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My question is basically as to what constitutes skillful and unskillful activity. I noticed I return to unskillful craving-related activities when I am idle. However, I cannot ascertain what is skillful in terms of activities. I would think the application of effort is important in terms of an activity, because I am often contemplating/analyzing ideas, but in a slightly lazy way.

Concretely, is idleness bad? For example, I often take public transport, wherein I contemplate certain subjects. But, I often tell myself I should read in public transport instead.

I think to me, some contemplative activity occurs when idle, but it is not focused, nor effortful. Can mere contemplation without much effort or focus be called meditation? Or is it simply wasting time?

Thank you.

EDIT: Also, I would think activity and industriousness generates energy in some sense. What states accompany idleness? (e.g. lethargy, fragmentation, etc.)

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    Seek activities that awake enthuziasm in you. I keep hearing this these days so I am just forwarding it. I too am of the lazy idle type:) also dont be hard on yourself about this, you are human. Humans are very diverse and all humans belong where they are, how they are. – user4878 Sep 28 '17 at 16:59
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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 mind. .......

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 “seeing, seeing”.

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 meditation.

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 future.

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.

  • Would it be possible to be mindful of discursive thoughts? The bodily and sensory mindfulnesses mentionned don't involve thoughts. Is mindulness only perceptual? – Eggman Sep 28 '17 at 18:42
  • Replied in the answer. – ruben2020 Oct 1 '17 at 6:00
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+500

Skillful activity is getting your head and your heart to respect each other, and in being mindful as you go about in life. Then your head and your heart can take each other far when you can remain mindful, even amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Your heart needs the help of your head to generate and act on more skillful emotions. Your head needs your heart to remind you that what's really important in life is putting an end to suffering. They need each other. When you come to this realism, you will dwell in “kaya passaddi”.

To explain the above, I must give you another meaning to words like “Kaya”. Such words come under Adhi-vacana – meaning - the same word has different meanings depending on the sutta, and how it gets used. Here “kaya” refers to action; action of the mind. So, “passaddi” refers to serene, tranquil nature of action. Actions of mind become tranquil only when the mind is devoid of “heat”, resulting from the existence of defilements such as lobha (greed) and dosa (aversion).

There is a tendency of mind to grasp objects. The action of mind (kaya) is always to grasp something. When one’s mind reaches the stage of passaddi (quietude, serenity), the action of grasping takes place in a tranquil manner. A person who has developed this quietude of mind discerns greed or aversion exactly at the time that these qualities appear in his mind. This discernment which synchronizes with the arising of greed or aversion in mind is the correct way of “anupassana”. Anupassana means “discard according to the principles learned” (“anu” means according to and “passana” means to get rid of).

Let’s take an example where a youth coming face to face with a pretty girl. The sight of a pretty girl is a sensuous sense object for a young guy. If this guy is one who cultivates good or worthwhile qualities in the mind, then, he sense the arising of greed at the sight of the pretty girl. Therefore, he applies “anupassana” in respect of the sense object. Likewise, if this girl walks past the boy completely ignoring him, that could cause anger in him. If the boy could note the anger in his mind, then, he applies “anupassana”. As his sole objective was to maintain a wholesome state of mind, devoid of greed and aversion, he was successful in doing so at the sight of a pretty girl. This is meditation, if you take it in its truest sense of meaning.

When you conduct yourself in this way, in whatever you do, or wherever that you go, then you experience that more often than not, your body calms down and your mind is completely relaxed. Your brain's thinking is slower, your mind is clear and you may even feel slightly drowsy or idle. But worry not, as this is “being intelligent”. Being intelligent signifies being able to exist with a happy, blissful mind. Happiness is the tranquil nature of mind. Happiness arises in mind. It manifests through bodily and verbal actions. Such a person will go about things in a happy, blissful way.

However, such a mental state is shrouded with our own suffering if we cannot get our head and heart to respect each other, and in being mindful. Once this is done and once the suffering is eliminated, dormant happiness begins to surface in a mind. Then anything that you do constitutes skillful activity.

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I think my teacher put this best - "half of Zen practice these days is teaching people how to be a loser!" In the West (and Japan), at least, we are addicted to work and productivity. The most "virtuous" among us are those who forgo sleep, work an asinine amount of hours, and generally occupy their time with all manner of industry. It's at once a delusion and an addiction. These social norms impel us to monetize every moment. The also make us wholly negligent of the calm required for effective internal contemplation.

When chopping wood, chop wood. When carrying water, carry water. When you're on the bus, just sit on the bus! Let loose. Relax. Let the samatha arise. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

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    I find it delightful to read your answers! Very helpful! – user4878 Jan 5 '18 at 16:45
  • Glad I could help! – user698 Jan 5 '18 at 18:15
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Would it be possible to be mindful of discursive thoughts? The bodily and sensory mindfulnesses mentionned don't involve thoughts. Is mindulness only perceptual?

"Inactive" needn't mean "mindless".

I gather that "mindful" is supposed to mean "remembering" or "keeping in mind".

I suppose that what you remember, bear in mind, keep in mind, is called "the object of meditation".

Sometimes people use a visual object of meditation: a kasina, maybe a candle, or a mandala, or even a landscape, or wall.

Or the object of a meditation might be metta bhavana (the development of metta).

I notice that "object" (at least in English) can have two meanings: it's the immediate perceptible thing which you concentrate on and pay attention it; and "the object of something" can mean your purpose or goal, your reason for doing something. In metta bhavana I suppose it's both: you focus on metta in order to bring it into being.

Anther type of meditation or mindfulness in Buddhism is "mindfulness with/when breathing" (anapanasati). I think that has two components, i.e. breathing and being mindful. To the extent that "mindful" means "remembering", though, I don't think that means "remembering to breath" -- I think it means more like, "remembering the object of meditation while being aware of breathing".

Anapanasati is famous: people teach it. Perhaps it's taught in too much detail, e.g. in this answer I tried to answer a question just about the mechanics of "breathing long" (selecting quotes from one 500-page book about anapanasati in general). Forms of meditation are also described in the suttas (and elsewhere) and contemporary teachers (meditation centre, monasteries) teach in person.

Another object of meditation, some else to take as the "object" of meditation, is "letting go" or "non-attachment" (see for example this answer, or the same texts in a bit more detail here).


You're asking what you can do when inactive. I guess in general you can study, do homework ... maybe socialize! But "inactivity" might be an opportunity to practice the meditation portion of the noble eightfold path. That (subject) leads to more that's been written on the subject: e.g. Right Mindfulness.


I think to me, some contemplative activity occurs when idle, but it is not focused, nor effortful. Can mere contemplation without much effort or focus be called meditation?

I don't know. And maybe it depends on the school of Buddhism, and the translation (not just between languages but between people.)

For example, "No Attachment to Dust" ends with,

Live with cause and leave results to the great law of the universe. Pass each day in peaceful contemplation.

... which implies that contemplation (or as you put it, "contemplative activity" or "mere contemplation") is recommended.

I guess the flip side though is that "contemplation" might be a cover for thirst and attachment -- if by "contemplation" you meant some "obsessing about gaining something", for example.

Apparently the body needs to eat but shouldn't be encouraged to eat obsessively. And the eye is used to see, but, they say, sometimes people try to endless fill their eye with sights. Similarly it's possible for the mind to develop some craving for objects of the mind (ideas and emotions maybe, news and views) ... maybe that would be a "wrong" kind of contemplation ... not ariya, or, not "peaceful".


I would think activity and industriousness generates energy in some sense.

In some sense, yes.

But I'd also try to recommend detachment as liberating.

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My question is basically as to what constitutes skillful and unskillful activity.

Skilful is without greed, hatred & delusion:

And what is the wholesome? Abstention from killing living beings is wholesome; abstention from taking what is not given is wholesome; abstention from misconduct in sensual pleasures is wholesome; abstention from false speech is wholesome; abstention from malicious speech is wholesome; abstention from harsh speech is wholesome; abstention from gossip is wholesome; non-covetousness is wholesome; non-ill will is wholesome; right view is wholesome. This is called the wholesome.

7. "And what is the root of the wholesome? Non-greed is a root of the wholesome; non-hate is a root of the wholesome; non-delusion is a root of the wholesome. This is called the root of the wholesome.

MN 9


I noticed I return to unskillful craving-related activities when I am idle.

This is normal for ordinary people.

However, I cannot ascertain what is skillful in terms of activities.

For the lay person, unskilful is serious bad kamma, such as killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, intoxicants, gambling, porn, etc.

But mild sensual pleasures, such as sports, music, arts, committed sex, etc, is not unwholesome.

I would think the application of effort is important in terms of an activity, because I am often contemplating/analyzing ideas, but in a slightly lazy way.

For serious meditators, effort is important. But for the average layperson, effort is important for important duties, such as work. When not working, having a rest or idle time is important. The work of meditation is different to worldly work. Because meditation work creates peace & energy, rest is not required, unlike with worldly work.

Concretely, is idleness bad?

If you need to rest, no, idleness is not bad. For example, I like to have a nap in the middle of the day on weekends.

For example, I often take public transport, wherein I contemplate certain subjects. But, I often tell myself I should read in public transport instead.

Contemplation is OK.

I think to me, some contemplative activity occurs when idle, but it is not focused, nor effortful. Can mere contemplation without much effort or focus be called meditation? Or is it simply wasting time?

In Buddhism, we can contemplate on subjects of Dhamma. On public transport, one can sit in formal meditation or samadhi, not thinking about anything. Or, otherwise, one can contemplate on the sense objects seen in a dhammic way.

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Practical, Eggman, Nyom Volker, who ever interested:

The Buddha gave his monks the duty:

to either dwell in silence,

3rd of Jhana,

or to talk on Dhamma.

So if not jhanaing,

listen, think, read, reflect, talk...

on Dhamma is quite fine.

Don't 'relaxe' on unskillful causes. When ever possible, instead of letting attention get off, take the hand of an admirable, friend, ni-mitta,

Wether by mind, speech*,

Or the body of breath.

Appamada!

[*]

Food is used to become free of desire after food, so train your hunger all the time and don't let you become a Sea Squirt

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial purposes or other wordily trade]

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