BUDDHIST MEDITATION AS AN ACADEMIC SUBJECT
Dr. Mehm Tin Mon, M.Sc., Ph.D (U.S.A.), Mahâ Saddhamma Jotikadhaja, Professor, ITBMU; President, Intl. Pa-auk Forest Buddha Sâsanânuggaha Federation
The most beneficial knowledge presented by the Buddha to the people of the world is the Eightfold Noble Path comprising the Noble Threefold Training which systematically and totally eliminates the ten mental defilements (kilesâ) - the root causes of all evils and all suffering in the world - thus bringing enlightenment to the Four Noble Truths and the enjoyment of the highest bliss and eternal peace to mankind.
Of the Threefold Training, the Training of Morality eliminates gross, violent, defilements (vitakkama kilesâ) - the main causes of all evil actions in the world; the Training of Concentration eliminates moderate, agitating defilements (pariyuííhâna kilesâ) - the main causes of mental depression, mental stress and strain, mental illness and bodily ailments; and the Training of Wisdom eradicates all latent defilements (anusaya kilesâ) leading to the development of the highest wisdom and the noblest life.
In fact, morality, concentration and wisdom - sîla, samâdhi, paññâ - constitutes the essence of all the Buddha's teachings. As Tranquility Meditation (Samâdhi Bhâvanâ) accomplishes the Training of Concentration, and Insight Meditation (Vipassanâ Bhâvanâ) accomplishes the Training of Wisdom, these two types of Buddhist Meditation represent the most precious heritage handed down to humanity by the Blessed One. So these two types of meditation should be taught in all Buddhist Universities.
Tranquility Meditation (Samatha Bhâvanâ)
Tranquility meditation is a simple, practical way of training and purifying the mind, to calm down, culture, and develop the mind. It is, therefore, mental culture and mental development that produces so much good effect that it should be practised repeatedly.
The objective of Tranquility meditation is to subdue the hindrances (nîvaraúas), to purify the mind from all arisen defilements, to develop the right concentration (sammâsamâdhi) and to attain the purity of the mind (citta visuddhi).
The right concentration is the concentration associated with the four rûpâvacara jhânas according to the Mahâ Satipaííhâna Sutta. In the Samâdhi Sutta the Buddha exhorted bhikkhus to develop concentration for a bhikkhu with the right concentration will be able to see the ultimate realities (paramatthas) and the Four Noble Truths vividly as they really are.
To develop the right concentration the Buddha teaches forty meditation subjects all of which are very beneficial. A meditator can choose a meditation subject to suit his temperament. Mindfulness of breathing (Ânâpânassati) is, however, the most popular meditation subject and it suits many meditators. But many meditation teachers teach Ânâpânassati by the teacher's method (âcariya-vâda) which deviates somewhat from the Buddha's instructions, and consequently does not lead to any jhâna.
Ânâpânassati is taught strictly according to the Buddha's teachings in the International Pa-auk Forest Buddha Sâsana Meditation Centres all over Myanmar and many meditators from several countries can develop the fourfold rîpâvacara jhânas properly.
"Only if the meditator practises Ânâpânassati by establishing his mindfulness on the breath at the point of distinct contact with the in-breath and the out-breath, will the Ânâpânassati concentration and meditation be fully accomplished in him."
The four preliminary steps taught by the Buddha for the development of concentration must be practised earnestly and strenuously until the three types of meditation signs (bhâvanâ nimittas)- viz., the preparatory sign (parikamma nimitta), the acquired sign (uggaha ninitta) and the counter sign (paíibhâganimitta), appear properly.
At the absorption stage the meditative mind remains fixed on the counter sign for one hour, two hours, or more. The meditator should discern the five jhâna factors in his mind door to make sure that they are fully developed. He should develop mastery in five ways with respect to the first jhâna. He next develops the second jhâna by eliminating vitakka and vicâra. Again after acquiring mastery in five ways with respect to the second jhâna, he develops the third jhâna by eliminating piti, and then the fourth jhâna by eliminating sukha in the same way.
According to the Pacalâyamâna Sutta the Buddha mentioned that light is radiated from the wisdom associated with the concentrated mind starting from the preparatory concentration. The light becomes brighter as the concentration rises higher and at the stage of access concentration (upacâra samâdhi), it is not only very bright but also penetrative. It can penetrate bodies, walls and barriers so that the meditator can see vividly with closed eyes his internal organs, others' internal organs and objects around him as well as far-away objects. That means he possesses extra-sensory perception. The mind associated with the fourth jhâna is, of course, much more powerful.
The meditator also enjoys the highest mundane bliss and he has easy access to all other tranquillity meditation subjects. He is advised to undertake the four guardian meditation subjects as they are very beneficial and desirable at all times. With the support of the fourth jhâna concentration, he can quickly accomplish the highest achievement in reflecting the Buddha's attributes (Buddhânussati), in radiating loving-kindness (Metta Bhâvanâ), in developing the perception of foulness in Asubha Bhâvanâ and the sense of urgency in Maranânussati. He can also easily develop eight jhâna attainments in each of the ten kasiúas and five mundane super-normal powers if he strives on under proper guidance.
Insight Meditation (Vipassanâ Bhâvanâ)
Vipassanâ is the meditation to see things as they really are in many special ways. ‘To see things as they really are' means to see all living beings and inanimate things in terms of their ultimate components called the ultimate realities (paramatthas). So vipassanâ is concerned with the systematic investigation of the true nature of psychophysical phenomena taking place in the deepest level in each individual and to find out real facts of life. So the meditator has to analyse mind and body into their ultimate components and define these components.
Science describes that the body is made up of organs, organs are made up of cells, cells are made of molecules, molecules are composed of atoms and atoms are composed of electrons, protons and neutrons. The basic laws of physics, chemistry and biology can be explained on the basis of electrons, protons and neutrons. No scientist has, however, ever seen these sub-atomic particles and no science instrument has ever been invented to detect the mind.
When scientists cannot detect the mind, they refute the existence of the mind and think that the brain is functioning as the mind. Psychology Professor Pinker from Harvard University, with the results of new imaging techniques of the brain, stated that different physiological states arising in the body due to different mental feelings are directly produced by the brain, and antidepressant drugs and antianxiety drugs become popular for treatment of mental depression and anxiety problems, because it is most effective to make the idle-brain become active by agitating and squeezing it with drugs. The brain becomes idle not because the soul is idle, and the soul is just the information processing activity of the brain according to Professor Pinker.
To regard that neither the mind nor the soul exists means refuting all religious teachings, moral principles and spiritual development. Scientists and psychologists should heed the statement of the great scientist, Albert Einstein, "Science is blind without religion and religion is lame without science." Also the most prominent neurologist in the United Kingdom, Sir John Eccles, made a thorough research on the structure of the brain and declared that the brain is a kind of computer operated by a ghost, and by ghost he means something which eludes detection by scientific instruments. We should take that ghost to be the mind!
Moreover, it is reported in medical journals that 60 - 90 per cent of patients who seek medical help nowadays have symptoms of mental depression and mental tension which are caused by mental defilements (kilesâ). The only way to uproot and eradicate these defilements is to undertake vipassanâ meditation. So Buddhist meditation is very essential in modern life.
With the help of the very bright and penetrative light radiated by the mind associated with the right concentration, a meditator can vividly observe by direct knowledge his mind as well as billions of tiny material entities called ‘rûpa kalâpas', which are comparable in size to electrons and protons. These tiny rûpâ kalâpas are components of the body and they arise dependent on four causes - viz., kamma (volitional action), consciousness (citta), heat (tejo) and nutriment (ojâ). They dissolve soon after they have arisen. They are arising and dissolving very rapidly and incessantly.
The mind also arises and dissolves very rapidly and incessantly. The meditator can also observe that a series of minds arise and dissolve to cognize each sense object that appears at a sense door - the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body door or the mind door. With the guidance of a competent teacher he can also analyse each mind into its components called consciousness (citta) and mental factors (cetasikas). There are 52 mental factors of which 13 are neutral, 14 are immoral or unwholesome and 25 are beautiful or wholesome. The minds which associate with beautiful mental factors are beautiful and wholesome while the minds that associate with immoral mental factors are ugly and unwholesome.
Each tiny material group can also be analysed into its ultimate components called the element of extension (pathavî), the element of fluidity (âpo), the element of heat (tejo), the element of motion (vâyo), the visible form (vaúúa), the odour (gandha), the taste (rasa), nutriment (ojâ), physical vitality (jîvitindriya), clear matter of the eye (cakkhupasâda), etc.
The meditator then defines each ultimate mental entity and each ultimate material entity by its characteristic (lakkhaúa), its function (rasa), its manifestation (paccupaííhâna) and the nearest cause for its arising (padaííhâna). The knowledge of defining mentality and materiality is called ‘Nâma-rûpa-parriccheda Ñâúa'. This knowledge leads to the ‘Purification from Wrong View' (Diííhi Visuddhi) as it eliminates the wrong view called ‘Personality belief' (Sakkâya diííhi) which takes the combination of mental entities and material entities, that is, the combination of the material aggregate, the feeling aggregate, the perception aggregate, the aggregate of mental formations and the aggregate of consciousness as ‘person', ‘man', ‘woman' or ‘I'.
The ‘non - self' or ‘anatta' characteristic is not distinct and not known because it is covered by compactness as group or lump (ghana). When the compactness as group can be broken up and analysed, the non - self or anatta characteristic becomes clear and evident as it really is. The ‘anatta' characteristic is known only in the Buddha's dispensation. ,
The meditator then discerns the causes that generate materiality. He must observe clearly that each cause among kamma, consciousness, heat and nutriment produces materiality incessantly. He also observes that when a visible form appears at the eye - door, light and attention (manasikâra) are present, the eye - door cognitive series of consciousness arises to cognize the object. Cognitive series of consciousness arises in the same way in other sense doors.
In order to clear the doubt about one's past existences, present existence and future existences, it is the most important to verify the causal relations of Dependent Arising (Paíiccasamuppâda). On the auspicious night when the Bodhisatta was going to be enlightened to Buddhahood, he developed first the Supernormal Knowledge of Recollecting Former Existences (Pubbenivâsânussati Abhiññâ) and then the Supernormal Knowledge of Divine Eye (Dibbacakkhu Abhiññâ) by means of which he could see beings who were on the verge of death or just after taking conception. Based on Divine Eye (Dibbasota), he further developed the Knowledge of Faring according to Deeds (Yathâkammûpaga Ñâúa) which enabled him to see the deeds of merit done by blissful beings and the deeds of demerit done by woeful beings.
Then he pondered on the causal relations of Dependent Arising which beautifully explains the round of rebirths (saèsâra) of all beings. When he contemplated the true nature of all beings living in each universe and belonging to the three periods of time (past, present, and future), he came to know fully well that, no matter how numerous humans, Devas, Brahmâs and woeful beings were in a single universe, they could be reduced to twelve factors of Paíiccasamuppâda in the ultimate sense.
Emerging from the fourth rûpâvacara jhâna in Ânâpânassati, he reflected on the twelve factors in terms of three characteristics - viz., impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and non-self (anatta). Thereby he quickly developed the higher insight knowledge (vipassanâ ñâúa) and the fourfold Path Wisdom and Fruition Wisdom to become fully enlightened as an Arahant as well as a Buddha.
A meditator also has to discern the twelve factors of Paíiccasamuppâda connecting his past existence with his present existence and his present existence with his future existence. It is clearly stated in Visuddhimagga and Abhidhamma Commentary thus:
"There is no one, even in a dream, who has emancipated from the round of misery without the ability to break through the Paíiccasamuppâda Causal Relations of the Saèsâra machine with his wisdom sword which has been sharpened on the sacred whetstone of concentration."
Meditators in our International Pa-auk Forest Buddha Sâsana Meditation Centers can discern the causal relations of Paíiccasamuppâda satisfactorily, thus developing the knowledge of discerning the causes of mentality and materiality (Paccaya Pariggaha Ñâúa) and the Purification by Overcoming Doubts (Kaàkhâvitaraúa Visuddhi).
Then a meditator can undertake insight meditation properly. He must discern the 18 real rûpas in each of the six sense doors as well as in each of the 32 body parts. Then discerning the nature of arising and perishing of each rûpa with wisdom, he contemplates ‘anicca, anicca' internally in himself and externally in others; discerning the nature of being tortured incessantly by the perishing of rûpa, he contemplates ‘dukkha, dukkha' internally and externally; discerning clearly with wisdom the absence of self, soul or atta, he contemplates ‘anatta, anatta' internally and externally.
Discerning the rapid arising and perishing of each cognitive consciousness and its associated mental factors at every conscious moment with wisdom, he contemplates ‘anicca, anicca' repeatedly. He reflects in this way on all cittas and cetasikas in six kinds of cognitive series both internally and externally. He repeats the contemplation on suffering (dukkha) and on non-self (anatta) in the same way.
He undertakes insight meditation repeatedly in various ways to develop ten insight knowledges properly. After conformity knowledge (Anuloma ñâúa), change of lineage knowledge (Gotrabhû ñâúa), Path - wisdom (Magga ñâúa) and Fruition - wisdom (Phala ñâúa) will follow. Then the meditator will become a noble person (Ariyâ) with the ability to enjoy the unique bliss of Nibbâna as much as he likes.
Since the teachings of the Buddha go deeper than science in analysing mind and matter and they can be verified by direct knowledge, they should be regarded as Supreme Science. As the Buddha described the nature and function of the mind in detail and also the ways to purify the mind and to develop it to the highest state, his teachings should also be regarded as Supreme Psychology.
Besides, the teachings of the Buddha reveal the ultimate realities that really exist in the universe, the real facts of life, the greatest universal truths and the highest wisdom that makes man noblest. So the Buddha's teachings should also be regarded as Supreme Philosophy.
Since the Buddha's teachings comprise both principles and practices and only practices can bring about the greatest benefits, Buddhist meditation should be taught in all Theravâda Buddhist Universities just as science is taught both in theory and practices in universities. Meditation has been taught and is being taught with great benefits in the International Theravâda Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon.
 Presented at The International Conference of All Theravâda Buddhist Universities held at The International Theravâda Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon, & at Woodlands Hotel, Popa Mountain Resort, Bagan, Myanmar, 9-12th March 2007.
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