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I am a science student at an university and I practise mindfulness in the Mahasi tradition. My question is, how can I be mindful while studying? This is a very important question for me since most of my time as a student is spent in studying.

Thank you very much.

  • I thing your best bet is to get the attention of Ven. yuttadhammo, bakmoon, anthony, sankha-kulathantille or lanka who I think are from your tradition. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena May 13 '15 at 14:14
  • Yes indeed, it would be great to get an answer from any of them (especially Ven. Yuttadhammo). I have heard him talk about mindfulness in the context of daily life but pretty sure that he hasn't discussed mindfulness in the context of student life. – Samma-Sati May 15 '15 at 3:33
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Great and important question.

There isnt really anything different by being mindful while one is studying. Its not like the method or technique changes if one is studying or if one is e.g. doing the dishes. One is mindful of the 5 aggregates of clinging which are; material form, feelings, perception, mental formations and consciousness.

They take place all the time and are present in everything we do. When one is reading there is the awareness of the first aggregate of material form that is the eye-sense-base and its corresponding external object which is light and visible forms. There is also the feeling arising when contact happens i.e. when the mind contacts the object. Also there is perception and consciousness which work in tandem to cognize an object. And there is mental formations present i.e. the volition to see, to advert the mind to the object.

This is the same when one is studying. One can be aware of the reading, knowing that now reading is taking place. If one is studying in a chair or sofa one can be aware of the posture one uses. When one is turning the pages in a book one can be aware of the movement and note "turning, turning" or "moving, moving". Of course one has to always sent the mind out to the object in order to be in the present moment.

The important thing here is the noting/reminding as these phenomena arises, are present and when they cease. Its important to catch them and observe them thereby guarding the sense doors. Here is a quote from the book "Fundamentals Of Insight Meditation", chapter: The Right Method, p. 7-12:

"Every time you see, hear, touch, or perceive, you must try to see the mental and physical processes that enter through the six sense doors as they really are. When you see, the seeing is real. This you must note as “seeing, seeing.” In the same way, when you hear, note “hearing.” When you smell, note “smelling.” When you taste, note “tasting. ” When you touch, note “touching.” Tiredness, hotness, aches, and such unpleasant or unbearable sensations arise from contact too. Observe them: “tiredness,” “hot,” “pain,” and so on. Thoughts and ideas may also occur. Note them as “thinking,” “imagining,” “pleasure,” “delight,” etc., as they arise."

There is also another great book by Ven. Yuttadhammo called "How To Meditate: A Beginner's Guide to Peace". This is a well written book with solid instructions and information about the technique. Here is a quote from Chapter Four: Fundamentals, p. 19:

"The first important principle is that meditation must be practiced in the present moment. During meditation, one's mind should be focused on the experience occurring at each moment, never dwelling in the past or skipping ahead to the future. One should avoid thoughts about how much time one has been sitting or how much time is left. One's mind should always be noting the objects as they arise in the present moment, not straying even one moment into the past or future.

When one is out of touch with the present moment, one is out of touch with reality. Each experience only lasts a single moment, so it is important to note experiences at the moment they occur, recognizing their arising, persisting, and ceasing, using the mantra to create a clear awareness of their essential nature. Only in this way can we come to understand the true nature of reality."

So as Ven. Yuttadhammo states, the practice of meditation must take place in the present moment and if one strays from the present moment i.e. when mindfulness is absent and the mind follows after an object and identifies with it, then one does not have reality as an object anymore meaning that insight knowledge into how reality functions, i.e. the 3 signs of existence, cannot arise.

Its all much better decribed in Ven. Yuttadhammo's book. I think it will give you all the answers you need. Here is a website where you can find the other books written and here is a website that holds a categorized selection of the youtube videos made by Ven. Yuttadhammo. You could look in the meditation category for further information about your question.

You might find this video useful. Its called Fundamentals of Meditation Practice.

I hope this might be of some help to you. If you have any questions to what i wrote feel free to ask and i might be able to answer.

Lanka

  • @Bhante. You are most welcome. I say thank you too for providing us with all those teachings. Your hard work is well appreciated. I especially like the video-series of Dhammapada verses. – Lanka May 21 '15 at 11:02
  • @yuttadhmmo but wouldn't this noting interfere with reading or studying ? it is not like walking , we can not keep noting as "reading , reading ". What would be the right practice ? – nish1013 May 30 '15 at 10:38
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I am not sure if this fits your tradition, but perhaps it might be a value addition to you or perhaps another reader.

The best source to find out on how to be mindful is to get the information from the Maha Satipatthana Sutta. Here it mentioned that the awareness should be on the 4 foundations of mindfulness (these relate to the aggregates). In doing this you should pay particular attention to arising and passing of phenomena. You have to divide and dissect the foundation that you are looking at - e.g. if you look at body you should divide and dissect until you come to the level of Kalapa (sub atomic particles). You have to look piecing and penetratingly looking inside and out - e.g. if you take the body look at phenomena on the surface and also inside like in the organs. What ever part of the body or if you look at the whole body you should be sensitive to seeing phenomena arising and passing. You should try to actively or passively calm the fabrications.

Now coming back to studying there will be a lot of mental activities. Some of this can be mental or verbal fabrications. You cannot avoid this. But any mental activity creates a sensation. You can keep looking at these sensations with out reaction. Pleasant sensation can be used to eradicate craving, stressful sensation to eradicate aversion and neutral sensations to eradicate delusion (see A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma for the technicalities). Also try keeping your mind focused on the studying. If it goes to something else bring back your mind to the breath for a short while and continue studying keeping your thinking limited to studying. When taking a break whatever object your mind is on keep dividing and dissecting and look at it piercing and penetratingly. Also look at your breathing if you feel agitated or restless when studying for long hours. If you feel sleepy scan your body part by part staying on one place until you can feel something; if your body is already sensitive scan in rapid space. What ever the case keep your mind equanimous (devoid of craving and clinging) towards any sensation you experience.

Hope this is helpful. If you need anymore clarification please comment or post another question.

  • Thanks but I would like advice from more users, particularly those who practise in the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition. – Samma-Sati May 13 '15 at 5:11
  • Sure. It can be an alternative approach. Though it might not be in line with the tradition you mention. Perhaps someone else can add another answer. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena May 13 '15 at 5:28
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A Brahmin disciple approached Buddha and told "I've learnt many things in my life. But I really can't remember them" Buddha answered that the reason for forgetting what you learn are Pancha Nivarana(Five Mental Hindrances). They are

  1. Desire
  2. Ill Will/Anger
  3. sloth and torpor(Tiredness/Sleepiness)
  4. Excitement and Worry
  5. Perplexity

The solution to avoid this is practicing meditation.

Source http://www.maithri.com/links/articles/mind5hindrn.htm

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This is a tricky one. I have my method, and hopefully you will find it useful.

During study the mind is actively engaged in understanding the subject at hand. So it is strenuous and perhaps pointless or even detrimental to try to understand the subject and penetrating deeply into the reality of the mental phenomena at play. To me, there is a very good compromise between the two goals.

One of the main characteristics of vipassana is to see things exactly as they are. There are many methods to acomplish this, among them the Mahasi Vipassana Technique. The famous instructions the Buddha gave to Bahya apply here, in my opinion. Namely "In the seen, just the seen; in the sensed, just the sensed; in the cognised, just the cognised". Therefore, I usualy try to study with the aim of understanding the ideas without adding defilements to the ideas. During study you may not be directly concerned with deep insight, so you are not directing your mind to that purpose. But you will be more dispassionate, peaceful, alert and with more mental clarity. This is useful for vipassana, much like samatha is useful for vipassana.

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