It is customary for an evening’s discussion to be dedicated to a review of a significant recent retreat experience. Peter spent the month of March at the Forest Refuge, part of the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts. The retreat’s theme involved what is called “The Gradual Training” in Theravada Buddhist terms, with a major focus on cultivating high levels of concentration. The leaders of the retreat were Shaila Catherine, a well-respected teacher and the author of “Wisdom Wide And Deep”, accompanied by Sayadaw U Jagara, a well-respected Buddhist monastic and teacher of French Canadian background. Peter described the retreat routines and provided a handout regarding the Gradual Training produced by the teachers. During the retreat, great emphasis was placed on cultivating persistently vivid mindful awareness of breathing, leading up to the highly concentrated states of jhana, or preparatory to the practice of vipassana, that is, insight into impermanence, the dissatisfaction resulting from craving and clinging and realization of the absence of an autonomous self. This was followed by a lively discussion of the topics by the participants in the meeting.
This talk fosters understanding a key concept of the Buddhist process of awakening, paticca samuppadha, typically translated as dependent origination. Peter develops a different understanding of this concept, contingent provisional emergence. This view is intended to emphasize the non-linear aspects of what conditions each moment of awareness, in the hope this will clarify the concept and make it more applicable to intensive retreat practices. The ability to be aware in a non attached way to the direct experience of feelings as just internal impulses either toward or away from emerging self-state organizations is essential for vipassana practice to provide liberation from distress and confusion.
The core mental conditions to foster liberation through the practice of vipassana are called the “Seven Factors For Awakening”: mindfulness, investigation of mental phenomena, energy/effort, joy/enthusiastic interest, tranquility, concentration and equanimity. This talk describes their functions in the process of awakening and how to cultivate them.
Continuing the exploration of the Wholesome Mind Conditioners that began with last week’s posting “The Universal Wholesome Mind Conditioners”, the twelve following cetasikas were listed as cooperative pairs–cetasikas, reflected in the mind: Tranquility of cetasikas and mind, Lightness of cetasikas and mind, Pliancy of cetasikas and mind, Wieldiness of cetasikas and mind, Proficiency of cetasikas and mind and Uprightness of cetasikas and mind. These qualities of mental functioning develop with consistent practice of mindfulness of breathing, and become most effective when the mind is unaffected by the five hindrances. Their development is essential for the effective practice of vipassana, insight into how the mind creates a meaningful sense of selfhood.
After describing the pairs, the assembled students discussed them, seeking clarification regarding their functioning, which is to promote the process of awakening beyond the level of functioning termed “good mental health”
Next week’s talk will describe how the Wholesome cetasikas foster the development of the Seven Awakening Factors: Mindfulness, Investigation of Mental Phenomena, Energy/Right Effort, Joy/Enthusiastic Interest, Tranquility, Concentration and Equanimity/Balance of Energy and Attention.
Critical analysis is often termed critical thinking, and is a very important skill to cultivate in this era, as we are constantly bombarded with manipulative advertising and political “spin”. In the Buddhist conceptual structure, one of the 7 factors for awakening is called dhammavicaya, that is, the intentional, mindful investigation of mental phenomena. This talk describes how the practice of intentionally and mindfully investigating the changing sensations of breathing matures into the ability to critically analyze how the mind creates an internal narrative in response to external circumstances, and then determine whether the narrative fosters a benevolent and effective response.
Here are the notes prepared for this talk: BUDDHISM AND CRITICAL ANALYSIS During the talk, Peter quoted parts of the Kalama Sutta, which focuses on the Buddha’s description of the value of critical analysis to support the process of awakening. Here is that sutta: Kalama Sutta
This talk concludes a series of explorations of the neuroscientific discoveries about how mindfulness of breathing meditation restructures important neural pathways during the process of awakening. The topic for this discussion reviews some of the progressive steps in mindful breath awareness as they are manifested in important neural pathways to promote samadhi/passadhi (stable attention/emotional balance), […]
During this talk, the development of meditation as an evolutionary process was reviewed. The first images of a person in a meditative position dates from about 5,000 years ago. The initial motivation likely was to find a way to appease the forces of nature, typically a god, to promote good fortune. The Buddha radically transformed […]