Acharya Lama Kelzang Wangdi
Acharya Lama Kelzang Wangdi was born in 1970 in Bhutan. He studied for 9 years at Karma Shri Nalanda University in Rumtek/Sikkim, where he received the title of an Acharya and Ka Rabjam, which means that he is a more than highly qualified teacher for Buddhist teachings and philosophy. He taught for many years at the Nalanda Shedra in Rumtek before he came to Germany in 2004. Presently he is resident Lama at Kamalashila Institute where he teaches Buddhist philosophy, rituals, and meditation.
Dealing with Stress through Mindfulness Meditation Practices
according to the “Satipatthana-Sutta”
Let us recite “The Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer” and meditate for a short while together before beginning the weekend course to which I want to welcome and greet you kindly. Generally speaking, the practices of what is referred to as “mindfulness meditation practices” in Buddhism are a key to help one’s mind become calm, relaxed, and concentrated.
In this modern world one’s mind is usually overly busy and can be compared with a computer. Starting early in the morning until the end of the day, one opens many files and looks at a great variety of documents in the internet. Computers were initially constructed so that one can work faster and have more time off to relax, but it so happens that they cause one to work more. Because of the materialistic developments mainly constructed and available in the West and the many changes that life inevitably brings on, one’s mind runs so fast and as a result most people are very, very busy. The more files and documents one opens on one’s computer, the slower it runs and finally it breaks down. One’s mind is also like that: One opens so many files and looks, hears, and thinks non-stop. Eventually one’s mind blacks out, just like a computer, because one has become so confused from straining one’s mind so much. One spends one’s entire day “on duty,” but one needs to refresh one’s mind too, and meditation is a means to relax. If one is able to be a little mindful and attentive through meditation practice, then one has more energy to refresh, but one needs to work on it, otherwise one’s energy runs out quite fast.
So, that’s how it is – one’s mind has become like a computer, running and becoming so busy the moment one opens one’s eyes, and ears, and nose, and tongue, and so forth. One’s mind is so busy because of all the distractions, and there are so many things that distract. One day one’s bones start cracking and pain arises in the chest, like a computer that wears out, gets old, and finally falls apart. It’s easier dealing with an old computer, though – one discards it, can ask one’s boss to order a new one, or save money to purchase one for oneself, which isn’t possible with one’s body and mind. Therefore, one needs to work on one’s mind by practicing meditation. Meditation doesn’t involve doing lots of things, rather it means doing nothing, relaxing, calming down. If meditation meant being busy, then one would only continue doing what one wants to avoid when one meditates. One needs a little time to meditate, though. Maybe one can reserve 10 minutes to meditate and during that time one just relaxes and calms down. One is “on duty” all the time as it is, but not during meditation. During meditation one is “off duty” and can relax. So one reserves a little time every day, maybe just 10 minutes, to calm down. After meditation practice, one can be busy again.
There is a Zen story about two monks taking a walk. They came across a sick woman who wasn’t able to reach the opposite bank of the river. One monk had strong concepts in his mind and thought, “It would go against my monk’s ordination to carry her across the river, because then I would touch her,” so he ignored her. The other monk felt sorry for the helpless lady and carried her across the river on his back. When both monks continued walking, the first monk told the second one, “Today you touched a woman, so you went against your ordination vows.” The monk who carried the sick woman on his back replied, “I have no problem. I just helped her and left her on the other side of the river. You are carrying her in your mind by thinking about it again and again.” This happens to us too, even when we are practicing meditation. Our mind wanders off, all around the world, like the monk who did not help but could not stop thinking about it. The purpose of mindfulness meditation is learning to be in the moment. When one eats, one takes the time, even if only 5 minutes, to just eat and to enjoy it, without making plans; in other words, one merely takes the time to eat.
One focuses one’s attention either on one’s body, feelings, mind, or on mental objects in mindfulness meditation in order to learn to bring one’s mind home, i.e., in the present moment. If one focuses one’s attention on one’s breathing during practice, one just takes the time to breath, enjoys it fully, and then really feels at home. “Home” means that one is right there, relaxed and free. If one is not home, then home isn’t there. Being relaxed and at home means experiencing freedom, which is similar to experiencing enlightenment. Some people think that enlightenment is far, far away, consists of many qualities that they don’t have, and is out of reach. One will find enlightenment if one relaxes in the moment and quietly experiences one’s own being. As long as one fabricates ideas about enlightenment, one will miss it and not experience freedom. The moment one looks at any part of one’s meditation, for example, at one’s breathing, one is fully relaxed and totally happy in the process of breathing. That is where enlightenment begins.
The “Abhidharmakosha” teaches us that working with and experiencing the four kinds of mindfulness is the foundation for developing and realizing the five stages of practice that a Bodhisttva traverses while on the path to the highest state of perfection, which is enlightenment. The more mindful one becomes, the more one’s mind will be at ease and as a result one’s concentration will increase naturally.
The Four Meditation Practices of Mindfulness
“I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying in the Kuru country. Now there is a town of the Kurus called Kammasadhamma. There the Blessed One addressed the monks, ‘Monks.’
‘Venerable sir,’ the monks replied.
The Blessed One said this: ‘This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and distress, for the attainment of the right method, and for the realization of Unbinding – in other words, the four frames of reference.’”
A. Mindfulness of Body
“There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in and of itself – ardent, alert, and mindful – putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings … mind … mental qualities in and of themselves – ardent, alert, and mindful – putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world.”
Mindfulness meditation of one’s body means keeping one’s mind focused on one’s body. The body posture is important during practice, and everyone here knows how to keep their body straight and can comfortably sit in the lotus or semi-lotus posture.
In the meditation practice of mindfulness of one’s body, it is taught to first concentrate one’s attention on one’s breathing. One’s attention is fully focused on one’s breathing and one looks at every detail of one’s breath while it passes through one’s body. Without worrying and manipulating one’s in-breath and out-breath, one breathes gently and is aware of each and every moment. One is aware of whether one’s breath is short, long, deep, fast, or slow, only goes to one’s chest, passes in and out of one’s stomach, reaches under one’s knees and leaves again - one simply watches how it goes on while breathing gently. One should not think, “Oh, I should breath until this point in my body or until that point,” or “Oh, my breathing should be like this or like that.” One merely watches how it naturally flows on its own. When one’s breath enters the region of one’s chest, for instance, one’s mind is there in that moment and is joined with the breath when one exhales, too, so one’s breathing and mind are not divided, rather are inseparable all the time. One’s breathing is how it is, and during meditation one just follows one’s breath while relaxing. It’s very important to appreciate these instructions.
We often think that our mind is somewhere else, which isn’t being mindful. The Tibetan term that was translated into English as “mindfulness” is drän-pa. The English translation is not really precise, seeing the Tibetan actually means “remembering, being attentive, being aware, presence of mind,” Achtsamkeit in German, i.e., one remembers that one is breathing while practicing the first meditation of mindfulness. One remembers, “I’m breathing out. I’m breathing in.” Don’t break them apart – mind and breathing go together. For example, one doesn’t focus one’s mind on the inside of one’s body while exhaling. Mind and breathing are like riding a horse. When one goes horseback riding, one sits on the back of the horse and is never separated from the horse, otherwise one will fall off and hurt oneself. Being mindful of one’s breathing while practicing is the same – one never separates them. The mind-training instructions of Lojong teach that the mind rides the breath and that they are never separate or apart. Is it clear? It’s very important to understand this. If so, then one can practice correctly. If it isn’t clear, I can explain it a little more complicating. Any questions?
Question: Does mindfulness of the outgoing breath stop at the tip of one’s nose?
Lama Kelzang: One always follows the breath and feels it. If your mind goes so and so far when you exhale, then your mind goes so and so far. The same for inhalation. One’s mind and breath go together. You can also work with your feelings and discover that your mind is where you feel your breath.
Next question: I come home exhausted in the evening and am tired when I wake up in the morning. What can I do to pull myself together to sit and meditate?
Lama Kelzang: I think there are many ways. You can jump into cold water – just kidding. It might be helpful to clean the breath by inhaling gently and exhaling as forcefully as possible, thereby disposing everything you do not want. Do that 3 times. If it doesn’t work, do it 6 or 9 times and then focus on your breathing as discussed.
Same student: I have another question. When I take the bus or subway to work in the morning, I try to focus on my breathing, but it often smells so awful there. Should I ignore the smell or stop practicing on my way to work?
Lama Kelzang: You can then resort to other practices in situations like that, like body-scanning. There are six different points of practice, which I will explain later.
Same student: Should one be aware of all aspects of one’s breathing all at once, like its depth? Do I focus on the flow of my breath or on mindfulness? I can concentrate on the feeling, or should I be aware of everything that happens while I breath?
Lama Kelzang: You focus on the movement of your body while you breath and slowly, slowly feel how it is going. The feeling for one’s breathing is practiced later when one does mindfulness meditation of one’s feelings. Sometimes one doesn’t feel one’s breathing, but one can slowly, slowly feel it while training and then it becomes very clear. At the beginning of practice, one usually only feels one’s breath in one’s nostrils, which is easy. One’s mind should never be separated from one’s breathing, otherwise one isn’t being precise.
Next question: I notice that it’s easy to practice being relaxed in the presence of Lama who is skilled and due to his blessings. But when I meditate alone, I notice that I have not advanced in my five years of practice and my mind is still very agitated. What can I do?
Lama Kelzang: If a meditation doesn’t work for you and you remain very agitated and nervous, then you shouldn’t meditate much but pray, because then you can get the blessings. Sometimes you need that. If one method doesn’t work, one needs another method. Just open up and pray. Often specific techniques don’t help, but one needs something that helps, because one wants to open up one’s hearts. It’s very important to pray if a specific technique doesn’t work.
(1) Mindfulness Practice of One’s Breathing
“There is the case where a monk – having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building – sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect and setting mindfulness to the fore. Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out.”
When doing breathing meditation, just spend 5 minutes on breathing and do not attend to anything else. Remember that you are spending your time on breathing and are just enjoying it. No matter how it flows, short or long, stay mindful of what is going on and watch how your breath goes to your chest or elsewhere in your body and flows out again. Draw your attention together and keep it with your breathing – they are the same. The more together your breathing and mind are, the less danger of being distracted and separated. Be like a couple who also enjoys vacation together. Meditation is like that, being together and relaxing. Yes, focus and relax. Concentration doesn’t mean exerting oneself, rather it means following one’s breathing with one’s mind. If you accomplish that 20%, then you are relaxed 80%. If you accomplish that 80% and relax 20%, then you will get a headache, which happens to some people who try to meditate without knowing how and then seek medical help for the painful consequences that arise from the mistakes they make. But doctors cannot help in those cases. So, relaxed focus is very important for meditation.
Practice: While doing breathing meditation together now, please hold your body straight and relaxed. After you have found a comfortable position, then you shouldn’t move any more and should keep your mind on your breathing, without separating from it. We are married with our breathing and don’t want to separate from it for our whole life. If you want to comment on your experience or have any questions after we meditate for a few minutes together, you are welcome.
Student: My meditation didn’t go so good, because I had too many thoughts.
Lama Kelzang: That means that the meditation went very well, because the first experience of meditation is that one experiences that one has many thoughts, so there is no need to worry. Slowly, slowly it gets better.
Question: I notice that I get tense around my neck, especially when doing calm-abiding meditation. What should I do?
Lama-la: Don’t sit for long periods, rather do more short sessions more often. Sometimes one puts stress on one’s body, because one forces oneself. It doesn’t work. You just have to relax and not meditate too much - langsam, “slowly.”
Same student: I’m not forcing myself, but it starts after I sit a while.
Lama-la: Sometimes we don’t recognize the force we put on our body and then it would be important to find another technique, for instance, like the Sleeping Buddha. There are many ways, like just lying down.
Next question: I tried to ride my mind on my breathing, but my mind became agitated when I noticed that my breathing sometimes went into my stomach and sometimes all over my body. I didn’t know where to go with my mind and therefore stopped, which calmed me down. I had the feeling I was watching my breath but wasn’t riding it.
Lama-la: Yes, mindfulness doesn’t mean thinking, rather watching, being present. By knowing what is going on, you are present. For example, you don’t think about the tea you are about to drink, rather you simply pour it into your cup and drink it, without thinking about the reasons why you are drinking a cup of tea. It’s natural for you. The same with breathing meditation – you just watch and are mindful of breathing.
Same student: I tried to follow the movement and didn’t stop at the points where the breath was in my body, rather I noticed that it was moving at the same time here and there in my body when I inhaled, so I had a movement here in my body, a movement there in my body, and couldn’t follow the flow like I do when I lift up a cup to drink tea.
Lama-la: Do you breath very fast, or how do you breath? Do you breath slowly and gently?
Same student: Now I am tired, so it’s slow.
Lama-la: If it comes like that, then swallow when you inhale. Then you can feel the movement of your breath more easily. Sometimes breathing can be very short, so everything will be very gentle and soft if you relax. I also have difficulties when I am counting – it’s very difficult to count, because it goes so fast. It was a real problem for me in the beginning. You know, you finish in a second while counting and you hardly focused on your breath as a result. It happens like that – it goes so fast. Slowly, slowly it becomes automatic and natural. It’s a matter of recognizing yourself and that is helpful.
Next question: It isn’t calm-abiding meditation, or? Because during calm-abiding meditation, thoughts should not come while I breath, but this time I should only breath. You don’t call that calm-abiding meditation, or?
Lama-la: Mindfulness meditation is a little like insight meditation, in which case it goes together with calm-abiding meditation that eases the mind. Normally, we have many thoughts and follow after them, but in this mindfulness meditation we bring our mind back on our breathing and don’t pay any attention to thoughts that arise and cease again. If you put your hand on your stomach, you can feel how strong your breathing is. It would make it easier for you by doing that, otherwise it’s difficult watching how one’s breath goes. Also, not too fast. Put your hand on your stomach and notice how your breath comes in and goes out softly and gently again. If thoughts arise that distract, just let them be, let them fly away. It’s difficult practicing all instructions together. If you do the practices one-by-one and become proficient in each, then gradually you can do them all together. First one does the basic body meditation, then the meditation on feelings, and later the meditation practice on thoughts. One combines them later, after having mastered each on its own, otherwise one can’t really focus one’s attention and be present.
Question: I have a tiny question.
Lama:Ja, bitte, “Yes, please.”
Student: When my breath becomes colourful, does that mean that I have too much fantasy?
Lama: No. We can also focus on the colour of our breathing. Actually, there are six kinds of breathing meditation practices. I am explaining one, without going into details. There is the breathing exercise of working with each of the five colours with the breathing. If this comes naturally to you, then it’s fine. But one has to think another way when doing resting meditation on breathing. So, one can try which method is best for oneself, concentrating on one’s nose or on one’s stomach while practicing mindfulness meditation of breathing. I like focusing my attention on my nose, because it gets too warm when I place my hands on my stomach and then I need cold water – that’s just kidding.
(2) General Mindfulness Practices of One’s Movements
“Furthermore, when walking, the monk discerns that he is walking. When standing, he discerns that he is standing. When sitting, he discerns that he is sitting. When lying down, he discerns that he is lying down. Or however his body is disposed, that is how he discerns it.”
Let us look at walking meditation now. When one practices, one walks slowly, enjoys it, and focuses one’s mind on one’s feet. One can sing a song or speak a verse when one takes a step. For example, when one takes a step with one’s right foot, one can say, “I am here,” which means to say, “I am here in the present moment.” When one takes a step with one’s left foot, one can say, “I am in the now.” By practicing in this manner, one’s mind is fully united with the movement of one’s legs. One doesn’t worry about one’s destination but just walks - slowly. One doesn’t run but takes the time to notice that one is walking, enjoys all movements that one makes, and feels relaxed in one’s mind.
Walking is a special kind of meditation, standing up too. At first one is sitting and notices that one is just sitting on a cushion or chair - one is right there in the sitting. When one practices mindfulness meditation, one is present and enjoys whatever one is doing. One’s mind is present in the activity of standing up and one’s mind is totally aware of the movements of one’s body while one stands up. As said, the Tibetan term for “mindfulness” is drän-pa, i.e., one remembers that one is not walking when one is standing up and one watches every move that one makes. One can also practice mindfulness meditation while one is lying down by being aware that one is lying down and taking the time to do so. Whatever one is doing – sitting, walking, standing up, or lying down –, one’s mind is together with what one is doing.
(3) Specific Mindfulness Practice of One’s Movements
“Furthermore, when going and returning, he makes himself fully alert; when looking toward and looking away … when bending and extending his limbs … when carrying his outer cloak, his upper rob and his bowl … when eating, drinking, chewing, and savouring… when urinating and defecating … when walking, standing, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and remaining silent, he makes himself fully alert.”
The third meditation of mindfulness practice on one’s body concerns specific physical movements, like when one moves forwards, backwards, bends down, stretches out one’s arm. It doesn’t matter what one is doing, one simply enjoys stretching out one’s arm when one stretches it out. One simply enjoys scratching one’s arm when one scratches it. One simply enjoys how one uses one’s knife, fork, or spoon and how one lifts the spoon to one’s mouth while one eats. As mentioned, one eats mindfully and enjoys how one chews and swallows the food, too. One is aware of every movement one makes while one takes the glass of juice one wants to drink, how one puts the glass to one’s mouth, how one swallows the juice mindfully. Even when one is falling asleep, one watches how one falls asleep. When one talks, one’s mind is present. When one relaxes, one remembers that one is relaxing and feels at ease. When one moves one’s hand while seated, one is mindful of moving one’s hand. If one wants to move one’s cushion, one does so and is mindful of moving it. If one’s legs hurt from sitting too long, one is mindful of how one massages them. One is free, and it is important to be mindful of what one is doing when one does what one does. One can stand up and walk, but it’s important to be langsam, “slow.” Usually one is very fast, but during mindfulness meditation, one takes one’s time and is aware of every movement of one’s body. Mindfulness practice of natural physical movements includes everything, even how one serves tea, how one turns a page of a book, how one cooks, how one goes to the bathroom, and so forth. It’s easier practicing during a 3-hour retreat, though.
Practice: Let us practice mindfulness meditation together now: I am talking mindfully and you are listening mindfully.
Do take time to practice on your own. Reserve an hour or two for yourself on the weekend and be mindful of everything you do, no matter what activities you are engaging in. Just be there when you write a letter, for instance, be there and enjoy writing. But silence is very important, because one is less distracted if one doesn’t talk.
So, you need to be mindful of everything: how you breath, for example, drawing your attention on your breathing and relaxing. Just enjoy breathing. Your body is straight, as relaxed as possible, and your mind is concentrated on and mindful of your breathing. Relax and be mindful of everything you do before doing walking meditation, walking in line behind each other.
Did you like the walking meditation? It’s very powerful, right? One is very present, otherwise one is so lost so often. Student: It reminds me of the Zen tradition. Lama: Yes, they do a lot of walking meditation. Mindfulness meditation is the basic practice of all Buddhist schools.
One of Buddha Shakyamuni’s closest disciples was a monk who was renowned for his discipline. Whenever another disciple needed special instructions in discipline, Lord Buddha sent him to Katayana - that was his name.
One day the king wanted to offer Noble Katayana and a few Buddhist monks a meal, so he invited them to his palace. It is traditional all over the world, even today, to have a party for people one wants to honour. It was the case in Old Tibet and is still done extravagantly in Bhutan that dancers, singers, and devotees line the streets and offer their talents while paying respect when a Rinpoche or Lama comes. And so, the king organized a huge welcome party on that occasion, which is described in history books as a grand festival. Entertainers lined the kilometre-long street that Noble Katayana and the monks walked before they reached the palace - musicians played their instruments and sang, artists danced, military personnel saluted, blew their trumpets and horns and beat their drums to greet and welcome Excellent Katayana and Lord Buddha’s monks. When Noble Katayana and the monks arrived in the palace, the king asked Katayana, “Did you enjoy the entertainment that I had done for you?” Can you imagine what Katayana answered? Student: Hm. Lama: He was just mindful of how he was walking ever since he left his home, so he replied to the king, “Not much.” This really upset the king.
There is another story to exemplify mindfulness meditation of walking. Kings have lots of prisoners in their jails, so Noble Katayana asked the king to call for the most severely penalized criminal in his kingdom. He told the king that the prisoner should carry a bowl filled with oil on his head while walking the same street he walked in order to reach the palace and that a guard should follow him all the way. The prisoner was to be informed that the guard was ordered to stab him if he spilled a single drop of oil. If he managed not to spill a drop, then he would be released from jail. Noble Katayana asked the king, “Will the prisoner take note of the festivities or be mindful of not spilling a drop of oil? Likewise,” Katayana continued, “I was just like the prisoner, concentrated on walking meditation and not really attentive of the festivities.” One’s mindfulness meditation should also be like that.
I feel that walking meditation is very, very important, because one practices to be fully present. It’s easier being present while practicing mindfulness meditation of one’s breathing, the first kind of mindfulness practice, since breathing is very normal for everyone. If one thinks it, though, then it becomes complicating. Sometimes practitioners do visualization practices and then it is difficult to be fully present, so being present while taking each step during walking meditation is a decisive preparation, just like all mindfulness practices are - feeling, thinking, everything. We are going through each kind of mindfulness practice, one-by-one, according to the very direct teachings of Lord Buddha that have been recorded in Pali and handed down to us in the “Satipattana-Sutta.” The third kind of mindfulness meditation is more complicating than the second, because it involves more details.
(4) Mindfulness Practice of One’s Inner and Outer Body
“Furthermore … just as if a sack with openings at both ends were full of various kinds of grain – wheat, rice, mung beans, kidney beans, sesame seeds, husked rice – and a man with good eyesight, pouring it out, were to reflect, ‘This is wheat. This is rice. These are mung beans. These are kidney beans. These are sesame seeds. This is husked rice,’ in the same way, monks, a monk reflects on this very body from the soles of the feet on up, from the crown of the head on down, surrounded by skin and full of various kinds of unclean things: ‘In this body there are head hairs, body hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, large intestines, small intestines, gorge, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, skin-oil, saliva, mucus, fluid in the joints, urine.’”
The traditional example offered in the Sutra for the fourth mindfulness practice is a sack filled with different kinds of grain. The sack breaks, the grain falls on the ground, and a mindful practitioner recognizes each single type of grain in the mixed heap that was in the sack. For example, when one enters a grocery store, like Aldi or Rewe, one first sees many vegetables. When one looks closer, one recognizes the various kinds and identifies them – carrots, onions, paprika, potatoes, and so forth. When one reaches the oil department, one differentiates between olive oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil. When one reaches the dairy section, one sees cow butter, goat butter, as well as many different kinds of cheese. At the butcher’s, one sees pork, beef, chicken, etc. Seeing the details is the practice of the fourth kind of mindfulness meditation in that one is aware of one’s forehead, one’s ears, eyes, nose, etc. – one goes into details on the outside and inside of one’s entire body. One recognizes one’s lungs, one’s heart, one’s stomach, and other organs. One goes through one’s whole body mindfully, from top to bottom, on the outside as well as inside and takes one’s time. If one concentrates one’s attention on one’s forehead, then one is aware of one’s forehead and is right there, enjoying it like one enjoys walking meditation. One moves one’s mind to one’s nose and is fully relaxed there. It’s like being aware of all the details when one goes shopping. If one isn’t aware of details while one is shopping, then one won’t know what one is buying.
I think we should sing the song, “All Theses Forms” now. We will do mindfulness meditation of singing and a little bit of dancing.
“All these forms, appearance-emptiness - like a rainbow with a shining glow -
in the reaches of appearance-emptiness - just let go and go where no mind goes.
Every sound is sound and emptiness - like a sound of an echo’s row -
in the reaches of sound and emptiness - just let go and go where no mind goes.
Every feeling is bliss and emptiness - way beyond what words can show -
in the reaches of bliss and emptiness - just let go and go where no mind goes.
All awareness, awareness-emptiness - way beyond what thought can know -
in the reaches of awareness-emptiness - let awareness go, go where no mind goes. -
Let awareness go - go where no mind goes.”
We looked at working with breathing, about practicing walking meditation, about being mindful of whatever one is doing, like eating, sleeping, and about being mindful of one’s inner and outer body. It’s important to be fully present when one focuses one’s attention on one of the mindfulness practices and to relax. Sitting meditation is not good after having had lunch, because then one falls asleep. Walking meditation is better then.
(5) Mindfulness Practice of the Elements Constituting One’s Body
“Furthermore … just as a skilled butcher or his apprentice, having killed a cow, would sit at a crossroad cutting it up into pieces, the monk contemplates this very body – however it stands, however it is disposed – in terms of properties: ‘In this body there is the earth property, the liquid property, the fire property, and the wind property.’”
The fifth body-mind meditation is working on the elements that constitute one’s body. The Sutra offers the unpleasant example of a monk contemplating the parts of a cow that has been sliced into bits and pieces by a butcher by looking at the blood, flesh, bones, and ribs of the slaughtered animal. This meditation is aimed at contemplating the four main elements of one’s body.
Flesh makes up the muscles and heart, which are the earth element; blood is the liquid element, breathing is the wind element, and the heat of the body is the fire element. If one is aware of the warmth in one’s body, it is the property of the fire element, “property” meaning what one has. If one is aware of one’s flesh, then it is the property of the earth element. If one is aware of the fluids in one’s body (like blood, mucus, saliva), then it is the property of the water element. If one is aware of one’s breath, then it is the property of the wind element.
Now let us contemplate from the point of view of egolessness. Then this topic becomes very interesting and deeper meditation. Meditating the elements is deeper than the previous practices, which become more subtle. Becoming mindful of the elements has nothing to do with material substances but with energy-forms that point to qualities and not quantities, so it’s harder to appreciate and acknowledge one’s energy-forms. Being mindful of one’s physical forms still has to do with one’s ego, since one assumes that one’s self is situated in one or all of one’s organs or limbs, whereas practicing being mindful of the elements leads to meditation of selflessness, called “emptiness meditation” in the Mahayana tradition. When one focuses one’s attention on the one or other part of one’s body in the Mahayana tradition, one realizes that none is the self. There is no sense of a self and therefore no ego if one is fully present in the moment that one takes a step or is mindful of any part of one’s body. The sense of egolessness gradually develops and grows as one proceeds in the practices of mindfulness meditation. Searching for the self inside or outside one’s body is analytical investigation.
Since one’s mind and body are indivisible, being fully present in the moment when one meditates on one’s breathing or is mindful of one’s walking or physical components and organs means, in a sense, becoming egoless. In a practical way, when one enjoys the moment, there is no clinging to an “I,” to a “me, myself, and mine,” all the less so when one is mindful of the elements that constitute one’s body. If one is fully present, if one is very, very mindful and enjoys the fact that one’s right foot is touching the earth, that one is then lifting one’s left foot that then touches the ground, and so on, there is no chance that one becomes distracted and generates any thoughts of separation and duality, and therefore one is free of ego-fixation at that time.
Back to the example in the Sutra that deals with mindfulness of the elements constituting one’s body: There is no cow there after the butcher cut it into pieces. One certainly doesn’t call one of its bones “a cow.” Analytically as well as experientially, one doesn’t cling to the chopped-up parts lying on the butcher’s table as one does to a cow.
(6) Mindfulness Practice of One’s Corpse
“Furthermore, as if he were to see a corpse cast away in a charnel ground – one day, two days, three days dead – bloated, livid, and festering, he applies it to this very body. ‘This body, too: Such is its nature, such is its future, such its unavoidable fate.’”
The sixth mindfulness meditation practice is a little bit scary, because most people fear seeing a corpse. It deals with tackling one’s fear of death, which seems to be like a monster. One fears death, because one fears losing one’s body, which one is extremely attached to. Seen practically, if one isn’t attached to one’s body, then one will not fear losing it.
The verse in the Sutra invites us to deal with death practically and not only receive teachings about it. “Practically” means being able to look at death openly. It certainly isn’t easy watching a human being or pet die, because one is afraid of one’s own death. So it’s necessary to learn how dying occurs. When one witnesses a person or an animal dying, one can apply it to oneself and watch how one feels. Slowly becoming familiar with dying and death diminishes one’s own fear. One practices watching how a corpse becomes after one, two, and three days - rotten and more rotten and smelly and more smelly to the point that one doesn’t want to look at it. One contemplates that one’s own body will not be different after one dies. This causes one to easily give up one’s attachment to one’s body and as a result to have less fear of dying and death. Like that, after death has set in, one’s body rots and becomes more rotten day after day. Contemplating death realistically is an exercise. Do you understand what I want to say? It’s an exercise to become less attached to one’s body. If one is less attached to and obsessed with one’s body, then one has less fear of death.
One of the greatest fears most people have is losing their body. Their second biggest problem they have is fear of losing their possessions and property. It makes it easier to die if one gives one’s things away and shares what one has with others before one dies, but it’s not really easy and certainly not practical to give away one’s body before then. The above recommendations concern working practically with dying and death.
It’s natural to see a corpse that has been decomposing a few days in the Himalayas, but not in the West. It smells so terribly awful that one doesn’t even want to go near it. One won’t even want to approach one’s very best friend in life after he has been dead a few days; in fact, one will run away. Furthermore, the body becomes ashes after cremation and earth after it has been buried, so everyone is on the loser’s side. One day in the future, one doesn’t remember those who have passed away and one’s best friend is just a story in one’s mind that doesn’t present a real problem for oneself. One day, one will also become just a story in someone’s mind. If one is aware of this, then one has less fear. It’s practical to contemplate that all the afore-said applies to oneself, too, and that one’s body will become ashes or earth. That’s how to work with fear of death as long as one is attached and clings to one’s body.
Question: Nowadays, lots of people do not like themselves and don’t like their lives. Isn’t this meditation dangerous for them?
Lama: I think it’s helpful if one does it properly and harmful if one does it improperly. Not liking oneself is due to a lack of self-confidence, i.e., not trusting oneself, in which case one thinks, “I can’t do things,” or “I don’t have enough money to take part in social activities,” or “I don’t have a job,” or “I can’t compete with others,” or “I have no partner and am all alone,” or “Nobody is taking care of me.” Such self-reproaches are really depressing and lead one to experience those situations. This is my point of view. So it’s important not to think like that, rather to try to change the habit of complaining. Contemplating the preciousness of our human existence counteracts this habit. One should avoid complaining and try to gain confidence by thinking, “I can work with situations.” How can one develop trust in oneself and gain confidence? By thinking, “I’m not unworthy. I can accomplish whatever I want.” I think that is the first step to work with lack of self-confidence. Then one slowly needs to work on one’s emotions. In this case, this meditation is working indirectly. Its purpose is to counteract clinging to one’s body, identifying with one’s body, being attached to one’s body.
Student: But how can one get self-confidence if one sees oneself as a stinky body?
Lama: No. Someone who has no self-confidence lacks wisdom, because such people don’t know themselves correctly. We usually call it “ignorance,” but it’s better to say that they have no understanding of their inner wisdom. If one develops understanding of one’s inner wisdom, then one understands that one’s body will be a corpse one day, too, that one’s body is like that, that all things are impermanent, so it is temporal. Through this meditation, one wins deep understanding of impermanence and develops wisdom of experiencing death and impermanence. Through this wisdom, one develops self-confidence, and then one’s lack of self-confidence loses its force.
So, how can one find this wisdom? By looking at one’s mind, getting to know how the mind is working, and then training one’s mind, seeing selflessness, seeing how the mind influences the body. For example, when one has pain, if one deeply penetrates and directly experiences it, then pain can transform and the body will not be stressed that much by the pain.
If one looks down (i.e., at those less fortunate than oneself), then one doesn’t have high expectations and sees no need to compete with others. One certainly experiences stress if one always looks upwards (i.e., at those more fortunate than oneself). Then one thinks, “I have one car and want two,” or “I have to work a lot to get the money to buy all the things that others have.” If one looks down, one experiences less stress and thinks, “Okay. I have a bicycle,” or “Okay. I don’t have a bicycle, but I can walk.” If one looks at those less fortunate than oneself, then one thinks, “Okay. I don’t have much, but that’s fine and still I can live.” That’s how wrong judgements made by the mind bring a lot of pain and stress on the body. In the same way, the body influences the mind.
Student: So you are saying that wisdom develops through this kind of meditation and one can work differently with self-confidence?
Lama: Wisdom develops slowly and it means being less competitive. If one is competitive, one is jealous of those who have more and is stressed as a result. There’s no need to be competitive. The teachings on karmic cause and result inspire one to work on situations in life. By appreciating karma, one does one’s best to handle situations in order to build up good karma. If one looks at those less fortunate than oneself, then one’s expectations aren’t as high. When one’s expectations diminish, one’s self-confidence slowly arises and grows and one’s wisdom slowly increases. By imagining oneself as a corpse, one realizes that one day one’s very own body will be dead and that it’s nothing to worry about, but what happens in the mind is a cause to worry, because it leads to the next life.
People who look at others and think, “Oh, others have everything and I have nothing” are actually depressed; they don’t know about their potential. People who commit suicide or who belittle themselves do not see and cannot appreciate their own situation but are only fixated outwardly on others and compete with them. The more one competes with people, the more one suffers, and such a luckless person finds himself on the verge of committing suicide. It’s very depressing to always compete with others, so it’s better to look at oneself. One can then be honest with oneself and realize, “Okay. I’m a little depressed, but I’m okay. I’m still alive,” or “Okay. I’m a little depressed and stressed, but today I’m alive. I’m content. Seeing the present moment, there is nothing I can complain about. Everything is okay.” Then healing will come, because one is satisfied, enjoys the moment, and appreciates that one is alive and not dead. If one looks at Africa, one realizes, “They have nothing to eat and may be dead tomorrow.” So, it’s good to look a little bit down. Then one feels a little bit proud and opens up a touch more within oneself.
If one is sick and only worries about oneself, then it’s a sign that one lacks wisdom. Lacking wisdom, one thinks, “I don’t deserve to be sick.” If one looks at others who are worse off than oneself, then one realizes, “Oh, I’m quite well off.” If one goes to the hospital and sees patients on their death-beds, then one can be appreciative by thinking, “I’m still alive.” Only thinking of oneself and feeling treated unjustly makes life quite difficult This is a general discussion, because the topic of this seminar is about dealing with stress.
Imagining one’s body to be a corpse should be done by people who have strong attachment to their body. It is carried out so that one’s ego decreases. When one doesn’t think of oneself, one isn’t concerned that others own more or are better off. One hurts oneself by comparing oneself and competing with others. One doesn’t focus all one’s attention on oneself if one’s ego isn’t bloated. This is a general instruction, whereas people are different and need personal instructions. We have to be careful, though, because everyone needs to do a different kind of meditation.
During the times of Buddha Shakyamuni, many monks had problems meditating the impurity of their body. It happens sometimes. The problem is big for those who like their body so much and are overly attached to it; they experience immense anguish when they face death. So it’s important to appreciate that one has a body, but it’s also important to be able to let go of it when death occurs. And that’s the purpose of the sixth kind of meditation practice, which is mindfulness of one’s corpse. Again, this is a general instruction and is meant for those who cling to their body very much.
One shouldn’t think that one teaching is for everyone, since nobody has the same mind. Those who dislike their body need to practice another meditation. Helpful practices depend upon ones way of thinking, so it’s not right to generalize. Just like there isn’t one pill on the market against every sickness and disease, the various meditation instructions and practices are like different medicine for different sicknesses. If someone has a problem with his body and dislikes it, then he should not do this practice, because it would make matters worse. In order to improve his situation, that person would need a practice that helps him develop kindness and compassion towards himself, a practice that helps him to reconcile with, to like, and even to love his body.
One’s body is so important. One is lost without a body and is like in a bardo without it. One’s situation is worse without a body. Presently one has a body and one’s mind naturally returns to it. One has a huge problem if one doesn’t have a body and is like a feather blown around by the wind in the vast sky. There are different meditation practices for those persons who dislike their body so that they learn to appreciate it. Getting massages and receiving physiotherapeutic support when stressed also helps one’s mind and leads one to acknowledge and appreciate, “Oh, my body is important.” So, it’s very important to feel, “Oh, my body is important.” Does that answer your question?
Lama: You have another question?
Same student: Yes. If you see someone dying and are happy to be alive yourself, it means one clings and that is just ego, or? Otherwise I would not say, “You are dying and it’s not that bad. You are just losing your body.” If my meditation is working, how can I feel happy to be alive while I see someone dying?
Lama: The meditation is not practiced so that you think, “He is dying and I’m alive.” That attitude certainly serves one’s ego. You have empathy for the person who is dying and feel as if you are dying. When witnessing someone’s death, you realize, “Every single living being dies, yet nobody knows when. This person is dying and I will die too.” That person is teaching you a lesson, is showing you reality, and that is how you learn. If you learn, then you realize that it’s important to be able to deal with dying and death. Having seen it with your own eyes, you realize that people who die suffer very much and that you don’t want to die like that. Do you know what I mean?
Student: I think so.
Lama: You say to yourself when you see someone dying, “I will have to go this way too.” The more you see, the more you are inspired to work on it. One usually only thinks about it after having attended a workshop - everybody is happy afterwards. But if you see a person dying and dead with your own eyes, then it really touches and shocks you. It works when you are really shocked, because you then seek a means to work on it in order not to die in distress, rather to die relaxed. The dying person is teaching you something. Your mind and heart are completely different after you have experienced someone dying. Maybe you will even meditate, because you realize, “I have to be really relaxed when I die.” You then seek and find a way to help yourself before it’s too late.
When Lord Buddha first saw a corpse, he asked someone, “What is that?” That someone answered, “It’s a corpse.” The Buddha asked, “What is a corpse?” That person replied, “Somebody died.” He asked, “What does that mean?” That person answered, “A human being died.” The Buddha asked, “Will I die too?” That person answered, “Yes, because you are a human being.” The Buddha then asked, “Will my father die?” Again that person responded, “Of course. He is a human being and all human beings die.” Seeing a corpse moves one to ask questions.
When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I was so very scared of leaving the house alone after dark. I also couldn’t sleep at night when I heard that someone in the neighbourhood had died and couldn’t go near the house of that person. When I was new at the monastery, they sent me to deceased people to read the liturgical prayers, which takes 3 hours. I was so frightened that my only thought was that the time pass real, real fast – that’s how horrified I was of being alone with a corpse. My grandfather died when I was young and I was too scared to stay in the house, so I ran away. One learns slowly not to be scared, so now I can visit the deceased and pray for them. One learns to slowly accept that everyone dies, doesn’t almost get a heart attack when someone mentions it, and one loses one’s fear. Through this mindfulness meditation practice that one repeats again and again, one gets used to the fact that one will die and that one’s body will become a corpse. Then one has less fear and one can face it openly.
It is said that normally death itself is not experienced that frightfully. Thinking about it scares one, whereas during the actual process one is totally present and has no time to be afraid. Thinking about it causes stress and makes one suffer. For instance, if one thinks too much that one will die when one has heart disease or cancer, then one’s situation gets worse. One perpetuates and multiplies one’s fear by thinking about it after having heard that one is terminally ill. This happens to everybody. Actually, one doesn’t have the opportunity to even think while one is dying, so dying itself may not be the problem. By practicing the sixth kind of mindfulness meditation, one’s fear weakens, because one thinks less of oneself. It’s easy, right? Or scary? Getting used to the fact that one will die is working with fear of fear. The more one works on oneself, the less stress one will have and the easier one becomes healed within. Sometimes practitioners meditate seeing themselves as a skeleton. This practice is not dealt with in the “Satipatthana-Sutta” and I wouldn’t speak about that anyway; it would be too much. So, fear of death increases when one thinks about it and then it turns into a critical situation. One needs to work on it - slowly, slowly. One needs time, and it isn’t easy to train oneself.
Question : Is it fear of death or fear of experiencing sickness and suffering before we die? People aren’t scared of death, because everyone dies, but the suffering one experiences before then, like being connected with and totally dependent upon machines is frightening. I think it’s more a fear of sickness before one dies.
Lama: I think one first needs to ask: Why is one fearful when one is sick? Certainly, one has pain when one is sick, but nobody wants to die. When one is sick, one thinks, “Oh, I’m sick and will die.”
Same student: One has pain when one is sick.
Same student: I would think, “I’m sick now and will have pain.” It comes by itself, but pain is painful.
Lama: Pain has to do with sickness. Fear arises from worrying that one will die because one is sick. Fear sets in so strongly when one is sick. One can think, “I’m sick but am receiving good medical treatment, especially in Germany. I’ll be okay.” These thoughts have nothing to do with fear, which arises from the thoughts, “I’m sick and will die. I still have so much to do. I have a family, a good wife (or husband), and all my things will go to others.” One has a problem due to thoughts like that. Fear arises from thinking like that. Thinking a better way diminishes one’s fear, like, “Okay. I’m afraid and suffer, but will become well again because of the good treatment I’m receiving. I’m sick but won’t die.” One is more relieved and content thinking like that. I think so. One can make one’s sickness and pain worse by being negative and fearful, right?
Same student: It’s possible.
Lama: It’s possible, yes. One can do physical pain meditation by being achtsam, “aware” of pain, a practice not mentioned in the Sutra that we are studying together.
I was so relieved when I once meditated on an excruciating headache that I had. It was impossible to get over my headaches, so one day I just focused my attention on the pain and it worked for me. So, being mindful of one’s pain is practicing body-mind meditation. When you have pain, feel the pain, be present in the pain, and just relax in the pain as much as possible - then it loses its force and strength. One sees the pain in mindfulness meditation of pain and doesn’t see pain as pain. It’s a very interesting experience that one never had until then. So, one can practice pain meditation when one has pain by not thinking of the pain one has but by being mindful of it, by being present in it, and by relaxing in it. Thinking will not work. Mindfulness meditation is not thinking, rather resting and relaxing in the pain. It worked very well for me, because I learned and tried.
Practice: Let us do breathing meditation now. Be fully present in the breathing and relax in it. Know that you are breathing and just be happy with your breathing. Feel free to breathe and to relax as much as possible, completely enjoying your breathing. That’s it. The moment one takes time to concentrate on one’s breathing, one isn’t distracted by other thoughts or things.
Do you have any questions concerning the body-mind practices?
Question: Is there a difference between this practice and calm-abiding meditation on resting on one’s breathing?
Lama-la: They are more or less the same. In this case, watching the breathing involves the presence of one’s mind.
Next question: How is the sequence of practicing the mindfulness meditations? And how long does one practice each?
Lama-la: One can train each point for a week in the order presented. Every point should be done for the same period of time that you have reserved and you should do each practice, not skipping the one or the other.
Next question: How important is it not to manipulate one’s breathing during breathing meditation?
Lama-la: One’s breathing should be as gentle and slow as possible. Wherever it goes, you keep your mind fully present on your ingoing and outgoing breath all the time. It flows as it flows and you are mindful of that as best as you can. If the rhythm of your breathing changes, then it changes and you keep your mind united on your breathing, no matter what. You know that you are breathing out and keep your mind on that; you know that you are breathing in and keep your mind on that and relax.
B. Mindfulness of Feelings
“And how does a monk remain focused on feelings in and of themselves?
There is the case where a monk, when feeling a painful feeling, discerns that he is feeling a painful feeling. When feeling a pleasant feeling, he discerns that he is feeling a pleasant feeling. When feeling a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he discerns that he is feeling a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling.”
In the meditation practice of feelings, one also has to first work with one’s outer body. One focuses one’s mind on one part of one’s body, like one’s forehead, chest, or heart, and tries to keep one’s mind there. One gets a feeling and if it is good, one is present in that feeling and relaxes; if it is unpleasant, one is present in that feeling and relaxes. One keeps one’s mind fully present on any kind of feeling one has while focusing one’s attention on a specific part of one’s body. If one feels cold in one’s chest, then one feels it, tries to be present in that feeling with one’s mind, and relaxes in that feeling. If one feels warm in another part of one’s body, then one feels it, tries to be present in that feeling with one’s mind, and relaxes in that feeling. If one has a painful feeling somewhere, then one keeps one’s mind on that painful feeling and relaxes in the painful feeling. When one meditates on a painful feeling, it slowly disappears and one has to notice that it has disappeared. Then one relaxes in naturally feeling relieved of pain, which disappears when a painful feeling arises again. One then focuses one’s mind on that painful feeling and relaxes. When one sees someone one knows, one feels connected, keeps one’s mind on that feeling of connectedness, and relaxes. It doesn’t matter what one feels, one practices. If one has pain in the knees from sitting too long, one feels one’s pain, holds one’s mind on the pain, and relaxes. If the pain is too strong, one stretches one’s legs and feels relaxed. When one’s mind is relaxed in a pleasant or unpleasant feeling, one is present and enjoys that feeling fully.
After one has slowly become used to focusing one’s attention on the feelings one has of one’s body, then one focuses one’s attention on the feelings one has in one’s mind. So, one first has to focus on one’s body and feel it, which is important. If one’s body feels heavy, one just feels the heaviness and relaxes into that heaviness. If one’s body feels as light as a feather, one just feels its lightness, relaxes into that lightness, and is present. Sometimes one feels dizzy. One concentrates on one’s dizziness, relaxes, and maybe one doesn’t feel dizzy anymore. One can also drink more water when one feels dizzy. One can practice with any feeling that one has, with an itching feeling, with the feeling of scratching that itch, and so forth. So, that is mindfulness meditation of feelings.
Question: What kind of feelings?
Lama-la: Any feeling that you notice.
Same student: Hot, cold?
Lama-la: Yes, hot, cold. We don’t speak of sharp feelings.
Same student: Laughing or happiness?
Lama-la: Anything one feels.
Student: But one doesn’t feel happiness of one’s body. One doesn’t go to the forehead and say, “Oh, there is happiness.”
Lama-la: No. We don’t speak of happiness of the body, rather of feeling good, fresh, pleasant. Usually one feels something when one focuses one’s attention on one’s body.
So, one’s mind is fully present in a feeling and one just relaxes and enjoys it - one is fully one with that feeling. One is aware of a feeling and notices that it has disappeared too. Then one feels that one doesn’t feel. One doesn’t think, rather one is aware of every moment and is mindful of whatever is going on.
Question: If I decide to concentrate on my forehead, for instance, and suddenly have a pain in my knee, do I focus on my knee then or should I try to remain focused on my forehead?
Lama-la: If the feeling in your knee is stronger, then you focus your attention on your knee. When you don’t feel a pain in your knee anymore, you return to your forehead. You can change, not quickly though. Changing is helpful, otherwise you concentrate on one point too strongly and then run into problems. It’s important to balance one’s practice.
Question: Does one keep one’s eyes open or closed when doing meditation on feelings?
Lama-la: Normally with open eyes. Not too open, not too closed, with eyes of compassion, looking cool, very cool.
Practice: Focus your mind on any part of your body. Try to feel whatever you feel, whether an itch, warmth, or cold. It doesn’t matter whether it feels good or horrible, you just feel it, relax, are mindful, and enjoy that feeling. You should be fully present with the feeling. You may even feel that a bad feeling feels good, because “good” and “bad” are concepts. If you really enjoy a bad feeling, then it’s good and the concept has changed. Sometimes one needs to be practical and then one will see how it goes.
Let’s sing the song, “All Theses Forms.”
“All these forms, appearance-emptiness - like a rainbow with a shining glow -
in the reaches of appearance-emptiness - just let go and go where no mind goes.
Every sound is sound and emptiness - like a sound of an echo’s row -
in the reaches of sound and emptiness - just let go and go where no mind goes.
Every feeling is bliss and emptiness - way beyond what words can show -
in the reaches of bliss and emptiness - just let go and go where no mind goes.
All awareness, awareness-emptiness - way beyond what thought can know -
in the reaches of awareness-emptiness - let awareness go - go where no mind goes. -
Let awareness go - go where no mind goes.”
Do you know the melody of the song, “Like a Dream, like an Illusion”? Let’s try to sing it.
“Like a dream, like an illusion - like a city of gandharvas -
there’s no birth and there’s no leaving - there’s no dying at all to be.
There are the two ways of seeing everything - the perfect way and the false way -
so each and everything that can ever be found - holds two natures within.
And what does perfect seeing see?- It sees the suchness of all things -
and the false seeing sees the relative truth. –
This is what the perfect Buddha said.”
This is a very good teaching. Let’s sing it again - noch einmal, “once again.”
The Perspective: As said, mindfulness meditation practices are very important. The purpose of doing the mindfulness meditation practices is to be fully present, to be right there – “I am totally there in that presence. I am totally there in nowness” – 100% presence. When one is fully present, very much in the moment, one’s mind is right there - so relaxed, so calm, so present, so vivid. We call that moment “freedom.” Sometimes we call that moment “nirvana.”
You know, nirvana is not far away. When one is right there in the moment, then it is there. Sometimes one wonders a lot, asks oneself, “What is nirvana?” One thinks, “I think Buddhist nirvana is that we go somewhere behind our universe after death.” Nobody has ever been there, but that’s what one thinks sometimes. One wants to go somewhere else, but the purpose of meditation is not what one is used to thinking. But if one goes deeply, whether as a Christian or other religious believer, and looks directly at the moment, then it doesn’t matter whether one says “nirvana” or “god” – those are only words. Furthermore, whether one drinks water in a Buddhist monastery or in a Christian church, water is water. But everyone has different concepts and thinks, “Oh, I got a Buddhist blessing because I was in a Buddhist temple,” or “Oh, I got a Christian blessing because I was in a church.” When one thinks with Buddhist concepts in mind, then one acts like a Buddhist and when one sees Christians, one thinks, “Oh, those people are a little bit funny. They have so many missionaries.” Christians, on the other hand, think, “Oh, those Buddhists never do anything. They just sit and eat.” People have so many concepts while they are simply in another place and then even make a problem out of water. Therefore, being in the present moment means that everything is there.
The word “enlightenment” is a very big word, the words “Buddhahood” and “nirvana” too. Others call it “god” and think they will be united with him after they die. One can think and say all these things, but nothing is missing when one is present in the moment. That’s what I think. We say “nirvana” and “nature of the mind,” but don’t know where to be present. We are lost in every moment and continually ask, “Where?” It’s complicating.
Everyone’s main goal is to be happy. From morning until night, everyone wants to be happy but never appreciates one moment to be happy. If one is happy for a moment, that’s it. What else? If one experiences every moment of the entire day, one experiences very much happiness. Buddhists pray, “Oh, may all living beings be happy.” That’s how we think. But one never thinks about what happiness is and has funny ideas instead. Wishing is good, but one needs to know for oneself to be happy in the moment. I think so. If one is happy in the moment, then it is workable and all suffering one has experienced in the past is transformed. Being happy in the moment is so powerful and one transforms everything else when one is happy in the moment. One is right there in that happiness in the moment. Is it like that, or is happiness still something else?
Yes, one has concepts about happiness, like “I’ll be happy when I’m away from my parents and am independent.” Will one be free then? It’s not as easy as one thinks; in fact, one also suffers when one has left. Or one thinks, “If I find a job, then I’ll be very happy.” When one finds a job, it’s the same story and one thinks, “I’ll be happy if I find another job.” Or one thinks, “If I had a partner, I’d be happy,” or “If I get a pension, then I don’t have to work and will be happy.” And then, to top it off, one thinks that one will really and truly be happy after one has died. I think it’s a little bit difficult. One has to learn to enjoy every moment as much as possible. Everything else is just a story, an idea that can work but will probably backfire - nobody is sure, whereas the moment is there.
Question: How does one deal with the moment if one has strong pain?
Lama-la: As said, do pain meditation. Don’t think of the pain. Hold your mind on the pain and be present in the pain. If you have all too much pain and the meditation isn’t working, then do go to the doctor and continue meditating. Mindfulness practice of pain means being fully present in the pain and relaxing in it. Don’t think of the pain, otherwise it increases.
Student: Or one can think of something else and be distracted.
Lama-la : Yes, you can think of something else. You should be mindful of whatever takes place in your mind, so you know you are thinking something else and are mindful of that. When you are mindful of another thought, then you don’t think about your pain. The method of being mindful of another thought that one has is the same as those discussed above.
C. Mindfulness of Mind
“And how does a monk remain focused on the mind in and of itself? There is the case where a monk, when the mind has passion, discerns that the mind has passion. When the mind is without passion, he discerns that the mind is without passion. When the mind has aversion, he discerns that the mind has aversion. When the mind is without aversion, he discerns that the mind is without aversion. When the mind has delusion, he discerns that the mind has delusion. When the mind is without delusion, he discerns that the mind is without delusion. When the mind is restricted, he discerns that the mind is restricted. When the mind is scattered he discerns that the mind is scattered. When the mind is enlarged, he discerns that the mind is enlarged. When the mind is not enlarged, he discerns that the mind is not enlarged. When the mind is surpassed, he discerns that the mind is surpassed. When the mind is unsurpassed, he discerns that the mind is unsurpassed. When the mind is concentrated, he discerns that the mind is concentrated. When the mind is not concentrated, he discerns that the mind is not concentrated. When the mind is released, he discerns that the mind is released. When the mind is not released, he discerns that the mind is not released.”
Mindfulness meditation of mind starts by practicing mindfulness of one’s body. One places one’s hand on one’s stomach and keeps one’s mind on one’s breathing as it is felt through the movement of one’s stomach. Actually, it’s not necessary to place one’s hand on one’s stomach, but it’s easier feeling the movement of one’s breathing if one does. One keeps one’s mind relaxed and remains fully mindful of how one’s breathing moves through one’s stomach – up, down, up, down. So, the main focus should be on that movement, staying mindful in one’s house. One is “off duty” from thoughts, because one is meditating on the movement in one’s belly - relaxed, present, and in the nowness. It’s like sitting in a nice café and enjoying a holiday.
The three mind poisons first mentioned in the verse that deals with mindfulness of mind in the “Satipatthana-Sutta” are passion, aversion, and delusion. Many thoughts can arise that scatter the mind, for instance, fear or jealousy. When fear arises while one is trying to hold one’s mind on the movement of one’s belly, one’s mind then relaxes on one’s fear without thinking about it. When fear slowly disappears, one relaxes one’s mind on not having fear and is present in the state of non-thought. One then takes one’s mind back to the movement of one’s breathing. If an angry thought or aversion then arise in one’s mind, for instance, one is present in anger or aversion. The thought disappears all on its own when one is present and relaxed in it. One recollects the moment, rests in it, has no thoughts, and returns to the movement of one’s breathing that one feels in one’s stomach. Should one’s mind become confused, nervous, or deluded, one rests one’s mind on the presence of one’s confusion, nervousness, or delusion. When free of thoughts again, one returns to the movement of one’s breathing that one feels in one’s stomach. One takes things as they come and is never out of work when one meditates. If no thoughts are on one’s mind, one keeps one’s mind on the movement of one’s breathing in one’s stomach. That’s how one practices meditation on mindfulness of mind, and it certainly isn’t necessary to think, ”Oh, I have to meditate.”
Question: What do I do when thoughts arise, like “I have to go shopping today,” or “I have to do my laundry”?
Lama-la: That’s fine. It doesn’t matter if a thought is good or bad, you are aware of the fact that you have a thought, are present in that thought, and relax. It doesn’t matter what kind of thought you have, you are present in the thought and do nothing. Of course, you remember the thought. You are aware of the thought and know that it is an emotion or a fear, but these thoughts don’t bother you, rather you bother them instead of relaxing in those thoughts. I think that people regard fear, for example, as a problem, and thinking like that is the problem. It’s quite interesting. If you look deeply and meditate, you can understand this. When a thought arises, no matter what kind of thought, recollect that you have a thought, don’t do anything, and be present. You don’t do anything in mindfulness meditation, because thinking that you need to do something doesn’t work. When a thought is there, then the remedy is missing; when the remedy is there, then the thought isn’t there anymore. The moment you think, “I thought I had to do something about my thought,” the thought you wanted to work on has already gone. And the moment there is a thought, you can’t do anything anyway, because thoughts and their remedies don’t coexist.
Practice: First one has to concentrate on one’s body after having found a comfortable position to sit in; then one relaxes and sits straight. Following, one focuses one’s mind on the movement of one’s breathing in one’s stomach. Then one is aware of whatever thought arises in one’s mind. It doesn’t matter if it is a thought of desire, confusion, fear, or wanting to go shopping. One is aware of it and is present in that thought. When no thought is in one’s mind on which one relaxes, one returns to placing one’s mind on the movement of one’s breathing in one’s stomach.
D. Mindfulness of Mental Objects
Mindfulness of mental objects is a very detailed topic and covers all points that weren’t addressed in the first three kinds of practice. One can look at mindfulness of mental objects as though it embraces everything in the entire universe, that’s how detailed it is.
“Mindfulness of mental objects” is chös-drän-pa in Tibetan, which was translated into English in reliance on the Sanskrit term dharma as “phenomena,” the term “phenomena” referring to just everything one can imagine with one’s mind. In another way, one can say that it is everything imaginable, called both “mental objects” and “mental qualities.” Mindfulness meditation of mental objects is divided into five sections in the “Satipatthana-Sutta.”
(1) Mindfulness Practice of Hindrances to Meditation
“And how does a monk remain focused on mental qualities in and of themselves? There is the case where a monk remains focused on mental qualities in and of themselves with reference to the five hindrances. And how does a monk remain focused on mental qualities in and of themselves with reference to the five hindrances? There is the case where, there being sensual desire present within, a monk discerns that there is sensual desire present within me.’ Or, there being no sensual desire present within, he discerns that ‘There is no sensual desire present within me.’ He discerns how there is the arising of unarisen sensual desire. And he discerns how there is the abandoning of sensual desire once it has arisen. And he discerns how there is no further appearance in the future of sensual desire that has been abandoned. (The same formula is repeated for the remaining hindrances: ill-will, sloth and drowsiness, restlessness and anxiety, and uncertainty.)”
The first practice is concentrating on the five hindrances or distractions to meditation. While engaging in any meditation practice, such as on discipline or on wisdom, five hindrances do arise. It is necessary to be mindful when any hindrance occurs and to be present in its nowness.
One hindrance is sensual desire, which means craving for an object one perceives with any of one’s five senses. Desire means craving for a form that one sees with one’s eyes, for example. The other objects of sensual desire are sounds heard with one’s ears, smells perceived with one’s nose, tastes perceived with one’s tongue, and objects of touch perceived with one’s body. One practices being mindful of one’s thought of desire for an object that one perceives with any of one’s five senses when it arises in one’s mind, is present in it, and relaxes in the nowness of that thought.
Ill-will is also a hindrance to medication practice. It’s the wish to harm others and cause them problems. One practices being mindful of a thought of ill-will when it arises in one’s mind by not following after the thought or doing anything about it, rather by being present and resting within the nowness of that thought. When it naturally disappears, one notices that one is free of the thought, is present and relaxed in that state of mind, and returns to the basic meditation, which is being mindful of the movement of one’s breathing in one’s stomach.
Furthermore, drowsiness also arises in one’s mind while one practices meditation and is a hindrance. One’s mind is so heavy after having enjoyed a full meal, for instance, and consequently one becomes very sleepy and tired. One notices one’s drowsiness, doesn’t do anything about it, remains present in that moment, and relaxes in that state of mind. When free of drowsiness, one simply returns to one’s practice of being mindful of the movement of one’s breathing in one’s stomach.
Another hindrance to meditation practice is restlessness. When one is restless and uneasy, one can’t even sleep and goes through something like a crazy monkey and becomes like a mad elephant. Anxiety is the strong feeling of worrying about or regretting something. Should this occur, then one is mindful of one’s state of mind, rests and relaxes in it. One notices when it disappears and then returns to being mindful of the movement of one’s breathing in one’s stomach.
Uncertainty is the fifth hindrance, which is doubting anything that one apprehends. One notices one’s state of mind and relaxes in the full presence of one’s doubt or uncertainty. When it disappears all on its own, one returns to being mindful of the movement of one’s breathing in one’s stomach.
So, those are the five hindrances that are obstacles to meditation. They are distractions that have turned into supports of meditation if dealt with mindfully. In fact, they have become better than one thought could be the best – sometimes it is like that. You know, one often thinks that something is a problem, but that problem was eventually very helpful and then it’s good. To exemplify this: If one thinks one needs to drive on the Autobahn, “freeway,” in order to get somewhere real fast, because a colleague or friend had heard that there were problems on that freeway, he advised one to take the long route one then takes. Thus one spends a lot of time getting where one wanted to go. Later one reads in the news that thieves had robbed those people of their handbags and cars who were on the freeway one had also planned to take. So, one is very lucky if one took what we call “another way,” even though one thought it was a problem or hindrance that obstructed one’s wish to reach one’s destination fast. In the same way, hindrances are often very good.
(2) Mindfulness Practice of the Aggregates
“Furthermore, the monk remains focused on mental qualities in and of themselves with reference to the five aggregates for clinging/sustenance. And how does he remain focused on mental qualities in and of themselves with reference to the five aggregates for clinging/sustenance? There is the case where a monk (discerns): ‘Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance. Such is feeling … Such is perception … Such are fabrications … Such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.’”
The second mindfulness practice of learning to be mindful of mental objects deals with being attached and clinging to one of the five aggregates of being, which are form, feeling, identification, mental formation, and consciousness.
As to the first aggregate, one sees what one identifies as a “beautiful form,” for example, and clings to it. One recognizes, “Oh, I am clinging to that form.” Then one is present in one’s clinging to the visual form that one apperceived and relaxes in it. The same applies to the other four sense objects - sounds, smells, tastes, and objects of touch. When one touches something that feels very good, one’s mind concentrates on that touch, is fully present and relaxes in it. So, the aggregate of form includes all objects that can be perceived with one’s five senses. As it is, one’s mind connects with an object that one perceived with one of one’s senses and one clings to it. One works with any moment of clinging to a sense object and rests present in it.
The second aggregate is feeling. If one has a good feeling, one’s mind feels so good, so cool. One’s mind doesn’t want to “stay home” and as a result one clings to that feeling. In meditation of mindfulness of the aggregate of feeling, one recollects one’s mind and brings it home by being present in that clinging until it vanishes on its own.
The third aggregate is called “perception” or “discernment” in the respective verse of the Sutra. There are many English translations of the Tibetan term ‘du-shes, but “identification” seems quite fitting, too, since one identifies what one perceived with a specific sense, what one felt as a result, and now thinks, “Oh, it is this,” or “It is that.” In mindfulness practice of the third aggregate, one notices one’s state of mind and remains present in any thought that one became involved in by identifying it for oneself.
The fourth aggregate is mental formation, in which case one’s mind follows a thought about something that one has identified, for example, by generating hope, fear, and so on. If one’s mind remains stuck in and clings to the mental formation of fear, then one continues perpetuating it, making a mountain out of a molehill. Some people thrive on fear - one never knows. In this mindfulness meditation, one uses any mental fabrication that one has generated in one’s mind and is present in it.
The fifth aggregate is consciousness. In the context of the Sutra we are studying together, there are said to be six consciousnesses, in contrast to the eight consciousnesses explained in the Mahamudra tradition. I think it’s a little bit difficult to recognize the consciousnesses, but I do want to add that the sixth consciousness in the sequence of the five sense consciousnesses (that will be explained in the next meditation practice) is based upon the mind sense that intellectually conceives mental objects one has apperceived through one of the foregoing five sense consciousnesses.
(3) Mindfulness Practice of the Six Mental Phenomena
“Furthermore, the monk remains focused on mental qualities in and of themselves with reference to the sixfold internal and external sense media. And how does he remain focused on mental qualities in and of themselves with reference to the sixfold internal and external sense media? There is the case where he discerns the eye, he discerns forms, he discerns the fetter that arises dependent on both. He discerns how there is the arising of an unarisen fetter. And he discerns how there is the abandoning of a fetter once it has arisen. And he discerns how there is no further appearance in the future of a fetter that has been abandoned. (The same formula is repeated for the remaining sense media: ear, nose, tongue, body, and intellect.)”
The six consciousnesses and their respective objects are called “six internal and external sense media” in the “Satipatthana-Sutta.” They are: eye consciousness/visual forms, ear consciousness/sounds, nose consciousness/smells, tongue consciousness/tastes, tactile consciousness/objects that can be touched, and mental consciousness/objects that can be known. When one recognizes one of the six internal and external sense media that one has, then one is present and relaxes in it. One notices when it disappears and returns to being mindful of the movement of one’s breathing in one’s stomach.
(4) Mindfulness Practice of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment
“Furthermore, the monk remains focused on mental qualities in and of themselves with reference to the seven factors of awakening. And how does he remain focused on mental qualities in and of themselves with reference to the seven factors of awakening? There is the case where, there being mindfulness as a factor of awakening present within, he discerns that ‘Mindfulness as a factor of awakening is present within me.’ Or, there being no mindfulness as a factor of awakening present within, he discerns that ‘Mindfulness as a factor of awakening is not present within me.’ He discerns how there is the arising of unarisen mindfulness as a factor of awakening. And he discerns how there is the culmination of the development of mindfulness as a factor of awakening once it has arisen. (The same formula is repeated for the remaining factors of awakening: analysis of qualities, persistence, rapture, serenity, concentration, and equanimity.)”
The fourth meditation practice of mindfulness of mental objects concerns the seven factors of enlightenment. The seven factors of enlightenment are: awareness or memory, knowledge of values, diligence, joy, refinement, samadhi, and equanimity. A practitioner is mindful of these factors when they are present in his or her mind and meditates the first factor of enlightenment, which is mindfulness or awareness.
The second factor of enlightenment is intelligence, e.g., knowing what is virtuous and non-virtuous. It isn’t wisdom. One holds one’s mind on one’s knowledge of either virtue or vice when it is present in one’s mind and rests in it. One can become so enthused and is diligent as a result, the third factor of enlightenment, in which case one notices that one’s mind has become so open and that one is diligent due to that openness. One rests one’s mind in one’s enthusiastic diligence and is present in it. Sometimes one’s mind becomes so joyful, the fourth factor. One notices, “Oh, I’m joyful.” Then one recollects the state of one’s mind and is present in one’s joy. The next factor is refinement, i.e., one’s mind is so concentrated and one knows it, relaxing into that state of mind with full presence. The factor of enlightenment that is samadhi means abiding in meditative absorption or one-pointed meditation; one is aware that one’s mind is in this perfect state and relaxes in it. The factor of equanimity doesn’t mean that one’s mind is neutral or indifferent, rather it means that one’s mind is balanced and in perfect harmony. One recognizes the state of one’s mind and relaxes in it. And so, one is mindful of whatever arises in one’s mind when one engages in the meditation practice of mindfulness of mental objects.
Question: What is the difference to the other meditation practice of feelings?
Lama-la: These practices are deeper, because the meditation practice on mindfulness of feelings is a practice to learn to deal with being mindful of and present in one’s feelings, whereas now one practices to overcome attachment and clinging to one’s feelings by being present in any attachment that one might have.
Summary and Perspective: An easy way to practice being mindful is to be as mindful as possible of every movement one makes with one’s body, whether one is standing up, sitting down, walking, going to the bathroom, breathing, and so forth. Furthermore, one is as mindful as possible of everything that comes to one’s mind. Should one experience joy, or be afraid, or suffer, or feel funny or badly when it comes to others, one is mindful of whatever arises in one’s mind. One is meditating when mindful all the time. Being mindful means being aware of what kind of mind one has and being fully present and at home in that moment of mind. If one is always present within one’s mind, then one is enlightened, i.e., one is never disrupted but calm and relaxed. Enlightenment comes in that state of presence.
Presence is the key-point of mindfulness meditation practices, which means that our enlightenment is not far away. This is not a theory, rather expresses that the point is maintaining presence of mind. Should one never try or give it a test, then one is free to give it a short try. If one wants to be calm and relaxed, that’s the way. Those are the facts. Thinking, “Oh, I want to be happy” without doing anything to be happy just sounds like a nice story. Let me give a practical example to demonstrate two sides of the same story: One side of the story is that one exerts so much energy and is totally lost when one is extremely angry. The other side of the story is that one’s mind becomes so clear when one is extremely angry, because being extremely angry means that one’s mind is so sharp, so present, so energetic. It’s one’s own choice which side one is going to take. If one has no problem, anger comes and goes, but normally one chooses the first alternative. One doesn’t decide but chooses due to one’s way of choosing and therefore one becomes angry and lost in confusion. So, one is free to use that powerful energy or to misuse it. This is very difficult to understand, since one’s reactions have nothing to do with anger itself, rather with how one deals with it.
So, there are two sides to anger. One side is wisdom, realizing that anger is very helpful because of its powerful energy. If one doesn’t use it properly and becomes lost in confusion, it will drown one, which is the other side of the story. For example, a lumberjack has a very dangerous job. If he doesn’t know how to use his saw or axe, he might chop off his own hands or feet. Anger is exactly like that. Another example is a bomb. It can be very destructive or it can be useful. For instance, if a road is being built on a rocky mountain pass, a bomb can be ignited to blow up a huge boulder that is blocking the way and that would otherwise take thousands of years to remove by hand. Another example is red wine, which can be either medicine if one drinks a little bit or poisonous if one drinks too much. In any case, one is free to choose.
The method of practicing mindfulness is to be mindful and present in the nowness of whatever comes to one’s mind. If always present with whatever thought arises in one’s mind, then one is enlightened all the time. It’s very interesting, I think. This describes what Buddhahood is. Buddhahood means being present in what is always going on in a Buddha-mind all the time. That’s my understanding, you know? And whenever one is totally present, there is no way to be confused. One knows that one is confused when it’s true and then confusion isn’t confusion but it is wisdom.
Those are the first four mindfulness meditation practices of mental objects, which are very detailed practices and not mere thoughts that one reflects or wishful thinking. It means being right there with whatever is going on. So, it’s possible to slowly understand for oneself what Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are and then one isn’t far away from becoming a Bodhisattva or a Buddha oneself, who is not an appointed individual. I don’t know whether it’s due to culture or tradition that concepts and ideas prevail. It makes sense when Buddhists say that everyone can become a Buddha, though, and one certainly knows that sincere practitioners aren’t in need of a certificate but that becoming a Buddha involves conscientious and sincere training. If you have any questions, please ask.
Question: My question is about the two ways to deal with fear or anger. Is it sufficient to be aware, “Oh, I am angry” in order to transform it into positive energy?
Lama-la: Normally, we don’t work on this. When you are angry, you have to know, “I am angry” and be yourself in the moment, i.e., be fully present in your anger. Thinking that you are angry doesn’t work, rather being present in the anger is the transformation. Then one doesn’t need to talk about it. For example, you become very upset when people gossip about you behind your back, but they can’t talk badly about you in your presence. Your presence is so powerful that they can’t say anything. Meditation is like that too. Problems vanish due to one’s presence. So you see how powerful presence is.
Same student: We are learning about mindfulness meditation, but it sounds like a 24-hour-a-day job. I can’t very well sit down and meditate when I’m angry, which is a part of daily life. I don’t understand.
Lama: That’s a good question. There are many ways to do mindfulness meditation. For instance, you have to be very mindful when you drive a car, otherwise the danger of crashing is very big. There are so many distractions when one drives. When the light turns red, you are aware that you have to wait and you use that short time to practice watching your breathing. Concentrating on mindfulness meditation all day is too much for you, especially in the beginning. Meditation practice doesn’t require a specific setting. When it takes time for your computer to start after you push the start button, for example, use the time to relax and watch your breathing. You can practice like that regularly. Try to be mindful as much as possible, without thinking, “I have to be …” It’s not so easy to practice in daily life, but you can reserve two or three hours to practice over the weekend by doing whatever you do slowly and mindfully. You enjoy cooking by being mindful, enjoy pouring oil onto your salad by being mindful, and so forth. It doesn’t matter if you are doing nonsense. If you are dancing, then you dance mindfully. If you are drinking alcohol, it doesn’t matter – I mean, not too much. Take the time to drink and enjoy that you are drinking. You are free to do what you want, but be mindful. That’s the key. When mindfulness becomes a habit, then it will be easier for you to practice in everyday situations during the week. Don’t think of your destination when you walk, just walk and don’t worry. It’s easier reaching one’s destination without worrying whether one will. When I have to walk a long distance, I don’t think about it but just walk. Thinking that there is still a long way to go is frustrating and doesn’t make it easier for me to get where I want to go.
Practice: Let us do a short meditation and concentrate on the movement of our breath, how it moves in and out and in again. If it’s easier feeling the movement of your breath, you can place your hand on your stomach to feel your breath’s movement in your body. Be mindful and relaxed and be present in the movement of your mind. When a thought arises, like “I want to go to the café after meditation,” or “I am so tired,” or “I have so much to do,” or “Tomorrow I have to go to work,” or “I have an appointment today,” be aware of the thought and be present in it with your mind. Slowly the thought vanishes. Bring your mind back to the movement of your breathing and meditate on it. When a thought arises again, be aware of the thought and be present in it. Return to the breathing meditation when that thought has vanished and be present in the movement of your breathing.
Question: What do I do when an image appears? Do I look at it?
Lama-la: Yes, look at it, be mindful of the image, and be present in the image. It doesn’t matter, whatever is happening, we are fully there and completely relaxed.
Question: Sometimes my head falls down while meditating or sitting in the bus or train and I wake up with a sudden jerk. It’s really strong. What’s that, because it’s not like sleeping and meditation?
Lama-la: Many things can happen, so we have to know what is going on. Maybe your body is bending a little bit, and it doesn’t matter. Be mindful of how your body moves.
Student: During calm-abiding meditation, I concentrate on my breathing or count my breath and let thoughts go when they arise. I have the feeling that I am focusing too much on thoughts during mindfulness meditation and am holding them too long. What should I change?
Lama-la: We don’t hold thoughts. The point is to be aware of a thought the moment it arises and to know that one has a thought. It goes away on its own, so we aren’t stopping or holding on to it. Being present in a thought doesn’t mean holding on to it, rather letting it go away. Being mindful means knowing, “Oh, I have a thought.” Being present in the thought means one also notices that it disappears. Calm-abiding meditation is bringing your mind back to the same place, whereas mindfulness meditation means being present in a thought or feeling the moment it arises. If you feel an itch, you are aware of it and scratch it. You don’t have to push your mind anywhere else, but are fully present in the scratching. If your mind is so concentrated on your breathing and you are scratching an itch, you may scratch yourself too strongly. When nothing happens, return to being mindful of the movement of your breathing. Be present in any feeling you have in that moment.
Same student: Being present in feelings is easy, but being present in thoughts is hard. I lose myself in a thought too much. Is one present in the meaning of a thought or in the thought, “Now I am thinking”?
Lama-la: You are aware of the fact that you have a thought. The more you are aware, the more it disappears. Presence has nothing to do with holding. If you think about a bad thought you might have about someone, then you have a lot to think about and are really restless. If you simply realize that you have a bad thought about someone, leave that thought alone and simply be present; then it disappears on its own. The more you want to be present, the less you are. The more you think about it, the more things come up. We leave thoughts that arise alone and do mindfulness meditation by only realizing that a thought has arisen. If you think about a thought, a thought will return, and consequently you have set a chain-reaction in motion.
Question: When I have a bad thought and recognize it, then I am upset and think badly again. Okay, recognizing it is the practice, but shortly afterwards a bad thought returns and the procedure repeats itself. The story becomes big when the thought comes that thinking is bad, which makes matters worse.
Lama-la: Yes. Recognize the thought when it arises and be there. The moment you do this, the thought disappears. Keep on doing it like that. As long as you are not present in the thought, you are lost.
Student: The moment I’m aware of a thought, it disappears, but a next thought arises and it goes on. I find it very stressful. What can I do about this?
Lama-la: Does this mean that the same thought comes again and again?
Same student: Different thoughts. I look at a thought and it disappears. Then a next thought comes, I look at it, and it disappears. This goes on and on, and I find it very stressful, because I think that there will be no end. What can I do?
Lama-la: Then you might look to see how the first thought jumps into the second thought and you may notice a gap. There’s always a gap between thoughts that jump, the one to the other. Meditation means being non-conceptual, being there, being in the gap for a longer period of time. No thought is ever exactly like another thought, but we think that they are. Every day is different. Nobody has the same feeling every day. You think it is the same, but it’s always different. Your mood changes, your mind changes, everything changes every day - nothing is ever the same.
Student: If a very negative thought arises and I am aware of it, then it vanishes, but I automatically become emotional about it and it goes deeply. I tend to fight with the emotion and then become totally confused.
Lama-la: You need training. As you implied, it’s not easy. We train slowly, slowly and it will happen slowly, slowly. Training is still a process of trying. Emotions are very deep, so we have to work as much as possible. Now we are working on the surface, but slowly, slowly the root will be eliminated. But it takes time, and you need time. The first point is being right there in the first moment. The more you train, slowly, slowly it will go very deep, which isn’t easy. Taking an onion as an example: You need time to get rid of the smell after you have washed the bowl in which you washed the onion. You need time and wishful thinking will not eliminate the smell. You did your best, though, because you took the first step by washing the onion. It takes time to get rid of the smell. Practice, too, will slowly, slowly become deeper - but it takes time.
Student: How does one deal with pain by doing mindfulness meditation?
Lama-la: As said, one practices pain meditation. Just feel the pain. Don’t think, “I have a pain,” but be present in the pain. If it’s too painful, go to the doctor and meditate; work with both possibilities. Be present in your mind. It won’t work thinking, “I have a pain. I have a pain.” You have more pain by thinking, “Oh, pain, pain.” The more you complain, the more you get, but you can manage it. There is also Tongleng meditation, in which case you don’t think of your pain only, but you bring all pain of everyone else to your pain. If you practice Tongleng, then you aren’t only thinking of your pain but are thinking of others. That means that you are opening up your mind to your pain, which makes it less painful. Keep your mind open by thinking that you are taking on the pain of others through the pain you experience and as a result they become free of their pain. You will feel better by practicing like this - and be present again. And go to the hospital, to the doctor, and work with both methods. Don’t think that medicine won’t work because of strong concepts. Don’t think badly of doctors, because it’s very helpful for you to take the medicine that a doctor prescribes. Then meditate. Work with both methods and then you will be healed more easily. If you’re a great meditator, you don’t need a doctor, but who has reached such a degree of perfection? It’s not that easy. There is a difference between thinking something and having a deep experience.
The time for this seminar has run out, so I have to close now. You will find the last verses of the root text of the Sutra here.
(5) Mindfulness Practice of the Four Noble Truths
“Furthermore, the monk remains focused on mental qualities in and of themselves with reference to the Four Noble Truths. And how does he remain focused on mental qualities in and of themselves with reference to the Four Noble Truths? There is the case where he discerns, as it is actually present, that ‘This is stress … This is the origination of stress … This is the cessation of stress … This is the way leading to the cessation of stress.’”
“Now, if anyone would develop these four frames of reference in this way for seven years, one of two fruits can be expected for him: either gnosis right here and now, or – if there be any remnant of clinging-sustenance – non-return.
Let alone seven years. If anyone would develop these four frames of reference in this way for six years … five … four … three … two years … one year … seven months … six months … five … four … three … two months … one month … half a month, one of two fruits can be expected for him: either gnosis right here and now, or – if there be any remnant of clinging-sustenance – non-return.
Let alone half a month. If anyone would develop these four frames of reference in this way for seven days, one or two fruits can be expected for him: either gnosis right here and now, or – if there be any remnant of clinging-sustenance – non-return.”
“‘This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and distress, for the attainment of the right method, and for the realization of Unbinding – in other words, the four frames of reference.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said. That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, the monks delighted in the Blessed One’s words.”
Let me thank everyone very much for having given me the opportunity to speak about dealing with stress through mindfulness meditation practices, for the discussions we had, and for having meditated together. Sometimes students want to receive very high instructions but aren’t able to integrate them in their life. It happens like that sometimes; it happens to me too. It’s like going shopping without really knowing what one wants to buy. Mindfulness meditation means being “right there” - no matter what’s going on. Nothing is good or bad if you are happy with that. Thank you very much.
Through this goodness may omniscience be attained
And thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.
May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara
That is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless (in number) as space (is vast in its extent).
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.
The instructions that Lama Kelzang Wangdi kindly offered in English and generously proofread here were presented at Karma Thegsum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg from April 18-20, 2008; both Lama Kelzang and the Dharma Center hold copyrights . Photo of Lama-la taken during the Vesakh Festival in Hamburg in 2006 by Madhavi Maren Simoneit, who we wish to thank very much for all that she is doing and it is much. Photo of students at the ceremony and strings of lights to illuminate the anniversary day of Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Nepal in April 2008 courtesy of Khenpo Karma Namgyal. Special thanks to “Access to Insight” for offering the root text of the Sutra as a free download for non-commercial use. Transcribed and edited slightly by Gaby Hollmann, responsible for all mistakes. All rights reserved.