Articles elaborating the teachings

The Wandering Mind - Part 2

In Part 1 of this topic on the Wandering Mind, also known as Outflowings or asavas, we discussed the first of seven methods to still our mind. That first method was the use of insight (understanding). In this article we will cover the other six methods.

 (Quiz to test your understanding of this material)

2. Outflowings to be Abandoned by Restraining

This is a prevention method. We restrain our mind from flowing out to the various sense experiences: sights, sounds, smells, thoughts, bodily sensations and tastes. We would use this method when we are meditating, as our goal is to still our mind. So we don't want it listening to sounds in the room, getting lost in thinking etc. We would also use this method during daily life when we wish our attention to be on a certain activity and not being distracted elsewhere.

Where do we let our eyes roam? Can we turn off our phones and devices while meditating or for periods during the day? Is it skilful to restrict our trips to shopping centres or online shopping sites?

If we have experienced the stillness and bliss of meditation, and prefer this to the temporary pleasures of the sensory world, then we will choose, like the monastics, to restrain our mind from going out, more than necessary, to the sensory world at all times

Contentment with the present moment helps prevent the mind from being bored and wanting to find some stimulation in the sensory world.

 

3. Outflowings to be Abandoned by Using

The Buddha was addressing monastics for this method. But those of us who are ready to start letting go of the pleasures offered by the sensory world, in exchange for the bliss of stillness, we can also listen to these suggestions.

The Buddha encouraged his monastics to just use their robes as protection from cold, heat, insects, sun, wind and to conceal private parts. This leaves out any attention to style or decoration. Food is for the continuance of the body, to prevent hunger and to support the holy life. This leaves out the search for special tastes. Shelter is for the same purposes as robes and to provide solitude. And medicine is to maintain good health. These are the four requisites for monastics.

If the mind flows out craving fancy clothing, tasty food or particular housing, we can just remind ourselves of the proper use of these items.

 

4. Outflowings to be Abandoned by Enduring

We are unable to control the conditions surrounding us. Despite the type of clothing we choose to wear, the shelter we are in and our efforts to prepare good meals, we will at times be afflicted by heat or cold, by hunger and thirst, by insects and by wind and the sun. And despite the care we take of our bodies, we can experience pain. And others can speak to us in an unwelcome way. Since we have already done what we can to alleviate the above afflictions, what is left to us is to endure.

If we complain, we are stabbing ourselves with the second arrow, making ourselves more miserable. The affliction is the reality of the moment. So we accept it and endure it until circumstances change and we can do something more to alleviate the situation.

 

5. Outflowings to be Abandoned by Avoiding

The Buddha mentions avoiding wild animals, cliffs, bramble patches, cesspits, sewers, bad friends and, for monastics, being alone with the opposite sex or entering places like pubs or casinos. In other words, avoid dangerous situations.

6. Outflowings to be Abandoned by Removing

The Buddha teaches us to use this method when sensual desire arises (i.e. desire for one of the sensory experiences: a sight, a sound, a touch, a taste, a smell or thinking), or a thought of ill-will or cruelty. In another sutta, MN 20: The Removal of Thoughts, the Buddha teaches us five methods to remove these thoughts.

  • substitution
  • contemplate the danger
  • not give attention
  • calming
  • will power

We start with the first method and only if it doesn't work do we go to the second method and so on.

a) Substitution - We can substitute the opposite of what has arisen

- desire: generosity

- ill-will: metta (loving friendliness)

- restlessness: serenity practice like the breath

- dullness and drowsiness: look at light, splash water on the face, do some exercise

- doubt: serenity practice like the breath, talk to a wise teacher

Or, any wholesome meditation object can be substituted for the thought. This could be the breath, body sweeping, reflection on impermanence etc. Reflection on death is good for dullness and drowsiness.

A helpful mantra to use, when our mind flows out to these sensory experiences, is: "It's none of my business!"

b) Reflect on the danger of staying with the thought

We ask ourself, "Where will this lead?" if we stay with the thought.

c) Don't give attention to the thoughts

Close your eyes or look away. Distract yourself by cleaning out a drawer or doing something to pull your mind away

d) Calming the thoughts

The Buddha describes this as a step by step way to still the mind. He gives the example of someone walking fast, asking, "Why am I walking fast?" Then they walk slowly and wonder why. Then they stand still, then sit then lie down.

So we could ask ourself, "Where did this thought start? What triggered it?" Some conditions came together to cause the thought to arise. So if we can change the conditions, the thought will go. We could try auto suggestion: "Calm, calm, calm." We could go for a walk, talk to a friend and once settled, return to sitting meditation on the breath.

e) Will Power

Hopefully we never get to this method. But if we have tried all the other methods and we are about to do something we'll regret, then this is the last ditch effort. The Buddha describes clenching one's teeth together, pushing the tongue against the roof of the mouth and basically "sitting on yourself!" Don't let those bad words escape from our mouth or let our body do some regretful action.

7. Outflowings to be Abandoned by Developing

The first method of abandoning, insight, leads one to realizing stream winning. This seventh method leads one to arahantship, full awakening. It is for abandoning any remaining passions, disturbances, hindrances.

Developing refers to developing the Seven Factors of Enlightenment (Awakening):

  •  mindfulness
  • investigation of Dhammas
  • heroic energy
  • joy
  • tranquility
  • stillness
  • equanimity

Their development is supported by seclusion, dispassion and cessation which ripen in relinquishment. With the complete cutting off of outflowings and the abandonment of the last whiff of a sense of "I am", there is awakening.

Based on a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Brahm on Majjhima Nikaya 2.

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