By Ven Ajahn Brahmavamso
10.12.959 Day Retreat WA Buddhist Society
This morning I want to talk some more about skilful means to assist the practice of meditation, in particular, that which one reads in the Buddha’s teachings, again and again, that the proximate cause of gaining SAMADHI, for gaining peaceful states of mind, is a happy mind, a mind which has joy in it. And it’s a very good thing to keep in mind and to remember that if the mind is feeling tired, depressed, angry, upset, then it isn't really a sort of mind which can be worked and used to gain this peaceful, quiet state of mind. You’ll find that you go wandering off, or dreaming, or just go to sleep in your meditation. Therefore, in this practice of meditation, we deliberately arouse a joy in the mind when we’re meditating or when we're on a meditation retreat. That’s one of the reasons why we try to have the meditation retreat in very peaceful and beautiful surroundings. Surroundings where one can use one's perception to deliberately arouse joy. Like many things in life, the joy is always there. It’s just a matter of turning the perception to notice it, to allow oneself to dwell on the sounds of the birds outside, or just on the feeling of the wind on one's cheeks, or just the recognition that this weekend, or this nine-days retreat is an opportunity where you are free from all of your usual burdens and responsibilities. You have nothing to do. You have no worries. Turn the mind to that which is positive in this situation, look for happiness, look for joy. You'll find that it's there, and you can start to delight in the beauty of the garden outside, or just to delight in the feeling of the wind, or delight in the sound of the birds. And what that does, is, it prepares the mind. It makes the mind feel happy. It gives it joy. It actually widens the mind, and gives it energy, and that wide, energetic, happy mind, you'll find is much easier to work with. It’s much easier to gain the results in meditation which you are seeking.
It’s one of the basic principles that the monks know so well, that you can always look for someone who is going to be a good mediator by the one who is light-hearted and who can smile a lot. The happy monks are usually the good meditators; and the same applies to the happy lay people. The happy ones, the ones who can smile, who can take life easily, the ones who can look and find joy in life, are the ones who usually have an easy time in gaining deep states of meditation. There is that very strong connection there between a happy mind and a mind which is easy to concentrate. Therefore, a very important prerequisite to your meditation should be developing this happiness and finding ways and means to develop happiness, whether that's enjoying your breakfast, or whether it's enjoying the nature of this place, whether it’s reflecting on the freedom that you have on this nine days, or using other methods to develop this happy state of mind.
Picture source: flickr.com
One of those methods for developing a happy state of mind is doing loving-kindness meditation, the meditation on metta, because that usually does bring up happiness and joy into the mind. The Metta meditation is where you deliberately cultivate this feeling of warmth towards all beings. Many of you would know that meditation well enough, but I want you to extend that type of meditation to an interesting area which you might like to experiment with. It's an area where I found it very useful. It's developing loving-kindness meditation, metta, towards your breathing. The feeling of loving-kindness is that which embraces, accepts, feels warmth and feels gratitude towards.
So, if we're developing loving kindness towards the breathing, then, with every in-breath and every out-breath, you cultivate the same sort of attitude and reflection, that this breath has been serving you for all your life. It’s been keeping you alive; it's been nourishing you. Very often that which happens all the time we take for granted; we never say thank-you. We just allow the breathe to go in and to go out without really ever considering it. Developing this feeling of loving-kindness towards your in- and out-breaths, is a way of watching this breath, with warmth, with gratitude, with a very soft and caring energy. You can look upon your breath as you would look upon your parents, someone who has nourished you, supported you, and kept you going. Or you can look upon it as your child, something which, because it has nurtured you, now you can nurture it. If you look upon the breath with that sort of attitude, with the attitude of love and with kindness and with warmth, you'll find it's easier to watch. It’s easier to keep track of because that which you don't take for granted, that which you care about, that which you are concerned about, makes a deeper mark in your perception. Also, the meditation on loving kindness will always be a joyful meditation once it starts going, and so it also brings joy in to the mind, around the breath.
So, when I do that, this type of meditation, I'm not just watching the breath. I’m watching the breath with metta, thanking the breath, caring for the breath, loving the breath for looking after me, as if it were a very good and close friend. As I breath in, I breath in just with this feeling of warmth and embrace the breath from the beginning to its end. When the breath goes out, I watch it, observe it with the same feeling of kindness and care and embrace it. And I find, not only is the breath more visible to my mind, but also, it is more enjoyable to watch. If the object of the mind has a factor of joy within it, then the mind finds it easier to watch. If the object, which you are trying to focus on, is painful or disturbing, it’s very difficult to watch. If it’s a neutral type of object, it’s very easy for the object just to fade away with dullness. However, if one can develop the perception of that object of mind as attractive, joyful, beautiful, worthy of care, then it is very easy to observe and to watch. So this is one of the skilful means - developing loving-kindness around the experience of breath, to enable the attention to be more easily applied onto the breath. The breath doesn't become something neutral. It becomes something joyful, something attractive, something beautiful, and, hopefully, you'll find that it becomes an easier thing to watch.
Not only does it make it an easy object to watch, but it also starts to encourage a state of mind which is very important in the later stages of meditation, which is the emotional state of mind. If one is going to take this meditation to its deeper levels, especially if one is going to enter into one of these Jhana states, one has to be able to feel at ease with these powerful, emotional states of mind - because if one is going to describe something like a Jhana, it is very much akin to an emotional state of mind, a state of great bliss and power, much closer to emotional states than to rational states of mind. As such one can make some very powerful and effective preparations developing, deliberately developing, that emotional warmth, happiness, which comes along with metta meditation - you're actually preparing the mind very well to accept the more profound emotions of the Jhanas. For this reason, whether one is developing metta meditation on the breath or just a general metta meditation, it becomes a very useful and skilful tool to incorporate into one's practice. Not only does it bring a peaceful, happy state of mind, it also brings up the emotional aspect of the mind which will prepare you for accepting the emotional states of the Jhanas. You actually feel your way into the Jhanas. You don't think your way in. So this is one of the very useful and skilful means which you can try during this mediation retreat - developing loving-kindness towards the breath as well as doing, now and again, loving-kindness meditation to brighten up the mind.
However, there are many other skilful means, which one can use to brighten up the mind and to create joy within it, and these are part of the meditations which the Buddha taught. Three of those meditations are the reflections on the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, which is one of the reasons why I wish to incorporate the chanting into this meditation retreat. Those chants which we do are the reflections on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, and their qualities. And, if one has a feeling for what those three words mean - the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, then reflecting on them, keeping the meaning of those words in the mind, and sustaining your attention on the meaning of those words long enough, will very often bring up great feelings of happiness and joy. It’s a means of brightening the mind, of giving the mind that happiness, giving the mind that joy, and one uses that as a springboard. From there one goes off to watch the breathe. So this is another means of bringing joy into the mind.
For those who are traditional Buddhists, this becomes a very effective way of beginning the meditation. It's quite common, I know, in Thailand, for people to teach meditation in the way of beginning every time by paying homage to the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha in your mind. And for a traditional Buddhist, just that paying homage in the mind, reflecting in the mind on those qualities, can bring up such happiness and joy, bring up a softness, a reverence in the mind. It will prepare the mind so that it can do the breath meditation afterwards. If you find that you are someone who has that ability to arouse faith or confidence in the qualities of the Buddha, the Dhamma, or the Sangha, and if you find it is easy to do and it brings up joy and happy states of mind, then I can encourage that during the meditation retreat. Begin the meditation, by reflecting on what the Buddha did, who he was, the kindness and the compassion, and all that that word means to you. Reflect on the marvellous blessing for the world that there was such a being as a Buddha and the great benefit which his life gave to all of us. By dwelling and cultivating those thoughts, it should start to bring a softness into the heart, an emotional joy which is the preparation of the mind that I am talking about. Or the Dhamma, the teachings which you have heard; that which has solved problems for you, that which has sounded so beautiful and delightful.
If one develops a taste for something, one can develop a love for it. I remember in my youth seeing people listening to a piece of music and they would cry. And if you can develop an appreciation of the Dhamma, and you read a very profound teaching of the Buddha, or you hear it, again, it can bring tears of joy into your eyes. If you are of such a temperament, just reflecting on and remembering some of the Buddha's teachings, some of your favourite pieces of Dhamma, will also bring up that feeling of softness and joy and happiness in the mind; one then uses this, as the start, the jumping-off point for the breath meditation. And if not the Buddha, not the Dhamma, then maybe the Sangha. Recollect some of the monks or nuns whom you've met in the past, who have inspired you, whom you feel great respect towards, even those you have not met but you've read about. Develop an appreciation of these members of the Sangha. Or develop the idea of the whole history-wide Sangha - this should be able to bring you happiness.
I was a monk in Thailand for many years and visited many of the great teachers there. It's very easy for me to visualize some of these great monks whom I met personally and to appreciate just what they have given to the world and what they are still giving to the world. Just imagining that, cultivating that thought, and developing that thought makes my mind filled with gratitude, love, softness, and joy that such beings exist in the world. It gives me the basis for developing happiness, and then, I can develop the meditation on the breath. So, if you are of such a mind, you may try developing the reflection on the Buddha , the Dhamma, the Sangha, develop happiness and joy.
The meditations or reflections on the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha are not powerful enough to get you into a Jhana. Their purpose is to overcome the coarser obstacles to the development of deep states of stillness. In particular, they develop this happy mind, this joyful mind which, once established, one can take further by changing the object of meditation to something like the breath, one can take that further and enter a Jhana.
One of the other ways of developing happiness and joy in one's meditation is one which I use a lot, especially now, in my role as the senior monk at the Monastery in Serpentine. That's reflecting, bringing up, remembering, all the past service one has done and given. Sometimes, in the West, we are loathed to, or we are taught not to, praise ourselves, or to think too much on our goodness or what we have done for others. But in the teaching of the Buddha, one does not find those words that discourage you from thinking such things. In fact, you are encouraged to reflect upon your past generosity, liberality, service, and to reflect upon it again and again and again. And, if you do bring up all that you have done for others, everything which is good and noble and caring, all that good kamma which you've done in the past day, the past week, or past year, and dwell upon it, again it brings up happiness and joy. The reason why I use this mediation these days is because sometimes one may be doing many external activities - going into town, running around all day, doing this and that for others - and very often, when I go back to the Monastery after the weekend, I'm very, very tired, just physically worn out for doing so much. The only way that I can meditate that evening is to sit down and think of all the good which I have done. This is not to make me proud, but this is to make me happy to bring up energy and joy inside of me. I'm not afraid of, like, crying, at all the service which I have done that day, because it makes me feel that way. It brings up the emotion of happiness and joy.
Once you get into this you’ll find that all of the service which one has given to others, or all the merit one has made during the day, or during one's life, can unlock that source of energy and power and it can be used for meditation. It becomes a very powerful source of energy, a very powerful source of joy. Once that happines and joy is strong, then I turn over to the breath and the breath becomes very easy to watch. Not only is it very clear but the mind has got energy. The mind has got happiness to take it into a deep state of meditation, and its due to these preliminary exercises of developing a reflection on one's past goodness, doing a reflection on the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, or doing reflection on loving kindness. This is part of the training in meditation to be able to do breath meditation - breath meditation is not just being able to watch the breath. It means knowing how to prepare to watch the breath, knowing how to do these preliminary exercises and knowing when they're needed.
Sometimes people will not do the meditation on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha because they are afraid of them; maybe because they have been conditioned against any faith-mind by their experiences in Christianity or other religions in the past. But you are in complete control of developing any faith. You can stop whenever you like, but it is a power in the mind which you can use to your advantage. It's not going to be used against you. The power of those emotions are not dangerous as long as faith is balanced by wisdom, and, in most Westerners, wisdom is far stronger than faith. As long as the faith and wisdom are balanced, then there is no danger there. It's only when faith is so strong and wisdom is very weak that there is any danger. But here you can feel quite confident that there is nothing to fear from developing these sorts of faith-minds. In fact, these sorts of faith-minds, through confidence and joy, will actually propel you into the deep meditation states. So these are ways of preparing the mind when you are doing the meditation based on the breath.
If sometimes you find the mind is dull or has no energy, or it's restless, and you find it very difficult to follow the breath, then try one of these meditations; either the meditation on loving-kindness, on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, or the meditation on one's own past goodness. Or, if that doesn’t work, go and develop joy by just sitting outside, walking outside, and developing that perception, that positive perception, that one has a healthy body, a reasonably healthy body. One has found the ability to come on a meditation retreat. One has already got enormous good kamma, a lot of merit, just to get this far. That should bring up happiness and joy in to your mind, and if it does, it is to be used for gaining deeper states of meditation.
There is a story, in the time of the Buddha, where the Buddha’s chief female disciple, Visakha, asked the Buddha if she could get special permission to give clothes for the rains to the monks and nuns, and also to give the first meal to any monks or nuns who arrived in that town, and the last meal before they left on any journeys, and if she could also give food to those sick monks and nuns, and those serving the sick, because if there was a sick monk or nun they might need special food, and becaue those serving them, looking after them, would not be able to find food for themselves. She asked the Buddha if she could be the one to do all of this. And the Buddha replied: ‘I don’t give such permission to just one person, against any others. Why should I give it just to you?’ And this lady disciple, Visakha, replied, ‘If you allow me to do this, then any monk or nun who gains any attainment in meditation, or gains any stage of enlightenment, or becomes fully enlightened in this monastery, in the Jeta grove, wil have been fed by me at least once when they first arrived. Very likely, I would also have fed them when they left, or when they were sick or nursing the sick, and I would have given them rains bathing cloths. And when I reflect upon that or when I remember that I have helped or contributed to their attainments, it will give me such happiness and joy that I’ll be able to take that happiness and joy and be able to develop SAMADHI. Developing SAMADHI myself, I'll be able to understand and see your teachings; I’ll become a noble disciple myself’. And the Buddha was so impressed with her wisdom and understanding that he gave her permission. Though he couldn’t give permission at first to do these things, he could afterwards, because she understood that this is a means for developing joy, which is a means for developing SAMADHI.
So, whatever goodness you have done during the day, during the weeks, during the years, bring that up, develop it, develop the thought of it. As you dwell upon that good side of your life, the beautiful, the soft, the caring, the generous, the wonderful side, that will bring up the happiness and joy, and then you’ll find it very easy to develop the blissful meditations. Do not be afraid of that emotional self-respect. Use these skilful means alongside the basic technique of breath meditation.
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“Sariputra, if there are people who have already made the vow, who now make the vow, or who are about to make the vow, ‘I desire to be born in Amitabha’s country,’ these people, whether born in the past, now being born, or to be born in the future, all will irreversibly attain to anuttarasamyaksambodhi. Therefore, Sariputra, all good men and good women, if they are among those who have faith, should make the vow, ‘I will be born in that country.’”
~ Amitabha Sutra
When I obtain the Buddhahood, any being of the boundless and inconceivable Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters whose body if be touched by the rays of my splendour should not make his body and mind gentle and peaceful, in such a state that he is far more sublime than the gods and men, then may I not attain the enlightenment.
~ Amitabha Buddha's Thirty-Third Vow
Thursday, March 27, 2008
By Ven Ajahn Brahmavamso