your mind to it, don't let the mind be still, don't take a liking to the visions or signs. Sleep and eat as much as you like, perform heavy tasks until the body is very tired, think of objects that will give rise to defilements, such as beautiful sights or sounds that will give rise to desire -- and once the mind withdraws from its absorption, the visions and signs will disappear of their own accord.
If the student meditator can't solve the problem with these methods, then the teacher should try to help by using the same sort of approach. The quickest and most effective way is to find an issue that will provoke the person attached to visions and signs to extreme anger. The visions and signs will immediately disappear.
The basis for giving rise to knowledge into the Dhamma is threshold concentration (upacara samadhi), which is of two sorts:
As a meditator is working with a particular object of meditation, the mind will gradually withdraw from external preoccupations and gather into one spot, right at the mind itself, but without being completely cut off from all objects. It is still sensing, thinking and considering, trying to withdraw from its very refined object, but as yet unable to let go completely. This is threshold concentration before reaching fixed penetration (appana samadhi).
The mind becomes more and more refined until it is able to let go and withdraw from the object it is considering, so that the object disappears. This is called fixed penetration. There is full mindfulness and awareness of a sense of emptiness, not grasping after or fastening onto anything at all, simply partaking of its own exclusive object. When the mind comes out of this state and is again considering the Dhamma -- objects, cause and effect -- this is threshold concentration coming out of fixed penetration.
Both sorts of threshold concentration can form a good basis for insight into particular truths and various events, which is different from the knowledge which arises from the visions and signs mentioned above, because visions and signs arise from mundane jhana, whereas the knowledge we are discussing here, even though it arises from mundane concentration, gives more dependable results. (Scientists use this level in doing their research.) And if your concentration becomes transcendent, it will do away, step by step, with all the effluents (asava) of the mind.
In short, the knowledge which arises from visions and signs, and that which arises from threshold concentration, differ in terms both of origin and of quality.
An item which deserves a little more explanation here is the term fixed penetration (appana samadhi). Fixed penetration is a superior human attainment. By and large, people who reach fixed penetration tend to focus on the in-and-out breath (anapana) as their object of meditation. As they focus on the breath and come to pay attention to its arising and falling away, or just to its falling away, the mind gradually becomes more and more refined until, step by step, it lets go of all its preoccupations and gathers together to become fixed, as explained above. The stilling of the in-and-out breath is what indicates fixed penetration. In some instances it is called fixed jhana because it comes from the act of becoming absorbed in the breath. It is called fixed concentration because even though there is no in-and-out breath when the mind reaches that point, mindfulness is still absolutely full.
When you are in this state you can't examine anything, because the mind is totally uninvolved with anything at all. Only when the mind comes out of this state and enters threshold concentration can you begin examining things again. You will then see clearly into all the truths that the Buddha said are to be known, and into other matters as well. There will be no visions and signs, as mentioned above, but the knowledge here will be based on cause and effect, complete with analogies and similes tat will utterly erase all doubt.
In some cases, meditators will be considering objects of meditation other than the in-and-out breath, and yet will still be able to reach fixed penetration in the same way that those who practice mindfulness of breathing. When the mind gathers to a point where there is no more in-and-out breathing, that's fixed penetration.
This, at any rate, is my opinion on the matter. Meditators shouldn't take my opinion as their criterion, because the thoughts and opinions of people in this world -- even when we see the same things under the same conditions in the same place -- can formulate different names for, and reach different understandings about, those same things, and thus give rise to endless disputes and arguments. Simply let us all work with our own objects of meditation so as to reach fixed penetration as discussed above and then -- with a fair mind free from bias -- compare what we experience with what has been formulated in the various texts. Our knowledge will then be paccatam -- arising exclusively from within ourselves. That is what I would like to see in this regard.
All transcendent phenomena are rooted in mundane phenomena. The 37 components conducive to Awakening (bodhi-pakkhiya-dhamma), which are classified entirely as transcendent, have to begin first with mental and physical phenomena, i.e., this mundane body and mind.
Visions, signs and the knowledge which results from jhana are obstacles to the one-eyed -- those who are simply developing jhana -- but can provoke insight for those with two eyes, i.e., those who are developing discernment along with concentration.
Every sword and ax is made with both a sharp and dull edge, each with its own different uses, but a person who confuses those uses, aside from getting nowhere with the sword or ax, may actually harm himself or the work he is doing. Insight and the defilements of insight come from one and the same basis. When people without discernment consider things wrongly, they will give rise to the defilements of insight; but when they consider things rightly, using the proper approach, the same things will become true insight.
Mundane phenomena -- when we clearly see and know them and their causes for what they are, and when seeing their drawbacks we grow disenchanted with them, not being deluded into latching onto them -- then turn into Dhamma. But when we get taken in by them and are unwilling to let them go...It's not the cause that the world will stay the way it is forever. The world of the Brahmas may degenerate into the world of the Devas; the world of the Devas, into the human world; the human world, into the lower realms. Just as liquids tend to seek out low-lying places, so it is easy for the minds of living beings to seek out what's low -- namely, evil.
Even though the practice of meditation is a self-revolution, you must be willing to risk your life. At the very least, if you don't succeed, you should threaten yourself with self-exile. Those who don't make such a vow can look forward only to being a slave to others -- the defilements -- through time.
Abhiñña: Intuitive powers that come from the practice of concentration.
Asava: Mental effluent; defilement in its role of giving rise to the flood of the cycle of rebirth. There are four sorts: sensuality, becoming, views and unawareness.
Bhavanga: The mind's underlying preoccupation or resting state, which determines its state of being and to which it reverts in between its responses to stimuli.
Bodhi-pakkhiya-dhamma: Wings of Awakening; principles conducive to the attainment of enlightenment. There are 37 in all, and they constitute the Buddha's own summary of the essential points of his teachings: four foundations of mindfulness, four right exertions, four bases for achievement, five strengths, five dominant factors, seven factors of awakening and the Noble Eightfold Path.
Brahma: An inhabitant of the heavens of form and formlessness.
Deva: An inhabitant of the heavens of sensual bliss.
Dhamma: Phenomenon; event; things as they are in and of themselves; the right natural order of things. By extension, Dhamma is used also to refer to any doctrine which teaches such matters.
Jhana: Meditative absorption in a single sensation or mental notion.
Kamma: Intentional acts which lead to states of being and birth.
Khandha: Heap, aggregate, group; the component factors of the personality, and of sensory experience in general -- physical phenomena, feelings, mental labels, thought-formations (see sankhara) and cognizance.
Nivarana: Hindrance to concentration -- sensual desire, ill will, torpor & lethargy, restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty.
Sabhava dhamma: Natural condition; phenomenon; qualities and events as they are directly experienced in and of themselves.
Samadhi: Concentration; the act of centering the mind in a single object or topic.
Sankhara: Conditioned phenomena; formation; fashioning. This term covers all things, physical or mental, fashioned by causes or conditions, as well as the forces which fashion them and the processes by which they are fashioned.
Satipatthana: Foundation of mindfulness; frame of reference. The contemplation of body, feelings, mind and mental events as they are in and of themselves.
Ti-ratana: The triple Gem -- the Buddha, the Dhamma (his teachings, their practice and the realization of liberation at which they are aimed) and the Sangha (those of his followers who have gained at least a glimpse of that liberation). To take refuge in the Triple Gem means to take them as guide in one's pursuit of happiness and to give rise to their qualities in one's life and heart.
Vipassana: Clear insight into things as they actually are, seeing them in terms of the characteristics of inconstancy, stress and not-selfness.
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