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Buddhadharma : Fall 2008
53 fall 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly focusing the mind one increases its power significantly. If the mind skips from one object to another in time, or flits from this or that object in space, it can’t possibly generate the depth or stability to see anything clearly. Onepointed focus of mind—of consciousness, of intention, or of attention—is a way of harnessing the capacity of the mind to a particular purpose. The Buddhist tradition contains concentration medi tations that specifically build upon this function, such as the jhanas, or absorptions, but all forms of meditation seem to require some level of focus. So, are we meditating yet? Remarkably, no. According to the Abhidhamma, all the above mental factors mentioned are present in every single mind moment, whether we are meditat ing or not. All six factors (there is a seventh, but it is not imme diately relevant) need to—and automatically do—participate in helping to shape and direct each moment of conscious ness. If any one of these factors was absent, we would not be capable of ordinary coherent experience. Even when totally spacing out, or committing a heinous crime, some basic level of contact, feeling, perception, intention, attention, and focus is operative. The presence, and even the cultivation, of these factors alone does not sufficiently account for the practice of meditation. Occasional Factors The Abhidhamma next considers a number of factors that are not routinely present in the mind, but may be. When these are absent, we continue to function normally, but when they are present we manifest certain additional capabilities. There are six of these socalled occasional factors, which can arise individually or in various combinations. They are also called ethically neutral factors, because they are not inherently wholesome or unwholesome; they can contribute equally to beautiful or horrific states of mind. The first of these mental factors is initial application (vita- kko, 8). This is not a particularly elegant English rendering of the term, but it suits the meaning well enough. It refers to the capability we have to consciously and deliberately place our mind on a chosen object of experience. When you work through a math problem, retell a detailed story, or find your mind drifting during meditation practice and (gently, of course) reapply it to the breath, you are exercising this MAtthewpAuli The Buddha of Baguashan, Changhua City, Taiwan