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An-Atta, The Buddha Way: Maha-Rahulovada Sutta

I mentioned in   An-atta: On Self and Non-self that because all things are conditioned, ever in flux and transient (anicca) they have no stable, no ‘real’ independent identity (an-atta). And that the an-atta doctrine   is extremely difficult to comprehend; And, Yet, it is the Buddha’s strategy to free oneself from identities and attachments. The Buddha guided his son Rahula to understanding of impermanence, and of how one has no stable independent identity (anatta). Let’s see how.

Discourses imparted to Rahula

1.1. The discourses delivered by the Buddha are classified in any number of ways. One such way of classifying his discourses is to treat them as those delivered as explanations or replies  in response to questions posed by bhikkus, ascetics, kings, laymen etc; and , as those imparted by the Buddha voluntarily on his own accord. The better known among the discourses of the latter class are two discourses that the Buddha imparted to his son Rahula.

1.2. The first of the two (ambalatthika-rahulo-vada) was administered to Rahula when he was a boy of seven years. This one teaches Rahula about importance of speaking truth and the courage it takes to speak truth. The Buddha also asks his little boy to exercise diligence in thought, word and deed; and to assess in his mind the consequences that might befall him as well as others.

1.3. The second discourse (Maha- rahulo-vada) was imparted by the Buddha when Rahula was about eighteen years of age, on the threshold of blossoming into a fine young man. This Sutta teaches the ways to develop the perception of impermanence, abandoning the conceit of “I” notion (an –atta); and developing Mindfulness of the skandas (the aggregates that form the body) and Mindfulness of breathing.

The following is a brief account of the Sutta in a summarized form.

Maha-Rahulovada Sutta

Dhatus

2.1. The Buddha addressed in this Sutra as Sugata (one who speaks only what is true and beneficial) states that all matter in the world, whether be it in past, present or future; far or near; gross or subtle; or whatever should be perceived with the right understanding,”This is not mine; this is not ‘I’; this is not my atta (self)”. He clarifies that sensations, perceptions, mental formations (sanskara) or consciousness or whatever are also matter. They too should be viewed with the right understanding,”This is not mine; this is not ‘I’; this is not my atta (self)”.

2.2. He then goes on to explain that the body is composed of five elements (dhatu):

  • of earth (pathavi dhatu– the property  of solidity in body : solids ,semi-solids, fibers etc );
  • of water  (apo dhatu –fluids and the property of fluidity in the body);
  • of fire (tejo dhatu – heat and properties of heat in the body);
  • of air (vayo dhatu – air and properties of air and gases in the body);
  • and , of space (akasa dhatu– element of space and of void between the particles of matter and which separates them as also those in the property of space; and  that which takes in what is consumed by the body).

2.3. Each of these elements (dhatu) in the body is one with the corresponding element in the outside world.

3.1. The Buddha asks Rahula to cultivate the practice of meditation in succession, on each of these elements, to become in mind like unto each element.

“Like unto earth not distressed, shamed or disgusted when unclean things are cast upon it”.

“Like unto water, not attached; not distressed, shamed or disgusted when it comes in contact with clean or unclean things”.

“Like unto fire not distressed, shamed or disgusted when it burns up a clean thing or an unclean thing.”

“Like unto air not distressed, shamed or disgusted when it blows upon a clean thing or an unclean thing”.

“Like unto the sky that does not stand upon anything and yet covers all agreeable and disagreeable things”.

He instructs Rahula to appreciate the nature, the agreeable and disagreeable attributes of each element but to reject identity with each of those elements, dhatus, so that “all agreeable and disagreeable contacts with those elements that arise will not overwhelm your mind”.

3.2. At the end of each cycle of meditation, the element that is meditated upon should be seen as it really is, with right-understanding, thus: “This is not mine; this is not ‘I’; this is not my atta, self”. Having thus rightly understood each element as it really is, one’s mind becomes free from attachment to each of the elements.

Tendencies

4.1. The Buddha then asks Rahula to cultivate the  practice of meditation on other forms of matter too :  on goodness (metta) to be rid of ill will; on compassion (karuna) to be rid of desire to injure; on sympathetic joy (ananda) to be rid of aversion; on equanimity (samata) to be rid of malice; on foulness (dvesa) to be rid of attachment (raga); and to cultivate the practice of meditation on the concept of impermanence (kshanika) to be rid of the conceit of atta ‘self’.

4.2. The nature and attributes of these sensations, perceptions, and mental formations too should be viewed with the right understanding: “This is not mine; this is not ‘I’; this is not my atta, self”.

4.3. He thereafter teaches the practice of mindfulness of the in-coming and out-going breath; and says ‘if you practice mindfulness again and again it should be immensely fruitful and greatly advantageous”.

Practice of Mindfulness

5.1. Rahula then practices mindfulness as he sits in a secluded place under a tree, cross-legged and keeping his body erect. He gently breaths in and breaths out with complete mindfulness.

“ When he makes a long inhalation, he knows:’I am making a long inhalation’. When he makes a short inhalation, he knows: ‘I am making a short inhalation’. He trains himself to be clearly conscious of the whole stretch of the in-coming breath (at its beginning, at its middle and at its end).He trains himself to be clearly conscious of the whole stretch of the out-going breath (at its beginning, at its middle and at its end).

He trains himself to calm down the strong inhalation as he breaths in. He trains himself to calm down the strong exhalation as he breaths out.”

“Each time he inhales and exhales, he trains himself to be clearly conscious of sensations of piti (joyful satisfaction), of sukha (bliss), and of vedana (sensations and perceptions). As he inhales and exhales, he is clearly conscious of volitions (will or the ability to decide); and, He trains himself to calm down volitional activities as he inhales and exhales each time’.

“He trains himself to inhale and exhale with settled mind (on object of contemplation) liberated from defilements”.

“He trains himself to inhale and to exhale with repeated contemplation of each of these aspects of Dhamma (phenomena):  impermanence of self (an-atta); of destruction of attachment or craving or passion (raga); cessation of conditioned existence; and the discarding of defilements”

5.2. The Buddha concludes the teaching to his son,” Rahula, mindfulness of inhalation and exhalation when thus cultivated and practiced repeatedly is immensely fruitful and greatly advantageous. Rahula, when mindfulness of inhalation is cultivated and practiced repeatedly the final inhalation of breath (moment of death) comes to cessation consciously”.

5.3. It is said; venerable Rahula delighted and rejoiced at the words of the Bhagava.

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 For more on Mindfulness please check here.

Please also check the links provided under.

Sources and references:

Twenty-five Suttas from Majjima pannasa;   Satguru publications; Delhi; 1991.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.062.than.html

http://www.wwzc.org/translations/mahaRahulovada.htmhttp://www.metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/2Majjhima-Nikaya/Majjhima2/062-maha-rahulovada-e1.html

Pictures are from Internet

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Indian Philosophy

 

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The Mindfulness

1.1. This relates to the issues that emanated from my post Meditation and Entropy. Each culture or a religious persuasion has its own understanding of the term meditation; and prescribes its own set of practices to attain what it considers is its goal. And, whatever is the process and whatever is the procedure prescribed by various sects, they all aim to transform a disturbed, stressful and incoherent state of mind into calm, clear and wakeful state beyond contradictions. Just as in the illustration of entropy I provided, you have at one end a system that is excited, chaotic and disorderly; while at the other end you have a calm, ordered system free from distractions.

1.2. In terms of entropy, when the entropy approaches near-zero level the mind tends to be thought-free. A thought- free mind is free from distractions and conflicts; and when that happens a state of calm and quiet envelops you. The two states of order and disorder are common to both entropy and meditation. That’s it.

Let’s look at the traditional explanations.

Magga the path

2.1. One of the commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga-sutra offers an allegory. It says our foot-soles have become soft and sore; vulnerable to injury and pain. The way we have to tread in the world is thorny. We have to either withdraw from the world or resort to a device that protects us from the hurt and pain. We might perhaps retreat from the world occasionally for brief spells; but can never run away from it. Even in case we stay away from it physically, our minds are ever full of the world; because, the hold of the world on human mind is subtle, strong and pervasive. The commentary further explains that meditation is one such device, which is protective and preventive. It protects one from the pricks of life and helps to manage stress and integrate the individual. Meditation can thus be positive and constructive.

2.2. Our Teacher, the Master, the Buddha took a more comprehensive and a purposeful view of meditation. He called it magga (Snkt. marga) the path, the strategy for attaining freedom (esa dhammo vimuttiya). He taught this path to whoever that approached him in earnestness, saying “dhammam desessami – I shall teach you Dhamma”.

Anapana –sati

3.1 The Buddha in his first discourse delivered at Saranath laid down the broad outline. It said, if you find the principles, you should also be able to find the method; because, the two are intimately associated (Satipatthana sutta). Here, the term principle refers to the reality that underlies all appearances. And, the method – the magga is the most expedient one within the reach of all people, irrespective of their learning, vocation, caste, gender, country or age.

3.2. The Buddha called the method anapana –sati; anapana meaning breath and sati (snkt.smruthi) is non-forgetfulness, being aware of it. The method he prescribed asked one to be aware of one’s breathing; in other words, to be mindfulness of breathing — of the body, feelings, thoughts, and other phenomena .But in the larger context, mindfulness is about paying attention so you don’t go about life absentmindedly. Mindfulness is all about conscious living.Mindfulness is embedded in ethics and compassion.

3.3. The principles that the Buddha spoke refer to mind as being essentially pure, clear and peaceful. The distractions, dispersions, confusions and agitations are all apparent. But the appearances could be troublesome and stressful. They need to be cleared. The method employed for removing the disturbances is the mindfulness.

3.4. In our normal state, our mind remains unfocused for most of the time and our thoughts move from one object to another in random dissipated manner; and at timesslipping into a stupor. By cultivating mindfulness we first learn to be aware of the fleeting nature of the mind; and later learn to gently fine-tune the mind directing it towards the objects we wish to focus.

3.5. As a Buddhist scholar explained ”The point of mindfulness meditation is not to zone out but to tune in’’. The Mindfulness becomes a gatekeeper guarding the doors of perception or a gateway to tranquility, pacification of the mind (samatha) and purification of thoughts and feelings (visuddhi)leading to insight into the nature of reality (vipassana).

The aim of these contemplative practices is to alleviate the suffering, especially the psychological and emotional afflictions; and to clear those afflictions.

As regards its practice:

meditation

Breath

4.1. Traditionally breath is seen as the ideal instrument for practice of mindfulness. Breathing is the bridge that connects the body and mind; between the gross physical form; and the subtle and formless thoughts. Breathing affects both.

4.2. Breathing is natural to every being. It is instinctive, effortless and essential. To be alive is to breathe; we all do breathe so long as we are alive. The breathing can be observed, watched and to an extent controlled. Breathing and mind are closely related like the charger and its rider. When mind is disturbed the breathing too is disturbed. And, if breathing is uneven, the mind is agitated. Therefore, take hold of the breath when the mind is agitated.

4.3. It is not hard to be mindful of breathing; and to watch the breath as it enters and exits the nostrils, be it long or short, deep or shallow. When the breathing becomes even and calm, the disturbances in the mind too recede.

Mindfulness

5.1. The texts mention that before one begins to meditate one need to make a silent resolve not to allow the mind to be distracted either by the recollections of past experiences or the hopes, anticipations, fantasies or the fears of the future events.

5.2. The challenge comes when the mind drifts.As one sits in meditation all sorts of thoughts arise in the mind , like ever bubbling spring of internal chatter. Allow the thoughts to play out, without getting involved, without judging the contents and the quality of thoughts and emotions as good or bad. Altogether ignore appearance and disappearance of the thoughts.  Return to the attentive observation, deliberate watching of the breath.

5.3. The purpose of this meditation is not to prevent thoughts and feelings entering into the mind. Mindfulness is only being mindful of whatever is happening; and nothing more. Mindfulness is not rational appraisal of thoughts and events. One is just watching without getting involved.  It is mere observation, just watching. The only object of mindfulness is the breathe, which is basic to body and mind.

Watching

6.1. While watching the breath, no effort is to be made. Just turn attention on the breathing process; settle your mind on the breath. Watch where the breath originates and where it ends, running your mind along the course of the breath. This practice is called “following the length of the breath”.

Watching the flow of breathe arising from the navel region and rising up to the nostrils (exhalation) and the flow back of the breath into the body (inhalation) is what the Buddha called ana-apana-sati .It involves both the body and mind.

6.2. When the inhalation (in-breathing) and exhalation (out-breathing) are even in duration (in length) it is restful and relaxing. In the normal course of the day, they are not even. When the duration of inhalation and exhalations are even it is called saamya or samatva, the breath would be quieter, lighter and smoother. The mind too would tend to be calm and silent. One can watch the breaths even while lying down or while walking or sitting quietly.

6.3. As one goes along the path, one watches the breathe that comes in and spread throughout the body. At this stage, as one becomes aware of the flow of breathe, following the  breathe deliberately, becomes rather unnecessary.

 

No mind

7.1. Initially Anapana meditation is focusing on the breath and then focusing on complete equanimity.

Gradually in the midst of the internal chatter one begins to notice its absence, a silence of no contents. At the beginning such states may only be fleeting, but as one continues the practice, one would be able to prolong the intervals grasping the basic experience of consciousness.

7.2. In the next stage, attention is taken off from the breathe that comes in and goes out. Now, the attention is on the nose tip, the point where the air enters the body and becomes the breathe; and, where the breathe exits the body and becomes air. This is a     stage of meditation where the mind is tranquil and light. There is a glimpse of void or silence.

7.3. Awareness of an inner silence is not something easy to achieve.  It can be confused with a state of dullness or being soporific, which is not the purpose of meditation.

With practice the mind attuned to being subtle and devoid of distractions would no longer cling to objects. It observes the inner workings of the body and the sense organs beyond attachments and reasoning.

But the practice does not stop here.

Ethics and compassion

8.1. It is not adequate to merely have a focused mind; but one must acquire the skill of probing the nature of the object The Buddha’s analysis of worldly existence in terms of dissatisfaction, misery and anxiety (dukkha), impermanent and fleeting character (anitya) and illusory appearance of ego-self (anatma) is contemplated upon.

8.2. B Allan Wallace, a Buddhist scholar and teacher, remarks it would be wrong to equate mindfulness with bare attention. Though by itself it could be helpful, bare attention is very limiting and it would not be a complete practice. Mindfulness is essentially rooted in ethics and a wholesome mental state.The cultivation of the four sublime virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic Joy, and equanimity are all practiced with mindfulness.

Consciousness

9.1. Buddhist meditation teachers suggest that through careful observation of the mind, it is possible to see consciousness as being a sequence of conscious moments rather a continuum of awareness. Each moment is an experience of an individual mind-state: a thought, a memory, a feeling and a perception. A mind-state arises, exists and , being impermanent, ceases following which the next mind-state arises. Thus the consciousness of an alert person can be seen as a continuous series of birth and death of these mind-states.

9.2. Mindfulness aims to become aware of the impermanent and fleeting character (anitya) and illusory appearance of ego-self (anatma) and then to eliminate it by eradicating its causes.

9.3. Dharmakirti (c. 600 AD), a seventh century Buddhist philosopher, stated that through disciplined meditative training, substantive changes can be effected in human consciousness, including emotions. A key premise underlying his argument is the law of cause and effect, which suggests that conditions affecting the cause have an inevitable effect on the result.

9.4. Dharmakirti’s statement emanates from the position taken by the Buddha that if one wishes to avoid certain types of results, one needs to change the conditions that give rise to them. Therefore, if one changes the conditions of one’s state of mind, one can change the trait of one’s consciousness and the resulting attitudes and emotions.

Let’s talk more about consciousness especially the Buddhist perspective in the next segment.

Sources and References:

The universe in a single atom by HH The Dalai Lama; Morgan Road books; New York; 2005

Zen and Dhyâna  by Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao ; Kalpataru publications, Bangalore

B Allan Wallace -A Mindful Balance  : http://www.alanwallace.org/spr08wallace_comp.pdf

 

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddhism

 

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