A GUIDE TO MEDITATION CENTRES IN THAILAND - INTRODUCTION (3)
The Buddha taught many ways of investigating the nature of mind and body. A look through the monastery and meditation centre descriptions will give you an idea of the meditation systems practiced in Thailand. Ideally, meditation should begin from the first moment of awakening in the morning until the last moment before sleep at night. Besides the classic postures of sitting, walking, standing, and lying down used in meditation, one can also perform such activities as eating, talking, washing clothes, taking a bath, and using the toilet with equal care and mindfulness. An experienced teacher or "good friend" will be valuable for any student. Meditation techniques fall into the broad categories of either samatha (calm) or vipassana (insight), though some of one will generally be present with the other.
Development of samatha techniques can lead to increasingly focused states of mind until the mind becomes one-pointed or absorbed in jhana states. Concentration can be developed from anapanasati (mindfulness with breathing), from visual objects, and from mantras (repetition of phrases). The traditional list contains 40 objects of meditation; you can read about them in The Path of Purification (Visuddhi Magga) translated by Nanamoli Bhikkhu and in other books. The Buddha recommended mindfulness with breathing as being suitable for everyone to establish and develop concentration. Other objects of meditation can be useful in our lives too.
Metta (loving kindness) generates feelings of goodwill and happiness toward ourselves and other beings; metta practice serves as an antidote to ill-will and fear. Meditation on the parts of the body none of which is attractive in itself results in a lessening of attachment to our own bodies and those of others; a reduction of sensual desires occurs; another benefit is that unpleasant sensations can be more easily endured. Meditation on death, when properly done, brings to mind the body's impermanence and lack of ownership; a person who practices this will always be watchful and, at life's end, die without fear or confusion.
Once some concentration has been developed, the mind can be turned to observation of the physical and mental factors that rise and fall in one's consciousness. Through continued practice, the Three Characteristics of anicca (transitory nature of all conditioned phenomena), dukkha (inherent unsatisfactoriness of all conditioned phenomena), and anatta (no permanent, abiding self can be found in any conditioned phenomena) will become deeply known. As the mind directly experiences these truths, the desires and attachments that cause so much suffering begin to drop away. Even a little vipassana practice can bring greater wisdom and peace to our lives.
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
We can experience these truths, which lie at the heart of the Buddha's teachings, through direct experience. They can be viewed as
(1) Diagnosis of an illness;
(3) Recovery; and
(4) Medicine to cure the disease.
The first 2 truths deal with the way things are; the last 2 point the way to freedom from suffering.
1. The Noble Truth of Suffering
Besides "suffering," other translations of the Pali word dukkha include unsatisfactoriness, dis-ease, and instability. All these words point to the fact that no conditioned phenomenon can provide true (lasting) happiness in our lives. The first step in a spiritual life is to look very closely and honestly at our experience of life and see that there is suffering. We tend to overlook or ignore or just blindly react to the unpleasant, so it continually haunts us. Yet although physical suffering is a natural aspect of our lives, we can learn to transcend mental suffering.
2. The Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering
Through a lack of understanding of how things truely exist, we create and recreate an independent self entity called "me."
The whole of our experience in life can be viewed through this sense of self. In consequence, various cravings govern our actions. Cravings arise for sense experiences, for "being" or "becoming" (e.g. rich, famous, loved, respected, immortal), and to avoid the unpleasant. These cravings are the root cause of suffering.
3. The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering
The mind can be purified of all the mental defilements that cause suffering. Nibbana, the ultimate peace, has been compared to the extinction of a three-fold fire of lust, ill-will, and delusion. One who has realised cessation has great purity of heart, ocean-like compassion, and penetrating wisdom.
4. The Noble Truth of the Way to the Cessation of Suffering
The Way leading to cessation contains a thorough and profound training of body, speech, and mind. Traditionally it's outlined as the Noble Eightfold Path: (1) Right Understanding; (2) Right Intention; (3) Right Speech; (4) Right Action; (5) Right Livelihood; (6) Right Effort; (7) Right Mindfulness; and (8) Right Concentration. On the level of morality (sila), the Path entails restraint and care in speech, action, and livelihood. The concentration (samadhi) level requires constant effort to abandon the unwholesome and develop the wholesome, to increase mindfulness and clear comprehension of the mind-body process, and to develop mental calm and stability. The wisdom (panna) level entails the abandonment of thoughts of sensuality, ill-will, and cruelty; ultimately it penetrates the true nature of phenomena to see impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and impersonality. When all 8 factors of the Path come together in harmony to the point of maturity, suffering is transcended. In summary, the Four Noble Truths can be thought of as that which is to be
(1) comprehended, (2) abandoned, (3) realized, and (4) developed.