Archive for the ‘Dhamma Article’ 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).

Kāyagatā sati – Mindfulness of the body

Posted: September 21, 2018 by pathpress in Dhamma Article

by Ven. Ariyavaṃsa

The Buddha tells us that there is one thing which, when developed, leads to the following:

  • great existential dread (AN 1:576)1
  • great benefit (AN 1:577)
  • great safety from bondage (AN 1:578)
  • mindfulness-&-awareness (AN 1:579)
  • the attainment of knowing-&-seeing (AN 1:580)
  • a pleasant dwelling in this very life (AN 1:581)
  • the realisation of the fruit of wisdom-&-liberation (AN 1:582)
  • the realisation of the fruit of stream-entry (AN 1:596)
  • the realisation of the fruit of once-returning (AN 1:597)
  • the realisation of the fruit of non-returning (AN 1:598)
  • the realisation of the fruit of arahatship (AN 1:599)



Posted: July 17, 2018 by pathpress in Dhamma Article

by Ven. Ariyavaṃsa

dujjānaṃ kho etaṃ, kaccāna, tayā aññadiṭṭhikena aññakhantikena aññarucikena aññatrayogena aññatrācariyakena—kāmā vā kāmasukhaṃ vā…

This is difficult to understand, Kaccāna, for you with another view, with another belief, with another influence, with an association elsewhere, with a teacher from elsewhere—kāmā or the pleasure of kāmā

MN 80

1. “Let’s make some distinctions…”1

The Pali word kāmā is perhaps most frequently rendered in English as “sensual pleasures”. This translation is, I think, rather misleading, given the fact that the Buddha explicitly distinguished between kāmā and the pleasure that arises dependent on them. (more…)


Posted: July 11, 2018 by pathpress in Dhamma Article

by Ven. Ariyavaṃsa

The word kammaṭṭhāna is usually translated as “meditation object” and it plays a central role in the Visuddhimagga, Burmese-style meditation systems, the Thai Forest tradition, and in many people’s meditation practice. According to the Visuddhimagga, one should develop samādhi by focusing on a single object. Here is Venerable Ñāṇamoli’s translation of the relevant passage:

kenaṭṭhena samādhīti samādhānaṭṭhena samādhi. kimidaṃ samādhānaṃ nāma? ekārammaṇe cittacetasikānaṃ samaṃ sammā ca ādhānaṃ, ṭhapananti vuttaṃ hoti. tasmā yassa dhammassānubhāvena ekārammaṇe cittacetasikā samaṃ sammā ca avikkhipamānā avippakiṇṇā ca hutvā tiṭṭhanti, idaṃ samādhānanti veditabbaṃ.

In what sense is it “concentration”? It is concentration in the sense of concentrating. What is this thing called concentrating? It is centering consciousness and consciousness-concomitants evenly and rightly on a single object—placing, is what is meant. So it is the state, in virtue of which consciousness and its concomitants remain evenly and rightly on a single object undistracted and unscattered—that should be understood as “concentrating”.

Vsm (Ch. III, §3)

In order to do this, we are later told (Ch. III, § 28), we should approach a kalyāṇamitta, one who can give us a kammaṭṭhāna. With the right kammaṭṭhāna—the one, from a list of forty, which most suits our own particular temperament—we are then supposed to focus our mind on this, so as to become concentrated. (more…)

by Ven. Ariyavaṃsa

catasso imā, bhikkhave, obhāsā. katame cattāro? candobhāso, sūriyobhāso, aggobhāso, paññobhāso — ime kho, bhikkhave, cattāro obhāsā. etadaggaṃ, bhikkhave, imesaṃ catunnaṃ obhāsānaṃ yadidaṃ paññobhāso”ti.

Bhikkhus, there are these four radiances. Which four? The radiance of the moon, the radiance of the sun, the radiance of fire, the radiance of understanding. These, bhikkhus, are the four radiances. This is foremost of these four radiances, that is: the radiance of understanding.

AN 4:144

Dasein is an entity which, in its very being, comports itself understandingly towards that being.

Heidegger 1962: 78 [SZ: 53]1

1. From psychology…

Observe sensations”, says the meditation teacher. Sensations, he says, are everything that is “felt” in the body—all of those various bodily experiences that are taking place right now: heat, pressure, tingling, itching, throbbing, pain. If one develops the capacity to keep one’s attention on these sensations, he tells us, if one learns to “see them as they really are”, without reacting to them, without any prejudice or preference towards them, then, by practising in this way, “wisdom” (or what he calls paññā) will arise. And so, having been taught in this way, people all over the world sit down cross-legged, close their eyes, and bring their attention to the sensations of the body, believing that they are practising in accordance with the teaching of the Buddha, waiting for insight, for paññā, to arrive. (more…)


Posted: April 10, 2017 by pathpress in Dhamma Article

by Ven. Ariyavaṃsa

cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ. tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso. phassapaccayā vedanā.

In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition, feeling.

SN 35: 60

In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. But one might also say: “In dependence on eye-consciousness, the eye and forms arise”, because what is being referred to here is the simultaneous presence of, the juxtaposition of rūpa and viññāṇa out there. When there is matter, there must also be consciousness, since without consciousness there can be no experience whatsoever. Thus, matter requires, or is dependent upon, consciousness. But consciousness also requires matter. Since there can be no presence without that which is present, if there is consciousness there must also be that which there is consciousness of. To use Husserl’s terminology, consciousness is characterised by the quality of intentionality—it is a kind of ‘stretching forth’ or ‘being directed at’. When there is consciousness, something is there, something appears in one way or another (as actually present, as past, as possible, etc). This thereness or appearing is such a primitive and general notion that one cannot provide any more detail or explain it in terms of anything else. And since consciousness is nothing but the taking place of appearing—the presence of that which there is consciousness of—any attempt to find it will only lead one to that which there is consciousness of. The idea that one might encounter the presence of something without ipso facto finding that something whose presence it is is utterly inconceivable1. Thus, we can say: “In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness is there and in dependence upon eye-consciousness, the eye and forms are there.” With this, that is. With that, this is. (more…)

Satipaṭṭhāna – setting up mindfulness

Posted: February 2, 2017 by pathpress in Dhamma Article

by Ven. Ariyavaṃsa

ekāyano ayaṃ, bhikkhave, maggo sattānaṃ visuddhiyā, sokaparidevānaṃ samatikkamāya, dukkhadomanassānaṃ atthaṅgamāya, ñāyassa adhigamāya, nibbānassa sacchikiriyāya, yadidaṃ cattāro satipaṭṭhānā.

Bhikkhus, this is the one-way path for the purification of beings, for passing beyond grief-&-lamentation, for setting down pain-&-displeasure, for the attainment of the method, for the realisation of Nibbāna—that is, the four ways to set up mindfulness.

MN 10

There is only one way to put an end to suffering and that is to attain the method (ñāya) which only the Buddha teaches. And what is this method?

katamo cassa ariyo ñāyo paññāya sudiṭṭho hoti suppaṭividdho? idha, gahapati, ariyasāvako paṭiccasamuppādaññeva sādhukaṃ yoniso manasi karoti—’iti imasmiṃ sati idaṃ hoti, imasmiṃ asati idaṃ na hoti; imassuppādā idaṃ uppajjati, imassa nirodhā idaṃ nirujjhati. yadidaṃ avijjāpaccayā saṅkhārā; saṅkhārapaccayā viññāṇaṃ … pe … evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti. avijjāya tveva asesavirāganirodhā saṅkhāranirodho; saṅkhāranirodhā viññāṇanirodho … pe … evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hotī’”ti.

And which is the noble method that he has clearly seen and thoroughly penetrated with wisdom? Here, householder, the noble disciple attends closely and appropriately to dependent origination itself thus: “When this is, this is; when this is not, this is not. When this arises, this arises; when this ceases, this ceases.” That is, with ignorance as condition, determinations; with determinations as condition, consciousness… Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. But with the complete fading away and cessation of that very ignorance, cessation of determinations; with the cessation of determinations, cessation of consciousness… Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.

SN 12: 41

Only when mindfulness is set up in a way that allows one to see and penetrate paṭiccasamuppāda can it be said to be sammāsati, rather than micchāsati. This means that one must set up mindfulness not by focusing on a single object of meditation (as most people seem to believe) but in a way that allows one to attend to the simultaneous presence of two mutually dependent things (“When this is, this is”). Indeed, if one makes the effort to contemplate the nature of experience, one finds that the possibility of an experience of just one thing is inconceivable, and that there must be, at the very least, two things. As Merleau-Ponty showed, the idea that perception is built up out of single homogeneous “sensations” or “impressions” is mistaken. Any perception always involves two things: a figure on a background. (more…)


Posted: December 10, 2016 by pathpress in Dhamma Article

by Ven. Ariyavaṃsa

1. citta — the mind

The Pali word “samādhi” is usually translated as “concentration”. This is well and good—for as long as one knows what one is designating by this word “concentration”. The trouble is that the word “concentration” usually implies a kind of focusing or narrowing of attention on to a fixed object. This is not what samādhi is. The word “samādhi” comes from saŋ (meaning “together”) + dhā or dahati (meaning “to put; to place”). This is because samādhi means something like putting together, unifying, bringing together as one. The English word “composure” captures this meaning rather effectively since it resembles the Pali by being constituted by the Latin prefix com (meaning “together”) and the verb ponere (meaning “to put; to place”), whose past participle is positus. Samādhi involves composing the mind, bringing the mind together into one place such that one discerns the mind as one thing, as a phenomenon. (more…)