Balancing the Mental Faculties

To make these rive faculties strong, powerful and balanced, there are nine guidelines which a meditator must follow. If these faculties are strong but they are not in balance, a meditator cannot attain insight and enlightenment of the cessation of suffering. Saddha (faith) must be in balance with panna (wisdom), and samadhi (concentration) must be in balance with viriya (effort). The main mental factor mindfulness need not be in balance with any faculties; it must be constant, powerful, sustained and uninterrupted.

If saddha is weak and panna is powerful, a meditator may analyze his experience in the course of meditation. While experiencing a mental or physical process, he will analyse it, especially if he has a wide knowledge of the Dhamma. When he analyses his experience, that analytical knowledge impedes his concentration. Then his concentration will be broken or weakened. There is no room for logical reasoning or philosophical thinking or analyzing which are not right understanding of the natural process of mental and physical phenomena. When a dhamma is not rightly penetrated, comprehended or realized, a meditator may have less faith or a disbelief in the doctrine as a result of his analytical knowledge of the dhamma or experience. Only after he has completed the practice of meditation and experienced enlightenment, can he analyze it in any way. Then he will have unwavering confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha because or his experiential knowledge.

If a meditator believes in the Buddha or the Buddha's doctrine, then his wisdom or insight knowledge is in balance with firm faith (saddha). He can then proceed with his practice without any disturbance by analytical knowledge or reasoning, or philosophical thinking. Some meditators want to display their knowledge of Buddhism or Dhamma, so they sometimes analyze what they experience in their meditation and, talk about something which is contrary to reality. According to the commentary on the Visuddhimagga, faith must be in balance with panna (wisdom, insight knowledge) and vice versa.

When I first started mindfulness meditation, my purpose was to test the technique to see if it was right. Before I began mindfulness meditation, I went through two volumes of 'Vipassana Meditation' written by the Venerable Mahas Sayladaw. At that time I had not met the Venerable Sayadaw personally.

However, the contemplation of the abdominal movement is very straightforward to those who have learnt the meditation technique from the book. I accepted the technique as true and correct because I knew that the abdominal movement is vayo-dhatu, and the other three elements: fire element (tejo-dhatu), water element (apo-dhatu) and earth element (pathovi-dhatu) are also included in the abdominal movement. As we can contemplate the four elements, this technique must be correct.

Traditionally we tend to favor the method of meditation on respiration or breathing meditation (anapanasati). I practiced anapanasati in my days as a samanera when I was 17 to 24 years old. Though I now hold that the Mahasi Sayadaw's technique is correct, I could not accept it as satisfactory then because I was clinging to the traditional method of mindfulness of respiration. That was why I wanted to test the Mah-asi- Sayadaw's technique which begins with the contemplation of the abdominal movement. Although I went to the Mahasi Meditation Center and began to practise the technique, I did it with much doubt. That was in 1953 when I spent my vassa (rains) there for four months doing an intensive course of meditation. At that time, I was a lecturer at a Buddhist University in Mandalay. I practised under Venerable U Nandavamsa. He told me:

U Janaka, you have gone through higher examinations and you are now a lecturer in the University. You must put aside your knowledge of the Dhamma from books if you want to achieve something out of this meditation.

Having accepted his advice, I put aside my knowledge and practiced as advised by my teacher. As such, my faith was in balance with my wisdom because I did not analyze the experience or the technique based on my preconceptions or the knowledge that I had learnt from books.

If panna (wisdom) is weak and saddha (faith) is strong, then a meditator may be credulous. We say he is credulous because he has faith without knowledge, wisdom or intelligence, and tends W believe easily any theory or doctrine. If a meditator is credulous, he may fall into a doctrine or theory which leads to the wrong path. Therefore, saddha must be in balance with panna, knowledge or wisdom. In this way, Saddhindriya and Pannindriya must be in balance.

Then again, samadhi (concentration) and viriya (energy) must be in balance. If viriya is more powerful and stronger than samadhi, you cannot concentrate well on the object of meditation. The commentary says:

If viriya is stronger or more powerful than samadhi, a meditator's mind will become distracted and restless (uddhacca).

In the beginning of the practice his concentration is usually weak and often wanders. So, he should follow the mind and watch it as it is. If a meditator is enthusiastic for the achievement of insight, he may put too much effort in his practice, thereby causing the mind to become distracted and restless. Effort must be kept in balance with samadhi. To do this, he must reduce his effort, keeping his mind stable and steady; noting whatever arises, in his mind and body attentively, but not too energetically. Then he will gradually attain some degree of concentration. Because of this concentration, his effort will become steady and firm, neither too strong nor too lax.                  

In some cases when a meditator has practiced meditation for two or three weeks, his concentration becomes very deep and strong, the noting mind notes the object by itself, automatically and effortlessly. If, however, insufficient effort is put in, the noting mind will gradually become dull and heavy. Hence, that concentration changes into sloth and torpor or sleepiness. The commentary says:

If concentration is too strong and effort is too weak, then that concentration changes into sloth and torpor or sleepiness (thina-middha).

So concentration must be kept in balance with effort (viriya). The passive posture of sitting will only make his mind more concentrated on the object and, as less and less effort is required, the mind will become more and more dull. To keep his concentration in balance with effort, he should practice walking meditation longer than sitting. However, only very few meditators experience concentration that exceeds effort. There are also some meditators whose effort exceeds their concentration. Therefore, concentration must be kept in balance with efforts, depending on circumstances.



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