Posted by: lrrp | September 14, 2009

Why and how should we cultivate our minds? by Ven. Souraba Nanda

Avoid that which should be shunnedApplying oneself to that which should be avoided, not applying oneself to that which should be pursued and giving up the quest, one who goes after pleasure envies them who exert themselves.Piya vagga – The Dhammapada

In my previous article, ‘what does “a good Buddhist” mean?’ which was published on 1st of September in the Daily News, I was talking about the power of mind that goes beyond all other external powers. I mentioned that the only way to attain this power of mind is through bhavana (meditation).

Let’s have a look at what bhavana is. If we analyze the word bhavana, we can see, it is from bhu and na, bhu means to be, to exist, to cultivate etc, while na is added to show an abstract noun. So the whole word means existing, developing, cultivating etc. Hence, it is the development or cultivation of our mind.

Why should we cultivate our mind? We can find various canonical sources from Tipitaka where the Buddha explains the nature of a human mind. In Dhammapada the Buddha has preached thus: mind is the forerunner of all states. Mind is chief; they (all the dhammas) are mind made.

If someone speaks or acts with a wicked mind, because of that suffering follows him like the wheel follows the hoof of a chariot. On the other hand if someone speaks or acts with a pure mind, because of that, happiness follows him like the shadow that never leaves.

So it is clear to us that one can use his mind in two complete different ways. That depends on how one uses it. He can make use of his mind to do any dangerous act like murdering etc., if he develops his mind in that way. In contrast one can attain the Arahanthood, the perfect state of mind, if he cultivates his mind in that way.

Obviously from one’s birth one does both wholesome (kusala) and unwholesome (akusala) activities with both categories in mind. Though one seems to perform wholesome activities with a wholesome mind, still we cannot say by performing that he has developed his mind widely; of course he did it in some extent but not completely.

It is impossible for one to develop one’s mind in absolute sense by only performing religious rites and rituals without bhavana that trains one’s mind to concentrate on one object. Bhavana makes your mind very calm and quiet. You become very serene. It makes you understand yours and other’s inner nature, the reality of this human world and so on.

In Buddhism we can find two kinds of bhavana, they are samatha bhavana (development of concentration) and vipassana bhavana (development of Insight). Though vipassana bhavana is mostly recognized by many scholars for it leads us directly to the realization of the ultimate truth (Nibbana) I would preferably advise to follow primarily samatha bhavana which is the foundation of vipassana bhavana. In other words it is impossible to practise vipassana bhavana without developing samatha bhavana in one self.

In Mahasatipattana Sutta the Buddha has given a clear explanation on how to practise samatha bhavana. One can practise this samatha bhavana in any place that he thinks is suitable for him. Of course a solitary place would be better for a meditator and for that he might go to a forest or to a foot of a tree or a solitary place.

In Buddhism we find four objects of mindfulness or contemplation as mentioned in the Sutta which can be used in accordance with the different individual temperaments. They are as follows:

1. Kayanupassana (contemplating on the body)

2. vedananupassana (contemplating on the feelings)

3. cittanapassana (contemplating on the consciousness or the state of mind)

4. dhammanupassana (contemplating on dhamma)

In this article I have only dealt with the first, kayanupassana (contemplating on the body). Though the Buddha has given some methods of sitting postures for a meditator while meditating; it is all right to sit in any posture that suits him.

Of course sitting cross-legged and straight would be better to follow, as it is very easy to breathe in and out if done so. Now while sitting in this posture one must be mindful enough to know in his mind that he is sitting there to do bhavana.

Then, slowly he has to observe the whole body from top to bottom, head to feet with mindfulness. In that process he must know how every part of his body exists as it is. Let’s say, he observes his head, that is whether the head is straight or bent; if bent should make it straight mindfully.

So, it is the same with every part of body; when something goes wrong correct it at that moment itself consciously. Then after this process with mindfulness one slowly observes his inhalations and exhalations consciously (anapanasati). Inhaling a long breath he knows that “I am inhaling a long breath,” while exhaling a long breath, he knows that “I am exhaling a long breath.”

Inhaling a short breath, he knows that “I am inhaling a short breath.” While exhaling a short breath, he knows that “I am exhaling a short breath.” Thus he must experience the entire breathing system in full sense contemplating on the body internally or externally, or both internally and externally.

It should be mentioned that one must not strictly be bound to a single method of concentration, let’s say contemplating on breathing in and out; he must or expand his mental state of concentration, that’s let’s say after contemplating on breathing in and out for sometime thoroughly, he must proceed to contemplate on, for example, the arising nature of the body of respiration, the perishing nature of the body of respiration, both the arising and perishing nature of the body of respiration.

So if the previous state is done mindfully, without clinging to that very state one must proceed to another, let’s say, now the mindfulness that there exits only a body to the extent necessary for the growth of mindfulness and wisdom arises in him and thus he lives independently clinging to nothingness in this world.

Thus he lives contemplating on the body and again something else. He again in going forward, going backward, looking forward, looking backward, while bending or stretching his body or limbs, is clearly aware of what he is doing. In the case of a monk when wearing robes, taking bowl, going for pindapata (arms giving), eating, drinking, chewing, tasting, in answering a call of nature, he is clearly aware of what he is doing.

Once again this system of kayanupassana of concentrating the mind on the body is not only confined to sitting and contemplating, as I said this can be done in any posture, sitting, walking, sleeping, eating, talking, looking etc, just what we have to do is to be mindful enough of what we are doing at that moment itself.

If done so the mindfulness that there are only postures in his body arises in him. This mindfulness enhances the growth of mindfulness and wisdom. He lives without craving. He lives in this world without taking anything or a matter or body as a soul.

He lives thus contemplating on body as a body. He lives in this world contemplating only on his basic necessities that would be sufficient to carry on his life. He does not desire to trouble himself going after additional possessions other than his requirements. Thus he lives an honourable life.

The common way of practising anapanasati bhavana can be seen in four steps. In the first step, one has to breathe first and then count. Once again one has to sit erect in cross-legged posture and have to observe the whole body with consciousness.

Then slowly he has to draw his mind to the position of the nose, feel how the breath comes in and goes out, when he breathes in and then out he has to count one, again breathes in and out, count two and similarly minimum up to five times and then repeat the same.

In the second step, one has to count first and then breathe, that is first one has to count one and then breathe in and out, again count two and breath in and out with mindfulness, likewise has to continue to count for minimum five times and then repeat the same.

In the third step, no more counting. Instead one has to just observe and feel how this breath is going in and coming out, going-in coming-out, going-in coming-out with mindfulness.

In the fourth step also no counting. Once again one has to keep his mind at the base of the nose and feel what is going on that place when breathing in and out, whether one feels cool or hot or both, whatever feeling, he has to exactly know very consciously as it is in his mind.

The duration of the time for each step depends on the meditator, how long he practises it. Let’s say he practises it for half an hour and in that case he can take five minutes per step. It will be difficult for the beginners to follow these steps.

Do not be worried how difficult it is, try hard again and again, at least five minutes per day. Then, after about two-three months you can feel what a big change has taken place in you.

Then you understand the benefits of meditation for yourself as long as you are mindful enough.

So it is the only path (ekayano maggo) to develop our inner inexpressible potentialities that are hidden in the depth of our mind and to vanish all the impurities that are in us.


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