MindScience Academy Logo
Close this search box.
focus on june 2024

"Three Ways of Meditation" by Ven. Sonam Wangchuk

If one wants one's mind to dwell happily, one must rely on the antidote to the conception of a self and, in this regard, one must meditate on the absence of a self.
MSA Sonam Wangchuk tre tipi di meditazione
a detail of Drie zeilschepen en een meeuw (1891), Leo Gestel (Dutch, 1881- 1941), artvee.com

First of all, let's consider that the mental state of human beings who have no training is often described in many texts as similar to the nature of a monkey [due to this animal's characteristic of always jumping from one place to another, Editor’s note]. The meaning of this is explained as the continuous slipping into the past or the future, without being able to stay long on an object of observation. Therefore, the inability to control our mental state depends on the inability to place the mind at our pleasure on a present object of observation, without letting it wander into the past or the future. However, although it is easy to say, from a practical point of view, achieving control is not simple.
Regarding the ways to control one's mind without letting it shift between past and future, there are three methods.

First Way. Let us position ourselves in a relaxed manner without any grasping or rejection towards the thoughts that arise right now in our continuum. If we liken the thoughts to a show, our mind regarding them should simply observe in the same way one watches a scene: without chasing them. Whatever appearance of thoughts arises, let us not view it as good or bad, and without grasping or rejecting it, let it remain in its place: it will go away, vanishing like fog on a mountain pass. In short, whatever thought appears to the mind, let it appear: without doing anything like grasping or rejecting the thoughts by chasing them, place the mind in its natural state. This is the first way of meditating and, since there is no defined object of observation in this meditation, it should be understood that it is neither of the two meditations, analytical or concentrative, which have an object of observation.

Second Way. This method involves resting the mind on a defined object of observation. In this context, one strives to dwell with a single-pointed mind on the chosen object of observation, without allowing the mind to be hindered by dullness or excitement. In this meditation, there are two things to pay attention to: the clarity factor, which is the clarity of that object of observation to the mind, and a vigilant mind that applies itself to the object of observation. This is described by Buddhists as the way to achieve calm abiding. In this context, one rests the mind on a present object of observation, without letting it wander into the past or the future. It is important to understand that this is a concentrative meditation in which, as before, there is no analysis regarding the object.

Third Way. One observes an object of observation that is arising at that moment or a present object: it is essential that, from the analytical point of view, that object is not lost from the mind. Here, the four main objects of observation are one's own body, one's own sensations, one's own mind, and phenomena. By "phenomena," it is meant the absence of a self, emptiness, and so on. What is certainly necessary, regarding these four objects of observation, is to meditate by observing precisely the phenomena that are arising at that moment or the phenomena of the present. This is known as the "meditation on the close placements of mindfulness." In this regard, there are meditations that today are identified by Westerners as "Buddhist meditations on the close placements of mindfulness"; for example, the system of meditation that merely directs observation on exhalation and inhalation, without analysis, and placing the mind in its natural state, without objects of observation or thoughts. It should be understood that this is not the meditation on the close placements of mindfulness described in the Buddhist tradition. In fact, when the Abhidharma texts talk about the meditation on the close placements of mindfulness, one observes any of the four aforementioned objects: the concomitant mindfulness and wisdom that analyze them, from the point of view of their specific or general characteristics, are the entity of the meditation on the close placements of mindfulness. "Specific characteristic" refers to the individual nature or entity, and "general characteristic" refers to the general nature or entity of those objects; for example, meditating on them as devoid of a self or as empty. When doing this meditation, the mind has an object of observation; it is also a meditation in which there is analysis of the object.

Whichever of these three methods one practices, they all share a common characteristic: the meditator's mind dwells in the present, without being allowed to go towards the past or the future. The primary cause that produces mental suffering in us is this mind, which, by chasing the past or thinking about future matters, gives rise to suffering. Let us examine the experiences in which our mind becomes exhausted: we can understand that mental suffering has arisen by observing a past situation or some future issue. For this reason, if we want mental happiness, we must work to reduce this mind's tendency to chase thoughts, thus moving towards the past and the future.
The thoughts we are talking about here should not be understood as the entirety of experiences but mainly as the conception of a self and the three (attachment, aversion, and obscuration) that are induced by the conception of a self. Regarding the meanings of attachment, aversion, and obscuration: a mental factor that sees an object as pleasant, beyond its actual measure, and has difficulty separating from it, is called attachment; a mental factor that sees an object as having the aspect of unpleasantness, beyond its actual measure, and strongly desires to separate from it, is called aversion; the minds and mental factors that are obscured regarding seeing the actual meaning of the mode of dwelling or learn it incorrectly are called obscuration.

The root cause of these thoughts is the conception of a self; the conception of a self grasps "self" or "I" as something that exists as part of the body and mind, self-sufficient, autonomous, something to point to and that does not depend on anything else; from this, mainly through attachment and aversion, afflictions arise. In fact, if one wants one's mind to dwell happily, one must rely on the antidote to the conception of a self and, in this regard, one must meditate on the absence of a self. This is also why, in Madhyamika texts, many explanations regarding the absence of a self and emptiness are necessary.

What is the way to meditate on the absence of a self? If you have some free time, sit on a cushion and relax your body; first, observe the exhalation and inhalation and meditate briefly in this way: this is a method to gather the mind inward. Then, through a question, move towards the actual meditation: "Where am I?" Investigating whether the "I" is where the body and mind are or outside of the body and mind, it is necessary to investigate the mode of grasping of the innate mind in one's continuum; conversely, a search for where the "I" is or is not that does not correspond to this does not harm the conception of a self in any way.
Therefore, regarding the mode of grasping of the innate mind, when one perceives "I," one thinks that it is located where one's body and mind are; it is evident that one does not have the sensation "I am in other people or other objects." Even if it is taken for granted that there is a self-sufficient "I" where one's body and mind are, it is not possible to find a specific place in the body or a specific part of the mind to point to and say "this is I." Investigation done in this manner is called analytical meditation. Analytical meditation generates wisdom; with it, one can improve memory, and through it, afflicted thoughts can be progressively reduced.

In questo modo, quando si è trovata una certezza che pensa “un ‘sé’ o ‘io’ che sia parte di corpo e mente, autosufficiente, non c’è per niente”, questo è spiegato come significare l’aver visto la vacuità e realizzato l’assenza di un sé. Meditare ciò è descritto come “meditare la vacuità”. Chi fa questa meditazione, questa pratica, chi indaga questo significato, non deve per forza essere
buddhista. Tutti, sia coloro che accettano il Dharma sia coloro che non lo accettano, possono fare questa meditazione. In breve, penso che questa meditazione dell’assenza di un sé si possa considerare una meditazione basata sulla logica e che pervade tutto il mondo. Virtù!

Thanks to Davide Lionetti for the translation from Tibetan to Italian.

Share this article

Other entries

focus on june 2024
focus on june 2024