Back to the Cushion

buddha-thailand.jpg

We’ve taken some time off over the Holidays, during which we’ve stayed away from the subject of meditation (at least in terms of blogging; I hope you all have kept to your sitting routine, as have I). I thought I’d break the ice today by looking at a key passage from the Gopaka Moggallana Sutta (MN 108), sometimes referred to as “Moggallana the Guardsman; Ten Qualities Inspiring Confidence”.

My comments are scattered within the text:

“Brahman, there are ten inspiring qualities expounded by the Blessed One — the one who knows, the one who sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened. In whoever among us those ten qualities are found, we now honor, respect, revere, & venerate him; honoring & respecting him, we live in dependence on him. Which ten?

[1] “There is the case where a monk is virtuous. He dwells restrained in accordance with the Patimokkha, consummate in his behavior & sphere of activity. He trains himself, having undertaken the training rules, seeing danger in the slightest faults.

Here the Buddha, who address himself to his monks throughout the Sutta Pitaka, refers to the need to train oneself in a level of discipline that promotes skillful practice. We can’t expect to live the life of a crazed partier (something with which I have a LOT of experience) and be able to simultaneously navigate the ever-deepening and expanding meditative absorption states. He’s saying that we must make a choice between getting caught up in external stimulation, and creating sufficient physical/mental/emotional space to not only meditate, but to remain saturated in jhana/samadhi (meditative absorption) throughout both the waking and sleeping cycles. If we sincerely want to take the train to the final stop on the line, there should be no hesitation here; it’s a no-brainer; we gladly toss aside our former wildness and/or unconsciousness in favor of the peace, joy and bliss that comes with skillful dhamma practice.

[2] “He has heard much, has retained what he has heard, has stored what he has heard. Whatever teachings are admirable in the beginning, admirable in the middle, admirable in the end, that — in their meaning & expression — proclaim the holy life entirely perfect & pure: those he has listened to often, retained, discussed, accumulated, examined with his mind, and well-penetrated in terms of his views.

Read the Suttas, study them deeply, let them infuse your being. They are impeccable, they are consistent, they go directly for the spiritual jugular. They are the Buddha’s gift to you from across the ocean of time, so that the Buddha may accompany you each step of the Path.

[3] “He is content with robes, alms food, lodgings, & medicinal requisites for curing the sick.

Simplify your life. Challenge that which you habitually desire. Investigate the roots of your material longings. Most of us are not monks. We live in the world as householders, participating in the local economy, going to work, providing for loved ones and so forth. As such (especially in the West), we are constantly bombarded with material temptations. We are sold products that we don’t need. We are sold a lifestyle that keeps us enslaved to the need for ever more, as if our “stuff” could ever truly offer fulfillment. The Buddha, who was raised as royalty, a prince being groomed to be king, recognized that suffering is not alleviated by “stuff.” In his Noble Eightfold Path, he laid out a bare-bones set of instructions that, if followed diligently and with faith born of experience, he promised would lead to an ultimate transcendence of suffering. The sooner we drop our attachment to our “stuff,” the sooner we’re able to recognize what has actual value. The sooner we drop our attachments, the more skill we’re able to bring to our absolute highest calling: to awaken from this dream once and for all.

[4] “He attains — whenever he wants, without strain, without difficulty — the four jhanas that are heightened mental states, pleasant abidings in the here-&-now.

This requires commitment to lots of time on the cushion. Once the signs of absorption begin, we must work with them throughout the day and night. We must avail ourselves of absorption so that, “whenever he wants, without strain, without difficulty,” he moves in and out of the four jhanas (samadhi states, i.e., meditative absorption states) “that are heightened mental states, pleasant abidings in the here & now.” Here he’s talking about skillful navigation of the material absorption states, which he taught were of the utmost importance in attaining Nibbana in this very lifetime. Here, as in many other places throughout his discourses, the Buddha made clear that attainment of the jhanas is essential for a successful journey along the Path — despite what subsequent teachings say about the meditative absorption states being Makyo.

[5] “He experiences manifold supranormal powers. Having been one he becomes many; having been many he becomes one. He appears. He vanishes. He goes unimpeded through walls, ramparts, & mountains as if through space. He dives in & out of the earth as if it were water. He walks on water without sinking as if it were dry land. Sitting crosslegged he flies through the air like a winged bird. With his hand he touches & strokes even the sun & moon, so mighty & powerful. He exercises influence with his body even as far as the Brahma worlds.

Here the Buddha refers to the non-material jhanas, otherwise known as the four arupa jhanas. These states were taught to him by his gurus before his enlightenment under the bodhi tree. While he recognized and encouraged skillful navigation of the arupa jhanas, he put most of his emphasis on the rupa (material) jhanas. At his Paranibbana (mahasamadhi, or death), he entered and traversed the rupa (material) jhanas, then passed through the arupa (non-material) jhanas, turned around and came back “down” through the arupas, into the fourth rupa jhana, third rupa jhana, second rupa jhana, first rupa jhana… turned around again, entered the second rupa jhana, third rupa jhana, fourth rupa jhana… and then launched out of his body for the final time. In this way, he showed that the rupa (material) jhanas are essential to liberation, while the arupa (non-material) jhanas are a sign that the meditator is filled with skill and mastery. In each case, attachment to the absorption states is never discouraged, but held forth as the only desire worth pursuing.

[6] “He hears — by means of the divine ear-element, purified & surpassing the human — both kinds of sounds: divine & human, whether near or far.

Saturation in meditative absorption is another way of saying “constant communion with God.” Tapping into the Divine energy, our physical being becomes an instrument of That which brings life to us. The famous “ringing in the ears,” which is a self-arising manifestation of jhana (as opposed to the pathological condition known as “tinnitus”), is a very common thing for those who’ve attained even the first jhana. It was the first jhana nimitta to arise for me, halfway through 1995. I’ve lived with it every moment of every day ever since — and my “human” hearing is as good as it ever was. It’s been a wonderful guide for me.

[7] “He knows the awareness of other beings, other individuals, having encompassed it with his own awareness. He discerns a mind with passion as a mind with passion, and a mind without passion as a mind without passion. He discerns a mind with aversion as a mind with aversion, and a mind without aversion as a mind without aversion. He discerns a mind with delusion as a mind with delusion, and a mind without delusion as a mind without delusion. He discerns a restricted mind as a restricted mind, and a scattered mind as a scattered mind. He discerns an enlarged mind as an enlarged mind, and an unenlarged mind as an unenlarged mind. He discerns an excelled mind [one that is not at the most excellent level] as an excelled mind, and an unexcelled mind as an unexcelled mind. He discerns an absorbed mind as an absorbed mind, and an unabsorbed mind as an unabsorbed mind. He discerns a released mind as a released mind, and an unreleased mind as an unreleased mind.

For one who is suffused and saturated in meditative absorption, intuitive sensitivity grows with each passing moment. A true spiritual master exhibits the above discerning abilities in abundance, such that we know there’s nothing we can hide from him or her. Such a person is completely absorbed and no longer expresses from his or her limited human condition.

[8] “He recollects his manifold past lives (lit: previous homes), i.e., one birth, two births, three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many aeons of cosmic contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic contraction & expansion, [recollecting], ‘There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.’ Thus he remembers his manifold past lives in their modes & details.

[9] “He sees — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: ‘These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech, & mind, who reviled the noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, & mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.’ Thus — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — he sees beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma.

More description of the arupa jhanas — what one encounters when absorption “blasts off” like a rocket, carrying the meditator far beyond body-consciousness and into four clearly-delineated “infinite” states. Here, the limited conscious mind is absorbed into the limitless “superconscious” mind, the collective unconscious of Carl Jung, where all knowledge is instantly available, where the full sense of one’s existence across countless aeons is presented in full color. And it happens naturally through the course of skillful meditation, when our surrender is so complete, when our commitment is so unchallenged that the mechanics of deliverance take over automatically.

[10] “Through the ending of the mental fermentations, he remains in the fermentation-free awareness-release & discernment-release, having known & made them manifest for himself right in the here & now.

Meditative absorption is taught by the Buddha because he knew that it quickens the enlightenment process. Nibbana literally means to “extinguish the lamp.” Meditative absorption (jhana/samadhi) burns away the “mental fermentations” — the cumulative mental garbage that constantly diverts us and brings us nothing but suffering — until there’s nothing left to burn away. There’s no way to adequately describe the wonderful things that replace what is burned away… but you can find out for yourself if you apply yourself with skill and dedication.

“These, Brahman, are the ten inspiring qualities expounded by the Blessed One — the one who knows, the one who sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened. In whoever among us these ten qualities are found, we now honor, respect, revere, & venerate him; honoring & respecting him, we live in dependence on him.”

The Buddha inspires and encourages his monks by revealing the spiritual treasures that await those who follow his instructions. Sounds simple and many hear the call… but few answer. For those who do, it’s difficult to understand why anyone would refuse.

Soon, I’ll return to our “skillful meditation” series, as promised.

Meantime, keep on with your practice with no other expectation than to continually avail yourself of the rewards that come through patience and diligence. The good stuff starts in simple and small ways, usually. Soon enough, in payment for the meditator’s full surrender, the good stuff grows in frequency and intensity — and then we’re talking about skillful meditation, for sure.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Back to the Cushion

  1. seekingfor says:

    Mike,

    I want to thank you for this. A very eye opening sutta, along with your great commentary. I appreciate you shining more light unto the topic meditative asorbtion.

    As you know, I’m still a bit unsure about the whole process, having experianced some of these phenonmas i know they are nothing to fear or to become attached to. However, it does appear that the Buddha was teaching about them as a skillful tool towards enlightenment.

    It only goes to show I need to start reading more of the pali cannon myself. Not to mention make more time for meditation.

    thanks,

    gregor

  2. seekingfor says:

    I need to start spell checking my comments, lol.

  3. adreampuppet says:

    Gregor,

    Thanks for the kind words. And yes, it’s important to study the Sutta Pitaka every day, preferably just after an hour-long meditation — which should, ideally, take place three times a day, thereby suffusing and saturating yourself in meditative absorption throughout the entire 24-hour cycle. At that point, the Buddha’s teaching come alive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s