Mahāmoggallāna

I’m in the process of a major transition, having completed my separation from the town that I’ve lived in for the last twenty-three years. Hopefully, I will be able to regularly write in this blog from here on.

I’ve been re-reading the Udana, and this translation (by John Ireland) if from that Pali collection:

3.5 Mahāmoggallāna
Thus have I heard. At one time the Lord was staying near Sāvatthī in the Jeta Wood at Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. On that occasion the venerable Mahāmoggallāna was sitting cross-legged not far from the Lord, holding his body erect, having mindfulness with regard to the body well established within him.

The Lord saw the venerable Mahāmoggallāna sitting cross-legged not far away, holding his body erect, having mindfulness with regard to the body well established within him.
Then on realising its significance, the Lord uttered on that occasion this inspired utterance:

With mindfulness of the body established,
Controlled over contact’s sixfold base,
A bhikkhu who is always concentrated
Can know Nibbāna for himself.

_______________________________________________________________

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Body as Way and Goal

Amataṃ tesaṃ viraddhaṃ, yesaṃ kāyagatā sati viraddhā.
Amataṃ tesaṃ aviraddhaṃ, yesaṃ kāyagatā sati aviraddhā.
Amataṃ tesaṃ aparibhuttaṃ, yesaṃ kāyagatā sati aparibhuttā.
Amataṃ tesaṃ paribhuttaṃ, yesaṃ kāyagatā sati paribhuttā.

“Those who have missed mindfulness of the body, have missed nibbāna. Those who have not missed mindfulness of the body, have not missed nibbāna. Those who have not made use of mindfulness of the body, have not made use of nibbāna. Those who have made use of mindfulness of the body, have made use of nibbāna.” (A.i.46)
(translator: possibly, U Sein Nyo Tun, because the same text is at http://www.aimwell.org/Books/Ledi/Anapanasati/anapanasati.html#BodyMindfulness)

Amata is an ambrosia of immortality. It also means a state of security from change. Amata is a synonym for nibbana. So, here we are talking about the realisation of the deathless, and the deathless realisation.

“Those who have made use of mindfulness of the body, have made use of nibbana.” The deathless is often made into something so aloof that the idea of ‘using’ the deathless is rarely heard of. It reminds me of Sariputta’s advice to Anaruddha to “turn toward the deathless.” Again, often we encouraged to be very passive in our relation with the immeasureable. So, these passages need investigating in our actual lives. How can we now make use of nibbāna? Maybe Buddhadasa’s idea (and I’m remembering this and not verifying the concept from his books, right now), the idea of little nibbānas that happen everyday, would be useful here?

Along with this teaching, or in the context of this teaching on the mindfulness of the body, there is a lovely teaching in the Majjhima Nikaya, the Samana-Mundika Sutta, where the Buddha says (in Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s translation):

“Now, an individual endowed with which ten qualities is one whom I describe as being consummate in what is skillful, foremost in what is skillful, an invincible contemplative attained to the highest attainments? One endowed with the right view of one beyond training, the right resolve of one beyond training, the right speech… the right action… the right livelihood… the right effort… the right mindfulness… the right concentration… the right knowledge… the right release of one beyond training. An individual endowed with these ten qualities is one whom I describe as being consummate in what is skillful, foremost in what is skillful, an invincible contemplative attained to the highest attainments.”

This is the ten-fold path = nibbāna = with the vision of things-as-they-are (which is right knowledge beyond training). The present path is the goal, the goal is the path. This very body – is the way and the goal.

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An Aspiration

Jacob Needleman, always a servant of the Good, the True and the Beautiful, posted these words on the body, on his blog, at http://jacobneedleman.com/blog/

“And what we are seeking is a body, a life on earth, in which our actions and behavior serve the higher impulses and intentions, the higher feelings, that constitute the heart of true human virtue. We are not simply searching for an improved version of moralist automatism nor for childish self-assertion masquerading as freedom. In a breathtakingly real sense, we are searching for a new kind of body, a body that has a new aim, a new purpose: voluntarily to serve the Good. And, to compound the mystery, in the search for a new kind of body within ourselves, there exists the possibility of discovering a new heart, source of love within ourselves that we have perhaps glimpsed within our lives, as in the legends where the seeker or the hunter has but one fleeting glimpse of a serenely beautiful face or a great winged being – a glimpse which, when understood, has the power to change entirely the direction of one’s life.”

– Excerpt from Why Can’t We Be Good

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In Whatever We are Doing

Continuing with MN 119, Kāyagatāsati Sutta… In the following passage I took the liberty of replacing the usual “carrying her robe and bowl” with a more neutral reference, “in respect of clothing.”

“Furthermore, seekers, a practitioner is fully aware when going forward or stepping backward. When looking at (something) or looking away – she is fully aware. When moving or extending her limbs – fully aware. In respect of clothing – fully aware. In eating and drinking – fully aware. While chewing and tasting – fully aware. While urinating and defecating – fully aware. Walking, standing, sitting; asleep or awake; speaking or silent – she is fully aware.

As she dwells thus, ardent, diligent and committed, her thoughts about mundane concerns are abandoned and hence the mind becomes inwardly steadied, quieted, unified and collected. In this way a practitioner develops mindfulness of the body.”

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Mindfulness of the Fragility of the Body.

Going into hospital this week for a small operation on this body. How fragile, how vulnerable, it is to the illnesses typical of old age. I think of that description by the Buddha of his body before he died. Ananda suggested he stay longer, don’t die now, but the Buddha said:

“Now I am frail, Ananda, old, aged, far gone in years. This is my eightieth year, and my life is spent. Even as an old cart, Ananda, is held together with much difficulty, so the body of the Tathagata is kept going only with supports. It is, Ananda, only when the Tathagata, disregarding external objects, with the cessation of certain feelings, attains to and abides in the signless concentration of mind, that his body is more comfortable.

“Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.”

I find that so moving, that he counsels Ananda to take up his practice, at this point.

(By the way, often this and similar passages are rendered as “be a light unto yourselves.” However, I go with Thanissaro’s translation, here: ‘island.’ The ‘island’-translation is not only more likely, but it has phenomenological and psychological implications that are more helpful to our practice. One of the issues met on the path is the unwillingness to feel the separation that comes with increasing differentiation. “Island” raises the issue of ‘independence.’)

Anyhow, all that said, off to hospital to have them cut up this composite body of organs.

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Whether Moving, Stationary, Sitting or Lying.

I am exploring the Kāyagatāsatisuttaṃ, or, Mindfulness of the Body Sutta. The opening passages encourage us to ‘let go’ of our hard-won sense of identity, ‘atta,’ and to not to be fixated on some egoistic result from our mindfulness/meditation/contemplation. This openness is usually expressed by the phrase ‘setting aside worldly concerns.’ It requires turning attention toward what is essential in our lives.

This way of freedom is to sincerely open to the ‘more’ that we don’t yet know, and to open to not knowing who or what the ‘I’ is, in us. This sutta is an invitation to really care a lot about being intimate with ‘what is.’ Anyway, let’s look at the next paragraph. It indicates that the contemplative life, the life of meditation, is about more than sitting on a zafu, a meditation cushion; more than sitting in an ashram, a temple, a safe haven; more than being good on Sundays.

“When moving about, when stationary, when sitting, or lying, or whatever way the body is, [the yogi] knows clearly what she’s doing.”

Literally speaking, the text reads that: “When moving [about], she knows: “I am moving.”‘ And, “When sitting, she knows: “I am sitting.”‘ This phrasing (which is rendered in Enlgish with speech marks) and similar phrasing in other suttas, (such as the ‘Four Establishments of Mindfulness Sutta’) has been taken by some traditions as the scriptural basis of the mindfulness practice of ‘labelling.’ It can also mean, simply, that she is present in what she is doing, fully conscious of whatever she is doing, whenever.

Then the text goes on to say that this is done in the same spirit of wakefulness expressed hitherto:

“As she dwells thus, ardent, diligent and committed, her thoughts about household life [mundane life] are abandoned and hence the mind becomes inwardly steadied, quieted, unified and collected. In this way a practitioner develops mindfulness of the body.”

How are we householders to understand this abandonment? Certainly, this is not an invitation to not take care of outward responsibilities. I suggest that it’s best approached by understanding that we are invited to abandon our selfishness, our narcissism – nothing in our householder’s life is worth clinging to as ‘me’ or ‘mine.’ There’s nothing – not the ‘me,’ the ‘mine,’ nor the relationship between them – that is not dependently arisen. This is to be realised right in the midst of our relational life.

So, let’s put these together:
“When moving about, when stationary, when sitting, or lying, or whatever way the body is, [the yogi] knows clearly what she’s doing. As she dwells thus, ardent, diligent and committed, her thoughts about mundane concerns are abandoned and hence the mind becomes inwardly steadied, quieted, unified and collected. In this way a practitioner develops mindfulness of the body.”

The attachment to ‘I’ and ‘mine,’ the division which constellates our preoccupation with narcissistic concerns, drops away. Such freedom is realised with mindfulness of the body. Isn’t it: “Amazing! Wonderful! Marvellous! What the Blessed One says about mindfulness of the body is amazing.”

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Practising, Training & Learning

The Pāli verb in this text which is used to describe the practitioner’s process – where the whole-body awareness and the breath are unified – the verb is ‘sikkhati’ which means (from the Pāli English Dictionary) that the practitioner ‘learns; trains oneself; practises.’ The practitioner is learning to do something unusual, to intimately know the present, intimately know the actual breath, and be embodied. And the practitioner is learning to discern the difference between the concept of the breath – or of the body, or even the concepts about attention itself – and the actual referent, the event that the word point to. It’s a re-training of our natural sensitivity, after years of living in our self-representations (and their corresponding ‘world-representations.’) When I say ‘re-training,’ I don’t mean like dog-training. It’s a natural unfolding, an organic process of awakening to how things are.

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Breathing with Whole Body

So, in the Kāyagatā Sutta, in response to the monks’ discussion, the Buddha expands on the practice of mindfulness of the body. And to begin with he describes a person who accustoms herself to unifying breath and whole-body awareness.

This passage is relatively straight-forward, though translators often leave the phrase, “parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā” unclear (in this and in other suttas, such as the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta). It’s translated usually as, ‘setting up mindfulness in front of him.’ What can this mean? The scholars don’t know. Some practitioners take it to mean that one should concentrate on the nostrils in breathing meditation. I like the Lord Chalmers translation (1926-27), where he says: the bhikkhu sits at the foot of a tree “with mindfulness as the objective he set before himself.” Of course, we sit down with the intention to be present for our experience.

Chalmers also translates the lines about knowing the length of the breath sensibly: “[the bhikkhu] knows precisely what he is doing when he is inhaling or exhaling a long breath or a short breath.” This instead of the usual “Breathing in long, he understands that he breaths in a long breath.” This last has been taken by some to be an instruction to take long and short breaths deliberately. So, to me, the Chalmers translation makes it clearer.

Notice also that, just as in the Anapanasati Sutta, after the initial simple awareness of the breath, then the attitude of ‘schooling’ the mind (Chalmers expression) comes in. The form of the Pali verbs changes to give the idea of making the effort to teach the mind a skill. The language changes from ‘He knows the breath,’ to ‘He trains thus: I shall breath [in or out] experiencing [such and such].’

I think this means that we take a less passive approach after initially contacting the breath. There is a gentle tending of the will toward (what is for it) a new kind of knowing, a non-habitual knowledge. This, by the way, is best be done without losing our intimate entry into the experience – knowing the whole body from inside the body, not from some detached distance.

So, translating freely and with an adjustment of the usual male pronouns, and translating ‘bhikkhu’ as ‘practitioner’:

The Blessed One said, “Take a practitioner who goes to the forest, or the foot of a tree, or to some empty hut, and who sits crosslegged with her body erect – setting foremost the intention to be mindful, she is ever mindful. She knows if she is breathing in, or if she is breathing out; and she knows if she is breathing a short breath or if she is breathing a long breath. She trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in and breathe out while experiencing the body as a whole. I shall breath in and out, knowing the calming of the bodily activity.’ As she dwells thus, ardent, diligent and committed, her thoughts about household life are abandoned and hence the mind becomes inwardly steadied, quieted, unified and collected. In this way a practitioner develops mindfulness of the body.”

As you sit gently being intimate with your breathing, and then as you intentionally include the whole body in consciousness with the breath, it naturally follows that after a short time there is a change in the body’s condition. It’s traditionally spoken of as the calming of the ‘bodily formations.’ It’s enough to know that this simply means that the body calms down after a period of this kind, whole-body attention.

This opens up new dimensions of bodily-based experience.

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Kāyagatā Sutta (MN 119) – the Mindfulness of the Body Sutta

Mindfulness of the Body is often underrated. The disbelief or surprise – I imagine, even the skepticism – at this practice and teaching, the teaching of the power of mindfulness of the body, is hinted at in the beginning of the Kāyagatā Sutta, the Mindfulness of the Body Sutta, MN 119. I’m going to see if I can make the time to slowly translate it, with a commentary.

In the beginning of the sutta, the scene is set. This introduction is something like the later scene beginning the short Heart Sutra. The Buddha is meditating, and Avolokitesvara looks into the five skandhas and sees they are empty.

In this earlier Pāli sutta, the Kāyagatā Sutt, the morning almsround has has been completed and the monks are sitting around in the main hall talking after their meal. The Buddha, the Blessed One, is meditating in his hut, and the conversation in the hall turns to discussion of the Buddha’s claims about the power of mindfulness of the body. The monks’ are generally exclaiming, “Amazing! Wonderful! Marvellous! What the Blessed One says about mindfulness of the body is amazing.” One translation has it that they were in awe of the depth to which the Buddha had developed mindfulness of the body. We might well be astonished at the depth of his embodiment. So let’s add that into the atmosphere in the hall, as the Buddha, having risen from his meditation, enters the hall. The one who has seen into the nature of the body, the Blessed One, enters, and the monks go quiet.

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Mindfulness of the Body is Rare

The following words from Almaas ring true, for me. People that I interact with daily are centred, for the most part, in the rarified atmosphere of their imaginal world; and some cannot at all grasp that there may be a difference between how they conceive their world to be, and their actual phenomenological, lived-world of embodied experience.

Douglas Harding’s Headlessness is a classic example – people think that the little buzzes and sensate squiggles in the space of awareness are directly a ‘head.’ They don’t get that this ‘head’ is a concept, a referring thing, meant to point to the actual experience. A typical seeker’s response, to a experiential inquiry question, is to go straight to conceptual understanding.

In an interview Almaas said: “Most people live in one part of themselves. They live in their thoughts, or their emotions. It is rare to find a human being who truly lives in his body. Most people are not that interested in their bodies, not in a real way. People are interested in their bodies in a superficial way. They take baths and go running, things like that. But to actually feel the body, sense it, make it a real part of themselves, that’s a different story.”

May all human beings inhabit their bodies.

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