a lecture in Dhagpo Kagy├╝ Ling, May 2014
Links to the chapters:
This teaching focuses on the four objects of mindfulness. These four objects – or foundations for developing awareness – are a very important subject, whatever our approach to Buddhism is: whether we are practitioners of the common teachings of Buddhism, the Shravakayana, or the great vehicle – Mahayana, the way of the Bodhisattvas. It is equally important in the teachings of Vajrayana. The four objects of mindfulness are the body, sensations, mind, and phenomena. What is the meaning of 'object of mindfulness' (drenpa nyewar shakpa, in Tibetan )? - [ It actually means: [implicitly: the field of] application of mindfulness.] It concerns the observation of the specific characteristics of the body, sensations, mind, and phenomena, to recognize their true nature, their reality, and to keep this in one's mind. It means to maintain awareness of, what the body, sensations, mind, and phenomena truly are.
1 The Body as Field of Mindfulness
Let us look at the application of mindfulness to the body. Our general idea is that the body is somehow pure, it is a source of pleasure, that it is somehow permanent, and that it is the Self or related to the Self. We [habitually] identify with it. The idea that we [instinctively] have about, what our body is, does not correspond with the reality of our body. We have been grasping the body as being something, which it is not. We [instinctively] take the body to be pure, permanent, to be a base for happiness, to be the Self, where in fact it is impossible for the body to be these things, because they do not correspond with its fundamental characteristics.
So we use this practice [Sanskrit: sadhana] to look at the real characteristics of, what the body is. We look at it very carefully, and by using the practice, we see that the body is not pure, that it is actually the basis for suffering and not pleasure, [also] it is ephemeral, not permanent. It is not a Self, we cannot identify with it, because there is nothing solid [ – there are just sensations –] to identify with, there is no ultimate existence within the body.
[ – do not do this, if you constantly feel like that at all times, already. Instead, go see your therapist. This instruction is for people with a strong attachment to their own bodily perfection, beauty and attractiveness. People, who really cherish their actual incarnation in a body. If you do not like your body, you should contemplate, that this is also attachment. You would then rather have a completely other and more perfect body, than your actual vehicle of incarnation. You should recognise the impossible and obsessive character of this desire. It is certainly possible for you to experience your body without both kinds of attachment – as well as without indifference – with a curious, open, sensible and sensitive mind. The point to realise is, that you do not know, what your body is. You therefore have a very good reason to be curious, open, sensible and sensitive about your body.
The second aspect involves examining the characteristics of the body and seeing the emptiness [Sanskrit: sunyata] of the body, such that we naturally give up our attachment to the body as an entity with an inherent [absolute] existence, as having [independent] substance.
[Your actual body – as you know and experience it – is a selective set of sensations. Everything else in connection with the body are emotions, deductions and abstractions. When you for instance feel, that you are inside your body, this is a deduction – not a sensation as such. Emotions, deductions and abstractions unfold in the fourth skandha – not in the first. Read the paper: The 5 Skandhas.
Training in Calm Abiding (sanskrit: shamatha, Tibetan: shin├ę)
In order to be able to do any sort of practice, it is important to calm and settle our mind [first]. All practice begins with the meditation of shamatha, or shin├ę in Tibetan. There are many different methods and ways to put this into practice. The goal is to calm the agitation of the mind. The agitation or dullness of the mind consists of anything, that keeps the mind from being sharp, clear and calm.
[Two contributing conditions disturb the peace of mind. Agitation and dullness. Read about this subject in Shamar Rinpoche’s paper: 7 Points of Meditation.]
There are quite a lot of different instructions, that have been given by masters of the past, whether they are Arhats or Bodhisattvas on the [Bodhicitta] path. They all stressed the importance of the method based on contemplating the cycles of breath, following the breath, or settling the mind on the breath. All of these are really fundamental instructions for practice, that are present in all the types of Buddhism. Settling the mind on the breathing cycles leads us to the result of shamatha , which is the stability that we are looking for [to obtain as a skill].
[Rinpoche refers to a traditional example: you should imagine your body split up into all its constituent parts, laid out on the ground each part by itself next to the other parts. Is this heap of flesh, blood, sinews and bones 'your body'? Rinpoche taught this subject at an earlier occasion in Dhagpo.]
We lead this analysis, and we dissect the body, and we understand, that here is not one thing, that we can call a body; it has no substantial existence.
[The body is not just the sum of its single parts. So it is not substantial as such, even when we consider the body parts to be so. It is a concept of interaction or incarnation, dependent on mind, that perceive it, which is the psychological view. The body does not exist without the 12 links of mutually dependent origination, which is the philosophical view. So the causes – and resultant appearance – of the body are the 12 links, while the mind or consciousness is the condition.]
There is nothing, that we can grasp as one ‘body’ in the ultimate sense of the term.
[Because the body is a composite interaction, that only exists as result of a certain lively interplay between causes, conditions and contributing conditions. So, the body is a relation – it has no independent existence. Its essence is the mind, that perceive it – not its physical molecules. The mind though, has no essence because of its space nature, Sanskrit: alaya.]
There is also an auxiliary practice, which is the practice of the visualization of the unattractiveness or ugliness of the body, especially if we are very attached to our bodies, or someone else’ physical [appearance]. If we are feeling a lot of lust or desire, we can do a meditation, where we visualize the disgusting aspects of the body and bring those very closely to mind.
[Hereby the desire fades away or the lust evaporates. Buddha Sakyamuni instructed his monks and nuns to do so, but this practice may - in certain situations - be helpful to lay persons as w ell. A Dharma-teacher can explain the details of this instruction to you].
2 Sensations as Field of Mindfulness
Essentially, we could say, that there are two kinds of sensations: physical sensations and mental sensations. Of course, when we talk about physical sensations, it is always mental sensations, but the contrary is not true.
[All sensations, physical and mental, are experiences of the mind. They are only different in character, but not in their nature. They are all mind by nature. For instance in your dreams, you also experience sensations of an 'external' world. This may appear just as real as the world, that you know and recognise, when you wake up. Whether you are dreaming or awake, you experience sensations. When your sensual ability contact a sense object, a 'form' – Sanskrit: rupa – is created in the mind. The term 'rupa' should be understood as 'appearance' rather than 'sense object', even we are talking about a 'perceived sense object'. This 'perception' is exactly different from the 'actual' sense object, that give rise to the perception. One might say, that the 'real' sense object is never experienced by the mind. How real is it then? It seems, that ‘reality’ actually means ‘relativity’. Some Pandits call this 'rupa' a mental representation of the sense object. Anyway, the 'form', ‘figure’ or ‘appearance’ that is experienced, is not the same as the sense object, that tricked the experience.]
These experiences take place in the mind. If there is a pleasant or unpleasant physical sensation, it is experienced in the mind, but the same does not hold for the mental sensations, as they are not necessarily connected to physical sensations .
[Mental sensations are: thoughts, emotions and experiences from memory – in Sanskrit: manas, kleshas and caitasikas. They are under one heading defined as caitasikas, manifest or actually active samskaras. Caitasikas are spontaneous mental reactions to the mental impressions, Sanskrit: j├▒eyas, and interpretations of these impressions, Sanskrit: vij├▒aptis. While sensation [Sanskrit: sparsa] happen in the first skandha, the mental impression and interpretation is appearing with the third skandha, which causes the mental reaction of the fourth skandha. This whole composite experience then appear to awareness within the fifth skandha. After this process is completed, the whole course of events is then instantly repeated. In the next course of creating experience by the 5 skandhas, the previous mental reaction now appear in the first skandha, and then it runs through the rest of the skandhas as before and so on. Thereby the mental reactions of the first course of creating experience by the skandhas become mental sensations in the next course. In the second course, the mental sensations are then subject to new mental reactions in the fourth skandha and so on, whereby the original caitasikas change or are perceived differently – some times much differently, at other times only a little bit.
Let us begin with the meditation, where we are mindful of physical sensations. We become aware of physical sensations. For example, something itches, we have a headache, or we feel good and very comfortable. Whether pleasant or unpleasant, we must begin by becoming aware of sensations. Then we become mindful of that sensation [by applying mindfulness - read the ‘Definition’ above].
[Sensation is the result of various processes in the mind, that are constantly repeated. When the same sensation is repeated, it may very well look like something stable, but it is the repetition, that is stable. Likewise it is the mental processes, that are fixed to the repetition, while the sensations are changeable or transitory.].
And thus, we can recognize its elusive nature.
[Because sensations all the time appear as new, change, vanish or move around - they are never the same in each moment of consciousness. The next moment of sensation will be different from the present one, including all details. Every moment of sensation is completely new and fresh. So, when sensations appear stable and unchanging, it is a trick of the dynamic mind, that is constantly creating or recreating this impression. When nothing happens, there is a lot of work behind.]
Meditations Associated with Sensations
There are actually two ways to analyze sensations. The first is an analytic meditation, in which we examine the sensation itself. We ask ourselves where it is. Is it located in the mind? In the body? Is it one with the body? Separate from the body? We ask [such] questions in order to understand, what its nature is through logical analysis.
[Sensations happen in the skandha of form. Then they are processed by interpretations and habitual reactions in the second, third and fourth skandha, and appear afterwards as a composite mental shape to awareness in the fifth skandha of consciousness. This whole process is analysed in relation to sensations.]
The second method consists in going to the very essence of the sensation, of looking at it directly in the moment, when the sensation arises.
[You become aware of sensation in the so-called ‘moment of consciousness’. This is the moment of the fifth skandha, when sensation has already been worked on by the previous skandhas. The character of the moment is, that it vanish all the time and then reappear again. The moment does not continue. It stops and then a new moment start up. We know this from observations and simple logic. The 5 skandhas describe a single course of events whereby an experience is created in the mind. The course starts in the first skandha and end with the fifth. This is the smallest measure of a moment, though - theoretically - you may consider every single skandha as a momentary occurrence. Then a new course start, again in the first skandha. Such courses are repeated many times in just one second. After each course [Sanskrit: santana] an interruption takes place, before the whole process is repeated again and again. Some Pandits stress, that there is actually an interruption between each and every skandha. This interruption or space between two courses of the 5 skandhas, consist of a timeless void with neither skandhas, existence nor awareness. A kind of zero point, Sanskrit: sunya. This is so, because the difference of two courses cannot consist of yet another similar course. There are no skandhas in between the skandhas. The moment of consciousness kind of 'switch on and off ' all the time. [More about this subject later.]
If we analyze or examine sensations in this way, we will be able to distinguish a sensation from our grasping to it. So if we actually look at and practice with sensation in this way, we can then observe our attachment or the grasping to the sensation as being pleasant or unpleasant, agreeable, disagreeable, pain [or] pleasure. We [will then] no longer grasp [at] the sensation or reject it [– nor become indifferent towards it]. We thus reach a state of equanimity with regard to, what we are feeling.
Suffering (Sanskrit: dukkha) and Calm Abiding (shamatha)
The teaching on the Four Noble Truths explains, that there are the suffering of suffering [meaning: pain], the suffering of change, and existential suffering [suffering of being composite and clinging to identity]. The painful sensations belong to the category of suffering of suffering – it is a quite obvious suffering. Since pleasant sensations are impermanent, they belong to the suffering of change. Painful sensations are obvious suffering, and the [emotionally] neutral are characterized by existential suffering. Seen in this light, there are no sensations, on the relative level, that do not imply one of these three sufferings.
Existential suffering is always present, but it is extremely subtle [intangible]. If you take for example physical pleasure, you could say, that there might be a pleasurable experience. Even though we may not perceive any sort of suffering, these sensations are marked with an existential suffering [suffering of being composite and clinging to identity]. Take the example of lying down on a waterbed. As long as that experience is happening, and we have not gone into the change, where it turns into suffering, even while we are experiencing pleasure, we have this subtle undertone of the existential suffering, that we are generally not aware of.
[Even while enjoying the waterbed, you will also suffer your identity, the feeling of incarnation and complexity, feeling separate from the world and composite in your own life.]
If existential suffering was not present continuously, both on the physical and the psychological levels, then we would not experience the grosser [tangible] levels of suffering.
[Vajra-samadhi is the deepest or highest kind, that possess this sort of ultimate endlessness. It is therefore characterised by great joy, Sanskrit: mahasukha, the joy of a Buddha. To understand this subject properly, ask a Dharma-teacher about the 4 dhyanas, the 4 levels of mastery in meditation and about the 9 steps of shamatha, the path to mastery.]
It is always possible to go deeper and be more subtle, increasing our stability of the mind. As one goes deeper and deeper into shin├ę, the initial peace and well-being that was experienced [previously] seems actually quite gross. This first experience, that we had acquired, will [at first] seem like stability, but we will later see that it can be fortified even further, as after reflection it [now] will seem rather gross.
by Lama Tendar Olaf Hoeyer
The Sanskrit word: smriti – in Tibetan: drenpa – is normally translated as 'mindfulness' in English. The meaning within the Buddhas Dharma is both much wider and more precise. I suggest ‘awake presence of simple awareness’ though it may not be precise enough. The word ‘smriti’ just means ‘to apply memory’ - so in a Buddhist context there are two meanings: to remember the sense of Buddha’s Dharma – and how to apply memory. To apply 'smriti', means to stay present and aware of the mental space around experiences. It is always there and may be appreciated, even you are used to pay attention to your experiences only. This is a small difference to your average use of attention. It is quite easy to do.
Please note, that words written in [square brackets] are additions by me, Lama Tendar Olaf Hoeyer in order to enhance the meaning of Rinpoche’s speech. Just disregard these comments, if you only want to learn Rinpoche’s teaching. That is why, these brackets are used, so you may easily skip them and easily identify them.
Please also note, that the term 'A-smriti' ÔÇô in Tibetan: drenme [dran med; dran pa med pa] ÔÇô is also used in the Dharma in the sense of the non-strenuous state of consciousness in the actual vipashyana meditation, that you do after the primary application of analysis in the first phase of vipashyana. So the meaning is not 'unconscious' or 'inattentive' but rather, asmriti means without mental effort whatsoever, because samadhi, the meditational trance is well established and awareness is fully awakened. In such a state of mind, no application of any method is needed; it is therefore also called 'meditation without meditation' (Tilopa).
The Sutra on
In the Theravada tradition we find this particular Sutra, that explains the subject of the 4 bases to fasten ‘mindfulness’ in a very simple way. It is allegedly Buddha Sakyamuni’s own words. In the language of Pali, the Sutra is known as ’Anapanasati Sutta.’ (Sati is Pali for Sanskrit smriti.)
In the third chapter of the Sutra, we find the following translation by the Vietnamese master Thich Nhat Hanh:
“When the practitioner breathes in or breathes out a long or a short breath, aware of the breath or the whole body, or aware that the whole body is made calm and at peace; while abiding peacefully in the observation of the body in the body, persevering, fully awake, clearly understanding the state of being, gone beyond all attachment and aversion to this life. In this case, breathing in and breathing out with full awareness belong to the first base of mindfulness, namely the body.”
“When the practitioner breathes in or breathes out with the awareness of joy or happiness, or awareness of the activities of the mind; when the practitioner breathes in or out in order to make the activities of the mind calm and at peace; while abiding peacefully in the observation of the feelings in the feelings, persevering, fully awake, clearly understanding the state of being, gone beyond all attachment and aversion to this life. This exercise of breathing with awareness belong to the second base of mindfulness, namely the feelings.”
[This correspond to the point of sensation in Rinpoche's speech (‘activities of the mind’). In this Sutra the focus is on the feeling of sensation.]
“When the practitioner breathes in or out with the awareness of the mind [Sanskrit: manovij├▒ana], or to make the mind calm and at peace, to collect the mind in concentration, or to free and liberate the mind; while abiding peacefully in the observation of the mind in the mind, persevering, fully awake, clearly understanding the state of being, gone beyond all attachment and aversion to this life. Without full awareness of breathing, there can be no development of stability in meditation and understanding.”
[This practise belong to the third base of mindfulness, namely the mind.]
“When the practitioner breathes in or breathes out and contemplates the essential impermanence or the essential fading of all dharmas [experiences], or contemplate liberation or letting go; while abiding peacefully in the observation of the objects of the mind in the objects of the mind, persevering, fully awake, clearly understanding the state of being, gone beyond all attachment and aversion to this life.”
[This practise belong to the fourth base of mindfulness, namely the dharmas, experiences, phenomena or objects of the mind.]
“The practise of full awareness of breathing, if developed and practised continuously, will lead to perfect accomplishment of the four bases of mindfulness.”
This Citation has been selected by Lama Tendar Olaf Hoeyer from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book: The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing translated from Vietnamese by Annabel Laity; Parallax Press, USA; ISBN: 0-938077-04-X. Page 9f.
[Text in square brackets have been inserted by Lama Tendar Olaf Hoeyer.]
This kind of instruction is already documented in the Vinaya Sutra of the Theravada tradition. Vinaya Sutra is translated by The Pali Text Society with the title: The Book of Discipline (Vinaya Pitaka), distributed by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. - London 1938, reprint 1982 (ISBN: 7189 0705 1). The instruction is found in the first volume on page 121ff.
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