Spiritual Reinforcement for a Better 2014
Taken from Meditation Talks by Bhante Saranapala, December 20, 2013
Transcribed by Carol Weldon
Today is the last session for the year 2013. I have a tradition of reflecting on the past year’s activities. This is also one of the reflections that the monks do every day. One of the ten reflections is setting a goal – for a monk the goal is to end suffering and to realize or experience the bliss of Nibbana. So now through this practice of Dhamma, how far have we done the practice – how much closer have we come to the realization of Nibbana?
Let’s forget about Nibbana for the time being – as sentient beings, we all want to be happy. I think that is the greatest most supreme goal of every sentient being. Everybody wants to be happy. That’s why we say in Pali, sukha kamani bhutani. Bhutani means all sentient beings. Bhutani means sentient beings, not only human beings, but all beings in other dimensions, including birds and all other animals. Everybody likes to be happy. Everybody desires happiness. Kamani means desire. This is not the bad desire. We all understand the cause of suffering is desire. Nobody would deny this truth, this reality. We all like to be happy. We are all practicing this path to be happy.
I know for a fact that all of you come here with the intention in mind to be happy. You were told that by practicing meditation you may experience relief from daily stress and tension – relief from problems and struggles you may be going through in life. This daily experience of stress and tension makes your life miserable. We all want to get rid of misery – we want to be happy. That is the purpose of coming here regularly or from time to time. At this time now you should ask yourself, “Have I achieved my goal by coming here?” You may also think that having come to these weekly sessions, practiced meditation, listened to dhamma that you would have experienced the relief that you are trying to experience? “Have I gotten closer to that experience?” If you have not gotten closer to being happy you may have to reevaluate your strategy or plan. Usually we give ourselves options, for example, if this plan is not working, there is another option. The options usually indicate two things: (1) either there is something wrong with the strategy, i. e., something is wrong with the mechanism, plan, or instructions; or (2) you have not followed the instructions.
So now you have to think about this, reflect on this. “Have I genuinely practiced this path? Have I been honest in this practice?” When you come here you have the intention of experiencing relief from daily stress and tension. It could be that when you come here, close your eyes, and sit cross legged with back straight, you are actually entertaining yourself with an incoming flood of thoughts? Or, are you doing the practice in the moment? Of course, if you are entertaining yourself with an incoming flood of thoughts, then your intentions for coming here will not work out. You have to follow the instructions!
Make an effort to do the practice. Effort or viriya is very important in the meditation practice, it works when we learn to make effort in four ways. Viriya is one of the eightfold noble path, right effort or sammā-vāyāma. We practice right effort in four steps. Now this is what you have to understand, if you follow the instructions, it will make a change in your life. Change will take place in your life.
If you’re still experiencing negative feelings, this is because there are some necessary causes and conditions for the negative feelings. Consciously or unconsciously you are entertaining yourself with those causes and conditions. So now if you really want to experience happiness, freedom from daily stress and tension, then here are four steps that we have to follow. The first step is called prevention, samvara. The second one is pahana, elimination, uprooting. The third step is bhavana, cultivation, development. The fourth step is anurakhana, which means preservation, sustainment.
So now, how do we understand these four steps? In meditation, you first have to create an environment. You have to prepare your mind in such a way, making an effort to prevent unwholesome thoughts. Now why is that? Let me give you a simple example. Let’s say you really dislike somebody. It could be someone in your office, at home, or any other place. You know that by going to a particular room or office, or going intentionally to meet a certain person or starting a conversation with a particular person, it’s going to annoy you and also the other person. You and the other person will become irritated with one another. When you get annoyed or irritated, then of course you become miserable and unhappy. As you become unhappy, your unhappiness is impacting the other person too. So then you have a choice to make, whether to prevent such an action or not. Another example is, me moving closer to you over there fully knowing that it will negatively affect me, and it will negatively affect you too. I have to make the choice of not getting too close to the person I dislike. These are ways of preventing.
The second step, pahana, is uprooting. Although I don’t move closer to you, my being here in this place sitting on this cushion, I still I get thoughts – I still have your mental image in my head. So what do I do? I have to make an effort to eliminate that mental image. That’s why at the beginning of the guided meditation, I remind all of you to withdraw your attention from everything else and also withdraw your mind from all mental images. So you can apply satipatthana, paying attention within. Remember the story I told you, every time your mind goes out, you’re in big danger. You’re vulnerable to anything. So then you have to withdraw. You have to focus within. As you prevent unwholesome thoughts, you already have negative mental images – you must make an effort also to eliminate negative mental images. Why? Because unwholesome feelings, unwholesome thoughts, and negative mental images, are all causing a lot of stress and tension to arise in your mind.
This happens all the time wherever you go. You could be at the office, at home, at a party, shopping, anywhere, you may have the intention of hurting somebody or hurting yourself – you’ll have to choose, “No, I’m not going to hurt myself.” This is uprooting based on wholesome intentions. Every time such unwholesome thoughts arises in your mind or such unwholesome intentions pop up in your mind, you have to make an effort to make it wholesome. This is prevention – you are making your life wholesome and happy, cultivating the way for the next two steps must be practiced.
The third step is bhavana which is cultivation. If I get angry, if I’m upset, then I have to understand that I’m upset, I’m angry because of a particular thought, because of an intention. I now have to change the thought and intention. Deliberately and intentionally tell yourself in a very friendly way, “I don’t want to get upset. I don’t want to live a miserable life. I want to be free from all stress, tensions, miseries, pain, and suffering. Then you intentionally cultivate good thoughts. Let’s say, instead of anger, you choose to cultivate compassion, good will, metta and karuna, loving-kindness and compassion. Instead of getting angry with someone, say to yourself, “May you be well and happy. May I be free from anger, may you also be free from anger. May I be happy, may you also be happy.” When you cultivate these wholesome thoughts, then you keep cultivating these thoughts, every day, all the time. This is what we call anurakhana, preservation, sustainment which is the fourth step – sustaining good thoughts all the time. When you continue cultivating good thoughts you then feel the impact of such good thoughts – even your mood changes. In neuroscience they teach that every time you think negatively a negative emotion pops up. When a negative emotion pops up, it’s going to drain your life. It’s going to change your life in a negative way. It’s going to create a lot of misery in your life making you miserable. This is when you’ll begin to complain. So then, practice meditation using samma vayama, right effort. This is the instruction, this is where we begin – the technique of bhavana, cultivation.
Have you really practiced meditation as Buddha instructed? Have you practiced meditation as he instructed throughout the day, week, month, and year? You may be saying to yourself now, “Ah, I don’t think I’ve practiced meditation following his instructions. Perhaps it’s time for me to change my practice. Maybe I have to make an effort to follow the instructions”. In the year 2013, if you were not able to practice the instructions to the path according to the Buddha’s way, if you did not experienced the fruits of this meditation practice, then you have not done it properly. If you continue in the same way for the year 2014, then the results are going to be the same.
If you want to make a change, then you have to make a determination, what we call adhiṭṭhāna which is a very important step. Make a determination that you are not going to repeat the same mistakes. “I’m not going to carry these same mistakes to year 2014. I’m going to be more serious with the practice. I’m going to be more determined.” So as you begin the meditation practice for the new year wishing for happiness and bliss do so with determination, adhiṭṭhāna. As you practice with adhiṭṭhāna, it will take you closer to the experience you’re trying to experience, that is, to become happy. It’s very important that we understand this. Taking you a bit deeper into this explanation, the first two steps, prevention and elimination, are about the five hindrances: sensual pleasure, ill-will, sloth and torpor, agitation and worries, and doubt. We have to make an effort to prevent and eliminate these five hindrances.
As we follow these first two steps, then the third and fourth steps are about the cultivation of the seven factors of enlightenment, bojjhanga. I’m not going to explain this today. I just wanted to give the terms because sati sambojjhanga the first factor of enlightenment is mindfulness. There are seven factors of enlightenment. We have to cultivate mindfulness, sati. Second, the mind then becomes interested, Dhamma vicaya sambojjhanga – you have to cultivate the enlightenment factor of the good mental states or discrimination of the wholesome and unwholesome mental states. Third, viriya sambojjhanga – to cultivate effort. The fourth factor is Piti sambojjhanga – making an effort to cultivate joy and happiness. Fifth, passaddhi sambojjhanga – which is to cultivate tranquility, a calm state of mind. Sixth is the factor of concentration, samadhi sambojjhanga – to cultivate concentration, the deeper calm state of mind. Seventh is, upekkha sambojjhanga – to cultivate equanimity.
So when you cultivate these seven factors of enlightenment and when you preserve and sustain wholesome mental states, then there will come a day, a moment when you will be completely free from all your daily stress and tension. Although somebody tries to annoy you, you won’t get annoyed. Seriously, trust me!! You’re not going to get annoyed. That’s what happened to Buddha. Remember the story, when a Brahmin started yelling at the Buddha and he did not get annoyed. He remained very calm because he realized that it wasn’t his problem. If the Brahmin was shouting at the Buddha, that was the Brahmin’s problem not the Buddha’s. If someone is shouting that is his problem not mine, because I’m free from shouting.
So now this is the reflection that you have to do. Ask yourself, “Have I followed the instructions? Have I practiced meditation this way in order to become happy? If not, then I have to make an effort to cultivate these things, these positive qualities in the New Year so that I will get one step closer to the experience of happiness, bliss.” This, as I said, is a paramita, a perfection. The constant practice; this constant exercise makes you perfect. It gives you more experience and wisdom. I think if you could do this reflection in this way then it will give you more positive reinforcement. This is what I do most of the time. For me, as a monk, as your dhamma friend, I feel very happy about the fact that I was able to conduct these meditation sessions every week in the year 2013. I feel like I lived a very meaningful life in the year 2013. I cannot complain about my life.
Also, I shared what I know, my knowledge, my experience with all of you for your benefit. Not only that, I have done other things too. So when I think about these positive things in my life, I feel very happy and at the same time, I do this reflection as a monk. Of course my objective is to realize Nibbana. I ask myself, “Have I become closer to the experience of Nibbana.” If not, then I have to make increased effort to intensify my practice in the year 2014 so that I can get one more step closer to that experience. This is the reflection that we all have to do. So I thought I should talk about this today and be thankful for the year 2013 – expressing my gratitude in this year. I’m still breathing! That’s the most important thing. Be thankful to yourself, and to everything. Gratitude is another wonderful quality. Then with the same heart filled with gratitude welcome the year 2014 and practice with more determination, you will be able to experience your goal in the near future. So with that intention in mind now let us begin our mindfulness meditation practice.