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We look at the origins of the modern insight movement in Myanmar, and at the characteristics of Mahāsī Sayādaw’s approach to satipaṭṭhāna vipassanā (insight based on establishing mindfulness). We see how Mahāsī Sayādaw divides the meditator’s experience into “primary object” and “secondary object;” and how the three fundamental movements of the practitioner are “noting,” “naming” and “noticing.”
What is mindfulness? We go back to the Buddha’s original concept of sati, normally translated as “mindfulness,” and see that it literally means “memory.” What is the link between memory and meditation? We discover that mindfulness means remembering the present rather than the past; not the present as an abstractly conceived moment, but the experienced present.
Here we look at what is really going on in our experience of the body when we penetrate beneath our concepts to discover the raw materials from which we construct our sense of ourselves and our world — the elements (dhātu). In particular we look at the four elements that make up our experience of body in the narrow sense — sensitivity to touch. These are the elements of earth (paṭhavī), fire (tejo), water (āpo) and air (vāyo).
We take a closer look at the concept of mindfulness, what it is and how it works. Mindfulness functions as remembering we are aware; or remembering to be aware – of this. The Buddha is interested only in what we experience and how we experience. Awareness is essential to this world of phenomenality. We are already aware; but do we know that we are already aware? Mindfulness is located in awareness of awareness, and is therefore closely connected to a continuity of awareness and to wisdom.
This morning we conduct some experiments in the use of breathing as a meditation object. What do we mean by “breathing”? We examine the phenomenon of movement as it is sensed within the body. Where is it? What is its form? Its length? Its direction? Its boundaries? By not taking for granted what we think of as “breathing,” we learn to become intimate with the raw facts of inhalation and exhalation.
We unpack the Buddha’s standard teaching on breathing meditation, contained in a paragraph. We see how he maps a developing relationship to breathing, from mindfulness to understanding, from understanding to training, from training to calming. And he speaks of the transformation of breathing itself into the whole body and then into the body-construction.
We explore the realm of vedanā, or “feeling.” What is feeling? Is it something we experience, or a kind of experiencing? Vedanā opens up the realm of affect, of stimulus and response. I am already moved by this; how am I moved? And moved to what?
Tonight we look at the opening of the Buddha’s first teaching, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Turning the dharma wheel), where he introduces the middle way as both the fundamental framework of his teaching, and the strategy through which he overcomes the resistance of his audience, the five ascetics. The middle way, we discover, is not the happy medium, but a place of no fixed position.
This morning we learn to use thinking as a meditation object. This practice teaches us that thinking is not a barrier to our practice. We simply learn to “note” — to be directly aware of — thinking. This is not batting thought off with our awareness; it is an investigation of the process of thought. This becomes a study of how we create meaning from our experience, and in particular, how we create a sense of a self-within-her-world.
We continue with Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, here introducing the four truths and in particular their relationship to the Buddha’s new understanding of pleasure. This new understanding was what turned his practice around once he realised his ascetic practices resulted in him becoming hopelessly bogged down.
This morning we look at the practice of clear understanding (sampajañña). This entails cultivating the ability to monitor both awareness and the contents of awareness, by developing a sensitivity to what is going on around our meditation object. This practice matures when awareness itself becomes our meditation object.
We examine what the Buddha means by “truth,” by unpacking Cankī Sutta (With Cankī MN95). This occurs during a debate between the Buddha and Kāpaṭhika, a brilliant young brāhmaṇa student.
We construct our lives through the choices we make, from moment to moment and year to year. “Action,” the Buddha says, “is cetanā.” Cetanā, usually translated “intention,” is the decision that precedes and conditions action. When we cultivate a sensitivity to our intentions/choices, we begin to recognise how we create and sustain our habits, and discover possibilities of freedom that were previously hidden.
We examine the Buddha’s teaching on faith (saddhā) with particular emphasis on its relationship with wisdom or understanding (paññā). We discover that for the Buddha, faith is not about belief, but the heart’s response to what it takes to be real. For the Buddha, faith is not at war with wisdom; rather, faith and wisdom support each other until, in the maturity of practice, it becomes very difficult to distinguish one from the other.
This morning we look at the Buddha’s foundational practice of restraining the sense faculties, or sense restraint (indriya saṃvāra). This practice is so foundational that in the Buddha’s template of the gradual training (anupubba-sikkhā) he classifies it as an aspect of ethics (sīla) rather than meditation (bhāvanā). It is radically simple — and very profound and difficult. It presents as a radical relaxation, a deliberate “not-doing” in which we simply receive sense data at the sense sensitivities.
We have an overview of the four satipaṭṭhānas, the “foundations of mindfulness,” and see how they form a complete, interlocking system. These foundations are: body (kāya), feeling (vedanā), heart/mind (citta) and dharma/dharmas (dhamma/dhammā). We see how the foundations chart a course of practice that travels from gross to subtle, as ethical sensitivity develops. And it is this ethical sensitivity that has the capacity to transform a life.
This morning we review the practice of sati and satipaṭṭhāna, and especially how it plays out in our daily lives.