Friday, February 27, 2015

New sport: soaring with birds over Nepal!

Wisdom Quarterly; Siddharth Gupta, Travel/

A new sport is born!
On a Himalayan mountainside, more than a dozen paragliding pilots were preparing to take off and ride the thermals over Nepal.

But I didn’t come here to see traditional paragliding. I came to witness parahawking -- that is, paragliding alongside trained birds of prey.

The unlikely sport was founded in 2001 by Scott Mason (pictured), a British paraglider and bird lover who wound up caring for an injured black vulture during a visit to Nepal.

In doing so, Mason learned that Asia’s vulture population was plummeting. An anti-inflammatory drug called Diclofenac that was being administered to sick livestock was also killing the vultures feeding on the animals’ carcasses. To raise awareness of the creatures’ plight, Mason founded, which offers people the chance to paraglide with the threatened birds. More

Michelle Zeidman fed Kevin -- a practice the bird had learned from Mason so that his passengers could see the raptors fly up close. Zeidman wore a pouch with buffalo meat and pulled out one piece at a time, keeping it hidden between her gloved thumb and forefinger. Mason blew a whistle, she extended her arm, and incredibly, the bird swooped in... (BBC)

Sanskrit language lives on (audio)

The West loves the Indo-European Sanskrit language. The cast of the Sanskrit play "The Cleverness of the Thief." Patricia Sauthoff is in center wearing white (Patricia Sauthoff).
IVC/India's Sanskrit affected Tibetan as well as many Vajrayana Buddhist practices.

Learning Sanskrit materials (Sauthof
Sanskrit has been lingering at the edges of Western culture for a while now. It’s an obscure language that not many people know, but a lot of people know about.

I started studying Sanskrit as a written language a few years ago. Back then, when I told people about it, they assumed I was a big "White Album"-era Beatles fan or into Transcendental Meditation. Now they just assume I spend a lot of time doing yoga.

Sanskrit's sacred sound goes well with yoga
I'm actually a Ph.D. candidate at The School of Oriental and African Studies in London. I study Sanskrit so I can do research and read ancient texts, not order lunch or hail a cab. But last year my studies took a turn for the practical when I decided to take a conversational Sanskrit course over the summer.
Sanskrit tattoos (
Sanskrit is an ancient language, but it’s actually pretty easy to hear it out in the world -- if you know where to look. India's 2001 census counted 14,000 Indians [most probably Hindu nationalists who do not realize the language did not originate in India but in neighboring lands of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization] who claimed it as their mother tongue.

There are Sanskrit language newscasts; I’ve seen Shakespeare and other plays performed in Sanskrit here in London; and there is a community of language learners and teachers from around the world who gather on Twitter to share their knowledge, ask for help, and meet others interested in communicating in Sanskrit.

Sanskrit serious in England, stand up in India?
(NDTV) Sanskrit is thriving among former British imperial colonialists: At St. James Junior School in London, the number of students wanting to learn it has grown by leaps and bounds.
(Jay Hind!) Gujarat Sanskrit Academy has started translating Hindi film dialogues into Sanskrit. Sumeet presents some favorites. It's hilarious with a double H (or lame with a double L). He's mostly speaking Hindi with English mixed in.
Some are in India, some are part of the Indian diaspora, and some -- like me -- are Westerners interested in learning something more about the language and culture of South Asia.
And it does look like interest in Sanskrit is growing. The study of Sanskrit is certainly surging in popularity, both in India and in the West. Students at Princeton Univerisity recently launched a petition to get Sanskrit back into the curriculum. And at my own school, the second-year Sanskrit course grew to 20 this year, up from just two the year before.
Sanskrit came from space like this crop circle.
It turns out spending a month speaking Sanskrit day-in and day-out is pretty surreal. Instead of reading philsophy books, I learned how to say things like telephone -- दूरभाष  dūrabhāṣā -- and bicycle -- द्विचक्रिका dvicakrikā. It reminds me that Sanskrit isn’t just a [dead] language of dusty books. And as anyone who has ever namaste-d knows, it’s a language that’s really fun to say out loud -- or even to sing.

India has 100 million+ Muslims, marry one.
There were 20 of us in the class, learning, speaking and singing six days a week for four weeks.

Several of my classmates were Indians living in Europe. Some were graduate students like myself, and others were professionals taking a break from work. There was even a Buddhist monk who out-chanted us all. More

Did the Buddha speak Sanskrit? No!

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly (COMMENTARY)
The Buddha came from the Central Asia, which later became Bactria. See

The Buddha, wandering ascetic (WQ)
If the question were, Did Prince Siddhartha know Sanskrit, then the answer is that the very well-educated royal (from a foreign land west of India in what is now Central Asia, Afghanistan, once known as Scythia or the Middle Country between East and West) must have.

But Sanskrit was preserved and used not by ordinary people, but the Brahmin priest elites who promoted it, their interpretation of the Vedas, and the caste system which they placed themselves at the top of. Prince Siddhartha and his family clan, the Shakyans, were not Brahmins, were not priests, and were not much interested in spirituality. That as well as many administrative functions could be left to Brahmin intellectuals in their service. Kings ruled, and Brahmins were counselors, accountants, and chaplains in the royal (kshatriya) service.

Walking pose, Thailand (Nippon_newfie)
The ascetic Siddhartha did not leave home and travel to the East (to mahajanapadas like Magadha, Kasi, and Kosala) to become a temple priest. He went there to become a nomadic wandering ascetic from another anti-Vedic, anti-Brahminical shramana ("shaman," "wandering ascetic") school rising up to challenge the authority of the old and staid brahmana movement. Unless conversing, arguing, or publicly debating with Brahmins, there would be no reason for Siddhartha or, later, the Buddha to speak Sanskrit. Yet, the Brahmins were very interesting in undermining the Buddha-Dharma.

And even while he was alive and teaching, they tried to co-opt his teachings and methods. After his final nirvana, they went all out to subsume Buddhism under the banner of Vedic Brahmanism and much later the organized Hinduism. But the Buddha and so many Buddhist teachings had run exactly counter to old Vedic and Brahminical assumptions and long held sacred teachings. The Buddha was not a Hindu, not born a Hindu (there was no Hinduism yet in existence, and he was most certainly not a Brahmin or aligned with the Brahmins. But because the Brahmins eventually succeeded in co-opting Buddhism and the figure of the Buddha (as an incarnation of the god Vishnu), Chinese Buddhism and other Mahayana traditions think that Buddhism was originally taught in Sanskrit and originally was just a kind of revival of the ancient Vedic religion of the very ancient Indus Valley Civilization.

Indian Buddhaghosa writing in Sri Lanka
What did the Buddha speak? He would have spoken various related languages -- Magadhi, Pali-Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the popular tongues of the many lands and territories he visited. There is only one exclusively Buddhist language, and it is not Sanskrit but its cognate Pali (what we interpret as a super-simplified Sanskrit but spoken by many more people, like common Aramaic compared to priestly Hebrew). Some of the oldest Buddhist texts are recorded in the spoken Pali tongue, which does not have an alphabet. It uses other alphabets, such as Sinhalese (from the island off the southern tip of the subcontinent). Sri Lanka, where Sinhalese is spoken, is where the most famous Indian Buddhist scholar-monk and commentator Ven. Buddhaghosa went to learn, record, and compile two massive Buddhist meditation manuals, the early Path of Freedom (Vimuttimagga) and the more refined and expanded Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga), the former preserved by the Chinese, and the later preserved by South and Southeast Asian Buddhists.

Ancient Pali dictionary
The earliest Buddhist texts (palm leaf scrolls) yet discovered must have been recorded in a regional Buddhist language. Indeed, those texts are not in Sanskrit but in a local language called Gandhari from Central Asia -- what today we generally call the 'stans:

Ancient Gandhara (Afghanistan, at the foothills of the Himalayan range known as the Hindu Kush, and Pakistan), Uzbekistan, Tajykistan, Kazakhstan, Sistan, Balochistan, and so on.

Maverick Dr. Ranajit Pal realized that Siddhartha was not from Nepal but from Afghanistan, the ancient Shakya-land (Greek Scythia) with one of its capitals at Kapilavatthu (Kapilavastu, near Bamiyan). And what is often forgotten is that many of the Buddha's earliest disciples were Brahmins who certainly spoke Sanskrit and would have spoken and memorized the teachings in that scholarly idiom as well as the Buddha's Prakrit, a form of the Magadha language, Magadha being the state where the Buddha mostly lived.

His two chief male disciples, Ven. Sariputra and Ven. Maha Moggalana, were Brahmins. At least one of his chief female disciples, Ven. Khema and Ven. Uppalavana, may also have been. And more importantly the monk who turned the Buddha's Dharma (spiritual teachings) into a formal "religion," Ven. Maha Kassapa, was a Brahmin. Brahmins would have spread the Buddha-Dharma and with it remnants of their own earlier views, the language and concerns of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization and its ancient Knowledge Books (Vedas).

POT: legal in DC, Alaska, munchies, glut, risk

Ashley Wells, Pat Macpherson, Pfc. Sandoval, Seth Auberon, Wisdom Quarterly; LA Weekly
Now there's a glut of marijuana, and corporations are champing at the bit to get in and turn cannabis into the new top drug of our drug-loving society. Here Pioneer Production and Processing's Ashley Green trims flower in Arlington, Wash. Low prices, too much stock (AP).

Working down on the farm, "Green Acres," aka Pioneer Production and Processing (AP).

Potheads in the U.S. are rejoicing today because our hypocritical capital went green. Not only have most Americans long believed in medical cannabis, many have been using it with no medicinal quality in mind.

Hemp can save the world. Recreational pot, not so much. That has not kept Americans from using, abusing, experimenting, and sometimes defending weed as harmless. It is mostly harmless, leading to laziness, lack of drive, and serving to blot out consciousness rather than expanding it. THC is not nearly so useful to users as CBD content, the more mind expanding and medicinal component of the plant, which has uncounted varieties, all called "weed."

Rosie wants medicine not recreation
Medical marijuana, particularly as green oil, was once in every American doctor's medical bag when visiting for house calls. Its many medical benefits were well known, including the ability of the properly prepared plant to cure cancer. Smoking it does not cure cancer.

Hemp can save the world, with so many historical and pre-petroleum/plastic uses that it is impossible to overestimate the benefits. Smoking it does not save the world.

What is the latest news? A scientific study released this week has determined that pot is the least harmful of popular drugs. Far worse than the dreaded "marijuana" are:
  • alcohol (rotted, distilled toxin)
  • heroin (chemically converted sap)
  • cocaine (chemically adulterated alkaloid)
  • cigarettes (sugar and chemical laced tobacco)
And that's how we do in Amsterdam, bro. Now available in Oakland and a school near you.
Dude, I'm so half-baked, huh huh huh.
The list does not mention Krokodil (pronounced "crocodile," the latest sensation in Russian flesh-eating intoxicants if meth is too mild for your liver to deal with).

Scientists have been busy. They also discovered the cause of munchies. They had an untested theory about cannabinoids in the brain. But now they've pinned it down.

Like pot? How about fried acrylamides?
So vegetarians, beware. Whatever you don't eat you might when high. Omnivores, human toilets have nothing to worry about except getting even fatter. Enjoy the Cheesy Poofs, Duff, and chocolate-flavored chocolate.

Alaska, the biggest state in the union we lovingly call the USA, has just made recreational marijuana legal. But it can only be carried in small amounts, and when grown at home or on the tundra, used at home. There are still many intoxication-related issues to be worked out, so all this law is likely to do is affect paranoia levels.

Mothers in Oregon like cannabis (AP).
Washington, D.C., home of the White House, Capitol, and that giant phallic tower that looks like a red-eyed Klansman just made recreational pot legal as well. D.C. is not really a state. "The Ring of Power" points out that it is a specially designated land that rules the country around it, the way a piece of London's financial district and the Vatican are specially designated lands with their own laws.

Finally, an old story (with pictures shown above) says there is a now a glut of weed in legal states, inventory that somehow finds its way to criminalized states just like Prohibition. Capitalists rejoice; Libertarians scratch their heads.

Hotei a.k.a. Budai (Vivek S K)
Okay, that's all for this episode of Better Know Your Pot. Remember, smoking cannabis is not a Buddhist practice, and that fat guy is not the Buddha. His name is Hotei (also Budai) and he's a monk who used to act like Santa Claus to kids.
These filthy THC-soaked hippies will amount to nothing...or become leaders of the insulated town that rules the United States, pot-loving D.C., home of the hypocritical Clintons.
Why I'm giving up weed
Art Tavana (, Feb. 18, 2015)
Colleen Green
DIY Queen Colleen Green is giving up weed — but not her stoner fan  base (
Do not light up, and don't hug statue.
Nobody rocks a pair of knockoff Wayfarers like Colleen Green. Onstage, they protect her sleepy eyes from the bright lights, placing a thin plastic veneer between the punk auteur and her followers: slackers with medical marijuana cards who relate to her anti-cool, grunge appeal.
"Colleen Green isn't a band; it's a person," she says, with the same directness she applies to running her DIY empire out of a bedroom in her brother's West L.A. apartment, where she lives rent-free. The 30-year-old Massachusetts native books her own shows, designs her own comical merch' (T-shirts doodled with stick figures and marijuana leaves), and uses a quirky drum machine as her only backing musician. And while it sounds like a weed-friendly pun, her real name is Colleen Green.

Since moving to L.A. in 2010, Green has become a regular at punk venues such as the Smell. With her drum machine and colorfully tagged guitar, she has amassed a cultish following, transforming her into L.A.'s stoner-punk fetish. More

Did you ever get the idea that DC and the media want us to take drugs and drink? (AP)

"Spock," Leonard Nimoy, dies (video)

Seth Auberon, Ashley Wells, Wisdom Quarterly; DC; V.F. Gunaratna (

(Star Trek) Spock's death from the movie "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan"
Let us live while we can for death is certain; life is not. Soon enough Mara comes.
(In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy) "Other Voices" (Season 1, Episode 1) The secret life of plants is revealed by modern technology! This fascinating opener explores plant communication, language, and healing.
What will Kirk (R) do without Spock (L)?
Star Trek's Spock, Leonard Nimoy, dead at 83: Nimoy endeared himself to uncountable fans as his character Benjamin Spock. He died today, Feb. 27, 2015 at his home in L.A.'s ritzy Bel Air neighborhood, his spouse confirmed. He was 83. According to Susan Bay Nimoy, the explanation for his death was "end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," or COPD, that he attributes to years of smoking. He was reportedly hospitalized earlier this month. It's very sad even though he told us all we could suck it.
Buddhist Reflections on Death
V.F. Gunaratna (Buddhist Publication Society) edited by Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson
To the average person death is by no means a pleasant subject or talk for discussion. It is something dismal and oppressive -- a kill-joy, a fit topic only for a funeral house. The average person immersed as we are in ourselves, ever seeking after the pleasurable, ever pursuing what excites and gratifies the senses, refuses to pause and ponder seriously that these very objects of pleasure and gratification will some day reach their end.
If wise counsel does not prevail and urge the unthinking pleasure-seeking person to consider seriously that death can also knock at our door, it is only the shock of a bereavement under our own roof, the sudden and untimely death of a parent, wife, child [or beloved TV star] that will rouse us up from our delirious round of sense-gratification and rudely awaken us to the hard facts of life.

Then only will our eyes open, then only will we begin to ask ourselves why there is such a phenomenon as death. Why is it inevitable? Why are there these painful partings which rob life of its joys?
  • There is also a solution to the problem of death -- and not only death but also aging, sickness, and suffering -- and the Buddha teaches that this ultimate solution is nirvana, the "end of suffering."
Three things: impermanence, disappointment, egolessness!
To most of us, at some moment or another, the spectacle of death must have given rise to the deepest of thoughts and profoundest of questions. What is life worth, if able bodies that once performed great deeds now lie flat and cold, senseless and lifeless? What is life worth, if eyes that once sparkled with joy, eyes that once beamed with love are now closed forever, bereft of movement, bereft of life?

...It is the contemplation of death (while living), the intensive thought that it will some day come upon us, that softens the hardest of hearts, binds one to another with cords of love and compassion, and destroys the barriers of caste, creed, and race among the peoples of the Earth all subject to a common destiny. Death is a great leveler. Pride of birth, pride of position, pride of wealth, pride of power must give way to the all-consuming thought of inevitable death. It is this leveling aspect of death that made the poet say:
"Scepter and crown
Must tumble down
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade."
It is the contemplation of death that helps to destroy the infatuation of sense-pleasure. It is the contemplation of death that destroys vanity. It is the contemplation of death that gives balance and a healthy sense of proportion to our highly over-wrought minds with their misguided sense of values. It is the contemplation of death that gives strength and steadiness and direction to the erratic human mind, now wandering in one direction, now in another, without an aim, without a purpose.

It is not for nothing that the Buddha has, in the very highest terms, commended to his disciples the practice of mindfulness regarding death. This is known as "marananussati bhavana." One who wants to practice it must at stated times, and also every now and then, revert to the thought maranam bhavissati -- "death will take place."
This contemplation of death is one of the classical meditation-subjects treated in the Path of Purification (Visuddhi Magga) which states that in order to obtain the fullest results, one should practice this meditation in the correct way, that is, with mindfulness (sati), with a sense of urgency (samvega), and with wisdom (ñana). More

(In Search Of Season 2, Episode 2) "The Man Who Would Not Die: The
fascinating saga of the Count of Saint-Germain," who dazzled the courts
of Europe for over 100 years, leading some to believe he was immortal.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Doors: the 5 Factors of Meditative Absorption

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Crystal Quintero, Wisdom Quarterly; Theravadin; Pinterest
There is only the now, so let's be here now. Stand (or sit) in the place where you are.

If the path of calm and insight begins with meditation, which we are defining in a focused way as "meditative absorption" (jhana). Let us to turn to a very important point by the Theravadin website. To get to meditation, one abandons or overcomes the Five Hindrances to meditation. In doing so, one is cultivating the Five Factors of Absorptions, the limbs of jhana.

"The first meditation (meditative absorption) is free of free things (the Five Hindrances), and five things are present (the Five Factors of Absorption). Whenever a meditator enters the first meditation, these five have vanished:
  1. sensuous desire
  2. ill-will
  3. tiredness/boredom
  4. restlessness/worry
  5. doubt.
And there are present these five factors:
  1. initial-attention (vitakka)
  2. sustained-attention (vicāra)
  3. bliss
  4. happiness
  5. concentration.
In the second more refined meditative absorption, the second door, there are present: bliss, happiness, and concentration. In the third, there are joy and concentration. In the fourth, equanimity and concentration" (Path of Purification, ancient Buddhist meditation manual, Vis.M. IV).

The question becomes, What are vitakka and vicara? They have long been misunderstood -- with the consequence that very few people pursue Buddhist meditation according to its ancient definition and even fewer gain the first absorption -- these two terms to mean "thought conception" and "discursive thinking," respectively.

Vitakka and Vicara – What do they mean?
Theravadin: Theravada Practice Blog edited and expanded by Wisdom Quarterly
Meditative absorption, known as jhana, just ahead! (Wisdom Quarterly)
Siddhartha began with attention to the breath.
Another title for this question is, How do I find my way to the first meditation, the first jhana?
Let’s say our meditation topic is remembering-the-breath (ana-pana-sati), the meditation Siddhartha was doing when he gained enlightenment (though, technically, he moved on to insight practice after establishing a firm and purified foundation of concentration with the breath.

Not think about sex? See below.
So we collect the mind at the breath, give it attention at the tip of the nose, concentrate on breathing. If that is all we do, very soon, we will find ourselves lost in millions of thoughts. Hopelessly washed away by thinking, planning, worrying, fantasizing, and so on.
Then we make the following change to our practice because someone said it would help:
With each breathing-in we mentally note “in,” and with each breathing out we note “out.” That literally is vitakka, or “thought.” [This seems to be what the Edward Conze in the uber-famous Heart Sutra translates as “thought coverings.”] It's simple, as the Buddha taught. This thought will therefore help us remember (sati, or mindfulness, literally means “memory,” maintaining in our mental presence, being mindful) our in-and-out breathing (anapana).

Now, what is “vicara”? It is gliding (literally “moving about”). We do not just think one thought and watch the breath. No, we find that we must repeat that “thought” and “glide,” “abide,” “slide,” “skid,” “dwell,” “ride.” (All of these words denote a prolonged abiding, like the slug line in “The Big Lebowski,” which reflects the literal meaning of vicara) on our meditation object, in this example breathing.
I struggle and flap until I soar and abide.
Repeatedly we tie our mind to the post of our meditation object. If it wriggles out, we tie it again. We can do it with the help of this “thought,” vitakka.

It is like an eagle that wants to soar. It is looking for a stream of rising air that will carry and lift it up. The bird will repeatedly flap its wings and glide for a while, repeating the flapping, gliding, flapping, gliding...until it finds the stream of uplifting air and comes to a peaceful riding -- an abiding -- an effortless soaring, simply enjoying the ride.

Mother figure (HeyItsWilliam)
We all know attention is good. But there are two kinds, the struggle and the effortless. If we deem something "boring," it's a struggle to keep the mind on it for two consecutive moments. But if it's intrinsically fascinating, alluring, beautiful, attention goes to it as if no effort were involved.
When we first turn the mind in this direction, it resists, and we are gangly like an uncoordinated bird. But with repeated effort to stick with it and get over this hump, begin to glide and soar. Attention becomes sustained. Imagine a bird wishing to take flight, the Buddha explained. First it leaps from the branch and flaps its wings, maybe losing some feathers, working up a sweat, squawking, but soon it relaxes, calms down, soars on the wind. As with the example of the eagle, it locates a thermal and is lifted by it.

Choppy poured water (TW)
Another example given is that of water versus oil poured from a jar. Do it. Pour it. Notice how the water pours all choppy until it becomes a stream? That is like initial-attention.

What about the oil? How does it pour? It is an unbroken stream, not choppy, not intermittent. It is constant. It is, in a word, sustained. When we sit, we first make an initial application of attention, which is choppy and broken.

Smooth unbroken oil (TDC)
In due time, we make a sustained application of attention. The first is a struggle, but the second seems effortless. Actually, the effort it depends on is the initial-attention.

Yathā pakkhī pubbaṃ āyūhati pacchā nāyūhati yathā āyūhanā evaṃ vitakko, yathā pakkhānaṃ pasāraṇaṃ evaṃ vicāro.

It is like a bird that first has to exert itself and later has to not exert itself -- in the same way is the initial-exertion (vitakka) like flapping, and the sustained spreading of wings is vicara (Petakopadesa, Khuddaka Nikaya, Wisdom Quarterly translation based on Pali Text Society edition translation, p. 142).

Maybe a simpler example can be given with a piano. Go up to a piano and hit a key. Plink. Now sit down, press the pedal, and hit it. Pliiiiiiiiiiink. That pedal is called the sustain, the stretching out of the note. The bird flaps to fly then it holds its wings perfectly still to glide. The point of flapping is to get to the effortless gliding and hanging in midair.

To tame a wild elephant (
Let’s take the Buddha's simile of the post. If one were to wish to tame an elephant, one would do it as it has been done for thousands of years. Make a clearing in the forest, drive a post into the ground, and tie a chain to it. Now go get a wild elephant from the forest wilderness.

[This is just a simile; no elephants were harmed in this thought experiment.] Bring it to the clearing, tie it to the post, then go hide in the bush to make sure it remains safe. The mind is like a wild elephant. The post is the meditation object. The chain is mindfulness. Do you know what that elephant is going to do?

It is going to go wild. It will not be tamed! It is used to wandering wherever it feels like whenever it feels like it. I'm not going to sit here on this stupid mat staring at my nose when I could be outside chasing dates, partying, taking drugs, playing loud music with a lot of bass and a good beat... F.U.! That's what the mind says.

Be here now? The mind wanders like a wild elephant, drawn to the past by memories of sensual pleasures and to the future by hopes of more (Matt Groening/"Life in Hell").
The elephant will trumpet, pull, tug, charge, attempt to walk away, flail about, cry, get angry, get depressed, get frustrated. It will not be restrained. It will not restrain itself. Yet eventually, if kept there, it will calm down. Then the taming can begin. It can be trained to focus its power and do many useful things.

Mind will learn to relax then stay put (MP).
It's cruel to tame elephants to serve humans. But this is just a simile. The "elephant" is the mind. Our minds are wild and will remain wild until they kill themselves, drive themselves into the ground, get lost or devoured in the wilderness.

We have a right to tame our own minds, to get them to serve us, to focus their power in the service of something so useful as enlightenment. But it's our choice. Most will remain wild and never even try to calm down. Never mind them. Let us mind our own minds.

But how? Use the simile the Buddha gave on how to tame a wild elephant. After a time, sometimes a long time, the elephant realizes that it is futile to struggle and pull on the post and chain. So it stops. It relaxes. It calms. It becomes serene and pliable, wieldy, tractable, able to worked with, applied, used as a tool rather than it using us.

Theravadin goes astray here, as does most of the scholarly Theravada tradition, to think that thinking is the point:

"You hammer on the top of the pole (which is your meditation object). The repeated hammering is your repetition of a thought, to help focus the mind. The repetition of this thought is initially necessary as our mind is pulled in six directions by six animals, the senses. The movement of the pole into the ground is vicara. Each time the hammer hits the pole, it moves a little deeper until the pole is so deep that it can stand alone, upright, and unshaken by sense impressions. Voila! The first jhana!"
All that effort, all that pole banging, we do not agree that this is the way. Place the post firmly to begin with, and stay with it by the strong chain of bare attention (one meaning sati or mindfulness as a necessary ingredient of right-concentration).

Bliss (piti) and happiness (sukha) have come as a sign that the mind steadied on the meditation subject. Now, meditation has become a “dwelling place” (vihara) and is no longer fighting or struggling. This, meditator, is the meaning of vitakka and vicara.

The same applies for other serenity meditation (samatha) objects like silently repeating,  “Buddho, buddho, buddho...” (inhale on budh, exhale on oh, which means “awaken”), or “Metta, metta, metta...” (which means “loving-kindness”), or “light, light, light…” just to name a few famous mantra like words, as in the ancient Indian practice of japa or divine repetition.
More on attention
Zooming in on the breath, calming, collecting, concentrating mind in jhana (isa_adsr/flickr).
Ecstatic jhana of St. Teresa, mystic Catholic
When we turn the mind to our object of attention in meditation, we are usually already bored with it because we haven't seen how wonderful and fascinating it has the potential of being.

What could be more boring than the breath? I breathe all day long, and I do it again all night! Boooring! But we are not looking at breathing, or the gross breath, not the air, not the movement of the apparatus that makes breathing possible, not even the invisible respiration process going on. No, there is something more fascinating there when we calm down.

We can call it the subtle breath, the prana, the Latin spiritus or what the Gnostic and Catholic contemplative traditions long ago used to call the "holy spirit." (That word has been ruined now as a bunch of other stuff having nothing to do with meditation).

It's like a subtle wriggling under the nose. It exactly mimics whatever the mind is doing. By paying attention to it, one knows whether the breath is long or short (corresponding to shifting mental states). All those details given at the beginning of the Discourse on the Setting Up of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutta) finally make sense.
Jhana suffuses the body like water does soap.
Just watch and we'd see them. We would know what the breath, that subtle breath when the mind is calm and focused, is doing as it does it. It's like a mirror to our minds, and any move it makes we can see. We can know ourselves. "Know thyself," everyone says, but they don't know the first thing about knowing thyself because they don't even know their own minds and how swiftly it changes, turns, goes, comes, gets excited, calms down. Increased attention calms the mind, but to us increasing attention means increasing effort, and that's not the way. Right?
When we want to focus right at this instant, what do we instinctively do? We hold our breath, and for a moment that focuses our mind. A beautiful object arrests our breath. Sometimes in meditation, breathing becomes like osmosis, that subtle, no perceptible movement of the lungs, just that wriggle. One can almost see it. And, indeed, if one keeps up this meditation, the mind will produce a counterpart sign, an inner light, what is technically called a nimitta.
This is one way to understand the related terms vitakka and vicara. The great living Buddhist meditation master, Pa Auk Sayadaw, an enlightened teacher who a scholar-practitioner, has directly explained these terms to us.

They are very much misunderstood by scholars who do not practice and have no attainments to speak of. (Two American practitioners present the Sayadaw's instructions after their own success in Practicing the Jhanas by Stephen Snyder and Tina Rasmussen).

The words vitakka and vicara mean discursive thinking. What they refer to, as is perfectly clear by the examples the Buddha gave to define them, is initial-attention and sustained-attention, sometimes initial application of mind and sustained application. We turn (advert) the mind to the meditation-object, for example the breath under the nose.