2021-03-11 Mindfulness of Breathing (52) Wholesome Nourishment for Samādhi
3:27AM Mar 12, 2021
One of the foundational cornerstone teachings of the Buddha – that intimately connects to both meditation and daily life – is the idea of "wholesome and unwholesome." Sometimes it's translated "skillful and unskillful." Informally, I like to translate it as "helpful and unhelpful."
It has to do with actions – what we do. Some of the actions we may think are more like states, wholesome states, but they are an activity of the mind. These are states of mind – actions or activities of the mind, ways of being – that feel like they're nourishing. The word 'nourishing' is a word that the Buddha used to express that different mental states and mental activities operate as food, as nourishment for ourselves.
It isn't simply that generosity is generosity. Generosity is a wholesome state, healthy state, which is nourishing and has a good influence on us. Loving kindness and mindfulness are considered wholesome states, which are nourishing and have a good influence on us. Tranquility is a wholesome state – a wholesome way of being, which nourishes us and nourishes more tranquility.
This idea of both of nourishment and wholesomeness comes into play in the third tetrad of the 16 steps of ānāpānasati in a number of ways. The 10th step is "gladdening the mind." And this "gladdening the mind" some people have translated as "satisfying the mind," or "enjoying the mind."
This comes with the ability to feel the goodness, delight, and enjoyment, not just of pleasure, but of this nourishment – this wholesomeness that can happen. This comes as we no longer fixate or focus on the details of our inner life, but begin looking at the big picture – experiencing the mind as a whole.
We're not preoccupied with the past or future, not focused on desires or particular emotions that are troublesome for us – all reasonable things to do at times. As we go deeper into meditation, we're relaxing, letting go and not fixating on things. There's a softening, deepening and opening that begins happening. We become aware of the general quality of our inner life.
Another way I like to translate 'citta' – the mind or the heart – is the whole quality of the inner life. As we let go – going through these deeper states of meditation – we tap into a sense of wholesomeness, goodness, and nourishment. Something that feels very satisfying just to be here. This becomes a valuable experience – something to imbibe, to feel and allow oneself to be influenced by.
Understand that the Buddhist teachings are based on this movement towards the wholesome. The degree to which we do wholesome things that are skillful, that are ethically and psychologically wholesome – that leads to a sense of being whole rather than fragmented, a sense of being inclusive rather than holding things at bay or holding things in check.
This becomes very important as we start moving into developing samādhi or unification, the 11th step of ānāpānasati: "Breathing in one unifies the mind. Breathing out one unifies the mind." Another translator: "Breathing in one steadies the mind. Breathing out one steadies the mind." Another translator: "Breathing in one concentrates the mind. Breathing out one concentrates the mind."
These words 'unify', 'steady', 'concentrate', are all in the domain of the third tetrad: "One experiences the mind." "One gladdens or satisfies the mind." And then, "One concentrates, unifies the mind." This sequence points to the fact that it's a lot easier for the mind to get unified – to gather together, get organized, get settled and become steady – when the mind feels like a satisfying and enjoyable place to be. The heart is wholesome and good.
We're not recoiling from inner pain, struggle, or angst. We're not afraid of ourselves and trying to avoid parts of ourselves. We've come to the place where we are now inclusive. We associate more with the inclusivity of the big mind, rather than the particular details.
We might still have particular details that are difficult, but we're not locked into or preoccupied with that. We respect it. But now the mind holds it all, in a more expansive, open way. That expansive, open mind is where we begin to feel and allow for something wholesome, satisfying and deep to happen.
Rather than huffing and puffing to get concentrated, it's more like, "Wow, this is good. The mind wants to settle. The mind wants to be more settled, doesn't want to be scattered." In fact, to be scattered – to go into the past and future, to be caught up in thoughts, to become narrow or locked into something again – doesn't feel interesting. It's like, "Why would you?" There's not much juice to to be distracted, because it feels so good to be here, right here.
Maybe the way I'm talking is kind of grand or grandiose, or seems a lttle beyond what's possible for you. What I want to emphasize is that we are moving in the direction of an inner goodness and wholesomeness, a way that inner life feels satisfying. I like to use the phrase, "We feel at home with ourselves." "Oh, I'm home, it's so good to be here. Of course, I want to be here."
It's with this mind – this way of being – when we connect to our breathing, that we do it in a way that feels satisfying, tender and caring. We appreciate the opportunity to start again. Rather than it being a burden, rather being dejected or dismayed that we wandered off in thought, we feel, "Ah, yes, I've come home! This is good."
When we sustain the attention, it's not because we're struggling to do it or holding things at bay. It's because we are, "Ahh, this is good. I'm home. This feels nice – to be here in the present moment."
The initial application of attention is connecting. The sustained application of attention is sustaining attention. Ideally, it's all nourishing. Maybe each of you can have a different reference point or example that supports you for this.
In the meditation, I used the idea of doing Tai Chi. Tai Chi of the mind – coming back to your breathing, hanging in there with breathing. Those gentle, flowing movements of Tai Chi. The point isn't to get to the end of the Tai Chi movements as quickly as you can. It's an action we're doing, Tai Chi, but each moment is complete in itself – we're really into that part of the movement.
For some of you it might be gardening. Maybe you love gardening – just being, weeding and planting, just doing it. There's no hurry to do it. It's tender and nourishing. Maybe it's a parental feeling for your plants – just tending and caring. Maybe it's a craft. Maybe it's caring for someone who's sick, and you do it in a loving way.
You might think about what example you have in your life – of doing something which has qualities of wholesomeness, nourishment, satisfaction, inner goodness – an example that represents for you the movement of where we're going – the downhill slope, the pull of gravity – of meditation. This is where we're going. With that we cultivate unification. We cultivate steadiness, deep settledness and what some people call concentration.
Enjoy yourself. Enjoy your mind. Provide your mind with a way of being that the mind enjoys. Let your inner actions – inner attitudes, thoughts and feelings – be something that the mind really appreciates – that the mind feels, "Ahh. This is good."
The mind says, "Oh, I like being with this person. I like being here. I don't feel like I need to run off anymore. Because the way this is operating for this person, this is really good." Maybe your mind will stick around – stick around for your breathing, and for your meditation in the present moment.
Thank you all very much and I look forward to tomorrow.