Tuesday, February 28, 2012

stages in meditation practice

We are working with the Satipatthana Sutta in a current online group. The Sutta is set up in a way that you could progress though it developmentally, working with one passage after the other, deepening and enriching your qualities of mind and your consciousness as you progress though the practices. You could also make the progression through just one of the four satipatthanas (foundations of mindfulness, frames of reference), or, because of the holistic nature of the Sutta, dip in to any one place.

Yet there is a general three stage progression that is foundational. These elements are found in the preliminary sections of the sutta and in the "refrain."

FIRST STAGE: Learning to bring mindful awareness to the chosen object. Please notice my use of the term mindful awareness. This was intentional so as to discourage a narrow definition of mindfulness as attention. Attention is only one element. Others include qualities necessary for steady and balanced focus on the frame of reference. These require a daily formal silent practice for development and in order to establish readiness for the real potential of wisdom or insight. Without a basis in skilled concentration, further stages may be beneficial but will not yield their very rich potential.

SECOND STAGE: Requires developed concentration. In this stage we begin to use our developed, focused, balanced concentration to actually develop our connection, our relationship, with any of the possible frames of reference. We investigate deeply the qualities and characteristics of the object or frame of reference: causal relationships within various elements of experience and ability and limitations in influencing the unfolding processes.

THIRD STAGE: Equipoise. We transcend our own skill and let subtle awareness and actions lead our way. This is not something that can usually occur without our intelligent and skillful development of consciousness. The skills are not hard to do, nor hidden or secret. But they do require our active engagement, a continuous choice to take responsibility for our own body, speech, and mind.


Work with the Going Beyond course to establish the first stage. Then join us in groups online for experienced students to open to the potential of stages two and three.

Or work individually in coaching format to develop the mind and to learn to integrate the wisdom, compassion, and joy of these skills into your personal and professional life.


Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff). Wings to Awakening: An Anthology from the Pali Canon. Dhamma     Dana Publication Fund: Barre, MA. 1996.

UPDATE:  This passage edited 2012 05  05 - contact author for original copy

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

mindful attention - where & how

The four frames of reference [satipatthana] are a set of teachings that show where a meditator should focus attention and how. This dual role — the "where" and the "how" — is reflected in the fact that the term satipatthana can be explained etymologically in two ways.

On the one hand, it can be regarded as
a compound of sati
(mindfulness, reference, the ability to keep something in mind)
and patthana
(foundation, condition, source),
thus referring to the object kept in mind as a frame of reference for giving context to one's experience.

Alternatively, satipatthana can be seen as
a compound of sati and upatthana
(establishing near, setting near),
thus referring to the approach (the how) of keeping something closely in mind, of establishing and maintaining a solid frame of reference.

Scholars are divided as to which interpretation is right, but for all practical purposes they both are.

The Buddha was more a poet than a strict etymologist, and he may have deliberately chosen an ambiguous term that would have fruitful meanings on more than one level.

In the practice of the frames of reference [satipatthana], both the proper object and the proper approach are crucial for getting the proper results. In fact....
the taking of a proper object entails the beginning of the proper approach,
and the approach ends by taking as its objects the qualities of mind developed in the course of pursuing the approach itself.

In other words....the "what" merges with the "how" as the "how" of the investigation ultimately becomes what gets investigated.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu in Wings, p. 72

I share this passage to emphasize the active and holistic nature of working with the Satipatthan Sutta (especially satipatthana, but other suttas as well). The sutta provides more than just a menu or curriculum for study. It provides a holigraphic map for practice. The map is useful to follow linearly because the practices build on each other, but it is not nesessary to follow linearly, because we can touch on the whole througout the process - or where ever we dip in.