I would like to ask you about your practice. You have all been practising meditation here, but are you sure about the practice yet? Ask yourselves, are you confident about the practice yet? These days there are all sorts of meditation teachers around, both monks and lay teachers, and Iím afraid it will cause you to be full of doubts and uncertainty about what you are doing. This is why I am asking. As far as Buddhist practice is concerned, there is really nothing greater or higher than these teachings of the Buddha which you have been practising with here. If you have a clear understanding of them, it will give rise to an absolutely firm and unwavering peace in your heart and mind.

Making the mind peaceful is known as practising meditation, or practising samadhi (concentration). The mind is something which is extremely changeable and unreliable. Observing from your practice so far, have you seen this yet? Some days you sit meditation and in no time at all the mind is calm, others, you sit and whatever you do thereís no calm Ė the mind constantly struggling to get away, until it eventually does. Some days it goes well, some days itís awful. This is the way the mind displays these different conditions for you to see. You must understand that the eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path (ariya magga) merge in sila (moral restraint), samadhi and panna (wisdom). They donít come together anywhere else. This means that when you bring the factors of your practice together, there must be sila, there must be samadhi and there must be panna present together in the mind. It means that in practising meditation right here and now, you are creating the causes for the Path to arise in a very direct way.

In sitting meditation you are taught to close your eyes, so that you donít spend your time looking at different things. This is because the Buddha was teaching that you should know your own mind. Observe the mind. If you close your eyes, your attention will naturally be turned inwards towards the mind Ė the source of many different kinds of knowledge. This is a way of training the mind to give rise to samadhi.

Once sitting with the eyes closed, establish awareness with the breath Ė make awareness of the breath more important than anything else. This means you bring awareness to follow the breath, and by keeping with it, you will know that place which is the focal point of sati (mindfulness), the focal point of the knowing and the focal point of the mindís awareness. Whenever these factors of the path are working together, you will be able to watch and see your breath, feelings, mind and arammana (mind-objects), as they are in the present moment. Ultimately, you will know that place which is both the focal point of samadhi and the unification point of the path factors.

When developing samadhi, fix attention on the breath and imagine that you are sitting alone with absolutely no other people and nothing else around to bother you. Develop this perception in the mind, sustaining it until the mind completely lets go of the world outside and all that is left is simply the knowing of the breath entering and leaving. The mind must set aside the external world. Donít allow yourself to start thinking about this person who is sitting over here, or that person who is sitting over there. Donít give space to any thoughts that will give rise to confusion or agitation in the mind Ė itís better to throw them out and be done with them. There is no one else here, you are sitting all alone. Develop this perception until all the other memories, perceptions and thoughts concerning other people and things subside, and youíre no longer doubting or wandering about the other people or things around you. Then you can fix your attention solely on the in-breaths and out-breaths. Breathe normally. Allow the in-breaths and the out-breaths to continue naturally, without forcing them to be longer or shorter, stronger or weaker than normal. Allow the breath to continue in a state of normality and balance, and then sit and observe it entering and leaving the body.

Once the mind has let go of external mind-objects, it means you will no longer feel disturbed by the sound of traffic or other noises. You wonít feel irritated with anything outside. Whether itís forms, sounds or whatever, they wonít be a source of disturbance, because the mind wonít be paying attention to them Ė it will become centred upon the breath.

If the mind is agitated by different things and you canít concentrate, try taking an extra-deep breath until the lungs are completely full, and then release all the air until there is none left inside. Do this several times, then re-establish awareness and continue to develop concentration. Having re-established mindfulness, itís normal that for a period the mind will be calm, then change and become agitated again. When this happens, make the mind firm, take another deep breath and subsequently expel all the air from your lungs. Fill the lungs to capacity again for a moment and then re-establish mindfulness on the breathing. Fix sati on the in-breaths and the out-breaths, and continue to maintain awareness in this way.

The practice tends to be this way, so it will have to take many sittings and much effort before you become proficient. Once you are, the mind will let go of the external world and remain undisturbed. Mind-objects from the outside will be unable to penetrate inside and disturb the mind itself; Once they are unable to penetrate inside, you will see the mind. You will see the mind as one object of awareness, the breath as another and mind-objects as another. They will all be present within the field of awareness, centred at the tip of your nose. Once sati is firmly established with the in-breaths and out-breaths, you can continue to practise at your ease. As the mind becomes calm, the breath, which was originally coarse, correspondingly becomes lighter and more refined. The object of mind also becomes increasingly subtle and refined. The body feels lighter and the mind itself feels progressively lighter and unburdened. The mind lets go of external mind-objects and you continue to observe internally.

From here onwards your awareness will be turned away from the world outside and is directed inwards to focus on the mind. Once the mind has gathered together and become concentrated, maintain awareness at that point where the mind becomes focused. As you breathe, you will see the breath clearly as it enters and leaves, sati will be sharp and awareness of mind-objects and mental activity will be clearer. At that point you will see the characteristics of sila, samadhi and panna and the way in which they merge together. This is known as the unification of the Path factors. Once this unification occurs, your mind will be free from all forms of agitation and confusion. It will become one-pointed and this is what is known as samadhi. When you focus attention in just one place, in this case the breath, you gain a clarity and awareness because of the uninterrupted presence of sati. As you continue to see the breath clearly, sati will become stronger and the mind will become more sensitive in many different ways. You will see the mind in the centre of that place (the breath), one-pointed with awareness focused inwards, rather than turning towards the world outside. The external world gradually disappears from your awareness and the mind will no longer be going to perform any work on the outside. Itís as if youíve come inside your Ďhouseí, where all your sense faculties have come together to form one compact unit. You are at your ease and the mind is free from all external objects. Awareness remains with the breath and over time it will penetrate deeper and deeper inside, becoming progressively more refined. Ultimately, awareness of the breath becomes so refined that the sensation of the breath seems to disappear. You could say either that awareness of the sensation of the breath has disappeared, or that the breath itself has disappeared. Then there arises a new kind of awareness Ė awareness that the breath has disappeared. In other words, awareness of the breath becomes so refined that itís difficult to define it.

So it might be that you are just sitting there and thereís no breath. Really, the breath is still there, but it has become so refined that it seems to have disappeared. Why? Because the mind is at its most refined, with a special kind of knowing. All that remains is the knowing. Even though the breath has vanished, the mind is still concentrated with the knowledge that the breath is not there. As you continue, what should you take up as the object of meditation? Take this very knowing as the meditation object Ė in other words the knowledge that there is no breath Ė and sustain this. You could say that a specific kind of knowledge has been established in the mind.

At this point, some people might have doubts arising, because it is here that nimitta [1] can arise. These can be of many kinds, including both forms and sounds. It is here that all sorts of unexpected things can arise in the course of the practice. If nimitta do arise (some people have them, some donít) you must understand them in accordance with the truth. Donít doubt or allow yourself to become alarmed.



[1] Nimitta: a sign or appearance that may take place as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching or mental impression, and which arises from the citta (mind) itself rather than any of the physical senses. Examples of nimitta are: seeing or hearing beings in other realms of existence, precognition, clairvoyance, etc. [Back]