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Sutra Club: The Mahanama Sutta. Establishing meditation in pleasant, skillful states of mind

fivebellsfivebells Veteran Veteran
edited June 2013 in Philosophy
Sutra Club this time is on the Mahanama Sutta. It describes ways to establish extremely pleasant, stable states of mind as a tool for awakening.

This sutta ostensibly contains advice the Buddha gave to the householder Mahanama about appropriate states of mind for Mahanama to fashion as he goes about his life:
Mahanama said:

For those of us living by means of various dwelling places [for the mind], by means of which dwelling place should we live?"

However, it is worth noting that the name "Mahanama" could be interpreted as "Great Mind." "Maha" means great, and "Nama" could be the "nama" of nama-rupa, I.e., mind-body, a component of dependent origination. As Thanissaro outlines in Wings to Awakening, the factors of Nama are attention, intention, perception and feeling. Each of the mind states the Buddha endorses to Mahanama shape these four factors in skillful ways.

Though this is a sutta from the Pali canon, the last of the mindstates the Buddha recommends is strongly reminiscent of Tibetan deity visualizations:

"Furthermore, you should recollect the devas: 'There are the Devas of the Four Great Kings, the Devas of the Thirty-three, the Devas of the Hours, the Contented Devas, the devas who delight in creation, the devas who have power over the creations of others, the devas of Brahma's retinue, the devas beyond them. Whatever conviction they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of conviction is present in me as well. Whatever virtue they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of virtue is present in me as well. Whatever learning they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of learning is present in me as well. Whatever generosity they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of generosity is present in me as well. Whatever discernment they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of discernment is present in me as well.' At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the conviction, virtue, learning, generosity, and discernment found both in himself and the devas, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the [qualities of the] devas. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.

One of the benefits of seeing dependent origination in action is developing the understanding that all states of mind are fabricated by a similar process, and that one can take a conscious and skillful role in deciding upon these fabrications in any life circumstances. Thanissaro outlined how this looks in a recent talk, Working with Fabrication.

The Buddha recommends to Mahanama that he cultivate these states of mind "...while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children." What would your life look like if you went through it cultivating such states of mind yourself?

Lastly, Mahanama asks the Buddha about this in the context of the many monks making robes in preparation for him to set out wandering. Since the Buddha replies Mahanama with descriptions of shelter for the mind, do you think his robes may also represent some kind of mental preparation?

Comments

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    Members are respectfully reminded that the conditions of posting, as relayed in the First Sutra thread, of course, still stand.
  • fivebellsfivebells Veteran Veteran
    Thanks, Fede.
  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran
    Many thanks. Excellent choice. :)

    Without the right conditions, a plant will not grow. Similarly a seed of interest in the three jewels has to have skilful nurturing. Those who come to dharma in stress may find relief if their capacity and potential is addressed.

    For example everyone can engage with visiting a centre, building a shrine, practicing ceremonial chanting, Yidam work, studying dharma, watching youtube teachers or even participating in the gibbering of cructacean and more skilful sutra studying practitioners.

    A gentle way in, generates, hope, problem resolution in time and a skilful thirst for more of the good stuff ( as opposed to the thirst of vampires http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0762073/ ) . . .

    Those of us who have been on the path for more than ten minutes, can attest: whatever you do in life, there is nothing that will give you more than the three jewels. Nothing but Metta (Love). So generate Love for the three jewels and karmic well being will ensue and enter our life stream . . .
    karmablues
  • karmablueskarmablues Veteran Veteran
    edited June 2013
    What is of interest to me is the part before the Buddha goes into explaining the various recollections, he says:
    One who is aroused to practice is one of conviction, not without conviction. One aroused to practice is one with persistence aroused, not lazy. One aroused to practice is one of established mindfulness, not muddled mindfulness. One aroused to practice is centered in concentration, not uncentered. One aroused to practice is discerning, not undiscerning.

    Established in these five qualities, you should further develop six qualities:
    So he is saying that the six recollections should only be developed once one is already established in the five strengths of conviction (faith), persistence (energy), mindfulness, concentration and discernment(wisdom). When I first saw this, I wondered if this is suggesting that the six recollections as a form of meditative practice will only bring forth the results as stated in the Sutta for someone who already has a certain level of achievement.

    The results of practicing the six recollections are described as:
    At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the [Tathagata/Dhamma/Sangha/etc.], his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the Tathagata. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.
    This seems to suggest that practice of the six recollections can lead to the first jhana with joy leading to rapture leading to ease then finally to concentration. Now, since the Buddha said you must first be established in the five strengths before developing the six recollections, then the above passage could be read as:
    At any time when a disciple of the noble ones ,who is established in conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration and discernment, is recollecting the [Tathagata/Dhamma/Sangha/etc.], his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the Tathagata. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.
    The question is to what extent should one already be established in the five strengths of conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration and discernment before it would be possible to enter the first jhana through developing the six recollections. If we look at the section numbered 1 of this Sutta it does appear that the practice of the six recollections as a way to enter the first jhana was being directed to the case of stream-enterers, from the following passage:
    Of one who does this [practice of recollection], Mahanama, it is said: 'Among those who are out of tune, the disciple of the noble ones dwells in tune; among those who are malicious, he dwells without malice; having attained the stream of Dhamma, he develops the recollection of the [Buddha/Dhamma/Sangha/etc].'
    However, this probably doesn't mean the practice of the six recollections cannot be done by those who are not yet stream-enterers. However, it does mean that as a non-stream-enterer, one cannot expect to achieve what is stated in the Sutta, that is, "at any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the [Buddha/Dhamma/Sangha/etc.], his mind... becomes concentrated." and enters the first jhana. So I suppose a non-stream-enterer might achieve lesser degrees of concentration from practicing the six recollections and it should also enhance his/her faith in the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, the practice of virtue and the practice of generosity, all of which is also very beneficial.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran Veteran
    @karmablues, does establishment in the five qualities mean that you are a stream enterer?
  • karmablueskarmablues Veteran Veteran
    @Jeffrey

    In the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha said:
    Monks, there are these five faculties. Which five? The faculty of faith (conviction), the faculty of energy (persistence), the faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of concentration, the faculty of wisdom (discernment). These are the five faculties.

    One who has completed and fulfilled these five faculties is an arahant. If they are weaker than that, one is practicing for the realization of the fruit of arahantship; if still weaker, one is a nonreturner; if still weaker, one is practicing for the path for the realization of the fruit of nonreturning; if still weaker, one is a once-returner; if still weaker, one is practicing for the realization of the fruit of once-returning; if still weaker, one is a stream-enterer; if still weaker, one is practicing for the realization of the fruit of stream-entry.

    But monks, I say that one in whom these faculties are completely and totally absent is' an outsider, one standing amid the worldlings.

    So from the above, it is clear that "established in the five qualities" would not include "an outsider, one standing amid the worldlings" "in whom these faculties are completely and totally absent". But whether it would include "one [who] is practicing for the realization of the fruit of stream-entry" or not, this isn't absolutely clear.

    However, I reached my conclusion that the phrase in the context of the Mahanama Sutta meant stream-entry by looking at the section numbered 1 of the Sutta which contains the following passage that I also quoted in my post above, ie.
    Of one who does this [practice of recollection], Mahanama, it is said: 'Among those who are out of tune, the disciple of the noble ones dwells in tune; among those who are malicious, he dwells without malice; having attained the stream of Dhamma, he develops the recollection of the [Buddha/Dhamma/Sangha/etc].'
  • fivebellsfivebells Veteran Veteran
    @lobster, totally agree.

    @karmablues, good observation. I think you are right these practices are closely related to stream-entry, because they depend on the recognition that experience can be influenced by directed attention. At the same time, I don't think stream entry is a binary quality, and a person can be a stream-entrant in one part of their life but a worldling in another part. For instance, an addict who has disidentified from his addiction and committed to freeing himself of it but has not realized that the addiction is triggered by his existential anxiety about how he will make a living is a stream-entrant with respect to the addiction becoming/birth/death, but still a worldling with respect to the becoming/birth/death of his careerism. The same goes for establishment in the five faculties, except there I think the prerequisites are even weaker. For the recollections to be appropriate, it is enough that in the present moment the meditator is established in the five faculties.

    So I think the Buddha's points out the five faculties and stream entry as foundational practices for the recollections, but I don't know how completely they need to be mastered for the recollections to be useful as meditations in and of themselves. I have never tried to introduce the recollections to beginners, and I think their usefulness would depend on where a beginner was coming from. I know for sure that there are beginners who can just jump in and cultivate useful joy and metta from the start, and others for whom that's a real struggle, and I imagine it would be the same with the recollections. E.g., "Why should I identify myself with the qualities of god-realm beings when I'm such a worthless piece of shit myself?" (Needs more disidentification, i.e. doubt and self-view factors of stream-entry.) Or "I feel so good doing this god meditation, why would I go look at the problems in my life?" (Needs more conviction, persistence and discernment.)
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