For me it’s more about readdressing the process we are undertaking as Buddhists (or probably Bon and Daoist for that matter) to see it in a light which actually makes it work a little better(?) , easier (?) – or even kinder …
(Apech, on “The Dao Bums”)
I’m with you on that!
Kobun Chino Otogawa once said:
Washing rice to make pizza is not a good idea! You have to do something that is possible and is related to your purpose. See reality, admit what is there, begin to work on what is missing, what has to be connected with, added, kept, what should remain and what should be cut off. (1)
“Admit what is there”–the early record of Gautama’s teaching is still there, in Southeast Asia, in Tibet, and in China. That’s where I think we should begin.
In that 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. (2)
“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’.” (3)
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.” (4)
Here is “that 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.* (5)
“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’. (6)
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. (6)
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.
Here is Gautama’s description of the feeling of the first state of concentration:
… as a handy bathman or attendant might strew bath-powder in some copper basin and, gradually sprinkling water, knead it together so that the bath-ball gathered up the moisture, became enveloped in moisture and saturated both in and out, but did not ooze moisture; even so (one) steeps, drenches, fills and suffuses this body with zest and ease, born of solitude, so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded by this lone-born zest and ease. (7)
The analogy Gautama provided is actually incomplete. The parallel for the bronze vessel is the body, the parallel for soap and water is zest and ease, but zest and ease cannot be kneaded into a solid the way soap and water can be worked into a “bath-ball”. I would suggest that the parallel for the bath-ball is the mind that moves away from the head. That mind, or the location of that mind, can be “enveloped” and “saturated” with zest and ease, until the location of that mind becomes palpable.
The verbs Gautama used (“steeps, drenches, fills and suffuses”) imply both relaxation and the engagement of the sense of gravity throughout the body. My experience has been that with the relaxed engagement of the sense of gravity, there emerges a feeling of centrifugal force at the location of mind, a centrifugal force that meets with a centripetal force backward along the same axis of rotation to provide an equalibrium.
Describing the difference between spiritual power and physical power, Zen teacher and sword master Omori Sogen wrote:
Thus, by means of the equilibrium of the centrifugal and the centripetal force, the whole body is brought to a state of zero and spiritual power will pervade the whole body intensely. (8)
In my experience, the centripetal force that effects equalibrium is dependent on the range of the senses. Here’s koun Franz again:
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. (6)
Kobun 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! (9)
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 centripetal force at the base of consciousness and allows the balance of the centripetal and centrifugal forces to extend through the body.
Gautama described a natural outflow in his characterization of the second state of concentration:
… a (person)… suppressing applied and sustained thought… enters and abides in the second musing; (such a one) likewise steeps this body with zest and ease… imagine a pool with a spring, but no water-inlet on the east side or the west side or on the north or on the south, and suppose the (rain-) deva supply not proper rains from time to time–cool waters would still well up from that pool, and that pool would be steeped, drenched, filled and suffused with the cold water so that not a drop but would be pervaded by the cold water; in just the same way… (one) steeps (their) body with zest and ease…. (7)
Omori Sogen associated the equalibrium of the centrifugal and centripetal forces with strength in the lower abdomen, especially between the tailbone and the area behind the navel. At the same time, he cautioned that “strength should be allowed to come to fullness naturally” and “we should sit so that our energy increases of itself and brims over”. (10).
I would say that strength in the lower abdomen has to do with pressure in the “fluid ball” of the abdomen, and with the way the body bears load across the juncture of the spine and the sacrum (see “A Natural Mindfulness”). The strength “comes to fullness naturally” as the sense of gravity calms the stretch of ligaments and the reciprocal activity of muscles can be relaxed.
Gautama characterized the third state of concentration as follows:
… free from the fervor of zest, (one) enters and abides in the third musing; (one) steeps and drenches and fills and suffuses this body with a zestless ease so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded by this zestless ease. … just as in a pond of blue, white, and red water-lillies, the plants are born in water, grow in water, come not out of the water, but, sunk in the depths, find nourishment, and from tip to root are steeped, drenched, filled and suffused with cold water so that not a part of them is not pervaded by cold water; even so, (one) steeps (one’s) body in zestless ease. (7)
In my experience, the base of consciousness can shift to a location that reflects involuntary activity in the limbs and in the jaw and skull. The feeling for activity in the legs, the arms, and the skull is indeed like an awareness of three varieties of one plant grown entirely below a waterline. The experience does have an ease, does require equanimity with regard to the senses, and generally resembles a kind of waking sleep.
In many of his sermons, Gautama described the third concentration as a state wherein “(one) dwells with equanimity, attentive and clearly conscious and experiences in (one’s) person that ease of which the (noble ones) say: ‘In ease lives (the one) who has equanimity and is mindful'”. (11)
The feeling of ease is nevertheless abandoned in the fourth concentration, as determinate thought in action of the body ceases.
With regard to the cessation of action of the body, Gautama spoke in particular of “the cessation of in-breathing and out-breathing”. I would say that most of us are unconscious of the activity of inhalation and exhalation most of the time, and therefore unaware of the influence of determinate thought on such action. All the same, when we make up our mind to do something, even if only to hold still, we influence the course of our inhalation or exhalation.
Gautama described the fourth concentration as follows:
Again, a (person), putting away ease… enters and abides in the fourth musing; seated, (one) suffuses (one’s) body with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind. … just as a (person) might sit with (their) head swathed in a clean cloth; even so (one) sits suffusing (their) body with purity… (7)
Gautama pointed to a feeling as though the head were “swathed in a clean cloth”, but in other expositions of the fourth concentration, he pointed instead to a feeling as though the whole body were “swathed in a clean cloth”.
I would say that the “purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind” of the fourth concentration is the freedom of mind when the location of the base of consciousness becomes the source of the action of posture and carriage, apart from any “determinate thought”.
Gautama described the experience as taking place “seated”, yet the emphasis on sensitivity at the surface of the body is also present in the classics of Tai Chi (a standing art):
… the addition of a feather will be felt for its weight, and… a fly cannot alight on (the body) without setting it in motion. (12)
I have experienced intervals when the location of the base of consciousness became the source of the action of my posture and carriage, and in these intervals, my very ability to breathe seemed to depend on one-pointedness of mind and equanimity with regard to the senses. In some of these intervals, I felt as though my body was set in motion by some invisible touch and the sense of gravity.
There’s a practice in the martial art of Aikido, where a student is blindfolded and then set upon by other students. The object of the exercise is to inculcate the ability to respond from center, even before contact. My experience with the fourth concentration is along these lines, with the only effort being to realize the equanimity and one-pointedness of mind that allow the movement of breath.
Gautama frequently closed his description of the states of concentration with the fourth. He would then add a description of what he called “the fifth limb” of concentration, “the survey-sign”:
Again, the survey-sign is rightly grasped by (a person), rightly held by the attention, rightly reflected upon, rightly penetrated by insight. … just as someone might survey another, standing might survey another sitting, or sitting might survey another lying down; even so the survey-sign is rightly grasped by (a person), rightly held by the attention, rightly reflected upon, rightly penetrated by insight. (7)
I would say the survey-sign is the impression made by the equanimity and one-pointedness of mind of the fourth concentration.
Gautama closed his description of the four initial concentrations, either with the “fifth limb” of the survey-sign, as above, or with a description of the four further states of concentration (and their trancendence).** I would guess that Gautama regularly experienced the first four concentrations and the survey-sign, and occasionally experienced the further states.
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)
“The stopping of perceiving and feeling” 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”.
I can relate to “readdressing the process we are undertaking as Buddhists… to see it in a light which actually makes it work a little better, easier–or even kinder”. I believe the process we are undertaking as Buddhists (or as appreciators of the teachings of Gautama) is the process of unfolding our own well-being, and the light that can make the process transpire with more ease and more kindness is the light of our own happiness.
One more thing Gautama offered, with regard to the states of concentration:
[The bad person] reflects thus: ‘I am an acquirer of the attainment of the first meditation.’ [Such a person] then exalts [him or her self] for that attainment of the first meditation and disparages others… But a good (person] reflects thus: ‘Lack of desire even for the attainment of the first meditation has been spoken of by [Gautama]; for whatever (one) imagines it to be, it is otherwise” [Similarly for the second, third, and fourth initial meditative states, and for the attainments of the first four further meditative states].
And again … a good [person], by passing quite beyond the plane of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, enters on and abides in the stopping of perception and feeling; and when [such a person] has seen by means of wisdom [their] cankers are caused to be destroyed. And… this [person] does not imagine [his or her self] to be aught or anywhere or in anything. (14)
*In his brief description of the power of concentration, Gautama did not specify how self-surrender is made the object of thought, yet elsewhere he described sixteen applications of thought that he said constituted his way of living.
Each of the sixteen is coupled with an action of inhalation or exhalation, and I would suggest they are so coupled because the one-pointedness of mind that Gautama took to be characteristic of concentration is a function of the necessity of breath.
According to Gautama, the first four of the sixteen applications 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. (15)
Where Woodward has “feeling it go through the whole body”, the later translator Horner has “experiencing the whole (breath-)body” (16). 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. (15)
To the extent that calm in the stretch of ligaments and relaxation in the activity of muscles reflects the extension of balance from the base of consciousness, 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”.
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. (15)
“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. (15)
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. (17)
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. (18)
**In some of his lectures, Gautama went from the four initial or “material” concentrations to four “non-material” concentrations without mention of the survey-sign. 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.(19)
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 (20). 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” (21).
1) Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, Fall 2012
2) AN III 415, Pali Text Society Vol III pg 294
3) SN IV 145, Pali Text Society IV pg 85
4) MN III 108-109, Pali Text Society Vol III pg 151-152
5) SN V 200, Pali Text Society V 176
6) “No Struggle [Zazen Yojinki, Part 6]”, by Koun Franz, from the “Nyoho Zen” site
https://nyoho.com/2018/09/15/no-struggle-zazen-yojinki-part-6/; for more on the mind that moves away from the head, please see my “Waking Up and Falling Asleep”
7) AN III 25-28, Pali Text Society Vol. III pg 18-19
8) “An Introduction to Zen Training”, Omori Sogen, pg 61
9) “Aspects of Sitting Meditation”, “Shikantaza”; Kobun Chino Otogawa; http://www.jikoji.org/intro-aspects/
10) “An Introduction to Zen Training”, Omori Sogen, pg 59
11) MN I 277, PTS MN I pg 331; Woodward’s “ease” in place of Horner’s “joy”
12) “Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s T’ai-Chi Ch’uan”, Cheng Man-Ch’ing, © Juliana T. Cheng, North Atlantic Books pg 13
13) MN I 400, Pali Text Society MN Vol. II pg 69
14) MN III 42-45, Pali Text Society Vol III pg 92-94
15) SN V 312, Pali Text Society Vol V pg 275-276; tr. F. L. Woodward; masculine pronouns replaced, re-paragraphed
16) MN III 82-83, Pali Text Society III pg 124; parentheticals added: . “breath-” per I. B. Horner’s note
17) for more on Gautama’s truths of suffering, see “Making Sense of the Pali Suttas: the Wheel of the Sayings”, “The Wheel of the Sayings”
18) Digha Nikaya ii 100, Pali Text Society DN Vol. II pg 108; Rhys Davids’ “body, feelings, moods, and ideas”, above, rendered by Horner as “body, feelings, mind, and mental states”
19) MN I 38, Pali Text Society volume I pg 48
20) MN I 165-166, Pali Text Society volume I pg 209-210
21) MN III 220, Pali Text Society Vol III pg 269