Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond (Ajahn Brahm)

Every serious Buddhist practitioner needs to read this book. It is the clearest and most complete exposition of the core and essence of Buddhist meditation that I have encountered. It's not like other books in the Buddhist genre that describe the philosophy of Buddhism, or even some of the Buddhist psychology that can be employed in transformative work. This book is an extremely well-written, and highly entertaining operator's manual of the mind. It's a clear and lucid step-by-step guide to what meditation actually is, how to do it, and what to expect along the way. The second part of the book, focuses on what can happen in the deeper stages of meditation. It is clear that Ajahn Brahm is something of an authority on the subject, as he speaks with first hand experience of the phenomena he is describing. This isn't mystical mumbo-jumbo either: he gives it to us straight. This is exceedingly refreshing amidst so much new-age "spiritual" literature available today.

Ajahn Brahm (short for Brahmavamso) spent nine years as a student of Ajahn Chah in the forest monastic tradition of Thailand. This after graduating from Cambridge University with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. After reading this book I felt as if so many pieces of the path that were previously known, but not understood in terms of how they related to each other, suddenly became clear and connected. Images in Tibetan Tangkas suddenly came to life. The essence of Zen, and the teachings of Eckhart Tolle became clear in terms of how they fit into this framework and what purpose they serve. Ajahn Brahm presents a framework that contains all these teachings, as parts of a larger whole. And the whole that he presents, he contests, is the pure, orthodox teaching of the Buddha, in it's original form, adjusted only in presentation for a Western mind and palette. He gives ample citations to the orthodox Pāli canon, which contains the original teachings of the Buddha, as direct support for his statements. He points out that what he is saying was said by the Buddha. This is a wonderful distillation of the entire Pāli Buddhist Canon, in terms of its most important aspects: practice which leads to liberation of the mind.

The distinct image that comes to mind is that of the famous elephant and the blind men. Many today describe only one aspect of the elephant. But what Ajahn Brahm has done here is succeeded in presenting as complete a picture of the whole elephant as one could ever hope to achieve from a distinctly Buddhist perspective.

From the backcover:
"Ajahn Brahm here shares his knowledge and experience of the jhānas—a core part of the Buddha's original meditation teaching. The beginning instructions are some of the best anywhere, and the descriptions of the advanced states are unparalleled in their vividness. Never before has this material been approached in such an empowering way, by a teacher of such authority and popularity. Full of surprises, delightfully goofy humor, and stories that inspire, instruct, and illuminate. Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond will encourage those new to meditation and give a shot in the arm to more experienced practitioners."
"Like a broom through cobwebs, Ajahn Brahm sweeps away the mysteries surrounding the jhānas. Salted with his often witty stories, this book is like an operator's manual that one finds after struggling for years with a foreign-language manual. Brahm uses accessible language to explain subjects that other teachers shy away from. This is a bold and important book." — John Roberts, Buddhist Council of the Northwest

Ajahn Brahm describes several stages of meditation. Stage one is called Present-Moment Awareness, and involves giving up the baggage of past and future. In essence we remain only with the raw material of experience in the moment. There is no thinking about it, only observing and noting what happens in the moment. The analogy used is developing a mind like a padded cell. When any perception, experience or thought hits the wall of the cell it does not bounce back, and instead sinks into the padding and stops. In this stage of meditation we keep our attention in the present moment. All we know is what moment it is right now.

Stage two is called Silent Present-Moment Awareness, and involves dropping all commentary surrounding perception and experience. Whereas previously we noted what was happening, perhaps even commenting mentally on what was happening, now we drop all commentary. Ajahn Brahm draws a wonderful simile by comparing this state to what happens in a tennis match. There are two things going on: the tennis match, and the commentator's description of the tennis match. In this stage there is no commentator.

Stage three is called Silent Present-Moment Awareness of the Breath. Instead of being silently aware of whatever comes into the mind, at this stage we choose a single object. This object can be a number of things, including the idea/experience of metta, the visualization of a colored disc, or simply the breath. Focusing on a single object, such as the breath, implies letting go of diversity and moving into unity. Ajahn Brahm employs a useful comparison: the awareness at this stage is like replacing six telephones ringing simultaneously with one private telephone. Essentially, we focus on a single object to the exclusion of all other sensory phenomena. This exercise quickly lends the insight of how burdensome the six telephone lines really are. Awareness of the breath is not about locating the breath anywhere, but rather about the overall experience of the breath. And most importantly, the breath is natural—it is not forced or controlled in any way. When we can maintain this silent present-moment awareness of the breath for about a hundred consecutive breaths, we can proceed to the next stage.

Stage four is called Full Sustained Attention on the Breath. This stage occurs when our attention expands to take in every moment of the breath. Here we follow in detail the entire process of the breath, from the first sensation of in-breathing, through its gradual expansion, and culmination, pause, and the beginning of the out-breath, it's evolution, and ultimate fading away. When we can experience every part of the breath for many hundreds of consecutive breaths, then we have arrived at full sustained attention on the breath.

Stage five is called Full Sustained Attention on the Beautiful Breath. This stage flows naturally and seamlessly from the previous stage. As we enter this stage, the mind recognizes the breath to be extraordinarily smooth, calm and peaceful, and delights in it. This is what is meant by "beautiful breath." At this stage "you" do not do anything, the "doer" has to disappear. Instead you are just a knower, passively observing. Ajahn Brahm mentions that one helpful trick at this stage is to briefly break the inner silence and say to yourself: "calm." The mind at this stage is very sensitive, a kind of fully awake and highly focused self-hypnosis, and making such a gentle suggestion at this stage, nudges the mind to follow.

Stage six is called the Beautiful Nimitta. As Ajahn Brahm puts it, at this stage we let go of the body, thought, and five senses (including the awareness of the breath) so completely that only a beautiful mental sign, a nimitta, remains. This pure mental object is a real object in the landscape of the mind, and when it appears for the first time, it is extremely strange. One simply has not experienced anything like it before. Still, perception tries to categorize this disembodied beauty, this mental joy, according to our individual perceptual inclinations: lights, sensations, feelings etc. Ajahn Brahm indicates that we can recognize a nimitta by the following six features: (1) it appears only after the fifth stage of meditation; (2) it appears when the breath disappears; (3) it comes only when the external five senses are absent; (4) it manifests only in the silent mind; (5) it is strange but powerfully attractive; and (6) it is a beautifully simple object. If the nimitta arises but it is dull, Ajahn Brahm advises to return to the previous stage of meditation. He says that one must be able to sustain one's attention on the beautiful breath with ease for a very long time before the mind is capable of maintaining clear attention on the far more subtle nimitta. When it is time for the nimitta, it will be bright, stable and easy to sustain.

Stage seven is called Jhāna. This stage arises when we let the mind incline naturally towards the center of the nimitta, where the light is brilliant and pure. Here Ajahn Brahm advises to just let go and enjoy the ride as the attention gets drawn into the center, or as the light expands and envelops us completely. He says there are two common obstacles at the door into jhāna: exhilaration and fear. In the first case the mind has a "wow!" response which disturbs tranquility. In the second case there is the recognition of the sheer power and bliss of the jhāna, or else the recognition that to go fully inside we must leave "ourselves" behind. As Ajahn Brahm puts it:
"The doer is silent before entering the jhāna, but it is still there. Inside the jhāna, however, the doer is completely gone. Only the knower is still functioning. One is fully aware, but all the controls are now beyond reach. One cannot even form a single thought, let alone make a decision. The will is frozen, and this can be scary for beginners, who have never had the experience of being so stripped of control and yet so fully awake. The fear is of surrendering an essential part of one's identity."

All of the above stages of meditation describe the first half of meditation known as samatha or tranquility meditation. The second half of meditation is called vipassana or insight meditation. In order to do this second half of meditation effectively, we need to bring a calm, clear, and tranquil mind to the practice. In vipassana we apply this tranquil mind to one of three important areas: insight into the problems affecting daily happiness, insight into the way of meditation, and insight into the nature of "you." This is where things really start to happen. We will explore this further after touching on the Five Hindrances.

Ajahn Brahm goes on to describe five hindrances to meditation known as nīvarana in the original Pāli. This literally means "closing a door" or "obstructing entering into something." They obstruct us from entering into deep absorption states, or the jhānas. According to Ajahn Brahm, if you have not experienced the jhānas yet, then you have not fully understood these five hindrances. The Buddha named these five hindrances as sensory desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, and doubt. However, these labels as Westerners understand them do not quite do justice to the original definitions.

In the original Pāli, sensory desire is given as kāma-cchanda. Deconstructing the Pāli definition, kāma relates to anything to do with the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. Chanda means to delight in or agree with. Together they mean "delight, interest, involvement with the world of the five senses." For example, when we hear a sound, we almost never simply register it and then drop it. Instead we get all caught up and "interested" in the sound and what it represents, which in turn gives rise to a stream of associations—memories and imaginings of the past and future. We are no longer in the present moment, our minds are "lost in time." From delight in a specific sensory experience rooted in the present moment, our minds have become absorbed in thinking about sensory experiences in the past and future. This "thinking" about sensory desire was distinguished by the Buddha as an important aspect of sensory desire called kāma-vitakka in the original Pāli.

The second hindrance, ill will is another major obstacle to deep meditation. There are different forms of ill will, including ill will towards others, towards oneself, and towards the meditation object. Ill will towards others is a common experience which can be remedied by seeing the Buddha Nature in all sentient beings, and seeing how poor behavior is just people temporarily getting caught up in their "stuff." This view of other peoples' suffering leads towards compassionate understanding and non-identification. Ill will towards oneself can manifest as guilt and feelings of unworthiness, particularly for Westerners due to the way many of us have been brought up. Ajahn Brahm points out that an aversion to inner happiness is a sure sign of guilt, and in meditation this often leads to a form of punishment that involves denying ourselves the joy of deeper states of meditation. As expected, the remedy is to do some loving-kindness meditation, the key being to give oneself unconditional forgiveness. Lastly, ill will towards the meditation object often occurs for those who have been meditating on the breath without much success yet. In this situation, we tend to look at meditation as a chore, or with a certain amount of aversion. The solution is to generate goodwill towards the meditation object. One method Ajahn Brahm uses to deal with this scenario is to view the breath like a newborn son or daughter. Would you lose sight of it for long? If you appreciated the breath as much as you appreciated your child or someone who is very dear to you, you wouldn't drop, forget or abandon it. As Ajahn Brahm summarizes,
"[...] ill will is a hindrance you overcome by being compassionate to all others, forgiveness toward yourself, loving-kindness toward the meditation object, goodwill toward the meditation, and friendship with the breath."

The third hindrance is given as sloth and torpor. This occurs in meditation when we don't really know what we're watching. This is because the mind is gray, blurry and dull. Dullness in meditation is the result of a tired mind, usually one that has been overworking. Fighting that dullness only makes us more exhausted. Ajahn Brahm introduces two useful concepts representing the two halves of the mind: the knower and the doer. The knower is the passive half that simply receives information, and the doer is the active half that responds with evaluating, thinking, and controlling. Both share the same source of mental energy, and so when the doer consumes too much, little is left for the knower, and we experience dullness. Ajahn Brahm tells the story of a high-stress executive that came to a retreat, and in the first sittings her mind was almost as dead as a corpse. So for the first three days he advocated not doing anything, only rest and sleep. After three days, her mind was much brighter, after three more days, she caught up to the rest of the group, and by the end of the retreat she ended up being one of the star meditators. The most effective way to overcome sloth and torpor is to stop fighting our mind. We need to stop trying to change things and instead let things be. Then sloth and torpor will naturally disappear. Ajahn Brahm indicates how giving value to awareness can also help when we encounter an important fork in the road of meditation: one path leads to sloth and torpor, while the other leads to bright awareness. The first path gives up both the doer and the knower, while the second path gives up the doer but keeps the knower. When we value awareness we will automatically choose the second path.

The fourth hindrance is given as restlessness and remorse and is considered one of the most subtle of hindrances. The main component of this hindrance is restlessness of mind but can also include a sense of remorse. Remorse comes from hurtful speech or actions we may have performed. Forgiving oneself, letting go of the past, is what overcomes remorse. Restlessness, on the other hand, arises because we do not appreciate the beauty of contentment or the pleasure of doing nothing. We have a faultfinding mind rather than a mind that appreciates what's already there. Restlessness is going around looking for something else to do, something else to think about, or somewhere else to go. Ajahn Brahm indicates how developing a perception of contentment in all things is the most important thing we can do to alleviate restlessness. He advocates that we must be aware of finding fault in our meditation, as this is just the activity of a discontented mind. Be content with whatever is and our meditation will go deeper.

The fifth and last hindrance is called doubt. Doubt can be towards the teaching, about the teacher, towards oneself, or even towards one's experience. When doubt is directed towards the teaching, one is advised to trust in one's experience thus far. These experiences, while not the purpose of meditation, strengthen our confidence that our meditation is gradually moving along. With regard to teachers, we need to understand what their role is in our meditation. They serve as guides, often providing suggestions or recommendations based on their own experiences in meditation, while also serving to inspire and motivate. But Ajahn Brahm makes it very clear that before one places one's confidence in a teacher, to really check them out. Self-doubt, is perhaps the most insidious form of doubt as it can halt practice altogether. It often causes us to think that we are hopeless, useless, or incapable. It can be overcome with the help of a teacher or friend who inspires and encourages, or through reading about inspiring or encouraging accounts. It is important to have confidence that you can achieve what you want. As Ajahn Brahm says, failure only comes when we give up. Finally, doubt towards one's meditative experience in the moment is problematic. This form of doubt questions, for example, whether what we are experiencing is jhāna, or something else. If we are questioning then it is defintely not it, as jhāna is beyond reach of the conceptual/analytical mind. Ajahn Brahm says, afterwards we can review the meditation and examine our experience within it. But during meditation, keep the mind as peaceful and quiet as possible.

Ajahn Brahm ends the discussion of the Five Hindrances with a couple of important notes on the 'workshop of the hindrances,' and what happens when the hindrances are 'knocked out.' He points out that they all emanate from a single source: they are generated by the control freak inside of us that refuses to let things go.
"Meditators fail to overcome the hindrances because they look for them in the wrong place. It is crucial to success in meditation to understand that the hindrances are to be seen at work in the space between the knower and the known. The hindrances' [...] workshop is the space between the mind and its meditation object. Essentially, the five hindrances are a relationship problem.

Skillful meditators observing their breath also pay attention to how they watch their breath. If you see expectation between you and your breath, then you are watching the breath with desire, part of the first hindrance. If you notice aggression in the space in between, then you are watching the breath with the second hindrance, ill will. Or if you recognize fear in the space, maybe anxiety about losing awareness of the breath, then you are meditating with a combination of hindrances. For a time you may appear to be successful, able to keep the breath in mind for several minutes, but you will find that you are blocked from going deeper. You have been watching the wrong thing. Your main task in meditation is to notice these hindrances and knock them out. Thereby you earn each successive stage in meditation, rather than trying to steal the prize of each stage by an act of will.

In every stage of meditation you cannot go wrong when you put peace or kindness in the space between you and whatever you are aware of. When a sexual fantasy is occurring, put peace in the space and the daydream will soon run out of fuel. Make peace not war with the dullness. Place kindness between the observer and your aching body. And agree to a ceasefire in the battle between you and your wandering mind. Stop controlling and start to let go.

Just as a house is built of thousands of bricks laid one by one, so the house of peace (i.e., jhāna) is built of thousands of moments of peace made one by one. When moment after moment you place peace or gentleness or kindness in the space between, then the sexual fantasies are no longer needed, pain fades away, dullness turns to brightness, restlessness runs out of gas, and jhāna simply happens."

So what happens when the hindrances are knocked out? Are they overcome forever or just during one's meditation? Ajahn Brahm provides this explanation:
"At first, you overcome them temporarily. When you emerge from a deep meditation, you'll notice that those hindrances have been gone for a long time. The mind is very sharp, very still. You can keep your attention on one thing for a long time, and you have no ill will at all. You can't get angry with someone even if they hit you over the head. You aren't interested in sensory pleasures like sex. This is the result of good meditation. But after a while, depending on the depth and the length of that meditation, the hindrances come back again. It's like they're in the boxing ring and they've just been knocked out. They are "unconscious" for a while. Eventually they come round again and start playing their tricks. But at least you know what it is like to have overcome those hindrances. The more you return to those deep stages—the more often the hindrances get knocked out—the more sickly and weak they become. Then it's the job of the enlightenment insights [vipassana] to overcome those weakened hindrances once and for all. This is the age-old path of Buddhism. You knock out the five hindrances through meditation practices in order to provide an opportunity for wisdom [vipassana]. Wisdom will then see through these weakened hindrances and destroy them. When the hindrances have been completely abandoned, you're enlightened. And if you are enlightened, there is no difficulty in getting into jhānas because the obstacles are gone. What was between you and jhānas has been completely eradicated."

Ajahn Brahm goes on to describe in detail the quality of mindfulness. He says that if it's not fully understood and practiced, one can waste a lot of time in meditation. An amusing anecdote is given to bring the point home. Imagine that you are a wealthy person with a gatekeeper guarding your mansion. One evening before going out you tell the gatekeeper to be mindful of burglars. When you return you find that your home has been burgled. When you question the gatekeeper, he says that he was mindful: he gave attention to the burglars as they broke in, he was clearly attentive as they walked out with your plasma-screen TV and sound system, and he watched mindfully as they repeatedly walked in and took all your antique furniture.

As Ajahn Brahm says, a wise gatekeeper knows that mindfulness is more than bare attention. He must also remember the instructions and act on them with diligence. For example, when a meditator sees an unwholesome state trying to break in, they must try to stop the defilement. And if it manages to slip in, they must try to evict it. So there are these two aspects of mindfulness: awareness and remembering the instructions.

In fact, in the Buddhist suttas, the same Pāli word sati is used for both awareness and memory. A person who has good awareness also has good memory. If we pay full attention to what we are doing, this awareness creates an imprint in our mind, and the strength of that imprint corresponds to the strength of our awareness in that moment. We need to give full awareness to clear instructions so that we will be able to remember and act on them.

Ajahn Brahm makes a point of reminding us that at the beginning of the meditation, one needs to remember that there is a gatekeeper inside—something that can be aware of what's happening and remember instructions. He gives several instructions to be given to the gatekeeper depending on one's stage of meditation. However, like a servant or worker, one doesn't have to keep giving the same instructions over and over again. Repeating them just two or three times, clearly and with full awareness at the beginning, is all that is necessary, and then the gatekeeper can get on with it's task.


Now we come to the second half of meditation or what is called vipassana or insight meditation. In order to do this second half of meditation effectively, we need to bring an extremely calm, clear, and tranquil mind to the practice, such as the type of mind that exists after emerging from jhāna. There are different variations of vipassana which deal with various types of contemplations and insights, but the most powerful—those that can have the deepest and most far-reaching effects—are formally called Satipaṭṭhāna, or the Four Focuses of Mindfulness. These contemplations are simply a detailed examination of the "nature of you."

Before continuing, Ajahn Brahm points out how satipaṭṭhāna practice is not original to Buddhism, that intelligent and inquisitive people in all races and religions have directed their mindfulness towards aspects of nature in order to understand their meaning. However, the key element that is unique to Buddhism is the practice of jhāna. The originality of the Buddha was in using the experience of jhāna to profoundly empower investigation and give mindfulness a huge boost.

Incidentally, the practice of vipassana/insight meditation by way of satipaṭṭhāna, and the practice of samatha/tranquility meditation, are precisely the seventh and eighth factors of the noble eightfold path. All factors require cultivation in order to realize enlightenment: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness (vipassana/satipaṭṭhāna), and right concentration (samatha).

Before entering into a description of satipaṭṭhāna, Ajahn Brahm prepares the ground by showing how important it is to enter into jhāna first. The Buddha said that if anyone should develop the satipaṭṭhāna "in such a way," for seven days, then they would realize full enlightenment or the state of non-returner (a state just prior to full enlightenment). Many Buddhists, monastic and lay, have completed many meditation retreats longer than seven days and remain unenlightened. Ajahn Brahm says the reason for this is that they have not followed the instructions correctly. With a new and more accurate rendering of a one hundred year-old poorly translated key phrase, the suttas actually indicate that one practices satipaṭṭhāna "having temporarily abandoned the five hindrances." And it is precisely the function of jhāna to temporarily abandon the five hindrances. From the Naḷakapāna Sutta, MN 68,6:
"[...] not attaining a jhāna, the five hindrances invade one's mind and remain. Attaining a jhāna the five hindrances do not invade the mind and remain."

Ajahn Brahm gives a wonderful anecdote that beautifully describes the relationship between mindfulness, jhāna, and the five hindrances in this extended quote:
"If mindfulness is like a light, meditation brightens that light. When I was a young monk at Wat Pa Nanachat in Northeast Thailand, I became quite peaceful by doing walking meditation in the hall. I would walk with my gaze on a spot on the concrete floor some two meters ahead. Then I had to stop. I couldn't believe it, but the dull concrete surface began to open up into a picture of magnificent beauty. The various shades of gray and the texture suddenly appeared as the most beautiful picture I had ever seen. I thought of cutting out that section and sending it to the Tate Gallery in London. It was a work of art. An hour or two later, it was just a boring, ordinary piece of concrete again.

What had happened, and this may have happened to you, is that I had a short experience of "power mindfulness." In power mindfulness, the mind is like a megawatt searchlight, enabling you to see so much deeper into what you are gazing at. Ordinary concrete becomes a masterpiece. A blade of grass literally shimmers with the most delightful and brilliant shades of fluorescent green. A twig metamorphoses into a boundless universe of shape, color, and structure. The petty becomes profound and the humdrum becomes heavenly under the sparkling energy of power mindfulness.

What is happening is that the five hindrances are being abandoned. The five hindrances are said, in the suttas, to "weaken wisdom." When they are gone, the experience is like seeing through a windshield that has been cleaned of grime and dust, or hearing through ears at last unclogged of wax, or reflecting with a mind released from its fog. When you know the difference between power mindfulness and weak mindfulness as a personal experience, not a mere idea, then you will understand the necessity for jhāna prior to satipaṭṭhāna.

Jhāna generates "superpower" mindfulness. If power mindfulness is like a megawatt searchlight, then jhāna-generated superpower mindfulness is like a terawatt sun. If enlightenment is your goal, then the superpower mindfulness is the level that's needed."


In satipaṭṭhāna, the thousand-petaled lotus is a simile for this body-mind, that is, "you" [...]. The sun is a simile for mindfulness. You have to sustain power mindfulness for a very long time on this body and mind to allow the innermost petals to open up. If the five hindrances are there, no insight happens, just as when there are clouds or mist, the sun cannot warm the lotus.

If you haven't sustained power mindfulness on this body and mind for long, then your understanding sees only outer petals. But if you generate power mindfulness and sustain it on the body-mind continuously, then you begin to see all this in a completely different light. You thought that you knew what "you" were, but now you realize how deluded you were and how little you knew. Through sustaining power mindfulness on the body and mind, truths start to unfold."

So what is the purpose of satipaṭṭhāna? As Ajahn Brahm puts it, the purpose is to see anattā, that there is no self, no me, nor anything that belongs to a self. According to the original texts, "Such mindfulness is established enough to discern that there are just body, feelings, mind, and objects of the mind, and these are not me, nor mine, nor a self." Keeping this purpose in mind, we can appreciate why the Buddha taught only four focuses for mindfulness: body, feelings, mind, and mind objects: because these are the main areas where life assumes a "me" or a "mine." Therefore, the satipaṭṭhāna practice sustains superpower mindfulness on each of the four objects in order to unravel the illusion of self.

These, then, are the prerequisites for successful satipaṭṭhāna practice:

1. vineyya loke abhijjhā domanassam—first abandon the five hindrances through an experience of jhāna.

2. satimā—be possessed of superpower mindfulness resulting from jhāna.

3. atāpi—diligently sustain that superpower mindfulness on the focus.

4. sampajāno—keep in mind the purpose of satipaṭṭhāna on each of the four focuses in turn.

The first focus of mindfulness is the body. The body is composed of several groups: (1) breath, (2) bodily posture, (3) bodily activity, (4) composition of the body, (5) the body seen as four elements, and (6) the nine corpse contemplations. Ajahn Brahm declines to discuss the fifth grouping, perhaps due to his extensive background in theoretical physics. As such, one might be inclined to update the second last grouping with a more modern version such as, (5) the body seen as atomic elements and processes.

The second focus of mindfulness is feeling (vedanā). However, this term requires further explanation as it is not quite an accurate translation. In English, the word feeling has a wide range of meanings. It can mean both emotional states and physical sensations in the body. Ajahn Brahm states that the Pali word vedanā means that quality of every conscious experience—whether through sight, sounds, smell, taste, touch, or mind—that is pleasant, unpleasant, or somewhere in between.

The third focus of mindfulness is mind consciousness (citta). This focus of mindfulness is one of the most difficult to practice. As Ajahn Brahm states, most people's meditation is not developed sufficiently to even see mind consciousness. Mind consciousness is like an emperor covered head to toe in thick garments. It is so completely clothed by the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch that one cannot see it underneath. To see the emperor, one has to remove his clothes, that is, the five external senses. And it is precisely the task of jhāna to remove the five senses and reveal the citta. Thus one cannot even begin to practice this third focus of mindfulness until one has experienced a jhāna. "For how can you contemplate citta when you haven't really experienced it? It would be like contemplating the emperor when all you can see are his (or her?) clothes." Ajahn Brahm provides two analogies that make this clearer:
"When you sustain superpower mindfulness on the pure citta, the nature of all types of consciousness reveals itself. You see consciousness not as a smoothly flowing process but as a series of discrete, isolated events. Consciousness may be compared to a stretch of sand on a beach. Superficially the sand looks continuous over several hundred meters. But after you investigate it closely, you discover that is is made up of discrete, isolated particles of silicate. There are empty spaces between each particle of sand, with no essential sandiness flowing in the gap between any two particles. In the same way, that which we take to be the flow of consciousness is clearly seen to be a series of discrete events, with nothing flowing in between.

Another analogy is the fruit salad analogy. Suppose on a plate there is an apple. You clearly see this apple completely disappear and in its place appears a coconut. Then the coconut vanishes and in its place appears another apple. Then the second apple vanishes and another coconut is there. That vanishes and a banana appears, only to vanish when another coconut manifests on the plate, then another banana, coconut, apple, coconut, mango, coconut, lemon, coconut, and so on. As soon as one fruit vanishes, then a moment later a completely new fruit appears. They are all fruits but completely different varieties, with no two fruits the same. Moreover, no connecting fruit-essence flows from one fruit to the next. In this analogy, the apple stands for an event of eye consciousness, the banana for an incident of nose consciousness, the mango for taste consciousness, the lemon for body consciousness, and the coconut for mind consciousness. Each moment of consciousness is discrete, with nothing flowing from one moment to the next.

Mind consciousness, the "coconut," appears after every other species of consciousness and thereby gives the illusion of sameness to every conscious experience. To the average person, there is a quality of seeing that is also found in hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. We can call that quality "knowing." However, with superpower mindfulness, you will discern that this knowing is not a part of seeing, hearing, and so on, but arises a moment after each type of consciousness. Moreover, this knowing has vanished when, for example, eye consciousness is occurring. And eye consciousness has vanished when knowing (mind consciousness) is occurring. In the simile of the fruit salad, there can't be an apple and a coconut on the plate at the same time."

The fourth focus of mindfulness are objects of the mind. The mind objects listed in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta are the Four Noble Truths, the Five Hindrances, the Five Aggregates, the Six Sense Spheres, and the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. Ajahn Brahm specifically includes other mind objects such as thought, emotions and will (which are technically part of the aggregate of mental formations within the five aggregates).

The Four Noble Truths are often given as:

(1) The nature of suffering (dukkha): "Now this ... is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering."

(2) Suffering's origin (samudaya): "Now this ... is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination."

(3) Suffering's cessation (nirodha): "Now this ... is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it."

(4) The way leading to the cessation of suffering (magga): "Now this ... is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is the noble eightfold path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration."

The Five Hindrances, which we've already discussed in detail, obstruct the subject from entering into deep absorption states or the jhānas. They include sensory desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, and doubt.

The Five Aggregates categorize all individual experience, among which there is no "self" to be found. It is often stated that a "person" is made up of these five aggregates. The aggregates consist of form (rūpa), consciousness (viññāṇa), feeling (vedanā), perception (saññā) and mental formations (saṅkharā). Form involves external and internal matter. Externally, form is the the physical world, internally form includes the material body and the physical sense organs. Consciousness is a series of rapidly changing interconnected discrete acts of cognizance. Feeling senses an object as either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Perception registers whether an object is recognized or not. Mental formations involve all types of mental habits, thoughts, ideas, opinions, compulsions, and decisions triggered by an object.

The Six Sense Spheres include the six sense organs (or internal sense bases) and six sense objects (or external sense bases). Based on these six pairs of sense bases, a number of mental factors arise. Thus, for instance, when an ear and sound are present, the associated consciousness (viññāṇa) arises. The arising of these three elements—ear, sound, and ear-related consciousness—lead to what is known as "contact" (phassa) which in turn causes a pleasant, unpleasant or neutral "feeling" or "sensation" (vedanā) to arise. It is from such a feeling that "craving" (tanhā) arises. These mental factors are also the essential elements of the cycle of Dependent Origination.

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment are mental factors that begin to arise as the subject approaches states of enlightenment. These include mindfulness (sati), investigation (dhamma vicaya), energy (viriya), joy (piti), tranquility (passaddhi), concentration (samadhi), and equanimity (upekkha).

This summarizes the practice of satipaṭṭhāna and concludes part one of Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond. Ajahn Brahm then continues in part two of his book to describe in much greater detail the jhānas and an experiential account of the various stages of enlightenment. Fascinating to the nth degree. It is worth repeating that the Buddha promised that anyone who practices the four satipaṭṭhānas diligently would reach either the state of the non-returner or full enlightenment in seven days. But it is crucial to understand that this means first developing superpower mindfulness by entering jhāna. As Ajahn Brahm concludes,
"Develop superpower mindfulness generated by jhāna so you know for yourself how impotent ordinary mindfulness is. Put the citta (the knower) or cetanā (the will) under the spotlight of superpower mindfulness, courageously going beyond the comfort of your views. Await the unexpected. Don't second-guess truth. Wait with patience until the thousandth petal of the lotus fully opens to reveal the heart. That will be the end of delusion, the end of saṃsāra, and the end of satipaṭṭhāna."

Now, where did I put my cushion?

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