On Wednesday evenings, our Lakeland Insight Meditation Group (LIMG) has been studying and practicing the teachings of the Satipatthana Sutta, the four abidings in mindfulness. This week, we continue in the fourth foundation, mindfulness of dhammas (mental processes.) To this point in the dhammas, we have studied the five hindrances, the five aggregates, and the six senses. We are now studying the seven factors of awakening. We have studied the first four awakening factors of mindfulness, investigation, energy and joy. Investigation, energy and joy are more activating in energy. The last four of tranquility, concentration and equanimity are more deactivating in energy. Mindfulness balances these awakening factors. Mindfulness is also the main conditioner for all of these awakening factors.
These last four factors of awakening, joy, tranquility, concentration and equanimity are the results of meditative practice. The releasing of the hindrances of desire, ill will, restlessness/ worry, sloth/torpor and doubt is essential to the development of the awakening factors. With the practice of continuous mindfulness, with the initial application and sustaining of attention, these last four factors become more available. Retreat practice is extremely useful and for some of us essential in the development of these last four factors.
People often come to meditation training for tranquility. Similar motivations are the release of stress, serenity, composure, relaxation and softening. And when practitioners attain tranquility, they will often mistaken tanquility for the end of the path or even Nirvana. Practitioners often become attached to the “feel good” of tranquility. Yet the critical understanding is that tranquility is like any experience, tranquility is impermanent. Tranquility is just “empty phenomenal rolling on!” Yet meditative tranquility is critical in the path of Nirvana, the complete cessation of suffering. Here we are practicing Vipassana meditation, the ability to witness experience and discern what is suffering. The process of awakening in Vipassana meditation pracitice is to letting go of suffering and activate healthy formations such as lovingkindness.
The role of tranquility is described by Thai Forest Master Ajahn Chah
Have you ever seen still river?
Have you seen a moving river?
Have you ever seen a still moving river ?
This short treatise is about how we still the mind in order to witness the mind as a set of ephemeral processes. d This is essential to understand the three characteristics of existence, suffering, impermanence and non self on an experiential level.
The prescription in the Satipatthana is very similar to the hindrances:
There is the case where, there being mindfulness as a factor for Awakening present within, he discerns that ‘Mindfulness as a factor for Awakening is present within me.’ Or, there being no mindfulness as a factor for Awakening present within, he discerns that ‘Mindfulness as a factor for Awakening is not present within me.’ He discerns how there is the arising of unarisen mindfulness as a factor for Awakening. And he discerns how there is the culmination of the development of mindfulness as a factor for Awakening once it has arisen. (The same formula is repeated for the remaining factors for Awakening: analysis of qualities, persistence, rapture, serenity, concentration, & equanimity.)
In essence, when is tranquility there or not there? How do we help tranquilly arise and how do we perfect tranquility? Some of the process of creating conditions for the arising of joy and tranquility is drawn from the following parable of the Buddha:
Once Buddha was travelling with a few of his followers. While they were passing a lake, Buddha told one of his disciples, “I am thirsty. Do get me some water from the lake.”
The disciple walked up to the lake. At that moment, a bullock cart started crossing through the lake. As a result, the water became very muddy and turbid. The disciple thought, “How can I give this muddy water to Buddha to drink?”
So he came back and told Buddha, “The water in there is very muddy. I don’t think it is fit to drink.”
After about half an hour, again Buddha asked the same disciple to go back to the lake.
The disciple went back, and found that the water was still muddy. He returned and informed Buddha about the same.
After sometime, again Buddha asked the same disciple to go back.
This time, the disciple found the mud had settled down, and the water was clean and clear. So he collected some water in a pot and brought it to Buddha.
Buddha looked at the water, and then he looked up at the disciple and said,” See what you did to make the water clean. You let it be, and the mud settled down on its own — and you have clear water.
Our minds are like this too! When it is disturbed, just let it be. Give it a little time. It will settle down on its own. You don’t have to put in any effort to calm it down. It will happen. It is effortless.” Then when the mind settles, it becomes more evident of where we are holding. And then it becomes easier to let go of the holding, which activates the other awakening factors.
Here are some other factors that may conditions tranquility;
- Be sure to distinguish tranquilly from sloth and torpor. Tranquility is calm and alert because mindfulness is also present. With sloth and torpor, the mind is calm yet not alert.
- If in restlessness and worry, give yourself some space: whole body breathing, take in the whole room or walking meditation outside and attend to nature. Practice body scan.
- Create conditions of calm and simplicity: be with calm and spiritually minded people. Avoid toxic and activating media. Avoid chronic busyness.
- With mindfulness of breathing, allowing the body to breath, not to controlling the breath
- If agitated, give a little more attention to the exhalation. All the way to the end of the exhalation!
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