In the early record, Gautama is concerned with action, a certain kind of action:
…I say that determinate thought is action. When one determines, one acts by deed, word, or thought. (1)
“When one determines”–when one makes up one’s mind, action takes place.
Gautama taught the ceasing of action:
And what… is the ceasing of action? That ceasing of action by body, speech, and mind, by which one contacts freedom,–that is called ‘the ceasing of action’. (2)
Gautama taught that action ceases first with regard to speech, then with regard to the body, and finally with regard to the mind. He described the culmination of the process as follows:
…[an individual] comprehend[s] thus, ‘This concentration of mind … is effected and thought out. But whatever is effected and thought out, that is impermanent, it is liable to stopping.’ When [the individual] knows this thus, sees this thus, [their] mind is freed from the canker of sense-pleasures and [their] mind is freed from the canker of becoming and [their] mind is freed from the canker of ignorance. In freedom is the knowledge that [one] is freed and [one] comprehends: “Destroyed is birth, brought to a close the (holy)-faring, done is what was to be done, there is no more of being such or so’. [They] comprehend thus: “The disturbances there might be resulting from the canker of sense-pleasures do not exist here; the disturbances there might be resulting from the canker of becoming do not exist here; the disturbances there might be resulting from the canker of ignorance do not exist here. And there is only this degree of disturbance, that is to say the six sensory fields that, conditioned by life, are grounded on this body itself.” (3)
“The stopping of perceiving and feeling” Gautama described is the cessation of determinate thought in action of the mind, the transcendence of the states of concentration and the comprehension that “done is what was to be done, there is no more of being such or so”. Such is the ultimate “ceasing of action… by which one contacts freedom”, even though the “disturbance” of the six sensory fields (five plus the mind) remains.
Gautama taught that the ceasing of action (action by “determinate thought”) takes place at particular junctures as successive states of concentration unfold. Action of speech ceases in the first of the concentrations, action of body ceases in the fourth, and action of mind ceases as the last of the concentrations is transcended altogether (and “there is no more of being such-and-so”).
Gautama spoke about the induction of concentration:
Making self surrender the object of thought, one lays hold of concentration, one lays hold of one-pointedness of mind. (4)
“One-pointedness of mind” could mean the steady focus of attention on some particular object, as Zen teacher koun Franz outlined:
Okay… So, have your hands in the cosmic mudra, palms up, thumbs touching, and there’s this common instruction: place your mind here. Different people interpret this differently. Some people will say this means to place your attention here, meaning to keep your attention on your hands. It’s a way of turning the lens to where you are in space so that you’re not looking out here and out here and out here. It’s the positive version, perhaps, of ‘navel gazing’. (5)
However, a steady focus of attention on some particular object is not the only way to interpret “place your mind here”:
The other way to understand this is to literally place your mind where your hands are–to relocate mind (let’s not say your mind) to your centre of gravity, so that mind is operating from a place other than your brain. Some traditions take this very seriously, this idea of moving your consciousness around the body. I wouldn’t recommend dedicating your life to it, but as an experiment, I recommend trying it, sitting in this posture and trying to feel what it’s like to let your mind, to let the base of your consciousness, move away from your head. One thing you’ll find, or that I have found, at least, is that you can’t will it to happen, because you’re willing it from your head. To the extent that you can do it, it’s an act of letting go–and a fascinating one. (5)
Most people can concentrate their attention on their hands, and they don’t need to make self-surrender the object of their thought in order to do so. However, as koun Franz pointed out, some surrender of personal agency is required in order for “the base of consciousness” to shift location.
Koun Franz also spoke about a relationship between the sense of sight and the mind:
I was taught we should be constantly aware of our eyes when we sit. Specifically, we should be aware of how we narrow and widen the aperture, how our field of vision gets narrower and narrower as our mind gets narrower and narrower. When you see that clearly, you also see how easily you can just open it up; the degree to which we open it up is the degree to which we’re here. (5)
Zen teacher Kobun Chino Otogawa likewise spoke of opening up the range of the senses:
When you sit, the cushion sits with you. If you wear glasses, the glasses sit with you. Clothing sits with you. House sits with you. People who are moving around outside all sit with you. They don’t take the sitting posture! (6)
The range of the senses, and possibly what lies beyond the conscious range of the senses (“people who are moving around outside”), enters into the location of the base of consciousness and allows the balance of the location to extend through the body.
Gautama taught that thought applied and sustained is present in the initial state of concentration, and he described his way of living as sixteen particular thoughts, each applied or sustained while mindful of the breath in or the breath out. The first four of the sixteen constituted a particular mindfulness of the body:
… Setting mindfulness in front of (oneself), (one) breathes in mindfully and mindfully breathes out.
As (one) draws in a long breath (one) knows: A long breath I draw in. [As (one) breathes out a long breath (one) knows: I breathe out a long breath.] As (one) draws in a short breath (one) knows: A short breath I draw in. As (one) breathes out a short breath (one) knows: I breathe out a short breath.
Thus (one) makes up (one’s) mind:
I shall breathe in, feeling it go through the whole body. Feeling it go through the whole body I shall breath out.
Calming down the bodily aggregate I shall breathe in. Calming down the bodily aggregate I shall breathe out. (7)
Where Woodward has “feeling it go through the whole body”, the later translator Horner has “experiencing the whole (breath-)body” (8). Where Woodward has “calming down the bodily aggregate”, Horner has “tranquillising the activity of body”.
Gautama continued with four applications of thought that he said constituted mindfulness of feelings:
Thus (one) makes up (one’s) mind:
Feeling the thrill of zest I shall breathe in. Feeling the thrill of zest I shall breathe out.
Feeling the sense of ease I shall breathe in. Feeling the sense of ease I shall breathe out.
(One) makes up one’s mind:
“Aware of all mental factors I shall breathe in. Aware of all mental factors I will breathe out.
Calming down the mental factors I shall breathe in. Calming down the mental factors I shall breathe out. (7)
As the “activity of the body” is “tranquillised” in inhalation and exhalation, balance extends from the base of consciousness, and a certain zest and ease emerges.
Where Woodward has “aware of all mental factors”, Horner has “experiencing the activity of thought”. Where Woodward has “calming down the mental factors”, Horner has “tranquillising the activity of thought”.
I myself find an awareness of the senses that locate the mind (equalibrioception, graviception, proprioception, and oculoception), and of the range of these senses, provides a good approximation to “mental factors”. I look for calm in these senses in conjunction with the stretch of ligaments, as balance extends through the body.
The next four applications Gautama took to be a mindfulness of mind:
Aware of mind I shall breathe in. Aware of mind I shall breathe out.
(One) makes up one’s mind:
“Gladdening my mind I shall breathe in. Gladdening my mind I shall breathe out.
Composing my mind I shall breathe in. Composing my mind I shall breathe out.
Detaching my mind I shall breathe in. Detaching my mind I shall breathe out. (7)
“Detaching my mind” I believe speaks to a detachment from thought, but perhaps also to the ability of the mind to move, as described by koun Franz.
The final four applications of thought were, according to Gautama, a mindfulness of the state of mind:
(One) makes up one’s mind:
Contemplating impermanence I shall breathe in. Contemplating impermanence I shall breathe out.
Contemplating dispassion I shall breathe in. Contemplating dispassion I shall breathe out.
Contemplating cessation I shall breathe in. Contemplating cessation I shall breathe out.
Contemplating renunciation I shall breathe in. Contemplating renunciation I shall breathe out. (7)
When I reflect on impermanence, I generally think about death, but Gautama spoke more broadly about the impermanence of any notion of self, and about how grasping after any notion of self is identically suffering.
With regard to death, Gautama stated that those who correctly practice “mindfulness of death” apply his teachings “for the interval that it takes to swallow having chewed up one morsel of food”, or “for the interval that it takes to breathe out after breathing in, or to breathe in after breathing out”.
Contemplation on impermanence in any form engenders a dispassion toward “the pleasant, the painful, and the neither-pleasant-nor-painful” of feeling, giving rise to the second element of Gautama’s “mindfulness of mental states”.
I take the “cessation” of the third element to be the cessation of volitive action, the action invoked by determinate thought. There are other cessations Gautama cited, each in connection with a particular state of concentration, but they only have significance in the larger context of the cessation of volitive action.
The “renunciation” of the fourth element I would say refers to the abandonment of any notion of “I am the doer, mine is the doer” with regard to action of speech, body, or mind.
The sixteen elements of mindfulness that Gautama described as his way of living were each to be applied or sustained in conjunction with an inhalation or an exhalation, but Gautama acknowledged that he found “the intent concentration on in-breathing and out-breathing”, as he called the sixteen, particularly suited to the rainy season–a season when he would spend most of his day indoors, perhaps frequently in seated meditation.
Gautama advised his followers to utilize the four applications of mindfulness, of which the sixteen were one instance, in order to be a lamp unto themselves:
Therefore… be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge unto yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth as a lamp. Hold fast as a refuge to the Truth. Look not for refuge to any one besides yourselves. And how… is (one) to be a lamp unto (oneself), a refuge unto (oneself), betaking (oneself) to no external refuge, holding fast to the Truth as a lamp, holding fast as a refuge to the Truth, looking not for refuge to any one besides (oneself)?
Herein, … (one) continues, as to the body, so to look upon the body that (one) remains strenuous, self-possessed, and mindful, having overcome both the hankering and the dejection common in the world. As to feelings… moods… ideas, (one) continues so to look upon each that (one) remains strenuous, self-possessed, and mindful, having overcome both the hankering and the dejection common in the world. (9)
In some of his lectures, Gautama went from the four initial or “material” concentrations to four “non-material” concentrations. The four further states, he said, marked a transition from “equanimity with respect to the multiplicity of the senses” to “equanimity with respect to the uniformity of the senses”.
The first of the further states was “the infinity of ether”. Gautama identified the state with “the excellence of the heart’s release” through the extension of “the mind of compassion”. He described a particular method for the extension of the mind of compassion, a method that began with the extension of “the mind of friendliness”:
[One] dwells, having suffused the first quarter [of the world] with friendliness, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; just so above, below, across; [one] dwells having suffused the whole world everywhere, in every way, with a mind of friendliness that is far-reaching, wide-spread, immeasurable, without enmity, without malevolence. [One] dwells having suffused the first quarter with a mind of compassion… with a mind of sympathetic joy… with a mind of equanimity that is far-reaching, wide-spread, immeasurable, without enmity, without malevolence.(10)
The second of the further states (“the infinity of consciousness”) Gautama identified with “the excellence of the heart’s release” through the extension of “the mind of sympathetic joy”, and the third (“the infinity of nothingness”) he identified with “the excellence of the heart’s release” through the extension of “the mind of equanimity”.
The fourth of the further states Gautama described as “neither perception nor yet non-perception”. He gave no specific instruction on the transition from the third state to the fourth, but equanimity with respect to the uniformity of the senses is still present in the fourth.
Gautama studied the third and fourth further states under two of the masters of his day (11). He remained unsatisfied, but by means of “a lack of desire”, he arrived at “the stopping of perception and feeling” and the freedom and knowledge that “done is what was to be done, there is no more of being such or so” (12).
Gautama put forward that all of the concentrations are marked by happiness, and that even the transcendence of the concentrations is marked by happiness. He expected followers of other sects to be skeptical of the latter claim, and he advised his attendant Ananda what to say:
… the situation occurs, Ananda, when wanderers belonging to other sects may speak thus: ‘The recluse (Gautama) speaks of the stopping of perceiving and feeling, and lays down that this belongs to happiness. Now what is this, now how is this?’ Ananda, wanderers belonging to other sects who speak thus should be spoken to thus: ‘Your reverences, (Gautama) does not lay down that it is only pleasant feeling that belongs to happiness; for, your reverences, the Tathagatha (the “Thus-Gone One”, the Buddha) lays down that whenever, wherever, whatever happiness is found it belongs to happiness. (13)
1) AN III 415, Pali Text Society Vol III p 294
2) SN IV 145, Pali Text Society Vol IV p 85
3) MN III 108-109, Pali Text Society Vol III p 151-152
4) SN V 200, Pali Text Society Vol V p 176
5) “No Struggle [Zazen Yojinki, Part 6]”, by Koun Franz, from the “Nyoho Zen” site
No Struggle (Zazen Yōjinki, Part 6)
6) “Aspects of Sitting Meditation”, “Shikantaza”; Kobun Chino Otogawa, from the Jikoji Zen Center site http://www.jikoji.org/intro-aspects/
7) SN V 312, Pali Text Society Vol V p 275-276; tr. F. L. Woodward; masculine pronouns replaced, re-paragraphed
8) MN III 82-83, Pali Text Society Vol III p 124; parentheticals added; “breath-” per I. B. Horner’s note, added
9) Digha Nikaya ii 100, Pali Text Society Vol II p 108; Rhys Davids’ “body, feelings, moods, and ideas”, above, rendered by Horner as “body, feelings, mind, and mental states”
10) MN I 38, Pali Text Society Vol I p 48
11) MN I 165-166, Pali Text Society Vol I p 209-210
12) MN III 220, Pali Text Society Vol III p 269
13) MN I 400, Pali Text Society Vol II p 69