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Thinking (Part 2)

Practice and QA. Cont' 5

Works Bro James and Sis Shymiin were working on before his passing.

The mind is hard to control, swiftly and lightly landing on whatever it desires.

It is good to train the mind as a tamed mind leads to happiness.

V 25 Dhammapada

Meditation deals with the mind and thus, to have some basic understanding of what mind is and how it works is helpful for practice (and also, to manage feelings and thoughts in daily life) for a relatively happier and stable wellbeing.

Here, we continue to answer some frequently asked questions and situations encountered during meditation.

“What is empty mind or blank mind?”

*You're noting the mind, but what mind?

In reality, *mind perceiving mind (object).

Mind and object arises and passes away together. Therefore, even the *mind which takes (previous) mind as its object of mindfulness also passes away.

A wisdom meditator practising mindfulness of mind needs to recognise what kind of mind is arising (and passing away). It also means one should perceive mind changes ~ different minds. Therefore, learning the basic and different types of mind is important in order to expand into mindfulness of mind. One can know the type of mind by these means:

  • Recognising its characteristics and behaviour.

  • Through being mindful of feeling. This method of learning and recognising the mind is most effective amongst many. For example, whenever you become aware of feelings and able to recognise feeling in that present moment, take a moment to note, what type of mind is present, or which comes with this feeling?

  • By way of mind-object. For instance, you are thinking of your children (object). Take a moment to note, what kind of thoughts are those (connected with children)? Metta? Appreciation? Attachment? Worries? In using this method, you need to remember that primarily, you are noting the mind, and developing a clear perception of mind (not the object or stories or thinking). Be mindful of the mind ~ and not to get caught up with thinking connected with the mind-object. For some meditators, this method alone may not adequate. Particularly, when objects are subtle or through having developed strong concentration, thinking has slowed down but mindfulness of realities (including mind) isn't sharp.

In this instance, meditators often report of empty mind or blank mind or just black space. If a meditator hasn't learnt to recognise the mind, then this may become a stumbling block. Some go on with 'choiceless' awareness ~ saying that anything that comes into awareness now becomes the object of meditation or some say let thoughts come and go. When a meditator hasn't established mindfulness of mental formation, one could easily be taken in by thoughts or form more concepts. This is not the direction of practice. The mind should always be anchored to realities in wisdom meditation (Satipatthana meditation). Choose to anchor the mind to realities, not choiceless.

All minds have an object. Even if thinking has stopped, mind still has an object. So, it is not empty or blank as one thinks.

Realities within the four foundations of mindfulness are objects of wisdom meditation (Satipatthana meditation). A wisdom meditator must learn to recognise them, be mindful of them, with detachment and non-resistance, and develop clear Knowing about them through observing its arising and passing away.

Clear perception of realities arising and passing away, is the signpost of practising rightly and right direction.

“So, what to do when I experience an 'empty' mind?”

When meditators experience what they feel is an empty or blank mind, is usually the case of either the object is too subtle and mindfulness isn’t sufficiently developed to detect it; or perception is undeveloped therefore, unable to recognise it; or that the mind has become gross, such as restlessness coming back and as a result, unable to detect object.

This is also similar to the instance where meditators could not feel the rise and fall movements anymore, and even breathing has become so faint ~ it’s as if they are gone.

What can you do in these instances?

The general principal is, to develop the mindfulness, detachment and knowing, continuously and also clear perception of realities within the four foundations.

You may consider one of these suggestions.

If the mind is clear and you’re able to recognise the mind, then you may go on to be mindful of the mind. This will gradually develop deeply into mindfulness of mental formations (the practice of mindfulness of the Five Aggregates of Clinging). If not, you’d need to go back to the body or feeling foundation during that session.

If the mind is redirected to the body foundation, continue to sharpen mindfulness by taking a few deep breaths slowly. As you do, gently direct the mind to the rise and fall movements and develop clearer perception of it. Anchor the mind to these movements and, carefully observing, moment to moment. As mindfulness sharpens and 'catches up', the mind will begin to perceive more realities, arising and passing away, not just in the abdomen. Carry on and clear Knowing of realities (in this example, body) will develop in due course.

Outside of formal practice, spend some time to go through Mindfulness of Mind section in the Maha Satipatthana Sutta to develop an intellectual knowing of the various types of mind. This will help you recognise the mind in practice and to establish mindfulness of mind.

Please refer to Lessons 5 to 9 in Bro James’ Meditation Handbook for beginners.

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