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I'm feeling very overwhelmed by the sheer amount of different things to remember and practice. Firstly the four foundations of mindfulness Im not sure when one is meant to practice each one. Do you do them all together or at different times of the day etc? Not sure where to begin. Then there is all the other stuff like the eightfold path and the five aggregates as well as metta practice. And this is only for starters!

I'm starting to stress out about it all. Its kind of too much to take in and so I can't focus on anything really. I feel the same way in life. Too much going on and my attention is pulled in all different directions so that I never get anything done.

When I meditate I focus my attention on the rising and falling of the abdomen as instructed. I don't notice much at all except that my mind has become lost in thought. Sometimes I suppose I notice a pain in the knee etc and then I might notice that its unpleasant in which case I am being mindful of vedana but I'm wondering am I supposed to do specific meditations for the various different things?

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"Im feeling very overwhelmed by the sheer amount of different things to remember and practice" "*****"

No need to, that is why it is called gradual training. You take only one step at a time. In regard to four foundations of mindfulness you just practice the in and out breath until you master it.Then make an attempt to observe the five precepts. Then everything else will put in to place automatically.

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four foundations of mindfulness I'm not sure when one is meant to practice each one.

The Satipatthana Sutta is a collection of different practises compiled together (rather than a direct teaching of the Buddha). The Satipatthana Sutta is useful for beginners to familiarise themselves with different aspects of meditation & mental experience. The Satipatthana Sutta is also useful for lay people who practise meditation one or two to three hours per day in everyday life. Therefore, if you follow the Satipatthana Sutta, you can choose to practise any of the different practises contained within at any time of the day.


However, this does not represent the Buddha's Noble Path, such as expressed in the Noble Eightfold Path, where the 1st factor is practised 1st & the 2nd factor 2nd, etc, as explained below:

Of those, right view is the forerunner. And how is right view the forerunner? In one of right view, right resolve comes into being. In one of right resolve, right speech comes into being. In one of right speech, right action... In one of right action, right livelihood... In one of right livelihood, right effort... In one of right effort, right mindfulness... In one of right mindfulness, right concentration ... In one of right concentration, right knowledge... In one of right knowledge, right release comes into being. Thus the learner is endowed with eight factors, and the arahant with ten.

Maha-cattarisaka Sutta

Therefore, if the four foundations of mindfulness are practised following the noble meditation teaching of the Anapanasati Sutta, the first satipatthana (mindfulness towards the body) is practised first and practised continuously, until the second satipatthana (mindfulness towards pleasant feelings) arises by itself, naturally.


In dedicated practise of the four foundations of mindfulness, which generally requires retreat conditions of full-time meditation, only mindfulness towards the body is practised until the other satipatthana arise naturally (by themselves) after the preceding satipatthana is calmed.


Then there is all the other stuff like the 8fold path

It is important to learn about the 8 fold path because it is the whole path.

The 8 fold path is comprised of three trainings:

  1. wisdom (which guides the path)

  2. morality (which is the foundation of the path & avoids gross forms of suffering)

  3. meditation/concentration (which is the application of the path)

Four foundations of mindfulness is the meditation aspect or 3rd training of the 8 fold path.


Metta practice

Metta practise is part of the 2nd and 6th factors of the eightfold path, namely, the practise to develop loving thoughts & give up hateful & angry thoughts.

If the mind has hateful & angry thoughts, it cannot meditate or concentrate.

Therefore, metta is a foundation or preliminary practise for the four foundations of mindfulness


5 aggregates

The 5 aggregates are the components of life.

The 5 aggregates are essentially the same as the 4 foundations of mindfulness.

Therefore, when you meditate, you are observing the 5 aggregates, which is essentially the same as observing the 4 foundations of mindfulness.

The important aspect of the 5 aggregates in meditation is to see the five aggregates are only the aggregates (rather than 'self'). The 4 foundations of mindfulness are about seeing the body as 'body', the feelings as 'feelings', mind as 'mind, mental states as 'mental states' and reality as 'reality' (rather than seeing these things as 'self').


I can't focus on anything really.

If you want to keep it really simple, you only focus on watching your breathing and learning to recognise & drop negative mental states (such as hatred & anger) and develop positive mental states (such as metta).

In summary, simple practise is:

  1. Acknowledge & give up negative mental states, such as anger & hatred.

  2. Develop positive mental states, such as metta & non-harming (morality)

  3. In meditation, observe the breathing to make the mind calm & continue to develop this


When I meditate I focus my attention on the rising & falling of the abdomen as instructed.

Make this your primary goal. This will reduce confusion.

I don't notice much at all

Then place your hands on your abdomen & chest until the movement of the breathing & abdomen become clear.

Do this again, whenever necessary; whenever the movement becomes vague.

except that my mind has become lost in thought.

This is normal. When you catch your mind lost in thought; don't get angry. Just return to watching your breathing or abdomen.

Sometimes I suppose I notice a pain in the knee etc a

Forget this. This has very limited benefit. Just observe your breathing or abdomen.

If your knee hurts a lot, just change your posture.

Your posture should always have a straight back & be relaxed.

If you sit cross-legged but your spine is not straight, use another posture.

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I couldnt agree with you more. It IS rather overwhelming from the start. This is the first reason why a good teacher is such a benefit. Absent that at first you at least need a sort of plan of attack.

From a laymen's perspective I found seeking refuge in the 3 jewels to be a good framework. Starting with seeking refuge in the Buddha I focused on the story and history of Shakyamuni from his beginnings as Siddartha Gautma to his death. I paid particular attention to his specific historical biography and the influences that would have surrounded him at the time and later as he set about teaching. I also followed his lessons through the first thru third Buddhist councils - up until the point they were committed to writing.

In seeking further refuge in the dharma I worked on those lessons as they were subsequently applied against Koans as well as the works of other bhodisattva. The differing ideologies within Buddhism and supporting literature. This process grew organically from the first really.

As you break down the basic lessons from the Buddha Shakyamuni ... the 9 factors of this and 32 steps of that ... all of those things make more sense than just random items for memorization. It's the same for meditation techniques. When you know what it is you are doing that action for then it makes knowing how or in what manner to do it easier to comprehend and remember.

I am a few years in headfirst now and a few decades in by dabbling. But to date the so-called metaphysical topics to me have found the same theoretical support all the way back to the days before and of Buddha. Thats not necessarily an indictment on how poor our knowledge is today (as some want to use it). It is likewise high praise for the scholarly approach used on topics then purely heuristic and only now seeing support in quantum mechanics and other advanced issues in physics.

The physical aspects supporting Buddhism have been well documented for years. Advantages of rested mind meditation have been acknowledged and utilized worldwide both professionally and personally. While the psychology and neurology still need substantial work, the support so far is promising.

The point is making a plan with approaches from many different avenues. If you plan to devour a cow you do so 1 meal at a time. I started with seeking refuge in the 3 Jewels, then studied history and comparative ideology, then committed myself to further study in the precepts, then answering the 10 questions to a child. Then I followed as my curiosity suited me and it all grew organically. Find your path. Namaste my friend.

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When I first came into contact with Buddhist thought, I had the same issues as you - factors, bases, faculties, powers etc, is a lot to take in, and finding 'first gear' was a challenge. I personally found right effort, the four right exertions, to be particularly helpful:

"And what, monks, is right effort?

"There is the case where a monk generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen.

"He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the abandonment of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen.

"He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen.

"He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen: This, monks, is called right effort." SN 45.8

For meditation, practice makes perfect - the stilling of mental fermentations logically requires the initial presence of mental fermentations.. try not to fight your mind if it brings up thoughts and begins analysis. Rather become aware that you have slipped away from concentrating on your breathing and allow yourself to go back to concentrating on your breathing, without fighting your mind when it strays (don't try and block your mind from thinking by building walls (as I say to myself), that's just another form of thinking!)

The training is a gradual one and it takes time both to understand and to put into practice. If you are practicing by yourself, without a teacher, maybe seek one out so that you can get guidance. If you prefer to go it alone, take your time - negative mental states such as stress only slow you down anyways!

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Just focus on your meditation practice and following the precepts, everything else is secondary.

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When you are looking for simplification one thing that can be done is:

  • look for recurring patterns in concepts
  • look for factors and common concepts
  • look for relationships between each concept or how the dots connect

When you look for where to start look for:

  • factor which is common to many concepts
  • factor which if a forerunner of other factors within the concept or ties the concept together or is a pivotal factor

Following is an analysis on finding the simple common factors which is also a forerunner of within many concepts:

Firstly the four foundations of mindfulness

One of the shorted rendering of them is as follows:

(1) having put away covetousness and displeasure in the world, a monk dwells exertive, fully aware, mindful, contemplating body in the body.

(2) Having put away covetousness and displeasure in the world, he dwells exertive, fully aware, mindful, contemplating feeling in the feelings.

(3) Having put away covetousness and displeasure in the world, he dwells exertive, fully aware, mindful, contemplating mind in the mind.

(4) Having put away covetousness and displeasure in the world, he dwells exertive, fully aware, mindful, contemplating phenomena [dharmas] in the phenomena.

Sacca Vibhanga Sutta and also similar passage is found in (Magga) Vibhaṅga Sutta

One of the recurring elements here is putting away covetousness and displeasure in the world which is the task at hand. In addition you have to put effort to that task and also you should not have a lapse of mindfulness when doing this task, otherwise you will not attend to it and perhaps do something else.

Covetousness and displeasure are result of mental reaction to sensations:

(1) the latent tendency to lust reinforced by being attached to pleasant feelings;

(2) the latent tendency to aversion reinforced by rejecting painful feelings;

(3) the latent tendency to ignorance reinforced by ignoring neutral feelings.

Pahāna Sutta

To prevent your mental reaction to sensation becoming unwholesome you can try:

“Nothing is worth clinging to”

When this was said, the venerable Mahā Moggallāna said this to the Blessed One: “In what way, bhante, in brief, is a monk freed through the destruction of craving, that is, one who has reached total perfection, the total security from bondage, the total holy life, the total consummation, the highest amongst gods and humans?”

“Here, Moggallāna, the monk has learned that nothing is worth clinging to. And, Moggallāna, a monk has learned that nothing is worth clinging to, thus: he directly knows all things [he directly knows the nature of the all]. Having directly known the nature of all things, he fully understands all things.

Having fully understood all things, he knows whatever feelings there are, whether pleasant, painful or neither painful nor pleasant.

As regards to those feelings, [Section on Disillusionment and Revulsion (Nibbida) follows]

he dwells contemplating impermanence in them;

he dwells contemplating dispassion [fading away of lust] in them;

he dwells contemplating ending (of suffering) in them;

he dwells contemplating letting go (of defilements).

When he dwells contemplating impermanence in them, contemplating dispassion in them, contemplating ending in them, contemplating letting go, he does not cling to anything in the world. Not clinging, he is not agitated; being not agitated, he himself surely attains nirvana.

Pacalā Sutta

my attention is pulled in all different directions so that I never get anything done

Now when distractions arise. How to deal with them and keep your focus on your meditation is as follows:

  • 1st you should realise you mind has wandered away
  • Whatever of the 6 sense faculties your mind has wandered to, there will be a sensation. [Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta] Stay with this sensation without further aversion or craving knowing the sensation, looking at its changing nature and impermanence. Non reactively waiting with the sensation will make the intensity of the die down faster and will not be a distraction again. It will be the irritation or pleasantness of the experience that keeps your mind to jump to these sensations, again, if it is intense and you prematurely bring your attention to the object of focus`, you may get distracted again.
  • Then bring back you mind to object of mediation
  • Actively try to retain your mind with the object
  • further up the above 2 activities when you mind tend to stick to the meditation object you are calming the Verbal Fabrication

Also see Saṅkhitta Dhamma Sutta which describes the latter steps. This is also described the Jhana factors.

Vitakka Saṇṭhāna Sutta deals with a more broader spectrum of distracting thoughts which are unwholesome which you can apply in daily situations.

Noble 8 Fold Path

Being contemplation of impermanence while being equanimous, as given in Pacalā Sutta quote above, gives rise to wise attention this is fore runner of the Noble 8 Fold Path as in Yoniso Manasikāra Sampadā Sutta. If the number of steps overwhelm you you can look at in terms of the 3 Fold Training which are:

  • higher virtue (adhisīla-sikkhā)
  • higher mind (adhicitta-sikkhā)
  • higher wisdom (adhipaññā-sikkhā)

5 Aggregates

When you develop the path you get Disillusionment and Revolutions (Nibbida) towards the 5 aggregates. A normal worldling would get attached to the 5 aggregates. When you develop revolutions towards it the 5 Aggregates which you cling to as would become indifferent in your mind and you would not cling to them as self.

Metta

The goal of Metta meditation is to develop friendly feeling towards all living beings.

This is achieved by breaking down the mental classification you have towards individual beings or classes of them into groups which you deem favorable, unfavorable or neutral and reacting to them with pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feeling associated with each classification. One such classification systems would be me, beings I like, neutral or unknown beings and being you do not like. When you break down the classification you will like everyone like yourself. Another classification could be same country, neutral country and enemy country. When you break down the mental classification system you will love everyone as your fellow country men. Another classification could be higher life forms, lower life forms and same level life forms. When you break down this classification you will love all living beings equally.

When you classify if a being is from a favorable category you react with pleasant sensation, unfavorable category with unpleasant sensation and neutral category with unpleasant sensations. These sensation lead to the unwholesome roots of craving for the favorable and pleasant, aversion towards the unfavorable and unpleasant and ignorance towards the neutral, as discussed in the Pahāna Sutta. When such reaction stops you stop creating negative mental states and come out of misery.

In order to develop Metta you should wish every one in every category you can imagine to be well and happy. Also know how the classifications are woulding in the back of your mind and know mental reaction and sensation. Try to be equanimous knowing the changes and and arising and passing nature of the sensations.

Once the favorable and unfavorable categorisations are broken you do not despair if you meet with non loved one and with equanimity you do not attached to others. Others cannot cause you stress.

Sometimes I suppose I notice a pain in the knee

When you notice sensation notice how it's spread out, any variations and how it ends. There might be times where new sensations of experiences start. Look at the start, evolution and change and the end of the experience. Doing this you see impermanence and arising and passing nature of the experience.

As such, bhikshus, the instructed noble disciple closely and wisely attends to dependent arising itself, thus:

Imasmiṁ sati, idaṁ hoti; "When this is, that is;

imass’uppādā, idam uppajjati. with the arising of this, that arises.

Imasmiṁ asati idaṁ na hoti; When this is not, that is not;

imassa nirodhā idaṁ nirujjhati. with the ending of this, that ends."

Bhikshus, dependent on pleasant contact, a pleasant feeling arises. With the ending of the pleasant contact, the pleasant feeling that arose in dependent on that pleasant contact, ceases, is stilled.

Bhikshus, dependent on painful contact, a painful feeling arises. With the ending of the painful contact, the painful feeling that arose in dependent on that painful contact, ceases, is stilled.

Bhikshus, dependent on neutral contact, a neutral feeling arises. With the ending of the neutral contact, the neutral feeling that arose in dependent on that neutral contact, ceases, is stilled.

Assutava Sutta 2

Where to start without worrying about different things

The main thing is to establish wise attention. The easiest way to do this is to note impermanence (arising and passing) and be equanimous. If you examine all the other concepts above, this is one of the most recurring concept and thread. When wise attention is established rest of the path with will slowly start falling into place, as this is a gradual training.

Also know what is unwise attention which is covered in this answer.

To get right of the distracting thoughts you can practice some of the methods given in Vitakka Saṇṭhāna Sutta or try to focus your mind on an object and also work actively to retaining it as the focus by bringing you mind to it periodically. The 4 Sathipattana or 4 Brahmavihara as in Saṅkhitta Dhamma Sutta which is also a summary of the Dhamma in short.

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Do you do them all together or at different times of the day etc?

I think my capacity isn't that great (too small to do all of them at once), and that I'm lucky to do even one at any given moment.

And to some extent I think I'm aware of one thing at a time.

  1. So, to simplify, one Buddha's statement repeated in the Pali suttas is,

    Both formerly and now, monks, I declare only stress and the cessation of stress.

    The context is the Buddha's not talking about other topics (for example the existence or non-existence of the Tathagata after death); but I think it's a good summary: "stress, and the cessation of stress".

    So if and when I become aware of stress, then that is a thing to remember; or that is a time to remember Dharma.

  2. Stress and cessation. The next increment of Dharma, the next atom to remember or be aware of, for me at least (albeit not for everyone) are the four noble truths: which add "craving" to the equation, craving as a condition of stress. So if I become of aware of stress, then the consequent question is, "ah, stress; so what's the craving this time?" Having thought to ask that question, it may be obvious on introspection that there's some kind of craving happening, and that the craving co-arises with the suffering, and so on. And so I might ask myself, "Should I really want to pursue this craving if it's going to involve suffering?" and of course the rational answer may be "no" (like the joke, "doctor, it hurts when I do this!", and the doctor's reply is, "Well don't do that then!")

    So craving (especially unskillful craving) is associated with stress.

  3. The next little increment of Dharma might be anatta: for example "I am craving something" or "I am suffering". Cessation of craving involves views like "I am not that craving", "this craving is not me", "that is not my craving" and so on.

  4. More generally (and I think that people learn to generalize from having had several experiences ... once you've been hit on the head with an apple several times you begin to realize that gravity is involved) you begin to see that "wrong view" is associated with the three characteristics: i.e. not seeing impermanence (e.g. seeing impermanent things as permanent, or wanting impermanent things to be permanent); and views of self versus non-self (where any view of self is associated with suffering).

  5. The four noble truths introduce one more thing, i.e. the noble eightfold way. But I find that (eight) is too much to keep in mind, so I remember it as the three-fold training.

I think that's the essential: how I structure or remember it. I don't remember them all at once, but more-or-less in that sequence (stated above). If I'm stressed I may be lucky to remember anything at all (e.g. craving and cessation). Other topics are more theoretical (I think they're someone's analysis, the Buddha's analysis, of factors involved).


I don't know whether this analogy works: living is like driving a car. It's supposed to be not too complicated. You have your steering wheel, your brake, your fuel, your indicators ... it's not trivial, it takes weeks to learn, but when it (the car) is working well and well-maintained, when the driving conditions aren't too extreme, most adults can learn to drive safely.

Cars are complicated though and if they do go wrong then there's a lot to know. A mechanic needs to know about ignition timing, about computer diagnostic codes, parts catalogs and who knows what. Maybe lists, like the five indriya, can be viewed as part of the detailed body-of-knowledge that a specialist (e.g. a teacher) needs to diagnose and correct problems when things aren't working properly.

Whereas your job as a driver (not a mechanic) is relatively simple: just operate the controls, stay out of trouble, don't hurt people.


I'm wondering am I supposed to do specific meditations for the various different things?

Yes I think so.

An essay like The Four Sublime States for example says,

These four attitudes are said to be excellent or sublime because they are the right or ideal way of conduct towards living beings (sattesu samma patipatti). They provide, in fact, the answer to all situations arising from social contact. They are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, and the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence. They level social barriers, build harmonious communities, awaken slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revive joy and hope long abandoned, and promote human brotherhood against the forces of egotism.

The Brahma-viharas are incompatible with a hating state of mind, etc.

So I infer that metta bhavana for example (which is a specific meditation) is for one of the "various different things", i.e. it's specifically for "situations arising from social contact" including "tension, social conflict, wounds, social barriers, building harmonious communities" etc.).

I can't tell you what each/every type of meditation is for, but I do think different types are described as having different goals (or methods): for example, "calm"; "insight"; "realizing Buddha-nature"; etc... though you can also see them as steps towards one goal (e.g. towards freedom, unbinding, etc.).


You mentioned the "five aggregates" too. I don't think it's necessary to try to remember all five simultaneously (nor even possible, if I can only remember one thing at a time). I think they're intended as a list, a detail associated with the anatta doctrine: i.e. it's wrong to think of myself as me, as if I'm one thing only ... instead an analysis of what one might normally think of as "me" or "mine" suggests that there are actually five aggregates, and not just one "me" (i.e. there's "form", "sensation", etc.). But it's also better to not identify with any one those five aggregates (nor to see them as permanent). I don't suppose you have to try to remember them all the time, just know (if or when it becomes relevant) that each should be seen as included in (not an exception to) the list of things to be regarded as not-self and impermanent (and that "clinging aggregates" are associated with suffering).


In summary I think it has a simple summary: stress, and the cessation of stress. Maybe that's all you need to remember.

There are other simple summaries too: non-attachment; unselfishness; and so on.

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This is the reason why buddha taught "Meditate samadhi first, practicer! Practicer, who achieved samadhi, is contemplating the truth."

Pa-auk tradition (Burma) and Thai forest tradition, have teaching jhana at first to prepare the practicer for higher level meditation such as the four foundations of mindfulness, the 5 aggregates, etc.

So memorizing and learning about 5 folds and anapanassati, are the answer of your question. Because suta and sila are the foundations of samadhi. Then suta and jhana are the foundations of wisdom.

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