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Although one can cultivate sati (recollection/mindfulness) through meditation & good conduct (silā), & one can learn wisdom via book knowledge as well as via direct seeing (for example rising & passing away of phenomena), how does one know (exactly) what to do/think about in every day life situations?

  • My teacher says it like this: You know what you're doing, why you're doing it, how you're doing it and that it's the four khanda doing it. It's short (hence as comment), but very practical and helpful. – user13579 May 15 at 10:41
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Improving Sati-Sampajañña is actually right samadhi. When you want to improve "every day life situations", then you do Sati-Sampajañña. this is exactly the purpose of Sati-Sampajañña: sorting thoughts and perceptions-feelings in the casual life, when you eat, drive a car and talk to people, before being physically secluded to do the jhanas...

Sati-Sampajañña is a bridge between sila and samadhi, especially for people who already are inclined to the sila that the buddha explains. for people who behave differently than whatever the buddha calls sila, they improve their sila by training for Sati-Sampajañña, or Satipațțhāna, ie watching their speech, their thoughts, their body movements, whatever daily life involves for a lay people...

Most people cannot hold naturally sila for more than a few days, and they can prolong that by forcing themselves, but they will fail eventually. So they have to develop the next step to fortify the first step. The people who are already well behaved as the buddha defines it, ie at the very least the ''5 precepts'', they can go directly to Sati-Sampajañña and they will fortify Sati-Sampajañña by going further than Sati-Sampajañña, ie training for the jhanas, ie samadhi.

Sati-Sampajañña is really for everybody: bikkhus and lay people, noble ones or not. Jhana is for people who "have gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building" for a few hours or days, which will mostly be bikkhus, precisely because lay people prefer to be busy with something else.

Then the next step is to get the fruit of sati, proper intention, proper examination, proper samadhi, ie panna, ie to terminate the mixture of ''meritorious activities with the beginning of investigation into ''reality'' '' that is the noble path, ie Sati-Sampajañña, right samadhi and sila, in order to become an arahant, or at the very least a sotapanna. You do that with carrying sati over samadhi, which would be called ''sati samadhi'', but that word does not exist in the suttas. Right samadhi is actually this ''sati samadhi''.

Is is like doing a recipe [for a say an omelette] : when you cook, you have a result in mind and you have raw food that you transform in order get the result you want

  • sampajanna is the raw food = vitakka, vedanna, sanna
  • sati sampajanna is (the beginning of) what you do with the raw food.

with sati you manipulate the raw food towards the direction of panna. Sati is a direction, a view, a goal where you want to go (and in this case the direction towards nibanna, panna, right view and so on).

Sampajanna is the raw food and you can do several things with that, just like you can do several things with an egg. For instance, the people who invented vipassana mediation, they play with sampajanna, ie with thoughts, feelings, perceptions, but they go in another direction than sati-sampajanna (even though they love to claim otherwise), because they refuse to judge and remove bad vitakka, sanna, vedana from what they experience, they lvoe the idea fo ''doing nothing'' and just watching perceptions, thoughts and so on, then they claim that this watching will get you to see anicca, then fear of dissolution, then some fruition, then sooner or later first path....

then you have samadhi, which is a a better food than sampajanna, and it must still be cooked, ie manipulated, treated, influenced to get panna. You can do several thing with the jhanas, typically you can just ''abide in the here and now'' to generate merit, or you try to reach nibanna.

People today always wonder how to combine vipassana with the jhanas. They also wonder how much active thinking there is in the jhanas (because they read the vitakka and vicara in first jhana, but nobody know what they mean). For instance,

  • some people say that there is zero thinking in any jhana
  • some people claim that there is only active thinking in 1st jhana, and zero thinking in other jhanas
  • some people say that there is active casual thinking in 1st jhana, zero active thinking in 2 and 3 jhana, but in 4th jhana, there is active thinking again, but this time, with uppekha and sati, and this thinking is when you do vipassana
  • some people claim there is active thinking in any jhana

well the answer to ''how to do vipassana in the jhana'' is precisely ''right samadhi'', because the buddha says it is with right samadhi that ''seeing things as they are'' occurs, ie the samadhi which comes from right view, right intention, sati and this right view, sati, and so on carries over to samadhi:

when you watch a tv show for several days, or read a big book, or hear a music which stays on your mind, you start saying the words that they use in the book or the tv show. Sometimes you an even start dreaming about the book or the show. or when you start living with new people, you start to use some of the words they use (and that you never ever used before). It is exactly this that is needed to convert samadhi into panna: you must carry the sati into samadhi.

With Sati-Sampajañña you saturate your ''mind'' (mano, citta, vinnana, whatever it is which memorizes and cognizes thougths) with sati, ie you think about and ponder the dhamma all the time, and this sati must carry over into samadhi, just like when you read a book for a long time, you start dreaming about it. And whatever thinking you have in whatever jhana you dwell, the ''mind'' (typically in the jhana, it is the citta which is more important than mano or vinnana, because it is the citta which determines the next birth and the casual jhanas are all about merits and births) will have to be influenced by sati, right view, right intention which is this stuff:

‘The first absorption is a basis for ending the defilements.’ That’s what I said, but why did I say it? Take a mendicant who, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption. They contemplate the phenomena there—included in form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness—as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as an abscess, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self. They turn their mind away from those things, and apply it to the deathless: ‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’

and the result is:

Abiding in that they attain the ending of defilements. If they don’t attain the ending of defilements, with the ending of the five lower fetters they’re reborn spontaneously, because of their passion and love for that meditation. They are extinguished there, and are not liable to return from that world.

like when you give an impulsion to a boat on a water to make the boat go forward ''alone'', sati from Sati-Sampajañña must give a momentum to samadhi. If there is thinking in the jhanas, then it is good news since it gives a new chance to influence the citta in samadhi, if the sati of Sati-Sampajañña is ''forgotten''; but if there is no active thinking, then all this influence relies on Sati-Sampajañña.

it is exactly the same thing with anapanasati: the raw food is listed as ''kāyasankhāraṃ'' and ''cittasankhāraṃ'' and you have to influence them with sati, right view, whatever wisdom and little tricks are memorized, in order to be sensitive to them and calm them until the citta is in samadhi, as per tetrad 3, instead of being distracted by rupa...

And anapanasati suffers from the same situation as the samadhi above : nobody knows what ''sankhāraṃ'' means and nobody knows what it means ''to be sensitive to the sankhāras'', in order to calm them [tetrad 3] and abandon them [tetrad 4], so you have to wait for a buddha to explain all that.

  • I liked your answer very much. You referred to MN 118 at the end, do you believe that each of the 16 steps require upacara samadhi? – Val May 9 at 17:03
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No, not exactly. I'm all for sati and silā, and while this cultivation is conducive to Samādhi, creates a beneficial environment for Samādhi, there is no direct linkage. This is why people who spend all their time following rules, regulations, and rituals have lost the art of developing Samādhi. Or why asexuals are not closer to Samādhi. Samādhi arises when it's own conditions have been met, whether it is suppression OR eradication of the fetters/defilements. Samādhi doesn't care how "good" you are, if you program your mind to shut out defilements for even a moment, Samādhi will respond in kind. This is why Buddhism decays over time, because of a lack of direct comprehension of what Samādhi is and what it requires. The result of Samādhi - here's the important point - is energized and positive affirmation of the value of sati and silā, and rededication to it!

Wisdom is not gained from books, not even the Suttas. Wisdom arises in Samadhi, it pierces the false ignorance about identity (anatta), nature (annica), and the meaning of life (dukkha & Nirvana).

"how does one know (exactly) what to do/think about in every day life situations?" How then should we live? I would first put forth the challenge as to whether these things are true, because if so it's got vast implications and one actually must reconsider how to live.

Entirely from personal experience, but I would love to see proofs either for or against.

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As the other answer explained, you start with Sila and the Right Effort:

"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."

The "Effort" component is the part where the practitioner "generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent" - or in modern terms, tries to establish the new habit (to keep doing those four things).

The part that makes this effort "Right" is the focus on "non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen", "abandonment of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen", "arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen", "maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen" - mostly in our own mind, but also in other minds too.

So we are trying to develop a habit of doing this all the time, in all situations, regardless of circumstances. Once the habit is fully established, you can't help but have Sati. Because you can't actually do those Four Things without being mindful of whatever you're doing and how it looks in terms of the four things.

It's like learning to drive. At some point your mind completely internalizes the new skill and the "non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen", "abandonment of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen", "arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen", "maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen" becomes a normal part of how you always function.

And of course, this habit of continuously managing your mind in terms of these Four Things affects the actual way you behave in everyday life situations, things you say and choices you make. This new level of awareness, that comes from the practice of The Four Right Efforts, is what's called Sati-Sampajañña.


P.S. the above may seem like a typical Pali Canon style "water" - like the many suttas saying that you should be good and not bad, and apply effort, and remember all that etc. It may seem so obvious as to be almost useless. "Come on, we get this part, we need to be good - get to the point already!"

However, the point here is that Buddha's teaching is "good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end". The Buddhist ethics, the Buddhist meditation, and the Buddhist Liberation are actually progression of the same principle. So it's not like Nirvana is a departure from Jhanas, or that Jhanas are a departure from The Four Right Efforts, or that the Four Right Efforts are a departure from the pancasila (Five Precepts). They are all based on the Buddha's fundamental insight into how mind works, as explained in the Four Noble Truths. Dharma is an amazing that system whose elements fit together perfectly like a puzzle!

This is why the steps of the Eightfold Path form a natural progression, with phases following one another, as one attains and masters each step.

But the principle remains the same: non-creation of causes of dukkha! - so first on the Pancasila level (steps 1-5) we don't create coarse causes of dukkha and create coarse factors of the Path; then on the Sati level (steps 6-7) we don't create subtle causes of dukkha and create subtle factors of the Path; then on the Meditation level (step 8) we don't create very subtle causes of dukkha.

The causes of dukkha are always of the same nature; they are of the nature of conflict, falsity, division, egoism, negativity, craving, aversion - on all levels they are the same issues: in external behavior, in day-to-day mind, and in meditation mind. The factors of the path are always the same factors: honesty; sobriety; understanding; perseverance; faith; positivity; being happy with very little etc. - in external behavior, in day-to-day mind, and in the meditation mind. The wisdom that develops from level to level is of the same kind: the wisdom of not-overgeneralizing, the wisdom of objectivity, the wisdom of clarity and seeing the essence, the wisdom of not getting swayed.

So in order to grow that wisdom we divide all our physical and mental actions (incl. thoughts) into two kinds: causes of dukkha, maintainers of Samsara (the nature of conflict) on one hand - and factors of the path, leading to Nirvana (the nature of peace) on the other, and this is what we practice on all levels: regular life, everyday mind, and meditation. And as we get better at this, we keep growing the factors of the path that help us to go forward, and growing the wisdom that shows us the way forward.

Which is why, in order to improve sampajanna (clear comprehension) we practice nothing else but the same principle: don't generate the causes of dukkha; generate the factors of the path.

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