In this first week we
begin to practice Mindfulness of Breathing, an ancient technique that
is found in several spiritual traditions. It forms a solid foundation in
meditative concentration and can result in increased levels of calm and
This week we begin to explore the first of the Sublime Abode practices -
Mettā or Lovingkindness Meditation. If you are able to meditate for
more than one sitting each day, please work with Mettā in one session
and Mindfulness of Breathing in the other.
this fourth week we continue to focus mainly on Mettā (lovingkindness)
Meditation. This is the foundation for the other 3 “sublime abode”
practices. If you are able to meditate for more than one sitting each
day, please work with Mettā in one session and Mindfulness of Breathing
in the other.
this sixth week we explore Appreciative Joy meditation. If you are
sitting twice each day, then please pick a complementary technique from
those we have already met for your other session. Work steadily and
gently to establish your regular sittings. We’ll also briefly outline
the final brahmavihara practice (for use beyond the course) and conclude
our look at the precepts.
begin our first
vipassanā meditation practice and will be working with vipassanā for the
rest of the course. If you are sitting twice each day please
use one session for vipassanā and the other for one of the samatha
methods we have been using thus far. If meditating once each day please
always focus on the current technique.
this ninth week we begin Choiceless Awareness - a form of vipassanā
meditation that is fluid and unstructured, freeing us to explore all
kinds of sensory phenomena. We also explore the Noble Eightfold Path
which is an approach to life that brings freedom from suffering and
ultimately aids liberation.
Buddha taught a path of liberation that is open to all. His main
concern was not for our temporary happiness, nor that our relationships
and communities be harmonious, nor even that we live long and healthy
lives. These, and many other beneficial things, may indeed happen as we
apply the Buddha’s teaching; but they are not its purpose. Territorial
disputes, environmental crises and social inequality are all burning
issues of our time; but whilst our response may be aided by acting on
Buddhist principles, they are not what his teaching is about.
Buddha’s only concern was that we should open our eyes and see the
reality of existence for ourselves so that we may, like him, take the
steps that are necessary to be released from all forms of suffering,
forever. Meditation is a way to begin this process of awakening.
“I teach not only the fact of Suffering,
but also the deliverance from it.
Mind is the originator of (unhappy) states.
Mind is chief; they are mind made.
If one speaks or acts with a wicked mind,
then suffering follows one,
like the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox.
Mind is the originator of (happy) states.
Mind is chief; they are mind made.
If one speaks or acts with a pure mind,
then happiness follows one,
like one’s own shadow that never leaves.”
- The Buddha
is a method of training the mind. Much of our life is conducted
unconsciously, thoughtlessly. We operate on automatic pilot most of the
time, behaving in ways to which we have become accustomed; without much
regard for the current situation, our motivation, or the outcome of our
actions. This unconscious way of living brings suffering,
unsatisfactoriness and stress into our own lives and to the
relationships we have with others. Through our ignorance and selfishness
we engineer our suffering and deny ourselves the possibility of greater
careless way of living brings us much grief: not only are our
relationships often tainted by anger, hurt and jealousy, but even our
self-view is distorted through clouded perceptions and muddled thinking.
Living consciously is a way of changing our relationship to the world
around us, and beginning a journey into discovering its (and our) true
is a tool to help us develop greater awareness, and this awareness
allows us to develop insight into the nature of reality. Why do we
behave the way we do? Who are we anyway? Why do so many things
ultimately seem so disappointing and unsatisfactory? Why do beings
suffer so much? Is there an end to suffering? The experience of
meditation allows us for the first time to develop the clarity that can
facilitate a dramatic change in our perceptions. We can begin to live in
a way that is mindful. Life can be transformed by this new awareness
and the insights it brings; it can become kinder, more compassionate,
joyful, and balanced.
has been a feature of the major religious traditions for millennia but
somewhere along the way most of us have become separated from it and no
longer use it in our daily lives. Maybe we had a problem with the
particular belief system with which the contemplative experience was
associated, or perhaps the practice of meditation had been deemed the
special preserve of the professionally religious within that tradition.
Whatever the reason, many of us reach a stage at which we realize that
we need to reintroduce a measure of contemplation into our lives - we
need to slow down, take time to consider, to live consciously. Often we
are drawn to those traditions that have kept the meditative experience
as a core teaching and this may lead us to explore what Buddhism has to
offer. We may not be looking to take up a different religion but
recognise that some spiritual traditions have useful and practical
methods of supporting our spiritual development and awakening regardless
of the religious framework we maintain.
this course, and on our cushions, we shall be exploring techniques
derived from the Buddha’s teaching as contained in the suttas of the
Pāli Canon. These teachings from 2500 years ago were given by the Buddha
and his close disciples in India, and were preserved by oral recitation
until they found written expression in the Pāli language in Sri Lanka.
Buddhism may seem very foreign to some of us but, fear not, this course -
and indeed Buddhism itself - does not ask anyone to adopt any beliefs
that are not confirmed by their own experience.
faith arises, through direct evidence of the efficacy of a particular
teaching, it can be difficult to determine the path we should follow.
The Buddha gave some solid advice to non-Buddhists as to how they should
most profitably judge the validity of the myriad competing theories and
not be led by reports, tradition or hearsay. Do not be led by the
authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic or speculation, nor by
considering appearances, nor by delighting in speculative views, nor by
seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher’. But …
when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome, wrong
and bad, then give them up … And when you know for yourselves that
certain things are wholesome and good, then accept them and follow
to keep this in mind as you work through the units of this course.
Accept nothing simply because it is written down here or even because it
is contained in a particular discourse. We will be using techniques
that have stood the test of time and that others have found helpful. All
that is required at this preliminary stage is that we have a degree of
confidence that because these techniques have proven beneficial to
others there is a reasonable likelihood that they may also be of value
in our lives.
should remain aware that the practices introduced in the course are
derived from a living tradition. The explanations given will be
consistent with this tradition, but are couched in modern language. In
the interest of clarity we will try to avoid references to other
spiritual traditions and western psychology. Buddhism based on the texts
of the Pāli Canon has valuable teachings beyond the scope of what can
be covered here, and you are warmly encouraged to explore it further.
The Path Of Meditation And Action
meditation styles can be divided into two groups: there are forms of
meditation that are undertaken with the objective of acquiring a greater
degree of calmness, tranquillity or serenity through concentration on a
single object (usually called samatha meditation), and other forms that
aim at gaining insight into the nature of existence (usually called
vipassanā meditation). It is probably more helpful to see samatha and
vipassanā as the beneficial results of a developed meditation practice
rather than a strict division referring to types of techniques as they
can co-exist in harmony. The Buddhist path has a single goal, and
engagement with any of these practices may help us to work towards it.
Nyanatiloka, a Western monk of the last century, summed up the
complementary nature of the two categories very well: he wrote that
samatha or tranquillity is “an unperturbed, peaceful and lucid state of
mind attained by strong mental concentration. Though as a distinct way
of practice, it aims at the attainment of the meditative Absorptions
(jhāna), a high degree of tranquil concentration … is indispensable
for Insight too. Tranquillity frees the mind from impurities and inner
obstacles, and gives it greater penetrative strength.” In contrast,
vipassanā or insight “is the penetrative understanding by direct
meditative experience, of the impermanency, unsatisfactoriness and
impersonality of all material and mental phenomena of existence. It is
Insight that leads to entrance into the supermundane states of Holiness
and to final liberation”.
will notice how prominent are the words ‘act’ and ‘action’ in these
pages; and you may find this surprising for a text on Buddhist
meditation. Meditation is not just about sitting on cushions. There is
certainly merit in taking timeout for concentration and mindfulness but
it is also part of a broader path to the complete cessation of all
suffering, and this can only be viable if our every action is informed
by our practice and by wholesome ethical considerations. One of the best
measures we have of the effectiveness of our meditation sittings is in
the actions that result from the time we spend on the cushion. If they
are more skilful then they would otherwise be, then this is an
indication that our time has not been wasted. Volitional actions - those
actions of body, speech and mind that we intentionally commit - are
what shape our lives. This kamma is the major determinant of the degree
of happiness and sorrow we will experience. Through working with gentle
determination on this path of bhāvanā, or development, we will be better
able to ensure that the fruits of those actions are wholesome and that
we create the conditions where liberation may be possible.
it should never be seen as its primary purpose, Buddhist meditation can
be very effective in improving our everyday lives and the happiness of
others. By the changes wrought in our own minds, through the meditative
process, our understanding of behaviour improves immeasurably. This
allows us to bring kindness, respect and compassion to all our
interactions in a way that was perhaps absent or compromised before. Our
actions are informed by the mindfulness we bring to our daily
activities, and become more balanced and appropriate to the reality of
the situations we meet.
The Route Of Serenity And Bliss
meditation, and the sorts of mental states achieved through it, are
common to many religious traditions but take distinctive forms in the
Buddhist tradition and are central to it. To see samatha as only a
preparation for vipassanā would be erroneous as the samatha approach
forms an authentic and deep training and one for which many people are
most suited. The jhānas, the highly developed mental states that arise
from samatha practice, can offer the potential of a more joyful path
than could be expected through vipassanā practice alone. The
descriptions of the jhānas that we find in the Pāli Canon are replete
with beautiful terms like joy, happiness, bliss, rapture, the
abandonment of pain and grief. Whilst complete liberation within a
single lifetime is a goal for some, and that would require insight,
others take the longer view and choose to work methodically to create
the optimum conditions for achieving that final liberation in a later
birth. For these people samatha meditation may continue to provide the
sustenance and development that they seek.
first technique that we will use as a samatha practice is Mindfulness
of Breathing or ānāpānasati and this will form the foundation for the
rest of our work. Through training the mind by fixing our attention on a
simple object such as the breathing we develop a skill that is needed
in all other forms of meditation: the ability to hone in precisely on an
object and to be completely with it for a sustained period. Besides
acquiring this necessary skill, the practice of itself brings greater
calm and serenity.
ānāpānasati we begin to work with a series of interrelated techniques
that are perhaps a little less abstract. Still part of the samatha
grouping, the cultivation of the brahmavihāras or sublime abiding works
primarily on an emotional level to bring about positive mental states.
The method used could be summarised as empathy, and we approach each of
four qualities in a methodical way; gradually building our skills by
focusing on them in turn and working in distinct sections for the
purpose of training.
practical result of working with these four techniques is that we open
our hearts to what is wholesome and nurturing and cease to be capable of
acting in ways that are hostile and destructive. We open to
lovingkindness - working to include every sentient being. If we fully
develop lovingkindness we become considerate and caring in relationships
with others. Through the application of lovingkindness, our actions are
incapable of being influenced by ill will.
lovingkindness we move on to work with compassion; feeling with people
who suffer. When we understand the universality of suffering then at the
deepest level we can begin to act in ways that minimise our
contribution to the pain that the world endures. Again, this works on a
personal level - we act to reduce our own suffering - and also in
relation to every being with which we are connected. Through the
application of compassion, our actions are incapable of being influenced
we come to the third brahmavihāra, appreciative joy, we consider what
is glorious in the lives around us. This is celebratory and distinctly
unselfish. We develop an awareness of the beauty that exists even in the
lives of people who usually present us with difficulties; fully aware
that in some cases it may be us who fit this category. By developing the
ability to “enjoy the joy”, wherever it is found, we reinforce our
understanding of commonality and our resolution to work to extend
happiness through our actions. Through the application of appreciative
joy, our actions are incapable of being influenced by apathy or
fourth practice is on equanimity and is the culmination of all that has
gone before. We will only touch on it briefly during the course as it
requires a firm foundation in the other sublime abodes; but the method
is outlined so that it can be used beyond the course. With Equanimity we
work very deeply to see the patterns that usually allow
us to be partial. We normally selectively give and selectively withhold
throughout our interactions with others. We like, we dislike; we
favour, we act with prejudice. The other three brahmavihāra practices
have shown us, and developed in us, an understanding of how non-separate
we really are from others: we seek happiness and freedom from suffering
just like everyone else; we engage in destructive activities just like
others. Once that commonality is acknowledged at the deepest level,
through our meditation practice, we come to a realisation that the
respect we show for any other being can be no different from that which
we ourselves would wish to enjoy. Through this practice we work at
balancing and overcoming partiality. Through the application of
equanimity, our actions are incapable of being influenced by resentment
a process of training, we will work methodically through various
sections and take a person-centred approach with each of the
brahmavihāras; but the canonical goal is of an all-encompassing,
universal application of these qualities. Once we have acquired the
ability to freely share each of the brahmavihāra in a strong and
equanimous way, then we can move forward to impartial, fully inclusive
and boundless application of all four qualities. By being exposed to the
different brahmavihāra techniques the subtle differences between the
different qualities will become more readily apparent. Without this
approach it is common for meditators to lack precision during their
sittings: all positive emotions are classed as lovingkindness, for
example, rather than carefully ascertaining how lovingkindness differs
from compassion. Until we have this clarity it is difficult to optimally
develop these positive states; we descend instead into generalised
pleasant thoughts rather than creating an environment in which serious
work can happen and transformation of the heart may occur.
is the theory. It may all at this stage seem a little far-fetched (and
some of it may seem undesirable or even unwise) but very soon the value
of working in this way will become apparent. We begin to notice it first
in small ways through our improved everyday communications with others.
By opening to, and developing, what is already there - lovingkindness,
compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity - we can ensure that we are
well equipped to cause least harm and greatest help to ourselves and
others. Whatever destructive patterns we may currently employ, or have
engaged in previously, the effort expended on working with the
brahmavihāras will be entirely beneficial. It is a gradual path but the
opening of the heart and the effect that this has on our behaviour is
tangible, even after a relatively short period of sustained application.
The Route Of Insight
is often regarded as a specifically Buddhist form of meditation;
different from anything presented elsewhere. What is distinctive about
vipassanā - literally ’special seeing’ or ‘clear vision’ - is that
through one’s own effort it brings an understanding of things as they
are: impermanent (anicca), inherently unsatisfactory (dukkha), and
not-Self (anattā). With the arising of insight, we no longer need rely
on scriptural accounts, or on what others have told us, because we know
modern favouring of vipassanā meditation, particularly in the West,
stems from a belief that one cannot attain complete liberation through
the jhānas (the attainments of samatha practice). Whilst this is
technically correct, most of us have quite a way to go before such lofty
concerns present us with any such obstacle. One should not forget that
the results of samatha meditation are of value in themselves as well as
in the essential preparation they represent as we begin vipassanā
practice. In these days of instant gratification vipassanā is sometimes
presented as the form of meditation with “go faster stripes” and, for
some, samatha practice is seen as second best; but this is an immature
assessment as there are no short cuts to liberation. It is also a
misreading of the texts and a denial of the practical requirement for
engagement with at least some form of samatha meditation to develop the
degree of concentration and precision required if we are to succeed with
later part of the course introduces two techniques drawn from those
usually classified as vipassanā bhāvanā (the cultivation of insight),
and shows how these relate to the samatha practices that we have already
met. One of the techniques focuses on clearly seeing the arising and
ceasing of physical and mental feelings by observation of the body. The
other technique moves beyond structure to bring the same precision and
mindfulness to all the phenomena of which we are aware.
The Conjoined Route
most Buddhist meditation teachers would advocate the practice of
samatha meditation before embarking on vipassanā meditation and this is
the approach that we will pursue. In the Pāli Canon we read, “when one
practices samatha followed by vipassanā the path arises”. It is not
necessary to specialise only in the samatha form of meditation or only
vipassanā meditation, as the Buddha’s own example shows us the value of
working with both. This approach is known as yuganaddha; the yoking
together of distinct elements in a congruent and harmonious way so that
no area of our development is neglected. Our work on samatha will not be
eclipsed when we come to consider vipassanā but will instead continue
to accompany and enrich it until we reach the final goal. The first part
of this course is devoted to techniques normally considered samatha
meditation and beyond that we work mainly with two forms of vipassanā
will also look at bringing a meditative approach to daily life, through
the practice of mindfulness, and the importance of bringing awareness
to the teachings that life can show us in some of the major mileposts we
enables us to see things from different perspectives. The Buddha
emphasised the critical importance of right understanding as essential
for our development. We shall look at three cardinal concepts of the
Buddhist path: dukkha (suffering or unsatisfactoriness), anicca
(impermanence) and anattā (not-self, egolessness). From an intellectual
grasp of these ideas we can, through meditation, gain a real
understanding of the nature of the conditioned world, and realise our
place within it. Armed with this understanding we can act in skilful
ways to benefit the lives of those with whom we come into contact. This
ethical behaviour produces harmonious conditions for further meditation.
The results are cumulative and significant, and both the meditator and
those with whom he or she interacts will feel the impact.
tranquillity is developed, the mind is developed and lust is abandoned;
when insight is developed, right understanding is developed and
ignorance is abandoned. The mind defiled with lust is not liberated;
when there is defilement through ignorance, right understanding is not
developed… ” - Anguttara Nikāya
Highly systematised and technical collection of the Buddha’s teachings. One of the three collections of the Pali Canon.
The third progressive stage of enlightenment. No further rebirths in
this world; will attain complete enlightenment - nibbana - from a
Mindfulness of Breathing; focussed on inhalation and exhalation.
lack of a permanent soul or independent essence. One of the three
characteristics of existence; and as such, independently verifiable
through vipassana meditation.
Impermanence, flux, change. One of the three characteristics of all conditioned phenomena.
Immeasurables; boundless; often a synonym for brahmavihara.
fully enlightened being who has completed the path taught by a buddha.
It is possible to become an arahat within a single lifetime, if one has
created favourable conditions by past and current actions. On passing,
an arahat attains nibbana. (Skt. arahant)
Noble. Ariya sacca are the four noble truths.
Venerable Sister, polite form of address for any nun.
You can contact Andrew
directly by email to discuss your meditation practice or any questions
you may have about the course content, spiritual matters and Buddhist
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will find that similar questions have already been addressed there.