In Vitakkasanthana Sutta, the Buddha advised:
Just as a skilled carpenter or his apprentice would use a small peg to
knock out, drive out, and pull out a large one; in the same way, if
evil, unskillful thoughts — imbued with
desire, aversion, or delusion — arise in a monk while he is referring to and attending to a particular theme, he should attend to
another theme, apart from that one, connected with what is skillful.
When he is attending to this other theme, apart from that one,
connected with what is skillful, then those evil, unskillful thoughts
— imbued with desire, aversion, or delusion — are abandoned and
subside. With their abandoning, he steadies his mind right within,
settles it, unifies it, and concentrates it.
So, if you're afflicted with thoughts imbued with the three poisons (desire/ greed/ attachment, aversion/ hatred and delusion), then this is the sign of unskillful thoughts. The Buddha advises above to switch to other thoughts which are skillful (which are the opposite of the three poisons), then advises to concentrate the mind (in the context of meditation).
Of course, outside of the context of meditation, one should recognize unskillful thoughts imbued with the three poisons, then switch to other themes.
Concerning idleness or laziness, the Sigalovada Sutta states:
"And what six ways of squandering wealth are to be avoided? Young man,
heedlessness caused by intoxication, roaming the streets at
inappropriate times, habitual partying, compulsive gambling, bad
companionship, and laziness are the six ways of squandering wealth.
"These are the six dangers inherent in laziness: saying, 'It's too
cold,' one does not work; saying, 'It's too hot,' one does not work;
saying, 'It's too late,' one does not work; saying, 'It's too early,'
one does not work; saying, 'I'm too hungry,' one does not work;
saying, 'I'm too full,' one does not work. With an abundance of
excuses for not working, new wealth does not accrue and existing
wealth goes to waste."
Although I couldn't find the exact sutta reference, this essay by Lily de Silva states:
In one sutta (A. III, 293) the Buddha explains how to prepare for a
peaceful death. One has to organize one's life and cultivate an
appropriate attitude for this purpose. The instructions given there
are as follows:
(1) One should not be fond of a busy life involved in various activities.
(2) One should not be fond of being talkative.
(3) One should not be fond of sleeping.
(4) One should not be fond of having too many companions.
(5) One should not be fond of too much social intercourse.
(6) One should not be fond of daydreaming.
There is a kind of a middle way advised above, where one should neither be too busy in too many activities, nor daydreaming or oversleeping or over-socializing.
If you have idle time on your hands, you can use it for skillful activities like reading good material (like this book), or by cultivating mindfulness.
In his booklet "How To Meditate", Ven. Yuttadhammo advises in "Chapter Six: Daily Life":
Once one has put aside activities that interfere with clarity of mind,
one can begin to incorporate meditative awareness into ordinary life.
There are two ways in which one can meditate on ordinary experience,
and they should be practiced together, as follows.
The first method is to focus one’s attention on the body, since it is
the most clearly evident aspect of experience. As in formal
meditation, the body is always available for observation, and thus
serves as a convenient means of creating clear awareness of reality in
daily life. Since the body is generally in one of four postures –
walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, one can simply become aware
of one’s posture as a meditation object to bring about clarity of
When cooking, cleaning, exercising, showering, changing clothes, even
on the toilet, one can be mindful of the movements of the body
involved, creating clear awareness of reality at all times. This is
the first method by which one can and should incorporate the
meditation practice directly into ordinary life.
The second method is the acknowledgement of the senses – seeing,
hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling. Ordinary sensory experience
tends to give rise to either liking or disliking; it therefore becomes
a cause for addiction or aversion and ultimately suffering when it is
not in line with one’s partialities. In order to keep the mind clear
and impartial, one should always try to create clear awareness at the
moment of sensory experience, rather than allowing the mind to judge
the experience according to its habitual tendencies. When seeing,
therefore, one should know it simply as seeing, reminding oneself
From the comments:
OP: Would it be possible to be mindful of discursive thoughts? The bodily and sensory mindfulnesses mentionned don't involve thoughts. Is
mindulness only perceptual?
This question is answered in Ven. Yuttadhammo's booklet "How To Meditate" in "Chapter One: What Is Meditation" referenced below.
The additional foundations of mindfulness after body, are feeling, thoughts and dhammas (mental objects).
Concerning feelings, if you feel happy or calm, acknowledge it as "happy, happy" or "calm, calm".
Concerning thoughts, when your mind drifts away, usually pondering about the past or future, as soon as you recognize it, acknowledge it as "thinking, thinking". The idea here is to detach from them and not cause you to react to them. For e.g. if you remember some past unpleasant event, it will make you feel unhappy. But through mindfulness, you just acknowledge and let it go. As soon as you realize that you are thinking and acknowledge it, the thinking might stop.
Concerning mental objects, the example given in the excerpt is only the five hindrances. But there are also others. For more information on the Foundations of Mindfulness, please read this essay entitled "The Way of Mindfulness" by Ven. Soma Thera.
When we feel happy, we acknowledge it in the same way, reminding
ourselves of the true nature of the experience, as “happy, happy,
happy”. It is not that we are trying to push away the pleasurable
sensation. We are simply insuring that we do not attach to it either,
and therefore do not create states of addiction, attachment, or
craving for the sensation.....
Likewise, when we feel calm, we say to ourselves, “calm, calm, calm”,
The third foundation is our thoughts. When we remember events in the
past, whether they bring pleasure or suffering, we say to ourselves,
“thinking, thinking”. Instead of giving rise to attachment or
aversion, we simply know them for what they are – thoughts. When we
plan or speculate about the future, we likewise simply come to be
aware of the fact that we are thinking, instead of liking or disliking
the content of the thoughts, and thus avoid the fear, worry, or stress
that they might bring.
The fourth foundation, the “dhammas”, contains many groupings of
mental and physical phenomena. Some of them could be included in the
first three foundations, but they are better discussed in their
respective groups for ease of acknowledgement. The first group of
dhammas is the five hindrances to mental clarity. These are the states
that obstruct one’s practise: desire, aversion, laziness, distraction,
and doubt. They are not only hindrances to attaining clarity of mind,
they are also the cause for all suffering and stress in our lives. It
is in our best interests to work intently to understand and discard
them from our minds, as this is, after all, the true purpose of
So when we feel desire, when we want something we don’t have, or are
attached to something we do, we simply acknowledge the wanting or the
liking for what it is, rather than erroneously translating desire into
need. We remind ourselves of the emotion for what it is, thus:
“wanting, wanting”, “liking, liking”. We come to see that desire and
attachment are stressful and causes for future disappointment when we
cannot obtain the things we want or lose the things we like.
When we feel angry, upset by mental or physical experiences that have
arisen, or disappointed by those that have not, we recognize this as
“angry, angry” or “disliking, disliking”. When we are sad, frustrated,
bored, scared, depressed, etc., we likewise recognize each emotion for
what it is, “sad, sad”, “frustrated, frustrated”, etc., and see
clearly how we are causing suffering and stress for ourselves by
encouraging these negative emotional states. Once we see the negative
results of anger, we will naturally incline away from it in the
When we feel lazy, we say to ourselves, “lazy, lazy” or “tired,
tired”, and we will find that we are able to regain our natural energy
in this way. When we are distracted, worried or stressed, we can say,
“distracted, distracted”, “worried, worried”, or “stressed, stressed”
and we will find that we are more focused. When we feel doubt or are
confused about what to do, we can say to ourselves “doubting,
doubting” or “confused, confused”, and likewise we will find that we
are more sure of ourselves as a result.
The clear awareness of these four foundations constitutes the basic
technique of meditation practise as explained in the following
chapters. It is therefore important to understand this theoretical
framework before beginning to undertake the practise of meditation.
Understanding and appreciating the importance of creating a clear
awareness about the objects of our experience as a replacement to our
judgemental thoughts is the first step in learning how to meditate.