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Buddhism 101 (Part 2)

A Talk by Andrea Fella (IMC, September 29, 2009)

(Transcribed and lightly edited by N. Willis)

 

Andrea

I would like this class to be somewhat of an exchange. If you have any questions please feel free to raise your hand. We don’t have to treat this like a regular Dharma talk. I would like this to be understood and so if you have any questions please feel free to ask. We’ll use the microphones so that they’ll be recorded.

 

Student1:

I have a question from last week.

 

Andrea

Ok.

 

Student1:

You said, “Everything has a cause”, and I have a little trouble with that. I think things just happen randomly and they don’t necessarily have a cause. So if you could explain that I’d appreciate it.

 

Andrea

The understanding, particularly around our experiences, is that whatever is happening, there’s some kind of causal chain that has led to our experience. In the Buddhist tradition there are many kinds of causes and conditions. So there are the causes and conditions around the weather – natural causes and conditions. There are causes and conditions around biology, so for instance out of a mango seed a mango tree will grow – that’s the hereditary kind of causality. Then there’s the causality within our minds of how we respond to things, so that when we respond out of greed, aversion or delusion, then our mind stream tends to head in a direction of suffering. When we respond out of non-greed, non-aversion, non-delusion, our mind stream tends to head in a direction of happiness. So the kind of causality the Buddha is talking about isn’t predetermination, so much, but rather a question of patterns and directions. I don’t know if that helps at all.

 

Student1:

Yeah, it helps if we’re talking about our behavior, our response and how that causes some consequence.

 

Andrea

Yes.

 

Student1:

That I understand.

 

Andrea

Ok. Ok. Was there a particular aspect you feel that is just random, for instance?

 

Student1:

Well, I think it’s that statement that *everything* has a cause, but if we’re just talking about human behavior, that I can understand.

 

Andrea

There is this idea in physics where it’s felt there are causes and effects. I mean, it’s not completely understood, and there may be some random patterns that happen within the causal nature of physics – and as our experience interacts with the physical world, the fact that it rains today or the wind is blowing today – that may impact our behavior, and the fact the wind is blowing does have a cause of some sort or other.

But I don’t think it needs to be thought of in terms of determinism, and in fact the Buddha was not a determinist. He explicitly felt like we have a choice in this moment to shape the direction of our future. So that we’re not just completely conditioned by what’s happened in our past, but that, unfolding, we have some ability to choose, here and now – this is the *only* place we have any opportunity to choose – and that we can shape our future experience. That’s how the Path unfolds, essentially.

So I will review a little bit tonight about what I talked about last week. Basically the problem that the Buddha is trying to address in his teaching is the problem of suffering. At one point he said, “All I teach is suffering and the end of suffering”. He picked up a handful of leaves and he asked his monks, “Which is greater – the number of leaves I have in my hands, or the number of leaves on all the trees in the forest?” They said, of course the number of tree in the forest is greater. He replied, “Similarly, what I know and understand is greater than what I’m teaching, but what I’m teaching are the essential things to support your awakening, and that is suffering, and the end of suffering.”

That’s where the teachings are grounded, in this understanding of suffering and how we can become free of it.

In the Buddha’s pre-ascetic life, before he became a renunciate, his life was a life of luxury. He had many, many, sensual pleasures in his life. When he first went out into the world as a renunciate, he learned techniques of meditation that were primarily based in concentration practices. These practices produced great states of bliss, a very refined pleasure, not so much dependent on the conditions of the world, but dependent on conditions internal to the mind and body. He discovered these states did not answer his question, “How do I end suffering?”, because when he came out of those states of meditation he found he was still subject to ageing, sickness and death.

So he decided to take up some ascetic practices. In the time of the Buddha there were many different kind of meditation practices, and he sampled many of them. He practices these ascetic practices to such a degree that he nearly died. He described his body: “When I touched the skin of my belly, I could feel my backbone.” He was that emaciated.

He realized at that point that this too was not the answer. So he ate some food, restored himself to health, and then he asked himself a question – might there be another way?

“Might there be another way?” On the retreat I taught this last weekend, my co-teacher brought up this line. It’s such a beautiful reflection. “Might there be another way?”

He decided to apply the clarity of mind that comes with concentration. Instead of applying it to achieving states of bliss, he decided to apply that clarity of concentration to this question of suffering. What is suffering? Can there be an end of suffering?

He woke up to the realization of the Four Noble Truths: there is suffering; there is a cause of suffering; there can be a cessation of suffering; and there is a path leading to the cessation of suffering.

Last week I talked about suffering and its cause; how suffering comes to be through a process of causes and conditions. Essentially we can use the same process of causes and conditions, the same law of how our minds work, in our favor, to change our minds.

If we follow the habitual inclinations of our mind, we usually end up in suffering. Instead, we can direct our mind stream in the direction of non-greed, non-aversion and non-delusion. This is what the Buddha suggests for us in the Path leading to the cessation of suffering. This path is meant to be cultivated. It is something we have to do, we have to walk this path. It’s not something that we just sit and learn about. It’s not a case of somebody blessing us and we suddenly understand it – it’s something we have to engage in. So the path that we walk is about cultivating skillful qualities of heart and mind.

These skillful qualities are based in non-greed, non-aversion, non-delusion. Or to put it in their positive forms, they’re based in generosity, kindness and wisdom.

When the Buddha came out of his awakening experience and looked at the world, he had a poignant realization: he saw that beings wish to be happy. He saw people doing what they thought would make them happy, but what actually ultimately led them away from happiness.

The Buddha recognized that in our wish to be happy we fundamentally misunderstand where happiness can be found.

I referred to this last week – we usually seek happiness through trying to arrange the world, trying to arrange our experience so that we meet things that are pleasant more often, and don’t meet things that are unpleasant. We’re continually trying to arrange the world. The movement in the Path is about turning away from trying to arrange the world, the outer world, and turning towards cultivating inner qualities – turning towards cultivating the inner landscape. Cultivating qualities like joy, generosity, happiness, tranquility, concentration, mindfulness, wisdom, energy and equanimity.

To cultivate these skillful qualities, the Buddha offers a path. Buddhism offers a path. There are different ways this path is discussed in the suttas. I’m going to talk about two basic frameworks, but mostly I’ll focus on the Eightfold Path.

So the first framework that is used to describe the path uses the framework of generosity (or giving), ethics and mental cultivation. The Pali terms for these are dana, sila and bhavana. You may have heard these terms before.

Dana is the practice of giving, the practice of offering. Not only financial offering, but offering of oneself. I’ll talk about dana a bit more in a few moments, because it was the first thing that the Buddha taught to lay people – this practice of dana, the practice of giving.

The practice of giving is meant to counteract some of the most obvious forms of greed. As we give, we learn how to let go, and we learn how to connect with other people. It supports the movement of non-greed, and supports a connection of kindness. So the practice of giving supports both non-greed and non-aversion.

The practice of sila, the practice of ethics, is cultivating ethical conduct, cultivating non-harming behavior towards our fellow beings. Again, this counteracts some of the more obvious forms of greed and aversion.

The third, bhavana, mental cultivation, is basically the development of mental qualities.

The Buddha taught a gradual training, starting from where we are, and depending on who he was talking to, he discussed how the Path unfolded in different ways. For lay people he typically started this discussion with dana, the practice of giving.

There are two Pali terms that relate to dana. There’s the term dana itself, which is the actual act of giving. Then there’s the Palli term caga, which is the inner quality that is cultivated through the act of giving, the quality of generosity. So we practice giving in order to cultivate this inner quality of generosity, because the Path is all about inner qualities.

The first effect the Buddha pointed to in terms of walking the Path is to change behavior. That begins to have an impact on the mind. So as we modify our behavior, as we give more, we become more generous. As we behave ethically, we become more kind. So the Path is all about cultivating inner qualities, and he starts us through the outer world, or outer connections with others, through our relationships.

The Buddha emphasized the benefits of giving, and he said, “If beings knew as I know the result of giving and sharing, they would not eat without having shared it, if there was someone to share it with.” So he spoke very highly of this act of giving and of its benefits.

The giving, as I mentioned before, cultivates letting go, it cultivates non-greed, and these support the underlying understanding that suffering results from wanting things to be a certain way – wanting to have the things we like, wanting to get rid of the things we don’t like – and so this act of giving begins to encourage a sense of letting go, which points us in the direction of letting go of needing to have everything be just the way we want it.

There are so many different ways of giving, so many different aspects to giving. I think the first thing we often think of is giving money. That’s how our culture works – we’re a money-based culture. But there are so many things that we can give – we can give ourselves, we can give material goods, obviously, we can give services, we can give our time. We can give our presence. As we cultivate this path, as we begin to cultivate these beautiful qualities that the Buddha is suggesting we attend to, we can share them through our presence.

This is considered to be a beautiful gift to share with the world. Likewise, the cultivation of ethical conduct is also said to be a gift. It’s said to be the gift of fearlessness to countless beings when one behaves ethically.

So this teaching of generosity, of dana, of giving, is a beginning for us, a place where we can see where we’re clinging, where we’re holding, some of the things we’re clinging and holding to.

The second framework to describe the Path, and main way that the path is described in the Buddhist texts is through the teaching of the Eightfold Path. The teaching of the Eightfold Path overlaps with the sila and bhavana portions of the first framework I talked about. The dana portion of that framework is not explicitly in the Eightfold Path, which is why I talked about it separately through that framework of dana, sila, and bhavana.

The qualities of the Eightfold Path are: right understanding, or wise understanding; wise intention; wise speech; wise action; wise livelihood; wise effort; wise mindfulness; and wise concentration. These qualities of understanding, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration are qualities that the Buddha is encouraging us to cultivate.

The Eightfold Path can be seen as a series of steps, and it’s often taught that way as one leading to another, but they really are interdependent and interrelated. You cannot cultivate one in the absence of cultivating the others. If you want to highlight one of these qualities in your practice, wise speech for instance, you need to have a basic understanding of what skillful and unskillful speech are. That begins to cultivate wise understanding. You have to have the intention to speak skillfully, which cultivates wise intention. You need to make the effort to cultivate skillful speech and let go of unskillful speech, which is wise effort, and you need to be mindful in order to know what you’re saying while you’re saying it, which is wise mindfulness.

That one practice of wise speech pulls along many others qualities at the same time. So the factors of the Eightfold Path can’t really be separated out. I like to think of the Eightfold Path as all the qualities folded on each other, they all meet each other. But in spite of the fact that they are folded on each other, there is a standard way to explore these qualities, giving a partial direction to how our practice might unfold.

One teaching that’s overlaid on top of the Eightfold Path is the training of sila, samadhi, and pañña: ethics, concentration and wisdom.

Sila means ethics; samadhi means concentration; and pañña means wisdom. The eight aspects of the Eightfold Path fall into these different categories. Into the category of sila, of ethics, fall wise speech, wise action and wise livelihood. We cultivate these behaviors to support our ethical conduct. The aspects of wise effort, wise mindfulness and wise concentration come under the area of samadhi, which means concentration, but in this sense is a broader definition of concentration. That is, how do we become concentrated? What is the way that concentration unfolds? We need effort, we need mindfulness, and we need the quality of concentration itself in order for concentration to become wise concentration.

The wisdom aspect includes wise understanding and wise intention. As we walk this Path and cultivating these qualities, understanding arises, a wise understanding – insight. We begin to understand and see very deeply into the nature of experience. From those insights arises a natural inclination or intention to behave in line with those insights. To behave in such a way that we are not in conflict with the nature of our experience, the nature of what is happening – the nature of truth, essentially.

This gradual training taught by the Buddha begins with the cultivation of sila, the cultivation of ethics, as the framework of sila, samadhi, pañña indicates. But the Eightfold Path is framed to begin with wisdom. It begins with right understanding or wise understanding and wise intention – the first two qualities of the Eightfold Path. Then it moves into wise speech, wise action, wise livelihood, wise effort, wise mindfulness, and wise concentration.

So the framework of the Eightfold Path begins with wisdom, and then moves on to ethics and then to concentration, developing the meditation.

I think the fact that both of these frameworks are described in the texts indicates that we need to begin our practice with some level of wisdom. We’re not even going to begin practicing this path unless we have an inkling of what suffering is, and an inkling of the possibility that there might be the means to end suffering. Many people come to Buddhist practice through an encounter with suffering. The Buddha said that when we meet suffering, it leads either to bewilderment, or to investigation. When we become bewildered we just become confused and deluded and lost in our old habits and patterns. If we meet suffering and have the inclination towards investigation, then we end up with that question the Buddha asked when he redirected his practice. “Might there be another way?”

I had this experience. I was immersed in suffering, and realized that I had tried everything that I knew in terms of how to be happy. I felt like I had hit rock bottom. When somebody sent me a book about meditation, I thought, “Well, I might as well try this. It says it helps.” It looked promising, although I was kind of skeptical, but I thought I would give it a try.

So the two factors that had to come together here were not only the meeting of suffering and the inclination towards investigation, but the proposition that suggests it’s possible to end suffering. That’s what begins to move us onto the Path. So we meet some teachings, we meet a little bit of wisdom. In my own case it was the smallest little bit of wisdom: just try paying attention to my emotions instead of acting them out.

It changed my life. It completely changed my life.

So this bit of wisdom with the intention to follow it, these two factors wise understanding and wise intention – they move us onto the Path. And then we begin.

Now, at the beginning our understanding and our intention are not completely – purified is the word that is used in the Buddhist teachings. That is, our understanding of wise understanding and wise intention is still incomplete. It takes walking the Path to have us come to a full understanding of wisdom.

We have to begin our path with some level of wisdom, which is my understanding of why it’s the first thing in the Eightfold Path. Our path also ends with the arising of wisdom, having walked the Path, which is I believe why the alternative framework for the eightfold path is ethics, concentration, wisdom.

We practice ethics. The Buddha pointed us to grounding our behavior in the world with ethics. As we behave in that way, as we behave ethically, it settles the mind. When we behave ethically it offers us what the Buddha calls the bliss of blamelessness – freedom from remorse. Through that foundation of ethical conduct, we can cultivate the more subtle inner qualities that are needed to deeply understand how to be happy in this world. To re-orient or shift our whole perspective on what happiness is.

Yes, a question?

 

Student2:

It says right understanding, right speech etcetera. Is what you’re trying to do is to learn what is right in each situation?

 

Andrea

The practice is about learning how certain qualities or attitudes of mind lead us toward suffering, and how others lead us away from suffering. The Buddha suggests that greed, aversion and delusion are the qualities that will lead us into suffering, whether they motivate speech, action or livelihood. The understanding of which qualities are motivated, which actions are motivated by greed, aversion and delusion, is how we begin to learn. So that’s where we begin – we begin though this understanding, this teasing apart in our own experience, which actions are based on greed, aversion and delusion, and understanding the consequences of acting on those.

It’s a process of trial and error, essentially. The sila teachings are very much in that vein. The sila teachings sound a lot like the moral teachings that we’re used to from the Ten Commandments. The teaching on right speech includes refraining from lying, false speech, refraining from harsh speech, divisive speech, refraining from frivolous speech. The aspect of wise action includes refraining from killing, refraining from taking what is not given, and refraining from sexual misconduct – adultery in the texts.

They sound a lot like these “Thou shalt not” statements, but they’re taken up as training rules because in general if you’re acting in ways that are in these categories – if you’re lying, if you’re killing, if you’re stealing – you are probably acting out of greed, aversion and delusion.

Those actions cause harm not only to others, but also to your own mind stream. So it’s very practical to observe them. The Buddha suggested if you get in the territory of these actions you’re getting close to trouble, so you probably want to avoid them. But the idea isn’t to just avoid these actions because it’s “wrong” and do other things because it’s “right” – that is a blind way of following the ethical practices. The practice of ethics is more of an internal exploration. If you’re practicing refraining from killing, for instance, and you’re exploring what your mind is doing, you might notice when mosquito land on you, as you automatically go to swat it, that there’s aversion in your mind.

So in the tempering of that movement to swat, and brushing the mosquito away instead – even if there is still aversion to the mosquito – you have tempered that aversion. You’re heading more in the direction of non-aversion. These teachings on ethics – on wise speech, wise action, wise livelihood – are meant to head us in the direction of non-greed, non-aversion, non-delusion, at the level of our bodily action.

Wise livelihood: earlier I talked about the aspects of wise speech and wise action. Wise livelihood is essentially refraining from a livelihood in which one cannot engage in wise speech and wise action. So if your profession requires you to lie, to kill, to steal, then that is something that the Buddha would suggest is harming you, that this is not supporting your awakening. He doesn’t make a moral judgment about it so much as he says, “These actions create suffering in the world and if you want happiness, you should find ways to reduce suffering in the world”. He’s very pragmatic, and not so much judgmental, at least in the way I feel it in my own heart.

Yes, another question?

 

Student3:

(inaudible)

 

Andrea

She said: a while ago I mentioned ethics and fearlessness, and that piqued her curiosity.

The idea is that when we behave ethically, if we behave with the commitment to not killing, not stealing, not lying, then anyone in our presence can be confident. Over time if somebody has that strong ethical presence, people are not afraid, beings are not afraid in their presence. Because they know that this being is safe. The gift of fearlessness in given to all beings in your presence, essentially. They can be free of fear of you.

Any other questions about ethics?

 

Student4:

Would you go back to the category in which you have giving, ethics and mental cultivation? You have sila twice – I somehow missed this category and the one after it in the Eightfold Path.

 

Andrea

Ok. There are two frameworks that are often discussed with respect to the path. The first is ‘dana, sila, bhavana’, which is giving, ethics, and mental cultivation. That essentially encompasses the practices that we engage in on the path. This first framework – ‘dana, sila, bhavana’- overlaps with the second framework – ‘sila (ethics), samadhi (concentration), pañña (wisdom).

This second framwork overlays directly onto the Eightfold Path. Sila maps onto wise speech, wise action and wise livelihood. Samadhi maps onto wise effort, wise mindfulness and wise concentration. Pañña maps onto wise understanding and wise intention.

The first framework of ‘dana, sila, bhavana’ overlaps with the second framework of ‘sila, samadhi, pañña’: sila bhavana overlaps with sila samadhi.

The first framework, dana (giving), sila (ethics), bhavana (mental cultivation) doesn’t explicitly include wisdom. The second framework, sila (ethics), samadhi (concentration), pañña, (wisdom) doesn’t explicitly include dana, giving. So that’s why I’m putting them both out there. But they overlap in the middle two aspects of sila and Samadhi/bhavana.

 

Student5:

I may be getting ahead of this a little bit or behind it, but my understanding thus far of the Eightfold Path is that it’s a way of managing whatever it is that we kind of put out into the world. And then, I know somewhere in Buddhism there’s this notion of detachment from results, and I sort of get it intellectually, but I’m wondering if you can comment more on the process of bringing it down to experience.

 

Andrea

That comes under samadhi. So yes, that’s the next area I want to talk about. Any other questions before I move on to that? Ok.

So as you pointed out, mostly what we’ve talked about so far on the Eightfold Path is looking at how our mind state impacts our behavior, which impacts the world and how can we manage that. Essentially this quality of managing our behavior impacts or rebounds on our mind stream to cultivate some of these beautiful qualities to reduce greed, aversion and delusion in our minds. But that’s just the beginning – getting to the level where our behavior and interactions are smooth is just the beginning. We need to go further to get to the place where we really deeply understand how happiness works – which relates to your question of letting go of results – one of the ways happiness really works.

When we work with sila, working with the ethical aspect of the Eightfold Path, we start to gain an appreciation for those qualities of mind that lead us away from suffering. We see the benefits of moving in this direction – we see that our hearts are lighter, our relationships are better; we’re essentially cultivating a field of skillful relationships. Our lives become smoother through this process.

We see the benefit of making the effort in this direction, and we also see that it takes effort. We have to keep trying. This is not a one-time deal. We don’t take these ethical precepts and that’s the end of it. We make mistakes, we come back, we have to resolve over and over again to keep trying, to keep cultivating these qualities.

Wise effort is the foundation for wise concentration, the samadhi aspect of the Eightfold Path. So while the sila aspect, wise speech, wise action and wise livelihood are about cultivating wholesome behaviors and actions in the world, the instruction for developing wise concentration is about cultivating beautiful, wholesome qualities of mind. Having taken care of the outer actions, we now move into more of an internal cultivation.

So the three aspects of this part of the Path are effort, mindfulness and concentration.

The teaching on wise effort – and this I’m going to cover fairly briefly – is about cultivating qualities that are skillful and letting go of qualities that are unskillful.

There are four aspects around the teaching of wise effort. We make wise effort towards noticing when we’re caught by unskillful states of mind. So noticing when we’re caught by anger, aversion, greed, frustration, irritation, annoyance, and seeing if we can let them go. Or perhaps let them be with mindfulness. So as with that little wisdom I learned, which I mentioned earlier, try observing your emotions instead of acting upon them.

That’s cultivating this first part of wise effort, of abandoning, letting go of unskillful states of mind. Often people think that abandoning means actively let go of something. But more often, actually, in our experience, it’s more about letting be than actively letting go. So not engaging with unwholesome qualities of mind: not engaging with anger, not engaging with frustration, but also not repressing them. Not pushing them down. If you see a quality such as anger and frustration and you feel, “that’s a bad quality, I need to get rid of it”, that’s adding aversion to the anger and frustration, so it’s cultivating aversion. This is part of what the Buddha means by the middle path, that we neither act out on unskillful things and nor do we repress them.

We see if we can just be aware of them. This is the first quality of wise effort. The second quality of wise effort has to do with cultivating the conditions that support us to not being caught by unskillful states of mind. This is the aspect of wise effort called avoidance. We learn through trial and error, through observing our experience, what are the situations, what are the conditions that lead us into anger, frustration, irritation and annoyance. Then we learn to avoid those conditions. Here’s a simple example. If you notice that when you’re driving that you’re often agitated because you’re rushing to get somewhere, the condition that creates this is often not leaving enough time to get there. Very simple. You can support yourself to let go of that agitation by leaving more than enough time to get there.

So that’s the kind of thing that is meant by this second aspect of wise effort, the effort of avoiding. Essentially this is about protecting yourself from unskillful mind states. So the first two aspects of wise effort have to do with abandoning and avoiding unwholesome states. The last two aspects have to do with cultivating and maintaining skillful states.

Creating the conditions, noticing again through observation of our experience, what are the conditions that tend to support the arising of wholesome qualities? What are the conditions that tend to support peacefulness, calm, tranquility, equanimity, or happiness? What are the conditions in our lives that support those things? See if you can add more of these to your life. Many of you do this regularly through engaging in meditation. Many of you have a very strong sense that when you sit down in meditation, it supports an ease through not only the time of meditation – it may or may not be a pleasant meditation – but in general throughout the day it tends to, over time, support a more easeful interaction with our experience.

So, learning where our behaviors and actions support our movement towards non-greed, non-aversion, non-delusion. And then noticing when skillful states are present – when joy, happiness, calm, peacefulness, tranquility are present – and seeing if you can maintain them. Now this teaching often sounds really different from the teaching that we get about mindfulness, which is just simply to pay attention to what’s happening in the moment, and don’t try to change anything, just observe it. This has a much more active quality to it. So I want to address that a little bit in moving into wise mindfulness.

One of my teachers, Sayadaw U Pandita, calls the quality of mindfulness the most skillful, most wholesome mind state that you can cultivate. So in the first place, when you are cultivating mindfulness, you are cultivating a wholesome mind state. That itself is acting in line with wise effort, of cultivating wholesome mind states. You’re cultivating mindfulness itself. The quality of mindfulness itself also contains all of the right efforts. So as you engage with your experience through mindfulness, if you’re observing unskillful, unwholesome qualities of mind, such as anger, frustration, irritation, annoyance – you are creating the conditions for those qualities to appear less frequently in the future, if you are simply engaging with them in mindfulness.

So the act of bringing mindfulness to unskillful, unwholesome qualities fulfils the first two aspects of wise effort, of abandoning and avoiding unwholesome mind states. And we are also actively cultivating mindfulness itself.

If we’re engaged in observing wholesome qualities of mind, if joy is arising, happiness is arising, if there’s a wholesome happiness arising, and we bring mindfulness to it, it creates the causes and conditions for that to appear more frequently in our experience. This may seem counter-intuitive: when you bring mindfulness to unskillful qualities, it tends to make them diminish. When you bring mindfulness to skillful qualities, it tends to make them increase. So the quality of mindfulness actually contains the four right efforts in it.

In practicing mindfulness, you are practicing the four right efforts. Yet there are times when it’s difficult to simply be mindful of experience. In that case the Buddha offers the teachings on wise effort to help guide us in the direction towards letting go of the unskillful and cultivating the skillful.

So wise mindfulness, there’s – I can talk about this for weeks! (laughs) And I have ten minutes. I’ll have to do this quickly!

 

Student6:

Don’t forget concentration.

 

Andrea

I know. I’ve got concentration to do too. (laughs) So I’ve got five minutes each, ok.

What the Buddha taught for wise mindfulness is basically that mindfulness is a very skillful quality to cultivate. He pointed to mindfulness as being incredibly helpful for us. I think it’s brilliant that he pointed out this quality, which is such an ordinary quality in our experience. He directed us to pay attention to our experience in a particular way. He had two main teachings on this. The first is the four foundations of mindfulness, which are the Buddha’s main meditation instructions.

He taught awareness, mindfulness of the body, bringing attention into the physical body, knowing the breathing, knowing the physical elemental experience of the physical body, knowing just the coming and going nature of the body in a very general sense of the word he called “clear comprehension”. When you’re walking, know that you’re walking; when you’re coming and going, know that you’re coming and going; when you’re eating, know that you’re eating; when you’re defecating and urinating, know that you’re defecating and urinating. Those words are actually in the suttas.

So it’s just at a very basic level, just knowing what the body is doing. Recognizing posture – are you standing, walking, sitting, lying down? Turning attention to the body. This supports a grounding of the attention in the present moment. I think that’s probably why he put the body first. Because the body is in the present moment, and when we bring our attention into the body, we are coming into the present moment. So turning attention to the body.

The second foundation of mindfulness is feeling. This feeling isn’t emotions, per se, but it’s the quality or aspect of feeling at a very basic level, of whether something is pleasant, unpleasant, or neither pleasant nor unpleasant: pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. So turning attention to that feeling tone aspect of experience.

The third foundation of mindfulness concerns the mental states, which basically is kind of the whole field of emotions and thoughts that occur in our minds. The fourth foundation is called mindfulness of Dhammas. One way understanding it is as how everything is interrelated, seeing how patterns come together, how patterns form in our experience. So how the body and mind interrelate is the fourth foundation of mindfulness.

One teacher, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Than Geoff), offers a different translation of the four foundations of mindfulness. The Pali term ‘Satipatthana’ is traditionally translated as “foundations of mindfulness”. Than Geoff prefers the translation, ‘the four frames of reference’. I like this, because what he’s pointing to is that the Buddha is saying that these four aspects of experience – the body, feelings, mental states, and the interrelationships between mind and body, are skillful things to pay attention to. Any one of these things can be seen in any moment of our experience. In any moment of our experience there’s the bodily component. In any moment of our experience there’s whether something’s pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. In any moment of our experience there’s something going on in our minds. In any moment of experience there’s this connection between body and mind, and how there’s a cause and effect relationship between what happens in our body and what happens in our mind.

So we can look at our experience through any one of these lenses, through any one of these frames of reference. It’s a way of simplifying our experience. Choose this frame of reference for a while. Get to know it really well. Get to know the body really well. Then choose feeling for a while. Get to know feeling really well.

The practice of the foundations of mindfulness is about pointing us to particular areas of experience that are helpful for us in terms of understanding suffering. Again, this is the direction the Buddha is pointing us. He’s not simply saying, “Just pay attention to your experience.” He’s telling us what we need to pull out of our experience. Not that there’s anything we avoid or ignore in our experience, but we can see whatever’s happening through one of these lenses, and this will be supportive to us in terms of our awakening.

The second main way that the Buddha suggested we bring mindfulness to our experience is through the framework of the Four Noble Truths. In one of my favorite suttas he says, “One who attends wisely, one who brings wise attention to his or her experience, attends, ‘This is suffering. This is the cause of suffering. This is the cessation of suffering. This is the path leading to the cessation of suffering'”.

Originally I didn’t quite understand this, because I thought it was just a re-statement of the Four Noble Truths, but then I began to realize he’s pointing us to the present moment, and that any present moment experience can be understood through one of these facets of experience. What we are experiencing is either suffering; it’s the cause of suffering, the craving, the wanting; it’s the cultivation of qualities that support us moving away from suffering – this is the path leading to the cessation of suffering; or we are experiencing the ending of suffering. This is another very interesting way to explore our experience.

Mindfulness directed skillfully is the key of the Buddha’s teaching. Mindfulness directed towards this exploration of, “What is suffering? What is the end of suffering? What are the causes of suffering? How do I cultivate things that support the ending of suffering?” Not just a theoretical concept, but actually moment-to-moment in our experience, looking at what moves us in that direction.

The last aspect that I’ll talk about tonight is samadhi – I’m saving all of wisdom for next week. (laughs)

Through mindfulness we really begin to understand a lot about suffering. But it takes the depth of concentration, a strong cultivation of concentration, to really penetrate the recesses of the mind that cling to greed, aversion and delusion. Our habitual clinging to greed, aversion and delusion goes very deep. Particularly delusion – delusion goes very deep. So deep that we really don’t see that we’re deluded much of the time. It takes concentration to really begin to penetrate this delusion.

There are two basic kinds of concentration. One is a single-pointed concentration, which is what most people understand by the term ‘concentration’. We focus on the breath, and we don’t let our attention waver from the breath. It’s a very focused experience. That’s a very powerful form of concentration.

Then there is a form of concentration that is not focused on any one experience, but is continuously aware, moment-to-moment. Essentially a continuity of mindfulness moment-to-moment brings a concentration to the mind. This kind of concentration is called momentary concentration as opposed to absorbed concentration, which is the single-pointed kind of concentration.

This moment-to-moment concentration is essentially about stability of the awareness or stability of the mindfulness itself. So that the mind doesn’t have to be stable on one thing, but the awareness is stable – so anything can be coming into the awareness and it’s not sending the mind off in any direction. The mind can stay present for whatever arises in the present moment, and not be reactive, not be pulled out of balance.

This is really the kind of concentration that allows us to penetrate deeply into the nature of our minds, into the nature of the truth of the moment.

So mindfulness supported by concentration leads to insight – and they both need to be very strong in order for insight to arise. That insight is essentially the arising of wisdom, the l

Buddhism 101 (Part 2)

A Talk by Andrea Fella (IMC, September 29, 2009)

(Transcribed and lightly edited by N. Willis)

 

Andrea

I would like this class to be somewhat of an exchange. If you have any questions please feel free to raise your hand. We don’t have to treat this like a regular Dharma talk. I would like this to be understood and so if you have any questions please feel free to ask. We’ll use the microphones so that they’ll be recorded.

 

Student1:

I have a question from last week.

 

Andrea

Ok.

 

Student1:

You said, “Everything has a cause”, and I have a little trouble with that. I think things just happen randomly and they don’t necessarily have a cause. So if you could explain that I’d appreciate it.

 

Andrea

The understanding, particularly around our experiences, is that whatever is happening, there’s some kind of causal chain that has led to our experience. In the Buddhist tradition there are many kinds of causes and conditions. So there are the causes and conditions around the weather – natural causes and conditions. There are causes and conditions around biology, so for instance out of a mango seed a mango tree will grow – that’s the hereditary kind of causality. Then there’s the causality within our minds of how we respond to things, so that when we respond out of greed, aversion or delusion, then our mind stream tends to head in a direction of suffering. When we respond out of non-greed, non-aversion, non-delusion, our mind stream tends to head in a direction of happiness. So the kind of causality the Buddha is talking about isn’t predetermination, so much, but rather a question of patterns and directions. I don’t know if that helps at all.

 

Student1:

Yeah, it helps if we’re talking about our behavior, our response and how that causes some consequence.

 

Andrea

Yes.

 

Student1:

That I understand.

 

Andrea

Ok. Ok. Was there a particular aspect you feel that is just random, for instance?

 

Student1:

Well, I think it’s that statement that *everything* has a cause, but if we’re just talking about human behavior, that I can understand.

 

Andrea

There is this idea in physics where it’s felt there are causes and effects. I mean, it’s not completely understood, and there may be some random patterns that happen within the causal nature of physics – and as our experience interacts with the physical world, the fact that it rains today or the wind is blowing today – that may impact our behavior, and the fact the wind is blowing does have a cause of some sort or other.

But I don’t think it needs to be thought of in terms of determinism, and in fact the Buddha was not a determinist. He explicitly felt like we have a choice in this moment to shape the direction of our future. So that we’re not just completely conditioned by what’s happened in our past, but that, unfolding, we have some ability to choose, here and now – this is the *only* place we have any opportunity to choose – and that we can shape our future experience. That’s how the Path unfolds, essentially.

So I will review a little bit tonight about what I talked about last week. Basically the problem that the Buddha is trying to address in his teaching is the problem of suffering. At one point he said, “All I teach is suffering and the end of suffering”. He picked up a handful of leaves and he asked his monks, “Which is greater – the number of leaves I have in my hands, or the number of leaves on all the trees in the forest?” They said, of course the number of tree in the forest is greater. He replied, “Similarly, what I know and understand is greater than what I’m teaching, but what I’m teaching are the essential things to support your awakening, and that is suffering, and the end of suffering.”

That’s where the teachings are grounded, in this understanding of suffering and how we can become free of it.

In the Buddha’s pre-ascetic life, before he became a renunciate, his life was a life of luxury. He had many, many, sensual pleasures in his life. When he first went out into the world as a renunciate, he learned techniques of meditation that were primarily based in concentration practices. These practices produced great states of bliss, a very refined pleasure, not so much dependent on the conditions of the world, but dependent on conditions internal to the mind and body. He discovered these states did not answer his question, “How do I end suffering?”, because when he came out of those states of meditation he found he was still subject to ageing, sickness and death.

So he decided to take up some ascetic practices. In the time of the Buddha there were many different kind of meditation practices, and he sampled many of them. He practices these ascetic practices to such a degree that he nearly died. He described his body: “When I touched the skin of my belly, I could feel my backbone.” He was that emaciated.

He realized at that point that this too was not the answer. So he ate some food, restored himself to health, and then he asked himself a question – might there be another way?

“Might there be another way?” On the retreat I taught this last weekend, my co-teacher brought up this line. It’s such a beautiful reflection. “Might there be another way?”

He decided to apply the clarity of mind that comes with concentration. Instead of applying it to achieving states of bliss, he decided to apply that clarity of concentration to this question of suffering. What is suffering? Can there be an end of suffering?

He woke up to the realization of the Four Noble Truths: there is suffering; there is a cause of suffering; there can be a cessation of suffering; and there is a path leading to the cessation of suffering.

Last week I talked about suffering and its cause; how suffering comes to be through a process of causes and conditions. Essentially we can use the same process of causes and conditions, the same law of how our minds work, in our favor, to change our minds.

If we follow the habitual inclinations of our mind, we usually end up in suffering. Instead, we can direct our mind stream in the direction of non-greed, non-aversion and non-delusion. This is what the Buddha suggests for us in the Path leading to the cessation of suffering. This path is meant to be cultivated. It is something we have to do, we have to walk this path. It’s not something that we just sit and learn about. It’s not a case of somebody blessing us and we suddenly understand it – it’s something we have to engage in. So the path that we walk is about cultivating skillful qualities of heart and mind.

These skillful qualities are based in non-greed, non-aversion, non-delusion. Or to put it in their positive forms, they’re based in generosity, kindness and wisdom.

When the Buddha came out of his awakening experience and looked at the world, he had a poignant realization: he saw that beings wish to be happy. He saw people doing what they thought would make them happy, but what actually ultimately led them away from happiness.

The Buddha recognized that in our wish to be happy we fundamentally misunderstand where happiness can be found.

I referred to this last week – we usually seek happiness through trying to arrange the world, trying to arrange our experience so that we meet things that are pleasant more often, and don’t meet things that are unpleasant. We’re continually trying to arrange the world. The movement in the Path is about turning away from trying to arrange the world, the outer world, and turning towards cultivating inner qualities – turning towards cultivating the inner landscape. Cultivating qualities like joy, generosity, happiness, tranquility, concentration, mindfulness, wisdom, energy and equanimity.

To cultivate these skillful qualities, the Buddha offers a path. Buddhism offers a path. There are different ways this path is discussed in the suttas. I’m going to talk about two basic frameworks, but mostly I’ll focus on the Eightfold Path.

So the first framework that is used to describe the path uses the framework of generosity (or giving), ethics and mental cultivation. The Pali terms for these are dana, sila and bhavana. You may have heard these terms before.

Dana is the practice of giving, the practice of offering. Not only financial offering, but offering of oneself. I’ll talk about dana a bit more in a few moments, because it was the first thing that the Buddha taught to lay people – this practice of dana, the practice of giving.

The practice of giving is meant to counteract some of the most obvious forms of greed. As we give, we learn how to let go, and we learn how to connect with other people. It supports the movement of non-greed, and supports a connection of kindness. So the practice of giving supports both non-greed and non-aversion.

The practice of sila, the practice of ethics, is cultivating ethical conduct, cultivating non-harming behavior towards our fellow beings. Again, this counteracts some of the more obvious forms of greed and aversion.

The third, bhavana, mental cultivation, is basically the development of mental qualities.

The Buddha taught a gradual training, starting from where we are, and depending on who he was talking to, he discussed how the Path unfolded in different ways. For lay people he typically started this discussion with dana, the practice of giving.

There are two Pali terms that relate to dana. There’s the term dana itself, which is the actual act of giving. Then there’s the Palli term caga, which is the inner quality that is cultivated through the act of giving, the quality of generosity. So we practice giving in order to cultivate this inner quality of generosity, because the Path is all about inner qualities.

The first effect the Buddha pointed to in terms of walking the Path is to change behavior. That begins to have an impact on the mind. So as we modify our behavior, as we give more, we become more generous. As we behave ethically, we become more kind. So the Path is all about cultivating inner qualities, and he starts us through the outer world, or outer connections with others, through our relationships.

The Buddha emphasized the benefits of giving, and he said, “If beings knew as I know the result of giving and sharing, they would not eat without having shared it, if there was someone to share it with.” So he spoke very highly of this act of giving and of its benefits.

The giving, as I mentioned before, cultivates letting go, it cultivates non-greed, and these support the underlying understanding that suffering results from wanting things to be a certain way – wanting to have the things we like, wanting to get rid of the things we don’t like – and so this act of giving begins to encourage a sense of letting go, which points us in the direction of letting go of needing to have everything be just the way we want it.

There are so many different ways of giving, so many different aspects to giving. I think the first thing we often think of is giving money. That’s how our culture works – we’re a money-based culture. But there are so many things that we can give – we can give ourselves, we can give material goods, obviously, we can give services, we can give our time. We can give our presence. As we cultivate this path, as we begin to cultivate these beautiful qualities that the Buddha is suggesting we attend to, we can share them through our presence.

This is considered to be a beautiful gift to share with the world. Likewise, the cultivation of ethical conduct is also said to be a gift. It’s said to be the gift of fearlessness to countless beings when one behaves ethically.

So this teaching of generosity, of dana, of giving, is a beginning for us, a place where we can see where we’re clinging, where we’re holding, some of the things we’re clinging and holding to.

The second framework to describe the Path, and main way that the path is described in the Buddhist texts is through the teaching of the Eightfold Path. The teaching of the Eightfold Path overlaps with the sila and bhavana portions of the first framework I talked about. The dana portion of that framework is not explicitly in the Eightfold Path, which is why I talked about it separately through that framework of dana, sila, and bhavana.

The qualities of the Eightfold Path are: right understanding, or wise understanding; wise intention; wise speech; wise action; wise livelihood; wise effort; wise mindfulness; and wise concentration. These qualities of understanding, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration are qualities that the Buddha is encouraging us to cultivate.

The Eightfold Path can be seen as a series of steps, and it’s often taught that way as one leading to another, but they really are interdependent and interrelated. You cannot cultivate one in the absence of cultivating the others. If you want to highlight one of these qualities in your practice, wise speech for instance, you need to have a basic understanding of what skillful and unskillful speech are. That begins to cultivate wise understanding. You have to have the intention to speak skillfully, which cultivates wise intention. You need to make the effort to cultivate skillful speech and let go of unskillful speech, which is wise effort, and you need to be mindful in order to know what you’re saying while you’re saying it, which is wise mindfulness.

That one practice of wise speech pulls along many others qualities at the same time. So the factors of the Eightfold Path can’t really be separated out. I like to think of the Eightfold Path as all the qualities folded on each other, they all meet each other. But in spite of the fact that they are folded on each other, there is a standard way to explore these qualities, giving a partial direction to how our practice might unfold.

One teaching that’s overlaid on top of the Eightfold Path is the training of sila, samadhi, and pañña: ethics, concentration and wisdom.

Sila means ethics; samadhi means concentration; and pañña means wisdom. The eight aspects of the Eightfold Path fall into these different categories. Into the category of sila, of ethics, fall wise speech, wise action and wise livelihood. We cultivate these behaviors to support our ethical conduct. The aspects of wise effort, wise mindfulness and wise concentration come under the area of samadhi, which means concentration, but in this sense is a broader definition of concentration. That is, how do we become concentrated? What is the way that concentration unfolds? We need effort, we need mindfulness, and we need the quality of concentration itself in order for concentration to become wise concentration.

The wisdom aspect includes wise understanding and wise intention. As we walk this Path and cultivating these qualities, understanding arises, a wise understanding – insight. We begin to understand and see very deeply into the nature of experience. From those insights arises a natural inclination or intention to behave in line with those insights. To behave in such a way that we are not in conflict with the nature of our experience, the nature of what is happening – the nature of truth, essentially.

This gradual training taught by the Buddha begins with the cultivation of sila, the cultivation of ethics, as the framework of sila, samadhi, pañña indicates. But the Eightfold Path is framed to begin with wisdom. It begins with right understanding or wise understanding and wise intention – the first two qualities of the Eightfold Path. Then it moves into wise speech, wise action, wise livelihood, wise effort, wise mindfulness, and wise concentration.

So the framework of the Eightfold Path begins with wisdom, and then moves on to ethics and then to concentration, developing the meditation.

I think the fact that both of these frameworks are described in the texts indicates that we need to begin our practice with some level of wisdom. We’re not even going to begin practicing this path unless we have an inkling of what suffering is, and an inkling of the possibility that there might be the means to end suffering. Many people come to Buddhist practice through an encounter with suffering. The Buddha said that when we meet suffering, it leads either to bewilderment, or to investigation. When we become bewildered we just become confused and deluded and lost in our old habits and patterns. If we meet suffering and have the inclination towards investigation, then we end up with that question the Buddha asked when he redirected his practice. “Might there be another way?”

I had this experience. I was immersed in suffering, and realized that I had tried everything that I knew in terms of how to be happy. I felt like I had hit rock bottom. When somebody sent me a book about meditation, I thought, “Well, I might as well try this. It says it helps.” It looked promising, although I was kind of skeptical, but I thought I would give it a try.

So the two factors that had to come together here were not only the meeting of suffering and the inclination towards investigation, but the proposition that suggests it’s possible to end suffering. That’s what begins to move us onto the Path. So we meet some teachings, we meet a little bit of wisdom. In my own case it was the smallest little bit of wisdom: just try paying attention to my emotions instead of acting them out.

It changed my life. It completely changed my life.

So this bit of wisdom with the intention to follow it, these two factors wise understanding and wise intention – they move us onto the Path. And then we begin.

Now, at the beginning our understanding and our intention are not completely – purified is the word that is used in the Buddhist teachings. That is, our understanding of wise understanding and wise intention is still incomplete. It takes walking the Path to have us come to a full understanding of wisdom.

We have to begin our path with some level of wisdom, which is my understanding of why it’s the first thing in the Eightfold Path. Our path also ends with the arising of wisdom, having walked the Path, which is I believe why the alternative framework for the eightfold path is ethics, concentration, wisdom.

We practice ethics. The Buddha pointed us to grounding our behavior in the world with ethics. As we behave in that way, as we behave ethically, it settles the mind. When we behave ethically it offers us what the Buddha calls the bliss of blamelessness – freedom from remorse. Through that foundation of ethical conduct, we can cultivate the more subtle inner qualities that are needed to deeply understand how to be happy in this world. To re-orient or shift our whole perspective on what happiness is.

Yes, a question?

 

Student2:

It says right understanding, right speech etcetera. Is what you’re trying to do is to learn what is right in each situation?

 

Andrea

The practice is about learning how certain qualities or attitudes of mind lead us toward suffering, and how others lead us away from suffering. The Buddha suggests that greed, aversion and delusion are the qualities that will lead us into suffering, whether they motivate speech, action or livelihood. The understanding of which qualities are motivated, which actions are motivated by greed, aversion and delusion, is how we begin to learn. So that’s where we begin – we begin though this understanding, this teasing apart in our own experience, which actions are based on greed, aversion and delusion, and understanding the consequences of acting on those.

It’s a process of trial and error, essentially. The sila teachings are very much in that vein. The sila teachings sound a lot like the moral teachings that we’re used to from the Ten Commandments. The teaching on right speech includes refraining from lying, false speech, refraining from harsh speech, divisive speech, refraining from frivolous speech. The aspect of wise action includes refraining from killing, refraining from taking what is not given, and refraining from sexual misconduct – adultery in the texts.

They sound a lot like these “Thou shalt not” statements, but they’re taken up as training rules because in general if you’re acting in ways that are in these categories – if you’re lying, if you’re killing, if you’re stealing – you are probably acting out of greed, aversion and delusion.

Those actions cause harm not only to others, but also to your own mind stream. So it’s very practical to observe them. The Buddha suggested if you get in the territory of these actions you’re getting close to trouble, so you probably want to avoid them. But the idea isn’t to just avoid these actions because it’s “wrong” and do other things because it’s “right” – that is a blind way of following the ethical practices. The practice of ethics is more of an internal exploration. If you’re practicing refraining from killing, for instance, and you’re exploring what your mind is doing, you might notice when mosquito land on you, as you automatically go to swat it, that there’s aversion in your mind.

So in the tempering of that movement to swat, and brushing the mosquito away instead – even if there is still aversion to the mosquito – you have tempered that aversion. You’re heading more in the direction of non-aversion. These teachings on ethics – on wise speech, wise action, wise livelihood – are meant to head us in the direction of non-greed, non-aversion, non-delusion, at the level of our bodily action.

Wise livelihood: earlier I talked about the aspects of wise speech and wise action. Wise livelihood is essentially refraining from a livelihood in which one cannot engage in wise speech and wise action. So if your profession requires you to lie, to kill, to steal, then that is something that the Buddha would suggest is harming you, that this is not supporting your awakening. He doesn’t make a moral judgment about it so much as he says, “These actions create suffering in the world and if you want happiness, you should find ways to reduce suffering in the world”. He’s very pragmatic, and not so much judgmental, at least in the way I feel it in my own heart.

Yes, another question?

 

Student3:

(inaudible)

 

Andrea

She said: a while ago I mentioned ethics and fearlessness, and that piqued her curiosity.

The idea is that when we behave ethically, if we behave with the commitment to not killing, not stealing, not lying, then anyone in our presence can be confident. Over time if somebody has that strong ethical presence, people are not afraid, beings are not afraid in their presence. Because they know that this being is safe. The gift of fearlessness in given to all beings in your presence, essentially. They can be free of fear of you.

Any other questions about ethics?

 

Student4:

Would you go back to the category in which you have giving, ethics and mental cultivation? You have sila twice – I somehow missed this category and the one after it in the Eightfold Path.

 

Andrea

Ok. There are two frameworks that are often discussed with respect to the path. The first is ‘dana, sila, bhavana’, which is giving, ethics, and mental cultivation. That essentially encompasses the practices that we engage in on the path. This first framework – ‘dana, sila, bhavana’- overlaps with the second framework – ‘sila (ethics), samadhi (concentration), pañña (wisdom).

This second framwork overlays directly onto the Eightfold Path. Sila maps onto wise speech, wise action and wise livelihood. Samadhi maps onto wise effort, wise mindfulness and wise concentration. Pañña maps onto wise understanding and wise intention.

The first framework of ‘dana, sila, bhavana’ overlaps with the second framework of ‘sila, samadhi, pañña’: sila bhavana overlaps with sila samadhi.

The first framework, dana (giving), sila (ethics), bhavana (mental cultivation) doesn’t explicitly include wisdom. The second framework, sila (ethics), samadhi (concentration), pañña, (wisdom) doesn’t explicitly include dana, giving. So that’s why I’m putting them both out there. But they overlap in the middle two aspects of sila and Samadhi/bhavana.

 

Student5:

I may be getting ahead of this a little bit or behind it, but my understanding thus far of the Eightfold Path is that it’s a way of managing whatever it is that we kind of put out into the world. And then, I know somewhere in Buddhism there’s this notion of detachment from results, and I sort of get it intellectually, but I’m wondering if you can comment more on the process of bringing it down to experience.

 

Andrea

That comes under samadhi. So yes, that’s the next area I want to talk about. Any other questions before I move on to that? Ok.

So as you pointed out, mostly what we’ve talked about so far on the Eightfold Path is looking at how our mind state impacts our behavior, which impacts the world and how can we manage that. Essentially this quality of managing our behavior impacts or rebounds on our mind stream to cultivate some of these beautiful qualities to reduce greed, aversion and delusion in our minds. But that’s just the beginning – getting to the level where our behavior and interactions are smooth is just the beginning. We need to go further to get to the place where we really deeply understand how happiness works – which relates to your question of letting go of results – one of the ways happiness really works.

When we work with sila, working with the ethical aspect of the Eightfold Path, we start to gain an appreciation for those qualities of mind that lead us away from suffering. We see the benefits of moving in this direction – we see that our hearts are lighter, our relationships are better; we’re essentially cultivating a field of skillful relationships. Our lives become smoother through this process.

We see the benefit of making the effort in this direction, and we also see that it takes effort. We have to keep trying. This is not a one-time deal. We don’t take these ethical precepts and that’s the end of it. We make mistakes, we come back, we have to resolve over and over again to keep trying, to keep cultivating these qualities.

Wise effort is the foundation for wise concentration, the samadhi aspect of the Eightfold Path. So while the sila aspect, wise speech, wise action and wise livelihood are about cultivating wholesome behaviors and actions in the world, the instruction for developing wise concentration is about cultivating beautiful, wholesome qualities of mind. Having taken care of the outer actions, we now move into more of an internal cultivation.

So the three aspects of this part of the Path are effort, mindfulness and concentration.

The teaching on wise effort – and this I’m going to cover fairly briefly – is about cultivating qualities that are skillful and letting go of qualities that are unskillful.

There are four aspects around the teaching of wise effort. We make wise effort towards noticing when we’re caught by unskillful states of mind. So noticing when we’re caught by anger, aversion, greed, frustration, irritation, annoyance, and seeing if we can let them go. Or perhaps let them be with mindfulness. So as with that little wisdom I learned, which I mentioned earlier, try observing your emotions instead of acting upon them.

That’s cultivating this first part of wise effort, of abandoning, letting go of unskillful states of mind. Often people think that abandoning means actively let go of something. But more often, actually, in our experience, it’s more about letting be than actively letting go. So not engaging with unwholesome qualities of mind: not engaging with anger, not engaging with frustration, but also not repressing them. Not pushing them down. If you see a quality such as anger and frustration and you feel, “that’s a bad quality, I need to get rid of it”, that’s adding aversion to the anger and frustration, so it’s cultivating aversion. This is part of what the Buddha means by the middle path, that we neither act out on unskillful things and nor do we repress them.

We see if we can just be aware of them. This is the first quality of wise effort. The second quality of wise effort has to do with cultivating the conditions that support us to not being caught by unskillful states of mind. This is the aspect of wise effort called avoidance. We learn through trial and error, through observing our experience, what are the situations, what are the conditions that lead us into anger, frustration, irritation and annoyance. Then we learn to avoid those conditions. Here’s a simple example. If you notice that when you’re driving that you’re often agitated because you’re rushing to get somewhere, the condition that creates this is often not leaving enough time to get there. Very simple. You can support yourself to let go of that agitation by leaving more than enough time to get there.

So that’s the kind of thing that is meant by this second aspect of wise effort, the effort of avoiding. Essentially this is about protecting yourself from unskillful mind states. So the first two aspects of wise effort have to do with abandoning and avoiding unwholesome states. The last two aspects have to do with cultivating and maintaining skillful states.

Creating the conditions, noticing again through observation of our experience, what are the conditions that tend to support the arising of wholesome qualities? What are the conditions that tend to support peacefulness, calm, tranquility, equanimity, or happiness? What are the conditions in our lives that support those things? See if you can add more of these to your life. Many of you do this regularly through engaging in meditation. Many of you have a very strong sense that when you sit down in meditation, it supports an ease through not only the time of meditation – it may or may not be a pleasant meditation – but in general throughout the day it tends to, over time, support a more easeful interaction with our experience.

So, learning where our behaviors and actions support our movement towards non-greed, non-aversion, non-delusion. And then noticing when skillful states are present – when joy, happiness, calm, peacefulness, tranquility are present – and seeing if you can maintain them. Now this teaching often sounds really different from the teaching that we get about mindfulness, which is just simply to pay attention to what’s happening in the moment, and don’t try to change anything, just observe it. This has a much more active quality to it. So I want to address that a little bit in moving into wise mindfulness.

One of my teachers, Sayadaw U Pandita, calls the quality of mindfulness the most skillful, most wholesome mind state that you can cultivate. So in the first place, when you are cultivating mindfulness, you are cultivating a wholesome mind state. That itself is acting in line with wise effort, of cultivating wholesome mind states. You’re cultivating mindfulness itself. The quality of mindfulness itself also contains all of the right efforts. So as you engage with your experience through mindfulness, if you’re observing unskillful, unwholesome qualities of mind, such as anger, frustration, irritation, annoyance – you are creating the conditions for those qualities to appear less frequently in the future, if you are simply engaging with them in mindfulness.

So the act of bringing mindfulness to unskillful, unwholesome qualities fulfils the first two aspects of wise effort, of abandoning and avoiding unwholesome mind states. And we are also actively cultivating mindfulness itself.

If we’re engaged in observing wholesome qualities of mind, if joy is arising, happiness is arising, if there’s a wholesome happiness arising, and we bring mindfulness to it, it creates the causes and conditions for that to appear more frequently in our experience. This may seem counter-intuitive: when you bring mindfulness to unskillful qualities, it tends to make them diminish. When you bring mindfulness to skillful qualities, it tends to make them increase. So the quality of mindfulness actually contains the four right efforts in it.

In practicing mindfulness, you are practicing the four right efforts. Yet there are times when it’s difficult to simply be mindful of experience. In that case the Buddha offers the teachings on wise effort to help guide us in the direction towards letting go of the unskillful and cultivating the skillful.

So wise mindfulness, there’s – I can talk about this for weeks! (laughs) And I have ten minutes. I’ll have to do this quickly!

 

Student6:

Don’t forget concentration.

 

Andrea

I know. I’ve got concentration to do too. (laughs) So I’ve got five minutes each, ok.

What the Buddha taught for wise mindfulness is basically that mindfulness is a very skillful quality to cultivate. He pointed to mindfulness as being incredibly helpful for us. I think it’s brilliant that he pointed out this quality, which is such an ordinary quality in our experience. He directed us to pay attention to our experience in a particular way. He had two main teachings on this. The first is the four foundations of mindfulness, which are the Buddha’s main meditation instructions.

He taught awareness, mindfulness of the body, bringing attention into the physical body, knowing the breathing, knowing the physical elemental experience of the physical body, knowing just the coming and going nature of the body in a very general sense of the word he called “clear comprehension”. When you’re walking, know that you’re walking; when you’re coming and going, know that you’re coming and going; when you’re eating, know that you’re eating; when you’re defecating and urinating, know that you’re defecating and urinating. Those words are actually in the suttas.

So it’s just at a very basic level, just knowing what the body is doing. Recognizing posture – are you standing, walking, sitting, lying down? Turning attention to the body. This supports a grounding of the attention in the present moment. I think that’s probably why he put the body first. Because the body is in the present moment, and when we bring our attention into the body, we are coming into the present moment. So turning attention to the body.

The second foundation of mindfulness is feeling. This feeling isn’t emotions, per se, but it’s the quality or aspect of feeling at a very basic level, of whether something is pleasant, unpleasant, or neither pleasant nor unpleasant: pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. So turning attention to that feeling tone aspect of experience.

The third foundation of mindfulness concerns the mental states, which basically is kind of the whole field of emotions and thoughts that occur in our minds. The fourth foundation is called mindfulness of Dhammas. One way understanding it is as how everything is interrelated, seeing how patterns come together, how patterns form in our experience. So how the body and mind interrelate is the fourth foundation of mindfulness.

One teacher, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Than Geoff), offers a different translation of the four foundations of mindfulness. The Pali term ‘Satipatthana’ is traditionally translated as “foundations of mindfulness”. Than Geoff prefers the translation, ‘the four frames of reference’. I like this, because what he’s pointing to is that the Buddha is saying that these four aspects of experience – the body, feelings, mental states, and the interrelationships between mind and body, are skillful things to pay attention to. Any one of these things can be seen in any moment of our experience. In any moment of our experience there’s the bodily component. In any moment of our experience there’s whether something’s pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. In any moment of our experience there’s something going on in our minds. In any moment of experience there’s this connection between body and mind, and how there’s a cause and effect relationship between what happens in our body and what happens in our mind.

So we can look at our experience through any one of these lenses, through any one of these frames of reference. It’s a way of simplifying our experience. Choose this frame of reference for a while. Get to know it really well. Get to know the body really well. Then choose feeling for a while. Get to know feeling really well.

The practice of the foundations of mindfulness is about pointing us to particular areas of experience that are helpful for us in terms of understanding suffering. Again, this is the direction the Buddha is pointing us. He’s not simply saying, “Just pay attention to your experience.” He’s telling us what we need to pull out of our experience. Not that there’s anything we avoid or ignore in our experience, but we can see whatever’s happening through one of these lenses, and this will be supportive to us in terms of our awakening.

The second main way that the Buddha suggested we bring mindfulness to our experience is through the framework of the Four Noble Truths. In one of my favorite suttas he says, “One who attends wisely, one who brings wise attention to his or her experience, attends, ‘This is suffering. This is the cause of suffering. This is the cessation of suffering. This is the path leading to the cessation of suffering'”.

Originally I didn’t quite understand this, because I thought it was just a re-statement of the Four Noble Truths, but then I began to realize he’s pointing us to the present moment, and that any present moment experience can be understood through one of these facets of experience. What we are experiencing is either suffering; it’s the cause of suffering, the craving, the wanting; it’s the cultivation of qualities that support us moving away from suffering – this is the path leading to the cessation of suffering; or we are experiencing the ending of suffering. This is another very interesting way to explore our experience.

Mindfulness directed skillfully is the key of the Buddha’s teaching. Mindfulness directed towards this exploration of, “What is suffering? What is the end of suffering? What are the causes of suffering? How do I cultivate things that support the ending of suffering?” Not just a theoretical concept, but actually moment-to-moment in our experience, looking at what moves us in that direction.

The last aspect that I’ll talk about tonight is samadhi – I’m saving all of wisdom for next week. (laughs)

Through mindfulness we really begin to understand a lot about suffering. But it takes the depth of concentration, a strong cultivation of concentration, to really penetrate the recesses of the mind that cling to greed, aversion and delusion. Our habitual clinging to greed, aversion and delusion goes very deep. Particularly delusion – delusion goes very deep. So deep that we really don’t see that we’re deluded much of the time. It takes concentration to really begin to penetrate this delusion.

There are two basic kinds of concentration. One is a single-pointed concentration, which is what most people understand by the term ‘concentration’. We focus on the breath, and we don’t let our attention waver from the breath. It’s a very focused experience. That’s a very powerful form of concentration.

Then there is a form of concentration that is not focused on any one experience, but is continuously aware, moment-to-moment. Essentially a continuity of mindfulness moment-to-moment brings a concentration to the mind. This kind of concentration is called momentary concentration as opposed to absorbed concentration, which is the single-pointed kind of concentration.

This moment-to-moment concentration is essentially about stability of the awareness or stability of the mindfulness itself. So that the mind doesn’t have to be stable on one thing, but the awareness is stable – so anything can be coming into the awareness and it’s not sending the mind off in any direction. The mind can stay present for whatever arises in the present moment, and not be reactive, not be pulled out of balance.

This is really the kind of concentration that allows us to penetrate deeply into the nature of our minds, into the nature of the truth of the moment.

So mindfulness supported by concentration leads to insight – and they both need to be very strong in order for insight to arise. That insight is essentially the arising of wisdom, the last aspect of the Eightfold Path, and the last aspect of the sila, samadhi, pañña teaching.

Next week we’ll talk about the aspect of what we actually wake up to, the wisdom.

It’s nine o’clock. I made it through! (laughs). Somebody described this kind of a class as being “Buddhism from thirty-five thousand feet”. And we’re really flying over the continent here!

So thank you for your attention.

ast aspect of the Eightfold Path, and the last aspect of the sila, samadhi, pañña teaching.

Next week we’ll talk about the aspect of what we actually wake up to, the wisdom.

It’s nine o’clock. I made it through! (laughs). Somebody described this kind of a class as being “Buddhism from thirty-five thousand feet”. And we’re really flying over the continent here!

So thank you for your attention.