26 July 2020
Adapted from Ajahn Amaro’s talk
Written by Dd Lee Kok Cheng
How does meditation practice develop the mind?
Meditation is in a way about learning how to live our life fully. If we think of meditation as sitting down with our eyes closed and focusing our attention on our breath or walking backwards and forwards on a path, those are what we would call formal meditation practices. But meditation has a much broader meaning and purpose.
Just as we eat to keep our body strong and healthy; we meditate to keep the mind strong and healthy too. Meditation is definitely food for the mind. Some of us might think that meditation is a kind of optional extra to life but if we really want to be alive then we need to pay attention to what we feel, what we think, what we like and what we dislike. We also need to know our perceptions of the world.
Meditation is about learning to watch, learning to listen and learning to see what our mental habits are; what are our likes and dislikes, our believes, our opinions, our desires, our fears and aversions in a conscious way. The more we pay attention to our life, our mind and how the mind functions with the world, the more we are able to live in tune with things. This is what we can call food for the mind.
The Buddha said mindfulness is the path to the deathless and heedlessness is the path to death. The mindful never die, the heedless are as if dead already. This is quite a strident thing to say and an emphatic strong statement uttered by the Buddha. Does it mean that if we are mindful, our body is never going to die? No, what it meant was that if we are mindful, we are fully aware then the mind is open and is free in relationship to all of the comings and goings of life. The mind is free from attachment to birth and death; free from attachment to being praised, being criticised, being rich, being poor, being happier, or being unhappy.
When we have these emotions, happiness or excitement, fear or grief, like and dislike, the mind is completely aware of them and unentangled in them and not identified with them. So, when we are saying developing mindfulness, the mind is full of the present moment and we are really alive.
On the other hand, if we are heedless, our body might be breathing and we might be moving around, we are as good as dead. We are not really there for our own life. For example, when we are with someone, we might not see them. Instead, we just see our own projections about them; thinking, is the guy attractive, is he not attractive, is he rich, what I can get from him, what he wants to get from me. I am more handsome than he is or is he more handsome than I am. We know that we are not seeing the other person as he is but instead we filled our mind with our own projections.
At that moment, we know then the mind is heedless and filled with self-centred thinking and we are not really alive. If we believe in those thoughts and invest in them, we are as good as dead. So, in meditation we use the exercises like mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of walking, or loving-kindness meditation to help bring our attention to the present moment.