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In the sutta quoted here the Buddha recommends cultivating in equal measure concentration, equanimity and uplifted energy.

As far as I know, in order to develop concentration one focuses the mind on an immobile object like a kasina, and for developing equanimity one observes the rise and fall of the breath.

Similarly, what practice can one perform in order to cultivate uplifted energy? Would shraddha (pious faith) and belief in the dhamma qualify? Or does it refer to moment to moment mindfulness?

Is there a specific meditation practice recommended?

"A monk intent on heightened mind should attend periodically to three themes: He should attend periodically to the theme of concentration; he should attend periodically to the theme of uplifted energy; he should attend periodically to the theme of equanimity. If the monk intent on heightened mind were to attend solely to the theme of concentration, it is possible that his mind would tend to laziness. If he were to attend solely to the theme of uplifted energy, it is possible that his mind would tend to restlessness. If he were to attend solely to the theme of equanimity, it is possible that his mind would not be rightly concentrated for the ending of the fermentations. But when he attends periodically to the theme of concentration, attends periodically to the theme of uplifted energy, attends periodically to the theme of equanimity, his mind is pliant, malleable, luminous, & not brittle. It is rightly centered for the stopping of the fermentations.

SOURCE: Nimitta Sutta: Themes - AN 3.100 (xi-xv) PTS: A i 255 Thai 3.103

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    A very important and interesting question. If I could attach a bounty to it, I would. – Andrei Volkov Sep 17 '15 at 13:17
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    Bounty added! :) – Andrei Volkov Sep 18 '15 at 11:45
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    @Buddho, this is viriya you are asking about, right? – Andrei Volkov Sep 18 '15 at 11:56
  • @AndreiVolkov Viriya would probably be some of it but not all of it - since here the effort is translated from paggaha - see a correlation here i.imgur.com/lm2unFz.png?1 – Buddho Sep 18 '15 at 14:31
  • paggaha, got it – Andrei Volkov Sep 18 '15 at 15:28
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From your quote, it sounds like the lack of uplifted energy is the hindrance of sloth and torpor, one of the five hindrances to practice. To quote Ajahn Brahmavamso:

Sloth and torpor refers to that heaviness of body and dullness of mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression. The Lord Buddha compared it to being imprisoned in a cramped, dark cell, unable to move freely in the bright sunshine outside. In meditation, it causes weak and intermittent mindfulness which can even lead to falling asleep in meditation without even realising it!

Sloth and torpor is overcome by rousing energy. Energy is always available but few know how to turn on the switch, as it were. Setting a goal, a reasonable goal, is a wise and effective way to generate energy, as is deliberately developing interest in the task at hand. A young child has a natural interest, and consequent energy, because its world is so new. Thus, if one can learn to look at one's life, or one's meditation, with a 'beginner's mind' one can see ever new angles and fresh possibilities which keep one distant from sloth and torpor, alive and energetic. Similarly, one can develop delight in whatever one is doing by training one's perception to see the beautiful in the ordinary, thereby generating the interest which avoids the half-death that is sloth and torpor.

The mind has two main functions, 'doing' and 'knowing'. The way of meditation is to calm the 'doing' to complete tranquillity while maintaining the 'knowing'. Sloth and torpor occur when one carelessly calms both the 'doing' and the 'knowing', unable to distinguish between them.

Sloth and torpor is a common problem which can creep up and smother one slowly. A skilful meditator keeps a sharp look-out for the first signs of sloth and torpor and is thus able to spot its approach and take evasive action before it's too late. Like coming to a fork in a road, one can take that mental path leading away from sloth and torpor. Sloth and torpor is an unpleasant state of body and mind, too stiff to leap into the bliss of Jhana and too blinded to spot any insights. In short, it is a complete waste of precious time.

  • Thank you, not looking a gift horse in the mouth etc., but I was hoping for a more comprehensive guide to uplifting energy. – Buddho Sep 16 '15 at 6:15
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I think something is lost in translation here. It has been mentioned before that Thanissaro Bhikkhu sometimes is off the mark in his translations. If we look at some other translations of the Nimitta Sutta - Piya Tan argues that the three bases mentioned in the sutta are: Basis of samadhi, The effort sign and The equanimity sign. So 'uplifted energy' here equates to 'the effort sign'. He argues further that the three nimitta are specific conditions for meditation in the sutta and that they are conflated with the 5 spiritual faculties.

The three “bases” of the Nimitta Sutta are, in fact, conflated forms of the five spiritual faculties. The Sutta’s commentary (AA 2:364) glosses nimitta with karana, whose meanings include the following: (1) cause, reason, ground, motive, means; (2) valid reason or argument; (3) event, matter; (4) proper action, task (DP, abridged). Here nimitta is best taken in the sense of “means,” since it refers to conditions for mental focus. Namitta Sutta - Translated & annotated by Piya Tan

So we end up with:

  • Basis of samadhi = Faith & Samadhi
  • The effort sign = Effort
  • The equanimity sign = Mindfulness & Wisdom

In this context, rather than being 'states' to be attained, as you seem to allude to in your question, the three bases point to a particular mental orientation in meditation session itself. Applying too much concentration, energy or equanimity in a sitting leads to unsatisfactory results. This is illustrated further in the Namitta Sutta by Buddha in the simile of gold refining:

Suppose, bhikshus, a goldsmith or a goldsmith’s apprentice prepares a furnace. Having prepared it, he starts a blaze in the furnace mouth. Having started the blaze, he places the gold [in a crucible] in the furnace mouth. From time to time, he blows on it. From time to time, he sprinkles water on it. From time to time, he simply looks on at it. Bhikshus, if the goldsmith or the goldsmith’s apprentice were only to blow on that gold, it is possible that it would burn. Bhikshus, if the goldsmith or the goldsmith’s apprentice were only to sprinkle water on that gold, it is possible that it would cool down. Bhikshus, if the goldsmith or the goldsmith’s apprentice only to look on that gold, it is possible that it would not come to full refinement. But if he were only from time to time to blow on it, only from time to time to sprinkle water on it, only from time to time to simply look on, the gold would then become pliant, malleable and bright, uncorrupted, and it could be properly worked on. Whatever ornament that he wishes to make, be it a diadem, a gold plate, earrings, a necklace, or a gold chain, that gold can now be used for that purpose.

So concentration, energy or equanimity need to be applied skillfully in the moments when they are appropriate to deepen the meditation (refine the gold).

This brings to mind intensifying in the "The Brahmin's Thread" method, one of four methods to set up Samadhi in the Mahamudra Tradition:

It is necessary for intensifying and easing up to become balanced, so set it up as if spinning a Brahman’s thread. If there is too much intensifying when meditating, thoughts go astray. If there is too much easing up, you get slothful, so make intensifying and easing up balanced. Moreover, a beginner initially intensifies to cut off moment-by-moment occurrences and then, when overdoing it, ease up and tries not to react to whatever has arisen. After alternating between one and the other of these, try to make intensifying and easing up balanced. Intensifying and easing up the mind again and again like this is called “spinning the Brahman’s thread.” Pointing Out the Great Way - Dan Brown (p. 244)

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I like this part of a quote from Lanka's answer to How to “attend to the perception of light”?

Through right reflection in inceptive energy and similar states of mind is brought about the overthrow of sloth and torpor. Inceptive energy is the effort first set afoot. Exertion is more powerful than the inceptive energy because it leaves indolence behind. And because of its assailing further and further of the destructive condition, progressive endeavor is more powerful than exertion. By the exercise of right reflection intensely on this threefold strenuousness sloth and torpor are cast out. Therefore the Blessed One said that the condition for keeping out new sloth and torpor, and for casting out sloth and torpor that is old, is abundant right reflection on the element of inceptive energy, of exertion and of progressive endeavor.

Here, in my understanding:

  • inceptive energy is the enthusiastic force of new beginning, rooted in faith,
  • exertion is sustained effort, rooted in conviction,
  • progressive endeavor is the positive reinforcement from seeing oneself making progress.

It would be interesting to see someone explore the notion of progressive endeavor. What is the Pali word? Is it used in more places in the Canon?

I personally connect generation of uplifted energy with the practice of Jhana, specifically the First and Second Jhanas (Third and Forth being more focused on Equanimity):

First Jhana:

Just as if a skilled bathman or bathman's apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water, so that his ball of bath powder — saturated, moisture-laden, permeated within and without — would nevertheless not drip; just so, the monk permeates, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of [directed thought and evaluation on one's successful] withdrawal [from sensuality, from unskillful qualities].

Second Jhana:

Just like a lake with spring-water welling up from within, having no inflow from east, west, north, or south, and with the skies periodically supplying abundant showers, so that the cool fount of water welling up from within the lake would permeate and pervade, suffuse and fill it with cool waters, there being no part of the lake unpervaded by the cool waters; just so, the monk permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of composure [=unification of awareness free from directed thought and evaluation — internal assurance].

In support of this, there are many places in the Canon that speak about connection of joy (gladness, rapture) with concentration e.g. Vatthupama Sutta:

When he has given up, expelled, released, abandoned, and relinquished [the imperfections of the mind] in part, he considers thus: ‘I am possessed of perfect confidence in the Buddha,’ and he gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. When he is glad, rapture is born in him; in one who is rapturous, the body becomes tranquil; one whose body is tranquil feels pleasure; in one who feels pleasure, the mind becomes concentrated.

This looks like a perfect description of the First Jhana to me.

  • Uplifted energy in your reference to the Jhanas does make some sense but is this not pīti and sukha which arise spontaneously in Jhana? These are mentioned so frequently throughout the Suttas with reference to right concentration that is unlikely they would not be mentioned specifically in the Nimitta Sutta as well. – Devindra Sep 18 '15 at 13:45
  • @Devindra - they are all connected, see e.g. Vatthupama Sutta: “When he has given up, expelled, released, abandoned, and relinquished [the imperfections of the mind] in part, he considers thus: ‘I am possessed of perfect confidence in the Buddha,’ and he gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. When he is glad, rapture is born in him; in one who is rapturous, the body becomes tranquil; one whose body is tranquil feels pleasure; in one who feels pleasure, the mind becomes concentrated." – Andrei Volkov Sep 18 '15 at 14:43
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    I don't think they are very similar. Tummo/Chakra work is a lot more physical and "uplifting energy" is emotional/mood thing. – Andrei Volkov Sep 18 '15 at 16:22
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    My own experience (of energy) matches a lot with your quote from the Vatthupama Sutta. – Parag Sep 22 '15 at 5:39
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    Pali words for inceptive energy is Ārabbha-dhātū, sustained effort is Parakkama-dhātu and progressive endeavor is Nikkama-dhātu. – Shrawaka Sep 22 '15 at 23:22
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The Right Effort with a view to develop Mastery Over the Mind (sometimes translated as Concentration) is uplifting energy.

More particularly this is the effort to abaddon and prevent unwholesomeness arising effort must be applied to develop the wholesome qualities of Mindfulness on the 4 Frames of Mindfulness pertaining to Arising and Passing Away of Phenomena, equanimity and active calming the Fabrication - by claiming the breath to calm bodily fabrications, anchoring the mind to calm verbal fabrication and diluting perception and sensations to calm metal fabrications - thus increasing Concentration based on the arising and passing away of phenomena pertaining to the aggregates. If you are using something like a Ksina to develop concentration you should be looking at arising and passing nature of your mental perception of the image, otherwise just choosing the breath or sensation one a part of the body like the centre of the upper lip maybe more advisable. Also before coming to calming bodily, verbal and mental fabrication you have practice moral restraint to limit unwholesome bodily, verbal and mental action. Also your should actively direct your effort to abandon the 5 Hindrances by balancing Wisdom with Faith, Effort with Samadhi and the 7 Enlightenment Factors.

You have to check at regular intervals by reviewing whether your are applying effort to maintain equanimity and mindfulness hence not creating new fabrication from stimuli, actively calming the fabrications hence increasing concentration and one-pointedness on the 4 Frames of Mindfulness. If you do this too often then you get frustrated as you do not see progress and you are expecting to see some progress. Also to move to higher concentration you have to abandon applied effort to maintaining connectedness. If your effort is lax then your might will wander away mostly to unwholesome thoughts.

See:

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This sutta is mentioned in Visuddhimagga page 242 paragraphs 74,75 and 76 as part of a training process in mindfulness on the foulness of 32 parts of the body.

Page 238 says,

Now, a clansman who, as a beginner, wants to develop this meditation subject should go to a good friend of the kind already described (III.61–73) and learn it. And the teacher who expounds it to him should tell him the sevenfold skill in learning and the tenfold skill in giving attention.

Sevenfold skill in learning of the 32 parts are, (1) as verbal recitation, (2) as mental recitation, (3) as to colour, (4) as to shape, (5) as to direction, (6) as to location, (7) as to delimitation.

Having thus told the sevenfold skill in learning, he should tell the tenfold skill in giving attention as follows: (1) as to following the order, (2) not too quickly, (3) not too slowly (4) as to warding off distraction, (5) as to surmounting the concept, (6) as to successive leaving, (7) as to absorption, (8)–(10) as to the three suttantas.

The person who develops the first 6 parts in the tenfold training achieves appana samadhi (7. absorption). In the pali version of the book this is mentioned as appanāto.

The aim of the three suttas, 8. higher consciousness, 9. coolness, and 10. skill in the enlightenment factors, have as their purpose the linking of energy with concentration. Nimitta sutta should be studied to understand on balancing the high consciousness (Jhana).

  1. Herein, this sutta should be understood to deal with higher consciousness: “Bhikkhus, there are three signs that should be given attention from time to time by a bhikkhu intent on higher consciousness. The sign of concentration should be given attention from time to time, the sign of exertion should be given attention from time to time, the sign of equanimity should be given attention from time to time. [247] If a bhikkhu intent on higher consciousness gives attention only to the sign of concentration, then his consciousness may conduce to idleness. If a bhikkhu intent on higher consciousness gives attention only to the sign of exertion, then his consciousness may conduce to agitation. If a bhikkhu intent on higher consciousness gives attention only to the sign of equanimity, then his consciousness may not become rightly concentrated for the destruction of cankers. But, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu intent on higher consciousness gives attention from time to time to the sign of concentration … to the sign of exertion … to the sign of equanimity, then his consciousness becomes malleable, wieldy and bright, it is not brittle and becomes rightly concentrated for the destruction of cankers.

  2. “Bhikkhus, just as a skilled goldsmith or goldsmith’s apprentice prepares his furnace and heats it up and puts crude gold into it with tongs; and he blows on it from time to time, sprinkles water on it from time to time, and looks on at it from time to time; and if the goldsmith or goldsmith’s apprentice only blew on the crude gold, it would burn and if he only sprinkled water on it, it would cool down, and if he only looked on at it, it would not get rightly refined; but, when the goldsmith or goldsmith’s apprentice blows on the crude gold from time to time, sprinkles water on it from time to time, and looks on at it from time to time, then it becomes malleable, wieldy and bright, it is not brittle, and it submits rightly to being wrought; whatever kind of ornament he wants to work it into, whether a chain or a ring or a necklace or a gold fillet, it serves his purpose.

  3. “So too, bhikkhus, there are three signs that should be given attention from time to time by a bhikkhu intent on higher consciousness … becomes rightly concentrated for the destruction of cankers. [248] He attains the ability to be a witness, through realization by direct-knowledge, of any state realizable by direct-knowledge to which he inclines his mind, whenever there is occasion”
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The Buddha used always the Goad-stick, and never candies... death man (still) walking!

What ever forces samvega ("fear") in regard of the world, thinking about sickness, oldage, death, the endless causes of suffering, reflecting that there is only this path, grave fear of not catching the leaving train and to remember how seldom the gain of a human existence, not stupid, meeting even the Dhamma, is. At least that neither kusala citta not the possibility to escape is for sure.

What ever else makes one see once head burning, all of that, in relation of seeing an escape, is nurishment for increasing energy. Like a man is capable to gain outstanding power and energy sin face of death or seeing his beloved in trouble. Without samvega energy required can not be found and lazyness will burn chances down.

A useful reading since people don't know about the need of samvega at large: Affirming the Truths of the Heart: The Buddhist Teachings on Samvega & Pasada, since you can not trust your ideas of how to use energy for happiness alone.

So hury up, the next hour of a good existence is not for sure! See the death man walking!

[Not given for trade, exchange or stacks but only for release]

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It would be chanda that might lead to viriya . One must have strong chanda and interest in one's own practice.

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