2021-03-18 Mindfulness of Breathing (57) Meditative Seclusion
2:52PM Mar 18, 2021
Related to the topic of absorption, which I talked about in the guided meditation just now, is a concept the Buddha refers to often in meditation practice on this path of liberation is the idea often translated into English as 'seclusion.'
The Pali word for seclusion is 'viveka.' More literally, 'viveka' means to "separate something apart," "become separate." But in this context, seclusion is probably one of the better English words. No English words really work well, but it's one of the better English words if we associate seclusion with being sheltered, protected, cozy, and nice.
We're secluded in the best possible sense of that word: cozy, warm, and contented, with a deep feeling of satisfaction – just being here, secluded somehow. Maybe it's after a long walk, a big, invigorating, nice walk in the cold – maybe even in stormy weather. Then, we come inside, wrap ourselves in a nice blanket, and have a warm drink. We're being all cozy, alone, feeling secluded from all the difficulties of life around us.
The word 'seclusion' is used in the Buddhist teachings for a variety of different forms of seclusion. The first begins to give us a sense of what's to come. It's used to refer to going on retreat. They don't have the word 'retreat' in the ancient language, but they say: "going to be secluded." To be secluded is to go someplace where you're separate from the hustle and bustle, responsibilities, and social interactions of daily life, so you can really engage in the process of meditation.
Some people might say that's a process of escaping the world – the real world. We have to face the real world. But what's more real, in terms of our minds and hearts, is becoming integrated – not being fragmented and pulled in all kinds of directions by thoughts and feelings. And so the process of meditation – becoming physically secluded from many of the aspects of the world – allows us to find inner health, wholesomeness and integration. And we bring back that back into the world.
It isn't pushing the world away or abandoning it any more than being secluded in your bathroom taking a shower is pushing away or rejecting the world. If we take a shower and become clean, we're more of a pleasant person to be with in the world if we're taken care of that way.
So, there's the idea of meditative seclusion – going off on retreat. In the old days, it was going into the forest, perhaps in some place where people could be alone. For some people, it might just be in your own room by yourself in the early morning. Maybe you get up before everyone else and have the wonderful benefit of seclusion. There's nothing else to think about and be involved in – just here, practicing. Then, it's easier to get absorbed. It's easier to have the integration, wholeness, and the satisfaction and contentment of being this way – of really settling in.
Then we become more and more secluded. That meditative seclusion happens when we stop being so concerned with the past and the future. Thoughts don't take us spinning out into other places and other times. We're secluded from those external thoughts that kind of spin us away. If we are thinking, it's thoughts that keep us here, connected, and involved.
As we get more absorbed in meditation – more connected and involved in it – we really sink into it. And then there's a sensory seclusion that happens. Sometimes we're not really involved in hearing, smelling, or seeing. Even some sensing of the body may recede and disappear. Sometimes the body becomes very transparent or light. Or it seems to have no edges. Or even the whole body may seem to disappear.
This is because we're not really giving attention to the senses – the five senses of hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, tasting. They all recede. We still have the capacity to hear and taste and do all these things, but they recede from where our attention is – where we're absorbed, and what we're involved in.
It's just like if you're reading a really good book. You don't hear people talking anymore. You don't notice the sounds outside the house because you're so absorbed in the book. There's a sensory seclusion.
That sensory seclusion – because there's absorption – feels really good. It's like we're being pulled in. We're absorbed, delighted. We're enjoying. The attention is getting centered, here, because it is starting to get concentrated and very present.
As it does so, and as the mind becomes quieter and more still, one of the functions of this is for us to become more sensitive to clinging and grasping – to how the mind gets attached and to how it contracts. The more still, absorbed, and peaceful we can become, the more sensitive we become to the slightest movements of contraction, clinging, and resistance that go on in the mind and the heart. Then we have the opportunity to let go of that, or bring our attention to it and have it let go of itself. Over time, then, that becomes a seclusion from the things we cling to.
One of the important steps for this process of seclusion is to be secluded and separated from – not involved in anymore – with the five hindrances: sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and regrets, and doubt. Because we're so absorbed, connected, and involved with what we're doing in meditation – really absorbed. Dipping deeply into the world, the ocean of breathing – we're not getting pulled into those obstacles. Part of the contentment and satisfaction of meditation is not being involved anymore with the hindrances.
So, we're secluded from them. We're separated from them – as in the ancient language. And that's temporary. In deep meditation they fall away. But then they come back when we come out of meditation, and the mind is no longer concentrated. Maybe they come back a little bit weaker than they were before. But sooner or later, they'll come back.
The ultimate seclusion, separation, is when we become more permanently separated from some of our clinging and attachment. And that more permanent separation from attachment is called liberation. This 'samādhi' practice is meant to support that process of liberation.
It's not just getting absorbed and feeling the healthiness, goodness, wholesomeness, satisfaction – the continued contentment, of being absorbed in the breathing, flowing with the breath – but it's preparing the mind. The mind is softer, more workable, more able to let go – more malleable in a sense – so that the ways in which it's contracted have room to breathe. They have room to let go and open up. We start feeling some of the seclusions, which partake in or have qualities of liberation. For example, we're temporarily liberated from the hindrances.
That brings us to the twelfth step of the sixteen steps of breathing. The eleventh one is: "Breathing in, one concentrates the mind, unifies the mind, steadies the mind. Breathing out, one unifies the mind, steadies the mind, composes the mind, or concentrates the mind" – whatever the word 'samādhi' is translated as.
And then, the twelfth step is one liberates the mind: "Breathing in, one liberates the mind. Breathing out, one liberates the mind." Now we're starting to get into the territory of the real purpose of Buddhist meditation, the area of liberation. We'll pick that up and continue with that tomorrow.
In the meantime, you might look for how you can lovingly, delightfully, be absorbed in what you do during the day. Wash dishes being absorbed and 'just' do that in a way. Turn yourself over fully to the enjoyment of that without letting the mind take you away. Maybe there are a lot of activities throughout the day that you can do. If you eat alone, for example, be absorbed in just the eating. Learn to appreciate – or develop the capacity to give yourself over fully to – whatever you're doing when you're doing it.
There can be qualities of absorption that are like being involved in playing music in a nice way. These things support us in learning how to do meditation. So you might want to play around with that during the day today for next twenty-four hours.
So thank you very much, and I look forward to our time tomorrow.