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The Fundamentals of Meditation

Phra Ajahn Plien Panyapatipo

Wat Aranyawiwake, Mae Taeng District
Chiang Mai, Thailand. 1999

Translated from the Thai language by Assoc. Professor Dr. Chalerm-srie Jan-orn

Translator’s Note:
This book is concerned with Buddhist meditation and specifically the practice of samadhi. Samadhi is the Pali language term for concentration and establishing or fixing the mind in one-pointedness. Whereas most other Pali terms have been translated samadhi has been left as a word that the English should adopt.

Phra Ajahn Plien Panyapatipo was born into the Wongsachandra family on November 16th, 1933, in Sakon Nakorn Province (Sawang-dan-din district) of North – eastern Thailand. He was the third of the six children, with four brothers and one sister. At a young age he went to live with his grandparents until he was 11 years old when he returned to help with the family shop.

At the age of 18 he expressed an interest in medicine and worked as an assistant to a country doctor who was also a relative. His plans to continue medical studies in Bangkok were set aside when his mother asked him to stay and help out.

Although he has the intention to become a monk since an early age he was finally ordained in 1959 at Wat dhat’ Mechai in Sakon Nakorn. He passed the first level Dhamma examination in his third year as a monk.

After his first Rains Retreat was over he set out to find good places to practice meditation under great teachers. He met several famous teachers in the Northeast, the South and the North of Thailand. His principal teachers were Ajahn Luang Pu Brohm Jirapu��o. Ajahn Luang Pu Thet Thetrangsi, Ajahn Luang Pu Teur achaladhammo and last but not least Luang Pu Waen Suchinno. (Luang Pu meaning venerable grandfather ) Together with other famous teachers he received instruction and guidance so that his meditation could progress.

Ajahn Plien is now the abbot of Wat Aranyawiwake in Mae Taeng district of Chiang Mai province in North Thailand.


The Fundamentals of Meditation

The Cultivation of mindfulness starts from being aware of the current bodily posture. If standing, be mindful of that. Walking, sitting or lying down - - be present with that movement and posture. Bathing, eating or excreting - - be fully aware of what is going on. This constant awareness of bodily actions brings mindfulness and clear comprehension to the forefront.

Once this skill is developed you will become aware of changing postures as different activities occur: working on the job, washing clothes or dishes, reading or writing, sewing or knitting. Whatever you are involved with be present with that activity while you are doing it. Don’t allow the mind to wander away. This is how mindfulness develops in daily life.

You will now find mindfulness becoming swifter and sharper, able to recognize and catch the fleeting mind. Wherever your mind may go mindfulness will follow and return with it to the object of meditation. Being more practiced you will now succeed in concentrating on the in-and out-breath. Whenever the mind wanders away you will catch up with it and bring it back together with the breathing.

Now skilful and sharp endowed with mindfulness, you will bring the mind and its wayward thinking to reflect on the breathing until it comes into view. At the time the breath is actually seen, the mind is present there together with the breath. Without such vision the mind must be elsewhere – and yet, if you bring them together again you should be able to understand about this. Whatever, if the mind isn’t with the breath it’s off rambling and concocting.

Those who can bring the mind to reflect on the breath with relative ease will find that it becomes still quiet with the breath going in and out. There is awareness of a heavier or softer, longer or shorter inhalation and exhalation, as breath succeeds breath. This knowledge and awareness indicate the mind is together with the breath. It should be understood in this way. If it only happens a litter and briefly before separating, then this is define as momentary concentration ( khanika-samadhi). You should then pull the mind back to reflect again on the breath. Together again for a longer period the breath seems much more refined, almost as if there isn’t any at all. You can’t find it! It’s at this point that people fear death: "Where’s my breath gone?" "It was here just now…." And so they come out of samadhi. They withdraw being afraid they will die.

Don’t go and be so afraid. The breathing is still there only it’s extremely subtle and refined. But there’s no need to go searching for it. Direct you mindfulness and discernment to the mind and return it to the meditation object. Go and examine: exactly where does the heart or mind have its origin ? Where does its thinking arise ? What is the feeling of happiness and contentment currently been experience like ? At that moment you have found the heat. Now direct it to the chest area or some such point. Place the pleasant feeling which the heart is experiencing there, and support it with your mindfulness and discernment. Keep your reflection there, let that be where any ‘thinking’ occurs. In this way a deeper, more profound tranquillity will develop until the level of access concentration (upacara samadhi) is reached.

At this point some people may experience a bright radiance. But if nothing happens for you, don’t feel discouragement. The practice of meditation is not concern with the desire to see any manifestations. Don’t fabricate any expectations about seeing a bright light or any such thing. Do not speculate about what may be going to happen. The state of tranquillity will develop in its own way and whatever happens, happens. Never crave for a vision of heaven and hell for that type of wishful thinking will itself block any approach to tranquillity.

Anyone who find concentration easy to manage will certainly experience ease and happiness as soon as the heart is still and tranquil. You will realize for the first time what happiness is all about. This state must also include rapture (piti) though it may manifest in a different manner for different people. Your hair may tingle all over and ‘stand on end’; or a sense of coolness refreshes the heart; or you may feel as if enveloped in soft cotton wool; or as though a flash of lighting precedes the coolness; or the body seems so light and buoyant that it might float away.

The meditation teacher can’t order or control this sort of experience. They are termed ‘the buoyant body and the buoyant mind.’. Why should the calm mind be so light and buoyant ? It’s because it has released the hindrances (nivarana) and is free of such burdens. Endeavor to support and sustain this state of mind.

I would like you to bypass the affair of voices heard in this state. They sound a bit indistinct like over long distance telephone lines. You may actually seem to see and hear both local and distant conversations concerning yourself. However they cut off when the mind either goes deeper or withdraw from that particular level of calm. The mind just happened to be properly tuned in, so don’t go around boasting of your clairaudience or clairvision. Some people may not want to experience such images but whatever appear depends on the nature of the concentrated mind itself.

On leaving these things behind the tranquillity deepens, by the hour, the physical body will seem to drop completely away. No arms or legs: you don’t notice your hands or body. Wherever are they ? There’s the temptation to open your eyes to check but don’t bother about doing that. Never mind about those things. Come and look closely at your heart to check what object it rests with, and sustain it there. Tremendous happiness is prominent and vividly present. This is attainment concentration (apana samadhi) where the mind is enraptured and engrossed in that buoyant state, free from all hindrances. There is no hunger or thirst, no wanting of any external object only the desire to stay with that happiness, never experienced before. This spiritual happiness attained through samadhi puts all gross worldly affairs and desires out of mind; business and work concerns are completely thrown out.

Should attainment concentration continue in sublime happiness letting go of all else, then it is called absorption (jhana) . This serenity is only a litter different from the state of equanimity (upekkha).

At this point, the question of other people comes up : ‘has anyone else experienced what I have?’ ‘How can they manage to do so ? ‘ this is the time to be extra careful so that you don’t start flaunting your knowledge. It’s all too easy to become sidetracked here so stay prepared and alert to this matter. Many people go off the rails and become crazy, telling all and sundry, "It’s such real happiness…..You must do this ! ….You should do that!…." Forestall this with mindfulness and discernment. Don’t go around preaching --- you’re not enlightened yet.

Examine and remember the sequence of steps you have taken to achieve this level of samadhi. Next time you will then be able to retrace the way with ease and greater skill. Notice how you establish mindfulness and clear comprehension right from the beginning of your practice. How was the mind placed ? What was developed and what disregarded ? When the deeper level of samadhi was reached, how was the mind sustained in attainment concentration ?

When coming again to the practice you will immediately be able to deal with anything that intrudes. Such things are disposed of in the same way as before and the previous state becomes established again. A person skilled in this way will be proficient in doing this under any circumstances; travelling by car, ship or plane, wherever he might be sitting. Whichever country, it’s all the same. Once expert in entering and withdrawing from meditation it all seems easily and swiftly accomplished. The hindrances no longer come into the picture at all.

There are some people though who find it difficult to concentrate their minds. No matter how they try, the mind always seems to wander away. They should keep mindfulness on the mind’s trail until it tires. It really can’t escape for it is stuck on thinking about money or a car, or a house, or the children or grandchildren and near friends. As soon as it fastens onto some such object, mindfulness and discernment must follow and catch it there. Interrogate it immediately about its possessiveness; "Why be so grasping and attached to this (for example) house ? Is it even yours ? " The answer will come back, "certainly, it’s mine." Mindfulness and wisdom must then probe and examine the mind with, "Then when you die will you take it with you ?" If it should admit the impossibility of that, then follow up with, "Then why be so preoccupied with it; it’s solidly built and isn’t going to run away." The mind must be reprimanded and when necessary brought to order by intimidation. Such threats will leave the mind baffled and dazed and it can then be led back to the meditation object, concentrating on the breathing. This is the way of wisdom developing samadhi, for those who find concentration difficult. It means using the right and most appropriate tactic, the best skilful means that accords with the situation.

Once the mind is together with the meditation object it is time to curb and restrain it there. Sustain it without allowing it to break away. On occasion though, the mind will also deserve approval and praise. For instance the wish to go and meditate arise even in the midst of unfinished work. Try to nourish that intention by speedily tying up any work which left undone might remain a cause of uneasiness. However as no task is ever complete settled, as soon as the right pause or lull appears rewards the mind’s desire by quickly going away. Take the break sitting samadhi in your room or think of a way to get away, like escaping via the bathroom. For it’s when the mind wants to concentrate that the calm and tranquillity will develop with special facility, backed by the full force of faith. Any preoccupation will automatically be cut aside.

The stilled mind brings happiness without any drawbacks or anxieties. It is content in itself. It’s as if one likes the climate and atmosphere of some cave, forest or shady spot. The cool breeze blows and one feels relaxed and quickly becomes at ease. So the praise worthy state of mind wishing to meditate must be encouraged to do so. If at night time the mind is very tranquil then continue on with the practice until midnight. And if it still progresses then don’t quit but develop it further to perfect serenity. It will deepen and establish itself more and more firmly, on a more and more profound level. Don’t stop now. This is the time when you’ll recognize how far your meditation has developed.

With this accomplishment you can now go to bed. After offering respect to the Lord Buddha lie down and recollect the steps you have taken to tranquillity and sleep together with that. On awakening the mind will immediate go to the meditation object and that level of samadhi. I myself practice in this way. The mind will automatically be drawn and concentrated deeper and deeper at the place it knows. With constant development and with genuine samadhi there will absolutely no dreaming during sleep. Once awake again the mind knows its duty and this is what we call mindfulness and clear comprehension. They are there to unremitting uphold and care for the heart.

You have to understand about the trained mind. When it needs to be chided, you must chide it. When it needs disciplining then do so and sustain it when it needs supporting. And when it’s commendable then applaud it. It’s like confronting one’s disobedient children. One takes hold of their arm without releasing until they accept. When they listen to one, are good and study diligently then they should be rewarded with praise. The mind is similar in that it resists if one continually uses force, so you must also soothe and coax it along. Being bullied, it might refuse to study, to work; it becomes weak and lazy. But with praise and encouragement it will work all day, our employee need this treatment too. The assistant in our shop sells our merchandise for us, helps us with out work and to earn our livelihood. We can’t simply bully and be on their back all the time. They also need care and attention, kind and solicitous words. However, if a mistake is made they will still need telling and correcting. Bullying will only work and livelihood.

The child is quiet and still because of wise handling on the part of the parents. They don’t solely punish and bully for otherwise the child may fail in his studies or even have a nervous breakdown. The serene mind also needs similar treatment with mindfulness and wisdom carefully watching over and correcting it. Mindful discernment – this is the resource to use. The more the better.

Mindfulness also supervises speech. Defilement’s come in many forms so we need to be aware of what we are saying. By talking in such a way, is it beneficial ? Is it well justified ? For example, is what I am saying right now useful to anyone ? Does it offer happiness and is it worthwhile ? Holding forth without mindfulness supervising means you will blunder and go astray. In the beginning we all have to make mistakes so the first thing is to recognize that and then it can be corrected.

After dealing with speech you come to your thought. Be aware of unwholesome thinking and know when it’s good. Thoughts going in a bad direction must be held back; you must keep them on the right track. The mental process need to supervised and cut off when necessary. Let go of evil thoughts. Fix your mind on skilful thinking in every posture – standing, walking, sitting, lying down. Then happiness will arise. Once you realize this the mind will diligently apply itself in the wholesome direction and accumulate virtue. Comparing this with something on the strictly material plane, it’s similar to making roads, cars, aircraft, ship or clothes etc. Careful and skilful thoughts will result in good, favourable products which will sell well and make your fortune. So with the mind. Good thoughts make your mind buoyant and happy, whereas evil thoughts will result in suffering. If you do not produce good products they will not sell. If you say bad things, you will soon be quarreling and fighting. Then suffering will certainly appear for anger and hatred can only bring distress.

The meditation of everyday life will bring happiness when you are continually aware of whatever activity you’re engaged in. Watch; while standing, walking, sitting, lying down, eating, going to the bathroom, washing your hands. Notice the mind thinking and see with what topic it calms down. No matter what you do be conscious of doing it. People like this meditate all the time. Cooking or washing dishes – it’s the practice of samadhi. They concentrate their mind while walking to the bathroom, while using the toilet. Contemplating and being aware of the mind – this is unfailing meditation. There’s no need to lock yourself away to meditate, the wise person will be able to do so at any time. This is what I would also advise you to do. Don’t continually wait for the appointed time – develop samadhi as you read this book, as you write or sew or even while you cut your finger nails. Be mindful and concentrate on the thing in hand and rest your mind with it. But keep away from unwholesome things for such thinking will bring distress instead. People who diligently watch over their mind in this way, who are aware of the mind at every moment – except when in sleep - - will always be serene and at peace.

The enlightened being (ariya) and our venerable teachers (acharn) practice in this way. Their minds are always concentrated. They converse and it’s still samadhi because their heart doesn’t go out to take issue or bother anybody. Mindfulness and wisdom supervises the whole process so that even a chat together becomes samadhi. Those venerable acharns who recently were killed in a plane crash were prepared for death. Their minds were endowed with samadhi and ready to die without fear at any moment. Wisdom was always composed and present to sustain the mind through any eventually. They were prepared to die at any time, and being always aware of the potential for death they could simply abandon their bodies at the actual time without any distress.

Those people who have never practiced meditation or developed samadhi may find such things hard to believe. If they don’t know what their own minds are truly like through meditation, then they can’t be expected to comprehend things anyway. To them it is impossible for anyone to train his mind because it keeps changing all the time. When the mind grasps onto suffering, we suffer; when it holds to happiness, we’re content. For those acharns the mind was released and serene.

If the mind dwells in samadhi then we meditate all the time. I’ve been contemplating this and really consider the teaching of the Lord Buddha to be very deep and profound, so subtle and intricate. It becomes clear how the purity of mind of those perfectly practiced and accomplished acharns might even suffuse their bones too. Why have the bone fragments found in the burned-out cremation pyre of the venerable Phra Ajahn Mun* now become crystal like, clean and white relics ? The purity is not only a thing of the mind - - it seems to affect the very bones as well. Bones are bones but this is something more. It’s about nibbana isn’t it ? How deep and unfathomable this is !

Buddhism is so profound. Other religions are fine too in their own way. If anyone wants to follow a religion then one can’t say anything about that. It’s definitely their own affair. We should be aware of the different qualities - - parisannuta - - of different groups so we can pass among various communities in different countries without quarreling or disputing about any issue.

heart* & mind* : Citta. This is a fundamental term and covers both mind and heart.
Object* : In this case, mindfulness of breathing. Other meditation objects are described elsewhere.
Phra Ajahn Mun* : Perhaps the most well known meditation master of modern times.

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