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Ajann Chan

1 May 2022


Training this Mind

Training this mind – actually there’s nothing much to this mind. It’s simply radiant in and of itself. It’s naturally peaceful. Why the mind doesn’t feel peaceful right now is because it gets lost in its own moods. There’s nothing to the mind itself. It simply abides in its natural state, that’s all. That sometimes the mind feels peaceful and other times not peaceful is because it has been tricked by these moods. The untrained mind lacks wisdom. It’s foolish. Moods come and trick it into feeling pleasure one minute and suffering the next. Happiness then sadness. But the natural state of a person’s mind isn’t one of happiness or sadness. This experience of happiness and sadness is not the actual mind itself, but just these moods which have tricked it. The mind gets lost, carried away by these moods with no idea what’s happening. And as a result, we experience pleasure and pain accordingly, because the mind has not been trained yet. It still isn’t very clever. And we go on thinking that it’s our mind which is suffering or our mind which is happy, when actually it’s just lost in its various moods. 

The point is that really this mind of ours is naturally peaceful. It’s still and calm like a leaf that is not being blown about by the wind. But if the wind blows, then it flutters. It does that because of the wind. And so with the mind it’s because of these moods – getting caught up with thoughts. If the mind didn’t get lost in these moods, it wouldn’t flutter about. If it understood the nature of thoughts, it would just stay still.  This is called the natural state of the mind. And why we have come to practise now is to see the mind in this original state. We think that the mind itself is actually pleasurable or peaceful. But really the mind has not created any real pleasure or pain. These thoughts have come and tricked it and it has got caught up in them. So we really have to come and train our minds in order to grow in wisdom. So that we understand the true nature of thoughts rather than just following them blindly. 

The mind is naturally peaceful. It’s in order to understand just this much that we have come together to do this difficult practice of meditation. 

Tranquillity and Insight

To calm the mind means to find the right balance. If you try to force your mind too much, it goes too far; if you don’t try enough it doesn’t get there, it misses the point of balance. 

Normally the mind isn’t still, it’s moving all the time. We must make an effort to strengthen the mind. Making the mind strong and making the body strong are not the same. To make the body strong, we have to exercise it, to push it; but to make the mind strong means to make it peaceful, not to go thinking of this and that. For most of us, the mind has never been peaceful, it has never had the energy of samadhi; so we must establish it within a boundary. We sit in meditation, staying with the ‘one who knows’. 

If we force our breath to be too long or too short, we’re not balanced, the mind won’t become peaceful. It’s like when we first start to use a pedal sewing machine. At first, we just practise pedalling the machine to get our coordination right, before we actually sew anything. Following the breath is similar. We don’t get concerned over how long or short, weak or strong it is, we just note it. We simply let it be, following the natural breathing. 

When our breathing is balanced, we take it as our meditation object. When we breathe in, the beginning of the breath is at the nose tip, the middle of the breath at the chest, and the end of the breath at the abdomen. This is the path of the breath. When we breathe out, the beginning of the breath is at the abdomen, the middle at the chest and the end at the nose- tip. Simply take note of this path of the breath at the nose tip, the chest and the abdomen, then at the abdomen, the chest and the tip of the nose. We take note of these three points in order to make the mind firm, to limit mental activity so that mindfulness and self-awareness can easily arise. 

When our attention settles on these three points, we can let them go and note the in-and-out breathing, concentrating solely at the nose tip or the upper lip, where the air passes on its in and out passage. We don’t have to follow the breath, we just establish mindfulness in front of us at the nose tip, and note the breath at this one point – entering, leaving, entering, leaving. 

There’s no need to think of anything special, just concentrate on this simple task for now, having continuous presence of mind. There’s nothing more to do, just breath in and out. Soon the mind becomes peaceful, the breath refined. The mind and body become light. This is the right state for the work of meditation. 

When sitting in meditation, the mind becomes refined, but we should try to be aware, to know whatever state it’s in. Mental activity is there together with tranquillity. There is vitakka. Vitakka is the action of bringing the mind to the theme of contemplation. If there is not much mindfulness, there will not be much vitakka. Then vicara, the contemplation around that theme, follows. 

Various weak mental impressions may arise from time to time but our self-awareness is the important thing – whatever may be happening we know it continuously. As we go deeper, we are constantly aware of the state of our meditation, knowing whether or not the mind is firmly established. Thus, both concentration and awareness are present. 

Having a peaceful mind does not mean that there’s nothing happening, mental impressions do arise. For instance, when we talk about the first level of absorption, we say it has five factors. Along with vitakka and vicara, pīti arises with the theme of contemplation and then sukha. These four things all lie together in the mind that is established in tranquillity. They are as one state. 

The fifth factor is ekaggata or one-pointedness. You may wonder how there can be one-pointedness when there are all these other factors as well. This is because they all become unified on that foundation of tranquillity. Together, they are called a state of samadhi. They are not everyday states of mind, they are factors of absorption. There are these five characteristics, but they do not disturb the basic tranquillity. There is vitakka, but it does not disturb the mind; vicara, rapture and happiness arise but do not disturb the mind. The mind is therefore as one with these factors. The first level of absorption is like this. 

We don’t have to call it first jhana, second jhana, third jhana and so on, let’s just call it ‘a peaceful mind’. As the mind becomes progressively calmer it will dispense with vitakka and vicara, leaving only rapture and happiness. Why does the mind discard vitakka and vicara? This is because, as the mind becomes more refined, the activities of vitakka and vicara are too coarse to remain. At this stage, as the mind leaves off vitakka and vicara, feelings of great rapture can arise, tears may gush out. But as the samadhi deepens, rapture too is discarded, leaving only happiness and one-pointedness, until finally even happiness goes and the mind reaches its greatest refinement. There is only equanimity and one-pointedness, all else has been left behind. The mind stands unmoving. 

Once the mind is peaceful, this can happen. You don’t have to think a lot about it; it just happens by itself when the causal factors are ripe. This is called the energy of a peaceful mind. In this state the mind is not drowsy; the five hindrances (sense desire, aversion, restlessness, dullness and doubt) have all fled. 

But if mental energy is still not strong and mindfulness is weak, there will occasionally arise intruding mental impressions. The mind is peaceful but it’s as if there’s a ‘cloudiness’ within the calm. It’s not a normal sort of drowsiness though, some impressions will manifest – maybe we’ll hear a sound or see a dog or something. It’s not really clear but it’s not a dream either. This is because these five factors have become unbalanced and weak. 

This article was published in For You Information Issue 397 - May 2022.


Photo credits: Breathe by Eva Elijas, Inhale, Exhale and Repeat by Brett Jordan and Window by Laura Stanley via Pexels

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