The word “mind” here addresses not just the intellectual side of the mind, but additionally its emotional or psychological side, along with its will to act. In other words, the word “mind” covers what we generally believe of as “heart”.
The mind is not passive. Its actions form its experience as it looks for food, both physical and mental, to keep itself and the body nurtured. Mentally, the mind feeds both externally and internally on feelings and relationships.
At any given minute, the mind is provided with a broad variety of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile experiences, and concepts. From this variety, it picks which things to focus attention on and which to disregard in its search for food.
The mind’s search for nutrition is nonstop and consistent. This happens due to the truth that its food (particularly its mental food) is continuously threatening to run out. So, the mind frequently acts compulsively out of lack of knowledge, misinterpreting what triggers unneeded stress and what does not.
The function of meditation is to end this lack of knowledge and to root out the concerns of hunger that keep driving it. An essential element of this lack of knowledge is the mind’s loss of sight to its own inner operations in the present moment. Because this moment is where choices are made. The mind typically acts under the force of routine, but it does not have to.
Due to the fact that the present moment is where you can see the functions of the mind and direct them in more skilled instructions, meditation focuses your attention on the present moment. The present is the only moment in time where you can act and cause modification. (Further reading: The 4 sublime attitudes for the best meditation results)
The Council of the mind
One of the very first things you discover about the mind as you get begun in meditation is that it has numerous minds. Each desire, therefore, acts as a seed for a specific sense of who you are and the world you live in.
The Buddha had a technical term for this sense of self-identity in a specific world of experience: He called it becoming.
If the principle appears foreign to you, believe of when you’re wandering off to sleep and an image of a location appears in the mind. You get in into the image, lose touch with the world outside, and that’s when you have actually gone into the world of a dream.
When you end up being conscious of this procedure, you’ll see that you take part in it even when you’re awake, and often times in the course of a day. To acquire flexibility from the tension and suffering it can trigger, you’re going to need to take a look at the lots of becomings you produce in your look for food (the selves generated by your desires). Because when you have actually analyzed these things completely, can you acquire-release from their constraints.
You’ll discover that, in some cases, various desires share typical concepts of what joy is and who you are (such as your desires for developing a steady and safe family). In others, their concepts dispute (as when your desires for your family dispute with your desires for instant satisfaction regardless of the effects).
There are numerous various concepts of “you” in your mind, each with its own program. This is why the mind is less like a single mind and more like a rowdy crowd of individuals. Lots of various voices, with lots of various viewpoints about what you ought to do.
Some members of the council are sincere and open about the presumptions underlying their main desires. This is since each council member is like a political leader, with its own advocates and methods for pleasing their desires. The mind’s council is less like a communion of angels preparing a charity occasion, and more like a corrupt city council, with the balance of power continuously moving in between various factions, and numerous offers being made in backspaces.
Believing of these desires as a council likewise assists you to understand that when the practice of meditation goes versus some of your desires, it does not go versus all of your desires. You do not have to recognize the desires being prevented through meditation, due to the fact that you have other, more competent desires to recognize with. The choice is yours.
Constantly keep in mind that authentic happiness is possible, and the mind can train itself to discover that happiness. These are perhaps the most important areas on which the practice of breathing meditation is based. There are numerous aspects to the mind, aspects typically obscured by the squabbling of the council members and their fixation with short-lived types of happiness.
One of those aspects is absolutely unconditioned. It’s an experience of overall, unalloyed liberty and happiness. Even though this aspect is unconditioned, it can be obtained by altering the conditions in the mind: establishing the skillful members of the council so that your options end up being more and more favorable to happiness.
This is why the path of meditation is called a path: It resembles the path to a mountain. Despite the fact that the path does not create the mountain, the act of strolling along the path can take you to the mountain.
Or you can believe of the unconditioned aspect as like the freshwater in saltwater. The common mind is like salt water, which makes you ill when you consume it. If you merely let the saltwater sit still, the freshwater will not separate out on its own. You must try to distill it. The act of distillation does not create freshwater. It just brings the freshwater that’s already there, to quench your thirst.
Training the mind
The training that gets you to the mountain and supplies you with freshwater has 3 elements: discernment, virtue, and concentration.
Virtue is the ability by which you interact with other people and living beings in general, based on the intent of not harming yourself or others. If you act in hazardous methods, then when you sit down to practice meditation, the understanding of that damage gets in the way of remaining firmly in the present moment.
If you respond with rejection, you develop inner walls in your awareness that produce more chances for lack of knowledge and make it more difficult to look straight at what’s actually going on in the mind. If you respond with sorrow for the damage you have done, you find it difficult to stay settled with confidence right now.
The very best method to prevent these 2 responses is to stay with the objective not to do anything damaging in the first place. After that keep in your mind to follow that intent with increasingly more skills. If you have seen that you have actually acted unskillfully, acknowledge your error, acknowledge that remorse will not remove the error and deal with not to duplicate that error in the future.
This is the most that can be asked of a human being living in a time where our actions focused on forming the future, can be based just on the understanding of the past and present.
The 2nd element of the training is concentration. Concentration is the ability to keep the mind fixated a single thing, such as the breath, with a sense of equanimity and ease.
Achieving concentration needs establishing 3 qualities of mind:
- Alertness: the capability to understand what’s taking place in the mind and body while it’s occurring.
- Ardency: the desire and effort to desert any unskillful qualities that might emerge in the mind, and instead to establish skilled qualities.
- Mindfulness: the capability to keep something in mind. When it comes to breathing meditation, this indicates keeping in mind to stick with the breath and to preserve the qualities of awareness and ardency with every in-and-out breath.
When these 3 qualities end up being strong, they can bring the mind to a state of strong concentration called “jhana”, or meditative absorption.
Since “jhana” is based on desire (the desire to establish skilled qualities in the mind) it, too, is a type of becoming. A special form of becoming that allows you to see the processes of becoming in action. At the very same time, the ease and refreshment supplied by “jhana” are a health food for the mind, allowing you to abandon numerous of the unskillful consuming habits that would pull you off the path. (Further reading: 8 Health Benefits of Meditation – What the Newest Research Shows)
This enables you to step back from the concerns of hunger and to take a look at them with discernment. This way you can see where the tension of feeding is unneeded, and how you can master the abilities to surpass it. This is why “jhana” is vital to the course of training.
The 3rd element of the training is discernment. Discernment is the capability:
- to identify the skilled procedures in the mind from the unskillful ones,
- to comprehend how to abandon what’s unskillful and to establish what’s skilled, and
- to understand how to inspire yourself so that you can abandon unskillful procedures and to establish skilled procedures even when you’re not in the mood.
You can find out these 3 capabilities by listening to others and by observing your own actions and asking the right questions about them. In the start, you step back from the concerns of hunger (which require a response right now regarding where and what to feed on next) and analyze how you have actually been feeding:
- In what methods do your feeding routines result in worry?
- In what ways is this anxiety unnecessary?
- Αt what level the enjoyment gained from feeding compensate for the stress? Is it worth it?
At first, as you develop virtue and try to learn concentration, the issues of discrimination simply seek better ways of feeding. But you come to understand that the enjoyment you acquired from thoughtlessly acting in hazardous methods or letting the mind roam where it will isn’t worth the tension it requires. You start to see where the stress you believed was inevitable isn’t actually needed. You have other, better ways of finding inner nourishment, fueling the highest pleasures offered by virtue and concentration.
As your concentration establishes, your discernment into the levels of stress in the mind gets more and more refined, so that your sense of what is and isn’t experienced gets more improved. As you keep using the questions of discernment, you start to wonder if it may be possible to get away the tension that comes even with the most refined sort of feeding. What sort of ability would that include?
This is where the questions of discernment are no longer a fine-tuned variation of the questions of hunger. They end up being honorable questions because they take you beyond the requirement to feed. They bring self-respect to your search for happiness. And when that aspect is lastly exposed, all tension comes to an end.
The questions of worthy discernment belong to among the Buddha’s most well-known teachings: the 4 noble truths.
- The truth of unneeded stress is the very first truth.
- The unskillful mental actions that trigger it are the 2nd.
- The reality that it can come to an end is the 3rd.
- The experienced actions that bring it to an end are the 4th.
These realities are honorable for 3 reasons.
One, they’re absolute. They hold true for everybody everywhere, so they’re not simply a matter of individual viewpoint or your cultural background.
Two, they provide guidance and teach you not to deny or escape from the stress you are causing, but to recognize and treat it until you understand it. When you understand it, you can see the causes of that stress in your actions and abandon them. You establish the skillful actions that put an end to stress so that you can understand flexibility from stress for yourself.
The 3rd reason these realities are honorable is that, when you utilize the questions underlying them to analyze and question your actions, they lead to honorable achievement: authentic joy that puts an end to the requirement to feed therefore triggers no harm to anybody.
It grows straight out of the quality of ardency in your concentration since discernment is intended at bringing your actions to the greatest level of ability. It likewise constructs on awareness in seeing which actions lead to which results. And it notifies mindfulness so that you can keep in mind the lessons you have actually gained from what you have actually observed and can use them in the future.
All 3 elements of the training– concentration, discernment, and virtue– assist one another along. Virtue makes it much easier to settle in concentration and to be truthful with yourself in critical which members of the mind’s council are competent and which ones are not.
The concentration offers the mind with a sense of refreshment, that permits it to withstand unskillful prompts that would produce lapses in virtue, and the stability it requires to determine plainly what’s, in fact, going on within.
Discernment offers methods for establishing virtue, in addition to an understanding of the mind’s functions that permit it to calm down in ever-stronger states of concentration.
Virtue, concentration, and discernment, in turn, are all based on the most essential part of the training: the practice of generosity. In being generous with your valuables, your time, your energy, your understanding, and your forgiveness, you produce an area of flexibility in the mind. The training of the mind ends up being a present both for yourself and for the individuals around you.
All in all, the properties of breath meditation are based on 4 observations about the mind that the Buddha called noble – honorable – realities:
- The mind experiences stress and suffering.
- The stress and suffering originated from the method the mind forms its experience through its actions driven by lack of knowledge.
- That lack of knowledge can be ended, opening your awareness to an unconditioned aspect without stress and suffering.
- That aspect, although it’s unconditioned, can be reached by training the mind in the skillful qualities of virtue, discernment, and concentration.
The objective of breath meditation is to assist with that training.
Always remember, “nothing in the practice of meditation is ever forced on you”. The only compulsion comes from an inner force: your own desire to be free from self-inflicted suffering and stress.
Read also our article: Warnings about Meditation (Precautions and Negative Side Effects).
♦ If this article resonates with you, please join our newsletter by using the forms on this website so we can stay in touch.
Source: Book:”With Each & Every Breath”-Thanissaro Bhikkhu