Summary: Bhante Sathi speaks to the nature of the mind, to constantly have thought coming and going, and to actively observe those thoughts without engaging with them.
As a beginner meditator, it’s easy to get distracted by the thought during meditation and get involved with those thoughts, but with practice we are able to become observers.
Cultivating awareness of how the mind works, it’s an active job; same as the farmer have to actively take care of the weeds to ensure the trees planted can grow. Practice mindfulness to cultivate and support the growth of love, compassion, kindness and stop supporting emotions like anger, frustration, fear.
Allow yourself to smile when thoughts come to your mind during meditation and just observe them and allow then to pass without engaging, without labeling them.
[Sathi] It looks like we struggle when we have such a mind, as Maria you just said. When we have a rushed mind or a lot of thoughts or troubling minds, we think “this is a bad time for practicing meditation”. But as a meditator what do we do? As an example, think about this: if you happen to stand by a highway (not like this time of the highway, but a busy time a normal day of highway) you can see a lot of cars, a lot of vehicles going. What do you do? You just see from one end to the other end; vehicles are passing fast.
But as the observer, what do you do? Do you have control over there? No. That’s the nature of the highway: the nature of the highway is that it allows people to drive fast. What’s the nature of your mind? [The] nature of your mind is: you have to allow your mind to think fast. In case your mind happens to think very slow, I’m sure you will run to a doctor by saying “I cannot think fast enough, my mind is very slow, my actions are very slow.
So, that’s the nature of the mind, that’s the nature of our mind, it thinks very fast. If we go a little further, we can see there are various types of thoughts coming to our minds without an invitation. You don’t have to do anything for your mind to have a thought. That’s the nature of the mind. But as a meditator, what are we supposed to do? We just stand behind, just like a person standing by [the] highway and observing the cars and vehicles just passing.
But if you are a beginner, you will see: “oh, this is a truck, and this is a car, this is this type of car, or this is a van, or this is bus”. First, as a beginner, you will name all the vehicles, because you see the differences: the size, the color, and there are some cars you like, you may say this is my favorite color, this is not my favorite color, or I hate this type of cars. And you personally engage with each vehicle. The same way as a meditator, first when you start to observe your thoughts, you would say: “this is something I like, this I don’t like.
Now during the meditation, I’m having thoughts coming one after another” and you don’t like it. Then you are struggling. The struggle is right behind you, while you are observing your thoughts. But as a meditator, what do you do? You just still stand there. By knowing “I’m labeling my thoughts, I’m choosing some thoughts to like or dislike, [so] I’m labeling my thoughts” by knowing you are still observing your thoughts.
Think about a person that has lived by [the] highway longer time, for that person it doesn’t matter what cars pass on, what vehicles, what trucks. That person would say: “oh, that’s just a vehicle”. But if you happen to be at the highway for the first time, you are going to label all those cars, all the vehicles. As an experienced one who’s been there for a longer time, you only hear sounds afterward. The same way, when you observe your thoughts for a longer time, even without engaging with those thoughts, it only becomes a thought which is appearing, which is arising and passing away, just coming and going.
Remember, we have a special ability, a special skill, for our mind, the skill or special need for your mind, is [that] without your support your mind cannot regenerate a similar thought. Think about: if anything, you remember from the past, either you like that or you dislike it. When you are like something, you can see, you are giving some power into certain experiences, a past experience. Similar power you are giving to something by disliking it, by hating it. That’s what regenerates. Otherwise, what’s the nature of your mind? Your nature of mind is: it produces thoughts. Just simply ask yourself: how do you know you have a mind? Because you think; since you are thinking you know you have a mind. So that’s the nature of your mind. But your mind cannot keep the same thought longer time without your support. As a meditator, what do we do? We just stop giving power to regenerate other thoughts.
As another example, just think about this: your mind has a lot of seeds, seeds of thoughts. Some seeds you name as love. Some seeds you name as compassion, anger, hatred. All kinds of seeds are there, but only some seeds you allow it to plant. Some of you may have a lot of types of seeds in your drawer at home, by thinking of planting [them] in the summer, but you are choosing some seeds to plant. So what happens? Then those seeds produce plants, some seeds produce trees.
When you decide to plant a certain seed, you have to provide the right environment. Just like sometimes you have a seed of anger you planted; if you let that anger you planted, with the right environment it will become a big tree; when it becomes a big tree you don’t have freedom from it because it will become even bigger than you, it would totally take all the space of your mind, it would need you to support its environment.
Think about any emotion, anger is a very easy example for me to put: sometimes others are contributing [for] this anger to grow. Sometimes when you plant some seed and your neighbors are helping you to water those plants “oh, this is a wonderful tree”; some people would say “yeah, you have right to be angry, your anger is right, keep that anger it seems to be giving you energy”. That’s how we let certain seeds to stay with us.
But if you have a noble friend, that person may say “well yeah still you need to keep compassion, keep your love, keep your generosity”, then they may support that tree, that seed to become a plant, to become a tree. Think about: the produce of those trees were given by the tree, you don’t pull the product from the tree, it will produce by the plant or the tree. Generosity will produce the result by itself, but who planted it? Who plants that seed? Who supports that seed to become a tree? Sometimes we just destroy the tree when it is growing.
You can see some of the helpful abilities of your mind. Sometimes you started, but you don’t continue to support it. Some farmers, they only plant the seed but they stop supporting it, they don’t take care of that plant as it’s needed. Even sometimes we may plant a seed on the wrong soil, without knowing what’s the proper environment to start this seed. Maybe we may practice compassion with the wrong community or not with noble friends. If you happen to start this compassion seeds without noble support, they may discourage you to plant that seed, they don’t see value in that seed, they don’t think the product of this plant is helpful.
Therefore, for the meditator, is better to recognize, is better to identify which of those seeds we need to plant. After you recognize it, you need to have determination and effort to plant it the right way with the right support. Then you have to be committed to yourself and frequent with yourself of feeding it and support this tree to grow.
As an example, think of one farmer that plants certain seeds and if they happen to come back two or three months later thinking to harvest, I’m sure they will be able to harvest only weeds, not the produce from the tree they have planted, by knowing the weeds will get automatically in here. Like when you plant compassion or mindfulness: think about somebody starting to practice mindfulness or meditation, you know how much they are going to struggle with laziness, sleepiness, and other lifestyles, other life challenges, maybe family matters.
All of those things will come to stop this practice. Then we have to fight, we have to be determined to maintain our practice. Even our mind justifies it, others will help you to justify it. But if you look at some seeds like anger, frustration…you may see a lot of support for those seeds to plant [them] and support them.
That’s the nature of the weed in terms of farmers, farmers don’t plant weeds, it will be planted automatically, naturally those seeds will get into your farm and we have to keep pulling it; it doesn’t matter how long you pull it, still those plant you have to frequently pull those weeds out. Just like we have to pull weeds like laziness, anger, even frustration. You will see a lot of opportunities to keep those weeds with your plants. Sometimes even our ignorance will encourage you to keep them; you would say: it is part of me, it is part of my yard.
Simply think, how many thoughts you keep at once in your mind? Only one thought. [In] the same way, how many emotions you can keep at once in your heart or your mind? Only one emotion. But once you feel in your heart anger, there’s no space for compassion. You need to replace compassion over anger, in order to bring compassion into your heart, into yourself. Therefore, this work has to be so determined.
Now when I go back to your question Maria, that’s normal, that’s nature, but as a meditator, if you can smile on it, just smile “oh, this is how my mind [is] rushing”. Without involving, you will see that rushness or that unsettledness will disappear. But again, make sure not to have that expectation, because expectation will stand as your enemy. Most of the meditators struggle with this because we think “oh, I should have thoughtless meditation”.[Meditator] I tried that and it doesn’t work (laughing) [Sathi] Just be ok with it “Oh, I’m ok, if I have so many thoughts that ok, still I’m sitting” Just observe and see what’s happening. [Meditator] Thank you for the [suggestion to] smile on it, that’s a great way to make it my practice now. That when a thought arises I’m just going to smile on it. Thank you, that’s huge! Thanks! [Sathi] And Buddha often brought an example with wild horses. I think I have mentioned that many times while meditating in classes. I don’t know if still people is doing this, but in the past, when people wanted to tame a horse, or elephant (of course, no elephant in here to tame). Just think of any wild animal, what do you do? You just first bring that wild animal and keep it in a place when you can observe this animal.
As an example of [the] horse situation, what would the horse trainer do? Just let this horse to run inside the fence (you would have a fence around that training area) until this horse stays settled. But first, what [the] horse would do? [The] horse would try to break the fence and try to run away and run all over. After a little while, after some time, this horse will recognize “oh, this is my boundary” and will start to settle in that boundary.[The] same thing, we have to do for our mind with meditation “this is my boundary, this is my cousin, or this is my place to sit down”. It doesn’t matter that (think about) at the beginning for meditator, your mind will suggest many things “oh, you forgot to drink water before you came to meditation, or you have to go to the bathroom, oh, you forgot to turn off your stove”. Those thoughts will come to mind: “oh the door, and I should make sure to be there for that person”.
All those thoughts will come, to bring you, to take you away from your meditation cushion, you have to know that. That’s how you are settling on your cushion by thinking “I don’t have anything in this next half hour or next hour, I don’t”. So we have to have that kind of determination, that kind of settledness.[Meditator] It just amazes me how many time I have asked that question, how many times other people have asked that question, and today I must have been open to the “smile on it”, because I’ve never thought of that, or heard it said, even though you probably said it a million times, or in other ways, so that’ll be my practice. I’ll let you know how it goes (laughing). [Sathi] Any other thoughts or any other thing anybody wants to share today? [Meditator] I hadn’t heard this “taming the horse” story, thank you. [Meditator] I think it’s very easy to focus during the zoom meditation. I felt like it was even better for me today, so that was good. [Sathi] That’s wonderful, that’s wonderful to hear that. Yeah, I mean but you are still you are connecting to meditation from your home. I’d see, even though you are home, we all are connected here through zoom, we all are connected. Maybe you are, you have some other sounds and some other people around you, but you have your meditation room right here, your meditation space right here.
Recorded online on March 28, 2020. Transcription by Evelyn Rodriguez
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