“All Of Us”- Metta Series : Part 3 : Supplemental Practices


This is the Third in a five part series. Here are the links to all parts:


We have previously discussed the two main modes taught by the Buddha in the Pali Canon. In this third part to the Student of the Path series on Metta, I wanted to discuss a few other ways of mentally practicing metta.

Walking Meditation – If you already have walking meditation as part of your practice, you can easily include metta into that practice. You can incorporate the metta phrases of your choice into each step you take, of course this will also be determined in whether you are walking at a normal pace or very slowly. Often times for myself when I practice metta while walking I visualize pulses of metta shooting out from each foot step and going into eternity, I don’t do different levels as there is just not enough time, so it’s just pulsing metta out to all beings everywhere in all forms of existence. You can also do metta while doing the standing meditation breaks between walking periods. As always experiment and find what works best for you.

I had said before that the Buddha never really taught metta meditation towards any ONE specific person in general, which is mostly true. I waited to this third installment to add in two rare occasions where metta towards an individual IS actually taught.

AN 4.67 Ahina Sutta : By a Snake

In this sutta a monk is killed by a bite from a snake and the disciples go to the Buddha to tell him this. The Buddha said :

“Then it’s certain, monks, that that monk didn’t suffuse the four royal snake lineages with a mind of good will. For if he had suffused the four royal snake lineages with a mind of good will, he would not have died after having been bitten by a snake.

He then goes on to teach metta in an interesting way that really connected with me as someone who has spent a lot of time out in the woods by himself.

I have metta for footless beings,

metta for two-footed beings,

metta for four-footed beings,

metta for many-footed beings.

May footless beings do me no harm.

May two-footed beings do me no harm.

May four-footed beings do me no harm.

May many-footed beings do me no harm.

May all creatures, all breathing things, all beings — each & every one — meet with good fortune. May none of them come to any evil.

There have been plenty of times while practicing up in the woods here at Bhavana, especially at night, when I have recited this metta. Ever since first hearing this sutta at the Metta retreat a few years back at Bhavana, it has always stuck with me.

AN 5.161 speaks of using metta for aversion towards a particular person. It is the first thing to do on the list given by the Buddha, with the last resort being to ignore/forget the person:

Bhikkhus, there are these five ways of removing annoyance, by which annoyance can be entirely removed by a bhikkhu when it arises in him. What are the five?

Loving-kindness can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed: this is how annoyance with him can be removed.Compassion can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed. Onlooking equanimity can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed. The forgetting and ignoring of a person with whom you are annoyed can be practiced; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed. Ownership of deeds in a person with whom you are annoyed can be concentrated upon thus: “This good person is owner of his deeds, heir to his deeds, his deeds are the womb from which he is born, his deeds are his kin for whom he is responsible, his deeds are his refuge, he is heir to his deeds, be they good or bad.” This too is how annoyance with him can be removed. These are the five ways of removing annoyance, by which annoyance can be entirely removed in a bhikkhu when it arises in him.

I have found personally in my practice when there is a single person who is bringing up lots of aversion in my mind, I focus on them and give them metta, wishing them happiness, success, peace, freedom, etc. I’ve found that this does very much so reduce the aversion I have regarding this person.

And last but not least…

Perhaps the most famous sutta regarding metta is the Karaniya Metta Sutta, which is recited daily in most Theravada monasteries, including here at Bhavana before lunch. This in itself is a metta practice as it teaches us what is to be done directly:

This is what should be done By one who is skilled in goodness, And who knows the path of peace:

Let them be able and upright, Straightforward and gentle in speech, Humble and not conceited, Contented and easily satisfied, Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways. Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful, Not proud or demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing That the wise would later reprove. Wishing: In gladness and in safety, May all beings be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be; Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, The great or the mighty, medium, short or small, The seen and the unseen, Those living near and far away, Those born and to-be-born — May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another, Or despise any being in any state. Let none through anger or ill-will Wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings; Radiating kindness over the entire world: Spreading upwards to the skies, And downwards to the depths; Outwards and unbounded, Freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down Free from drowsiness, One should sustain this recollection. This is said to be the sublime abiding. By not holding to fixed views, The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision, Being freed from all sense desires, Is not born again into this world.

Sn 1.8

The commentarial story behind this sutta was created after the Buddha’s final passing, but none the less I’ve found it to be beneficial in my practice. The long story short is that a bunch of monks went into this forest to meditate and the devas(deities) who lived there were none too happy about it. The first night they created all kinds of horror movie style images like headless corpses walking through the woods that scared the monks away. They went to the Buddha and told him what happened, and that is when he gave the above metta sutta, after which the monks returned and with metta for all the beings of the forest were not molested further.

That’s it for this week. I’ve decided this will be a five part series, so I’ll be back with how to practice metta in speech and action next week.

Sunday Sutta Discussion 4pm Every Sunday on “Students of the Path”

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Join us every Sunday at 4pm Eastern for a sutta discussion over voice and text as we read through the Majjhima Nikaya.

Join our online Sangha “Students of the Path” on Discord and join a world wide group of practitioners and a variety of events throughout the week – https://discord.gg/YBAzGcV

“All Of Us”- Metta Series : Part 2 : Immeasurable Release Of Mind

 


This is the Second in a five part series. Here are the links to all parts:


Last week I described a personalized version of one of(Exalted Release of Mind) the two main methods taught by the Buddha that I’ve learned here at Bhavana. This week I’ll talk about the other, “Immeasurable Release of Mind”.

“What, householder, is the immeasurable deliverance of mind? Here a bhikkhu abides pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness,likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he abides pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted,immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.“ – MN 127 Anuruddha Sutta

The exerpt above is the most commonly found description of metta practice by the Buddha in the Pali suttas. It involves pervading( to spread through and be perceived in every part of.) six directions with metta. These six directions are the four cardinal directions(N,S,E,W) plus above and below.

You could also say from this sutta selection that it seems indeed that what is described is a starting out of immeasurable release of mind(directional) and ending up with exalted(abides pervading the all-encompassing world), and indeed it is sometimes taught that these two can be practiced together in such a way. This is how I learned at Bhavana and this is in fact, how I did guided meditations for the Buddha Center, as one can flow right into the next. You can take the directions from this post to begin with and then move into the directions of exalted metta after.

Also a quick note on the pali word Loka, which is translated as “world”. Loka can mean anything from the earth all the way up to the universe, multiverse, different planes of existance etc. So when you see “world” it behooves us to think much larger then just this planet, developing metta for all beings truly means ALL beings.

Ok, so lets get down to the actual method of practice. This is again how I was taught here at Bhavana society during the Metta retreat a few years back and how I’ve practiced.

Just like in exalted metta, you are starting with metta for yourself. Remember the airplane safety speech analogy from last week, you cannot give what you don’t have, so develope those thoughts and feelings of loving kindness for yourself first(as always!).

Once you are filled with metta, we can begin the process of “pervading” it out. There is again both a visualization that can be involved as well as words. Again remember that in metta you can make the practice your own, if you don’t care for the words and visualizations given, experiment with your own. You may find that visualizations don’t work, but words do, or the opposite, or that you like both, etc. Again it’s not the method that matters so much as the feeling and mental state of abiding in metta.

“When you do metta be like sun who sends rays to all equally” – Bhante Seelananda

In Immeasurable Metta we are doing directional, as opposed to the spherical of exalted. I’ll describe step by step using both as I was taught. The quote above can provide a hint to the visualization part.

Now that we have metta pervading our being, lets not be selfish! time to share it with all beings. Visualize a bright beam of light, perhaps similar to the rays of a sun, emanating from you and moving off into each direction as we move through them individually, until all directions are bathed in the light of your metta.

May all beings in my Front direction, be well, happy, and peaceful

May all beings in my Right direction, be well, happy, and peaceful

May all beings in my Left direction, be well, happy, and peaceful

May all beings in my Back direction, be well, happy, and peaceful

May all beings in my Above direction, be well, happy, and peaceful

May all beings in my Below direction, be well, happy, and peaceful

Thats it for the words, pretty simple. You can use whatever words that feel most appropriate to you, but the basis is “may all beings in X direction”. I like to use my four section “ may all beings in x direction… find happiness, find peace, live in friendship with each other, find release.”

Visualization wise I of course have personal flourishes to the beam of light. I visualize in my head the beam shooting from me, then I see the earth as the beam shoots out into space, with a grid of light extending from it, covering(pervading!) the whole of each direction. Think of it like a radar “sweeping” a section of physical space.

Remember to take each direction as it’s own section, you are not going through each direction in a line under 10 seconds etc. Just like in exalted where you are spending some time with each “level”, you want to spend a good amount of time with each direction,not just rush through it.

That is it for Immeasurable, fairly simple and straight forward. I’ll be back next week with some more topics releated to metta.

Day 2 Q&A

Dhamma Talk on 2nd and 3rd Noble Truths

“All of Us” – Guided Metta Meditation

[“All of Us” – Guided Metta Meditation](https://clyp.it/kpi3myj1)

Guided Metta Meditation from 2017 Four Noble Truths Retreat

“All Of Us”- Metta Series : Part 1 : Exalted Release Of Mind

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milky_way


This is the First in a five part series. Here are the links to all parts:


This series is a fairly comprehensive treatise on Metta, both what the Buddha taught about it, and putting it into practice in ourlives. There are a variety of methods but only two practiced come close to what the Buddha taught. The method I wanted to describe today is one I use most often, it is part of my daily practice and connects with me most. What I am showing you here is my version of this practice, the great thing about metta is that you can play with it to find what works for you, you can make it your own.

(Just a quick word on translation of Metta.. it is most often translated as loving-kindness, which is an old translation and to myself and many others does not really encapsulate what is meant by metta. I personally prefer boundless or limitless goodwill, as translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, which to me fits best, Goodwill being defined as – friendly, helpful, or cooperative feelings or attitude. This is not about loving all beings, or even necessarily liking them, this is about good will. )

The Pali term that best describes the method I will be describing is metta-cetovimutti, Translated as the liberation of mind through limitless goodwill.This method was taught to me here at Bhavana as “exalted metta”. Here is the sutta reference, I’ve also attached the pictures here for visualization help.

“And what, householder, is the exalted deliverance of mind? Here a bhikkhu abides resolved upon an area the size of the root of one tree, pervading it as exalted: this is called the exalted deliverance of mind. 1181 Here a bhikkhu abides resolved upon an area the size of the roots of two or three trees, pervading it as exalted: this too is called the exalted deliverance of mind. Here a bhikkhu abides resolved upon an area the size of one village, pervading it as exalted…[ 147]… an area the size of two or three villages… an area the size of one major kingdom… an area the size of two or three major kingdoms… an area the size of the earth bounded by the ocean, pervading it as exalted: this too is called the exalted deliverance of mind. – MN 127

So first things first, as with all proper metta, you need to begin with yourself. You cannot possibly hope to have limitless goodwill for all beings if you do not have it for yourself first. I like to use the simile of the oxygen mask. If you’ve ever been on a plane and listened to the safety speech, you know that the attendant always says if you are traveling with children always put YOUR OWN mask on first before assisting other passengers, Metta is just like that.

So you begin by developing thoughts and feelings of goodwill towards yourself, building up a mind state of good will. You can use words, visualizations, self talk, whatever works for you. The important thing is not the words and visualizations, but the mental state itself, the words and visualizations help get you to that state. The more you practice the easier it is to find that mental state and that “feeling” of metta, even sometimes without needing the words and visuals to get you there.

Here is an example of a set of words I’ve developed for my own use:

May (I/we/all beings) find happines
May (I/we/all beings) find Peace
May (I/we/all beings) Live in friendship with(all beings/each other)
May (I/we/all beings) find release

(for self talk I’ll often say things to myself like “ it’s ok jay, you are doing the best you can, you are doing a good thing by doing your practice, etc. focusing on positive thoughts about yourself and giving yourself a little pep talk. This is something I use not just in metta but even when I’m struggling and during many other times.)

I also imagine the metta being a sort of energy that fills me up, it’s color is purple, not for any reason other then it’s the color I thought fit best. This energy created permeates me as I am giving metta to myself. Now however, once I have that feeling of metta for myself, it’s time to launch that metta ever outwards.

I visualize the metta exploding out from me in the shape of a sphere, almost like some magic spell might look. This sphere grows ever larger, with me at it’s center.

Now here is where it gets good. This sphere gradually gets larger so that it encompasses the whole of the building you are in(or if outside the general property), then larger to encompass all beings in your state, ever larger encompassing all beings in your country, then all beings on the planet. Sometimes I have visualizations where images of a large variety of beings flicker through my awareness, especially at the point where I’ve reached the level of earth.

At this point Earth is there, as in the image above, totally encompassed in that purple sphere of metta. I often take a pause here, before heading out into the universe, and so I will take a quick one and explain that you can use words for each level in addition or even instead of visualizations. This is said just like the word phrasing above, starting with “may all” for each group.

May (all beings/all of us) in/on ( this state/country/planet/universe etc):
-find happines
-find Peace
-Live in friendship with(all beings/each other)
-find release

So now It’s time to branch out. I begin the visualization of the purple metta sphere expanding ever outwards as the earth gets smaller and smaller and then disappears as stars turn into the milky way. You can pause at this point to visualize the whole milky way, with it’s hundred billion stars, encompassed in the metta sphere, you can say the words if you wish.

It’s time to move on again, the milky way gets ever smaller and other galaxies come into view which are also getting smaller millions, billions, hundreds of billions, soon you are looking at the universe(the purple web is essentially a “picture” of the universe put forth by astronomy). At the pause you are with the universe, encompassing all of it whole with your limitless goodwill, all beings everywhere in the universe, in any form of existence, you can say the words once more.

But wait.. we aren’t done here just yet. Being an astronomy buff I take it to the next level. The visualization continues to expand with the metta sphere as the universe itself begins to grow smaller… suddenly it’s encompased in a sphere, and as you expand out you see others, dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of universes. You are now in the multiverse. it is here where that release of mind reaches it’s peak. You are expanding the metta spehere, expanding your limitless good will, beyond the limits of our current experience. You are now encompassing all beings in any form of existence, in any universe or plane of existence, anywhere, and everywhere.

Every single living being that exists, you offer your goodwill, your friendship, your feelings of camaraderie, for all fellow beings who share existence with you… ALL of US, come into existence, live for a time, then pass away, all of us who have physical forms are children of the stars, ie we are made up of material that came from the heart of an exploding star. I’m not talking about a sort of “universal mind” or “universal one-ness”, the Buddha never taught that, but a camaraderie born of siblingship, of being in the same boat(samsara) as it were.

That is basic exalted metta as taught at Bhavana and personalized by me. I do this process while reciting the metta sutta, while looking up at the stars, when I wake up, and when I go to bed. Remember the words ands visualizations are not set in stone, you find what works best for you to develop the feeling of metta. I often describe the feeling as that feeling you get sitting around the table with close family and friends, a feeling of safety, acceptance, friendship, with no emnity or fear.

Metta is not about whether others like you or hate you or care about you. There is nothing magical about metta, you are not sending healing or peaceful waves at people expecting them to “get” the positive thoughts etc. Metta is about developing your own mind to be free of ill-will and negativity, and that is always worth it.

“Happy indeed we live, friendly amidst the hostile. Amidst hostile men we dwell free from hatred. Dhp 15”

To close, I think this Metta practice is perfectly captured in one of my favorite poems “Outwitted” by Edwin Markham:

“He drew a circle that shut me out — Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!”

New Retreat in NYC June 16-18th “Cultivating a Mindfulness of Death”

I will be returning to Buddhist Insights June 16-18 to lead a weekend retreat on cultivating a mindfulness of death. When the links are available I will post them in the future. Here is the introduction:

“Do you ever take the time to think about death? Yours and your loved ones? Most people would emphatically say no, and so they live in fear and dread throughout their lives, seeking to avoid any thought or encounter with death and its close companions, old age and sickness.

Cultivating and living with a mindfulness of death does the opposite of what one might expect. Instead fear and sadness, it cultivates peace, acceptance, compassion, and a drive to live your life in a way that is the most beneficial to you and others, for as long as you have left.

The Buddha said that mindfulness of death is of great benefit, come spend the weekend with Bhante J facing your fears, because beyond those fears is freedom.”

Mindfulness of Death Series : Part 5 : Putting It All Together

So we come to the final article for this series. The final piece where we put it all together. Now we will put everything we’ve learned so far, and a few new things, into one coherent practice that can be done in 10 minutes or less.

You can do this anywhere, on the cushion or off. I began this practice a few years ago by standing in front of the skeleton by the meditation hall here at Bhavana, which I still do today. So let us begin:

We start out with a simple recollection. We remind ourselves “I may die today, I may die tomorrow, I may die at any time”. Bhante Seelananda here at Bhavana teaches at the mindfulness of death retreat to start from a future time period, 10 years for example, and to count down at intervals from “I may die in 10 years” to “I may die, in 1 second”. It may be helpful for some but I find compressing it to the statement above works better for me.

Once we have set the stage and reminded ourselves of our impending death, we continue to the next statement “because life is uncertain, but death is certain”, another phrase taught here at Bhavana. We can never be certain about anything in life, but the death of this body is always a certainty, even for awakened beings.

Now we come back to familiar territory, the 5 remembrances/subjects for contemplation from part 2. “I who may die at any time am subject to ageing and decay, I am not exempt from ageing and decay. I am subject to illness and disease, I am not exempt from illness and disease. I am subject to death, I am not exempt from death. All that is dear to me I will one day be separated from. I am the owner and heir of my actions.

Now you need to be careful when repeating this contemplation, for you may have a sneaky delusional mind like myself that wants to deny to the end that one day this being will die. In times of waning mindfulness I have actually heard my mind repeat “I am exempt from death” instead of “I am not exempt from death”, which brought my awareness back with a laugh at this poor deluded fellow.

Next we segue into 32 parts of the body contemplation(asubha). ”I am subject to these five remembrances because I have this body. This body which I find to be pleasant on the outside, but not so pleasant when viewed from inside. Other bodies are also pleasant to look upon from the outside, but not pleasant when viewed from the inside. When seen with equanimity, free of like and dislike, we see this body is a mere biological machine made up of various parts created with numerous (scientific) elements that were born in the heart of a dying star.

”This body is made up of head hair, body, hair, nails, teeth, skin( the five parts that can be seen on the outside). Fat , tissue, bones, bone marrow, muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, various organs, various systems(circulatory, neurological etc), various liquids, and miscellaneous parts. It helps me also to visualize all of this as I go through, like making an examination of the body. Downloading an anatomy app on a phone/tablet may be helpful for this.

This is the point where it helps to be in front of a skeleton. I often times will feel the various parts of the skeleton with one hand and the same part on my own body with the other. The cheek bone of the skeleton, my cheek bone. The collar bone of the skeleton, my collar bone. The pelvis of the skeleton, my pelvis. This practice really punches home the fact that you have this skeleton inside of you, as well as all the parts you have gone though. It helps to break through the fog we keep ourselves in and show us the reality.

From there we segue into corpse contemplation. “all these parts of the body are subject to decay, to illness, to death. One day this body will lie devoid of life, useless as a dead tree stump, and will decay according to it’s nature.”

Now we go through the various stages of decay from part three, with an added visualization. I was told about this visualization some years ago by someone who claimed they learned this from Bhikkhu Thanissaro, but I can’t confirm that, regardless it has been very helpful. I visualize a copy of myself in front of me, but it IS myself, like looking in a mirror. This copy then begins to rapidly age until it falls back, dies, and then begins the 9 stages of corpse decay from corpse contemplation. I was surprised the first time I did this as the visualized me “smiled” as he died, a smile of acceptance and being “ok” with death.

I don’t really often use words during this part as I go through the various stages of corpse decay, but if you wish you can verbalize it to go along with the visualization of the stages ”a corpse 3 days dead… skeleton with flesh and blood.. scattered and bleached bones” etc

This is the end of the mindfulness of death practice, but there is one final segue after this. ”Because I am subject to decay, illness, and death, so too are all other beings. Knowing this I should develop metta(limitless good-will) and karuna(compassion) for myself and all beings….(segue into metta practice) may all of us find happiness, may all of us find peace, may all of us live in friendship with each other, may all of us find release”.

So we end our mindfulness of death practice with the realization that we are all in the same boat, subject to the same nature, and when death is rolling from all directions like four mountains as tall as the sky, all there is to do is to practice dhamma, hence why I feel it appropriate to do metta practice right after mindfulness of death, a tandem pair as it were.

I will close with one final recommendation. There is a wonderful video, a dhamma talk, on death spoken by a monk who was dealing with cancer at the time. I’m not sure if he is still alive or not but I still watch this regularly as it is poignant and profound: “The Ultimate Test” – https://youtu.be/oBIMRCRh_Xs

I wish you all peace, happiness, and that your practice blossoms. Until next time friends.


This is the Fifth in a five part series. Here are the links to all parts:

“Let Go, Let Be, Laying Down the Burden” -Basic Mindfulness of Breathing Guided Meditation

[“Let Go, Let Be, Laying Down the Burden” -Basic Mindfulness of Breathing Guided Meditation](https://clyp.it/pfdiduxj)

This is a recording from the most recent retreat (4NT) at Bhavana with added intro and end bell for upload to insight timer.

Mindfulness of Death Series : Part 4 : Why Bother?

 


So we come to the fourth article for this series. I’ve decided to make this a five part series like metta or else this article would have been too long, so next week will be the final piece. Before that final piece I wanted to discuss two suttas from the Aṇguttara Nikāya 6.19 & 6.20, Maranassati Sutta: Mindfulness of Death (1 & 2). I want to put these in here to emphasize the importance the Buddha put on this practice.

AN 6.19:

“The Blessed One said, “Mindfulness of death, when developed & pursued, is of great fruit & great benefit. It gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its final end. Therefore you should develop mindfulness of death.”

  • When this was said, a certain monk addressed the Blessed One, “I already develop mindfulness of death.And how do you develop mindfulness of death?”
  • “I think, ‘O, that I might live for a day & night, that I might attend to the Blessed One’s instructions. I would have accomplished a great deal.’ This is how I develop mindfulness of death.”
  • Then another monk addressed the Blessed One, “I, too, already develop mindfulness of death……“I think, ‘O, that I might live for a day…..
  • Then another monk addressed the Blessed One…..“I think, ‘O, that I might live for the interval that it takes to eat a meal…..
  • Then another monk addressed the Blessed One……”I think, ‘O, that I might live for the interval that it takes to swallow having chewed up four morsels of food……
  • Then another monk addressed the Blessed One, “…… “I think, ‘O, that I might live for the interval that it takes to swallow having chewed up one morsel of food…..
  • Then another monk addressed the Blessed One, “…… “I think, ‘O, that I might live for the interval that it takes to breathe out after breathing in, or to breathe in after breathing out, that I might attend to the Blessed One’s instructions. I would have accomplished a great deal.’ This is how I develop mindfulness of death.”
  • When this was said, the Blessed One addressed the monks. “Whoever develops mindfulness of death, thinking, ‘O, that I might live for a day & night… for a day… for the interval that it takes to eat a meal… for the interval that it takes to swallow having chewed up four morsels of food, that I might attend to the Blessed One’s instructions. I would have accomplished a great deal’ — they are said to dwell heedlessly.
  • “But whoever develops mindfulness of death, thinking, ‘O, that I might live for the interval that it takes to swallow having chewed up one morsel of food… for the interval that it takes to breathe out after breathing in, or to breathe in after breathing out, that I might attend to the Blessed One’s instructions. I would have accomplished a great deal’ — they are said to dwell heedfully. They develop mindfulness of death acutely for the sake of ending the effluents.
  • “Therefore you should train yourselves: ‘We will dwell heedfully. We will develop mindfulness of death acutely for the sake of ending the effluents.’ That is how you should train yourselves.”

So the Buddha called even those who dwell in mindfulness of death for the length of time it takes to chew some morsels “heedless”, now that’s rough! Having mindfulness of death in every breath is a lofty goal but one we can work towards. The breath is a wonderful tool because it shows us the life cycle. The breath comes in, it arises, is born. It fills the lungs and comes to a climax, a point where you cannot get any higher, the lungs are full to capacity. This is like a person who is born and then is in the prime of life. That’s not the end though is it, all things being impermanent. From that high peak there begins a decline, a decay, the breath slowly exits the body until it is no more, that is where we can see death, until the arising of new life with the intake of yet another breath, and the cycle continues on and on. This cycle can be seen in the very small (cells) and the very large (galaxies), it permeates existence.

When we are heedful, then we are fully aware of this cycle, of birth, life, and death, and its sway over us begins to lessen. Mindfulness of death helps us move towards equanimity of our situation, a situation that we are utterly powerless to change, no matter how hard we try.

There are those in the scientific community who are currently working on ways to stop the aging process. Even if we became near immortal beings who expanded into the cosmos, one day trillions of years from now the universe itself will be a dead empty hulk, unable to support life, or it will collapse in on itself, either way we will die with it. With a cycle that not even the universe itself can escape, I don’t hold out any hopes that humanity can succeed in its quest, nor frankly would I want to live forever, better to live mindful and heedful here for as long as we have, this is the way of peace. Moving on to the next Sutta:

AN 6.20

“Monks, mindfulness of death — when developed & pursued — is of great fruit & great benefit. It gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its final end. And how is mindfulness of death developed & pursued so that it is of great fruit & great benefit, gains a footing in the Deathless, and has the Deathless as its final end?

“There is the case where a monk, as day departs and night returns, reflects: ‘Many are the [possible] causes of my death. A snake might bite me, a scorpion might sting me, a centipede might bite me. That would be how my death would come about. That would be an obstruction for me. Stumbling, I might fall; my food, digested, might trouble me; my bile might be provoked, my phlegm… piercing wind forces [in the body] might be provoked. That would be how my death would come about. That would be an obstruction for me.’ Then the monk should investigate: ‘Are there any evil, unskillful mental qualities unabandoned by me that would be an obstruction for me were I to die in the night?’ If, on reflecting, he realizes that there are evil, unskillful mental qualities unabandoned by him that would be an obstruction for him were he to die in the night, then he should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, undivided mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities. Just as when a person whose turban or head was on fire would put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, undivided mindfulness, & alertness to put out the fire on his turban or head, in the same way the monk should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, undivided mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities. But if, on reflecting, he realizes that there are no evil, unskillful mental qualities unabandoned by him that would be an obstruction for him were he to die in the night, then for that very reason he should dwell in joy & rapture, training himself day & night in skillful qualities.

“Further, there is the case where a monk, as night departs and day returns, reflects: ……

“This, monks, is how mindfulness of death is developed & pursued so that it is of great fruit & great benefit, gains a footing in the Deathless, and has the Deathless as its final end.”

That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, the monks delighted in the Blessed One’s words.

The Buddha implores us twice a day, when the night comes, and when the morning comes, to be aware that you can die at any time for a variety of reasons. Because of this he implores us to look at our mind and see our unskillful, harmful qualities, and then to abandon them like your head is on fire! We don’t have enough time in this life to bother with a negative and aversive mind-states, it will do nothing but keep us mired in ill-will and hatred.

In the words of a famous internet meme a few years back “ain’t nobody got time for that”. As the sutta from part two tells us, aging and death are rolling in like mountains on all four sides, this human life is short and precious, don’t waste it.

The final article will return in two weeks, as next week I will be busy preparing for my ordination on 10-31-15. We will wrap it up and put it all together into a practice you can do in less than 10 minutes that will help your general practice and your life in the long run.


This is the Fourth in a five part series. Here are the links to all parts:

How Can I know If I’m Making Progress?

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