The Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness
- Mindfulness Of Mind
© Thich Nhat Hanh
Today is the 22nd of February and we are in the Upper Hamlet.
We only have one more week left in this winter retreat. We are studying the sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, and we have just finished the section on mindfulness of the feelings in the feelings. Today we will study mindfulness of the mind and mental formations. We should know how to use the sutra on the four establishments of mindfulness. We should also remember that this sutra goes with the sutra on breathing like image and shadow; one helps the other. Being aware of the feelings in the feelings has four breathings in the Anapanasati Sutta. The first of these four breathings is experiencing the feeling of joy. The second is experiencing the feeling of happiness, the third is experiencing whatever feeling happens to be present, and the fourth is calming whatever feeling happens to be present. The fourth breathing reads "calming the mental formations". But here mental formations means feelings.
These four breathings can be divided into two parts. The first part is practicing nourishing our body and our mind with joy, awareness of joy and awareness of happiness; and the second part is embracing and healing and transforming the feelings of suffering. A practitioner needs to know how to nourish himself or herself with feelings of joy and happiness. We know that if we want to be nourished with happiness and joy, we need to be aware of those conditions which are favorable for our happiness and joy. When we can recognize these conditions which lead to happiness in our life of practice, then joy and happiness will arrive. Every day we should nourish ourselves with joy and happiness, if not, how can we go far on the path of practice? We must nourish ourselves with peace and joy. A day without peace and joy is a day without practice, and it is a betrayal of ourselves, of our ancestors and of our descendants. There should be no day without joy and happiness. The way to joy and happiness is to recognize the elements which are fresh, wholesome and wonderful in us and around us.
The second part is being aware of the mental formations. Mental formations here means "feelings". We should be aware of any feeling which arises. Joyful feelings, feelings of peace and happiness and feelings of pain and suffering. We should be aware of these unpleasant feelings; we should recognize them and embrace them. Recognizing and embracing them will show us their basis. Then we calm this feeling so that it doesnít destroy us or oppress us. The practitioner knows how to do this. When we have an emotion of sadness, which leads to a feeling of pain, then we should know how to recognize it, embrace it, and calm it. If you donít know how to do that, then you are not a real practitioner. You should ask your teacher and your sangha to help you do this. In the sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness it says very clearly that there can be awareness of joy in the body and awareness of joy in the mind. Awareness of happiness can be the awareness of spiritual happiness or it can be the awareness of physical happiness. Both of these can nourish us. Happiness in Pali is sukha, which means literally well-being. Well-being means a state where there is no suffering. It does not mean excitement or a great emotional happiness. Often we call the feeling of well-being a neutral feeling, but it can also lead to happiness and joy.
This mental formation, this feeling, which we have to be aware of, could be neutral, could be painful, could be pleasant, could belong to our body, could belong to our mind, to our spirit. We have to recognize all of them and call them by their true names. "Ah, hello, I know you are a physical feeling of well-being. I know you are a mental feeling of ill-being. I know you are a physical pleasant feeling. I know you are a mental pleasant feeling. I am here. I am ready to embrace and acknowledge you." And we are able to embrace this feeling and help it to be calm. We donít need only to calm our unpleasant feelings. We need to calm our pleasant feelings, because our pleasant feelings can destroy us as well. If you go in search of sensual pleasures, that is a way of destroying yourself. So you need to calm your pleasant feelings as well as your unpleasant feelings.
When we recognize a feeling we donít try to push it away or struggle with it or oppress it. Why? Because that unpleasant feeling or that pleasant feeling is yourself, and if you oppress it, if you discriminate against it, if you beat it, then you are being violent towards yourself. There is only one thing to do: recognize it and accept the truth, that this is an unpleasant feeling. This is an unpleasant feeling coming from my body; this is an unpleasant feeling coming from my mind. We should know whether this unpleasant feeling comes from our body or whether it comes from our consciousness. Sometimes we say it comes from our society, from our environment. But our consciousness, our perception, plays a very important role. Our environment can make us suffer or not, depending on our perception of our environment. Some people in the same environment will be smiling while we are suffering a lot. So most of our suffering comes from our perceptions. We could say that this suffering comes from our environment or from our society, but we should be aware that it largely comes from ourselves. Then we have to accept our feeling like a little brother or sister, or a little child. If our little brother or sister is suffering, or a child is suffering, we have to accept and embrace and help them get better. We have to recognize that this feeling is my little sister, is my child. Donít say, "Iíve nothing to do with you. Youíre not my child." When we can accept it, then our suffering will lessen by eighty percent. Only when we cannot accept it do we suffer a lot. Once we can accept it, then we suffer much less. When some sickness appears in us, our suffering is very great, because we cannot accept it. We say, "Oh no, I cannot accept that I am very sick." But when we can embrace it and accept it we will suffer much less. Our feeling will be only twenty percent of what it was. So we embrace the suffering in order to heal it. Once we have accepted it, it wonít harm us any more, and we will suffer less.
So we have looked at being aware of the body in the body, and being aware of the feelings in the feelings, and now we are looking at the section on being aware of the mind in the mind. How does the practitioner remain established in the observation of the mind in the mind? When his mind is desiring, the practitioner is aware, my mind is desiring. When his mind is not desiring, he is aware, my mind is not desiring. Desiring here is raga, which means attachment or craving. In the Dharmalaksana School, a school of Buddhist psychology, there are eighty dharmas and fifty-one objects of mind. This school studies the sign, the outer form of dharmas. Other schools are more interested in the inner nature, the basic nature of all dharmas as emptiness. So these different schools either talk about the nature aspect (svabhava) or about the phenomenal aspect (laksana) of dharmas. The Dharmalaksana School emphasizes more the phenomenal aspect. We will talk more about dharmas, objects of mind, when we study the fourth section of this sutra.
So when you have craving, when your mind is craving, you know you have craving in your mind. You recognize the presence of the mental formation which is called craving. When we donít have this mental formation, we also recognize that the mental formation of craving isnít there. When we recognize that it isnít there, we have a feeling of happiness, because we know that whenever we have craving, we are being burnt as by fire. We are agitated. We go around in circles. We lose our freedom. So when we see within ourselves that the mental condition of craving isnít there, we know we have the condition for happiness. Once we recognize the condition of no craving within us, then we have happiness. This is a wonderful method. No craving means that happiness is there. Sometimes we say "no craving" and we think that nothing is there. But in fact there is something there. There is freedom there, and when there is freedom there is happiness. There is no anger. The absence of anger means the presence of happiness, of compassion. The absence of anger is joy, just as the presence of love is joy, because these things make us happy.
So we should not be overwhelmed by normal ways of speaking. When we take something away, something else is there. When night isnít there, day is there. When day is there, we are very happy. When day isnít there, it doesnít just mean there is no day; it means there is night. Night is wonderful too, because we can look at the stars and the moon, and be reminded of nirvana. Nirvana means extinction, extinction of affliction. Extinction of affliction means the presence of things which are not afflictions. It means that we have in us happiness in us. Joy and equanimity are there. In India there is a wonderful mountain, and people make caves in the mountain. They donít have to build with stone and cement. They can just remove stones to make caves in the mountain. Itís the same with our awakening and our happiness. In order to have them we have to remove things which we donít really need. We just need to remove our craving and our anger, and we will have so much happiness. Donít think if I take it away there wonít be anything left. For example, we were talking to a young person, a young man. "Do you know anything about mathematics? I will remove your ignorance about mathematics." I will teach you mathematics but we speak of it as removing ignorance about mathematics. That is what the language means.
The spirit of Buddhism is like that. Awakening, liberation, are available, but they are obscured. We have to remove the thing which obscures them and they will manifest. When we read the sutras we see that. The sutras talk about removing the obstacles and not replacing them. But in fact when we remove the obstacles something is there which replaces them. In both these sutras we deal with feelings. In the second section of the sutra on the four establishments of mindfulness, we dealt just with feelings. They are the elemental formations. In this third section, we deal with all the other mental formations. The four establishments of mindfulness can be divided like this. The first establishment is the body. The second establishment is feelings. The third establishment is mental formations. And the fourth is perceptions. But feelings and perceptions are also two of the fifty one mental formations, leaving the forty-nine others grouped under the third establishment, of mental formations in general.
When we are practicing mindfulness we recognize, for example, that there is a mental formation of craving which has just arisen. We say, "Here is a mental formation of craving which has just arisen." Or we say it has already arisen and is operating in us. And we recognize it and accept it because it is us. It is a part of us. We are not going to fight against it, we are not going to hate it, because it is a part of us. This is a method of non-violence, which comes from the principle of non-duality. We are one with the mental formation. The mental formation is not our enemy. It is ourself and it is our duty to look after it. Many people think that meditation is a war, a struggle between good and bad, between the Buddha and Mara. But in the light of interbeing, rubbish makes flowers and flowers make rubbish. There is affliction and there is bodhi. Bodhi is not the enemy of affliction. Affliction is not the enemy of bodhi. If we donít know how to look after our awakened nature it will become affliction. If we know how to look after our afflictions they will become awakened nature. That is what is meant by saying afflictions are the bodhi nature, are awakened nature.
The teachings of Buddhism are based on non-duality. When we have the insight of non-duality we will look into rubbish and not be afraid. "You are a rubbish bin. I am going to look after you." Thereís nothing to be afraid of. This kind of acceptance helps us to suffer much less. And we say, "Ah yes, this rubbish is an inheritance from my parents, my ancestors; it is not my enemy. All I have to do is help it transform, and when I can transform it, it will make the life of my parents and my ancestors beautiful as well. It is something that my parents and ancestors were not able to do, and so now I can do it for them." So we do not feel ashamed. We suffer a little or we suffer not at all. Many times itís as if we are gardening and we find a lot of rubbish and we put it in one place in the garden and then we look after it; we water it and it turns into earth. So we have to be like a good gardener. When we see rubbish we look after it, to turn it into compost.
This is the way we face our garbage, our rubbish. When there is craving, we see that this craving can come from our body, or it can come from our perception, or it could be an inheritance from our ancestors. And we have to accept this inheritance. We are aware of it, and we have to transform it. In the list of wholesome mental formations, the first one is alobha, meaning the absence of desiring. We all have this mental formation. We only just have to remove the mental formation of craving and the other one will be there, and we will feel very close to the Buddha. We will feel light, we will feel free. So there are wholesome and unwholesome mental formations. He is aware in the same way concerning a mind which is hating, a mind which is confused.
Unwholesome afflictions, afflictions which bring suffering, which take away our peace and make us agitated, are called klesha in Sanskrit. There are six basic afflictions and twenty secondary afflictions. The first six are like the source. They are craving, hatred and anger, ignorance, suspicion, views and pride. If you take the ray of light, a laser beam, and shine it on to ignorance, the ignorance will dissolve. That is the laser beam of understanding. Our wrong views, our suspicion, our pride -- they all contain ignorance. So the important thing is to break up the ignorance with the light of understanding, and then the affliction will transform. Mindfulness is the energy which gives rise to the ray of light. Shine it on ignorance and affliction, and they will dissolve.
He is aware in the same way concerning a hating mind, a confused mind, a collected mind, a dispersed mind, an expansive mind, a narrow mind, the highest mind, a concentrated and a liberated mind. Some masters explain the narrow mind as the mind which is attached to the realm of desire. They say when we are attached to the realm of desire, our mind is very small. There is no beauty. These teachers explain the highest mind as the mind which has distanced itself from the field of desires and come to the formless realm, but that is just a way of explaining. Many times, we see we have fallen low. There are days when we feel that our mind is small and narrow, we have not the capacity to love and to accept. We blame. We are angry. That is because our mind is narrow. But also, there are days when we can love everyone; we can accept everyone and feel light. We see we are our brother, our sister. We see we are the meditation student who has come to visit us, and that is the highest mind. If there is a highest mind, there must be a lowest mind. We have to recognize our mind. Today my mind is a low mind, a dull mind. We should see why our mind is like that today. We find the causes, whether they come from our body, from our mind. Sometimes we only have to sit next to someone and the highest mind is born. When we feel the highest mind is there, we feel happy, we feel well.
In The Sutra On The Full Awareness Of Breathing the Buddha gives four breathings for the mind. I breathe in and Iím aware of my mind; that is being aware of the activities of my mind. Then the Buddha teaches how to brighten these mental formations, how to make them happy, to gladden our mind, to gladden our mental formations. When there is a mental formation which is wholesome, we have gladness, we can have the warmth of the light of mindfulness to make that happiness greater. We embrace that with our mindfulness and our happiness increases, gladdening our mind more. So if our mind has a negative mental formation we shouldnít just lie there and die because of it. We should not shrink inside of ourselves and allow ourselves to be oppressed by it. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be caught, to be crushed by it, we have to recognize it and then ask a sister or a brother to help us embrace and transform that mental formation.
The Buddha taught many ways to accomplish this. The first way is to "change the peg." When we have a negative mental formation of depression, sadness, despair, worry, craving, we know that this mental formation will bring us down. We should not leave it like that. We have Dharma doors given to us by the Buddha telling us what we can do. We can do this with the support of our brothers and sisters. The first method of changing the peg is like watching the television. If there is a very bad program, we shouldnít just sit there and bear it; we should press the button to change the channel. And if all the channels have bad programs, we should turn off the television and do walking meditation. But in fact this television is in our mind, in our alaya consciousness, and we donít actually press the button. We are a victim of the films that our alaya consciousness is showing us, so we change the peg. Everything in your store consciousness is there, you have everything, so why donít you invite something up from there to gladden your mind? That is the way of changing the peg.
In England when we see our friend is worrying, when we think that our friend is caught in his worry, we say "A penny for your thoughts." We mean, "What are you thinking about?" We mean that we want our friend to get out of his thoughts. When youíre thinking this or thinking that, youíre looking at that particular channel, that particular film. "A penny for your thoughts" is a bell of mindfulness. When you see that your friend is caught in their thoughts, like in a trap, you can help them by saying "A penny for your thought. A penny for your feeling. A penny for your mental formation." We donít want to know the secrets of that personís mind. Weíre not trying to find something out. We just see that that person is caught in their mental formations. So we come and say, "What are you thinking? Why donít you do walking meditation with me?" You can use the expression "A penny for your feelings" to help each other. Or you can find another equivalent expression to help a friend in the practice to get out of that situation. And they will say, "Okay, I will get out of it. I will practice with you so that my mind is gladdened again."
What a waste, when the sun is shining, the weather is beautiful, to be caught in this mental formation. If a mental formation is very strong and we cannot change the peg, then we have to embrace it, to transform it, we cannot forget it. Maybe it disappears for a few minutes and then it reappears. For instance we invite up something outside, but it is soon replaced by our strong mental formation. All we can do then is to embrace, do walking meditation, and ask a brother or sister to help us with their energy of mindfulness, so we have more strength to embrace and deal with that mental formation. If we have a friend in the practice who has more energy, that person can do this for us. We should ask each other for help. We all have moments when we are low, and sometimes we need someone else whose energy is high to help us. Maybe a monk or a nun whoís only just been ordained has freshness, is able to do that. In the sutras this is called concentrating our mind, collecting our mind. We embrace our mental formation. Rather than pushing it outside we say, "Come here. I will look after you." Our mind and our body are fully concentrated on helping this mental formation, seeing what the reasons are, far and near, for it's existence. We cannot run away from it. This is the third breathing, awareness of our mind in the mind.
The fourth is breathing is liberating the mind which follows naturally after concentrating the mind. Again, there are many methods. A younger sister who just became a nun three or four months ago wrote to me about her practice. She had a boyfriend in the past, and whenever he was angry he would go outside and water the flowers in the garden and then he would go and buy ice cream. Sometimes when they were sitting together he didnít dare to look at her. There came a time when she saw that she was attached. In the ordination ceremony she knew her father, her brother and her boyfriend were sitting in the congregation. She could see them in her mindís eye but she did not dare to look at them. She knew that she was leaving them behind in order to become a nun. She saw clearly that if after becoming a nun she was to become attached again she would be betraying the people she had already left behind in order to be ordained as a nun. This insight which stayed with her for a couple of hours enabled her to let go of her attachment. I think somebody only twenty years old who has been able to look deeply and see that is already doing very well. We see that the person we love is in our heart and we see that we are going on the path, but we have to leave behind our loved ones, and if in our practice we get caught again, we get attached to somebody else, then we are not worthy of being a monk or a nun. To see that is already bringing us happiness.
We all have these elements of betrayal, and if we know how to use them, we can release ourselves very easily. How many people have supported us in our lives? Our ancestors, our family, our teachers, friends and many others. If we allow ourselves to be attached and caught, we are betraying all those who have supported us on our way to becoming a monk or a nun. So to be liberated is not something far in the future but is something we can do now by looking deeply. This younger sister did this on her own. If it had been more difficult she could have asked one of her sisters, but she didnít need to do that. Some moments after she looked deeply and saw like that, she felt light in herself.
This is how the practitioner remains established in the observation of the mind in the mind, the observation from inside of the mind or outside of the mind or the observation of the mind from both inside and outside. This means we embrace that mental formation and we look into it to see its basis. We call it by its name. This is craving, this is anger, this is pride, this is suspicion. Who do we doubt? We doubt ourselves. We doubt our teacher. We doubt people in the Sangha. We doubt the Dharma. We have to call doubt by its name, look into it, look deeply into it and look deeply outside of it. If we look into it, we will see outside of it. There is nothing which does not have its source and its release. This mental formation can come from our physiology, from our consciousness, from our mind, from old seeds, from our environment or our society. When we can see the underlying causes of that mental formation we know that itís only natural for such a mental formation to be there. If our mind has been formed like that, quite naturally that mental formation will be there. We shall see: "If I had known how to look after my physical body, then this mental formation would not have arisen". If we eat too much, we give rise to feelings of craving, so eating with moderation is a method of practice. If we eat little in the evening and do not eat or drink things which excite us, that is not because we are being fussy about food. When we look from the outside of the mental formation we will discover the inner content of the formation. And if we look into the inner content we will find the causes outside for it.
The practitioner dwells established in the observation of the mind in the mind, observation of the mind from the inside or the outside. He remains established in the observation of the process of coming to be in the mind, and the process of dissolution in the mind, or both in the process of coming to be and the process of dissolution. We see how this mental formation has arisen, why it has arisen, and how it can be ended. Or, we see that thanks to my brother saying this, I have this mental formation. So we remember that the next time the mental formation arises, we will use the method of practice to be able to deal with it and then it will not arise any more. Or he is mindful of the fact, here is a mental formation, until understanding and full awareness come about. This is the bare attention, the mere recognition aspect. We call it by its true name. We do not condemn it, we do not hate it, we do not crave it, because sometimes we are caught as far as our wholesome mental activities are concerned, we are caught in them also. Our feelings, our pleasant feelings will catch us. If we are angry and there is a great deal of ignorance in our anger, someone may say to us: "You are wrong to be angry, the person you are angry with never did what you thought he did." You may see that your anger is completely unjust. But that does not mean to say that you can let go of it straight away. You are listening to music which is sentimental and over emotional, but even though you know this, you donít dare to turn it off, you donít want to turn it off, because youíre caught in it, caught in the suffering it brings you. Not only are you caught in things which are called pleasant feelings, you are also caught in what are called unpleasant feelings.
Whenever a mental formation arises, it exists and then it ends. There is a process. We have to respect that process. We are angry; we have been shown that the anger has no basis, but we still canít smile. The other person says, "Smile, your anger is deluded!" but anger has already arisen; it canít suddenly disappear. It takes time to come to an end, as with a fan. You say, "Itís very windy in here; turn off the fan." But after you have turned off the switch, the fan will continue to turn. The important thing is to remove the base of nutriment for our anger. When we have a feeling of anger or sadness, if we can see its roots, it may continue a little bit, but it wonít continue very long. And it doesnít matter if it continues a bit because the root has been cut off and in two days it will have disappeared. With mere recognition that there is a mental formation here, until understanding and full awareness comes about, he remains established in the observation, free, not caught up in any worldly consideration. This is how to practice observation of the mind in the mind. When we read the sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness we remember that the Buddha has taught us to practice these four breathings and we take the light of these teachings to shine on the teachings on the four establishments of mindfulness, and then itís very clear.
Now we go on to the fourth and last establishment, observing objects of mind in the objects of mind. Objects of mind are also called dharmas, and dharmas here means the objects of our mind. As far as perception is concerned we have eyes and the object of eyes is form. When form and eyes come together then there will be sight. With ears and sound, hearing. Nose, odor. Tongue, taste. Body, touch. With the mind, the object of mind is dharmas, objects of mind. There is sight, hearing, sense of smell, taste, sense of touch, and consciousness -- mind consciousness or thinking. So dharma here means the object of mind. The five sense consciousnesses -- eye consciousness, ear consciousness, etc. -- can operate separately but they can also operate in combination with mind consciousness. Sometimes when we look we can see, but we do not put our mind into it, and that is the eye consciousness working independently. When we are aware of what we are looking at, we have eye consciousness which is in combination with mind consciousness. For example, on our bicycle we may be thinking of the homework we have to do. Soon we have to give our homework to our teacher, so we are thinking about that. In that moment our eyes are keeping us from bumping into anything as we ride the bicycle, although our mind is somewhere else.
The mind consciousness also can work independently. If we are dreaming, for instance, our five other sense consciousnesses are not in operation. During a dream, our mind consciousness is working on its own, relying not on the sense perceptions but on information which exists in deeper levels of consciousness. When we are doing sitting meditation we can also use our mind consciousness alone. Or when we are doing mathematics, or when we are writing, we just use our mind consciousness.
If we imagine our mind consciousness as a circle, our five sense consciousnesses would be circles inscribed on its circumference. The circumference of the circle of mind consciousness would cut through each of the five sense consciousness circles, dividing the part of the sense consciousness which works independently from the part which works together with the mind consciousness. So when the mind consciousness works together with one of the five sense consciousnesses, the eye for example, that is represented by the part of the eye consciousness circle lying within the circumference of the mind consciousness circle. Just as our thoughts are dharmas, so also images, sounds, or other sense objects can be objects of mind, or dharmas. Form can be an object of mind. Scent can be an object of mind. Touch can be an object of mind.
Dharmas can be taken from the alaya consciousness or from outside. Mind consciousness can take its information through the five doors of our sense consciousness, as in our daily life. For instance we are walking on the road and we meet someone. We stop and think, "When did I meet that person? Whatís that personís name?" At that point the image of that person goes through our eyes and we are trying to look into our file to see how long ago that image was there before. We bring the two images together, compare them. So at every moment we are bringing together what comes from within and without. How do we know that a cat is a cat? Because there is a cat outside of us but also there is the image of a cat within us. And we know this is called a cat because we have the information of cat within us which helps us to identify the signal of the cat outside. The field of operation of the mind is very wide. All dharmas are there; all objects of mind exist because they come through the doors of the five senses or from information which is stored in our consciousness. All these things can be called dharmas.
When we discriminate the four establishments of mindfulness -- body, feelings, mind, objects of mind -- we see four different establishments. But in fact, even body is an object of mind; if we look deeply at the body in the body, it becomes an object of the mind. When we are looking at feelings, then feelings are the object of mind. When we are observing mind or mental formations, they become objects of our mind. Therefore, this division into four establishments is just to help us in our learning how to practice mindfulness. All these things, all establishments of mindfulness, are in fact objects of mind. A monk once asked how mind can be an object of mind. I said if we take our two fingers and rub them together, then the body is in touch with the body. The mind is the same. When we look into our body, our body is the object of our mind. When we look into form, form is the object of our mind. When we look into mental formations, the mental formations are also the object of our mind. So we see that the field of objects of mind is very great.
The fourth establishment of mindfulness, observing dharmas in dharmas, that is looking at objects of mind in objects of mind, is looking at an infinite field of perception, samjna. The word dharma here does not refer to the teachings the Buddha gave; it refers to phenomena, things. These phenomena can be physiological or psychological or physical. We can have a perception of the leaf, of the bell, of brothers, of sisters, a perception of our anger...all these perceptions are objects of mind. But all these perceptions can be erroneous. We have to look deeply to go beyond their erroneous nature. That is the aim of the fourth section, looking deeply into dharmas in dharmas. How does the practitioner remain established in the observation of the objects of mind in the objects of mind? First of all he observes the objects of mind in the objects of mind with regard to the five hindrances. When sensual desire is present in him he is aware. (The term objects of mind is used here, instead of dharmas. Hindrances are nivarana in Sanskrit.) Sensual desire is the first hindrance. The second is hatred and anger. Then dullness, then agitation, then doubt. These are the five obstacles. If these obstacles are not removed our looking deeply will not be deep and will not be successful.
Once we are attached with sensual desire we cannot do anything. Day and night it follows us. So we need to look into that attachment. Why should we, morning, noon, and night, have to be thinking about that thing? Someone who has not been able to overcome sensual desire cannot succeed at meditation practice. Therefore you have to look into the object of mind, which is the object of your sensual desire and see that in that object there is danger, hardship, and toxins which can destroy our beginnerís mind and take away our peace and joy. We cannot sit still, we cannot walk, we cannot breathe, because sensual attachment is following us. So we have to recognize first of all the object of our sensual attachment. By reading the sutras, listening to the teachings, and looking deeply into the dangers and hardships of our sensual attachment, we can uproot it.
When there is no sensual desire, he is aware there is no sensual desire. Someone who has had sensual desire and has suffered because of sensual desire, has taken all that suffering upon themselves. When they no longer have sensual desire, they feel this is the most wonderful situation of lightness. Our suffering because of our sensual desire has passed, and that is very beneficial. We only have to think of the time when we were caught in sensual desire to know the value of having no sensual desire. Look around you and you see people who are caught in sensual desire. You see how much they suffer. Once sensual desire begins to arise, he is aware of it. You have to say, "Yes, there you are, arising. Then I shall look after you." You will be in danger if you donít know how to deal with sensual desire. When already arisen sensual desire is abandoned he is aware of it. How is he aware of it? How is he able to abandon it? Whenever it arises, he uses the methods of mere recognition and embracing to abandon it.
When sensual desire already abandoned will not arise again in the future, he is aware of it. Someone who has suffered, and has had direct experience of sensual desire, sees that sensual desire no longer attracts him in the least, and so he knows that this sensual desire will no longer arise. Those of you who are vegetarian may know that in the past, you thought certain dishes with meat were very tasty. If you couldnít have had them it would have been difficult. But now, having been vegetarian for a long time, we look at others eating meat and we feel sorry for them and we wonder how we could ever have wanted to eat meat ourselves. We know clearly that we have lost the capacity to put meat in our mouths and eat it. We see how we were caught in sensual desire in the past. Now we have seen its basis and we know it will never catch us again.
He also practices like that with hatred and anger. Somebody who has hatred and anger cannot practice. So when we want to practice, we have to be able to remove our hatred and anger. Anger comes from our body as well as our mind. Compassion and love help us see the suffering of anger and hatred in another person, and our understanding is able to remove that hatred and anger. If we continue to carry anger and hatred in us we cannot do sitting meditation, we cannot do walking meditation, because they are still there.
The next hindrance is dullness and drowsiness. There are people who are always drowsy, but not because they donít sleep enough. Some peopleís drowsiness is a reaction because in the past their practice drove them beyond their abilities. So they developed the habit of falling asleep when they did sitting meditation. Now as soon as they sit down they begin to fall asleep. Or they close their eyes and dullness immediately comes. They may have slept six hours the night before, but still when they do sitting meditation they fall asleep. When we go to the different Zen centers we will see many people who do that. We have to find the reasons in our body and in our mind which have given rise to these habits. The body is trying to find a way to react because in the past it has been forced. It may take some people many months to learn again how to meditate, to transform this habit of falling asleep.
When we do sitting meditation we need a method to help our meditation to become very interesting. Meditation can be very interesting, we need a program of sitting meditation so we know what we are going to do. After we have brought our body and mind together for a few minutes and we feel peace and joy, we each have to know what exercise we are going to use. We have to know what we are going to look deeply at. If there is some problem that we need to resolve, we have to use our sitting meditation to do this. We also have to look at how we eat and drink. We eat and drink in such a way that our body is not heavy. In the meditation center they do everything they can to help us not to be sleepy. Sometimes they even use a stick. They come and stand before you and they place the rod on your shoulder, like a bell of mindfulness to help us wake up. Would you like us to have a rod to use in sitting meditation? While we are practicing looking deeply it is sometimes good to have that. When we practice walking meditation slowly, or less slowly, that is to help us not fall asleep in sitting meditation, since our blood circulates more when we walk than when we sit. We donít make it too hot in the meditation hall, or too humid. We use the bell. There are so many things to help us deal with our sleepiness.
One of the difficulties of Plum Village in the summer is that people come who havenít seen each other for a long time. So they stay up late at night talking and then their sitting meditation is not successful. Either they donít come to sitting meditation because they havenít slept enough, or when they do come, they fall asleep. When we chant the sutras we donít feel sleepy, but we do feel sleepy when we do sitting meditation. That is why some people just like to chant the sutra and not do sitting meditation. But the sutra says not to be like a corpse when you do sitting meditation, because what good is that to the Dharma or to yourself? The important thing is that in our sitting meditation we have something to meditate on. In a Dharma discussion we can talk about dullness and learn from others what they do when they feel drowsy. The traditional way to practice when we feel drowsy is to bring our awareness up to the point of our nose and follow our breathing from there.
The next hindrance is agitation and remorse. There are two words here, agitation and remorse. We are not peaceful as we sit. We feel we want to stand up and walk around. The traditional way to practice with agitation and remorse is to bring our awareness and our breathing down to the navel, and that way we shall feel peaceful. Regret means we feel a guilt complex, if we have a guilt complex, we cannot do sitting meditation. We have to remove our guilt complex. We have to write to the other person; we have to resolve our conflict with the other person so that the guilt is no longer there. If the other person has passed away, we have to resolve the conflict with that person who is within us. We have to begin anew with that person in us and promise to that person that we will not treat anybody in that way again. Then quite naturally our guilt and regret will disappear. In our life we are clumsy. Sometimes unintentionally we make people suffer, and then regret follows us. If we do not have a method to transform that regret we cannot do sitting meditation. We cannot practice meditation.
Finally there is doubt. If we have doubt in our heart we cannot practice. We have to resolve this doubt by looking deeply, by going to that person or writing them, asking our teacher, our brother, our sister to shine light on us so we can overcome this doubt. He also practices like this with anger, hatred, dullness, drowsiness, agitation, remorse and doubt. We will continue on Thursday.
These dharma talk transcriptions are of teachings given by the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village or in various retreats around the world. The teachings traverse all areas of concern to practitioners, from dealing with difficult emotions, to realizing the interbeing nature of ourselves and all things, and many more.
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