When Do You See?
By Ven. Sopako Bodhi Bhikkhu
Calgary Talk #1
This talk contains references to specific meditation exercises. See How to Meditate for a detailed explanation of the techniques. The Pali word 'nama' means mind or mental phenomena. The word 'rupa' means material phenomena. It can also mean something known by the mind, as opposed to the mind itself.
Recorded in Calgary, Canada, 1988. The comments in brackets are the editor's.
In insight meditation, or vipassana, you have to observe a complete object in the present moment. What do I mean by, "complete in the present moment right now"? Take the example of seeing. Don't pay attention to the name of the object you're looking at. Give up the name. Just see color.
Now, where do you see it? When do you see it? When color makes contact with the eye - that's when you see. At that moment. [Striking a match] Like this match. It contacts the strip on the box, right? The strip is like the eye. The match is like a visible form coming to make contact. Then fire appears. Where does it come from? Is it in the match or in the strip? We can't tell. But when they come into contact, fire arises.
Same thing: when a visible form contacts the eye, the consciousness of seeing happens at that time, at that moment. Why do we see at that moment? Because several conditions come together. One, color or visible form. Two, a functioning eye. We have good eyesight. We're not blind. Three, light. If it's dark we can't see, even if we have good eyesight. And four, there is consciousness to see.
If there's good eyesight, light and visible form, but not consciousness - for instance, if someone is dying but his physical eyes are still good - then seeing can't happen. We know that the physical eyes of a dying person can still be functional because sometimes, after the person dies, the hospital gives those organs to another patient. But during the last few moments of life the dying person cannot see [because sense-consciousness is very weak at that time].
If you only observe what's going on in the present moment, you'll have to arrive at the truth. You'll have to understand more and more clearly what the truth of life is. Because the truth doesn't change. It's like fire, right? Fire doesn't change. For two, three or five million years, fire has been hot. Now fire is still hot. Whoever touches fire knows that. Fire will still be hot in the future, too.
The truth of rupa (matter) and nama (mind) or ultimate truth is like that, too. It never changes. It's always the truth. So try to practice until you can understand it. If you can understand it, your life will be special. You'll get real benefit from your life. You were reborn in this life to get benefit from being a human being, because you have a chance to understand the truth.
Well, that's enough about seeing. Now you just have to practice. There's no rush, no hurry. You have to take time to make fire from dry bamboo! [Referring to the practice of generating fire from the friction of two dry sticks.]
[Here Ven. Sopako is referred to as 'Achan,' which means 'teacher.']
Achan: If you don't have a question, you can pass. Just say you don't have a question. That's all right. But if someone has a question, I will answer, okay?
Student 1: I have two questions.
Achan: All right.
Student 1: When you're doing the hand motions exercise [see "How to Meditate"], does it matter that you do one hand or two, or should you alternate from one to the other?
Achan: It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter whether you do two hands or one [but only move one hand at a time]. But if you just do one hand and don't alternate, how will you know whether mindfulness is balanced or not? Sometimes the movement of one hand is clear, but when you change to the other hand, mindfulness is unbalanced or weak. That's why you should try to do both.
Student 1: My other question is, in the 'sitting-touching' exercise [see "How to Meditate"], when you observe the touching point after sitting, does it matter where you touch, and should you touch the same spot each time?
Achan: It doesn't matter exactly where you observe touching. But just stay with one spot until you have experience touching that point. Don't move around yet. After that you can move to another point, when mindfulness is stronger.
Student 1: Should the touching point be a place you can feel?
Achan: For a beginner it's important to use a point where you can feel contact, like your seat touching the floor. For an advanced Student it doesn't matter. Even thinking about touching the shoulder or some other point will be the same. When you add a point, it's just to add more work for mindfulness. But you should stay on one point first, until you can move to another one to test mindfulness.
It's like an examination for mindfulness and momentary concentration to see if they can focus on different points or not. The touching points don't have any meaning beyond that. But one point is enough to reach the moment of rupa and nama [i.e., to experience the moment when the mind makes contact with an object] and to see arising and passing away. That's success already. When you move to many points, it's just for testing if momentary concentration is strong enough to work with mindfulness. All right?
Student 1: Thank you.
Student 2: I have to go back to the earlier question. When we were sitting or standing, you said we should find some kind of a focus. When you're in the standing posture or sitting posture, you use one point and observe that point to know the posture. Do you visualize your whole form or do you just use the point?
Achan: Just use the point. When you put your hands in front of you [when standing with the hands clasped] like this, just focus on your hands. It's the same with sitting also. Just focus on one hand, right or left, it doesn't matter. Or just focus on the contact. Focus on a point that is clear or easy to focus on, a point where you feel comfortable.
It's like taking a picture. [Laughing] Did someone bring a camera? When you take a picture you focus on one part of the scene, like this candle for example. If you don't focus, the picture will be blurry or you'll get two images - two candles. Then you adjust the images until they become one. That's correct. But even though you only focus on one spot, the rest of the picture comes out clear. It's the same with meditating on posture. When you focus on the body's posture, just focus on one point to make it clear. It just depends on where you want to make the point.
Student 2: All right. Thank you.
Student 3: I have a big question. If emotions are separate from self - or from nonself - why are wholesome emotions important to actually develop? If emotions are nonself, then why is it important to develop wholesome emotions?
Achan: Everything is nonself, all right. Even consciousness - it's nonself, too. Consciousness is nonself, unwholesome emotions are nonself, and wholesome emotions like loving-kindness are nonself. But you're asking, why do we have to work to develop wholesome emotions or have wholesome actions? The answer is: in order to eliminate the unwholesome factors or to balance the unwholesome.
Right now, the unwholesome side of the mind is stronger than the wholesome. Greed, hatred and delusion are stronger than mindfulness, wisdom, and loving-kindness - stronger than the wholesome states of mind. So we need to use nonself to eliminate or dilute or destroy what is nonself. When a snake bites you, have to bring - what's the word? - an antidote. The doctors give you a shot so the bite does not hurt you anymore. It's the same thing. We have to use nonself to eliminate nonself. Another example. When you have coffee that is too strong or too sweet, you pour some hot water in to dilute it. You pour the water into the cup and it makes the caffeine and sugar less and less. But once you've poured it in, you can't separate the water from the caffeine and sugar. The coffee and sugar are liquid, too.
You've already diluted the coffee, but what happens if you still pour more water? Maybe you don't want any more caffeine or sugar in there. You pour more water to the top of the cup. Then you pour more water again to fill the cup again. You keep doing that. You taste it. Now the 'coffee' tastes just like pure water. The question is, where have the sugar and coffee gone? Nobody can find out, right? Nobody can find out where they've gone. They're still there, but the amount of water is greater. But now, mindfulness, loving kindness, and other wholesome mental factors are present in the mind, but the unwholesome emotions and hindrances are stronger than them. That's why they have power to control every moment of consciousness in daily life. Sometimes the mind wanders out because it's controlled by greed or desire, sometimes by hatred, or sometimes it wanders around following ignorance. When we stay here in this meditation retreat we use mindfulness to eliminate these things. We use mindfulness so that greed, hatred and delusion can't control the mind anymore.
When mindfulness can't control the mind directly, can't stop wandering mind directly, we can use some technique such as the hand motions exercise. We give it some object to pay attention to. We give the mind work to do, something to focus on. That's skillful means. There's no rush, no hurry. Just slow down. Slow the mind down. That's the secret to taming the mind. Before that, consciousness went to the unwholesome side very fast because greed, hatred and delusion told it, "You have to go there." You went there. "You have to get something for me over there." You did it. They controlled you. They made the mind obey them very fast. But now we don't let them order the mind. Instead, we let mindfulness order the mind to stay here. You move your hand, raising it up or down. Or you follow the movement of the abdomen as you breathe, or the movement of the feet in walking meditation.
Student 4: Do we wish to completely eliminate labeling [labeling objects with mental notes], eventually?
Achan: In the beginning, meditators label the word or use a mental note. They are using concentration to support mindfulness. You have to pay attention to concentrate on the object. But you can't really eliminate greed, hatred and delusion yet - not until you feel that you no longer need to say the mental note. Then you don't have to focus deliberately or use concentration to stay with the object, because knowing or seeing happens by itself. Mindfulness becomes automatic. At that time, insight or wisdom will eliminate the defilements.
When you label the object, you bring concentration to do the work. Concentration is in charge. But it can't eliminate greed, hatred and delusion. When you label the object with a mental note, concentration is in charge. Concentration is doing it, is observing the object.
When you give up labeling the object, knowledge or wisdom is in charge. In the beginning it's important to label the object because you need momentary concentration to support mindfulness so it can stay in the present from moment to moment. So it can jump from this moment to that moment. After that, you can give up using the label. All right?
Student 4: Thank you.
Student 5: I have two questions. The first is, this morning you told us to see rising and falling and then standing [see "How to Meditate."]. And I find often I don't have - I sort of don't have time in there before the next breath comes in to label rising and falling. I can get the label in but then I find what I'm doing is I'm going on to the next thing . . . When I stop to really know I'm standing, I've already started my next breath.
Student 1: When he's standing, he observes, "rising, falling, standing." But by the time he gets to 'standing,' already he's breathing again; so maybe he's already falling. [Laughter.] So he doesn't have time to get all of it in without hurrying.
Achan: If you can't fit in the standing, you have to hold the breath a little bit. Don't let it go by itself, automatically. Because we have to use intention first, just like with the hand motions exercise. We have to move deliberately first until mindfulness is strong enough. After that we can move naturally and still be mindful. But when we're still training, we have to use the technique. So you have to hold the breath a little bit until you observe standing for a couple of seconds first. After that, breathe in and breathe out.
Student 5: My other question is, after lunch I lay down and tried to sleep for five minutes mindfully. Three times I'd sleep for five minutes and realize I was completely deluded while I was sleeping. I was dreaming. When you are sleeping can you have mindfulness?
Achan: Usually when sleeping you can't be mindful. If you have mindfulness you won't dream. If you dream, that means you don't have mindfulness. Also, how come you dream right away, after only sleeping five minutes? Because delusion is waiting for you to lose mindfulness! Like a thief waiting outside your house to steal something. When the owner falls asleep the thief comes in right away. He jumps out. The same thing happens if you dream after only sleeping five minutes. When you fall asleep, mindfulness is lost. That means delusion or the dream state of mind can grow. It knows when you've lost mindfulness, so it comes up right away.
Student 6: I don't have any questions, thank you.
Achan: If you don't have a question, how about I ask you one? [Laughter.] Usually in an interview I have to ask you, not the other way around.
Student 6: Okay [laughter].
Achan: When you focus on rising-falling-sitting-touching [see "How to Meditate"], what is different between those four objects? Are they different or the same?
Student 6: Each one is different, actually.
Achan: Oh, okay. Each one is different. What is the same?
Student 6: I suppose at first when I was doing the sitting and touching I found that I too had to rush to get from the rising-falling and then quickly do sitting-touching and back to the rising again before my next breath. And that was one thing that was different, because my focus was still on the rising and falling. But gradually, late this morning, or maybe this afternoon, I was able to balance it out more so that the breath became shallower and the focus seemed to be equal on the rising, falling, sitting and touching. It seemed to have more continuity, more balance. It seemed to fit in better.
Achan: That's true. That's good. That's correct. When it's imbalanced the time will be different - maybe rising and falling will be longer than sitting and touching. When it is balanced, they'll be the same length of time. When it's balanced, smooth or equal, which one of the four is clearer or which one do you see arising and passing away more clearly?
Student 6: Actually, now I do have a question! [Laughter.] I was wondering that this morning. I was wondering which comes first, because as I was saying the rising and falling seemed to be more prominent and it seemed to take a bit of effort to adjust that. Now, is it mindfulness that is adjusting your knowing - that is adjusting the object? And then this afternoon, everything seemed to balance. So what is it - why did it do that? Did it take the mindfulness to slowly adjust and balance the rupa or does the rupa balance itself eventually?
Achan: Mindfulness has to adjust rupa or adjust the object. That's why I say that sometimes when mindfulness is not strong enough it can't adjust the object. Then you have to take care of mindfulness as if it were a baby, right? You have to feed the baby until it grows strong enough. Then it will take care itself. Now, when mindfulness is not strong or not balanced enough, we have to adjust the object for mindfulness. For example, we have to hold the breath a little bit. Something like that. We make adjustments for mindfulness. When mindfulness becomes strong enough to balance with concentration, it will adjust automatically.
Student 7: I know this is out of turn, but a question has arisen because I found I did something different. I didn't adjust my breath. What I did - and I don't know, maybe I did it wrong - is I thought about it [the sitting and touching] just as any other awareness and I tried to shift my awareness. I knew the breath was still going but I kind of let go of that thought and moved to sitting. Kind of like you know there's a sound in the background. But instead of adjusting my breath I just let it go to the back of my mind. I don't know if that is right?
Student 1: I did the same thing. And I did the same thing with standing. I knew rising and falling was occurring again, but I just put my attention on to standing.
Student 7: I tried to adjust but I felt I was controlling rather than watching.
Achan: Yes, you have to use a little control at first . . .
Student 7: [Laughing] I didn't like that.
Achan: I know [Laughing]. But as I said, you have to make a deliberate object first, until mindfulness is balanced or strong enough. Then mindfulness will adjust itself. It's the same thing when you walk six-step, right? [Referring to a meditation exercise in which each step consists of six individual movements.] After mindfulness has enough experience walking that way using momentary concentration, you can walk normally, just slower.
Then how slow or fast you walk depends on mindfulness. If you're moving too fast, mindfulness will 'tell' you to slow down. If too slow, mindfulness will adjust to make you go faster. You don't just walk six-step all the time, forever. When you've trained enough you can give up that exercise. Then you allow mindfulness to adjust things by itself. That time you can get benefit because mindfulness will eliminate the defilements in your mind.
When you're training now, you can't eliminate greed, hatred and delusion yet - not until mindfulness becomes steady and can adjust things by itself. Mindfulness has two duties: one, to know the object in the present moment; two, to destroy greed, hatred and delusion in the mind from moment to moment. But these two aren't really separate. When you mindfully observe what's going on in the present, from moment to moment, the defilements can't catch the object [of your awareness]. That's the same as mindfulness destroying them.
There's just one action, seeing the truth. But whenever mindfulness does that, it dilutes the defilements at the same time. By the language there are two things happening. By the truth, it's only one. When you keep observing in the present moment the defilements can't follow, can't cling to anything. [Turning to next Student] How are you?
Student 8: A lot of sleepiness.
Achan: Can you focus on rising and falling?
Student 8: Just sitting-touching. There doesn't seem to be enough for mindfulness [there aren't enough objects for mindfulness to focus on]. The mind is off doing things.
Achan: You need more concentration. That's why you have to label the object with a mental note. Do you label or not?
Student 8: When I'm awake. [Laughter.]
Achan: [Laughing] Sure, when you're asleep how can you label the object? But I prefer you to observe rising and falling. Can you do that?
Student 8: It's too much control. I can't breathe. When I pay attention to the breath it gets so controlled I can't breathe any more.
Achan: That's why I need to give you instruction separately. You have to interview with me in private. Yesterday I asked you, "How come you can breathe in front of me now? It's not very hard. You're not nervous." Now you can breathe. How come, when you focus on the breath, you can't breathe? It's just mental.
Student 8: Yes. But that's how it is right now.
Achan: In a case like this, you should work with the teacher. You have to allow the leader to help. Not just doing it by yourself, I know. I can help so that while you breathe in and breathe out you can observe the abdomen rising and falling. If you just observe sitting and touching - that object is too difficult for mindfulness to catch in the beginning. That gives the mind a chance to wander a lot. That's why you say, "not enough for mindfulness." Not enough things to observe to make your mind quiet or less restless or stop it from wandering out.
As long as I'm still here, if you can do rising-falling, then add sitting after that, you'll have less and less wandering mind. The sitting and touching objects are very deep. Mindfulness can't catch them, can't stay with a deeper level of the object. But rising and falling is easy because you can feel the movement of the stomach when it expands and falls back.
If you can't feel the sensation of the stomach moving as you breathe, you can put your hand on your abdomen like this. [Achan puts hand on stomach.] If you can't feel the movement with your hand when you breathe in, you have to know the sensation here. There are many ways to try to catch the present moment first. That's all right - I will give you instruction in the afternoon, okay?
Student 8: Thank you.
Achan: [Turning to next Student] What do you have?
Student 9: What do I have? Big problems! [Laughter.]
Achan: Sleepiness or what?
Student 9: If the concentration isn't strong, if the concentration is weak on the mindfulness of rising-falling, should you direct your attention to the rise and fall, perhaps to the point where you are controlling the breath? You want something, and so you're controlling the breath. You're not just letting it happen on its own. Am I to understand that it's okay to do that, to control the breath until mindfulness is stronger?
Achan: Not when just doing rising-falling by itself. Then you shouldn't try to control the breath. Only when you are doing 'rising-falling' together with 'sitting and touching.' Then if you can't fit sitting and touching in before breathing in again, you should wait or hold the breath for a second or should control it a little bit.
You're waiting for concentration and mindfulness to become strong or balanced enough to adjust the object, to make all four of them equal. You haven't been practicing long enough to be able to adjust that yet. As you practice more, it will become balanced or equal. You have to take time to adjust or balance.
Student 9: The mindfulness isn't always strong. So when it changes, when mindfulness is weak, then does the Student need to do the job? When mindfulness becomes weak, is it your duty as a meditator to change that? Should you be making effort to change mindfulness to make it stronger?
Achan: Sometimes. It depends on why it's weak. If you know that mindfulness is weak because you've stayed too long on one object, then you have to change to another position or change the object. But if mindfulness is weak because it can't handle the job of observing, in that case you don't do anything to change it. Just keep trying, keep practicing and wait for it to become strong enough.
Student 1: I just wanted to say something about controlling the breath. Everybody's concerned about the fact that that's control, but I think what Achan is saying is, when you know it's control, you're doing something with knowledge anyway, so it doesn't matter. At a point in time you will just know what's going on. It's when you do things with no knowledge associated with what we're doing, yet our defilements are still controlling it. But there are some things we need to take right effort towards. And changing mindfulness when it's weak constitutes right effort.
Achan: Yes, that's true. Thank you. But again, we don't always try to change mindfulness when it's weak. It depends on what the reason is. [Turning to next Student.] How are you today?
Student 10: I'm having no difficulty with the focusing. That's fine and the walking is fine and the sitting is fine. But there are times when I seem to be very sleepy and it's like somebody shook up the water because the defilements are quite strong.
Achan: During sitting and walking?
Student 10: Walking is fine and standing is fine. It's when I'm sitting that I have the problem with the defilements and the sleepiness. Not all the time. It just seems to come and then mindfulness returns but I have no trouble, when I'm mindful, with the focusing. It's just I have trouble. . . when I'm sleepy. . .
Achan: It doesn't matter how much sleepiness you have. Let mindfulness focus on sleepiness until you can't have mindfulness anymore because the sleepiness is stronger. If you fall asleep, that's all right. Let the sleepiness be there until you're able to know it or have mindfulness again. When you have mindfulness again, just continue from that moment. Begin again from that moment - in that case, the sleepiness hasn't interrupted your continuity.
Student 10: Well, that's what I've been doing. But I'd just like to eliminate the sleepiness.
Achan: You have to take time. Because sleepiness makes your energy weak. It makes consciousness weak. That's why mindfulness can't stay at the level. Wait until you have more concentration. Having stronger concentration will help to eliminate sleepiness. But you haven't had time yet. You haven't practiced long enough to make concentration strong enough to eliminate sleepiness yet. It's the duty of concentration, not mindfulness, to eliminate the five hindrances: lust, anger, sleepiness, restlessness and doubt. But you have to take time to set up concentration first.
Student 10: So I need more concentration.
Achan: You need more, but it's not necessary to practice a concentration technique directly. When you know that sleepiness is happening, just have the attitude, "All right, let the hindrances arise. I don't care." Try to keep observing with mindfulness, keep going with the objects of mindfulness, as much as you can. Don't care about sleepiness, or wandering mind, or anger. When you feel angry, just be aware. Focus and forget it. Just keep going that way.
Student 10: I have another question. Could you explain to me the difference between when you say to use clear comprehension and use mindfulness? What is clear comprehension?
Achan: Clear comprehension and momentary concentration are two different factors that support mindfulness. Clear comprehension is like this. Right now, can you just move your hand like this? [Achan demonstrates. The Student moves her hand.] Move your hand up, then down. And move your hand up again, and down. Now, as you were moving, you knew it, right? You were aware of the movement. That is clear comprehension working with mindfulness.
But now move your hand this way. [Achan demonstrating]. When you concentrate more deliberately and break the movement into steps, stopping between each step, you can clearly see the whole movement from beginning to end. That means that concentration is helping mindfulness.
It's the same when we do the six-step walking exercise, or the four-step sitting exercise [i.e., the "rising-falling-sitting-touching" exercise], or the hand motions exercise. In all of these we use concentration to support mindfulness. When you have enough concentration you can stop labeling the object with a mental note. Then you can walk more normally when practicing. You can move naturally. At that time you're using clear comprehension to support mindfulness. But first you have to get experience using momentary concentration to support mindfulness. After that you can give up the step-by-step technique.
The Satipatthana Sutta [Discourse on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness] says to observe the 'body in the body' with 'atapi,' 'satima' and 'sampajanno.' 'With atapi' means with right effort or right energy. Satima means to have mindfulness. Sampajanno means to have clear comprehension. These three qualities can eliminate or destroy greed and hatred right away, that moment.
That means to practice without labeling the object, without using the step-by-step technique. Just doing it with effort, mindfulness and clear comprehension. Then you'll eliminate greed and hatred right away. Delusion won't happen because mindfulness automatically prevents delusion from arising. When you're able to give up labeling the object, when you can give up the step-by-step technique and still observe the objects appearing before you, without a break, you'll know by yourself that mindfulness is steady. You'll feel it. You'll be able to focus right away without trying, without using intention to focus. At that time you're using clear comprehension to support mindfulness, not momentary concentration.
Student 10: Thank you.
Achan: You're welcome. [Turning to next Student] How are you?
Student 11: This morning I became very aware of impermanence for quite awhile. And that was okay. But after awhile I started feeling very sad. So I tried not to pay attention to that too much and focus on the walking. But sadness was still very strongly in the background. And I was very aware of impermanence too. So it was like there were too many balls in the air, and I wasn't sure what to pay attention to.
Achan: Just pay attention to impermanence more than sadness, more than what is in the background. Sadness comes from what you are seeing. When you see clearly you have to have a feeling, like sadness, or sorrow, or emptiness. Or sometimes you can feel happy, too. "Wow, now I'm seeing the truth," or something like that. Many kinds of feelings can arise from seeing clearly. So just be aware and keep going with observing impermanence, all right?
Student 11: Sadness kept getting in the way.
Achan: Sometimes it will get in the way, but sometimes it will be in the background - that's all right. Until you can pass that level. Until you can get the next level of knowledge. Now it's like you're driving a car to Edmonton. You have to pass the Rocky Mountains. You can see both sides of the highway. In some places it's dangerous, in others there's a beautiful view. I don't know . . . I've never driven to Edmonton! [Laughter.] Maybe that's a bad example. It's the same thing when you practice at the level you're at now. As you keep going you still see both sides of the way. When you haven't passed those things, you still have good and bad scenery along the way.
Student 11: Except it was a little bit like driving underwater for awhile. [Laughter.]
Achan: Yes, that's right. Anything else? That's good you can keep going, all right? Until you really make sure for yourself that everything is impermanent. When you see impermanence clearly in the present, right now, very clearly with one moment, you'll understand that all the moments in the past were the same way. They were just as impermanent. And any moments that come in the future will be impermanent, too, just like the present moment right now.
Then you won't be able to attach too much with the moments from the past or cling too much to something you're expecting in the future. When you see that, your mind will calm down. Usually, people always cling to something in the past, or else they think about something in the future. That makes them very heavy because they carry both. They carry an empty thing from the past and an empty thing from the future! They always carry them. That makes them heavy.
When you understand the truth that everything from the past is gone already, and that whatever happens in the future will be gone, too, you'll see that all of it is impermanent, just occurring from moment to moment only. Nothing is permanent at all. Then it's like you drop something that you've been carrying for a long time. You feel, "Wow, now my life is very light." When you give up or let go of something you carry in your mind, you'll see the truth and your life will become lighter.
Student 11: Thank you.
Student 12: There's one thing I wanted to ask. When I was doing sitting-touching, particularly on the touching - unless it was delusion - I became aware that it was nama touching rupa. It was like my mind, the nama, was touching the body. Is that right or is that delusion?
Achan: That's right. It's just mental touching or nama touching the object. That's right. Sometimes nama makes an object, makes a rupa. Sometime rupa makes an object for nama. They work together. When a sound comes up, for example, that's rupa making nama arise.
Student 12: I was aware that they were very separate.
Achan: Yes, that's right.
Student 12: And that's all there was. That's all. It was just nama and rupa.
Achan: Yes, just nama and rupa. But we need to see them as they arise together or make contact in the present moment to make a complete object for mindfulness.
Student 12: Yes, yes.
Achan: For example, in the sitting and touching exercise, the mind 'makes' an object. How? The mind puts its attention on a certain spot on the body [the touching-point] for mindfulness to focus on. You just focus and forget it. After you 'forget it,' the object is no longer there, because the mind isn't 'making' it anymore. The mind isn't focusing on it.
It doesn't matter how the sitting posture or the touch-point appears to you or what it looks like. It doesn't matter. Because the mind just focuses there, just makes an object for mindfulness at that moment. When the mind focuses, the object arises in the present. If nama [mind] doesn't 'make' the object in the present moment like that, by focusing on it, then we can't use the posture as an object for mindfulness.
We've been sitting here a long time, more than an hour. How can the sitting posture be 'in the present moment'? The mind has to make it an object of awareness by focusing in the present, knowing, "sitting, sitting, sitting," one moment after the next. In that case, sitting becomes an object in the present moment, now.
It's the same thing with touching. The mind makes a touching point into the object of mindfulness right now, in the present moment. Mindfulness focuses on that point and then forgets it. If you don't forget it, if you describe it further: "the point feels like this, it's a good or bad sensation," and so on, that's too long.
Description is not the duty of mindfulness. It's the duty of perception, of mental formations, to know whether the touching point is good or bad or feels smooth or hard or not. That's too much. It makes liking and disliking arise afterwards.
Student 12: When that happens, what should you do? For example, this morning when I was walking I was very aware of my foot touching the carpet. And that became something very noticeable. So as I was touching I was also noting the carpet. That, presumably, is pulling some perception into it that is unnecessary. What do I do?
Achan: Even physical touching - just pay attention to knowing or feeling the touch of the carpet. Don't describe whether it's soft, or hard, or good, or bad. When you just know the touch, when you're just aware of the feeling of touching the carpet or something, that's already enough. Forget it. If you don't forget it, then mental formations will come in to describe how the carpet looks, or how it feels to touch it. That makes liking and disliking arise. That's not correct.
We try to give up liking and disliking with touching, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling and thinking. If you still focus on the object until liking and disliking arise, you don't have mindfulness at all. You're staying on the object too long.
For example, if you look at the Buddha statue until you think, "This statue must come from Thailand because it looks like the Thai style," that's too much. Just seeing the object is enough. You don't need to describe it at all. It doesn't matter what kind of shape the Buddha statue has, or where it comes from. That's true no matter what object you're observing. If you describe the object, you'll make liking and disliking happen. That means you're staying with the object too long, all right?
Student 12: So, when that happens, what do you do to counter that?
Achan: Just forget it! [Laughter]. Just drop that object. You have to learn how to forget! You'd better stay three more days to learn that. [Laughter.] This time you're just learning how to continue. In Edmonton maybe you can forget it.
When you've already described an object, there's nothing to do with it at that point. Just begin again with the next object. When you've lost mindfulness, just say, "Okay," and don't care about what happened in the past moment. It happened already. It's over. Just begin again now. It's never too late. Mindfulness will always come when you begin again. If the mind wanders out for five minutes, then as soon as you know you've lost mindfulness, just begin again from that spot. You can't do anything about the wandering because it's happened already. It's gone already.
Student 3: I think, once you're mindful of it, then you can drop it and start again. So it's just a matter of making that note, noting feeling, or experiencing, and then starting again. It may come back again and again, but each time it's going to be weaker. It's like the water in the coffee.Achan: Yes. That's right. [Turning to the next Student.] How about you?
Student 13: Well, someone else started touching on something that happened to me right before lunch. I really thought I knew nama and rupa but then all of a sudden I was so confused I couldn't separate. And I really wanted to be aware. So I took the easy way out and went to lunch and focused on liking and disliking! [Laughter.] Although I found I also have a category of feelings I didn't have a label for and that's - 'don't care.' Anyway I was really quite confused because I wasn't sure anymore that I knew what nama was and rupa was. I lost my awareness of where they were in the moment.
Achan: That's the problem when meditators have too much desire to know what rupa is and what nama is, or how they can separate the two or . . . it makes the meditator confused. Usually we don't use the mental notes "rupa" and "nama." You don't have to memorize the name of the object. That's not a big deal. If you're still in the moment of truth, that means rupa and nama are there.
Sometimes you can stay with rupa but nama is there too. Sometime you can know nama but rupa is there. Rupa means that the object [of the mind] is there, is present. The object of nama is still showing. When you're in the present moment exactly, you can't separate the two. When you see a picture you can't separate the image, the eye and seeing.
Like when I lit a match this morning - when the match contacts the friction strip and fire burns the match, you can't separate the three things: fire, match, and strip. Because when they harmonize, everything is complete to generate fire to burn something up. The present moment is like that, too. So just give up thinking about what rupa is and what nama is.
Student 13: Okay, so just dropping it as I did . . . I just let it kind of go. So that's the thing to do then. I changed my focus. It's that I was knowing . .
Achan: Yes, just use knowing only. When a good thing is happening, you know it. When a bad thing is happening you know. When you're confused, you know it. After knowing the object, forget it. Forget it means, once you have observed the object for a moment, it's already in the past.
It isn't the duty of mindfulness to keep going with an object from the past. Only an object in the present moment. As soon as you know what's happening right now, with that object, you've finished the duty of mindfulness. So you drop that object and observe the next moment.
Student 13: It may come up again, but that's okay . . .
Achan: Yes. If it comes up again, just know it again and forget it again. And if it comes again, just know it again and forget it again. There are many kinds of objects, but all of them become food for mindfulness. Also, when they become objects of mindfulness they give it something to 'step' on.
When an object is happening, mindfulness focuses directly to the present moment of that object, that arising. It takes one step on the path. Then the next object arises. It doesn't matter what it is. If mindfulness focuses in the present moment without describing the object, without worry or confusion, just focusing and forgetting, that becomes the second step. Mindfulness has taken two steps along the path.
When the next object comes up, mindfulness jumps again - three, four, five steps. It continues walking, getting closer and closer to the end of the way. But if you're confused about the technique, that means that mindfulness can't jump, can't step. It just stops. Practice slows down.
If you're not worried, if you just allow everything that arises in the present to become food for mindfulness, you can keep going without a break. You just focus and forget it. Whether it's a body object, feeling, consciousness or mind-object doesn't matter.
Right now you're sitting here. What is happening? If nothing else arises, no thoughts, no emotions, no feelings, you just stay with 'rising-falling-sitting-touching' [see "How to Meditate."]. Each moment that you note what's happening, mindfulness takes a step forward on the path. It's walking on the path right now, this moment. When wandering mind appears, just use mindfulness to focus on wandering mind. That's one step. And back to take a step with a body-object or emotion. Mindfulness can jump to observe an emotion. That's another step. Everything that comes up is useful for mindfulness. Everything that comes up provides a path for mindfulness to walk on all the time, all day and all night.
Nobody knows how long the wheel of samsara [the round of birth and death] is. Nobody knows where we came from. How many lives have we lived in the past? Nobody can say. How many times will we be reborn in the future? Nobody knows. That's ignorance. The question is, how can we shorten the wheel of samsara until we have no more than seven lives in the future?
Someone who reduces the number of future incarnations to seven is a person who has already entered the stream to nibbana [the cessation of suffering], called a streamwinner [sotapanna]. They have reached the first stage of enlightenment. They can't be reborn in samsara more than seven times.
Unless we reach the level of streamwinner, nobody can say how many times we'll be reborn. No one can guarantee. No one can count. It's like an ant walking on the rim of a cup, here [points to a coffee cup in front of him]. It just keeps walking - walk, walk, walk, walk - all day and all night. When you ask where it came from, the ant says, "I don't know." Where is it going? "I don't know that, either." How long until you reach the end? "I don't know."
Because there's no end, right? A circle has no end, no beginning. It's the same with the wheel of birth and death of all beings. Maybe it's not far, but we can't know where the end is. But when we make a spot for it here [leans pen against the side of the cup] the ant can walk down. Then it will know by itself, "Now I've come to the end." It can't go any farther along the rim.
In the same way, when we try to stay in the present moment we'll know how far it is to the end of samsara. Maybe it's not too far. When we have mindfulness focusing on one moment, directly in the present, the future in samsara gets shorter and shorter all the time. Until we get closer to nibbana and have only seven lives left. That means you'll become enlightened and eliminate incarnations and stop the wheel of samsara. You'll have shortened the wheel. You'll have broken away from samsara. That's the reason for practicing insight meditation, all right? [Turning to next Student] How are you?
Student 14: I think it's going okay, but when I'm sitting and doing "rising-falling-sitting-touching," somehow they're all the same. It started with touching and sitting being the same, but on occasion the rising and falling are the same too. They're all distinct points but they're . . .
Achan: The same moment, right?
Student 14: No, they're different moments in time.
Achan: Oh, different moments. . . What is the same?
Student 14: I have to say to myself this is breathing, this is. . . I have to take more effort to keep them separate. Do you understand what I'm saying? It's not always like that, just sometimes. And I know, I mean I know that I'm on touching or on breathing. But the sensation is the same. No difference in sensation.
Achan: Okay. But what is different?
Student 14: Just that I know that they're different. They feel the same.
Achan: All right, they're not different by the sensation. When you know the object right now in the present, from moment to moment, each object will seem the same. That's what I meant by "the same moment." [They are not qualitatively different.] Because every moment is just arising and passing away, the same as every other. That's what I mean by saying that every object is the same. The difference might be that some objects are clear and some are not quite clear. That's what I mean when I ask, "What is different?"
Student 14: Well, when they all seem the same to me, they're all equally clear.
Achan: If all of them are equally clear, that means the continuity of mindfulness is steady and balanced when you observe objects from moment to moment. So you're just waiting. You have to take more time to see clearly until you have a feeling of sadness or some kind of fear a little bit, like, "Wow! I can't attach anymore because everything is just arising and passing away right away, right now. Everything is changing. Everything is impermanent. There's no way it can be permanent." Impermanence will be clearer and make you have some feeling from seeing the truth. There are many different kinds of feeling that can happen. All right? [Laughing] You're almost there!