Ask Bhante G.

Bhante G. answers your questions about morality, discipline, Buddhism and the body.

An Excerpt from What, Why, How

HOW EXACTLY DOES WHOLESOME SILA AFFECT OUR ABILITY TO MEDITATE?

It’s important to understand that restraint and discipline are just one side of the coin. Observance—which means undertaking wholesome actions and encouraging positive states of mind—is the other side of that coin.

Restraint is called samvara; observance is called rakkhana. For instance, we give up killing and harming other beings. That’s a wonderful thing. But we also practice loving-friendliness. We give up stealing. That’s a wonderful thing. But at the same time we cultivate generosity. We abstain from telling lies. But we also strive to tell the truth. We choose to abstain from abusing alcohol and other drugs. Then, we do all we can in our daily lives to maintain a steady, peaceful state of mind.

So, while sila means abstaining from unwholesome actions or habits of mind, it also means observing other wholesome practices and habits of mind. As we restrain our senses, on the one hand, we cultivate positive, opposite tendencies in working with the senses, on the other.

Having gained some confidence in how you live your daily life, as soon as you sit to meditate, you are better able to gain concentration since your mind is clear, clean, and steady. There’s no remorse, no regret, no guilty feelings, no shame.

So, you shouldn’t consider sila as some kind of burden imposed upon you. Sila lays the groundwork in meditation and is a springboard to concentration. And concentration is then a springboard to wisdom. Each links with the other.

The Buddha repeatedly mentioned it: “The concentrated mind knows things as they are.” Concentration is like training a spotlight on something. Wisdom or insight is like eyesight—which then sees and understands what has been caught in the glare of that spotlight of concentration.

These two—concentration and wisdom—become strong when we have a strong moral foundation, or good sila. And these three elements are the three main pillars of Buddhism. Actually, the entire teachings of the Buddha can be contained in these three categories: sila, samadhi, panna. They are like a tripod—one leg cannot stand without the other two.

That is why we emphasize these things in meditation practice, especially at an advanced level. If people really want to stick to meditation practice, they must—they must!—undertake this kind of commitment. They must begin to take total responsibility for how they live their lives.

"There’s no remorse, no regret, no guilty feelings, no shame."

THE SATIPATTHANA SUTTA AND THE FOUR FOUNDATIONS OF MINDFULNESS START WITH THE BODY. WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF BEGINNING THE PRACTICE BY BRINGING ATTENTION TO THE BODY?

People pay more attention to their body than to their feelings, their mind, and so on. Also, it is the body that is subject to various illnesses, and we frequently feel physical pain. The body doesn’t seem to be changing as quickly as other things. People think things are impermanent, but day-to-day they may not notice the physical changes in the body.

But when we start practicing, mindfulness of the body is an easy place to start. Because we can easily notice our breathing, our walking, eating, drinking, sitting, lying down, and so forth.

In all of these different movements, the person can be keenly aware of the body movement and can relate to that. And again, when we talk about meditation on the body, we can meditate on the traditional thirty-two parts of the body, which begin with head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, and skin. These five things anybody can see very easily. For instance, we can see that our head hair is changing and has changed. It used to be thick and full, and as we age it becomes gray and brittle. All of these five parts of the body are prominent, and it’s easy to see their changes.

Therefore, because of the importance we give to the body, we can see its changes and come to understand impermanence. And in any meditation practice, especially vipassana meditation, the main core and essence of our focus is impermanence.

"When we start practicing, mindfulness of the body is an easy place to start."

ARE PAIN AND SUFFERING THE SAME THING OR SEPARATE THINGS? CAN WE EVER LIVE WITHOUT PAIN?

As long as a body exists with its healthy nervous system, there will be pain. But pain itself is not suffering. Suffering is in the mind. When the mind is totally free from all defilements—the ten fetters—there is no suffering.

This means you can end suffering but not pain while in this human form. You can, though, temporarily be free from pain when you attain the cessation of perception and feeling—sannavedayita nirodha. You develop this state after attaining the Fourth Jhana.

Through meditative insight we can understand this relationship between pain and suffering. That is exactly what we do in vipassana meditation. We honestly look at ourselves. With no biases, no pretenses, we look at our own body, feelings, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness—the Five Aggregates.

In this way, we realize impermanence, suffering, and nonself— anicca, dukkha, anatta. This is vipassana meditation. Nobody can ultimately be free from suffering without a perfect realization of anicca, dukkha, anatta.

"When the mind is totally free from all defilements—the ten fetters—there is no suffering."

This article was an excerpt from Bhante G.’s new book What, Why, How.

 

How can I fit meditation into my busy life?

How should I understand karma and rebirth?

Is enlightenment even possible for me?

Sound familiar? If you’ve ever meditated or studied Buddhism, you may have found yourself asking these questions—and many more! Here’s the good news: there are answers, and you’ll find them all in this book. Imagine that you could sit down with one of Buddhism’s most accomplished and plainspoken teachers—and imagine that he patiently agreed to answer any question you had about meditation, living mindfully, and key Buddhist concepts—even the myriad brilliant questions you’ve never thought to ask! What, Why, How condenses into one volume a half-century of Bhante G.’s wise answers to common questions about the Buddha’s core teachings on meditation and spiritual practice. With his kind and clear guidance, you’ll gain simple yet powerful insights and practices to end unhealthy patterns and habits so that you can transform your experience of the world—from your own mind to your relationships, your job, and beyond.

“This book can be of help to anyone’s spiritual journey and meditation practice.”

—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Happiness

 

 

Start reading What, Why How in the Reading Room on January 21 if you’re a Plus or All-Access member of the Wisdom Experience, and discover the answers to everything you ever wanted to know but never had a chance to ask about meditation and Buddhist spiritual practice.

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