Meditation
The Foundation of Mindfulness
 
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6. Right Effort
The effort to eliminate harmful karma at the mental level, which represents the beginning of the self-examination process.

7. Right Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation employs aspects of the two main types of Buddhist meditation: samatha (calming) and vipassana (insight). Samatha is good for stabilizing the mind and preventing new karma, but only “insight” leads to nirvana. Mindfulness meditation combines these by first stabilizing the mind by focusing attention on the breath, and then directing the mind to contemplate the nature of body, mind, and their relationship to the totality of things. The ultimate purpose of this form of meditation is to investigate the “Three Characteristics of samsara:
 
Anatman
“No-Self”
...[T]he Buddha always affirmed that persons have an empirical selfhood constituted by a body and a mind. But he also claimed that the various constituents of this conventional selfhood are characterized by impermanence and duhkha; they are always changing, and they ordinarily produce mental and physical processes that are experienced as ultimately dissatisfactory. The Buddha also taught that when one examines these constituents of conventional selfhood, one does not find any permanent substance. Impermanence is not just a characteristic of the phenomena of the external world; it applies to oneself. The Buddha’s notion of no-self expresses humankind’s radical finitude. It was also the Buddha’s view that the belief in a permanent substantial self is not only false, but also leads to selfishness and egoism, which, in turn, make the world so dissatisfactory for everyone. The Buddha found in his own Awakening that the realization of the absence of such a permanent self leads to selfless loving kindness and compassion for others. [BIBE, 35-6]
King Milinda approached the venerable Nagasena; having approached, he exchanged greetings with the venerable Nagasena; and, having exchanged greetings of friendliness and courtesy, he sat down at a respectful distance. And the venerable Nagasena reciprocated the greeting, gladdening the heart of the king. And Milinda asked the venerable Nagasena:
       “How is your reverence known? What is your name, reverend sir?
       “I am known as Nagasena; fellow monks address me sire, as Nagasena. But although (my) parents gave the name of Nagasena ... it is but a general term, designation, and a common usage. For there is no permanent person present here.” ...
       “Now, did you come on foot or in a chariot?”
       “I, reverend sir, did not come on foot. I came in a chariot.”
       “If you, sire, came by chariot, show me the chariot. Is the pole the chariot, sire?”
       “O no, reverend sir.”
       “Is the axle the chariot?”
       “O no, reverend sir.”
       “Are the wheels the chariot?”
       “O no, reverend sir.”
       “Is the body of the chariot the chariot . . . is the flag-staff of the chariot the chariot . . . is the yoke the chariot . . . are the reins the chariot . . . is the goad the chariot?”
       “O no, reverend sir.”
       “But then sire, is the chariot the pole, the axle, the wheels, the body of the chariot, the flag-staff of the chariot, the yoke, the reins, the goad?”
       “O no, reverend sir.”
       “But then, sire, is there a chariot apart from the pole the axle, the wheels, the body of the chariot, the flag-staff of the chariot, the yoke, the reins, the goad?”
       “O no, reverend sir.”
       “Though I, sire, am asking you repeatedly, I do not see any chariot. Chariot is only an empty sound. What is the chariot in which you arrived? You, sire, are speaking an untruth, a lying word. There is no chariot.” ...
       “I, reverend Nagasena, am not telling a lie because of the pole, axle, wheels, body of a chariot, flag-staff of a chariot, yoke, reins, and goad; that ‘chariot’ exists as a denotation, designation, as a common usage, as a mere name.”
       “Very good, the king understands a chariot. Even so is it for me, sire ... that ‘Nagasena’ exists as a denotation, designation, as a common term, or merely as a name. But according to the highest meaning the person is not present.” [OBS, 56-58]
  • Is this argument convincing? If a chariot doesn’t need an “essence” in order to meaningfully speak of its existence, then why should we?
  • What are the implications of denying that we possess an eternal, unchanging essence?
 
Thus have I heard: At one time, the Lord was living among the Kuru people in a town that was called Kammassadhamna. There the Lord addressed the monks saying:
 
“...There is a direct way, monks, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of suffering and misery, for attaining the right path, for realizing nibbana, namely, the four foundations of mindfulness. What are the four?
       “Herein, monks, a monk abides contemplating the body ... the feelings ... the mind ... [and] mental objects, ardent, fully conscious of them, mindful of them, having control over the covetousness and grief in the world.


“And how, monks, does a monk abide contemplating the body in the body? Herein, monks, a monk gone to the forest, to the root of a tree, or to an empty place, sits down cross-legged, holding his back erect, and establishes mindfulness in front of him. Mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. While he is breathing in a long breath, he comprehends, ‘I am breathing in a long breath’; or breathing out a long breath, he comprehends, ‘I am breathing out a long breath’; or while he is breathing in a short breath, he comprehends, ‘I am breathing in a short breath’; or while he is breathing out a short breath, he comprehends, ‘I am breathing out a short breath.’ He trains himself, thinking: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body.’ He trains himself, thinking: ‘I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body.’ He trains himself, thinking: ‘I shall breathe in calming the activities of the body.’ He trains himself, thinking: ‘I shall breathe out calming the activities of the body.’ [OBS, 70]
“And again, monks, a monk reflects on precisely this body itself full of various impurities, from the soles of the feet up and down from the top of the head: ‘There is connected with this body head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, membranes, spleen, lungs, intestines, stomach, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, mucus, joint oil, urine.’ [OBS, 71]
“Again, monks, as a person might see a corpse discarded in a cemetery, dead for one, two, or three days, swollen, discolored, decomposed. A monk compares his body thinking: ‘This body, too, is of the same nature; it will become like that; it is not exempt from that fate.’ [OBS, 72]
“Again, monks, a monk might see a body discarded in a cemetery: the bones bleached white and the color of sea-shells ... a heap of dried up bones more than a year old ... the rotten bones reduced to dust; he compares this same body with it, thinking: ‘This body, too, is the same nature, it will become like that; it is not exempt from that fate.’  [OBS, 72]
 
8. Right Concentration
“Concentration” (samadhi) builds on the practice of mindfulness by focusing on a particular mental object until one reaches a state of “one-pointedness,” which in turn leads to penetrating “insight” (vipassana) into the object of focus. There is a traditional list of forty objects for meditative concentration, including the breath and the body (as in “mindfulness” meditation), “loving-kindness” (metta), “compassion” (karuna), the four “meditations of form” (rupajhana) that the Buddha used to attain awakening under the bodhi tree, and even four “formless meditations” (arupajhana) on mental objects such as “nothingness” (sunyata) and “neither perception nor non-perception” (nevasanyanasanyayatana), which are regarded as the highest states of consciousness that provide a glimpse into the nature of parinirvana — the final release from samsara that occurs at the death of one who has fully awakened.