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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Opening to insight: The four foundations of mindfulness

The Satipathana Sutta (translated as The Foundations of Mindfulness) provides instructions on different ways to meditate.  There are four references for establishing mindfulness:  body, feeling, consciousness and mental objects.  The most often quoted portion of the sutta is as follows:

"Here, bhikkhus [monks] , a bhikkhu lives contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending (it) and mindful (of it), having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief; he lives contemplating the feelings in the feelings, ardent, clearly comprehending (them) and mindful (of them), having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief; he lives contemplating consciousness in consciousness, ardent, clearly comprehending (it) and mindful (of it), having overcome in this world covetousness and grief; he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects, ardent, clearly comprehending (them) and mindful (of them), having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief."

A focus on breathing while meditating is a form of body contemplation.  The Mahasi technique is body focused.  One observes the rising and falling of the abdomen, noting other objects as they arise, and then returning to the rising and falling as the default object.  A focus on feeling involves being mindful of feeling tones associated with sensations: pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings.  Contemplating consciousness involves being mindful of various mental states such as greed or lust, hate or aversion and delusion or ignorance.  The focus of meditation in contemplation of mental objects can be essentially anything but as seen through categories associated with Buddhist teachings such as the five hindrances, five aggregates and the six sense-bases.

Opening to insight: The five hindrances

The five hindrances are obstacles in meditation and in life.  They are manifestations of the three root defilements--greed, hate and delusion.

The five hindrances are sense desire, ill will; sloth and topor; restlessness, worry and remorse; and doubt.  The first two hindrances, sense desire and ill will, represent the forces of attraction and aversion that we can have towards sense objects and are manifestations of the defilements of greed and anger.  They are the strongest of the hindrances.  The other three hindrances are manifestations of delusion, usually in association with other defilements (Bodhi, 2010).  Although less toxic than the first two hindrances, they too obstruct meditative progress.  Restlessness, worry and remorse disquiet the mind and distract us.  Sloth and topor drain our energy and doubts saps our confidence in what we are doing.  

In traditional explanations of these hindrances, the simile is employed of the mind being like water.  When sense desire dominates, the mind is like water that is dyed with many bright and alluring colors.  When ill will dominates, the mind is like boiling water.  When restlessness, worry and remorse dominate, the mind is like water churned up by the wind.  When sloth and torpor dominate, the mind is like a stagnant pond choked with weeds and algae.  When doubt dominates, the mind is like muddy water.  For each of the hindrances, the water is disturbed and it is not possible to see clearly through it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Opening to insight: Conditioned existence

In Buddhist doctrine, everything other than nibbana is conditioned and, as such, subject to arising and passing away and bound up in a causal network that has no beginning or end.  When analysed, all conditioned things are seen as collections (aggregates, khandhas in Pali) rather than independently existing things each of which has a self or essence.  Humans are no exception.  Our psycho-physical being is composed of five aggregates: form or matter, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness.  All our experiences can be understood in terms of these aggregates and their interaction.  We misunderstand our own nature when we identify ourselves with any one of them, for instance, by seeing the body as one’s self.  The basis for suffering is to be found in these aggregates:  “Whatever we cling to can be found amongst the five aggregates” (Bodhi, 2013).  As such they are called the five aggregates of clinging.

The doctrine of dependent origination (paticcasamuppada in Pali) provides the framework for understanding conditioned existence.  The doctrine has a general and a specific meaning.  The general meaning is that all things are interdependent and arise by virtue of multiple causes and conditions.  The specific meaning has to do with the cycle of existence (see chart below) often depicted as a wheel of life with 12 links from ignorance (nescience in the chart) to old age and death.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Group meeting in Bancroft

(Please note change of time from what was previously announced.)

The spring session of the Bancroft meditation group sponsored by the Bancroft Family Health Team will begin on Wednesday May 1st and meet every Wednesday evening from 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM until June 26th at 15 Billa Street.  The group will be facilitated by Dr. McAllister and is open to members of the North Hastings community.  Beginners and experienced meditators are welcome.  There is no charge.  The format will be flexible and will include instruction in meditation, meditation together and discussion of issues related to day-to-day practice.  The theme of this session will be "opening to insight," bridging from meditation as health enhancing and stress relieving to meditation as a spiritual practice.