Meditation As Internal Warfare
The Bangkok post had a wonderful article by a Vipassana teacher on how to create meditation to be a war on yourself. It is a wonderful example of the Buddhist approach of using language that somehow sounds spiritual, but is actually just installing intricate systems of denial intended to damage your ability to live:
"Naturally, sensual desire can come in any form of the senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or feeling. So sharpen your mindfulness and watch out!"
Staying the course
Be wary of the five hindrances that can obstruct our Vipassana progress
Life is full of distractions. Regardless of what activity were engaged in, there's always something thats going to catch our attention. Staying focused and being on the ball requires effort and discipline. Its the same when we practice Vipassana meditation.
This week, Phra Acharn Manop Upasamo looks at the five hindrances that need to be understood and dealt with to ensure progressive development in the practice of Vipassana.
Question:You said we meditate to purify the mind, but from what?
Answer: During a meditation retreat, we focus on purifying the mind from what we call the five hindrances or nivorn. These five hindrances can be compared to rust obscuring the purity in our heart. When they arise but are not observed promptly and accurately, they will linger on and obstruct our progress in Vipassana.
Here is a more detailed explanation of the five hindrances:
The first is sensual desire. It could be any pleasurable sensation that arises and lures us away from continuous mindful practice. If you are engaged in walking meditation for instance, it could be the pleasant cool breeze you feel on your skin and forgot to note. Next, you could feel relaxed because of the cool breeze but still continue not to be mindful of it. Immediately after feeling relaxed, you may actually enjoy the walking experience. If you forget to note that feeling of enjoyment, we can say you have lost your battle with the very first hindrance, sensual desire.
Naturally, sensual desire can come in any form of the senses _ sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or feeling. So sharpen your mindfulness and watch out!
The second hindrance is the opposite of the first, and is ill will, or aversion. If you are practicing your sitting meditation for a while and start to feel less than comfortable, this hindrance will probably present itself. It is useful to know this in advance so that you will be able to observe it as soon as it arises. In fact, when your mindfulness becomes sharper, you will be amazed to learn of the many different kinds of negative feelings associated with bodily discomfort. These include fear, anger, and very subtly, fear of any of those kinds of emotions arising.
Training yourself to be aware of ill will arising in your daily life is also a great way to reduce your stress and negative thoughts about others. Observe it as a mere passing sensation, because as we know, that is all it can ever be. Watch it as it arises and fades away in your mind and you will find that you have more control over what you say and do to others.
The third hindrance is sluggishness, or depressive moods. On certain occasions, this also includes drowsiness. It is quite difficult to detect this hindrance while it is about to happen and take control of your mind, because drowsiness always creeps in very subtly. By the time you realise it, you may well have lost the opening rounds in your boxing match with this crafty opponent.
So when observing this third hindrance, try to do it as actively as possible. Try, if you can, to pinpoint the very core of your drowsiness. Is it the feeling of heavier and heavier eyelids, for example? We all know from our Vipassana practice that nothing lasts forever, and drowsiness too has to give way to something else. Your job is to make sure that the next stage finds you wide awake and not fast asleep.
In fighting with drowsiness during meditation, whether walking or sitting meditation, Lord Buddha prescribed many tactics. Try rubbing your limbs, opening your eyes wide and looking into a brightness or pulling your ear lobes.
The fourth hindrance to the progress of your meditation is distraction and remorse. Anxiety also falls into this category. This hindrance is especially important for meditators to understand, so I will elaborate.
When we feel angry at other people, the first thing we should do is to accept them as they are and forgive them. Sometimes you may find that you can feel negative about someone just by seeing the persons face! Am I right? When you think about that, its a bit strange isnt it?
Lord Buddha said anger arises when we fail to reflect critically or do not have yoniso manasikarn. This reflective thinking is also known as thinking by way of causal relations, and is a crucial factor that can lead one to enlightenment itself.
So, instead of focusing on other people, learn to be mindful of your own feelings. Observe how your frustration arises. Is it by seeing something or someone you dont like? Hearing something irritating, perhaps? This is why Vipassana helps a lot in preventing you from falling mindlessly into the usual traps. If you are able to observe seeing, hearing, and feeling as one experience that comes and goes and are able to dissociate yourself from the I and they, anger will have no place to hold on to.
The last hindrance is doubt or uncertainty. Doubtful about what, you may ask? It is doubting whether your Vipassana practice is meaningful, amd doubt about the teachings of Lord Buddha or your Vipassana instructor. Sometimes you may doubt the reality of certain physical and mental phenomena that can come to you during your meditation. Whenever doubt arises, immediately note it as it is and watch it as it inevitably goes. You can always ask your teacher later. The presence of doubt during your meditation, if not observed carefully, serves no purpose but that of hindering your meditation progress. If you forget to be aware of doubt and note it accordingly, it can also lead you to other hindrances.
When we first began to learn about Vipassana we were taught to observe the physical movements and emotional sensations related to the body and mind as they arise. Dealing with the five hindrances is no different.
The teachings of Phra Acharn Manop Upasamo are transcribed and translated for Dhamma Moments by Nashara Siamwalla.
As an exercise, you may want to go through and see if you can spot the dissociation recommended. This is a little essay on how to be at war with yourself. What do you think the long-range effects of internalizing such attitudes would be?