Coping With Hindrances
Transcription of a dhamma talk and teacher-student interview by Bhikkhu Sopako Bodhi (Achan Sobin Namto) during a meditation retreat in Edmonton, Canada, 1988. Edited by Cynthia Thatcher.
Topics covered: maintaining continuity of mindfulness; coping with sleepiness and other hindrances; mindfulness vs. concentration techniques; interviews with meditators.
Note: the meditators' names have been changed. The commentary in brackets is the editor's.
This morning: about continuity. What is the meaning of continuity? First we provide an object [for mindfulness] to continue with. We follow the step-by-step, moment-to-moment technique. We set up the first foundation of mindfulness, the body, by maintaining continuity between sitting standing, walking, and sitting again.
Or, when doing something else, we also keep the step-by-step technique. We move the hands to the abdomen one at a time before standing up or walking. We walk step-by-step from one step through six step and then go back to sitting. When the object is continuous, [i.e., when one keeps noting objects from one moment to the next, without a break] mindfulness will follow the object until mindfulness gains experience to be steady at the level. At that time we give up the step-by-step [technique] and give up labeling [the object with mental notes]. We return to normal, right? To natural life - just walk, just do it. Mindfulness will separate ultimate truth and ordinary truth. Even when memory can remember [the name of an object] according to ordinary truth, mindfulness will keep going with ultimate truth. Mindfulness will take care.
Usually meditators don't understand how to keep continuity. Sometimes you feel sleepy. You're not aware of the object; when you wake up you have to continue from there. Don't worry about how long you fall asleep. When you wake up, just keep going from that moment, continuously.
For example: outside there's sunshine when its daytime. But sometimes big clouds pass over the sun. Maybe it's a long time until we get sunlight on the ground again. While the clouds cover the sun there's no bright light on the ground. That's all right. When the clouds pass, the sun will continue to shine, right? That's the point. Like the trees outside that cast shadows. When clouds cover the sun, the shadows are gone; but when the clouds pass away, the shadows are still there. As soon as they appear again the shadows begin to move a little bit, as the sun moves. It's the same thing with the mind; it doesn't matter how long it wanders out, since you continue with your duty to watch it.
Just like when you go to a concert or a show. When you buy a ticket you have a seat to sit in. When the actors appear onstage you just keep to your duty of watching them. You still sit in your seat. The actors come and go onstage. One goes behind the curtain and you wait for another to come out. You just have the duty to sit and watch. It's not your job to jump onstage, to take a role in the play, right? You do not move or take a break from watching the stage.
Sometimes it takes a few minutes before the actor comes on. But you just keep watching, keep seeing, by your duty. Don't become part of the play! Don't become an actor yourself. You only have the duty to see. The actors have the duty to show. Whether the play is good or bad is the actors' responsibility, not yours. Whether the show is good or bad is not up to you. When the show is good, you know that it's good. When it's bad, you know it's bad. Just knowing. Just seeing. Don't attach with a good show; don't resist a bad show. In this way you keep to your duty of just seeing.
Sometimes there's no object. When the actors aren't showing anything you still have the duty to sit there. You don't leave the theatre. If you go out you have broken the continuity. Then you have to buy a ticket again. You have to find another seat. That means that your attention is not continuous. But if you stay that means you are practicing continuity.
Here you sit for forty or forty-five minutes. Sometimes you have wandering mind for five minutes, for example. Sometimes you fall asleep for a few minutes. Sometimes emotion arises. It doesn't matter. As soon as you realize that the mind has wandered, begin again from that point. When you wake up, just continue right away. You shouldn't care about how long the mind wandered or how long you fell asleep. Don't worry about that. When you know that the mind has wandered, just continue from that moment, more and more. You will not have broken continuity. You'll be on the correct path.
The "step" of mindfulness is not the same length as the step of walking, for example. The step of mindfulness can be very, very short, a very small period of time, or very sharp. [I.e., in the duration of one step of the foot, the meditator can experience many moments arising and vanishing, one after another, if mindfulness is strong enough.]
But sometimes you have wandering mind for five minutes. Right before the mind wanders off you still have mindfulness; but then there is a five minute gap. At the end of five minutes you realize that the mind had wandered and you bring it back to the present. We can call this a "long" step of mindfulness. That is, there is a big gap, a long period of time, between two consecutive moments of mindfulness. But that's not wrong because you have not broken continuity.
As soon as you are aware of a lapse, you continue with the practice; you return to observing objects from moment-to-moment right away. Sometimes you can jump from one moment to the next; sometimes there will be a longer gap. But the important thing is that when you lose your awareness for a few moments you do not get upset. Don't wonder why you wandered off.
Don't think "How come I don't have concentration?" or "Why did I fall asleep? Why don't I have energy?" or something like that. Don't wonder about the reason you fell asleep, because there is no reason. Sleepiness has no reason; it just appears by the duty of the hindrances. [The five hindrances to meditation are: lust, sleepiness, restlessness, anger, and doubt.] Don't try to find out why the mind wanders or why you are thinking, because it is the duty of the mind to think. If it doesn't think, then it isn't a mind, it's a table. Only material things never think.
That's why, when you are thinking, or you feel emotion or another hindrance arise, don't care about it. Just focus and forget it. Whichever hindrance shows itself, just look at it and focus so as to see that one. Just keep watching the object that is clear. Sometimes two or three actors appear, but it doesn't matter which one you watch. For instance, sometimes you keep going with rising and falling; it's very clear. At that time you don't care about any sounds you may hear. Even if the "actor" called emotion arises you don't care, you're not interested.
When you see a play, you let the actors perform until they have finished their lines. Then they leave the stage by themselves. You don't worry that they will stay onstage forever. It's the same with emotion, or wandering mind, or sleepiness. As all of these things are happening, just keep observing the one that is easiest to continue with. Except when you fall asleep; then you don't have an object to continue with. But it's only for a short time until you wake up. When you wake up, just start again from that point, all right?
That's the meaning of continuity when practicing mindfulness. Don't lose double. When the mind wanders you have lost once already; that is, you have lost the object that you were observing - rising-falling, for instance. But when you become angry that the mind has wandered, when you think, "Why does this happen when I try to keep continuity? Why am I practicing incorrectly?" you have lost twice. You lose double. [The longer you worry about losing mindfulness, the more objects slip by unnoticed. The more moments you have "lost."] That creates more and more space between moments of mindfulness. The gap during which delusion takes place becomes wider and wider. That's what it means to lose continuity.
Good or bad feelings cannot approve our practice. Some meditators make the mistake of feeling happy when a period of sitting is nice and quiet and they don't have wandering mind. They think, 'Wow, now I'm a good, successful meditator. I don't mind that I came here. I'm getting a lot of benefit." But the next sitting isn't the same. Maybe their minds wander a lot and they think, "Oh, this is terrible. Maybe meditation cannot help me." They are disappointed and sad. Maybe they lose confidence and energy. That's wrong view. They don't understand that everything is impermanent. Even if the sitting is good this time, it has to end; and when good ends, bad occurs. The end of good is bad. When the next sitting is bad, why worry? Bad has to have an end. Maybe the next sitting will be good. Even if it isn't, that's ok. It cannot be bad the whole day, right? You have to have good sometimes, have to have quiet or calmness sometimes. But when the mind is calm or peaceful, don't attach, because it cannot last too long, cannot last all day. Sometimes practice will be bad. So do not worry about good or bad.
A student that I was interviewing said to me, "Oh, it is very good. My mind is calm. I have strong concentration. I feel happy and peaceful." But I told him, "Bad." [Laughs.] "No good." Because, when you attach with peacefulness, how can you kill the defilements? How can you see what [unwholesome] emotions are still there? "That's ignorance," I said. Like the snake in the anthill - if it doesn't come out, how can you kill it? How can you know how many snakes are in the anthill? You cannot know. You cannot know and you cannot kill them. So you are always afraid when you pass the anthill, afraid that the snake will come out.
So don't worry or think that you need strong concentration when you practice insight meditation. Insight meditation is for shaking delusion and emotion to make them arise more and more - that's good. It's good for mindfulness to have an object. It's good for your practice. If there's no object, how can mindfulness grow? Wandering mind and emotions are food for mindfulness. By ordinary truth, you see a beautiful picture or an ugly picture; you hear a beautiful voice singing or you hear bad words. All of these objects around you are food for defilements. They are the food of greed, of hatred or of delusion.
But rising-falling, sitting, standing, consciousness objects, wandering mind, feeling or emotion - all of these are the food of mindfulness. When the body has enough food it becomes strong. Same thing: when mindfulness has a lot of food, has many things to eat, it becomes strong. Then, instead of feeding the defilements, we're feeding mindfulness, you see? That's why - don't be afraid of the food for mindfulness. Let mindfulness "eat" wandering mind or emotion or every kind of object. Mindfulness has to have an object to focus on, food to eat; and it has to have experience with eating these things.
Moggallana was the left-hand disciple of Lord Buddha. When he was practicing for seven days he fell asleep all the time. Sometimes he'd wake up a little but then fall asleep again. He used a lot of energy to fight with sleepiness. But when sleepiness was too strong he had to use stronger energy to get mindfulness strong too, to make it go up to the same level as sleepiness, so as to balance with that hindrance, until mindfulness, energy and concentration could grow stronger than sleepiness. They could control it, could focus on sleepiness as an object and see it arising and passing away, because it had no power to stay. Mindfulness was stronger. He could see sleepiness arise and fall away until he could see impermanence, suffering and nonself clearly. He became enlightened.
When he became enlightened he had a strong mind with very strong psychic powers because he'd had a strong partner to fight with. Like a person who wants to be a boxing champion; he finds many sparring partners to fight with until he becomes strong enough to win every match. In the same way, right mindfulness can have many, many sparring partners to fight with, to test it. If you understand this you can continue in every moment, with every object, all the time, from the first thing in the morning until you go to bed, except when you're sleeping for five or six hours. If you continue practicing mindfulness until the moment of falling asleep, you will not lose continuity. When you wake up you start from that moment. You have to continue again as if there were no daytime or nighttime. Mindfulness will continue all the time. In that way you will not give a gap for delusion.
Sometimes mindfulness can stay in the sleep level, too, but it's not strong enough. If it were strong you would be an arahant [one who has reached the highest level of enlightenment and is entirely free of greed, hatred and delusion]. Even when asleep, arahants are mindful. Becoming an arahant is the result of continuing to practice from moment-to-moment. When we have not reached that level yet we think it's impossible. But when we reach that level we will see that it is possible.
I mentioned about myself. [Before practicing insight meditation] I believed that it was impossible to forget my name unless I was crazy. But I wasn't crazy. Why couldn't I answer when someone called my name? Because mindfulness separated ultimate truth and was not interested in ordinary truth. It just kept observing ultimate truth all the time very fast. So I could not answer or feel happy when someone saw me or called me. [Sopako Bhikkhu is referring to an experience he had during a seven-month vipassana retreat. Some friends were calling his name, trying to get his attention. His mindfulness was so strong, however, that he couldn't answer them. Why not? Because he was hearing the sound of his own name purely as sound, without recognizing its conventional meaning. Mindfulness was so sharp that it disregarded the conventional and kept tracking only pure phenomena. He was aware of "hearing," but not the conventional meaning of the sound waves. That is what it means to "just hear," or "just see." Even when he had the impulse to answer his friends, mindfulness kept bringing him back to the immediate now, kept cutting off the impulse before he could act upon it. Nor could he "feel happy" because mindfulness cut off every emotion before it could develop. Before taking up meditation practice, however, he would have thought it impossible not to recognize one's own name. Incidentally, his ability to understand conventional speech returned as soon as mindfulness went down.]
So continuity is possible. Everything is possible if you try to separate [ultimate truth from conventional] all the time. What does "separate" mean? For example, when doing the hand movements, try to forget about the hand [Bhikkhu Sopako is referring to a meditation exercise that uses hand motions. See, "How to Meditate."] Just keep observing the object [motion] all the time. It is the moment-to-moment of moving, not of the hand. If you focus on the hand, that means that you only have concentration. It is no different from repeating a mantra [a sacred word or phrase used as a meditation object] - you only get concentration, not wisdom. You cannot get ultimate truth from memorizing a mantra. That's why I say that some techniques from Tibet that use mantras, or some Hindu techniques where they memorize a sutra, a mantra or a kasina - all these are only for developing concentration, because they do not have a complete object, they do not observe nama [mind] and rupa [object] in the present moment. It is not a direct way to ultimate truth.
In these [concentration] techniques one observes ordinary [conventional] truth: the name of the thing, the name of the sutra, the name of the Buddha. Like "Buddho." They breathe in "Bud," breathe out, "dho." "Buddho, Buddho." [This is a concentration technique where one repeats the Buddha's name over and over.] Something like that, right? Or even the technique where you concentrate on a Buddha statue in front of you, looking at the Buddha's shape until you have deep concentration. Consciousness attaches with the object, the Buddha image. But the Buddha image is ordinary truth. It is the name of the material. But when they make the material into the shape of a Buddha image, whether a Thai style or Japanese style or Chinese style Buddha, that's ordinary truth. When we meditate on ordinary truth objects we get no more than concentration [i.e., not wisdom, not enlightenment].
When you separate your mind from ordinary truth there will be ultimate truth: just seeing. Not seeing a Buddha image. Just seeing color. What is it that sees? Nama sees. Not "I am seeing." Rupa is the object of seeing. The act of seeing means that nama and rupa appear or make contact in the present moment, together, right now. Mindfulness can stay in the moment of rupa and nama; it can be aware of the bare phenomenon of seeing that arises when looking at [what is conventionally called] the Buddha image. That's the meaning of ultimate truth. Ultimate truth is the correct path, the path of wisdom, the eightfold path. It is the only way, the one way, to nibbana.
So think about how you can continue with ultimate truth, how you can keep going from moment-to-moment observing nama and rupa. If you can separate [nama and rupa from conventional reality] it is easy to practice anywhere, anytime. At home or in the forest or in the town. You can practice the right way or the right path anywhere, all right?
If you don't understand, if you cannot separate, then you mix it; sometimes insight meditation becomes tranquility practice. How can you get a result? You just feel peaceful or joyful sometimes when concentration goes deeper. But sometimes you go to insight. You feel that things are impermanent, you feel sad or afraid. You see impermanence, suffering or nonself sometimes, but you cannot continue by ultimate truth too long because you cannot maintain continuity. Sometimes it changes to tranquility, sometimes back to insight - back and forth like this. That's why the meditator should feel differently. Just keep going one way.
If you keep going by ordinary truth [as in concentration meditation] you will get a deeper and deeper feeling of peace and happiness from concentration until you enter a trance. But if you keep going only by ultimate truth [insight meditation], a certain kind of feeling should arise in you step-by-step, from the first until the sixteenth level of insight knowledge, until nibbana. That's why we need to separate the object exactly.
If you cannot separate, you just go back and forth; sometimes you label the object because you need more concentration. Technically, that means that you have a tranquility [concentration] object; but it's tranquility in insight, because you don't keep to one object like you do when concentrating on the Buddha image or a kasina or a mantra.
Then [in the latter cases] you have the same object always. That's pure tranquility. But when you keep labeling rising-falling, or sitting, or label wandering mind or an emotion that comes up, that's tranquility in insight meditation. Until you give up the mental note, then you'll be practicing pure insight. Now it's not really pure, I know; not really pure now. Until I interview you, then I will know who is pure [who is practicing pure insight]! Pure or not I will know, all right? [Laughter.] Do you have any more questions?
Meditator #1: Could you show us how to move the hands between postures for continuity?
[Bhikkhu Sopako demonstrates the hand movement and placement to be done between postures. This technique prevents loss of mindfulness during transitions.]
Interview with Meditators
Note: We have referred to Bhikkhu Sopako as "Achan" here, since that is how the meditators address him. "Achan" is a title meaning "teacher."
Achan: Marie, how is your practice?
Marie: I seem to be having some problems balancing energy and concentration. Because I have problems with restlessness - which would be low concentration? Then I seem to have periods where I'm drowsy. So is it a balance of energy and concentration that I'm having a problem with?
Achan: What do you mean, "balance of energy and concentration"?
Marie: Well I don't know, but that's what you were talking about last night. Restlessness is from too much energy?
Marie: I'm trying too hard, is that it?
Achan: Yes, yes. When you force energy too much, when concentration is not balanced, then wandering mind has a chance to go out, to think, because you force it. An easy example: if you take care of two or three children, if they are naughty, when you force them: "Stay there! Don't do that!" you make them react and fight with you more, right? They won't come to you. But if you just let them play, just watch to make sure they don't do anything dangerous, it makes them calm down. They play, and when they're tired they just stop by themselves.
Marie: It's hard to sit and watch restlessness without trying to get rid of it.
Achan: You don't have to try hard. When you have the present-moment object from rising-falling or from sitting or another object, don't worry about restlessness. You still feel restless but it does not bother you - it will not prevent mindfulness from continuing, all right? It cannot stop you from walking on the right path of mindfulness at all. So don't care about that.
Marie: Well, I seem to have mindfulness about it but I just need to probably not worry about it too much and just let it go.
Achan: Yes, let it go.
Marie: But that's the only problem I'm having.
Achan: That's all right. Like I always say, as long as mindfulness has an object to continue with, don't care about the other objects [that appear]. Like when you're moving both hands: if you focus on one hand - the right hand or the left, it doesn't matter - you shouldn't care about the other hand because you have an object, one object, already. Same thing: when walking, you have mindfulness to observe the step-by-step experience of walking, even though you are seeing sometimes or hearing a sound outside - but you don't care about those other objects. You don't feel worried or interested, you just keep going, keep walking. Even when you see something, your attention has not been lost [from the motion of the foot]. Okay; same thing. If you aren't interested, or if you don't pay attention to restlessness, there's no problem because mindfulness keeps going with walking, all right?
Marie: Just practice.
Achan: Yes, just practice, just keep going. Don't worry about something else on the side of your path. Like when you're traveling. While you are traveling, don't care about how beautiful the view is, or how dangerous some place is, or how good some city is. Just keep going according to your duty to continue. You will pass some place that has a beautiful view, or some dangerous place. Somewhere you'll have to climb a mountain, somewhere there'll be a bumpy road. It doesn't matter. Just drive the car on the middle way. Don't take the left lane, don't take the right lane. Middle way. Where is the end of the way? If you don't stop, if you don't take the exit on the right, if you don't care about looking around at both sides of the highway and don't park at the rest area too long - just stopping to go to the bathroom - [laughter] then it's not too far.
Marie: Thank you.
Achan: You're welcome. How about Katy?
Katy: Well, I'm having a few difficulties in the walking.
Achan: What difficulties?
Katy: It seems that in my mind I'm always ahead of the next movement already.
Achan: What step you do walk?
Katy: I do five.
Achan: Oh, you do five step. So when you do five, do you feel that mindfulness goes faster than the object?
Achan: You need to label the object, all right? Don't just do it. You have to go back to the label.
Katy: I do label. . .
Achan: You do label. When you label, mindfulness cannot slow down, right? [Laughs.] How do you label. . .
Katy: Um. . . do you want me to show you?
Katy: All right. I can do that. So I just say, "raising, lifting, forward, lowering and placing" and it seems that when I have my foot down I'm thinking already. . . it's going in my mind. . . it seems to go too fast. . .
Achan: Oh. That's all right. You just need more practice. It doesn't mean that mindfulness is faster than concentration. "You need more practice" means that you are acting from habit. When placing one foot, the other heel is up already. That's habit, experience in daily life from the time you were born and grew up until now. So, when you try to walk step-by-step, when you place one foot, the other heel goes up already, automatically. You just have to take time and practice more.
Katy: I understand.
Achan: Don't worry that you've lost mindfulness. When you realize, when you know that you're placing one foot and the other heel goes up, you haven't lost mindfulness. Mindfulness will still know this one, too, it's just that it can't control the habit only. How about sitting?
Katy: In the sitting I'm trying to give my mind a few little vacations and not get angry about it, and not really wanting for the mind to come back. . . I'm watching it more and not getting anxious about it. . . it feels better. I have some good sittings and some satisfactory sittings or what I consider okay. When the mind wanders I'm aware of it but I don't get excited about it. . .
Achan: How many steps of sitting are you doing?
Katy: I'm just doing rising and falling.
Achan: Need more. Add more steps to sitting, all right? Because, when you just have rising and falling, it's not enough work for mindfulness. It can give a chance for emotion to show off during sitting, right? Just like when you're not busy, when you don't have a job to do, some kind of emotion can happen in your mind in the moment. That's why you should provide more objects for mindfulness to continue with, to keep it busy. When the mind is busy there's no time to think about something else, all right? Just add one more step. Peter. How about you?
Peter: It seems to be ok. Sitting is changeable but clear, and I'm not trying too hard and uh . . . just rising-falling.
Achan: Do you know rising-falling automatically or do you have to concentrate to see it?
Peter: I have to bring myself back to it regularly, but when I've brought it back I don't have to struggle to attend to it. . .
Achan: That's correct. . . that's right. . . and how many steps do you do?
Peter: Rising-falling, just two. . .
Achan: And you don't label the word?
Achan: And how long do you sit - forty minutes? [Peter nods.] You sit forty minutes. How often do you lose mindfulness? How many times have you lost mindfulness in forty minutes?
Peter: I haven't stop to count [laughter]. . .
Achan: [Laughing] it doesn't matter to count. Just estimate about how often. . . more than twenty times or something like that, or less. . .
Peter: It depends on the sitting. . . I just keep not answering your question. . . [laughter] sometimes ten times. . .
Achan: Do you feel that sometimes it hasn't been lost at all? Have you had an experience like this or not? That you don't lose it at all?
Peter: Yeah sometimes, but not for forty minutes. . . I have always lost mindfulness, you can trust me on this. . .
Unidentified voice: He always loses it at least once. [Laughter.]
Peter: But sometimes I'm not always attending to rising and falling but I'm also mindful of noise and emotion and even, sort of, second order kind of objects. . .
Achan: Yes. That's not the meaning of losing mindfulness. I ask how you feel, how often or how many times you have lost mindfulness when sitting forty or forty-five minutes. Even when wandering mind appears, when you know it, you can continue or focus and forget it. Even when some noise comes up and you know it, you can focus on it. You can focus on noise or emotion. When you "lose" mindfulness you know. That means it isn't lost. You haven't lost mindfulness. If you sit for forty minutes and you have an object all the time, right, even if you fall asleep sometimes, you wake up and you know; you keep going, you continue; that means you have not lost mindfulness. Losing mindfulness means that you feel you do not have an object to keep going. You give a gap too long until you think, "I don't know what objects appeared or when I lost track, when I lost mindfulness." After you lose mindfulness you "wake up" and wonder, "How can I return to rising-falling? What should I begin with?" Or something like that. You feel confused. You've lost the way, lost the moment, all right? Is that clear or not?
Peter: I think I know what it means.
Achan: Yeah, sometimes that has to happen to you. That's the meaning of "lost." Sometimes it's like you fall asleep, but you don't really. But rising-falling is very subtle, very deep until you cannot see rising-falling and you stay for awhile and wake up and you are surprised yourself about what's wrong, what happened, why you didn't continue observing. That's the meaning of lost. You cannot find out the object from moment-to-moment. Even the object is sometimes lost. Sometimes it cannot be seen.
Peter: I don't think it's been too subtle. Never been that deep.
Achan: I just gave an example. Someone has the experience, when their concentration is stronger than mindfulness, that it's easy to be lost. If you have mindfulness always, then it isn't lost. Even if wandering mind or some other object comes, it is the duty of mindfulness to know and focus on it. That doesn't mean that you've lost mindfulness. Anything else? Oh, walking?
Peter: Four steps. Goes well.
Achan: Very well, right? And you label the word?
Peter: No I'm not labeling. No - just once in awhile, very, very lightly.
Achan: You have to go to five step; that's all right.
Peter: I think I cheated a bit last time and I was doing five steps a little bit last walking.
Achan: You can go up; you can decide by yourself. That's not wrong. [Laughter.] It doesn't matter to get permission from the teacher or wait for the teacher to give it to you. Because you have the duty to practice. If you can continue with the next level you can go up. But if you go up and lose mindfulness often then you can go back to four or three step. It doesn't matter. Just practicing.
Peter: If mindfulness feels a little weak then go back to two or three?
Achan: Yes. Go back to two or three step and so change the object. Or try standing or doing the hand motions. There are many ways to use skillful means to make mindfulness awake or strong. When it's weak it's like a child who's gotten tired of a toy. When it plays too long it's tired or bored, so you have to change to something new to make it happy or active or bring a strong feeling back again. Something like that, right? It's the same with mindfulness. When you keep going with the same object too long it makes it weak and tired. Mindfulness wants to stop; but when you change the object a little bit it makes it strong again.
Peter: If energy is lacking, if energy is low, you use initial and applied thought, investigation? When energy is low what are skillful means for helping to continue?
Achan: When energy is low right? You should stay on one object and use labeling. Try to make concentration stronger because it can help energy to become strong again.
Peter: When you label?
Achan: Yeah, when you label. If you're walking four or five step go back to three or two step with the label. Or just do rising-falling. Go back to the beginning to have concentration first. After that, energy will come. Anything else?
Peter: Thank you.
Achan: All right; Ron.
Ron: I was just very restless earlier during the day, lost in a lot of thought. And after lunch I sat for a longer period of time and, like Peter, I didn't stay with the breath. I don't stay with the rise and fall very long . . . but it's more interesting when other things happened like sound or thought . . . and I follow what's happening there but I get lost most of the time . . . I come back to the breath eventually but I find that the secondary objects are much easier.
Achan: That's all right. If you know there is restlessness or if you know the mind is wandering to see some object outside and can come back, back and forth, that's all right.
Ron: The breath isn't really clear.
Achan: That means you need concentration. When mindfulness cannot stay in the moment-to-moment with the breath, you can get many, many objects around you. But if concentration is strong it works with mindfulness to make the object very clear. And if you go back to the breath, that will be very clear, too. When mindfulness observes some object outside [such as a sound, sight, etc.] and then goes back to the main object [rising-falling, posture, movement of the foot, and so on], if it's not quite clear, that means that concentration is not quite balanced yet. If it's balanced, then it will be equally clear whether you're observing an object outside or rising-falling. That's to test how concentration can work with mindfulness or balance with mindfulness or not. You have to know - when you jump to this object to that object or that moment [i.e., jumping from one "outside" object to another] until nothing else appears and you go back to here [rising-falling], if it's not quite clear, then that means you have to practice more. You need more time to continue and it will adjust or balance after that. All right. That's good. Lisa.
Lisa: Very good, Achan. You're getting better [referring to his pronunciation]. Since I talked to you yesterday and had some instruction from you, my mindfulness on the rising-falling of the abdomen is much easier, not so difficult. And I'm not fighting with myself, not giving myself mental slaps for going away. I'm being easier on myself. The walking: I'm doing four steps and labeling each step. And sometimes I feel that I want to add another step. So I think I need to go to one more step next time I walk. . .
Achan: Now you walk four step, right?
Unidentified voice: She keeps wanting to put in "intending" before the step. . .
Achan: That's uh. . . just greed! [laughter.]
Lisa: That's me. . . wanting, wanting, wanting. . .
Achan: Desire. Don't follow it, don't follow desire, don't follow greed, all right? Because greed never stops. It never fills up. That's why - if the body needs food, we have to eat. But if the mind is hungry - don't eat, because the mind is never full. It's the same thing. You want to get more steps, want to get something more, want to be successful or something like that. That's desire. Don't follow it. Don't listen. Don't want, don't need that. If you keep practicing four steps and it's very clear, if you can make it clear, not just if you can focus, but have to see clearly about arising and passing away, to see that each step is impermanence, suffering or nonself. . . if you can make it more clear until you feel bored sometimes, or afraid or sad or happy with seeing clearly, that's correct. . . that will mean very sharp knowledge with the moment-to-moment experience of each step. Even if someone keeps practicing two or three step, if he can see the truth of impermanence, suffering and nonself clearly, then it's not important to go up to four or five or six step because the mind is balanced with knowledge. Something like that. I mean, you don't have to need more. Just practice until what you're doing is clear from the level you're at until you can end doubt in your mind. "Oh, I see that! Oh, I don't feel confused!" Or, "I don't have doubt anymore from the truth I see now." Something like that. If you don't see clearly, you'll still have doubt in your mind. You want to see the next step, to find out if it is the same as this step or not. You want to see something else, to see if it is different or the same. That means doubt, you see? [If one could see the present experience clearly, one would have no desire to see anything further. There would be no need for clarification.] Try to practice on the level you are at now, from moment-to-moment, until you see clearly, until you make sure about that level first. After that I will know how to give you more objects, all right? Anything else? That's good, that's good. Just keep going. Don't care about five step or six step. Enlightenment doesn't come from five or six step! It comes from seeing clearly. You'll destroy doubt in your mind only by doing it correctly. The step-by-step technique is just for practicing, for balancing for someone. If a meditator is up and down, if energy, concentration and mindfulness are not balanced, then the person should practice the step-by-step technique, back and forth. If someone is balanced enough, he can just keep focusing in the moment. It doesn't matter how many steps. No big deal, all right? Not a big deal about that. That's why, just try to keep going or continue. Ok . . . Elaine - sleepy always! [Laughs.]
Elaine: Well, I feel the walking is going well. I'm doing five steps. And I can be quite focused on that and I haven't been labeling. But when I come to sit it isn't clear, it isn't focused and . . . I don't feel that I'm concentrated. I'm doing the rising-falling and sitting and I'm having to find that I have to label that just to keep awake. Otherwise even if I stray a little bit I'm nodding off and I'm sleeping or sleepy. . . Well it's quite a struggle and that's what I find so strange. The walking can be quite clear but the sitting is just the opposite. So I was doing more walking because I thought that maybe that would carry over into my sitting but it doesn't seem to matter.
Achan: You say the sitting is not quite clear. . .
Elaine: Well, I guess I'm comparing it to the way it is sometimes when you're quite concentrated on your breathing and your mind doesn't wander very much and you don't even have to label the breathing, it's just there, and your mind's just watching it and it doesn't seem to be very difficult. Whereas, today it just isn't as concentrated or I'm just not. . . it's a struggle to be watching your breath and watching it closely. . . is it okay the way it is or is there something I should be doing to make the sitting more concentrated? I feel like I'm sleepy.
Achan: You're asking whether, when you feel sleepy, you need to set up more concentration? Sure. Try to go back to label the object with mental notes or try to wake mindfulness up. Mindfulness needs support to focus on sleepiness. Have to put energy to do and have to label the word to make concentration and energy stronger. That can help mindfulness focus on sleepiness. If mindfulness isn't strong enough, you have to change position, have to walk. You don't have to stay in the group, all right? In case mindfulness cannot focus on the object "sleepiness," or isn't strong enough to stay with the object, not just sleepiness - wandering mind or some strong emotion - if these are stronger than mindfulness, you don't need to stay in the same posture. You don't need to stay with one posture or one object; you have to change to another object. You have to walk; if that doesn't help, if you're still drowsy, you can try to walk faster. Use clear comprehension to observe while you walk faster. After that you can return to the moment-to-moment technique. That's all right. But even when the object is stronger than mindfulness, mindfulness is still there, it's not totally lost; it just cannot keep observing from moment-to-moment.