Archive for the ‘Bhikkhu’s Notebook’ Category

Peripheral Awareness

Posted: November 8, 2018 by pathpress in Bhikkhu's Notebook, Dhamma Article

by Ajahn Nyanamoli Thero

Mindfulness done correctly is when the mind is anchored in something. That something must be a thing that is not directly attended to, but instead, has to be a reference point to the attended thing (hence we call it “anchor”). If a thing is not directly attended to but there, we call that thing to be a “background”. It’s a background to a thing we attend (which makes that thing a “foreground”). This is the basic principle of mindfulness, on which we can expand here below.

One begins developing this practice of awareness by being mindful of the experience as a whole. For example, one is mindful of ‘being-seated-on-a-chair-reading-a-Dhamma-essay’. That is one’s situation at that very time. That is one’s experience as a “whole”. This is always the necessary starting point. What is very important is to prevent the tendency to become absorbed in one particular thing. (Feeling, sensations or perception, and similar). Instead, one has to broaden the mindfulness and become aware of the generality of one’s current situation, without losing the sight of the particular either.1

Of course, the attempts of discerning the background of one’s current experience will not be perfect in the beginning. One will more often than not fall into a mistake of over-attending one’s experience as a whole. This is a mistake of making that background into an object of one’s attention, defining it, clarifying it, trying to keep it in front. These are all ways of making it a foreground, which means that then something else will be in place of the background.

The natural tendency is to ask “What is then the background?”. This is however a wrong question. And it’s wrong because we are not concerned with the content of the background (or foreground for that matter), which would be the answer to “what?”. Instead our concern should be with nature of it. So one needs to restrain the tendency to clarify what is that “background”, and learn how to start discerning the domain of it. The domain of the “periphery”, its nature, in regard to what is presently enduring here.

Thus, something one attends to directly is what a foreground is at the time. It can be anything that is the current object of one’s attention. That thing has manifested, and it is enduring as such. That’s the basic structural property of one’s experience, there is no problem with this. However, if one wants to develop mindfulness, a step further is necessary. That step is developing the peripheral “vision” in regard to that very same foreground object, but without making that peripheral vision the new object by directly attending to it. The Buddha referred to this as “yoniso manasikara”, which is often translated as “proper attention”. Yoniso manasikara is the correct way of attending to the peripheral. Manasikara means “attention”. Yoni means “womb”. So when a thing is present in the front, in the foreground, its peripheral background is that very “womb” the thing has “came from”, so to speak. Yoniso manasikara is womb-attention, or less literally: a peripheral attention.2

Thus, the point is to learn how to attend. Not so much “what”. It’s about discerning the habit of “over-attending” and learning how to not resort to it. This habit manifests through either indulging or resisting the object of one’s attention. Either way, one is fully concerned with it. This is why one must stop trying to “observe” one’s experience as an object of one’s attention and instead, acknowledge it and let it endure on its own. (Let it persist or change-while-remaining-the-same-thing). Once the arisen experience of one’s attention is allowed to be, then gradually and indirectly, discerning of the peripheral domain can manifest.

The most practical way of practising this is through mindfulness of body postures. That’s why these things are often called “foundations” of mindfulness, or “anchors” or “reference points”. It’s because they are always rooted in the background. (E.g. foundations are under; an anchor is at the bottom; the reference point is at the distance. Under, bottom, away… it means ‘not-here-directly-in-front-of-me’). So for example: while I’m seated, I’m reading an article, actively scrolling through the pages, paying attention to what’s being said in it. Things I’m “doing”, like reading, writing, talking, etc. are things I’m attending to (foreground). And I’m attending to them all while I’m seated. That’s the reference point that is enough for proper mindfulness. That is what’s the background here. Yet, if I switch my attention and start attending to the fact that I’m sitting on the chair, then the body posture of “sitting” ceases to be the background in my experience. Why? Because I’ve broken the relationship of “referencing”. There is no more “while”, since I forgot about the reading, and became concerned with sitting. When this happens, one can either go back to the original foreground, or discern the newly present background in regard to the attended experience of sitting. The new background will have to be something even more general than “sitting posture”. And the more general thing in that case is nothing other than awareness of the “body there”.3

Body postures are more general than attending to a particular action or perception. But having a “body there” is even more general than the postures. Because to be walking, sitting, standing or lying down, one needs to have a body in the first place. That’s why one can also use the knowledge of “there is body”, as the peripheral anchor for one’s daily actions and experiences. The presence of one’s living body is a fundamental requirement for any action. We can go even higher (even more general), as we mentioned earlier, and develop awareness of the phenomenon of Earth, Water, Fire or Air. Or even further, in the practice of more refined kasinas, as described in the Suttas. The point is that the principle remains the same.

We need to stress that this is something that requires development. It’s not something that can be just “figured out”, or read once and made sense of. It requires a diligent repetition of “stepping back” when over-attending one’s experience as a whole. And then “stepping in” when ignoring it (under-attending it, forgetting about the background). So, it takes time and effort in order for it to be correctly discerned and recognized.

The problem with common practice of meditation is that people are encouraged to get “absorbed” into the particular “meditation object”. The practice becomes a form of focusing on the foreground at the expense of everything else. And not just that, people end up focusing on the objects twice as hard. This is because their view of meditation is to look and perceive the “momentary” foreground (the whole idea of “observing sensations‘”). Then within that they try to perceive even more particular things. So it’s not just the domain of the foreground, but the content proliferates further too. In cases like this, the ‘background’, as a foundation of mindfulness that needs to be understood, is even further obscured.

The ‘reference point’ means being aware of something, without having to actively think about it. That’s the basic principle of mindfulness. This should always be the basis for samadhi (according to the Suttas)4. That is why, if mindfulness and awareness is practised correctly, it will result in knowledge of the nature of things. The very definition of knowledge is knowing something without having to actively think about it. The knowledge reappears when it is attended to. One knows what one knows. This is the important point because this type of mindfulness of the background that’s simultaneous with the presently arisen phenomenon5, results in the establishment of mind (samadhi) that transcends sensuality and ill will. The whole domain (scope) of unwholesome.6 And that’s why that samadhi further results in complete knowledge of liberation.

The catch is in persistent effort of repetition of learning how to attend to things peripherally, without having to “directly” look at them. For a mind affected with avijja, the “direct look”, the “ayoniso manasikara” always involves appropriation and the Self-view. And “learning to attend” things peripherally can be done on many different “bases” or “domains” that are structurally present as the background of our attended experience. These domains are the domain of feelings, thoughts, and even one’s intentions (bodily, verbal and mental).

For example, being aware of the general feeling present, without trying to perceive it as “sensation” (i.e. “in” the body), is another way of establishing the proper mindfulness.

Or, something we often talk about, taking up of personal responsibility. If one takes it up, then no matter what the engagement with the particular task is, the background of it (the “womb” of that engagement) is one’s own choice to engage with it in the first place. Taking up responsibility, means becoming aware of the “background” choices one makes throughout one’s life.7

Furthermore, taking up responsibility for what one has chosen, a person gets to maintain that mindfulness through the very particular actions one is doing on account of it. And that mindfulness of responsibility is not something they would have to perpetually think about. No, that mindfulness is being felt instead. (That’s why the initial awareness of any form of responsibility is always unpleasant and concerning).

The choice behind one’s actions is a general unity, a context of one’s acts, that is present in each of those acts individually. Present as a peripheral background. It is because of this that sila or virtue is a necessary prerequisite for understanding. When one’s actions are based on distortions of priority (particular sensuality over general nature of choice regarding it, for example), one cannot see a clear responsible background while engaged in such pursuits. No perspective, so to speak. So, first actions that maintain absorptions with particularity must be divorced from the unwholesome domain. Then they must be further restrained, by avoiding the distracting of oneself. By undoing wrong way of attending to things. By not cultivating improper attention. Only then can one begin to discern the signs of the peripheral, characteristics of the background hereby discussed. Only then one will be able to “grasp the sign of one’s mind” or cittanimitta. A necessary requirement for the arising of the Right view.



1 This is why the correct practice of mindfulness results in higher establishments of mind (samadhi). For example, this is where mind surmounts the fundamental “generality” of form, by the way of surmounting the generality of earth, water, fire and air. Also, there is a reason that the order of elements always stays the same. They are have a particular structural order of their generality. And one can discern them in that order only.
2 That’s also why this type of attention is said by the Buddha to be one of the necessary pre-requisites for the arising of the Right view.
3 “…or mindfulness that “there is body” is simply established in him to the extent necessary for the final knowlede.” – MN 10, Satipatthana Sutta.
4 “Unification of mind, friend Visakha, is samadhi. The four foundations of mindfulness are the basis of samadhi. The four right kind of striving are the equipment of samadhi. The repetition, the development and cultivation of those same states is what development of samadhi is.” – MN 44, Culavedalla Sutta.
5 Experience as a whole, the ‘foreground-without-focusing-on-particular-object-witin-it’.
6 Sensuality is always concerned with the particular content of the experience. Particular sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. Thus, mindfulness of the peripheral domain to the particular foreground, can result in overcoming it.
7 Hence the fully developed knowledge that came from the Right View, results in freeing an individual from his actions (kamma). Full understanding of the nature of the “choice” as “peripheral”, removes the gratuitous assumption of necessity of the “Chooser” i.e. the Self. Understanding the choice or intentional intention (cetana) frees oneself from choosing (i.e. acting).

15123436_1801207720146851_7908506103863601411_oThe Audio Dhamma talks given by Nyanamoli Bhikkhu are now available on

For the Dhamma texts please click on the following link for more information,

Bellow are the links to the Dhamma talks posted till November 2016. For the latest ones please keep an eye on the page mentioned above.

  1. Mindfulness – 10 March 2015
  2. Timelessness Part I – 9 Sept 2015
  3. Timelessness Part II – 9 Sept 2015
  4. Responding to an arisen problem – 10 Sept 2015
  5. Authenticity – 1 Jan 2016
  6. Significant “I am” – 24 Jan 2016
  7. Establishing the mind – 25 Feb 2016
  8. Senses and the thought Part I – 4 March 2016
  9. Senses and the thought Part II – 4 March 2016
  10. Proper attention – 28 March 2016
  11. Designation – 11 April 2016
  12. The Holy life Part I – 5 May 2016
  13. The Holy life Part II – 6 May 2016
  14. The practice of meditation – 9 May 2016
  15. Wholesome and unwholesome – 9 May 2016
  16. The assumption of the senses – 7 Sept 2016
  17. Discerning the mind – 10 Sept 2016
  18. What is Impermanence – 30 Sept 2016

Notes on Meditation

Posted: July 30, 2014 by pathpress in Bhikkhu's Notebook, Dhamma Article

pdf-downloadby Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli


1. Mindfulness of breathing, bhikkhus, developed and repeatedly practised, is of great fruit, of great benefit; mindfulness of breathing, bhikkhus, developed and repeatedly practised, perfects the four foundations of mindfulness; the four foundations of mindfulness, developed and repeatedly practised, perfect the seven enlightenment factors; the seven enlightenment factors, developed and repeatedly practised, perfect knowledge and freedom…

2. Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu, gone to the forest, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty place, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.

3. Breathing in long, he knows, ‘I breathe in long’; or breathing out long, he knows, ‘I breathe out long.’

4. Breathing in short, he knows, ‘I breathe in short’; or breathing out short, he knows, ‘I breathe out short.’

5. ‘Experiencing the whole body, I shall breathe in,’ he trains himself thus; ‘experiencing the whole body, I shall breathe out,’ he trains himself thus.

6. ‘Calming the bodily determination, I shall breathe in,’ he trains himself thus; ‘calming the bodily determination, I shall breathe out,’ he trains himself thus…

Ānāpānasati Sutta, MN 118.

1. The practice of ānāpānasati or mindfulness of breathing represents a phenomenological exercise in developing the principle of simultaneity (akālikā dhamma). This is accomplished by the sufficient establishing of mindfulness and knowledge of what one is supposed to do and discern.1 It is an exercise because it requires one actively engaging in and being aware of the act of breathing, and it develops the principle of simultaneity because while one is actively breathing, one is aware of one’s actions (body, feelings, and thoughts). These are two different, simultaneously present things: the physical or bodily act of breathing, and the mental reflexive thoughts of one doing that very act. One is not supposed to be favoured on account of the other; a person should not be overdoing the breathing (i.e. turning it into a forceful breathing exercise) nor should he be underdoing it (i.e. forgetting about the act of breathing that is being performed, and letting it happen unawares). In the same sense one should not overthink one’s thinking (i.e. get lost in thought). The point is to mindfully breathe while remain fully aware of oneself-mindfully-breathing, or – to put it simply – to remain aware of the present phenomenon of “I am breathing.(more…)

Appearance and Existence

Posted: February 24, 2014 by pathpress in Bhikkhu's Notebook, Dhamma Article

by Ven. Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli

pdf-downloadFor a puthujjana the world exists. He can perceive things in that world, see them appear and disappear, he can see them changing. A puthujjana can also affect his surroundings and modify things according to own preferences, pursue the desirable experiences and avoid the undesirable ones—the puthujjana is involved. This ‘involvement’ with things represents the very core of the puthujjana‘s ‘experience as a whole’. Most people spend the majority of their lives obliviously absorbed in it, taking the course of ‘involvement’ for granted.[1]


Not Perceiving the Feeling [Notes on MN 43]

Posted: April 17, 2013 by Bhikkhu Ninoslav Nyanamoli in Bhikkhu's Notebook, Dhamma Article

Friend, feeling and perception and consciousness-these things are associated, not disassociated. It is not possible to separate them and by separating them point out the difference [between them]. What one feels, that one perceives. What one perceives, that one cognizes. Therefore, these things are associated not disassociated. It is not possible to separate them and by separating them point out the difference[between them].-MN 43. (more…)

Determining Determinations

Posted: April 7, 2013 by Bhikkhu Ninoslav Nyanamoli in Bhikkhu's Notebook, Dhamma Article

1. Feeling, perception and consciousness are always there together.1 It is impossible to have them arising independently and on their own; when there is one, the other two are present as well. They do not pass into each other’s domain2: one feels one’s feeling, one perceives one’s perception, one cognizes one’s cognizance. Assuming that it is the same thing that one feels, perceives and cognizes, or assuming that it is a different thing that one feels, perceives, and cognizes, or both-the-same-&-different thing that one feels, perceives, and cognizes, or neither-the-same-nor-different thing that one feels, perceives, and cognizes, means that assumed thing is there-it exists. (more…)

Resistance and Designation (Notes on DN 15)

Posted: March 28, 2013 by Bhikkhu Ninoslav Nyanamoli in Bhikkhu's Notebook, Dhamma Article


Nāmarūpapaccayā phasso’ti iti kho panetaṃ vuttaṃ, tadānanda,
imināpetaṃ pariyāyena veditabbaṃ, yathā nāmarūpapaccayā phasso. Yehi,
Ānanda, ākārehi yehi liṅgehi yehi nimittehi yehi uddesehi nāmakā-yassa
paññatti hoti, tesu ākāresu tesu liṅgesu tesu nimittesu tesu uddesesu
asati api nu kho rūpakāye adhivacanasamphasso paññāyethā ti? (more…)


Pabhassaramidaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ. Tañca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭham. Taṃ assutavā   puthujjano yathābhūtaṃ nappajānāti. Tasmā ‘assutavato puthujjanassa cittabhāvanā natthī’ti vadāmī”ti.

Bright, monks, is the mind. It is superimposed by the defiling obstructions. The uninstructed worldling does not know this. For the uninstructed worldling, therefore, there is no development of mind.