Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ask a Ninja: How to Meditate: 1. Start

Ven. Nyanaponika; Dhr. Seven, Ashley Wells, Seth Auberon, Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly The Five Hindrances and Their Conquest: Selected Texts from Pali Canon and Commentaries
Meditation Ninja, how do I meditate to become enlightened? - Beat the Five  Hindrances.
This year, rise above it (AB).
This is a seven-part series, beginning with this introduction, on overcoming of the Five Hindrances. It culminates with what to do as an enlightened Meditation Ninja. Reaching enlightenment could take from seven days to seven years of striving depending on dedication and consistency. Overdoing effort is inferior to consistent effort. There is much more to be gained by practicing 10 minutes a day instead of 70 minutes on Sunday: Consistency was the turtle's secret when the hare thought there would always be time to catch up.

What are the Five Hindrances that hold us back in meditation and life and keep us from realizing enlightenment?
  1. Sensual craving (lust, yearning, obsession, greed)
  2. Ill will (anger, annoyance, resentment, hate)
  3. Sleepiness and lassitude (sloth and torpor)
  4. Restlessness (remorse, boredom, worry and flurry)
  5. Skeptical doubt (persistent misgivings, delusion).
Why would anyone want to overcome them? Unshakable deliverance of mind/heart (purification, enlightenment, nirvana) is the highest goal in the Buddha's teaching (Dharma, doctrine). Deliverance means the freeing of the heart/mind from all limitations, fetters, defilements, and bonds that tie it to the Wheel of Suffering and the perpetual Cycle of Rebirth. 

Self purification begins the path to freedom.
Deliverance means the cleansing of the mind of all defilements that mar its natural purity, its innate nature. It is the removing of all hindrances or obstacles that bar its progress from mundane (lokiya) to supramundane consciousness (lokuttara-citta), that is, to full enlightenment (arhatship) in this very life.
Many are the obstacles that block the road of spiritual progress. But there are five in particular which, under the name of the Five Hindrances (pancha nivarana), are often mentioned in the Buddhist texts:
  1. Sensual desire (kamacchanda),
  2. Ill-will (byapada),
  3. Sloth and torpor (thina-middha),
  4. Restlessness and remorse (uddhacca-kukkucca),
  5. Skeptical doubt (vicikiccha).
They are called "hindrances" because they hinder, obstruct, retard, and envelop the mind/heart in many ways, obstructing its development (bhavana, cultivation). According to Buddhist teachings, spiritual development is twofold -- by way of tranquillity (samatha) and by way of insight (vipassana, wisdom). These are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually interdependent pursuits. Little progress in insight is possible without it being established in calm.

Tranquillity is gained by concentration of the mind/heart through sustained attention resulting in the temporarily purifying meditative absorptions (jhanas). For achieving these absorptions, the temporary overcoming of the Five Hindrances is a preliminary condition. (Later insight eradicates them completely and permanently). It is especially in the context of achieving the absorptions that the Buddha often mentions the Five Hindrances in the sutras.
Meditative Absorptions (Jhanas)
Are we there yet? Slow down, you maniac!
There are five mental constituents that are chiefly representative of the first meditative absorption, and are therefore called the "factors of absorption" (jhananga).

For each factor there is, according to Buddhist commentarial tradition, one of the Five Hindrances that is specifically harmful to it and excludes its higher development and refinement to the degree required for absorption (jhana).

On the other hand, the cultivation of the Five Factors of Absorption beyond their average level is an antidote for the Five Hindrances, preparing the road to absorption. The relationship between these two groups of five each is indicated in this anthology under the heading of each respective hindrance.
The Five Hindrances not only impede the mind/heart from reaching the eight meditative absorptions but also lesser degrees of mental concentration such as "neighborhood" or "access" concentration (upacara-samadhi). This is a preliminary stage of concentration prior to full absorption concentration (appana). Likewise excluded by the presence of the hindrances is the momentary concentration (khanika-samadhi), which has the strength of neighborhood concentration and is required for mature insight (vipassana).

But apart from these higher stages of mental development, any earnest attempt at clear thinking and/or pure living will be seriously affected by the presence of the Five Hindrances.
This widespread harmful influence of the Five Hindrances shows the urgent need of breaking down their power by constant effort. It is not sufficient to turn one's attention to the Five Hindrances only when one sits down for meditation. Such last-minute effort at suppressing them will rarely be successful unless helped by previous endeavor during one's ordinary life.
One who earnestly aspires to the unshakable deliverance of the mind/heart is therefore wise to select a definite "working-ground" of a direct and practical import: a kammatthana (a subject of meditation, lit. "working-ground") in its widest sense, on which the structure of our entire life can be based. 

Holding fast to our "working-ground," not losing sight of it for long, even this by itself will be considerable and encouraging progress in the control and development of the mind/heart, because in that way directed and purposeful energies of mind/heart will be strengthened considerably.

One who has chosen the overcoming or conquest of the Five Hindrances for a "working-ground" should examine which of the five are strongest in one's personal case. Then one should carefully observe how and on which occasions they usually appear.

One should further be aware of the positive forces within one's own mind/heart by which each of these hindrances can best be countered, given an antidote, and finally abandoned. 

It is often useful to examine one's life for any opportunity of developing these qualities which are indicated here under the heading of the spiritual faculties, the factors of absorption, and the factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga). In some cases, subjects of meditation have been added which are helpful in overcoming each hindrance.
An ordinary "worldling" (puthujjana, monastic or layperson, one who has not yet attained the first stage of enlightenment, the path of stream-entry sotapatti-magga) can only reach a temporary suspension and partial weakening of the hindrances. Their final and complete eradication takes place on the four stages of enlightenment, the noble paths, ariya magga:
  • Doubt is eliminated on the first stage, the path of stream-entry.
  • Sensual desire, ill will, and remorse are eliminated on the third stage, the path of non-returning (anagami).
  • Sloth and torpor (sleepiness and mental lassitude) and restlessness are eradicated on the path of arhatship (arahatta).
The reward for making the effort to relinquish and abandon the Five Hindrances is not only the limited one of making possible a shorter or longer spell of meditation, but every step in weakening the hindrances takes us nearer to the stages of enlightenment where final deliverance from all impediments is unshakable.
O, hearers, listen and I will teach the Dharma.
Though most of the following texts, translated from the discourses (sutras) of the Buddha and the ancient commentaries, are addressed to monastics, they are valid for all meditators living the worldly life. As the old meditation masters say: "The monastic (bhikkhus and bhikkhunis) is mentioned here as an example of those dedicated to the practice of the Dharma. Whosoever undertakes the practice is here included under the term 'monastic.'"

[This is why Wisdom Quarterly translates, here and elsewhere, by the more inclusive term "meditator" given that a little known fact about Buddhism in the Buddha's time led to the enlightenment of a greater number of laypeople than monastics, as there were so many more laypeople among the "hearers," the savakas, the people listening to the Buddha's guidance].
Just as, meditators, this body lives on nourishment, lives dependent on nourishment, does not live without nourishment -- in the same way, the Five Hindrances live on nourishment, depend on nourishment, do not live without nourishment (SN 46:2). More

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