Here we examine the nature of effort in meditation practice. We see how the traditional understanding of meditation as war is not necessarily an effective way of conveying right effort (sammā vāyāma) in the contemporary world. We find that our relationship to time is central to finding right effort, and how the work of meditation can become play. Finally, we see how the Buddha teaches different strategies fit different situations, and that right effort takes different forms in different contexts.
In the second part of Madhupiṇḍika Sutta, Mahā Kaccāna unpacks the process of delusion and drivenness to reveal the not-constructed (asaṅkhata), nibbāna itself. He does this by showing that what we take to be the solid ground (ṭhāna) upon which we build ourselves and our world turns out to be no thing at all. That beneath this web of concepts there lies a realm beyond concept, beyond language, yet so intimate that it is always available to us. It is available, now.
We explore how the ordinary experience of dukkha becomes dukkha ñāṇa, understanding of the universal characteristic (samañña lakkhaṇa) of dukkha. We look at the how the perception of impermanence (anicca-saññā) creates anxiety when the heart intuits the groundless of experience, and how the unfolding of this anxiety is mapped by the dukkha ñāṇas of classical Theravāda Buddhism. Finally, we see how the experience of dukkha gives way to that of not-self (anattā), when the heart stabilises through the maturity of mindfulness (sati) and equanimity (upekkhā).
We examine the first part of Madhupiṇḍika Sutta, The sweet essence (MN 18), where Mahā Kaccāna unpacks a brief teaching by the Buddha on how we construct our dukkha. We begin with the six sense fields and the vedanā that arises from them, and then construct a world though obsessive thinking (papañca), to the point where we find ourselves living in a world of concepts about our experience, rather than the experience itself.
We look at Āditta Sutta (SN 35:28), where the Buddha teaches 1,000 former dreadlocks ascetics that “everything is burning.” This teaching focuses on the six sense fields and the ways in which we become entangled with them. The practice the Buddha teaches is direct, intimate, physical, and it focuses on our relationship with vedanā, the realm of affect.
Tonight we follow the Buddha from Isipatana, just north of Bārāṇasī, to Uruvelā, on the near side to the Nerañjarā river. At Bārāṇasī he converts some of the commercial elite of the city, and when he has 60 arahant students sends them off on missionary journeys. The Buddha himself goes on a targeted mission to convert a community of dreadlocks-wearing (jaṭila) ascetics to his teaching. He does so by “shirt-fronting” Uruvelā-Kassapa, the senior leader of this community, with his shamanic powers, in order to prepare the way for his third teaching.
Here we look at one aspect of the teaching of anattā, that of life-after-life, or rebirth. We see that this teaching does not say that any being or thing transfers from one life to the next, and yet because we are caught up in identity we can’t help but think in such terms. We also look at some characteristics of our culture that make it particularly difficult for us to come to terms with this teaching.
We continue with Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta, here focusing on the turning point represented by disenchantment (nibbidā). This creates a process of the fading of obsession, liberation and the exhaustion of birth. The Buddha expresses as a state of intimacy, conveyed by the statement, “There is no more of this!”
After teaching the first Buddhist meditation retreat to the five ascetics, the Buddha introduces the topic of not-self (anattā) with Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta. Tonight we look at the Buddha’s perspective on how we create a self by clinging to five categories or “bundles” (khandha) of experience. The key moves are: “This is mine;” “I am this;” and “This is my self.”
Having opened the hearts of his five companions with his teaching of the middle way, the Buddha now teaches the four truths of the noble ones (cattāro ariya-saccāni). These are: dukkha; its arising; its cessation; and the path leading to its cessation. This discourse centres on dukkha and craving (taṇhā), because the Buddha is concerned here with what coloured his own practice before his awakening – his sense of drivenness, of trying to get in the future something missing now.