What helps and what hinders us in meditation
Order of events for this evening
19:30 Tune in and report back thoughts on the precepts
19:40 Recap on five precepts
19:50 Meditation Practice: Mindfulness of Breathing
20:30 Tea Break
20:45 Presentation on Helps and Hindrances in Meditation
21:05 Groups (3 or 4 people) Lets report in on how our meditation is considering Helps and Hindrances.
21:15 Report back and sharing experience on Meditation
Were we able to explore a precept during the week?
Did we employ any methods to help us be aware and engage more ethically?
Working In Meditation
So far in this course we have been looking at aspects of Buddhism, (The gap in the wheel and the use of meditation to be more aware in the moment and emotionally receptive and ethically responsive.
Next week, the final week, we will explore difficulties with the views that underpin how we live out our lives. How even though we know every aspect of our lives will change , we live as if our life and possessions are permanent. We will explore how when we look more square on to reality a sense of freedom can arise.
This week we’re moving on to looking at the importance of meditation for the our development, especially its place in helping us to think with clarity, be more ethically aware and sensitive, and through this ethics and meditation, experience wisdom.
We will bring to our attention the following aspects around meditation.
- Firstly, setting up the conditions in which a regular practice can grow. The place and time we meditate.
- Methods we can apply directly to work positively with the experiences that arise in meditation.
- We will be exploring our meditation in an experiential way, rather than talking about it.
This week we want to cover
- Setting up your practice
- The five hindrances and ethics
- Access Concentration (Experiences of higher states)
- How to be with changed states of mind in meditation
- Moving between mental states
- Careful of beginner’s mind
- Systems of Meditation
The Five Hindrances and Ethics
Recognising difficult states that we experience in meditation and what to do. We categorize these states into 5 groups, which we call the Five Hindrances. The Hindrances have an ethical cause. If we improve and work on our ethics outside of meditation we will have less problems with Hindrances during meditation.
The five hindrances, from the Pali Canon.
- Sensory desire : the particular type of wanting that seeks for happiness through the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and physical feeling. (kāmacchanda)
- Ill-will ; also spelled byāpāda): all kinds of thought related to wanting to reject; feelings of hostility, resentment, hatred and bitterness. (vyāpāda)
- Sloth-and-torpor : heaviness of body and dullness of mind which drag one down. (thīna-middha)
- Restlessness-and-worry : the inability to calm the mind. The lack of faculty to calm the mind. Anxiety. (uddhacca-kukkucca)
- Doubt : lack of conviction or trust, Indecision. (vicikicchā)
On the hindrances……
“Getting rid of the 5 hindrances is like having a debt paid… it is passing from a famine stricken country to one of prosperity. It is like living in peace and safety in the midst of violence and hatred.”
Working with the Hindrances
- Awareness of our current mental state
- Part of the task in meditation is developing the ability to:
- Recognize and name or label a hindrance
- Accept it is there without being judgmental about yourself.
- Investigate how it feels objectively, rather than identifying with it.
- Transitory in nature, like all thoughts it will pass away.
Apply the ‘Antidotes’
Working with hindrances (pulling yourself back into focus). When we notice a hindrance we want to develop and apply the appropriate antidote to bring our mind back onto our meditation object. ‘Antidotes’ such as ‘a sky-like’ mind, considering the consequences, letting go of this thought stream, developing positive mental states.
Developing Positive Qualities
Importance of conditions, lifestyle, and how we feel at the beginning of a meditation. Ideally we aim to bring 5 positive qualities to our meditation, and if they are absent we look to using the meditation to develop them. These are:
- Contentment. We aim and wish to be here in our body, in the present, content with our experience, enjoying what is actually happening; not always wishing for something better.
- Warm goodwill. To meditate effectively we open ourselves to being on good terms with ourselves, with other people, and with the world. Generally this is something that requires some effort as there is a tendency for our habitual ill-will, resentment, or bad feelings about ourselves to engage and well up when all external stimuli are removed.
- Commitment and wholeheartedness. To meditate effectively we aim to commit wholeheartedly to doing the practice; not just drift in indecision. To be disciplined in our approach.
- Calmness – To meditate effectively we wish to feel peaceful and calm, not agitated and restless.
- Energy and alertness. Being calm doesn’t mean being in a dream – the aim is also to have a bright mind, a clear awareness.
Changes in Mind arising from ethics and meditation
In Access Consciousness (upacara samadhi) we are starting to open to our direct experience of our and this begins to dominate our perception rather than reactions arising from the hindrances.
The point where the 5 hindrances start to dissipate in a meditation and attention is self sustaining, is known as Access Concentration, a state of mind giving access to the dhyanas. You will know that you are there when your concentration becomes significantly easier. At this point emotions and thoughts start cooperating with your efforts to concentrate instead of continually pulling you away into distraction.
Zhiyi (China 538–597 CE)
Experiences of higher states – The Dhyanas
As our mind become further adsorbed in mindfulness or metta, feelings of pleasure arise and physical energy, called Priti, is felt to flow.
When the feelings of pleasure are substantial enough to become a focus of attention this can lead to the first dhyana mental state where the mind seems to permeate the body in a coherent wholeness. This is described by the Buddha as being like milk (the mind ) being mixed with water ( body).
A whole series of more subtle mental states can then arise starting from the condition of absorption and a combination of the positive qualities.
How to be with subtle states without fear
As with the hindrances, recognize the existence, accept it, encourage the positive sensations associated with the state, i.e, pleasure in the immediate experience, Changing the focus from say breath to pleasure of mind with the body.
Moving between mental states
Bringing relaxed attention to the factors of each mental state. So say from first dhyana to access concentration, place attention back on the breath away from the pleasure of mind-body.
Careful of beginner’s mind.
Finding yourself in an unknown state can be disorienting , just as when you loose your concentration. So come back body awareness and then re-engage with the practice and inquiry.
Subtle mental states – a dynamic equilibrium
They arise because the mind is temporarily adsorbed and shaped by the conditions of the meditation. Sustaining the meditation requires developing the faculty of balanced effort.
To be able to work in any stage in meditation you aim for calm and alertness – we are aiming to be both more calm and more alert!
- Like a climber totally focused on their moves on the rock
- Like a master jeweler cutting a priceless diamond
So the aim is to have more of both, but to start with we need to learn to balance calm and alertness. This is related to the idea of balanced effort. If we make no effort in meditation, we will drift, daydream, and maybe go to sleep. But if we make a forced, willful effort, our mind will be tense and agitated. So we need balanced effort, and a balance between calm and alertness.
Story of Sona.
- A musician, played the lute.
- Sona is very willful, trying to force himself, and getting nowhere with the spiritual life. He is talking about giving up and going home, so the Buddha asks him to come talk to him.
- The Buddha asks him, Sona, if you string your lute too loose, what does is sound like? Does it produce a beautiful sound?
- No , it goes ‘thwock’.
- If you string your lute too tight, what does it sound like? Does it make a beautiful sound?
- No, it goes ‘plink’.
- Sona, meditation is just the same, you mustn’t string your mind too loose or too tight, you must find the balance that makes beautiful music.
A lot of the art of meditation is about balancing effort, balancing energy, balancing calm and alertness. Actually the art is dependent on creating the conditions over time towards a Clear mind, a happy Heart, confidence and being up ‘for next steps’.
Setting up a practice
Light levels and imagery
- One very easy thing we can do to adjust our energy level when we meditate. If we tend to be too sleepy, and need to brighten up, we can raise the light levels in the room. (There is no reason why we need to meditate in gloom)
- On the other hand if we tend to be too restless and agitated, if we have too much uncontrolled mental energy, we can reduce the light levels in the meditation room.
- In a similar way we can also use either bright or calming imagery – (give a few examples. (A calm sea with a setting sun. A blue sky from a hill top. )
- Ask folk if they have been meditating at home. Point out the advantages of regular meditation. Exercise analogy – cannot get fit by doing something for half and hour once a week, need to do it regularly to see the effects.
What needs to be in place to allow a daily practice?
- A suitable place, conducive to positive states, perhaps with a focus, a picture, something beautiful.
- A regular time helps. The advantages of morning and evening, and people’s different energy levels. The power of the unconscious – if we regularly sit in the same place and at the same time for meditation, we easily slip into the mental states we associate with meditation.
- Suitable cushions or chair.
- Possible distractions dealt with, eg partner, kids, phone
- Reasons for candles and especially incense – these are anchors for the unconscious mind, that remind our unconscious what we’re doing, and evoke previous experiences of meditation.
The appropriate attitude to inevitable distractions like noise – its part of the practice.
Length of time – 20 mins at first maybe, but 5 mins is better than nothing. If we get on the cushion we may enjoy it, and stretch the session out. Don’t create unconscious aversion by pushing too hard. Enjoy it! Regular short sits are better than occasional marathons.
Set up a positive habit of meditating.
Q&A about practicing at home.
Systems of Practice
- The Three Fold Way of Ethics, Mediation and Wisdom. (Sila, Samadhi and Prajna ) shines a light on the process of development. Mediation (Samadhi) has a crucial role in the Buddhist Path.
- The Triratna System of Practice or the Five Dimensions of Buddhist (Spiritual) Practice.
Each dimension has associated meditation practices.
- 1. Mental cohesion, being one self. -Integration – Mindfulness of Breathing
- 2.Developing a positive mind. -Positive Emotion – Metta Bhavana (The Brahma Vihara’s)
- 3. Letting go of unskillful habits and behaviours. –Spiritual Death – Meditations on impermanence , 6 Element practice,Stupa Visualisation
- 4. Creative responses and development of skillful habits. -Spiritual Rebirth -Bringing the Buddha, and his qualities to Mind , meditations on Buddhas and Bodhisatvas
- 5. Being open to new ideas and reflection. -Spiritual Receptivity – Just Sitting Practice
These dimensions are interdependent and go beyond meditation. If we want to meditate more effectively we often need to look at how we live our life, the sorts of mental states we cultivate in our daily life, whether we overload ourselves with inputs, whether we are always distracted, unfocused, hurried, anxious, whether we are happy with ourselves.
It is important to become familiar with the language of meditation. So that we can share some of our experience and wisdom gained whilst in meditation. And also learn from others. You will not be able to put all of your experience into words, nor should you try, but learning a vocabulary to describe your meditations will help you and others.
After the meditation practice we will have groups of three or four and discuss the experience of the meditation you have just had. Maybe explore the hindrances that you had and how your awareness and mindfulness and calmness developed.
Did you feel like you experience of mind had changed?