By Ajahn ChahSome people don't want to experience any thoughts or feelings at all, but this is going too far. Feelings arise within the state of calm. The mind is both experiencing feelings and calm at the same time, without being disturbed. When there is calm like this there are no harmful consequences. Problems occur when the ''chicken'' gets out of the ''coop.'' For instance, you may be watching the breath entering and leaving and then forget yourself, allowing the mind to wander away from the breath, back home, off to the shops or to any number of different places. Maybe even half an hour may pass before you suddenly realize you're supposed to be practicing meditation and reprimand yourself for your lack of sati. This is where you have to be really careful, because this is where the chicken gets out of the coop - the mind leaves its base of calm.
You must take care to maintain the awareness with sati and try to pull the mind back. Although I use the words ''pull the mind back,'' in fact the mind doesn't really go anywhere, only the object of awareness has changed. You must make the mind stay right here and now. As long as there is sati there will be presence of mind. It seems like you are pulling the mind back but really it hasn't gone anywhere, it has simply changed a little. It seems that the mind goes here and there, but in fact the change occurs right at the one spot. When sati is regained, in a flash you are back with the mind without it having to be brought from anywhere.
When there is total knowing, a continuous and unbroken awareness at each and every moment, this is called presence of mind. If your attention drifts from the breath to other places then the knowing is broken. Whenever there is awareness of the breath the mind is there. With just the breath and this even and continuous awareness you have presence of mind.
There must be both sati and sampajañña. Sati is recollection and sampajañña is self-awareness. Right now you are clearly aware of the breath. This exercise of watching the breath helps sati and sampajañña develop together. They share the work. Having both sati and sampajañña is like having two workers to lift a heavy plank of wood. Suppose there are two people trying to lift some heavy planks, but the weight is so great, they have to strain so hard, that it's almost unendurable. Then another person, imbued with goodwill, sees them and rushes in to help. In the same way, when there is sati and sampajañña, then paññā (wisdom) will arise at the same place to help out. Then all three of them support each other.
With paññā there will be an understanding of sense objects. For instance, during the meditation sense objects are experienced which give rise to feelings and moods. You may start to think of a friend, but then paññā should immediately counter with ''It doesn't matter,'' ''Stop'' or ''Forget it.'' Or if there are thoughts about where you will go tomorrow, then the response would be, ''I'm not interested, I don't want to concern myself with such things.'' Maybe you start thinking about other people, then you should think, ''No, I don't want to get involved.'' ''Just let go,'' or ''It's all uncertain and never a sure thing.'' This is how you should deal with things in meditation, recognizing them as ''not sure, not sure,'' and maintaining this kind of awareness.
You must give up all the thinking, the inner dialogue and the doubting. Don't get caught up in these things during the meditation. In the end all that will remain in the mind in its purest form are sati, sampajañña and paññā. Whenever these things weaken doubts will arise, but try to abandon those doubts immediately, leaving only sati, sampajañña and paññā. Try to develop sati like this until it can be maintained at all times. Then you will understand sati, sampajañña and samādhi thoroughly.
Focusing the attention at this point you will see sati, sampajañña, samādhi and paññā together. Whether you are attracted to or repelled by external sense objects, you will be able to tell yourself, ''It's not sure.'' Either way they are just hindrances to be swept away till the mind is clean. All that should remain is sati, recollection; sampajañña, clear awareness; samādhi, the firm and unwavering mind; and paññā, or consummate wisdom. For the time being I will say just this much on the subject of meditation.
Now about the tools or aids to meditation practice - there should be mettā (goodwill) in your heart, in other words, the qualities of generosity, kindness and helpfulness. These should be maintained as the foundation for mental purity. For example, begin doing away with lobha, or selfishness, through giving. When people are selfish they aren't happy. Selfishness leads to a sense of discontent, and yet people tend to be very selfish without realizing how it affects them.
You can experience this at any time, especially when you are hungry. Suppose you get some apples and you have the opportunity to share them with a friend; you think it over for a while, and, sure, the intention to give is there all right, but you want to give the smaller one. To give the big one would be... well, such a shame. It's hard to think straight. You tell them to go ahead and take one, but then you say, ''Take this one!''... and give them the smaller apple! This is one form of selfishness that people usually don't notice. Have you ever been like this?
You really have to go against the grain to give. Even though you may really only want to give the smaller apple, you must force yourself to give away the bigger one. Of course, once you have given it to your friend you feel good inside. Training the mind by going against the grain in this way requires self-discipline - you must know how to give and how to give up, not allowing selfishness to stick. Once you learn how to give, if you are still hesitating over which fruit to give, then while you are deliberating you will be troubled, and even if you give the bigger one, there will still be a sense of reluctance. But as soon as you firmly decide to give the bigger one the matter is over and done with. This is going against the grain in the right way.
Doing this you win mastery over yourself. If you can't do it you will be a victim of yourself and continue to be selfish. All of us have been selfish in the past. This is a defilement which needs to be cut off. In the Pāli scriptures, giving is called ''dāna,'' which means bringing happiness to others. It is one of those conditions which help to cleanse the mind from defilement. Reflect on this and develop it in your practice.
You may think that practicing like this involves hounding yourself, but it doesn't really. Actually it's hounding craving and the defilements. If defilements arise within you, you have to do something to remedy them. Defilements are like a stray cat. If you give it as much food as it wants it will always be coming around looking for more food, but if you stop feeding it, after a couple of days it'll stop coming around. It's the same with the defilements, they won't come to disturb you, they'll leave your mind in peace. So rather than being afraid of defilement, make the defilements afraid of you. To make the defilements afraid of you, you must see the Dhamma within your minds.
Where does the Dhamma arise? It arises with our knowing and understanding in this way. Everyone is able to know and understand the Dhamma. It's not something that has to be found in books, you don't have to do a lot of study to see it, just reflect right now and you can see what I am talking about. Everybody can see it because it exists right within our hearts. Everybody has defilements, don't they? If you are able to see them then you can understand. In the past you've looked after and pampered your defilements, but now you must know your defilements and not allow them to come and bother you.
The next constituent of practice is moral restraint (sıla). Sıla watches over and nurtures the practice in the same way as parents look after their children. Maintaining moral restraint means not only to avoid harming others but also to help and encourage them. At the very least you should maintain the five precepts, which are:
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