Thursday, November 18, 2010

Minding the Mind.

Some of the initial difficulties while sitting cross-legged and observing my natural respiration were 1. restlessness..I could not sit still for more than 10-15minutes 2. drowsiness and 3. mind on an autopilot..wandering off on its own.

Of these difficulties I could overcome the first two fairly quickly; but mind wandering has always been a challenge. In residential courses this challenge is some what manageable because the silence in the environment facilitates the quietening of the mind. Once back into the outside world, with all its hustle and bustle and noise, quietening the mind becomes quite a task. What I noticed after some courses of meditation, was that the practice seemed to resemble a well-learned skill.

The moment I sat on my cushion, I would start observing my breath and then my sensations and somewhere in this process, a part of my mind would roll off into thoughts, events and sometimes into sleep, and yet there was another part of my mind that seemed to be meditating---going through the body, observing sensations.

This part of my mind rolling off into other thoughts was similar to the experience of driving. In the initial stages of learning to drive I was totally focused on the road, traffic and changing gears, accelerating, braking etc. When the learning was over, and I started mastering the skill of driving, I would frequently find myself thinking of other things apart from driving. I would return to the road and my driving once in a way.

It took me quite a while to understand I was doing the same thing with meditation. A part of my mind was meditating and another part thinking of other things. Gradually and patiently I worked towards getting the entire mind on track--on meditation-and it is an ongoing process.

This is the fascinating part of helps one to become aware of what the mind is up to all the time and guides, corrects and regulates itself. Its like the mind mending itself! or better still, the mind minding the mind.

Minding the mind helps you increase your self-awareness---what am I doing right now? what did I set out to do and am I still on-task or off task? If off-task--how can I get back on task? If I am on task--how long can I keep it on-task?

This increase in self-awareness increases the ability to regulate one's behaviour--mental and physical. One becomes more in control of what is happening in the mind and on the body. This awareness slowly permeates your being, and becomes more and more effortless.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The teaching & practice

The once a week group sitting with two other co-meditators resumed today, at my house. We had a one month break from this routine as I was attending a course on Addiction and my classes were on Tuesday evenings.
Group meditations are always recommended as it helps one to maintain regularity of practice. It felt good today to have such a sitting.

In addition I have been reading some of the Suttas online and they have increased my understanding of the teaching. I subscribe to and I get nuggets of wisdom everyday in my email. These nuggets really help me get on with life especially when the going gets tough. They help me maintain my daily practice as well; because as my teacher Mr. Goenkaji says, if you have lost your daily practice, you have lost all. It's the practice as well as an intellectual understanding that really brings a change in the quality of one's life.

Today, I read the Silabbata Sutta: Precept & Practice . It is a verse wherein, The Buddha asks his assistant, Venerable Ananda : "Ananda, every precept & practice, every life, every holy life that is followed as of essential worth: is every one of them fruitful?"

I thought this was a very interesting question--as I have been asked why some people who take Vipassana courses again and again still remain unchanged.

To this question from The Buddha, Venerable Ananda replies, that when one's "unskillful mental qualities increase, and skillful mental qualities decrease, then that sort of precept & practice, life, holy life that is followed as of essential worth, is fruitless."
However, when one's "unskillful mental qualities decrease and skillful mental qualities increase, then that sort of precept & practice, life, holy life, that is followed as of essential worth is fruitful"

This means one has to be mindful, of the thoughts and actions one is engaging in, every moment of the day. Daily sitting practice helps to stay in the present moment and aids this awareness of one's thoughts and actions. With this awareness, one can choose how to respond to situations during the day, mindful about increasing skillful qualities and decreasing unskillful qualities.

What are skillful mental qualities? In my understanding, it is those qualities that come from compassion, fearlessness and acceptance of the other and/or the situation. It includes those qualities which help one to find a gap between a stimulus and response, consider one's available choices and then act. Unskillful qualities, in my understanding are those which are reactive, immediate and devoid of careful thought and consideration. They are born out of fear, anxiety and perceived threat.

Wonderful teaching--so much depth in understanding of human thinking and behaviour!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


And how does a monk dwell Aware?

Herein a friend dwells contemplating any body as a void frame only;
as a transient, painful and impersonal neither-me-nor-mine appearance,
while alert, ballanced and deliberately aware, thereby overcoming
any mental rejection of reality, arisen from coveting
this world
Exactly so does he dwell with regard to any feeling..
with regard to any mood and mentality..
with regard to any phenomenon..
Only precisely so is a Noble One Acutely Aware!

The words that caught my attention here were: Awareness that helps over come any mental rejection of reality, arisen from coveting this world.

Profound words with such depth in meaning!

It was only in my 20 day course that I realized the constant evaluation I engage in every situation I am in. Whatever happens in the course of my day, I keep telling myself, " I like this, ...." "I don't like that..." -whether it be the events, incidents that occur or what I read about or what I hear being said.

In the recent incident that happened in my life, I noticed that I did the same thing. Although my awareness of this tendency has increased in the past few years, some old habit patterns take more time to change. After all, as my 30 -day meditation teacher Meena Tank said, "Hum ab tak arhant toh nahi bane..." ( We haven't become a fully enlightened person yet). But definitely in the process of learning to get free from the bondages that keep us in this samsara.

mental rejection of reality

Ever so often life presents us with situations that is so difficult to accept. We wonder why is this happening to us? What did I do to deserve this? This is unfair! He/she/they should not do this to me. This is injustice! But the fact is what happens, happens. Rejection of what happens only increases our suffering.

The following is a beautiful zen story that mirrors my thoughts:

Is That So?

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life.

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.

This made her parents very angry. She would not confess who the was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

In great anger her parents went to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say.

When the child was born the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. "Is that so?" Haikuin said calmly as he accepted the child.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth--that the real father if the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.

The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back again.

Haikuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was : "Is that so?"

What is amazing in this story is that this zen master accepted the reality as it is. There is no point in saying -This is not my child, your daughter is lying. It would only lead to arguments and counter arguments, when everyone one concerned especially the girl and the master know it is a lie.

Accepting it the way it is, going about doing the things that needed to be done, unmindful of the censure he was facing by his village people is so remarkable! Probably, it this acceptance that made the girl confess the truth--albeit after about a year and return to apologize. And here again --all that the master said was "Is that so?" This comes from a total lack of coveting of anything in this world--not even the child who he took care of with love!

It is this coveting this world: our reputation, our belongings, our possessions, our prestige, in short anything that we think is ours, is what prevents us from accepting reality the way it is. If we did this (accept reality), we find things unfold in way that the truth will reveal itself--we just have to allow it to happen with no interference.

How do we overcome coveting? Isn't it ours? Our jobs, our possessions...

They do seem to be ours.. but actually not.. because we weren't born with it, nor are we going to take it with us, when we die. We are going to leave it here when we depart from this world. And when we know that coveting is actually causing us so much misery, why not give it up?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Choosing to walk on this Path

Sukhamala Sutta

Read this beautiful sutta today..Sukhamala Sutta

'Subject to birth, subject to aging, subject to death,

I am often asked by people, what made me take to this path.
Why do I go for Vipassana courses?
I am a Psychologist; my undergraduation, Masters and PhD were in Psychology.
So people assume I should know whatever there is to know about human behaviour.
Hasn't my education trained me in this direction?

This is true, my education did train me to understand human behavior,
but I was not satisfied with it as I could not fully understand myself the way I could in a Vipassana course.
Another question I frequently encounter with people is--
Did I suffer any personal misfortune or tragedy, that forced me on to this path?.
My sister's untimely and sudden, tragic death seem to give some rationale or explanation
for my engagement in Vipassana courses.
But is this really necessary? Does one have to face misfortune or tragedy to take to this path?
What if life has generally been treating you well, and you have a good, pleasant lifestyle,
will you not take to this path?

The Sukhamala Sutta, gave me answers to these questions I was pondering on.
The Buddha, as a bodhisatta, enjoyed all the luxuries a Prince of his time did
--perhaps even more, as his father, was not too happy with the prediction that he would become "The Buddha" ,
and therefore surrounded him with comforts.
Yet, in spite of living in these comforts, he says--if I am repulsed by those who suffer,
that's not befitting of me, because I am also a human being like them,
and therefore can in all likelihood be in similar state as them. In other words, suffer like them.
So why do I find such sights difficult to bear? Why am I repulsed by the sight of their suffering?
And then he says as he noticed this, his intoxication with life, youth and health dropped away.

It is when you are intoxicated with life, youth and health that you engage in various forms misconduct
causing harm to yourself and others.
His intoxication with life ceased and there was no way he could see himself engaging in sensual pleasures
and could renounce them all.
Thus the path towards enlightenment.

Therefore, it is not necessary that you face a misfortune or tragedy in order to walk this path.
Having experienced, pleasure and pleasure alone, can help a person see the emptiness of such a life
and thus disgust towards it.