This place is well suited to meditation practice. Having stayed here a couple of nights I can see that it is an important place. On the external level it is already peaceful, all that remains is the internal level, your hearts and minds. So I ask all of you to make an effort to pay attention.
Why have you gathered here to practise meditation? It is because your hearts and minds do not understand what should be understood. In other words, you donít truly know how things are, or what is what. You donít know what is wrong and what is right, what it is that brings you suffering and causes you to doubt. So first you have to make yourselves calm. The reason that you have come here to develop calm and restraint is that your hearts and minds are not at ease. Your minds are not calm, not restrained. They are instead swayed by doubting and agitation. This is why you have come here today and are now listening to the Dhamma.
I would like you to concentrate and listen carefully to what I say, and I ask permission to speak frankly because thatís how I am. Please understand that even if I do speak in a forceful manner, I am doing so out of good will. I ask your forgiveness if there is anything I say that upsets you, because the customs of Thailand and those of the West are not the same. Actually, speaking a little forcefully can be good because it helps to stir up people who might otherwise be sleepy or drowsy, and rather than rousing themselves to hear the Dhamma, allow themselves to drift instead into complacency and so never understand anything.
In practice, although there may appear to be many ways really there is only one. As with fruit trees, it is possible to get fruit quickly by planting a cutting, but the tree would not be resilient or long lasting. Another way is to cultivate a tree right from the seed, which produces a strong and resilient tree. Practice is the same.
When I first began to practise I had problems understanding this. As long as I still didnít know whatís what, sitting meditation was a real chore, even bringing me to tears on occasion. Sometimes I would be aiming too high, at others not high enough, never finding the point of balance. To practise in a way thatís peaceful means to place the mind neither too high nor too low, but at the point of balance.
I can see that itís very confusing for you, coming from different places and having practised in different ways with different teachers. Coming to practise here you must be plagued with all kinds of doubts. One teacher says you must practise in one way, another says you should practise another way. You wonder which method to use, unsure of the essence of the practice. The result is confusion. There are so many teachers and so many teachings that nobody knows how to harmonize their practice. As a result there is a lot of doubt and uncertainty.
So you must try not to think too much. If you do think, then do so with awareness. But so far your thinking has been done with no awareness. First you must make your mind calm. Where there is knowing there is no need to think, awareness will arise in its place, and this will in turn become wisdom (panna). But the ordinary kind of mental proliferation is not wisdom, it is simply the aimless and unaware wandering and thinking of the mind, which inevitably results in agitation. This is not wisdom.
At this stage you donít need to think. Youíve already done a great deal of thinking at home, havenít you? It just stirs up the heart. You must establish some awareness. Obsessive thinking can even bring you to tears, just try it out. Getting lost in some train of thought wonít lead you to the truth, itís not wisdom. The Buddha was a very wise person, heíd learned how to stop thinking. In the same way you are practising here in order to stop thinking and thereby arrive at peace. There must be calm first, if there is only thinking wisdom will not arise, there will be no awareness of the truth. All that will arise will be endless proliferation. If you are already calm it is not necessary to think, wisdom will arise in its place. As long as you are thinking wisdom will not arise.
To meditate you do not have to think much more than to resolve that right now is the time for training the mind and nothing else. Donít let the mind shoot off to the left or to the right, to the front or behind, above or below. Our only duty right now is to practise mindfulness of the breathing. Fix your attention at the head and move it down through the body to the tips of the feet, and then back up to the crown of the head. Pass your awareness down through the body, observing with wisdom. We do this to gain an initial understanding of the way the body is. Then begin the meditation, noting that at this time your sole duty is to observe the inhalations and exhalations. Donít force the breath to be any longer or shorter than normal, just allow it to continue easily. Donít put any pressure on the breath, rather let it flow evenly, letting go with each in-breath and out-breath.
You must understand that you are letting go as you do this, but there should still be awareness. You must maintain this awareness, allowing the breath to enter and leave comfortably. There is no need to force the breath, just allow it to flow easily and naturally. Maintain the resolve that at this time you have no other duties or responsibilities. Thoughts about what will happen, what you will know or see during the sitting may arise from time to time, but once they arise just let them cease by themselves, donít be concerned over them.
During the meditation there is no need to pay attention to sense impressions. Whenever the mind is affected by sense impingement, wherever there is a feeling or sensation in the mind, just let it go. Whether those sensations are good or bad is unimportant. It is not necessary to make anything out of those sensations, just let them pass away and return your attention to the breath. Maintain the awareness of the breath entering and leaving. Donít create suffering over the breath being too long or too short, simply observe it without trying to control or suppress it in any way. In other words, donít attach. Allow the breath to continue as it is, and the mind will become calm. As you continue the mind will gradually lay things down and come to rest, the breath becoming lighter and lighter until it becomes so faint that it seems like itís not there at all. Both the body and the mind will feel light and energized. All that will remain will be a one-pointed knowing. You could say that the mind has changed and reached a state of calm.
If the mind becomes agitated, set up mindfulness and inhale deeply till there is no space left to store any air, then release it all completely until none remains. Follow this with another deep inhalation until you are full, then release the air again. Do this two or three times, then re-establish concentration. The mind should be calmer. If any more sense impressions cause agitation in the mind, repeat the process on every occasion. Similarly with walking meditation. If, while walking, the mind becomes agitated, then stop still, calm the mind, re-establish the awareness with the meditation object and then continue walking. Sitting and walking meditation are in essence the same, differing only in terms of the physical posture used.
Sometimes there may be doubt, so you must have sati, to be the one who knows, continually following and examining the agitated mind in whatever form it takes. This is to have sati. Sati watches over and takes care of the mind. You must maintain this knowing and not be careless or wander astray, no matter what condition the mind takes on.
The trick is to have sati taking control and supervising the mind. Once the mind is unified with sati a new kind of awareness will emerge. The mind that has developed calm is held in check by that calm, just like a chicken held in a coop ... the chicken is unable to wander outside, but it can still move around within the coop. Its walking to and fro doesnít get it into trouble because it is restrained by the coop. Likewise the awareness that takes place when the mind has sati and is calm does not cause trouble. None of the thinking or sensations that take place within the calm mind cause harm or disturbance.
Some people donít want to experience any thoughts or feelings at all, but this is going too far. Feelings arise within the state of calm. The mind is both experiencing feelings and calm at the same time, without being disturbed. When there is calm like this there are no harmful consequences. Problems occur when the Ďchickení gets out of the Ďcoopí. For instance, you may be watching the breath entering and leaving and then forget yourself, allowing the mind to wander away from the breath back home, off to the shops or to any number of different places. Maybe even half an hour may pass before you suddenly realize youíre supposed to be practising meditation and reprimand yourself for your lack of sati. This is where you have to be really careful, because this is where the chicken gets out of the coop Ė the mind leaves its base of calm.
You must take care to maintain the awareness with sati and try to pull the mind back. Although I use the words Ďpull the mind backí, in fact the mind doesnít really go anywhere, only the object of awareness has changed. You must make the mind stay right here and now. As long as there is sati there will be presence of mind. It seems like you are pulling the mind back but really it hasnít gone anywhere; it has simply changed a little. It seems that the mind goes here and there, but in fact the change occurs right at the one spot. When sati is regained, in a flash you are back with the mind without it having to be brought from anywhere.
When there is total knowing, a continuous and unbroken awareness at each and every moment, this is called presence of mind. If your attention drifts from the breath to other places then the knowing is broken. Whenever there is awareness of the breath the mind is there. With just the breath and this even and continuous awareness you have presence of mind.