‘The Guaranteed Method’
Notes on the 3rd talk at Planet Yoga 2009
During the first two weeks we looked at the meditator’s duty of observation and mindfulness, while allowing ‘Wisdom’ or Panya to do the real problem solving work. Too many meditators try to solve life problems or try to figure everything out instead of getting on with the work of meditation and letting the ‘tangle’ unwind itself.
As you get into meditation however, there are certain difficulties that should be tackled or solved. These relate directly to sticky, hindering states of mind that make meditation difficult. They are called ‘Hindrances’ in English, or Nivarana in Pali. Perhaps a more descriptive translation would be ‘bogs’ or ‘swamps’ since they are so difficult to wade through.
Rites, Rituals and Opinions
At this point we are not dealing with the usual trappings of religion – the multitude of rites and rituals that so many people get caught up in. It should be clear that you will not be attaining enlightenment through developing certain rituals such as chanting or ritual cleansing. Rituals can be used by the wise, as external symbols for internal qualities. Chanting, bowing, statues etc.. should be used to aid the development of internal qualities. Then they have a use. Otherwise they change from being a useful tool, to being a superstition.
Attachment to views and opinions are also an obstacle. The problem is so many people get terribly caught up in their views – especially in religion. The Buddha commented one time that Kings go to war with each other due to their desires, where the religious people kill each other over opinions…
As we come to the teaching on the hindrances, you should be past the above attachments, and looking directly into the mind. Therefore the hindrances are not philosophical statements to agree with 0r disagree with, but actual states of mind that you experience on the cushion.
Above are mentioned only two forms of attachment – to rites & rituals, and to views & opinions. The other two kinds of attachment are to sense pleasures and to self-view, both of which will be mentioned in following talks in this series.
The Guaranteed Method
If you want to have a beautiful serene meditation, this method is guaranteed. It cannot fail.
To have a Great Meditation, have lots of bad ones!
And it is true. Most people want meditation to be lovely and happy. But working with the difficult states is what it is all about. If you can use the guaranteed method, then the ‘bad’ meditations cease to be thought of as ‘bad’ and they become the place where you do your work. If you put the work in, the results will follow. Too often people want the results first, and then perhaps they would put in the work.
People search for bliss through the distraction of a perfect meditation rather than striving to see things as they really are – which is the goal of wisdom.
Seeing ‘things as they are’ means looking in the difficult places. (The Nasruddin story, where he looks for his key under the street light, rather than where he dropped it). So a shift in precept ion is needed, so that you can appreciated yourself and your efforts, even when the meditation does not ‘seem’ to be ‘going well’.
The great Christian meditatior St Teresa d’Avila used to teach this same thing. In her system, one endures ‘Trials’, and gains ‘Consolations’. Your job is the trials, and any bliss that comes, or times when the mind comes together (she used the term ‘recollection’) are the consolations and encouragements from God. At John of the Cross – her follower – described 4 kinds of ‘Dark Night’ that the meditator passes through:
- The dark night of the senses
- Dark night of the memory
- Dark night of the understanding
- And the dark night of the soul.
So, just like Mohammad Ali would go to the ropes and let his opponent tire himself out, or just like a parent keeps themselves mindful and consistent with a child in a temper tantrum, so too the meditator should develop patience with the mind that is recalcitrant or disobedient. This is where you learn and grow, even if it is difficult.
If you grasp this concept then you move from being a ‘fair-weather’ meditator who only meditates when the situation is particularly pleasing, to being a real yogi.
The five hindrances then, are:
- Sense desire
- Ill will
- Sloth and torpor
(there are varying translations of the terms)
For each of the hindrances, there are five steps of observation and insight:
- Know when it is there
- Know when it is not there
- Know it as it arises
- Know it as ceases
- Know how to overcome it
(A. Vol I, p.250 PTS Trans.)
- Comparedto a bowl of water coloured with dye or turmeric – one cannot see ones own face in the reflection
- Cause– paying attention to the attractive element in things (all objects of sense can be seen in their attractive or unattractive view, depending on your disposition or intention)
- Cure – paying attention to the unattractive element in the object of sense desire
- Result– One has no more ‘hankering for the world’, or can ‘abide free from attaching, independent, not clinging to anything in the world’
- Compared to a bowl of water that is boiling
- Cause – paying attention to the unattractive element in things
- Cure– Metta cetovimutti – or release through loving kindness
- Result – One abides compassionate for all living things.
Sloth and Torpor
- Compared to a bowl of water choked with weeds
- Cause – regret, laziness, too much food, indolence
- Cure – exertion and striving
- Result– aloko sa~n~nii – or perception of light, and mindfulness (note that perception of light in meditation can also be used as a cure for s&t)
- Compared to a bowl of water whipped up and disturbed by wind
- Cause – non-tranquility of mind
- Cure – valuing and developing tranquility of mind
- Result– one is unagitated, with mind inwardly peaceful
- Compared to a bowl of water with mud stirred up
- Cause – unwise attention
- Cure – Paying wise attention – that is paying attention to aspects that generate wisdom rather than desire, hate or delusion
- Result– one is not perplexed about what is wholesome (kusala) or unwholesome.
The bowl of water that is not hindered by the above conditions gives a clear reflection of ones own face – so it is that the mind that is developed in meditation can see things as they really are which is how one attains to final enlightenment.
Note: the above is compiled from different suttas – nowhere does the full list above appear together – so hopefully for the Dhamma experts it presents/assembles something interesting. The aim of each of the talks is to be accessible for the newcomers, while presenting something new or interesting for the experts.
Bowl of water analogy is at : S Vol V p.103-5 PTS Trans.
Cause and cure of each hindrance is at A Vol I p.2 PTS Trans.
Results of abandoning hindrances are at M 107 Ga.nakamoggallaana Sutta and many other places.
Lots of interesting points are thrown up by the above categorisations. Instead of jumping from point to point however, it seemed better to talk generally on developing the patience with the difficult mindstates, and to focus on the point that it is working with what is difficult that really makes you grow as a meditator or yogi.