2021-07-01 Clear Recognition (4 of 5) Comprehension of the Pasture
8:11PM Jul 1, 2021
For today's talk on clear comprehension, sampajāna, clear recognition, I am happy to talk about the third form of clear comprehension – clear understanding, clear recognition of the pasture. "Pasture" is a strange expression, but it is my favorite of the clear comprehensions.
Pasture refers to where it goes, "gocara" in Pali. "Go" is the Pali word for cow. (Probably they are cognates – Indo-European languages have the same source.) "Cara" means the course, the place, the location, the field, the place where the cows go, to eat – a pasture.
What feeds us, what nourishes us? To recognize, as we do our activities, what is the pasture, where is the nourishment that can come from anything that we do? Everything we do, in a sense, is conditioning us. Everything we do is the nourishment for something. If we are constantly complaining, constantly being afraid, anxious, constantly thinking about all the things we want, fantasizing about all kinds of desires that we can ...
[Gil comments about technical difficulties] It's really freezing a lot. I wonder. So I'll just try to go ahead and we'll try to fix it.
Specifically the pasture is the four foundations of mindfulness. The body is a pasture where we get nourished and supported, if we know how to bring attention to it. Attention to the feeling tones of experience, to the mind states, to the dhammas, the mental activities that go on in the mind, all these things are nourishment for ourselves.
The way they are nourishment is when we are aware of them, in and of themselves – the body in the body, the feelings in the feelings, the mind states in the mind states and the mental activities in the mental activities. This is an expression from the suttas. What this means is that we are aware through the vehicle, the channels of direct experience of these four means, not through the thinking. The proliferation of thoughts – ruminations, fantasies, complaining, and anxiety producing thoughts that might be spinning around for us – those are not nourishing.
Even if the thoughts are wholesome, they might not be the place of the greatest nourishment. To be aware of whatever is happening through the channel of the body. To learn how to feel things through the body in a way that feels wholesome.
It is 'how' we are aware that is important. We can discover this sometimes through the body, and the body becomes a pasture. We can become aware of this through the feeling tones, whether things are pleasant or unpleasant. Even with unpleasant things, there is a way of knowing them, a way of being present, that, oddly enough, can be beneficial and nourishing.
If you were aware of something that was unpleasant, and were reacting to it – contracting around it, angry or despairing about it – then it is not nourishing. But if we go through it and just feel the unpleasantness – the unpleasantness in unpleasantness, independent of our reactivity – oddly enough, those unpleasant things begin entering into the beneficial mode. It provides good conditioning for us, good food for us, in a certain kind of way, because we are becoming free of it.
If we are aware of the mind state that is present – it all has to do with present moment awareness of the mind state. As soon as we are aware and clearly recognize the present momentness of the mind state, that recognition is no longer caught up in the other pasture we can walk in. The pasture of rumination, complaining, judgments, fear, anxiety – thoughts that are spinning and pulling us around.
Negative self thinking is very harmful. It is not that we should push it away or be aversive to it. The magic of mindfulness practice is that we recognize it is there, but we do not feed there – we do not let it influence us. One way to do that is clear comprehension of the pasture of the good place to be – to be aware through the body, aware of feelings in feelings, to be aware without the channel of these spinning thoughts that we might have.
At different times, different pastures are the most beneficial. Sometimes the best pasture is the body, and we are aware, sense and feel, through the body. Sometimes the best pasture is recognizing the feeling tones – the pleasantness, unpleasantness and neutrality of the experience. Sometimes to be aware of the mind state, the attitude, how awareness holds it. Sometimes it is better to be aware of the operating of the mind – attachments, clinging, freedom – the different, wonderful qualities of mind that are present.
Clear comprehension of the pasture, where we feed. As I said, for the Buddha, the best pastures are the four foundations of mindfulness. I will repeat, because it is so important, 'how' we are aware is where the best nourishment comes. We do not have to avoid paying attention to what is difficult. How we are aware of it is the point. If we are aware of it through these four pastures, it can be beneficial in nourishing the awareness. Not the negative states of mind, not the negative thinking, it is how we are aware that is nourishing.
It is a little different with wholesome states, beneficial states. There is a double benefit – while also aware of greed, holding on or expectations, how we are aware of the wholesome states is beneficial, and they themselves make good food. They themselves are good conditioning. It is a way of not being conditioned by the negative, but making room to be conditioned by the positive.
All in the service, in the traditional Buddhist sense, of developing greater strength of mindfulness, and stability of attention in the present moment, on the way to becoming free. If we can become free in how we see, become free in how we are aware, our attention to others can become a gift.
People can trust us that when we are present with them, we do not have agendas of our own that we are imposing on them. We are there to see, to be present, and share this common human experience of being alive in this challenging and wondrous world.
Thank you very much. How we are aware of the challenges of the YouTube and sound is the art of it, not whether the video is choppy or not. But we will see if we can get it fixed for tomorrow. Thank you.