Bhante Vimalaramsi: The Relax Step

This week at Mission Dharma, we had a guest teacher: The Venerable Bhante Vimalaramsi. I got to introduce him.*

I got several things out of the talk by Bhante: a new and useful definition of Mindfulness; the importance of the tranquility, or calming steps found in the Anapanasati Sutta (what he calls the relax step); and the importance of dependent origination: both the impersonality of that process and the ability to interrupt the chain of causation by letting go of thoughts and intentionally relaxing before returning to the object of meditation.

Intellectually and functionally, these concepts fit so nicely together and are so easy to put into practice that this could form a fundamental shift in practice for many (myself included). Here are some quotes taken from the talk.

A definition of Mindfulness that “works in every situation..”

“[Mindfulness is] observing how mind’s attention moves from one thing to another. That’s what it is.” “When you start watching closely you’ll start to observe how the links of dependent origination actually do work.

Letting go of thoughts:

The first thing we need to do when we notice a distraction, is to not feed on that distraction. By feed, I mean you don’t give it nutriment. How do you give thoughts nutriment? By indulging in them. … So the first thing we have to do is let go of the thoughts. How do you let go of thoughts? By not keeping your attention on them. Right? Just let it be there. It’s not your thought anyway. You didn’t tell that thought to come up.. it came up by itself, so why do you think that it’s your thought? It’s just a thought. Allow it to be. Relax the tension caused by mind’s attention moving to those thoughts. How do you do that? You notice the tightness in your head around your meninges**… and you relax. As soon as you relax, your mind is going to be very clear, very bright, and there’s not going to be any thoughts in your mind at all. Why? Because you’ve let go of the craving.

More about the “relax step”

“If you just add this one step – of relaxing – it will change your entire meditation and your progress in meditation will be amazing.” “Even if you want to do straight vipassana, if you add that relax step along with that, that will change your meditation and you will see amazing progress.” “When you start recognizing that tension and tightness in your head, in your mind, and you relax, you are purifying your mind. Why? Because you have let go of craving at that time.”

A working definition and use of the Chain of Dependent Origination

“I’ve been talking to you about dependent origination and how it works.. There is Contact. The Eye hits Color & Form– Eye Consciousness arises. The meeting of these three things is called Eye Contact. With Eye Contact as condition, there is Eye Feeling: pleasant, painful, neither painful nor pleasant. With Eye Feeling as condition, there is Eye Craving; Eye Craving is: I like it or I don’t like it.  When your awareness becomes sharp enough, you can see that start to get tight and you can relax right then, and then the rest of the links of Dependent Origination do not arise. So there is no sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. When you start getting that balance of recognizing that tightness in your head and relaxing.”

The way to practice Samatha Vipassana, or Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation:

“Recognize when your mind has been distracted. You release the distraction by not keeping your attention on it. You relax the tightness caused by that. You smile. You come back to your object of meditation; stay with your object of meditation. Repeat.”

I could say much more about how I see these concepts fitting together, but I’ll leave it here for now; keep practicing and revisit this teaching more in the future. Happy sitting!!

* My intention was to link to the recording of the talk, but Howie has not released it for inclusion on the Mission Dharma site, so I can’t link to it at this time. However, I transcribed some of the main points related to sitting practice in this post.

** When Bhante talked about the meninges, he held up a little model of the brain and talked about a band around the brain that contracted when thoughts, sensations, likes and dislikes or any other distracting stimulus was introduced. This band is tight, holds tension and is where he seemed to suggest one would relax the “tightness in your head, in your mind”.  He literally called this tightness “craving” — the very craving that causes suffering.

 

Bodhipaksa’s 100 Days of Loving Kindness

I’m posting this as a reading reference for anyone interested in the buddhist practices around opening the heart, developing loving kindness, compassion and equanimity.  The writing in this 100 day series is excellent and comes directly from the heart and mind of the dear and wise Bodhipaksa. 

http://www.wildmind.org/100-days

I hope you find the posts there as inspiring and wonderful as I do.

 

Satipatthana Sutta (Book and Dharmatalks)

My studies have led me to the Satipatthana Sutta in the form of this book:

Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realizationby Analayo


It is a wonderful text and delves into the components of the sutta with great detail, allowing anyone to understand, contemplate and practice one of the methods of meditation taught by the Buddha himself. While the formula may or may not contain much novel meditative material (depending on what you’re already familiar with) it presents it in a structure which is very thorough and effective — reminding us not only what objects of meditation are useful, but how to most effectively approach these meditations in terms of mindfulness, independence (not-self), and impermanence — thus encouraging insight as well as a steadiness of mind.

Along with this book, I was also tipped off to a series of talks given by Joseph Goldstein, where he expounds upon the Analayo text chapter by chapter.  What a treasure!!

http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/96/talk/6162/

I’m very excited to make my way through this series and continue reading the book.  Why not join me!

Four Noble Truths | Ajahn Sumedho

Download The Four Noble Truths
by Ven. Ajahn Sumedho

My dad sent me a copy of this book via email. I’ve been reading it and I’m blown away.  What buddhist doesn’t know about the four noble truths?  Everyone knows them. Just about everyone can name them — can you? The funny thing is that knowing them and reflecting on them deeply are very very different. This book is a fantastic tool for reflecting deeply on what may be the foundational teaching of the Buddha.

It’s not super long. It is super amazing.

If you’re poking around the web and finding cool stuff about meditation and buddhism, please do yourself a huge favor and hit the link. Read the book. It’s fantastic.

 

Eckhart Tolle, letting it be as it is

Eckhart Tolle on Surrender Eckhart Tolle on Surrender

There is a whole lot about what he says in this video that rings true and goes deep. This may or may not point to vipassana directly as a method, but I believe it is strongly consistent with elements of classical enlightenment. It’s refreshing to see it all from just a slightly different angle. The description of the loss of compulsion in the thinking mind and it’s quieting down is distinctly reminiscent of the first and second jhanas. The sense of freedom from struggle is deeply in tune with the release of the Dharma’s four noble truths — only he does it in one step. The yes vs. no. The freedom to stop labeling. The non-clinging, non-identifying and recognition of impermanence are like gently whispered truths. I still think vipassana is an amazing tool for bringing one to the realization of freedom, and I appreciate the zen stories and teachings as being direct and enlightening, but I have to give a hat tip to something like this that gets so quickly down to business.

And if you liked that first one, here’s another, which touches directly on the emptiness v. creation post just prior to this.

Eckhart Tolle on creating while being connected to the source.

accelerating research on meditation

This is a nice piece to read if you are interested in the current state of neurological research on meditation. It’s a well-written, two part piece and Shinzen Young is featured prominently, which is enough to make me smile.

Enjoy:

Enlightenment: Is Science Ready to Take it Seriously?

Jeff Warren | November 2012 – Issue 3 of Psychology Tomorrow Magazine

How Understanding the Process of Enlightenment Could Change Science

Jeff Warren | January 2013 – Issue 4 of Psychology Tomorrow Magazine
Special thanks to @mindfulchimes and @MindDeep for bringing these articles to my attention.

3 Dharma talks for this week

Here is a little Dharma Opportunity – see if you can find the time in the next week or so to listen to these 3 guided meditations on Emptiness.  Please leave any comments if you are moved to do so.

Teacher: Gil Fronsdal

From the retreat:
Spirit Rock Meditation Center
:  Emptiness: a Meditation and Study Retreat

2012-12-02 Guided Meditation on Emptiness 41:28
2010-11-15 Emptying the Mind 40:25
2010-11-12 Guided Morning Instructions 42:55

link: http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/74/?search=guided+
Special Thanks: Dharmaseed for posting so much amazing material for practitioners!  

 

 

16 steps of breathing meditation from the Majjhima Nikaya

I have been very inspired by reading Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s book, Right Mindfulness, as you can see from my last few posts. I have started using the material for guidance in my sitting practice. As more posts are likely to follow that use this framework, I thought it would be a good idea to pop this section out of the book for easy reference.  This is a set of 16 steps, arranged in four tetrads, or sections of 4 steps called the “first, second, third and fourth establishing of mindfulness”. As TB says, “this procession through the levels of concentration all the way to the cessation of perception and feeling is one of the ways in which awakening is achieved. “

From the Majjhima Nikaya:

The steps developing the first establishing of mindfulness:

 

“[1] Breathing in long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in long’; or breathing out long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out long.’ [2] Or breathing in short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in short’; or breathing out short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out short.’ [3] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.’ [4] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.’

 

The steps developing the second establishing of mindfulness:

 

“[5] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to rapture.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to rapture.’ [6] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to pleasure.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to pleasure.’ [7] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to mental fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to mental fabrication.’ [8] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming mental fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming mental fabrication.’

 

The steps developing the third establishing of mindfulness:

 

“[9] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the mind.’ [10] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in gladdening the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out gladdening the mind.’ [11] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in steadying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out steadying the mind. [12] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in releasing the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out releasing the mind.’

 

The steps developing the fourth establishing of mindfulness:

 

“[13] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in focusing on inconstancy.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing on inconstancy.’ [14] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in focusing on dispassion [literally, fading].’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing on dispassion.’ [15] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in focusing on cessation.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing on cessation.’ [16] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in focusing on relinquishment.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing on relinquishment.’” — MN 118

 This text comes directly from:

Right Mindfulness
MEMORY & ARDENCY ON THE BUDDHIST PATH
THANISSARO BHIKKHU
(GEOFFREY DeGRAFF)

I will again thank Thanissaro Bhikkhu for providing this text and also point out how beautifully he follows the Buddhist principle of making the dharma available free of charge. His wonderful book is offered with this permission included:

Copyright © Thanissaro Bhikkhu 2012

This book may be copied or reprinted for free distribution without permission from the publisher. Otherwise all rights reserved.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

I’m going to post a link here, partly for you, and partly so that I can go back to it myself. This whole page is dedicated to the writings of Thanissaro Bhikkhu. I intend to make my way through as much of this as possible.
This is an absolute treasure-trove of material on the practice of meditation. This is the kind of stuff I find inspiring. It can be technical writing, but that isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. I find that it helps to concentrate the mind and is a natural inspiration and invitation to sit.
For a little taste, try this one:

For a huge helping, this one:

Right Mindfulness: Memory & Ardency on the Buddhist Path, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (2012; 178pp./1.2MB) [PDF icon]

An exploration of the nature of mindfulness and its role in the Buddhist path to Awakening. [Not available in HTML]

Much Gratitude to Thanissaro Bhikkhu for such devoted work. Thank you to those at Access to Insight – what a tremendous resource!