South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: Vipassana Climber.
Date: April 21, 1995 01:52

22:29 Saswasdee House; Bangkok-Thailand :: 18 APR 95

Sukhothai Buddha Sukhothai Buddha
Sukhothai Buddha
Atlas elephants at Sukhothai

The following post was entirely pilfered and paraphrased from "The Triple Gem: An Introduction to Buddhism" by Gerald Roscoe; published by Silkworm Books, PO Box 76, Chiang Mai, Thailand 50000. It seems a mirror reflection of some things I've recently written. My commentary appears between square brackets: "[", "]".

There are several forms of Samatha meditation. The Buddha recommended specific forms for specific types of personality. . . But the one form of Samatha he recommended to all persons was the breathing-in breathing-out meditation.

This form of meditation is simple to do and simple to describe. Sit on the floor-a shallow cushion is permitted-in the half-lotus position, where the legs are spread so that the knees lie on the floor and the right foot lies sole upward on the left thigh. Hold your spine erect, hands in your lap with palms upward, left hand under right, thumbs touching at their tips, eyes closed or half-closed, chin in. Make yourself comfortable in this position. [Hah!] (You may, also, meditate while sitting erect on a hard chair, maintaining the same upper body posture.)

[As a final preparation for beginners I recommend a motivational exercise picked up from a Didjeriduinstruction guide:

"Firstly, relax and give yourself permission to [feel] a little unusual."

Alistair Black

Know that you will feel this way at first and release it.]

Concentrate on the passage of breath in and out through your nostrils, or on the rising and falling of the abdomen.

Try not to let sounds, smells, sights, touch, tastes, and especially mental activities distract you from the one thing you're doing: observing your breathing in and breathing out. Do this for at least ten minutes, try to go twenty minutes, even longer. Do it every day, morning or evening, or both.

Sukhothai Buddha Sukhothai Buddha Sukhothai Buddha
The ruins at Sukhothai

Now, although I've described it as simple to do, it's not simple to do effectively. The mind is not easily stilled. So, don't be impatient when your mind jumps, as it will. In the middle of an in-breath your mind will jump to a business problem, a family problem, a sensual thought, a pleasant memory, a distasteful one. You'll hear a door being slammed, an airplane overhead, a baby crying, a radio playing, a horn honking. . . Just try to ignore these distractions and get back to your concentration on breathing in and breathing out. At first as you practice meditation, you'll be able to ignore distractions for a few seconds, even a few minutes. You will not be able to ignore them for the entire time of your meditation. But no matter. Even a brief stilling of the mind is beneficial. (Some meditators--monks, especially--do succeed in stilling the mind for long enough periods of time to enter deep states of absorption and concentration--called jhanas [Zen Climbing? ;-]--in which there is one-pointedness of mind and there are no distractions affecting the mind, no sensations other than happiness, joy, insight.)

The Buddha said: the mind is flighty, difficult to subdue, flitting wherever it chooses. To tame the mind is good. A mind tamed can bring happiness.

For many Western meditators the beneficial effects of Samatha are sufficient rewards for their effort: calm, serenity, tranquillity, lessening the tensions. But there are, of course, other effects which the consistent meditator ultimately perceives: the realization that the self is not the master of sensory perceptions or mental activities; the recognition of impermanence and constant change; in short the awareness or the insight-wisdom that is the goal of the form of meditation known as Vipassana.

Sukhothai Buddha Sukhothai Buddha Sukhothai Buddha
An Island Wat at Sukhothai

When I was first introduced to meditation at Wat Saket in Bangkok [NEAT! Went there yesterday!], after two weeks of practice I asked the meditation master what I was supposed to get out of it and what my goals in meditation should be. I was told, don't ask, just do. I found that answer not very helpful, and I regret, now, that I was not told that my meditations were intended to still my mind and induce insight-wisdom. Had I been told, my meditation practice would have been more effective more quickly. But I also understand, now, that the meditation master was not being flippant or unresponsive in his "don't ask, just do". For some people-and this is what Zen masters believe-"just doing" leads to an understanding of why they are meditating. For me it did not. I mention this because many of my Western friends, like me at first, become discouraged if they "just do" without understanding why. [On the other hand, as with Anna during the climb up Kinabalu (see the Mount Kinabalu series), the answer to the question "why?" can be learned effectively but taught only poorly. I explained "why" to her, and she nodded her head and made a perfunctory effort, but the full import, the insight-wisdom of "why" remained unclear until she "just did it".]

Many meditation teachers recommend the use of a mantra, the most popular of which among Theravadin [Buddhist sect popular in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Sri Lanka] is the Buddho mantra: the silent wording of Bud- on each in breath, -dho on each out-breath. Bud-dho...Bud-dho...Bud-dho... [Or the Zen Climber favourites: Clementine or Waltzing Matilda. A little long as most Mantras go, but one well suited to meditative endurance.]

One may also practice the breathing meditation before going to sleep, while lying in bed, preferably in what is called the "lion" position, on the right side, right hand on or beside the head, left arm on top of left side.

A second method of Samatha cultivation is the walking meditation, very popular in the East, less so in the West [particularly youthful English climber wannabies]. In one of its forms, the meditator walks slowly back and forth, in a natural, harmonious pace, hands held loosely in front of the body or in back, eyes lowered to a spot six feet or so in advance of one's walking, being aware simply of each footfall. In another form, one is mindful of each and every movement and action of walking: left foot rising, moving forward, coming down. Right foot rising, moving forward coming down. Stopping. Turning. Moving forward again. Left foot rising . . . and so on.

Notice that one does not think my left foot, my right foot, does not think I am stopping, I am turning. Thus, in addition to being a Samatha form of meditation inducing calm, it is also a Vipassana form inducing insight-wisdom into the nature of no-self.

Vipassana meditation, as contrasted with Samatha, is the specific mental cultivation of awareness. Whereas in Samatha one ignores sensory, mental, and physical actions and diversions, in Vipassana one intentionally notices them. One is totally mindful. It can be, on a meditation retreat, an intense and demanding exercise. For minutes, hours, even days, [or climbing hundreds of meters in elevation,] the meditator concentrates on noticing every action, every thought, every feeling. When eating, for example, one is aware of the fork rising, coming to the mouth, of the food in the mouth, of the food being chewed, being swallowed, of the fork moving away, of the fork being put down. And so with everything one does or thinks, one strives to be aware and mindful of what is happening in the most minute detail.

Sukhothai Buddha Sukhothai Buddha Sukhothai Buddha
Buddhas: standing, miniature and missing
at Sukhothai

Some meditators practice the breathing in breathing out meditation not only for calm (Samatha) but also simultaneously for insight (Vipassana). If a distraction arises instead of ignoring it they are mindful of it, observing the kinetics of the mind: "thinking-thinking-thinking, remembering-remembering-remembering, planning-planning-planning", etc. in appropriate response to the distraction. And then they return to observation of breathing until the next distraction commands their mindfulness.

The goal of Vipassana is the realization that the five aggregates, the Khandas--body, feelings, perceptions, intentions and volitions (mental formations), and acts of consciousness--are constantly taking place independently of the "self"; that there is no "self", no "I", at their controls. Such awareness frees one from the attachment to "self", of the aggregates, thus inducing insight-wisdom about the Three Characteristics of Existence (impermanence, no-self, dukkha [suffering]).

Whether meditating for calm or for insight, effective meditation is difficult to accomplish. The Buddha identified five hindrances to effective meditation: the desire for sensual pleasure, ill will, lethargy-and-drowsiness, agitation-and-worry, and uncertainty. These hindrances deter many from realizing the benefits of meditation.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --


TEXTBOOK: Roscoe, Gerald;
The Triple Gem: An Introduction to Buddhism

Dukkha should not be translated [simply] as suffering because there is plenty of experience in the world which is pleasant but, like all conditioned things, is impermanent, and therefore even though it is not suffering it is dukkha.

Phra Khantipalo
Paraphrased by Gerald Roscoe in The Triple Gem

The Buddha's Four Noble Truths:

  1. There is dukkha.
  2. What causes dukkha is craving.
  3. The cessation of dukkha is achieved by eliminating craving, which leads toward Nirvana.
  4. Attainment of Nirvana is accomplished by following the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path --
divided into the three principles it cultivates:

Ethical Conduct
1. Right Action
Abstain from destroying life, stealing, illicit sex, intoxicants, false speech.

2. Right Speech
Abstain from harsh language, slander, gossip, bearing false witness.

3. Right Livelihood.
Abstain from earning a living that harms others: slaughter of animals, trading in arms, drugs, intoxicants, poisons, or living beings (including slaves or prostitutes).
Mental Discipline
4. Right Effort
Develop our willpower to change our habits of thought; develop the insight and intuition to perceive our states of mind.

5. Right Mindfulness
Develop unremitting awareness applied to every thought, word, deed-in order to keep one's mind in control of one's senses.

6. Right Concentration
Develop meditation skills for calming the mind and achieving insight-wisdom.
7. Right View
Understand the Three Characteristics of Existence:
  1. there is dukkha;
  2. all conditioned things are impermanent, transitory, ever-changing;
  3. there is no permanent self or soul [corollary of 2]

8. Right Thought
Free oneself from the three major defilements:
  1. greed -- grasping and covetousness;
  2. aversion -- anger, hatred, ill-will, hostility;
  3. delusion -- ignorance of the Four Noble Truths and the Three Characteristics of Existence
  graphical element Gerald Roscoe
The Triple Gem: An Introduction to Buddhism