Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Gradual Training

We, Westerners, who are breathing the culture of popularized mindfulness, tend to overlook some of the necessary steps before and after mindfulness. I am thankful for Leigh's teachings on the gradual training that is to be undertaken by one fully committed to the spiritual path. I asked Leigh about the current mindfulness-based movement. Here was is answer:
The modern mindfulness movement is just a way to enhance your life. The question to ask ourselves [as raised by Tibetan master] is rather, "Do you want high quality samsara, or liberation?" Mindfulness as practiced by most Westerners can be a gateway drug to liberation. And one needs to also recognize its limitations.
Leigh based his talk on the 'The Fruit of the Contemplative Life' Sutta. Summarized below are the gradual steps (as translated by me in plain English):

1. Leading a moral life:
Following the 5 precepts of not killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and wrong speech. Practicing right speech, right livelihood, right action

2. Guarding the senses:
Being aware of sense contact experience and not letting it get out of hand, not letting grasping do a number on us. 

3. Practicing mindfulness:
Noticing what we do in our activities and various postures, including change points: sitting, walking, standing, brushing our teeth, driving, etc. Being aware of our body, our breath, our mind states.

4. Contentedness:
Being satisfied with little in the material world. This includes moderation in eating.

5. Abandoning the hindrances:
Noticing, and setting aside the 5 hindrances of craving for sensual pleasures, ill will and anger, doubt about the practice, dullness of mind, and remorse and restlessness.

6. Cultivating meditative absorptions:
Starting with the first four jhanas, and also possibly adding next four (or five). Developing one-pointed access concentration leading to altered states of consciousness and increased clarity of mind. 

7. Insight knowledge:
Seeing the world as it truly is.

8. Liberation:
Freeing ourselves from the prison of our ego-driven mind. This is what is meant by emptiness. 

A clear path, that can be undertaken by all, as long as the will is there, and also the presence of a skilled teacher, one who has already taken and mastered the various steps.


  1. For what its worth I have more or less come to the conclusion that there is no path and no goal to achieve. Meditation of various kinds can only be practiced in the present moment.It should be simply valued for what it is and not judged in any way.It is simply what it is. Once
    you believe it leads to something else in the future you step on a never ending roundabout.

  2. Thank you Michael, for sharing your view. And, I kindly disagree with you :) I have faith in the Buddha's teachings, and it is becoming increasingly clear to me what is meant by walking on the path. Of course, this is a very personal thing, and I certainly respect your perspective.

  3. "Do you want high quality samsara, or liberation?" That nails it. Personally my official goal is liberation, but I know that a significant part of the draw is a more comfortable life. This opposition, and it is that, is quite self-defeating if it remains unconscious - becoming aware of it is the beginning of resolution.

    "Mindfulness as practiced by most Westerners can be a gateway drug to liberation." Yes - very rich metaphor.

    As for gradual vs immediate - for those who can do the immediate thing, wonderful. But for me, it's gradual or nothing.

  4. Pertinent to the discussion about the modern mindfulness movement is Linda Heuman's essay in the current Tricycle (available online), What's at stake as the Dharma goes modern. It appears to be from the Mahayana vehicle but is completely in line with Leigh's quotation above.

  5. Pertinent to the comment on 'high quality samsara' or liberation is this very thoughtful piece by Linda Heuman in the current issue of Tricycle:

  6. Susan, thank you. I like that, 'gradual or nothing'. I can definitely relate!

    The fundamental question I have been asking myself is that of commitment to the path. Why hold back? What is the upside of not going fully in?

    I am still working out the balance sheet . . .

    1. Yep - that's one of the big issues. I've been chewing on it myself. My own teacher put it succinctly: "You have to know what to do, you have to know how to do it, and you have to prefer it."

      You can also consider it under the heading of renunciation. Holding back, as you put it, results from preferring (not being willing yet to renounce) some things that are not part of the path.

      It's a process - either natural (gentle and bit by bit as insight directs) or forced (fierce asceticism.) Each has its pros and cons. But the end is the same - that's my take on it.


  7. Dialogic, thank you so much for the link. Very timely, indeed!