Cognitive therapy has become a major
outcome of psychology today. This is not surprising at all because a
greater part of life is mental; even the physical body is operated by
the mind. Mental health should be maintained in order to live a happy
life. Medication is for mental health and it can be use for
psychological therapy as well. Buddhism in Psychology presents several
case studies in which meditation has helped the patient to overcome
mental problems. Awareness of feeling (vedanaanupassana) is the
meditation applied in the following case. As shown previously, this
medication is taught in the Satipatthana Sutta. When one is aware of the
feelings that exist on the surface of one's mind, gradually the hidden
feelings begin to be revealed by themselves. In using the particular
meditation, awareness of feeling, one can take one's feelings under
control and manage them in a productive way. See the following case
During a group therapy session, a 22-year-old married
woman who suffered from what had been diagnosed as an endogenous
depression expressed despair at her inability to feel anything anymore ,
relating a total lack of emotion. The only feeling she could identify
was one of gloom and depression. She was asked to begin to get in touch
with her feelings, becoming more aware of, and carefully and accurately
labelling any emotion she experienced as she sat quietly watching her
breathing or even during her normal daily activities.
next few weeks she found herself increasingly naming anger as her
predominant emotion, and it became possible to identify the source of
that anger in her marital relationship. She then gradually became aware
that she had been misinterpreting her emotions over many months,
mistakingly believing that she had been experiencing depression whereas
strong elements of anger, hostility, self-abasement, and disappointment
had also been present. This recognition of the feelings she had been
inaccurately labelling depression freed her to identify other feelings
as well. Soon she was back in touch with the full spectrum of human
emotions. Her depression disappeared and was replaced by a greatly
improved self-image and understanding of her feelings. 
have already noted that from the modern psychological viewpoint anger,
anxiety, and such other emotions are normal human qualities. Buddhism
differs in this case from modern psychology. Buddhism treats anger,
desire, lust, delusion, jealousy, and many such human qualities as
abnormal. Because one is not yet enlightened one lives with these
abnormalities. Thus there is a vast gap between what it means to be a
normal human being in Buddhist psychology and that in modern psychology.
What is normal to one is abnormal to the other and vice versa. It is
interesting to see how this difference is understood (rather
misunderstood) and expressed by the Western researcher. For instance,
one states: "Thus while we in the West see disillusionment in a negative
light, connoting disappointment, or a bitter and cynical attitude to
life for Buddhism is of central value, and it is what the Buddhist
5. More on Meditation
Even a normal person needs meditational
therapy in order to make progress towards enlightenment. If one is
satisfied with the usual and habitual worldly life one might not make
any attempt to walk a religious path or experiment with meditation. As
one should notice, higher benefit of meditation is received by the
normal and sane persons. These people are not trying to correct some
abnormal mental states, rather they are trying through meditation to
achieve the highest spiritual goals possible for mankind. Therefore, now
we must go back to the Satipatthana Sutta for further instructions. In
addition to the two meditations, kayanuppassana and vedanauppassana, the
same Sutta teaches two more meditations. Being aware of thoughts or
mind itself is cittanupassana. Similarly, being aware of certain
particularities such as attachment, hate, love or compassion is
If we look at the four Satipatthanas - body,
feeling, mind, and dharmas, (Kayaanupassana, vedananupassana,
cittanupasana, dhammaanupassana), they become subtler and subtler
gradually. Compared to feeling, body is gross. Compared to mind, feeling
is. And compared to the dharmas, mind is gross. When body is no longer
moving, it is easy to concentrate on feeling, when body and feeling are
settled down it is easy to concentrate on mind. And when body, feeling,
and mind are settled down it is each to concentrate on dharmas. To be
mindful of mind or dharmas certain concentration is needed. Clearly
sitting down quietly helps one's mind to see itself and to see the
content of one's mind. Seeing one's mind is a very essential step in the
process of meditation. This is the doctrinal reason for the sitting
position to become so attractive to the meditator.
we should not go to an extreme and cling to a sitting position or lotus
posture as if it is indispensable to meditation. Nirvana can be
realised in any posture. To give a simple example by referring to a
meditation previously discussed, I should say that one does not have to
sit cross legged in order to eat ice cream! Not only the mindfulness of
body, but that of feeling, mind, and dharmas, is also possible in other
postures like sleeping, standing, and walking. The following examples
should be closely examined to decide whether the sitting posture or, for
that matter, any fixed posture is needed to succeed in meditation.
Commentary to Theri Gatha, Paramattha Dipani, records that Terika
attained enlightenment while watching the leaves that she was cooking in
a pan in her kitchen . When this happened she was a lay woman with
all her household affairs. According to the Commentary, one day as
Patacara was pouring out water to wash her feet she watched how the
water ran on the ground and sank into soil. This scene opened her mind
to enlightenment . When Uppalavanna's turn came to clean the
assembly hall, she completed her duty and for a while she was watching
the lamp she lit up in the assembly hall. This outer light kindled her
inner light and she became an arahant . Dhamma Theri one day was on
her way back to her nunnery, and as she was old and weak she fell down
on the way. Then she was mindful of her fall for a while and became an
arahant . Similarly The Commentary to the Suttanipata,
Paramatthajotika, states that a king of Varanasi attained enlightenment
when he was watching the movement of many bangles his queen was wearing
when she was pounding sandalwood to make scented powder out of it .
It is an important lesson for us to learn from the above examples that
there is no fixed posture for fruitful meditation. Although Patacara was
standing, and Dhamma was fallen on the ground, their bodily postures
were not obstacles to their enlightenment. One could lie down and
meditate just as one could walk, stand or sit and meditate. When I claim
that meditation while lying down also is an authentic posture, my
friends sometimes have taken it as a joke, laziness or fake meditation.
Not only any posture but also by bodily movement, for instance the
rising and falling of the abdomen, bending and stretching of arms or
legs, inhaling and exhaling breath, or even blinking of eyes, can be
meditated on. Awareness or mindfulness can be kept on any bodily
movement or even non-movement by the meditator. Any posture or
non-posture could be effective in meditation. The scriptural support for
this claim comes from the often cited Satipatthana Sutta itself.
patikkante sampajanakari hoti. Alokite vilokite sampajanakari hoti.
Samminjite pasarite sampajanakari hoti. Samghatipattacivaradharane
sampajanakari hoti. Asite pite khayite sayite sampajanakari hoti.
Uccarapassavakamme sampajanakari hoti. Gate thite nisinne sutte jagarite
bhasite tunhibhave sampajanakari hoti. 
Here the Buddha has
taught the meditator to be attentive when he or she is going forward,
returning, looking straight ahead, looking in other directions, bending
arms-legs- or body, stretching out arms- legs- or body, getting dressed,
wearing any thing, eating, drinking, tasting, using the toilet,
walking, standing, sitting, sleeping or lying down, waking, talking and
remaining silent. In short, the Satipatthana Sutta teaches that one has
to be mindful all the time. It is clear that in each and every bodily
movement one must be alert. All the time, through and through one's
daily living, one has to be attentive to each and every action.
same commentarial examples and the scriptural reference testify to us
that meditative awareness does not require designated special objects
for meditation. Any object or any event can serve the purpose. The
characteristics of the world are present in everything and in every
motion of the world. When one's mind is sharp enough one is able to
comprehend the true nature of reality. That is what meditation does to
the mind, it develops insight in the attentive mind.
It is like
the famous physicist observing a falling apple. The law of gravity
exists and works everywhere and that particular apple is not the only
thing that ever fell to the ground. But maturation of the scientist's
wisdom and his observation coincided with the fall of that apple. And he
was observing it with his intellectual awareness. He was paying enough
attention to that particular event in the nature. So it opened his
insight into a universal principle. Meditative attention works the same
way. Anything or any event like the movement of bangles or a flame of a
lamp can be the right object of meditation for a meditator. Depending on
the state of maturity the meditator has achieved, any sight, sound, or
any event can bring about enlightenment and see the true nature of the
A word about setting a timetable is also in order. To
meditate one does not have to set a timetable. Some meditators make
timetable like setting a half an hour in the morning and another half an
hour in the evening for meditation practice. Others may expand that
time to be one hour, two hours, or three hours at a time. There are some
others who meditate through much longer periods of time as well.
Practitioners create these timetables, some masters set these timetables
as well. But the fact is that the Buddha has not made such timetables. A
fixed time for daily practice serves very little function in
meditation. Our bodily postures exist always and our mind is always
active. Under that situation feelings and dharmas always arise. Thus all
four satipatthanas are readily available all the time. Besides, as we
saw sitting is not the only position in which one can meditate.
Therefore, one can meditate any time rather than maintaining a fixed
schedule for it.
Regarding a quiet place, we must take the
middle path, a balanced attitude towards it. A quiet place is helpful to
achieve a quiet mind. A peaceful place brings a peaceful effect on
thoughts. However, a sound or a scene is not always hostile to
meditation. Any sound or scene can be used as the object of meditation. A
song of a bird or the roaring of an air plane could disturb a
meditative mind. Yet, what the awareness does in this case is taking the
same disturbing sound into the process of meditation. When the sound
becomes a part of the mind this way, the sound is no longer an outer
hindrance. That sound does not conflict with the inner thoughts. In this
manner of meditation a fight between the inner thoughts and the outer
sound does not go on in the consciousness of the meditator. Of course,
continuous disturbance can be hard to deal with, otherwise, sound or
scene should not be very distractive to the one who is dwelling in
awareness or mindfulness.
Likewise, one does not have to be
stuck into a designated room, seat, or environment every time one
meditates. Certain individuals prepare their meditation rooms or even
halls following detailed models. These are not very essential for the
satipatthaana. Any forest, open air, water front, house, temple,
monastery, city, street, vehicle, or other place can be the right place
for a person to become mindful.
Just like in sitting meditation,
in walking one does not need a particular walking-path for meditation.
In forest hermitages yogis make camkamana (sakman maluwa in Sri Lanka)
to practice walking meditation. Understandably it is a necessity in a
forest. Yet, when one is away from the forest, there is no need to build
special paths for meditation. Any indoor or outdoor space is good for
walking meditation. What is needed is to keep one's awareness on walking
wherever one walks.
A fixed timetable and a fixed place
exemplify the habit forming activities of some meditators. One can get
into rigid and stereotype practices through these habits. By being
mindful, as seen previously, one is trying, to be free from unconscious
habits one has built up throughout life. Instead of doing so, the
meditator can create new habits out of the meditative activities
themselves and be attached to them. His or her new habit forming
activities are not going to liberate him or her from the old habits,
instead, unconscious habits will multiply. Such habitual activities can
bring reverse effects to the intended goals of meditation. A habitual
mind increases attachment instead of freedom and such a mind becomes
unsharp or dull instead of clear. A sharp mind penetrates reality.
the mind becomes unsharp or dull it will live in unreality. And it is
noteworthy that meditational activities themselves make the mind dull if
they are applied improperly.
When we were very young we learned to walk and it has become a habit to
us. There is no meditation in habitual walking. It becomes a meditation
when the walker pays his or her attention to the act of walking. Just
habitual movement of the legs is not meditation. Only when one is aware
of the movement of one's feet, does that act of walking become a
meditation. If the meditator slows down the habitual movement of the
feet, then, paying attention becomes easy to the meditator. Gradually
one begins to see some occurrences one has not hitherto seen clearly.
For instance, raising a foot, moving it, and placing it, become as
distinctive from one another. This kind of walking meditation has been
emphasised by the Venerable Mahasi Sayado of Burma. The present write
learned it under the supervision of the late Venerable Sumatipala when
he was the meditation master at the Kanduboda Vipassanaa Centre in Sri
Lanka. Each time of raising one's foot one begins to feel lightness in
that foot. When one places the foot one feels the heaviness and its
touch of the ground. Being aware of such feelings of the feet belongs to
vedanaanupassana satipatthana. Being aware of the movement of the feet
belongs to kaayaanupassana satipatthana.
The meditator may
experience attachment to the pleasurable feelings of the feet. Then
immediately the meditator becomes aware of that particular attachment.
That belongs to dhammanupassana satipatthana. Thus all four
satipatthanas can be done in walking posture itself. If awareness can
turn the habitual action into meditation is it a special kine of
awareness one has? Is this meditative awareness different from the
ordinary awareness? I would say that they are not qualitatively
different. Yet quantitatively there is a difference between the two.
Normally we are aware of what we are doing and what is happening, for
instance, we are aware of the act of eating ice cream when we eat ice
cream. that is only a small quantity of awareness. The meditator applies
high intensity of awareness in his or her act of eating ice cream. Only
then does the meditator see the flux of life and nothingness and the
nature of craving. That living experience brings about a life of
philosophical understanding. It is the intensive awareness of the flux
of life, but not just a simple awareness that brings about insight into
reality. Yet, the ordinary awareness itself can be intensified to the
extent of comprehending the whole process of living i.e. the depth of
That insight into reality is a realisation of the
truth. A scholar or a non-scholar with Western or Eastern upbringing or
influence can hold onto certain stereotyped notions of reality,
philosophy, religion or spiritual path. Buddhist meditation cuts through
all these preset models and faces reality as it is. Therefore, the
model of meditative path has to be discovered by individuals through
doing meditation. On can speculate all theories, philosophies and
beliefs concerning the truth or the goal of life. But speculation is not
even close to the actual seeing of it. Instead of talking about a path,
model, or a goal one must actually engage in seeking it. The intensive
awareness of the process of living is the actual engagement. A
psychologist helps us to understand the difference between the common
mentality and the meditative insight.
As a consequence of its
stress upon awareness of watchfulness, Buddhism offers us not a
clear-cut model of humans but a set of techniques for each of us to find
the model (or better still experience that model) for ourselves. This
is one reason why Buddhism cannot be classified as a philosophy or even
perhaps as a religion in the strictest Western sense. It does not teach
us about ultimate reality so much as teach us a method for experiencing
that ultimate reality, or (more accurately though more perplexingly) for
experiencing the fact that we ourselves are that ultimate reality. 
Thus habitual action can be meditated on. What about
non-action? Accordingly to the Satipatthana Sutta itself the meditator
must be mindful while he or she is standing, sitting, sleeping and being
silent. These moments seem to be non-active, yet, the meditator is
active even at these moments. In other words to the meditator non-action
also is action. We could say that the fact of being non-active becomes
the object of meditation at that point. It is a matter of going from
gross state of being into a subtle state of being. Bodily movement is
gross compared to bodily non-movement. Talking is gross compared to
being silent. And the gross state is easier to objectify or to be aware
of than the subtle state. Therefore by shifting meditation from the
gross state to subtle state, mind itself moves into a calm state of
Not knowing that even non-action becomes action to the
meditator, some people develop a wrong notion that the meditator is
withdrawing from the social life, closing his or her eyes or mind to the
world, and being cut off from what is going on out in the surroundings.
Studies show, however, that even in sitting meditation one's mind and
other senses become sharper and more alert. It is not a process of
making oneself dull and ignorant to the outside world. A meditator
becomes more sensitive than a non-meditator.
The above quoted
EEG experiment has proved that the non-meditator's mind becomes
insensitive to the environment and his mind functions on habituation
while the meditator's mind remains alert to the outside world. This is
paradoxical to meditative concentration. Simply because the sensitivity
becomes sharper in the meditative mind, the meditator becomes more and
more sensitive to the condition of the world. People and their pleasure
and pain become almost like a part of the meditator himself or herself.
That is how he or she grows in compassion. He or she cannot remain aloof
doing nothing about the suffering condition in the world. As much as
with his quiet meditation he or she becomes involved with people, other
living things, and rest of the world in a positive and helpful manner
instead of running away from the fellow humans and other beings. The
true nature of the meditative mind being a sensitive one, there is no
closing of such a mind to the world. Because of the strength of such a
mind it could remain uninjured by the worldly situation. However, with
the same strength the meditative mind works to eliminate the suffering
of others and goes out to serve the world. Such is the paradox of the
quiet mind. Contrary to the quiet mind, the noisy mind just drifts on
habits seeking more and more pleasure, and becomes insensitive to others
feelings and needs. If many practised meditation, this world will be a
compassionate, caring and loving world.
practice is not limited to the Buddhists, as a concluding remark I would
like to point out that the goal of meditation is the goal of Buddhism.
They are one and the same. Therefore, the religious path of Buddhism and
meditation are inseparable. The well-known Eightfold Path itself
incorporates meditation as three of its strands - Right Effort, Right
Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. Thus if anyone is following the
Buddha's teaching he or she should walk the Eightfold Path; in other
words he or she should practice meditation.
As some people
conveniently think, meditation is not something for one to pick up later
in one's life or even in one's future lives. The contents of the
Eightfold Path are not eight steps for one to pass one by one and to
reach the eight of the last step at the end of one's religious life.
They are eight strands which grow together in helping each other.
Meditation helps wisdom and ethics, and in turn ethics helps meditation
and wisdom. When one grows in wisdom it is easy for one to meditate and
live an ethical life. Similarly if one meditates it is easy for one to
grow in wisdom and ethics . Buddha taught his path to include all
eight aspects from the beginning to the end. All of them mature
together, but not separately or one after the other. Because they are
not steps to be taken one at a time, meditation is not something to add
to the religious life somewhere down the road. Rather, it must be
present from the beginning of one's religious life and it must grow into
the advance states gradually together with other strands of the path.
Therefore, one should not postpone meditation until the last phase of
one's life or one should not wait to meditate until one gets closer to
the goal of religious life. Truthfully speaking, the journey on the
Buddhist path does not start until one starts meditation.  NOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
1. Diigha Nikaaya, 22. Any edition or
translation of the Diigha Nikaaya should have the Satipatthana Sutta.
This is the major source of the meditation on awareness. Because this
sutta or sutra is one of the longest in the Tri Pitaka, it comes in the
Diigha Nikaaya which is the collection of the longest discourses of the
2. Douglas M. Burns, Buddhist Meditation and Depth
Psychology (Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1980), pp.
3. Samyutta Nikaaya, Anva Vgga, 2. Diigha Nikaaya is the
first book and the Samyutta Nikaaya is the third book of the Sutta
Pitaka in the Tri Pitaka.
4. Buddhist Meditation and Depth
5. Guy Claxton, ed., Beyond Therapy: The Impact
of Eastern Religions on Psychological Theory and Practice (London:
Wisdom Publications, 1986), p. 245.
6. A report on the American
Psychological Association Convention, The Atlanta Journal, August 16,
1994, p. B5.
7. Seymour Boorstein and Olaf G. Deatherage,
Buddhism in Psychotherapy (Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication
Society, 1982), p.26
8. Beyond Therapy: The Impact of Eastern
Religions on Psychological Theory and Practice, p.5
Dhammapaala, Paramattha Diipani or the Commentary of the Therii Gaatha,
ed. by B. Dewarakkhita, Simon Hewavitarana Bequest Series, Vol. III
(Colombo: The Tri Pitaka Publication Press, 1918), pp. 4-5.
Ibid., p. 89.
11. Ibid., p. 150.
12. Ibid., 18.
Buddhaghosa, Paramatthajotikaa or the Commentary to the Sutta Nipata,
e. by Sumangala, Simon Hewavitarana Bequest Series, Vol. VIII (Colombo:
The Tri Pitaka Publication Press, 1920), p. 64.
Sutta, See Note 1.
15. Beyond Therapy: The Impact of Eastern
Religions on Psychological Theory and Practice, p.42.
Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood belong to ethics. Right View
and Right Thought belong to wisdom.
17. The author is thankful
to D.J. Amis, University of Georgia, for his comments and criticisms
which were very useful in improving this article.
About the Author
Ratnayaka gained his B.A.(Hons) from Jayawardhanapura University (Sri
Lanka) and completed his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at Northwestern
University (USA). At present he is the Professor of World Religions at
the University of Georgia.
Professor Ratnayaka is a
distinguished scholar and has been involved in acadamic and community
oragnisations to further the knowledge of Buddhism and other Asian
philosophies. He is currently the President-Elect of the Association of
Asian Studies in the USA (Southeastern Region).
Ratnayaka's other works include:
Two Ways of Perfection:
Buddhist and Christian (Colombo: Lakehouse Investments Ltd)
Threefold Refuge in the Theravada Buddhist Tradition (Anima Books)
has also written chapters of several books including:
the Theravada Branch of Buddhism in Mahayana Countries (Gordon Fraser)
and Philosophy and Theravada Buddhism
Philosophical Implication of
Pali in Buddhism (in press).
His articles have appeared in many
international journals and he has presented papers at international
conferences such as the American Academy of Religion, Association for
Asian Studies and the International Association of Buddhist Studies. Shanta
RatnayakaBSQ Tracts on Buddhism No. 19
BUDDHIST SOCIETY OF QUEENSLAND PO Box 536, Toowong Qld 4066, AUSTRALIA