fact the opening lines of the Dhammapada, a collection of important
sayings of the Buddha, state that the mind is the forerunner of all
states of being, mind is supreme, mind made are they. Accordingly,
Bhavana commonly translated to English as meditation, is assigned a
crucial role in the practice of the Dhamma. Bhavana means the culture or
the development of the mind and perhaps the English word meditation
does not adequately describe Bhavana but it may be used for convenience
provided the true meaning of the term Bhavana is understood.
There are two
kinds of Bhavana, one being Samatha or the one pointed concentration of
the mind on a wholesome subject to the total exclusion of any others.
The other is Vipassana Bhavana or insight Bhavana to see things as they
truly are as anicca, dukkha and anatta or impermanence,
unsatisfactoriness and the absence of a permanent, enduring, unchanging
self or soul or ego. Importantly, Bhavana also includes sati or
Mindfulness, to be aware of all activities of the body, feelings,
thoughts and phenomena. So on the one hand there is the formal Bhavana
where one can sit in a given posture and the informal where one is aware
of ones activities all the time.
Objective and Results
final objective of Bhavana is to overcome the root mental defilement of
greed, aversion and delusion, to see things in there true, perspective
and realise the Buddhist goal of Nibbana. However, there are benefits to
be gained here and now if Bhavana is practiced in the correct manner,
namely, the decline of negative emotions such as the deep desire for
sense pleasures, aversion, conceit, jealousy and the gradual development
of Upekkha or balance of mind to face better the vicissitudes of life,
the pleasant and unpleasant experiences.
google_handleError, google_render_ad); It is often remarked that a
significant number of those engaged in the practice of Bhavana do not
reflect in their behaviour the decline of negative qualities mentioned
earlier or the development of positive values such as metta- loving
kindness, karuna- compassion, mudita- joy in the success of others and
Upekkha- equanimity or balance of mind.
may perhaps be due to many confining their Bhavana to formal practice
in the recommended posture for a specific period of time in the morning
and night and believing that they have performed their task for the day.
Actually Bhavana should be undertaken as a full time exercise where one
has sati or mindfulness of all activities throughout the wakeful life.
Although this is the ideal an effort could be made in this direction
with gradual progress as one proceeds in this exercise.
relating Bhavana to every day life, one should be aware of what is
happening in the mind and the body as often as possible. This
observation should be undertaken wherever you are such as at home, place
of work, driving or being driven in a vehicle, exercise, leisure and
ablutions. One should be also be alive to ones posture, sitting,
standing, walking or reclining.
one is aware of what is happening in the, mind and body one is in the
present. The Buddha advised His disciples to be in the present and not
in the past that is already gone over which we have no control or the
future that has not yet come. We do have to plan for the future but that
should be done with our feet on the ground in the present.
of the best ways to be in the present is to anchor the mind to the
breath and engage in anapana sati or mindfulness of the in and out
breath. The breath is always with us from birth to death and some
Bhavana masters say that it is our best friend that will never desert us
throughout life. The Buddha has prescribed a precise posture for this
Bhavana which is to be seated upright on the ground or on a chair, head
looking forward, hands on the lap one over the other and eyes closed or
slightly open. However, this does not mean that one should not observe
the breath in any posture and at any time. It is said that when one is
agitated, depressed or even overjoyed, the concentration on the breath
for a short time would bring the mind to a state of balance and develop
the great quality of Upekkha or equanimity. This is an important aspect
in the mindfulness of the activities of the body.
well known Bhavana master, Ven. Henepola Gunaratana Nayaka Thera, Head
of the Theravada Buddhist Meditation Centre and Forest Monastery in West
Virginia, USA, in a recent Buddhist discussion with the writer over the
English Services of the SLBC recommended the practice of Bhavana on the
breath for one minute every hour. This would help he said to calm the
mind which is often bombarded with sense stimuli and consequently
confused and disturbed. This is relating Bhavana to daily life and it
would help to be in the present and engage in the mindfulness of all
activities, mental and physical. There are many opportunities that one
has in life to observe the breath informally such as when one has
nothing specific to do, travelling in a vehicle when there is no talk,
waiting for some one to come and many more.
undertaking anapana sati Bhavana, some Bhavana masters advise to
mentally recite the words 'arising' when inhaling and 'ceasing' when
exhaling the breath. Such recitation would bring to the forefront the
impermanence and changing nature of things. This in turn would help the
mind to ease itself from the attachment to things which is at the root
of mental suffering. Here we are changing from samatha or tranquil
Bhavana to vipassana or insight Bhavana.
development of the practice of letting go is an important aspect of
Bhavana. Formal Bhavana is helpful in that it is a training ground to
let go when other thoughts come to the mind while engaged in bhavana
where one casts them aside and returns to the subject of Bhavana. When
this habit is developed in formal Bhavana it could be gradually extended
to everyday life. When engaged in some work and other thoughts come to
the mind we could let such thoughts go unless they are relevant to the
work that is being undertaken.
the practice of the mindfulness of the breath and extending it to our
other daily activities, it would be observed that it tends to calm the
body and that in turn leads to the calming of the mind. A calm and clear
mind would enable one to observe the arising of thoughts and emotions
and learn to let them pass away without proliferation.
be in the Bhavana mode in daily life one should also observe the
thoughts. During all wakeful hours thoughts are going on in the mind,
about oneself, others or both. They could be thoughts of the present,
past or the future. When observing the thoughts it is realised how often
they are of the past and the future and seldom on the present except a
well trained mind. There are selfish thoughts and selfless thoughts,
thoughts of goodwill and ill-will, thoughts of attachment and
detachment, thoughts of craving for sense pleasures and non craving for
such pleasures. Ascertaining the quality of our thoughts by mindfulness
our task is to wean away from unwholesome thoughts to wholesome
Pleasant and Unpleasant Experiences
every day life we have our emotions and experiences, some pleasurable,
some not pleasurable and others neutral. We have a problem with
unpleasant emotions and experiences as we do not like them. One way to
dissolve the unpleasant experience is to make it a subject of Bhavana.
If there is pain you concentrate on the pain. Unbearable and
excruciating pain due to serious ailments have been eventually overcome
by the very serious practice of Bhavana on the experienced pain.
Initially it is said that the pain would be aggravated by being alive to
it but by persistent effort it could be overcome. Volumes have been
written of successful cases especially in Myanmar and Thailand and even
in the USA.
unpleasant experience is the problem we have with some people with whom
we associate in life. We cannot live in isolation. We have to associate
with people at home, at the place of work, in our extracurricular
activities such as sport and recreation and so on. If there is a person
who makes life difficult or even miserable, we should treat that person
not with ill-will but as a teacher. He teaches us or provides us an
opportunity to develop the great quality of patience or santi. We could
also observe our mental reaction to the trouble maker and see that the
problem is not so much with the other person but our own way of relating
or reacting to him. If we react with sympathy, understanding and
goodwill considering that that person may have a problem or deficiency
and extend compassion to him, a better relationship could perhaps be
established. In any event that person provides us an opportunity to
observe our own mind in a difficult situation.
emotions and experiences also give rise to problems. They encourage
negative factors such as over confidence and conceit which could lead
towards ones own down fall. So we should be mindful to accept our
successes with a sense of humility and equanimity noting that they are
also impermanent and a passing show.
we are mindful of our thoughts we would be vigilant and careful before
speaking and acting. Gradually we will become aware before speaking and
acting reflecting whether what we intend to say or do is harmful to us
or others. Thus our intended speech or action could be modified or
totally withdrawn if necessary.
could also be mindful of our eating. Eating in Buddhism is not
considered a social activity but our full attention should be on the act
of eating. Mindfully mixing the food, taking the food to the mouth,
chewing and tasting it, and eventually swallowing. Mixing of the food
should not be simultaneous with eating since then the attention is
divided between the two activities. This is not possible when we eat
with guests but on many occasions we eat alone or with our immediate
family and these are opportunities to eat mindfully. It will also be
observed that the pleasure of the taste would be for a brief moment when
the food is over the tongue before it goes down the throat.
practice of sati, an important part of Bhavana, would slow down things
but whatever the task it would be performed better when undertaken with
one should not confine ones Bhavana only to formal Bhavana undertaken
in the usual Bhavana posture. It should be extended to the mindfulness
of daily activities in wakeful hours, both physical and mental, as far
as possible. For the later exercise the training that is developed in
formal Bhavana is undoubtedly an asset.