Understanding Meditation
by Venerable Thubten Chodron


In Tibetan, the word “meditation” comes from the same verbal root as “to habituate” or “to familiarise.” Thus, in meditation we endeavour to habituate ourselves to valuable ways of viewing the world. We also seek to familiarise ourselves with an accurate view of reality, so that we can eliminate all wrong conceptions and disturbing attitudes.

Meditation isn’t merely chasing all thoughts out of our minds and abiding in a blank state. There’s nothing spectacular about a blank mind. Skilfully directed thoughts can help us, especially at the initial levels of meditation. Eventually we need to transcend the limitations of concepts. However, doing so doesn’t mean entering a lethargic blank state. It means clearly and directly perceiving reality.

First, we must listen to instructions on how to meditate and what to meditate on. Meditation isn’t just sitting with crossed legs and closed eyes. It’s directing our minds to a positive object and cultivating beneficial attitudes. We need to listen to instructions from an experienced teacher in order to know how to do this properly. Second, we think about the instructions: we must understand a subject before we can habituate ourselves with it.

This reflection can be done by discussing the teachings with our Dharma friends and teachers. It can also be done alone, seated in meditation position.

When we have some intellectual understanding of the subject, then we integrate it into our minds through meditation. Through familiarising our minds with certain attitudes and views ౼ such as impartial love or the wisdom realising reality ౼ they gradually become spontaneous in us.


There is a classic meditation position: we sit cross-legged on a cushion, with our bottom higher than the legs. The shoulders are level and the back is straight, as if we were being pulled up from the crown of the heads. The hands are placed in the lap, just below the navel. The right hand is on top of the left, with the thumbs touching. The arms are neither pressed against the body nor sticking out, but in a comfortable position. The head is slightly inclined, the mouth closed, with the tongue against the upper palate.

The eyes are slightly open in order to prevent drowsiness, but they aren’t looking at anything. Rather, they’re gazing downwards, loosely focused at the tip of the nose or on the ground in front. Meditation is done entirely with the mental consciousness, not with the visual consciousness. We shouldn’t try to “see” anything with our eyes during meditation.

It’s good to meditate in the morning before beginning the day’s activities as the mind is fresher then. By focusing on beneficial attitudes in our morning meditation, we’ll be more alert and calmer during the day. Meditation in the evening also helps to settle the mind, and “digest” what happened during the day before going to sleep.

Meditation sessions shouldn’t be too long at first. Choose a time that’s reasonable for your capacity and your schedule. It’s important to be regular in meditation practice because regular repetition is necessary to familiarise ourselves with beneficial attitudes. Meditating 15 minutes every day is more beneficial than meditating three hours one day and then sleeping in the rest of the week.

Because our motivation determines whether what we do is beneficial or not, it’s extremely important to cultivate a good motivation before meditating. If we begin each meditation session with a strong motivation, it’ll be easier to concentrate. Thus, for a few minutes prior to putting our attention on the object of meditation, we should think of the benefits of meditation for ourselves and others.

It’s very worthwhile to generate the altruistic intention, “How wonderful it would be if all beings had happiness and were free of all difficulties! I would like to make this possible by showing others the path to enlightenment. But, as long as my own mind is unclear, I can’t help myself let alone others. Therefore, I want to improve myself — to eliminate my obscurations and develop my potentials — so that I can be of better service to all others. For this reason, I’m going to do this meditation session, which will be one step more along the path.”

Within Buddhism, there are many kinds of meditations. Basically, they’re divided into two categories: those to gain samatha or calm abiding, and those to develop vipassana or special insight. The Buddha said in the sutra, Revealing the Thought of Buddha:

You should know that although
I have taught many different
aspects of the meditative
states of hearers (those
on the path to arhatship),
bodhisattvas and tathagatas
(Buddhas), these can all be
included in the two practices
of calm abiding and special insight.


Calm abiding is the ability to hold our minds on the object of meditation with clarity and stability for as long as we wish. With calm abiding, our minds become extremely flexible, giving us the liberty to focus on whatever virtuous object we wish. Although calm abiding alone can’t cut the root of the disturbing attitudes, it drastically reduces their power. Gross anger, attachment and jealousy don’t arise and consequently, one feels more in harmony with the world.

For the mind to abide in a calm state, we must free it from all worries, preconceptions, anxieties, and distractions. Thus, for the development of calm abiding, we do stabilising meditation in which we train our minds to concentrate on the object of meditation.

The Buddha gave a variety of objects upon which we can focus to develop single-pointed concentration. These include meditating on love as the antidote to anger and on ugliness as the antidote to attachment. We could also meditate on the clear and aware nature of the mind. The image of the Buddha could be our meditation object, in which case we visualise the Buddha in our minds’ eye and hold our concentration on this. One of the principal objects used to develop calm abiding is the breath.

To meditate on the breath, sit comfortably and breathe normally. Don’t do deep breathing or force the breath in any way. Breathe as usual, only now, observe and experience it fully. Focusing the attention at the tip of the nose, observe the sensation of the breath as you inhale and exhale.

Most of us are surprised and even alarmed when we start to meditate. It seems as if our minds resemble a street in downtown New York — there is so much noise, so many thoughts, so much push and pull. Meditation isn’t causing our minds to be this cluttered. Actually, our minds are already racing around, but because our introspective awareness is weak, we aren’t aware of it. This internal chatter isn’t a hopeless situation, however. Through regular practice, our minds will be able to concentrate better and the distractions will diminish.


Laxity and agitation are the two principal hindrances to developing concentration. Laxity occurs when the mind is dull, and if it’s not counteracted, we can fall asleep. When the mind is sluggish, we should apply the proper antidotes to uplift it. We can temporarily stop focusing on the breath as the object of meditation and think about something that will raise our spirits, such as our precious human life or our potential to become a Buddha. It’s also helpful to visualise clear light filling the room or bright light flooding into the body. This will enliven the mind and dispel the laxity. Then return to meditating on the breath.

For beginners who get sleepy when meditating, it’s helpful to splash cold water on the face before sitting down. Between meditation sessions, looking long distances helps expand and invigorate the mind.

Agitation is the other chief obstacle to developing calm abiding. It occurs when the mind is attracted towards something we’re attached to. For example, we focus on the breath for 30 seconds, and then, unbeknownst to us, our concentration strays to food. Then we think about our loved ones, and after that where we’ll go on the weekend. These are all instances of agitation.

Agitation is different from distraction. The former is directed towards attractive objects that we’re attached to, while the latter takes our attention to other things as well. For example, thinking about the insulting words someone snarled at us five years ago is an example of distraction. So is straying to thoughts of the Buddha’s good qualities when we’re supposed to be concentrating on the breath.

Agitation indicates that the mind is too high and excited. Thus, the antidote is to think about something sombre. Thus, we can temporarily reflect on impermanence, the ugly aspects of whatever we’re attached to or the suffering of cyclic existence. Having made our minds more serious, we then return to meditating on the breath.

Mindfulness and introspective alertness are two mental factors enabling us to prevent and counteract distraction, laxity and agitation. With mindfulness, we remember the object of meditation — the breath. Our memory or mindfulness of the breath is so strong that other distracting thoughts can’t enter.

To ensure that we haven’t become distracted, lax or agitated, introspective alertness is used to check whether or not we’re still focused on the object of meditation. Introspective alertness is like a spy — it occasionally arises and quietly observes whether our mindfulness is still on the breath, or if we’re thinking about what we’re going to do tomorrow. Introspective alertness also notices if our concentration is lax and not clearly focused on the breath. If introspective alertness finds that we’re still concentrating, we continue doing so. If it discovers we’re distracted, lax or agitated, we then renew our mindfulness, bringing the mind back to the object of meditation. Or, we apply the antidotes to laxity and agitation described above. Patience is another necessary quality for the development of calm abiding. We need to accept ourselves the way we are, and to have the confidence and enthusiasm to make our minds more peaceful. If we push ourselves and expect to receive immediate results, that attitude itself hinders us. On the other hand, if we’re lazy, no progress is made. We need to cultivate relaxed effort.

Developing calm abiding is a gradual process that takes time. We shouldn’t expect to meditate a few times and have single pointed concentration. However, if we receive proper meditation instructions and follow them under the guidance of a teacher, and if we persist with joy and without expectation, we’ll attain calm abiding.

Thubten Chodron 28.

Generally I have great faith and confidence in all the teachings of the Buddha. I have no thought that one is better or worse. All the teachings in Tibet come from India. They are not different; they just have different names. The teachers established different monasteries in different places. We come from the same teacher and the same teaching. We tend to forget this because it’s more than 2000 years since the Buddha passed away. The Buddha predicted the way the dharma would end would be when the people who hold the teachings have conflict amongst themselves. That conflict is the maras. However bad we are, we should not destroy our own teachings. We should all be very careful about this.

— 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

为何人生充满不安 佛陀早已揭示答案














All the violence, fear and suffering that exists in this world comes from grasping at “self”. What use is this great monster to you? If you do not let go of the “self”, there will never be an end to your suffering.

— Shantideva

The Real Practice of Mindfulness
by Andrew Olendzki

The English language is rich in many ways, particularly when explaining the features of the material world, but it is remarkably clumsy when it comes to articulating the nuanced terrain of inner experience. This is one of the reasons the current conversations about consciousness, meditation, and psychology in general can be somewhat confusing.

One of the satisfactions of studying the languages and literatures of India is the exposure it offers to a richer and more precise vocabulary for speaking about internal states of mind. At the time Greek philosophers were seeking to identify the universal substances out of which all matter is constructed, their counterparts in India were exploring, empirically and directly, the textures of consciousness. By the time Socrates suggested that care of the soul was an appropriate thing for philosophers to attend to, a detailed and highly developed map of the mind and body as a system of lived experience had been delineated by the Buddha and his immediate followers.

Part of the literature containing this lore is the Abhidhamma. It is an attempt to extract some of the Buddha’s core teachings about the phenomenology of experience from the narrative context of the dhamma and to organise it into a more systematic and consistent presentation. I’d like to offer a taste of this greater precision by considering the question, “What is mindfulness?” As the term grows in importance in contemporary discourse, its meaning seems to be becoming less rather than more clear. Fortunately, the rich vocabulary and meditative insight of the Abhidhamma tradition can help us understand better what the word “mindfulness” is referring to. In the process, this excursion will also include some general observations about how the mind functions and how these functions are augmented by the deliberate practice of meditation. Moreover, it will touch on the relationship between the cultivation of mindfulness and the emergence of wisdom.


According to the Abhidhamma, consciousness arises and passes away each moment as a series of episodes in a continuing process. It is not a thing that exists, but an event that occurs — again and again — to yield the subjective experience of a stream of consciousness. Consciousness itself is rather simple and austere, consisting merely of the cognising of a sense object by means of a sense organ. This event serves as a sort of seed around which a number of other mental factors crystallise to help consciousness create meaning from the stimuli presenting themselves so rapidly and relentlessly at the doors of the senses.

Like a king with his entourage, as the classical image has it, consciousness never arises alone. It is always attended by a number of other mental factors that help structure, shape, and direct rudimentary consciousness in various ways. The idiosyncrasies of our experience come from the unique configurations formed by all these supporting mental factors as they interact each moment with the changing data of the senses and the synthetic constructions of the mind. Altogether, fifty-two of these mental factors are enumerated in the Pali Abhidhamma. (The Sanskrit Abhidharma tradition has a somewhat different list, but we will not get into that here.) Scholars have tended to dismiss this exhaustive catalogue of mental states as the product of scholasticism run amok, but many people with a mature practice of vipassana meditation are thrilled by the precision with which this literature describes the interior landscape. It is the child of two parents: its mother is deep empirical observation of meditative experience, while its father is a brilliant organising intellect.

As I review the Abhidhamma perspective on meditation and mindfulness, I will identify each mental factor by its Pali term and its number on the list for the sake of clarity, but will not consider all the mental factors nor treat them in their strict canonical order.


Meditation starts with getting in touch with experience at the point of its inception. We literally make contact (phasso, 1) with what is happening in the present moment. If we are daydreaming or worrying or wondering what to do next, we let go of that for the moment and get grounded at one of the sense doors. What is the actual physical sensation arising this moment at the body door as I begin to draw an in-breath? Can I get right to the cutting edge of the sound produced by that chirping bird outside the window? Dropping down from the level of “thinking about” something to “getting in touch” with what is actually occurring right now is referred to as making contact with the sensation just as it first arrives at one of the sense doors.

We immediately notice that this sensation is always accompanied by a feeling tone (vedana, 2) that can be grossly or subtly pleasant or unpleasant. This is a strand of experience that brings with it a sense of embodiment, an awareness of visceral sensitivity. Every sensation comes with its own distinct quality, with a sense of what it feels like to be having that experience right here and now. Even when it is not obviously pleasant or unpleasant, there is nevertheless an affect tone that strings our moments of experience into a continuous flow of feelings, much like the cognitive flow of the stream of consciousness, and contributes to the feeling of being a living organism. Meditation can focus on discerning the distinction between bare sensory contact and the feeling tone that colours the sensation. The stimulus is one thing, while the feeling tone that gives it depth and flavor is another.

Perception (sañña, 3) is another mental factor occurring with every moment of consciousness. Its function is to interpret what it is that we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, or thinking in any particular episode of cognition. Perceptions puts together knowledge about the presenting object based upon a wide network of associations, memories, analyses, learned perceptual categories, and linguistic labels. These manifest as representations, symbols, words, icons, or other images we might form to interpret the sense data into meaningful categories of thought. This happens automatically and subliminally in every moment, but meditation can bring a heightened attentiveness to the process, so that we become more consciously aware of our perceptions, and the perceptions themselves can become more acute.

So far we have referred to four of the five khandas, or aggregates (skandhas in Sanskrit): material form, consciousness, feeling, and perception. Contact is the coming together of the organs and objects of sensation, both materially based, with consciousness, the mental act of knowing one by means of the other. Feeling and perception expand upon this data to fill in a richer picture of what we are experiencing. All four aggregates work together to answer questions like, “What is happening here?” and “How am I to understand what is arising in my experience right now?”

Of the fifty-two mental factors listed in the Abhidhamma, two of them (feeling and perception) are aggregates in their own right, while all of the remaining fifty are part of the fifth aggregate, formations (sankhara). These address the very different question, “What am I going to do about it?” or “What intentional stance do I take toward this?” Whereas consciousness, feeling, and perception are all based on words built upon the verb “to know,” the word for formations is rooted in the verb “to do” and covers the wide range of our emotional responses to what is happening.

The mental factor of intention (cetana, 4) is the active mode of the mind by means of which we exercise our volition or will. Meditation can be understood as an intentional action of paying attention, of being present with, or of otherwise choosing to be aware of what is arising and passing away in the field of experience. Even if one is trying not to direct the mind too much, as in the proverbial “choiceless awareness,” there is nevertheless a specific intention to attend carefully to whatever arises. Intention encompasses the executive function of the mind, the faculty by means of which decisions are made and karma is produced. An important nuance of Buddhist thought is that this executive function does not necessarily require an agent exercising it. Choices are made, but there is nobody who makes them — but this is a matter for another forum.

One of the key decisions made by intention is where and how to place one’s attention (manasikaro, 7), the next mental factor to consider. More than anything, meditation has to do with deliberately directing attention to a particular object of experience. Attending to the breath, attending to an intention of loving-kindness toward all beings, attending to the vast sky against which thoughts come and go like clouds — all involve the function of pointing or steering the mind in some non-ordinary way. The definition of daydreaming seems to be allowing attention to wander wherever it will, from one association to another; meditation is a mental discipline wherein the attention is trained to be more selective. Most meditation instructions include such instructions as “Allow the attention to settle on…” or “Bring attention to bear upon…” something or other.

A particular way of doing this is by having attention focus (ekaggata, 5) or concentrate upon a single point. This mental factor seems essential to any type of meditation, for by focusing the mind one increases its power significantly. If the mind skips from one object to another in time, or flits from this or that object in space, it can’t possibly generate the depth or stability to see anything clearly. One-pointed focus of mind — of consciousness, of intention, or of attention — is a way of harnessing the capacity of the mind to a particular purpose. The Buddhist tradition contains concentration meditations that specifically build upon this function, such as the jhanas, or absorptions, but all forms of meditation seem to require some level of focus.

So, are we meditating yet? Remarkably, no. According to the Abhidhamma, all the above mental factors mentioned are present in every single mind moment, whether we are meditating or not. All six factors (there is a seventh, but it is not immediately relevant) need to — and automatically do — participate in helping to shape and direct each moment of consciousness. If any one of these factors was absent, we would not be capable of ordinary coherent experience. Even when totally spacing out, or committing a heinous crime, some basic level of contact, feeling, perception, intention, attention, and focus is operative. The presence, and even the cultivation, of these factors alone does not sufficiently account for the practice of meditation.


The Abhidhamma next considers a number of factors that are not routinely present in the mind, but may be. When these are absent, we continue to function normally, but when they are present we manifest certain additional capabilities. There are six of these so-called occasional factors, which can arise individually or in various combinations. They are also called ethically neutral factors, because they are not inherently wholesome or unwholesome; they can contribute equally to beautiful or horrific states of mind.

The first of these mental factors is initial application (vitakko, 8). This is not a particularly elegant English rendering of the term, but it suits the meaning well enough. It refers to the capability we have to consciously and deliberately place our mind on a chosen object of experience. When you work through a math problem, retell a detailed story, or find your mind drifting during meditation practice and (gently, of course) re-apply it to the breath, you are exercising this function of applying the mind in a particular way. All discursive thinking is based on this ability to take charge of the mind’s attention, so to speak, and is responsible for our prodigious planning and problem-solving skills.

Having directed the mind to a chosen object, another factor is needed to hold it there; this is sustained application (vicaro, 9). As you may have noticed, there are considerable forces working to distract your mind and keep its attention moving from one object to another. No doubt this promiscuity of attention has survival value in a rapidly changing environment, but there is also something to be gained by exercising the ability to hold the mind on something long enough to fully understand it and its implications. Concentration meditation, in which one attempts to hold attention steadily on the breath, for example, will be effective only if this focus can be sustained without interruption.

Both initial and sustained application work together to help train and discipline the mind around certain specific practices, such as breath awareness, guided Brahmavihara practice, and all forms of visualisation. Additionally, they may or may not be further supported by energy (viriyam, 11). We know what it feels like to do something with or without energy. Sometimes the mind stays easily on course and no particular effort is needed. Other times it is recalcitrant as a mule and needs a good kick. Energy is a mental factor that is not naturally always present, and in common idiom we talk about putting forth energy, arousing energy, or otherwise conjuring it up when needed.

Three other factors are considered ethically variable occasionals: decision (adhimokkho, 10), joy (piti, 12), and impulse (chando, 13). Each of these three adds something else to the texture of consciousness, and manifests under different circumstances. Decision, literally “releasing toward,” also means conviction or confidence, and functions when we do or think something with an attitude of decisiveness or determination. Joy is an intense mental pleasure, which can manifest, alas, in either wholesome or unwholesome contexts. And impulse, it is important to note, simply refers to an ethically neutral urge, inclination, or motivation to act, and not to the desire (greed, hatred) rooted in unwholesomeness. If the Buddha eats a meal at the appropriate time, for example, we can say he is prompted to act toward that end without being driven by desire or lust for food. In experience, chando can be discerned as the impulse preceding even the most simple and functional actions.

Are we practising mindfulness yet? We have already seen that if I sit with my legs crossed and back straight, get in touch with the physical sensations of the breath, and intentionally direct my attention to a single point, I am not necessarily meditating. These are all factors that will manifest spontaneously in any endeavour and are not unique to meditation. If I further apply my mind and sustain its attention on the in-breath, put forth energy with determination, joy, and a selfless inclination for the well-being of all living creatures, I may well be meditating — but that does not necessarily mean that I am cultivating mindfulness.


Mindfulness (sati, 29), according to the Abhidhamma, is a wholesome mental factor that will arise only under special circumstances. In most of the conventional ways we use the term these days, we are likely to be referring to any number and combination of the factors already mentioned. In the classical texts, especially the Satipatthana Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya, 10), one goes to an empty place, crosses one’s legs, straightens one’s back, and then establishes mindfulness (sati-upatthana) as an immediate presence. The Abhidhamma offers a fourfold definition of mindfulness, following the convention of the classical commentaries: 1) its characteristic is not wobbling, or keeping the mind from floating away from its object; 2) its function is absence of confusion, or non-forgetfulness (the term saticomes from a word for memory); 3) its manifestation is the state of confronting an objective phenomenal field; and 4) its immediate cause is strong perception or the four foundations of mindfulness (i.e., body, feeling, consciousness, mental objects). These definitions all suggest an enhanced presence of mind, a heightened attentiveness to objects of experience in the present moment, a special non-ordinary quality of attention. We can learn a lot more about it by looking at the company it keeps.

To begin with, it is an axiom of the Abhidhamma system that wholesome and unwholesome mental factors cannot co-arise in the same moment of consciousness. Mindfulness is a wholesome factor, so true mindfulness will arise only in a moment of consciousness if there are no unwholesome factors present. There are fourteen unwholesome factors, including greed (lobho, 18), hatred (doso, 21), and delusion (moho, 14), and a number of other afflictive emotional states deriving from various combinations of these three roots. This means that if we are feeling envy (issa, 22) or avarice (macchariyam, 23), for example, these states have our consciousness firmly in grip for the moment; they have hijacked our intention and all the other co-arising mental states, and are directing them to acting and creating karma in an unwholesome way. There can be no mindfulness in such a moment.

The moment immediately following, however, is a whole new beginning. Here we have the option, if we are trained and skillful in the establishment of mindfulness, of taking the envy or avarice that has just passed away as an object of the new moment, with an attitude of mindful investigation. Every moment of consciousness, we might say, has two major components: the object, and the intention with which that object is cognised. A mental object can be almost anything, including unwholesome intentions from previous mind moments; the intention with which it is held here and now will be shaped by the fifty-two mental factors. This means that we cannot be envious and mindful in the same moment, but we can be envious one moment and mindful of that fact the very next moment. Indeed, much of what is called spiritual development consists of first becoming aware of what states are arising and passing away in experience (no small challenge in itself), and then of learning how to regard them with mindfulness rather than remaining lost in them or carried away by them (an even more daunting, but not impossible, task).

One of the more astonishing insights of the Abhidhamma is that mindfulness always co-arises with eighteen other wholesome mental factors. We are used to thinking of these factors as very different things, but the fact that they all arise together suggests they can be viewed as facets of the same jewel, as states that mutually define one another. By reviewing the range of wholesome factors that co-arise with it, we can get a much closer look at the phenomenology of mindfulness.

First, there is equanimity (tatra-majjhattata, 34). The Abhidhamma actually uses a more technical word for this (literally “there-in-the-middle-ness”), but it is functionally equivalent to equanimity, an evenly hovering attitude toward experience that is neither attracted nor repelled by any object. It is therefore also characterised by non-greed (alobho, 32) and non-hatred (adoso, 33). This is the generic Abhidhamma way of referring to generosity or non-attachment on the one hand and loving-kindness on the other.

You can see how these three work together on a continuum to delineate perhaps the most salient characteristic of mindfulness. When true mindfulness arises, one feels as if one is stepping back and observing what is happening in experience, rather than being embedded in it. This does not mean separation or detachment, but is rather a sense of not being hooked by a desirable object or not pushing away a repugnant object. There in the middle, equidistant from each extreme, one encounters a sense of freedom that allows for greater intimacy with experience. It may seem paradoxical, but this system suggests we can take an attitude toward the objects of experience that is at the same time both equanimous and benevolent. Loving-kindness manifests as a deeply friendly intention toward another’s well-being, but it is not rooted in any selfish desire for gratification. Similarly, generosity co-arising with equanimity indicates that a deep intention to give something valuable to another can manifest without a desire for reciprocal gain.

Also engaged with all these mental factors are the twin “guardians of the world,” self-respect (hiri, 30) and respect for others (ottappam, 31). I find these translations preferable to the more common “moral shame” and “moral dread,” for obvious reasons—such English words carry with them unfortunate baggage that has no place in Buddhist psychology. The first of these constitutes an indwelling conscience, by means of which we know for ourselves whether or not an action we are doing or are going to do is appropriate. The second term is more of a social or interpersonal version of conscience. As mammals, I think we have adaptive instincts for empathy toward other members of the group and reflexively understand whether we are thinking, speaking, or acting within or outside the social norm. These two factors, self-respect and respect for others, are called guardians because they are always operative in all wholesome states, while their opposites, lack of self-respect (ahirikam, 15) and lack of respect for others (anottappam, 16), are present in every single unwholesome state.

Next, we have faith (saddha, 28) always co-arising with mindfulness. Every moment of mindfulness is also a moment of confidence or trust; it is not a shaky or tentative state of mind, and is the antithesis of unwholesome doubt (vicikiccha, 27). There remains only to consider a group of six associated factors, each referring to two mental factors (numbers 35–46). These terms can be taken almost as adjectives of mindfulness: tranquillity, lightness, malleability, wieldiness, proficiency, and rectitude. Experientially, these qualities can serve as useful indicators to when true mindfulness is manifesting. If you are regarding an object of experience during meditation with any restlessness, for example, or with heaviness, or with rigidity, you can be sure that mindfulness is not present. By the same token, mindfulness is sure to be present when all six of these qualities arise together, each mutually supporting and defining one another. It is all at once a peaceful, buoyant, flexible, effective, capable, and upright state of mind.


With all that has been said, it may seem that mindfulness is a rare occurrence, arising only under the most exotic of conditions. In fact, however, it is something we all experience, often in one context or another. The cultivation of mindfulness as a meditation practice entails coming to know it when we see it and learning how to develop it. The Pali word for development is bhavana, which simply means “causing to be.” The core meditation text Discourse on the Establishment of Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutta) offers simple instructions on how to do this:

As mindfulness is internally present, one is aware: “Mindfulness is internally present in me.” As mindfulness is not internally present, one is aware: “Mindfulness is not internally present in me.” As the arising of unarisen mindfulness occurs, one is aware of that. As the arisen mindfulness is developed and brought to fulfilment, one is aware of that. (Majjhima Nikaya 10:42)

In mindfulness meditation, we work to create the conditions favourable to the arising of mindfulness, relaxing the body and the mind, focusing the attention carefully but gently on a particular aspect of experience, while producing sufficient energy to remain alert without losing a sense of ease and tranquillity. Under such conditions, properly sustained, mindfulness will emerge as if by some grace of the natural world, as if it were a gift of clarity from our deepest psyche to the turbid shallows of our mind. When it does, we gradually learn how to hold ourselves so that it lingers, to relocate or re-enact it when it fades, and to consistently water its roots and weed its soil so that it can blossom into a lovely and sustainable habit of heart and mind.

As much as the scientific community currently enthralled with mindfulness would like to ignore the ethical component of the Buddhist tradition to focus their studies on the technology of meditation, we can see from this Abhidhamma treatment of the subject that true mindfulness is deeply and inextricably embedded in the notion of wholesomeness. Although the brain science has yet to discover why, this tradition nonetheless declares, based entirely on its phenomenological investigations, that when the mind is engaged in an act of harming it is not capable of mindfulness. There can be heightened attention, concentration, and energy when a sniper takes a bead on his target, for example, but as long as the intention is situated in a context of taking life, it will always be under the sway of hatred, delusion, wrong view (ditthi, 19), or some other of the unwholesome factors. Just as a tree removed from the forest is no longer a tree but a piece of lumber, so also the caring attentiveness of mindfulness, extracted from its matrix of wholesome co-arising factors, degenerates into mere attention.

One final question remains to be asked: As we practice the true development of mindfulness, are we also cultivating wisdom? If meditation (samadhi) is the bridge between integrity (sila) on one hand and wisdom (pañña) on the other, does mindfulness lead inevitably to wisdom? The discomforting answer to this question is again, no. The Abhidhamma lists wisdom (pañña, 52) as the last of the mental factors. Wisdom is certainly a wholesome factor, but it is not a universal wholesome factor and so does not arise automatically along with mindfulness and the rest.

Wisdom, understood as seeing things as they really are, is the crucial transformative principle in the Buddhist tradition. Just as you can practice meditation without manifesting mindfulness, so too can you practice mindfulness all you want without cultivating wisdom. If mindfulness is not conjoined with insight (another word for wisdom), it will not in itself bring about a significant change in your understanding. Real transformation comes from uprooting the deeply embedded reflex of projecting ownership upon experience (“this is me, this is mine, this is what I am”) and seeing it instead as an impermanent, impersonal, interdependent arising of phenomena. Cultivating mindfulness is a crucial condition for this to happen, but it will not in itself accomplish that end. As one text puts it, mindfulness is like grabbing a sheath of grain in one hand, while wisdom is cutting it off with a sickle in the other.

As with the arising of mindfulness, so also for the arising of wisdom: it cannot be forced by the will or engineered by the technology of meditation. Yet the conditions that support the emergence of wisdom can be patiently and consistently cultivated, moment after mindful moment, until it unfolds as of its own accord, like the lotus bursting out above the water or the moon flashing suddenly from behind a cloud.

This is hardly the last word on the subject, but I suspect the foregoing analysis raises the bar somewhat on how we use mindfulness as a technical term. Two things at least seem quite clear: there can scarcely be a more noble capability of the mind than mindfulness, and its cultivation must surely be one of the more beneficial things we can do as human beings.

Andrew Olendzki 3.

When having reached the end of reasoning within the intrinsic nature, no further reason is to be sought.

— Mipham Rinpoche


























我的看法,从瑜伽师地论上面看,在止还没有成就的时候,也是可以修观。我们心里面有妄想,要用止停下来,是好,你就修止。平常我们说是数息观,数息观就是修止。「数随止观还净」,「数随止」,这三个都是止;「观还净」,这里面有止有也观。修止时,亦应该修观,这是我个人的看法,为什麽修止时也应该修观?因为我们修止尚没有修成功,你止一会儿,你一定就有妄想,这是一定的,一定是这样,你不是昏沈就是妄想,这是必然的事情,若是这样子,你修一会儿止,你就修观,用观来挡妄想,来代替妄想,来驱逐妄想,好过打妄想。所以,止没有成就的时候,也可以修观,你修一会儿观,然後再修止,应该这样子,止而後观,观而後止。如果是完全修止而不修观,这样的话,到时侯,止不住的时候,自然是打妄想。打妄想的时候,有的时候觉悟了,你把心收回来再修止,不然的话,就是打妄想,自然就是这样子,所以,不如以观代替打妄想,避免打妄想,但是,观的时间不要太长,时间短一点,这样你长期的用功,应该会有成就的。这是我的小小的一点意见,但是,我们不必拿这件事去指责南传的禅有什麽不圆满,不必这样。这是人的问题,因为我们看南传也有阿含经,也有阿 达磨论,也有律,经律论都是有,如果你去看阿含经,应该是有止有观,不可以偏於止或偏於观,法上是圆满的,但是,人在传的时候,有时偏於止,有时偏於观,不必说是有什麽问题。








【第一个问答】: 有问:(录音带不清楚,略)。 师答:你提出这个问题,我的确同意,的确有这个问题。





【第二个问答】: 有问:修行止观时,如何由念住心,由慧观察,对治六根对六境的虚妄分别。




【第三个问题】: 有问:长老说要得圣道,必须要修观,长老也强调般若的自性空的观察,所谓色毕竟空,无我无我所,乃至受想行识毕竟空,无我无我所,那麽,大乘的空性与小乘的空性,效果是有何不同?如果我们不以小乘的空观,直接观大乘的空观,这个下手的方法,可否请长老根据自己的修行加以开示。







【第四个问题】: 有问:末学是修净土法门,也有很多人是修净土法门,末学刚才听长老讲的四念处的内容是很广,不是一般所讲的四念处,包括金刚经及其他很多经都是四念处,这个是比较广义的四念处,我想,这样的四念处,应该可以导入净土法门里面,就我们现在一般以持名念佛方法修净土法门的人,如何把四念处的观念导进来净土法门。











Ven Xuan Jing (玅境長老) 6.

Failure affects us only when we decide to give up easily, and success comes when stand on our own two feet. Therefore, our fate depends on how firmly we are able to hold our ground. So, do not give failure the chance to make us miserable.

— Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche

Catch and Release Meditation
by 7th Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

I once bought a shirt at the airport because I had been travelling a long time and was in need of a change. I found one in a nice deep blue colour and put it on without looking closely at it. Then, when I was sitting on the airplane, I saw it had a fish on it along with a caption down the sleeve: “Catch and release.” I felt very good about that. It was like a message from the universe — somehow, I was wearing instructions for working with the mind in meditation. That was my teaching for that trip.

You can use that phrase in your practice of meditation, too. Catch your thoughts and release them. You don’t need to bang them on the head and try to kill them before throwing them back. You can just acknowledge each thought and then let it go.

The practice of meditation is basically a process of getting to know yourself. How do you do it? By becoming familiar with your mind. Normally the mind is a whirlwind of thought, and meditation is a practice that calms this down and helps us develop a peaceful state of mind. Not only is our mind busy thinking, we’re usually thinking about the past or the future. We’re either reliving old dramas or imagining what could happen tomorrow or in ten years and trying to plan for it. We usually aren’t experiencing the present moment at all. We can’t change the past, and the future is always ahead of us — we never reach it, have you ever noticed? So, as long as this process continues, our mind never comes to rest. The mind can never just settle down and feel at ease.

When we practice sitting meditation over time, we get better at catching our thoughts and releasing them. Gradually the mind begins to settle naturally into a resting state. This is great because it allows us to be fully present in our lives. When we aren’t being pulled into the past or future, we can just be right here, where we actually live. To be in the present moment simply means to be awake and aware of yourself and your surroundings. That‘s the beginning of peace and contentment.


One of the most effective methods of meditation is the practice of following the breath. To begin, you simply sit in a meditation posture and watch your breath. There’s nothing else to do. Your breathing should be natural and relaxed. There’s no need to change your normal breathing. Start with bringing your attention to your breath, focusing on the inhalation and exhalation at your nose and mouth. There is a sense that you are actually feeling your breath, feeling its movement.

When you do this, you’re not just watching your breath. As you settle into the practice, you actually become the breath. You feel it as you exhale, and you become one with it. Then you feel the breath as you inhale, and you become one with it. You are the breath and the breath is you.

As you begin to relax, you begin to appreciate nowness, the present moment. Breathing happens only in the present. Breathe out. One moment is gone. Breathe in again. Another moment is here. Appreciating nowness also includes appreciating your world, your existence, your whole environment, being content with your existence.


To begin a session of sitting meditation, first you need a comfortable seat. You can use any cushion firm enough to support an upright posture. You can also sit in a chair. The main point is to have a relaxed but erect posture so that your spine is straight. If you are sitting on a cushion, cross your legs comfortably, and if you are sitting on a chair, place your feet evenly on the ground. You can rest your hands in your lap or on your thighs. Your eyes can be half-open with your gaze directed slightly downward a short distance in front of you. The most important point is that your posture is both upright and relaxed. Once you’re sitting comfortably, the main thing is to be fully present — to give your practice your full attention.


During meditation the chatterbox of mind will open up, and you’ll have lots of thoughts. Some will seem more important than others and evolve into emotions. Some will be related to physical sensations: the pain in your knee or back or neck. And some will strike you as extremely important — things that can’t wait. You forgot to respond to a critical email, you need to return a call, or you forgot your mother’s birthday. These kinds of thoughts will come, but instead of jumping up from your cushion, all you have to do is recognise them. When a thought tries to distract you, just say, “I’m having a thought about forgetting Mom’s birthday.” You simply catch your thought, acknowledge it, and then let it go. Sitting in meditation we treat all thoughts equally. We don’t give more weight to some thoughts than to others. If we do, we lose our concentration and our mind will start slipping away.

You may wonder why I’m talking about thoughts. We’re supposed to be focusing on meditation, right? Thoughts deserve a special mention because we tend to forget that the practice of meditation is the experience of thoughts. We might think our meditation should be completely free of thoughts, with our minds totally at peace, but that’s a misunderstanding. That’s more like the end result of our practice than the process. That is the “practice” part of the practice of meditation — just relating to whatever comes up for us. When a thought appears, we see it, acknowledge its presence, let it go and relax. That’s “catch and release.”

When you meditate, you repeat this catch-and-release process over and over again. One minute, you’re resting your mind on your breath, then a thought comes up and pulls your attention away. You see the thought, let it go, and go back to your breath. Another thought comes up, you see it, let it go, and go back to your breath once again. Mindfulness, catching your thoughts, brings you back to the present and to a sense of attention, or non-distraction. You can strengthen the power of your concentration with repeated practice, just as you strengthen the muscles in your body every time you exercise.

Remember, we’re working with mind here and your mind is connected to many different conditions that impact you in various unpredictable ways. So don’t expect your meditation to always be the same or for your progress to follow a certain timeline. Don’t be discouraged by the ups and downs in your practice. Instead of seeing them as signs that your practice is hopeless, you can see them as reminders for the need to practice and why it is so helpful.

It takes time to develop a strong state of concentration. Eventually, however, you will see that your mind stays where you put it. Meditating and developing strength of mind isn’t just a nice, spiritual activity. It is actually a big help and support to anything you want to learn or accomplish. As your mind becomes calmer, you experience more of what is happening in each moment. You begin to see that your life — your actual life, right now — is far more interesting than all those thoughts you’ve been having about it!

Ponlop Rinpoche 37.

The problems we face with appearances and all of the suffering we experience as a result of them are not because of the appearances themselves, but because of our fixation on them. It is our fixation upon appearances which turns appearances into enemies. Because these appearances are just appearances, they are just what appears to us. If we have no fixation on them, they will not bring any suffering.

— Thrangu Rinpoche