- Abiding in Emptiness
- Cover Page
- Title Page
- I. Daily Life
- II. Seclusion
- III. Earth
- IV. Infinite Space
- V. Infinite Consciousness
- VI. Empty of Self
- VII. Signlessness
- VIII. Nirvana
- About the Author
I. Daily Life
While abiding by way of this abiding [in emptiness], Ānanda, if the mind of a monastic inclines to walking, then they walk [with this determination]: “Walking like this, no desire and dejection, no bad and unwholesome states will overflow me”; in this way they have clear comprehension of that.6
THE ABOVE EXTRACT STEMS from the Greater Discourse on Emptiness (Mahāsuññatasutta). The preceding part of the discourse mentions abiding in emptiness internally and externally, wherefore in the above extract I supplemented the indication that the meditative abiding is “[in emptiness].”7 The distinction into internal and external dimensions of abiding in emptiness reflects the fact that in early Buddhist thought the teaching on emptiness applies internally as well as externally. In other words, the idea of relating the qualification of being empty to persons only and not to other phenomena, found in some later Buddhist traditions, is not relevant for this stage in the history of Buddhist thought. From an early Buddhist perspective all phenomena, without exception, are definitively empty.
The qualification “empty” here points to an absence. In fact, in ancient Indian mathematics the same term can designate “zero.”8 In its early Buddhist usage, to say that something is “empty” is to say that it is “empty of.” Even though such absence can take various forms, the key aspect here is that all phenomena are empty of a self, that is, they are empty of a permanent entity of any kind. The resulting insight serves to undermine ego and conceit, as well as possessiveness and selfishness. This sense of emptiness can serve as the main reference point for the daily-life practices explored 6in the rest of this chapter, which in the final count are about diminishing I-making (= ego) and my-making (= selfishness).
With the instructions in the extract translated above, the Greater Discourse on Emptiness extends abiding in emptiness from formal sitting to other occasions. This can just involve a shift from sitting to walking meditation, but it can equally well become a practice applicable to any posture. In fact, the Greater Discourse on Emptiness presents the same instructions for standing, sitting (which here need not intend only formal meditation but would also comprise sitting down for other purposes), and lying down. The Chinese and Tibetan parallels to the Greater Discourse on Emptiness, however, only describe walking and sitting meditation.9
The relevant instructions in the Greater Discourse on Emptiness set out with the indication “while abiding by way of this abiding [in emptiness].” This refers to the previously described abiding in emptiness internally and externally during formal meditation. A very literal reading could lead to the conclusion that one has to do such formal meditation first and then implement the present instructions. When viewed from the perspective of actual practice, however, formal meditation and daily-life application interact and combine. Thus, it is not the case that one comes invariably first and the other always follows. Instead, both support and nourish each other.
Nevertheless, the procedure of presentation in the Greater Discourse on Emptiness is certainly meaningful, as a full appreciation of formal meditation on emptiness provides a convenient foundation for finding modes of applying the same principle to situations outside of sitting meditation. This principle holds similarly for the various perceptions to be developed for formal meditation on emptiness according to the Shorter Discourse on Emptiness. A full appreciation of their potential in being applied to various daily-life situations requires first introducing the perceptions themselves. For this reason, although daily-life application is the theme of the present chapter, I will return to the same topic again and again during subsequent chapters. In fact, relating emptiness to any posture and any activity is of such importance that it merits being taken up time and again, to make sure that its potential receives adequate recognition.7
1. EMBODIED MINDFULNESS
While abiding by way of this abiding [in emptiness], Ānanda, if the mind of a monastic inclines to standing, then they stand [with this determination]: “Standing like this, no desire and dejection, no bad and unwholesome states will overflow me”; in this way they have clear comprehension of that.
While abiding by way of this abiding [in emptiness], Ānanda, if the mind of a monastic inclines to sitting, then they sit [with this determination]: “Sitting like this, no desire and dejection, no bad and unwholesome states will overflow me”; in this way they have clear comprehension of that.
While abiding by way of this abiding [in emptiness], Ānanda, if the mind of a monastic inclines to lying down, then they lie down [with this determination]: “Lying down like this, no desire and dejection, no bad and unwholesome states will overflow me”; in this way they have clear comprehension of that.10
Together with the extract translated earlier, the instructions in the Greater Discourse on Emptiness comprise the same four postures that are also mentioned in the Discourse on the Establishments of Mindfulness (Satipaṭṭhānasutta). In that setting, the meditative task requires being mindful and clearly comprehending which posture we have at present assumed. This calls for a continuous mindful presence with whatever may happen at the bodily level. In fact, the instructions in that discourse add, after the four postures, that the same applies whatever way the body may be positioned.11
The relevance of the four establishments of mindfulness to the present instruction can also be seen in the reference to desire and dejection (abhijjhādomanassa), which feature regularly in short definitions of the purpose of such mindfulness practice. The same short definitions also mention clearly comprehending (sampajāna) as a quality that accompanies mindfulness in this type of practice.12 In this way, the extract translated above shares with foundational instructions on mindfulness a 8recognition of the need not only to avoid desire and dejection but also to maintain clear comprehension.
In implementing the above instruction, rooting mindfulness in the presence of the body, in whatever posture, could be combined with clear comprehension directed to our own mental condition. The task of clear comprehension here is to support mindfulness in monitoring the condition of the mind, so as to maintain a condition free from anything unwholesome. This holds for the specific manifestation of any desire or dejection as well as for any other mental state that is bad and unwholesome. In other words, relying on mindfulness and clear comprehension to maintain equanimity in any situation can be considered a key aspect in the cultivation of emptiness.
The reference in the instructions to an overflowing of the mind can be understood to intend the potential influence exerted by what is apperceived through any of the senses. Due to being established in emptiness, and perhaps more importantly due to remaining established in emptiness, such influence will not be able to impact the mind. In this way, in relation to the relatively ordinary topic of bodily postures, the instruction already points to what in early Buddhist thought is the peak of emptiness: a mind emptied of defilements.
A key for successful arrival at this peak of emptiness is the realization of not self, to be explored in more detail in a subsequent chapter (see below p. 97). In preparation for the practice of not self in formal sitting, the same basic perception of the absence of a self can also be related to all of the four postures. A Pāli discourse describes how appropriation of any of the five aggregates—by way of my-making, I-making, and by postulating a self—will affect each of the four postures: When walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, one who engages in such appropriation is in a predicament similar to a dog bound to a strong post.13 Due to the bondage to the post, the dog will walk, stand, sit, and lie down close to the post. This description illustrates how the presence of selfing becomes a continuous reference point for any activity and thereby keeps us in continuous bondage, comparable to the poor dog, who would much rather be able to run around freely. Realizing this predicament then invites a different way of going about the four postures, in order to be as free as a dog without a leash. 9When walking, for example, is it possible to walk without a sense of appropriation? Letting go of a sense of ownership can serve as a very direct application of the teaching on not self. To achieve an experience of freedom from appropriation can take place by simply walking without reifying the sense of “I am” the one who walks, without making this “my” walking. In short, walking without a walker. The same applies equally to the other postures.
Needless to say, there can be a variety of approaches for integrating emptiness into daily life that similarly relate to each of the four postures. Nevertheless, already implementing the present suggestion of attempting to act without a sense of a doer, without the sense of ownership and being in charge, can have a remarkable transformative potential that, even if practiced just on its own, may well offer a substantial contribution to cutting through the bondage of selfing and ego.
While abiding by way of this abiding [in emptiness], Ānanda, if the mind of a monastic inclines to talking, then [they determine] of whatever talk that is lowly, vulgar, base, ignoble, not beneficial, not leading to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, peace, direct knowledge, awakening, and Nirvana: “I will not talk such talk, namely talk of kings, talk of robbers, talk of ministers, talk of armies, talk of dangers, talk of battles, talk of food, talk of drink, talk of clothing, talk of beds, talk of garlands, talk of perfumes, talk of relatives, talk of vehicles, talk of villages, talk of towns, talk of cities, talk of countries, talk of women, talk of heroes, talk of streets, talk of wells, talk of the departed, various talk, tales of the world, tales of the sea, and talk about becoming or not becoming such and such”; in this way they have clear comprehension of that.
But, Ānanda, as for that talk that is austere, that is conducive to the mind being free from hindrance, that leads to complete disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, peace, direct knowledge, awakening, and Nirvana, [they determine]: 10“I will talk such talk, namely talk on fewness of wishes, talk on contentment, talk on seclusion, talk on not socializing, talk on making an effort, talk on virtue, talk on concentration, talk on wisdom, talk on liberation, and talk on knowledge and vision of liberation”; in this way they have clear comprehension of that.14
The long list of types of talk that should be avoided could be summarized as roughly covering the following main topics:15 politics, material goods, localities, and various gossip. The point does not seem to be that a conversation related to any of these topics must necessarily be “lowly, vulgar, base, ignoble, not beneficial,” etc. Elsewhere among the Pāli discourses and their parallels, a reference to warfare can be part of an instruction on Dharma.16 The same holds for a flower garland, which features in a simile describing a pretty youth delighted at receiving such a garland.17 Such references do not turn the respective teaching into something censurable.
Instead of adopting a literal reading of the listing as prohibiting certain topics in principle, its function can rather be understood to exemplify what usually comes up when we engage in communication that is lowly, vulgar, base, ignoble, and not beneficial. It is the latter that is central; in fact, it is possible to broach other topics, even some of those mentioned above as commendable, in ways that are lowly and not beneficial. For example, we may pride ourselves in front of others on having few wishes, being contented, or living in seclusion and then disparage those perceived as not having these qualities to the same degree. This would fall into the category of ignoble ways of conversation that are not beneficial.
It follows that emptiness in matters of conversation would be less about the topics chosen—although these of course also matter—and more about the intention motivating our engaging in communication. In other words, is our engaging in a conversation done for the purpose of leading to “disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, peace, direct knowledge, awakening, and Nirvana”? Understood in this way, abiding in emptiness involves a reorientation of our conversational activities, whereby it becomes another mindfulness practice. Once the task is not just implementation of a prohibition of certain topics, the actual undertaking of the practice described above calls for a continuous, mindful monitoring of any conversation, 11in order to notice when it is about to stray off into what is lowly, etc. In addition, the overall attitude toward communication changes. The primary interest is no longer in accumulating all kinds of informational details or celebrating our own subjectivity, both of which can take up so much time and energy in the contemporary setting with its internet, social networks, etc. The crucial question and orientation point is much rather how far a particular conversation will support emptying the mind of defilements.
While abiding by way of this abiding [in emptiness], Ānanda, if the mind of a monastic inclines to thinking, then [they determine] of whatever thoughts that are lowly, vulgar, base, ignoble, not beneficial, not leading to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, peace, direct knowledge, awakening, and Nirvana: “I will not think such thoughts, namely thought of sensuality, thought of ill will, and thought of harming”; in this way they have clear comprehension of that.
But, Ānanda, as for thoughts that are noble, leading onward, leading one who implements them to the complete ending of dukkha, [they determine]: “I will think such thoughts, namely thought of renunciation, thought of non-ill will, and thought of non-harming”; in this way they have clear comprehension of that.18
The Greater Discourse on Emptiness continues after the above extract with various other topics. Since none of these begins with a reference to “abiding by way of this abiding [in emptiness],” these appear to be not as directly relevant to the topic of emptiness meditation as the parts translated above. The instructions that do begin with this reference thus comprise abiding in emptiness in all postures, while talking, and in relation to thinking activity. The very fact that thoughts are explicitly taken up for such purposes shows that emptiness practice does not invariably require a mind empty of thoughts. Although mental tranquility offers a substantial contribution to the practices to be explored in the next chapters, 12the basic principle holds there as well: thoughts are not a problem per se. Instead, the crucial question is what type of thoughts are in the mind.
The basic distinction drawn in the extract translated above concerns the presence and absence of sensuality, ill will, and harming. These correspond to the key aspects underlying right intention, the second factor in the noble eightfold path, which sets the appropriate context for meditation on emptiness in early Buddhist thought. This calls for further exploration.
The guiding principle of the noble eightfold path is the first path factor of right view, which for purposes of meditation practice can conveniently take the form of the four noble truths.19 Apparently inspired by an ancient Indian scheme of medical diagnosis,20 the four noble truths call for a recognition of the presence of dukkha (Sanskrit: duḥkha), together with acknowledging that our own craving makes a rather substantial contribution to this state of affairs. The third and fourth truth then concern the vision of freedom from dukkha/duḥkha and the path of practice leading to that goal, which is none other than the eightfold path. In this way, right view is the guiding factor of this path and at the same time provides its overall contextualization. This presentation points to a continuous feedback loop, where what initially may have been a mere theoretical appreciation of the four noble truths becomes something ever more embodied, lived, and realized, thereby strengthening the basic directive provided by right view and deepening inner clarity in understanding the overall contextual setting of progress on the path.
The presence of right view provides the directive for right intention as the second path factor, in terms of the absence of sensuality, ill will, and harming, also mentioned in the extract from the Greater Discourse on Emptiness translated above. Before turning to this in more detail, the remaining path factors can be surveyed briefly. The next three factors of the eightfold path extend the perspective afforded by right view to various activities, comprising speech, action, and livelihood. This conveys that the proper attitude, which in the present context can in particular take the form of a growing insight into emptiness, needs to pervade all aspects of our life.
The remaining path factors are more specifically concerned with mental training. Right effort calls for overcoming detrimental mental states 13and nourishing their wholesome counterparts. Ways to implement that in relation to emptiness will come up in subsequent chapters of my exploration. Right mindfulness concerns the mental quality that is perhaps the most important one for successfully cultivating the emptiness meditations described in this book. Right concentration completes the section of the eightfold path relevant to mental training by way of mental composure and tranquility. Although this last factor has often been taken to imply the necessity to master absorption attainment, a close comparative study of the early discourses suggests this view needs revision. What concentration requires above all to become of the right type, whatever its depth, is the directive of right view and the collaboration of the other path factors.21 Without thereby in any way intending to deny the value of deeply concentrated states of absorption, these are not indispensable for implementing the eightfold path or for cultivating the emptiness meditations described in this book.
The three modalities of right intention that emerge within the context of the eightfold path—the absence of thoughts of sensuality, ill will, and harming—broach topics of considerable importance for abiding in emptiness. The first of the three involves renunciation instead of sensuality, the former being noble and leading to liberation, as the Greater Discourse on Emptiness clarifies, whereas the latter is ignoble and leads away from awakening. Although this does not mean that celibacy is a must, it does require a reorientation of our priorities away from a consumerist attitude and the quest for sensual gratification. Several of the stages in the gradual meditation on emptiness, to be taken up in subsequent chapters, offer substantial help for such a reorientation. Opportunities to cultivate renunciation can be identified in any daily-life situation, be it in relation to food, desire for comfort, wish for company, etc. It is right at the time when our expectations in these respects are not being fulfilled that emptiness practice can unfold its liberating potential.
The other two modalities of right intention concern the absence of ill will and harming. Expressed positively, these correspond to the attitudes of mettā (Sanskrit: maitrī), which could be rendered as “benevolence” or “loving kindness,” and compassion (Pāli and Sanskrit: karuṇā). The proposed correlation between mettā/maitrī and the absence of ill 14will as well as between compassion and the absence of harming follows a general mode of presentation in the early discourses that equates the four divine abodes (Pāli and Sanskrit: brahmavihāra) to the absence of those mental conditions that are directly opposed to them. One who has fully cultivated mettā/maitrī, for example, will no longer be completely overwhelmed by ill will.22 The same holds for compassion in relation to harming. Regarding the last case, it may be opportune to note that the early Buddhist notion of compassion does not involve taking on the pain of others.23 Instead, it entails the fervent wish for the absence of harm, that is, for freedom from whatever is afflictive. By being oriented toward such freedom, rather than remaining focused on the painful nature of the affliction, such compassion can even combine with joy, namely the joy of doing what we can to alleviate and prevent harm.
The task of not thinking thoughts of ill will and harming, described in the extract translated above, is not merely about implementing an abstinence. In fact, thoughts often arise without previous deliberation. It follows that freedom from thoughts of ill will and harming cannot be achieved through just trying to enforce control. For this reason, there is a need to train the mind in renunciation and in the divine abodes, so that there is less scope in the first place for the opposite type of detrimental thoughts to arise. The basic principle here is that thoughts are closely interrelated with inclinations of the mind.24 Dwelling in a particular mental condition will encourage the arising of corresponding thoughts and forestall the frequent manifestation of their opposites. In terms of right effort, there is a need to complement confronting what is unwholesome with cultivating what is wholesome.
In this way, the above instruction can conveniently be taken as an occasion for encouraging the cultivation of these two divine abodes. Such a cultivation is particularly appropriate as a complement to the gradual meditative entry into emptiness, especially if meditation on these two divine abodes takes inspiration from the standard way described in the early discourses. Such descriptions differ from a widespread approach to brahmavihāra meditation, which requires bringing to mind specific individuals toward whom the respective divine abode will then be directed.25 Without in any way intending to deny the 15practical benefits of such a person-oriented approach, an alternative way of practice inspired by the standard description in the early discourses could take the form of arousing the divine abode without necessarily relying on a particular circumscribed object. This can then lead over to a boundless radiation of the divine abode in all directions. Such a form of meditative radiation, whose practical implementation I have described in detail elsewhere,26 would be an expedient way of doing justice to the alternative appellation of the brahmavihāras as states that are “boundless” or “immeasurable” (appamāṇa/apramāṇa). The same would also tie in well with several of the perceptions to be cultivated in the course of the gradual meditation on emptiness, as these also involve modalities of meditative abiding that do not rely on focusing on a circumscribed object.
The resemblance between the divine abodes and the gradual entry into emptiness in matters of meditative cultivation is such that an alternative approach, not explored in this book, can take the form of proceeding through all four divine abodes and then shifting from the last divine abode of equanimity directly to the perception of infinite space, which is the third of the perceptions in the gradual meditation on emptiness. This approach sidesteps the two previous perceptions in this gradual meditation, which are related to the forest and to earth.
An advantage of this approach is the ease of the meditative transition from abiding in boundless equanimity, the fourth brahmavihāra, to abiding in infinite space. All this requires is a subtle shift in perspective. Another and perhaps even more important advantage is that a cultivation of the divine abodes provides a firm grounding of emptiness practice, which helps avoid possible pitfalls and problems that can occur with meditation on emptiness, something I briefly mentioned in the introduction (see above p. 3). Since the divine abodes have a rather crucial contribution to make to emptiness meditation in this way, I would like to recommend in quite definite terms that they should be considered indispensable. This holds at least for the first two, which come up implicitly in the extract translated above.
A previous cultivation of the divine abodes supports the actual practice of emptiness meditation by way of establishing a basic degree of inner 16integration and a healthy way of relating to others. This is vital for successfully navigating the deconstruction strategies explored in the subsequent chapters. Whenever these become too challenging, there needs to be another practice to return to for grounding ourselves. This is precisely what the boundless abiding in the divine abodes can provide.
The divine abodes exemplify in a very down-to-earth manner what, in the final count, emptiness is about. With the meditative approach described in the next chapters, there is a danger of mishandling emptiness experiences. This can manifest in becoming aloof and indifferent, even arrogant and reckless. This danger can be countered through regular practice of the divine abodes. In fact, genuine practice and realization of emptiness manifests in an opening of the heart rather than leading to its closure. Mettā/maitrī and compassion are in a way the other side of the coin of emptiness; the two sides need each other to flourish. Mettā/maitrī and compassion without emptiness can become exhausting, particularly when witnessing various instances of suffering becomes overwhelming. But emptiness without mettā/maitrī and compassion is even worse, as it can become toxic or barren. For this reason, I strongly recommend making the divine abodes an integral part of our regular emptiness meditation. Their natural manifestation in daily life can serve as a measuring rod of progress in the realization of emptiness. This is what it all boils down to: emptiness in the form of freedom from defilements. Such freedom has its positive counterpart in active expressions of the divine abodes by body, speech, and mind.
By way of concluding the present survey of daily-life dimensions of emptiness, I would like to come back to a topic mentioned at the outset, namely the all-pervasive nature of emptiness in early Buddhist thought as a reference to the whole world, internal as well as external. This combines with a reference to mindfulness in a verse that can be taken as an orientation point for the practices described in this chapter. According to this verse, mindfully contemplating the world as empty leads beyond the vision of the King of Death, that is, beyond being afflicted by what for the majority of human beings is the most threatening thing in their whole life: their own mortality.2717
You should contemplate the world as empty,
Being always mindful …
The King of Death does not see
One who contemplates the world like this.
The Greater Discourse on Emptiness provides instructions on how abiding in emptiness can be related to daily life. The relevant indications, which can be relied on to complement the instructions on formal meditation given in the Smaller Discourse on Emptiness, begin with the four postures of the body. This instruction invites combining an embodied form of mindfulness with clear comprehension directed toward keeping the mind empty of defilements. In addition to that, investigation can target the central peg on which defilements hang: selfing. Letting go of self-referentiality while being in any bodily posture can become a powerful implementation of emptiness and carry considerable transformative potential. This can take the form of simply walking without a walker (etc.), that is, without construing the sense of an “I” who walks and without appropriating the walking in any way.
Even conversations can be related to emptiness, by way of ensuring that these are ennobling and liberative, rather than ignoble and fettering. Emptiness in relation to thoughts exhibits a close relationship to the second factor of the noble eightfold path: right intention. Forestalling the arising of thoughts that are opposed to this path factor can take the form of engendering an attitude of renunciation and cultivating the divine abodes of mettā/maitrī and compassion. Such cultivation can take the form of a boundless radiation in all directions, which provides a convenient foundation for, and complement to, the similarly boundless perceptions of the gradual meditation on emptiness.
The divine abodes offer a rather substantial contribution to emptiness practice. They provide a foundation to which we can return whenever emptiness perceptions threaten to become destabilizing. Moreover, they forestall the potential danger of misapprehending emptiness and misusing the perceptions described in the remainder of this book as ways of 18cultivating aloofness and indifference. True emptiness manifests in an open heart rather than in a closed one. It calls for emptying the mind of defilements, which has its natural expression in a flourishing of the divine abodes.
5. PRACTICAL INSTRUCTIONS
Here and elsewhere, under the heading of practical instructions I try to draw out in more detail the practice dimension of the material surveyed in each chapter. This can at times involve some degree of repetition, as several topics have already been covered in the preceding exploration of the relevant discourse quotations.
A key element in putting into practice the above indications is embodied mindfulness. The basic point here is that for most meditators to be able to navigate the challenges of situations outside of formal meditation, there needs to be some support to ensure continuity of mindfulness. Contrary to recommendations often given in contemporary times, the early discourses do not recommend the breath for such purposes. The standard instructions for mindfulness of breathing stipulate seclusion and the sitting posture, making it clear that the practice described is meant for formal meditation.28 This holds in particular for the sixteen steps of mindfulness of breathing described in the discourses.
But even just being aware of the breath as such can be challenging as a daily-life practice, simply because the process of breathing is a subtle phenomenon and, at least when breathing is normal, not easily noticed. It requires some effort and often also some degree of focus. Yet, maintaining such a focus can easily interfere with other duties in an average life situation. Therefore, using just a focus on the breath as a foundation for continuity of mindfulness in daily life is not a particularly easy option. If we wish to maintain a relationship to the breath outside of formal sitting, a better option would be to embed mindfulness of the breath in whole-body awareness, rather than cultivating an exclusive focus on the breath. In this way, attending to the breath would become merely a part of being aware of the whole body, avoiding an exclusive focus and thereby becoming less challenging in daily life.19
In fact, the whole body is a considerably more promising support for continuity of mindfulness in any situation. The body in its entirety is more easily noticed, compared to the breath alone. Moreover, due to being itself a broad object, it encourages a broader type of attention instead of a narrow focus. In addition, much of what needs to be done in daily life involves the body in one form or another. Combining that activity with a general awareness of the whole body does not introduce a particularly challenging task. Furthermore, if mindfulness of the whole body is present throughout whatever needs to be done, that activity will usually be performed in a better way and with better results. In other words, rather than creating stress due to requiring attentional mental resources, this type of approach easily harmonizes with what needs to be done and pays off in better performance.
This much holds even for the case of being in some conversation, to stay with the example broached above. Awareness of our bodily posture, perhaps seated at a round table discussion or a conference, can introduce an element of centeredness and calmness that will support and strengthen whatever we have to say. Listening to another with some attention resting on the body will make it easier to stay calm when someone else is rambling on about what does not really seem relevant, enabling us to allow the space for the other to have their say rather than intervening too early out of a sense of boredom and annoyance. Time spent listening to another is never lost, as long as this is done with whole-body awareness.
An additional benefit is also that whole-body awareness tends to harmonize the signals sent by our own bodily behavior with what happens on the conscious level of our mind. This is simply because we will notice quickly if some irritation, for example, expresses itself at the bodily level through posture, movements of our limbs, or even facial expression. Often enough others pick up and react to such signals. If these have not been noted by us, this can derail a whole conversation. Practicing whole-body awareness helps to stay attuned to this level of communication, which usually is noticed more easily with others than in our own case.
All of the above examples offer practical implementations of meditation on emptiness based on whole-body awareness. Such implementation is of course not confined to the body. In fact, the instructions make it 20clear that a central task is clear comprehension of what is happening in the mind. Becoming aware of the mind is indeed central, so the point is only that whole-body awareness provides a particularly convenient grounding and foundation for turning to the mind and remaining aware of it.
Besides benefiting from a grounding in whole-body awareness, this requires cultivating the ability to see through the current stream of thoughts and associations in order to recognize—to comprehend clearly—the underlying mental current. The instructions for cultivating mindfulness in relation to any posture mention “desire and dejection” and states that are “bad and unwholesome,” two qualifications that appear to function as near synonyms. As a simplification for actual practice, we could be on the lookout for likes and dislikes (= “desire and dejection”) and try to note the manifestation of defilements in general (= “bad and unwholesome states”), which usually have some form of liking or disliking as their starting point. Detecting the onset of such
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