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Lesson 2: Introduction to Our Minds and Meditation

The experienced craftsman needs to know the qualities of the materials used in crafting to make the most effective item. The meditator also needs to know the nature and the characteristics of mind before starting to tame it in order to meditate effectively. It is necessary to know the characters of the mind before attempting to train it in meditation – just as a person who wants to trade in precious stones has to learn their characteristics first, otherwise, they are unlikely to work at a profit. Thus, even if a meditator may not get immediate results in meditation to learn about the character of mind firsthand is still a big advantage.

Get to know about our mind

Our human being is composed of two main parts, namely physical body and mind. Briefly speaking, the physical body is the noticeable part of us made up of flesh and bones, skin and bodily organs – the part of ourselves visible to the eye. On a deeper level, the body is composed of elements [dhaatu]; earth, water, wind, and fire. Five parts of our body are composed of very delicate elements called “the external senses”: our eyes, ears, nose, tastebuds and tactile sensors all over the surface of our body. Although meditation practice almost entirely concerns the training of the mind, the practice is also related to our body.

On the other hand, the mind is a kind of spherical-shaped living element, based inside the physical body for as long as a person is alive. The mind is not identified with the heart because the heart is merely a muscle in the body, but is kind of energy, ethereal and invisible to the eye or any type of empirical instrumentation. The mind deals with one topic at a time, working even with remote subjects and controlling the movement of the body. The permanent base of the mind is at the center of the body. The mind is like an element of consciousness and coordinates with the five external senses (images, sounds, perfumes, tastes, and touches) by controlling the four faculties concerning each of them. The four faculties are;

  1. Perception receiving the images, sounds, perfumes, tastes, and touches, converting them to images

  2. Memory recording all the converted sensory images, as if like movies on film, for use in the future

  3. Thought processing memorized data in a precursory way to categorize it as good or bad, liked, hated or neutral

  4. Knowing processing data received from the five senses through to the level of knowledge.

A complete human must have both body and mind. If someone does not have a body but only mind, we describe this as a ghost or disembodied spirit or a being belonging to a non- human realm of existence. Someone who has a body but no mind is called a corpse. Therefore having both body and mind is the minimum requirement for being a human being. Humans are different from other forms of life because human beings are able to meditate. Although other beings may have both body and mind, they are unable to meditate.

Nature of Mind

The most familiar comparisons we hear for the mind are that of a badly behaved infant or a monkey – because the mind does not stay in one place, succumbs easily to the emotions, never stopping like a monkey that swings from one branch to the next. The natures of mind can be briefly recognized as being easily distracted, hard to keep in one place or manage. It cannot remain with the same emotion for long, tending to succumb to pleasurable emotions. We can thus categorize the characteristic nature of the mind as follows:

  1. Distracted: The mind struggles to fulfill desires and succumb to emotions just as a fish out of water struggles to get back in.

  2. Restless: The mind does not stay with any emotion for long, but jumps from one to the next just as a monkey jumps from branch to branch.

  3. Hard to keep in one place: It is as hard to get the mind to stay in one place or to stay still without thinking as it is to get an infant to stay still.

  4. Hard to control: To prevent the mind from thinking about particular things can be as hard as keeping back cows from grazing pasture.

The Most Venerable Dhammajayo explains that in general, the human mind is never still, but is stirred up by the events in daily life. Children may not have much on their minds but play, study, and entertainment but when they were adult, there is much more to think about, especially relationships and earning a living, all of which tends to scatter one’s attention.

Characteristics of Mind

The mind has special and unique characteristics that the meditators should learn about for the progressive meditation practice. Buddhist scriptures describe the mind as having these following characteristics:

1. Far – traveling: although the mind resides in the body, it can take one’s awareness far away from the body by intention alone with no need for any vehicle to get there. We can be sitting in one place, but our mind can be elsewhere – back home, with unfinished tasks, with friends or family or the things you plan to talk to them about;

2. Travels alone: refers to two characteristics of the mind – that it thinks of one thing at a time and that it can manage unaided:

  • Thinking of one thing at a time: As a demonstration of the mind’s inability to ‘multitask’ try simultaneously writing a ‘five’ with one hand and a four with the other. Although the mind cannot think of more than one thing at once, it is fast enough to alternate between tasks with practice because it ticks over faster than the body, any processor in the world and even the speed of light. Sometimes, mind commands can be too fast for the body to follow, for example, when human someone is so terrified that they have conflicting orders from the mind both to stay still and run away or when they are so angry they are speechless.

  • Managing unaided: The mind doesn’t have a need for companionship like the body. The body has a tendency to loneliness, but the mind can get by without companionship because it is self-sufficient. It doesn’t have the need for support from the minds of others to function correctly.

3. Non-corporal: the mind is an entity separate from our body – with its own shape and form – usually a clear sphere. From ancient times to nowadays, researchers have tried to detect the mind, but because the mind is so subtle it cannot be detected with empirical instruments. Some modern thinkers think that mind is only some kind of phenomenon generated by the nervous system and it disappears in the absence of the nervous system or even when we are asleep. In reality, the mind continues working even when the brain is at rest, just as a movie track remains invisible on the celluloid even though the movie screen has been packed up. In the same way, both mind and brain exist – the nervous system being equivalent to the ‘screen’ on which the minds are as celluloid.

4. Has the body as its cave (dwelling place): indicating that the mind belongs inside the body, especially at the center of the body. Some consider the mind to be located in the heart, but this is unlikely, as most people get their minds back unperturbed even after heart surgery. The mind is often tempted outside the body by the influence of the external perception such as images, sounds, aromas, tastes or tactile sensations.

Meditation’s Definition

Meditation can be described at different levels of definition. The meaning of the word ‘meditation’ can depend on whether it is meant as a practice or as the result of practice to bring about a sense of peace, ease, and purity. At its simplest, meditation is the ability of the mind to stay in a single mood extendedly without wandering – a sort of happiness which one can bring about oneself – something which is advantageous for all to practice, bringing benefits in life including happiness, non-recklessness [appamaada], mindfulness [sati], self-possession [sampajañña] and wisdom [paññaa] -- which is not beyond anyone’s power to practice easily.

  1. Defined in terms of Its outcomes: Meditation is the settling of the mind to continuous peace and unity exhibiting only purity, radiance, brightness and giving rise simultaneously to encouragement, morale, wisdom, and happiness.

  2. Defined in terms of practice: Meditation means the stability of mind at a single point or a state of mind unwavering from its point of focus or non-distractedness of mind.

  3. Defined in terms of the body of enlightenment: Meditation is a practice to still our mind at the center of the body, to gently bring the mind back inside our body at ease, to prevent the mind being scattered by various emotions and thoughts -- whether it be thoughts of family, business, work, study, amusement, revelry, or any other thought – to unify the mind on a single object within the body. Venerable Dhammajayo also refers to Phramonkolthepmuni who explained meditation as gently unifying the faculties of perception, memory, thought and cognition at a single point at the center of the body until our mind comes to a standstill at the center of the body.

Qualities of the mind in meditation

The qualities of mind will be developed respectively according to the levels of meditation. At the basic levels of meditation, when the mind becomes stable and steadfast in a single state, it will develop three clear qualities, say;

  1. Purity

  2. Stability

  3. Workability

The mind that is trained in meditation will gain peace, calm, stability, steadfast in the face of emotion and will have a subtlety and calm making it suitable for attaining higher levels of meditation.

According to Buddhist meditation, while people practice meditation, their minds will develop these eight qualities as follow;

1. stability: the mind stays focused on the chosen object

2. purity: freedom from defilements

3. brightness: the absence of defilements to cloud the mind

4. unruffled: not perturbed by ups and downs of circumstances in the outside world

5. freedom from defilements: undisturbed by the action of defilements

6. subtle: soft rather than unyielding

7. workable: easy to work with, especially on tasks for developing wisdom

8. steadfast: unmoveable like a foundation pile.

Thus, the mind in meditation is identified by the same stability, smoothness, and tranquility as a millpond in the absence of wind or ripples. Meditation allows the mind with sufficient clarity and brightness to see things clearly. Even clouded water can become clear if the mud is allowed to settle out or precipitate. Similarly, when the thoughts in the mind settle through meditation, the mind becomes uncluttered, overcoming any former confusion, stress, impatience or anxiety. These qualities of mind in meditation involved with the mind can be cultivated not only by sitting with one’s eyes closed – but can be cultivated at every waking moment of our lives, whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down. The important principle is to let our minds remain firmly on a single object of meditation.

Importance of Meditation

Meditation is highly relevant to daily life. Everybody can benefit from meditation, but most people don’t realize it. Teachers can deal with students that do not pay attention to the class by allowing them to meditate together before the class starting because if students have short attention spans, they will remember or value anything the teacher teaches. Meditators are better able to concentrate on what they are reading and can thereby understand and retain more.

Sportsmen can also benefit from meditation – whether it be for golfing, shooting, weight lifting or combat sports. Competitors whose mind is calmed can perform better. Quality of work can benefit from meditation too, especially intricate tasks such as handicrafts, design, carving, and art.

Self-control is also enhanced by meditation, especially when in life we cannot avoid contact with words, places, people and situations we have to put up with – this meditation is relevant to making life more bearable.

A calm mind is essential for thinking things through clearly, reflection, remembering things, learning, considerate speech and every sort of task because the tranquil mind is fastidious and inspired. In the still waters run deep and the mirror-surface of undisturbed water in the vessel can give us a clear reflection of our own face. In the same way, a mind that is clarified by meditation clearly reflects our inner images. Anyone who has this sort of clear insight will take better decisions than one whose inner images are vague or whose mind is as scattered as wild water.

The mind can be compared to a form of energy like light which has its own aura. If there is no focus for the mind, the energy is scattered giving off a dim and undirected aura, however as if the light is focussed by a lens, the mind is brought together at a single point, the mind can be much more powerful. Meditation serves to bring the mind together in a single point allowing it to work with greater efficiency.

It is just like a person in a fast-moving car cannot see things clearly – it is only by stopping the car that they can get a clear view. Similarly, if our mind is wandering all the time, jumping all the time from one notion to another, our vision of the world will be vague. However, when the mind comes to a standstill, our vision becomes clear. This is, even more, the case if the mind’s energies can be focussed by meditation in the same way as the rays of the sun can be focussed by a magnifying glass. Such an enhanced mind allows us to think, speak and make impossible things possible. The heightened state of morale achieved allows one to persevere in the face of all obstacles. Therefore, the achievements of those who meditate are often more than those who don’t.

Therefore, meditation is of great importance in daily life. We should practice meditation every day and train our minds to be balanced and effective even during our working day. As soon as we can maintain a mind of meditation throughout the day, our mind will reach new heights of capability and effectiveness.

Meditation in daily life

People always ignore taking care of their minds when they consider only physical well-being and good health. We work out regularly for our strong and active bodies. Likewise, our minds also need meditation for clear thought and a stable mood. Our bodies need wholesome food for good health as well as our mind that need regular meditation for mental well-being and strength. Sanitization can keep our bodies free form perspiration and dead skin and make us feel fresh, whilst meditation can purify our minds from negativity and unwholesome thoughts and freshen them up. Meditation is the key to exercising the mind and cultivating a constant state of mind by which one is ready to think, speak and perform to the best of one’s ability each day. It is thus essential for us to re-balance our minds by practicing meditation every day.

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