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The Wandering Mind - Part 1

The Buddha called the wanderings of our mind outflowings (asavas), because the mind flows out to distractions from our meditation focus.

These outflowings stop us from experiencing stillness and are the cause of our suffering. When the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths, he sometimes substituted outflowings for suffering, as the first truth, as they are almost synonymous.

Based on a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Brahm on Majjhima Nikaya 2.

Important note:

Please read the summary of the article on "What Does the Buddha Say About Wealth" before reading this article. The teachings of the Buddha are for everyone, but there are different degrees to which we put his teachings into practice. This is explained in the above article. This teaching on the Wandering Mind was given to monastics, so not all parts of it will apply to lay people. And as lay people we embrace the teachings at different levels.

There are seven different ways to abandon the different types of outflowings:

1. by understanding (insight)

2. by restraining

3. by using

4. by enduring

5. by avoiding

6. by removing

7. by developing

1. Abandoning by understanding is for three kinds of outflowings:

- to the sensory world

- to a sense of being

- to delusions

a) to the sensory world: a desire to engage with sights, sounds, tastes, touch, smells

b) to a sense of being - as we settle into stillness during meditation, our sensory world starts to shut down. We are no longer aware of our body, our breath, sounds. This disappearing of our sense of self, when we don't yet realize that it is just temporary and is leading us to a state of bliss, can sometimes be our mind flows out to the sensory world to reassure us that we exist.

c) delusions - these can be real experiences to which we give incorrect meanings eg. a mirage.....there is an image on our eye that we interpret as water but it is just heat waves.

But they can also be thought scenarios that have nothing to do with the present moment. Our mind may throw up the image of a gunman entering the room. How would we react? Our mind then fusses over the solution to this event. Meanwhile our meditation object has been left far behind and we are spending time problem solving something that is not reality.

What to do?

Our goal is wise attention. If present, it will cause arisen outflowings to disappear and unarisen ones to not arise. Unwise attention will do the opposite: cause unarisen outflowings to arise and already arisen ones to increase. This is how we judge if we are being skillful and using wise attention.

Unwise attention is to philosophical ponderings that imply a self i.e. some core, unchanging aspect of ourself that persists: eg. What was I in the past? What will I be in the future? What am I now? (This is not saying we should ignore past life info when it is saying that ponderings about a static, unchanging self are not helpful because there is no such thing as an unchanging self. We are a verb not a noun. Every aspect of ourself changes with time. What goes from lifetime to lifetime is our kamma.....our habit energy).

This unwise attention leads to wrong views such as: - My self persists forever - eternalist view. - I have a self but it disappears when I die - materialist view.

Wise attention would be changing the wording the ponderings to:

What do I take myself to be?

There is will, but what is it exactly?

This leads to the correct view of perceiving a not-self with a not-self i.e. our not static sense of self perceives we are a collection of parts that have come together due to certain conditions and as conditions change, we change....there is nothing unchanging or permanent within us.

During meditation, if we are having a hard time:

Know, "This is suffering."

Ask, "Why am I having a hard time?"

The answer is, "Because I want something....I'm craving." "What am I wanting?" Seeing that we are wanting and seeing that it is suffering....pulling us away from the peace, stillness, bliss of meditation, we abandon the wanting.

We can use, "What am I wanting" as a mantra to use whenever we feel discontent.


If during meditation, we are having a peaceful experience:


Because we have abandoned craving/wanting. We are content with this moment. Know this.

This is insight.

The longer we look at something, the more we see. If we just glance at something, give it a name, then we are done! We think we know it and give it no further study. But if we are still, and look deeply, we see much more. This is why stillness is so important for insight.

With this wise attention, we abandon the first three fetters of the ten fetters that prevent awakening:

1. personality view - the idea that there is an unchanging core/soul within us. When we are still, things start to disappear, so we get a look at what the Buddha is saying re non-self. During jhana we have the experience of what we took to be a self, disappearing. But the mind is too still to process this. So we have unprocessed data. Later, after we emerge from jhana, perhaps while listening to a Dhamma talk, we get an "ah ha" moment...."oh, now I understand!" We need a flashlight and a map to find the treasure. Jhana is the flashlight, the Dhamma teachings are the map and awakening to the end of suffering is the treasure.

2. doubt re the Buddha's teachings, known as the Dhamma. Now that we have realized the nature of reality that the Buddha taught, there is no more doubt. We have seen it for ourself.

3. adherence to rules and observances - the idea that just following rules and performing rituals will lead to awakening. It is insight that leads to awakening. Rules and observances are skillful means to help us, so should not be abandoned. And once awakening is realized, then the rules and observances set down by the Buddha just become second nature.

With the abandoning of these three fetter, we are a "stream winner" i.e. we have realized the first level of awakening. This is a wonderful realization as we can never be reborn in a lower realm with this realization. And full awakening is assured within seven lifetimes maximum....and possibly in this very lifetime!

Once this first category of outflowings has been abandoned, there are few outflowings left, as the reasons to "flow out" are gone. And with the insight into the first three fetters, it is much easier to experience stillness and live a simple life.

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