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Buddhadharma : Fall 2017
46 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2017 Full-Stop Mind by Bhante Bodhidhamma In vipassana meditation we observe the breath, or rather the sensations caused by breathing, in order to concentrate moment to moment. Because the breath is a neutral object, this practice effectively calms the heart–mind. There are several places where meditators feel the sensation of breathing, and they vary from per- son to person. Some feel it more at the nostrils or upper lip, others in the rising and falling of the chest, and still others in the abdomen. In terms of vipassana meditation, observing the breath at any of these places is a valid practice. The Burmese teacher Mahasi Sayadaw, however, favored observing the sensations of the breath at the abdomen, in part because it is related to slow walking. Just as we observe and experience the foot rising and falling, so we experience the abdomen rising and falling. With awareness of the breath in the abdomen, for the better part of the day a meditator can observe the charac- teristic of transience in a very obvious way. Observing transience or imperma- nence (anicca) is one of the ways in which the Buddha asks us to investigate ourselves. Is there anything we experience that is not impermanent? The other two avenues of investigation are observing dissatisfaction (dukkha) and not- self (anatta). According to the Buddha, our insights into these three character- istics of existence can lead to liberation from all suffering. Noting Noting is the second component of the vipassana technique that Mahasi Say- adaw taught. Paradoxically, the result of noting is that it takes a meditator beyond thinking. It is not an end in itself. The Buddha taught that there are two stages of concentrated thought before full concentration is established. The first is a simple noting or naming of the object. This act of labeling, vitakka, whereby the attention is pointed at the object, is likened to a bee flying toward a flower. The label encapsulates the whole experience. In children just beginning to speak, this process is very obvious and simplistic. They rejoice at being able to name an object—“Car! Car!” At their level of linguistic development, the word “car” simply points to the object. There’s not much thought around the word, since language itself, which allows us to think about an object, is not that developed yet. For adults, the word “car” conjures up a host of memories and desires. We are thinking about an object, which is known as proliferation (papañca). Thinking and daydreaming serve to keep our attention off the presenting object and distract the mind. The Buddha likened this thinking mind to a monkey that jumps from branch to branch. We have to rein the monkey in. Shrinking thought down to a single word is the preliminary effort. At this stage the medi- tator has to keep pulling the attention out of wandering and into observing. That’s what training with a technique is all about: reconditioning consciousness to be present and attentive to what’s happening now.