Monday, January 24, 2011

Relaxed or Unbroken Awareness, Which is Best?

I need to thank Katherine Rand for bringing this awesome pearl from J. Krishnamurti under the light:
You cannot keep a mechanism working at full speed all the time; it would break up; it must slow down, have rest. Similarly, we cannot maintain total awareness all the time. How can we? To be aware from moment to moment is enough. If one is totally aware for a minute or two and then relaxes, and in that relaxation spontaneously observes the operations of one’s own mind, one will discover much more in that spontaneity than in the effort to watch continuously. You can observe yourself effortlessly, easily, when you are walking, talking, reading - at every moment. Only then will you find out that the mind is capable of freeing itself from all the things it has known and experienced, and it is in freedom alone that it can discover what is true ~ J. Krishnamurti, Fourth Public Talk, Brussels, June 23rd, 1956 ~
To be contrasted with U. Pandita's diktat of unbroken continuity:
Persevering continuity of mindfulness is the third essential factor in developing the controlling faculties. One should try to be with the moment as much as possible, moment after moment, without any breaks in between. In this way mindfulness can be established, and its momentum can increase . . . Apart from the hours of sleeping, yogis on retreat should be continuously mindful. Continuity should be so strong, in fact, that there is no time at all for reflection, no hesitation, no thinking, no reasoning, no comparing of one's experiences with the things one has read about meditation — just time enough to apply this bare awareness.
Often, I have considered taking up U. Pandita's challenge. Come June every year, the Burmese master travels to the Tathagata Center, only a few miles from where I live, to give a one-month retreat. I fantasize about a month of 'unbroken continuity' under his guidance. And end up not registering . . . Part of me used to feel that I was not up to the task for U Pandita's mindfulness bootcamp. 

Now, I realize how much ego was tied up in my fantasy. Less spectacular, and more real is Krishnamurti's idea of relaxed awareness infused with wise reflection. That, I can do, . . . and already do.


  1. It totally agree -- great contrasting quotes.
    I did a short post here with a saying from Christian Desert Fathers that seems to match Krishnamurti's advice which you may enjoy.

  2. I think they are both correct.

  3. @ David
    Though I know that paradox-jargon is one of the favorite diets of many Buddhists, I am assuming you mean something else other than something like: "Hey, it is all cool. They are both speaking the truth from different angles."
    Curious what you mean.

  4. Sabio-
    I just think that mindfulness requires constant effort but also a gentleness and forgiveness of the self. An easiness about ones practice brings peace.
    Make sense?

  5. Hi David :
    I do think Krishnamurti (KM) and UP are saying something very different and thus Marguerite's post. And I think the distinction is potentially important.

    KM is disagreeing with you (I think) and saying that CONSTANT mindfulness is not good. He says that resting from such diligent is important and more effective for the goal of such practices than CONTINOUSLY watching.

    I think KM and UP would both agree that gentleness and forgiveness of short-coming is drastically important -- but that is not the point of KM's post. IMHO.

    Make sense?

  6. Sabio, David, thank you for your lively exchange which reminded me of a story from Ajahn Chah, about stirring a student towards the middle of the road. Some of us may need more of an U Pandita's style to compensate for our natural inclination. Others may benefit more from teachings from more relaxed teachers such as U Tejaniya or Krishnamurti? I know for myself I need more of the latter :)

  7. Guzman, thank you for your lovely story. Lots of layers there . . . :)

  8. @ Marguerite: I agree, as correctives, they are useful -- though I am not sure they were written like that. Unlike you, I probably need encouragement to be more diligent. But it is the extreme of U Pandita that I think intuitively turns off prospective students unnecessarily and thus your quote of Krishnamurti is refreshing. The renunciate voice is not one that I think will help the dharma reach more people though it may stir some.

    @ Guzman: Indeed, fun quote!

  9. Thanks so much Marguerite for giving this "pearl" from K a wider audience. I'll just say I've seen a lot of traumatized yogis arrive at U Tejaniya's meditation center after spending time at Panditarama or other Mahasi-style centers. The thing is, it's not that continuity is wrong, it's the way the mind relates to the concept of having to be continuously aware that causes problems. Sure there are different types of practitioners/tendencies, but wisdom arises from right understanding and right mindfulness, ultimately, and that exists within a context of relaxed and effortless being or awaring, in my humble yogi opinion.

    1. I know this is a very late response. Anyway, I agree with Katherine. Continuous awareness is great. It's like a huge machine that has built up a momentum to run smoothly. It's wonderful.

      However, that's not something you can force or command your mind to do. I learnt that the hard way, traumatised, repeatedly. (You can say I was hard-headed.) On second thoughts, you can, but it doesn't bring about the purpose it's for, and it comes with a big price.

      Regretfully, U Pandita's words suggests that you can and should do it. I can't say if he himself actually intended it though. Bear in mind that his hails from Burma, where people are generally laid back. Plus he was a monk since young. Plus that was in the 80s, very unlike modern Yangon. I doubt he understood people outside of his culture well.

      Anyway, relaxed or unbroken awareness? How about relaxed unbroken awareness? In my experience, it can only happen with persistent and *skillful interest* to be aware.

  10. Yes, Katherine, I too have heard quite a few 'horror' stories about 'casualties' from students of U Pandita, etc.

    The main thing is to not turn this practice into yet another egotistic striving which is how it often gets translated in the Western yogis' minds. Hence the resulting tensions, and mind split that can occur.

    I also find that not giving the body the movement it needs in order to function properly, to be a big problem with the strict (slow) walking-sitting- (slow) walking etc style of retreat. The Buddha was quite a long distance and fast walker from what I understand . . .

  11. Wow, I had never heard of "Panditarama" so I found their page (linked). And I read the rules and goals. It sound dark and destructive. But I tend to like the Vajrayana path with is the polar opposite and probably absolute heresy to these folks. Funny. Lots of different paths all calling themselves Buddhist. It calls for discernment I guess.

    Then, I went to this page and looked at the stern monks -- wow !

    They can keep their austere renunciation. I wonder if that sort of place hurts people as much as hurt people are drawn to that sort of place.

  12. Sabio, your middle way is very refreshing. I do believe in effort as in right effort for practice, and also in loving kindness. The two go hand in hand :)