2022-03-09 Satipaṭṭhāna (40) Benefiting the Mind Through Knowing
11:15PM Mar 8, 2022
The third foundation of mindfulness has eight exercises, or eight practices. They are divided into halves, two groups of four. For each of them, the verb, the activity, is "to know." The simplicity of knowing these mind states or these ways the mind can be.
The first half has a little bit more to do with a mind that is either somehow caught in the world of suffering or not so much – an unwholesome mind or a wholesome mind. There are four like that. The last four have to do more with the mind in meditation. The mind when it starts becoming free and it matures in the dharma, grows, and develops. That will be the topic for the next two days, tomorrow and Friday.
For now, we begin the first four. Knowing a mind that has greed, as a mind with greed. A mind without greed, to know it as being without greed or without desire. To know a mind of ill will, or aversion, as such. To know a mind without aversion, as a mind without aversion. To know a mind that is with delusion or confusion, as such. To know a mind that is without confusion or delusion, as a mind without confusion, delusion. Those are the first three.
The fourth one, most translators will understand it to be, something like, to know a contracted mind as a contracted mind, and a scattered mind, as a scattered mind. To know a shrunken mind, a shriveled mind, as a shrunken, shriveled mind and a scattered mind as a scattered mind. Sometimes this is associated with the third and fourth of the hindrances. To know a mind that is sinking into sloth and torpor, into dullness, as such. And to know a mind that is scattered from restlessness and anxiety. It makes some sense that that is what it means. Another possibility is that it is knowing, not a contracted mind, but a collected mind, and a scattered mind.
Whatever it is, the art of it is to simply know, "This is how the mind is." Contracted and scattered, dispersed mind. A mind that is afraid can be either way. It can be so afraid, that it shrinks into itself. Or it can be so scattered, because it is so restless. It is running around and we are not really present for ourselves. These can be very difficult mind states to have.
What is happening here is that now rather than just being part of the mind (the mind with greed, with aversion, with delusion), we are talking about a mind that is more globally shrunken, contracted, or more globally scattered, dispersed, distracted, jumping around, restless. Sometimes minds are that way. Fear, in particular, can have this effect on the mind. All the hindrances can have this effect on the mind.
I find it fascinating to look at my mind. When I get caught up in some mental preoccupation, some thought train or something, and then notice that is happening, I notice what has happened to my state of mind. For me, it is like things have gotten kind of obscure, dark, and contracted. My world has gotten narrow and small. I am pulled into my whole concern.
Sometimes if I am restless, uncertain, or anxious about something, I can feel that the mind is spinning and jumping around. It cannot sit still very much. Like water on the sizzling hot frying pan – it jumps around. It is hard to rein the mind in, or to settle the mind, because of how jumpy it is.
The fascinating thing about this third foundation of mindfulness is it is not giving us advice about what to do when we have minds like this, which can be quite uncomfortable. All it says is, the meditator knows a contracted mind as a contracted mind. Knows a dispersed mind, a scattered mind, as a scattered mind.
The fact that it is so radically simple just to know, it is hard to trust that. It is hard to have confidence that this is worthwhile doing. "Of course, aren't we supposed to fix it, get away from it, make it better, and have a different kind of mind? We're not really meditating if the mind is scattered. We have to get advice about how to breathe deeply or use an antidote. To do something so we fix it."
There is no fixing it here in this exercise. It is simply recognizing as it is. To know, "This is how the mind is, at this point." It helps if the mind is somewhat settled already, or has had experience in the practice before this, so it begins to appreciate the power of knowing, appreciate the simplicity of, "Oh, this is how it is. This is a contracted mind. This is a scattered mind. Human beings have had contracted and scattered minds for tens of thousands of years. I'm just one more in a long line of people who had minds like this. I've had many, many minds like this. This is how it is now."
"This is my turn. Maybe everyone has to have a turn with scattered and distracted mind – this is my turn. Okay, so now my job is just to know it, to see it." We fall back on the simplicity of knowing, the simplicity of recognition: "This is how it is. This is how it is." Over time, as we get into the practice, we begin appreciating more and more how powerful it is to know in this way. How significant it is: "Just know. Just know that this is how it is."
We find it helps free the stickiness of the mind. We are no longer so sticky – caught in it, involved in it, and wanting it to be different. More remarkably, as the mind becomes less sticky, that itself is settling and calming. That itself – that kind of knowing – changes the inner ecology, the inner landscape, and begins moving us towards freedom.
The next set, the other half of this third foundation of mindfulness, is a set of four exercises that describes or helps us on the path to freedom and liberation. These are states of mind that are opening up in meditation. States of mind that can open up and grow out of this radically simple act of knowing. It is phenomenal to watch it happen. To be present, know the mind state, know the mind state, and then see how the mind changes in the wake of that clear and simple knowing.
The primary thing I wanted to emphasize today is how powerful and significant, the simplest act of knowing can be. I would like to encourage you for the next 24 hours, to go about your day and see if you can experiment with knowing things as they occur, in the simplicity of the moment. Not impatient for the next moment, not needing it to be different, not trying to run away, not having a big agenda. See how simple, complete, free, clarifying, liberating, or brightening it can be to simply know, "This is how it is."
It means you allow the knowing to sink in, allow the knowing to register. You make room for the knowing. Give yourself time to know. This might sound silly, but it is as simple as coming to a door, "That's a door." Driving, "The light is red." Standing in the line in the supermarket, knowing, "I'm standing in a line." Experiment in all kinds of places – and see what effect this has on you. What impact it has to practice this radical simplicity that has time for recognition.
Tomorrow and the next day, we will do these more liberating states of mind that are in this third foundation. Thank you, very much.