The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

Monday Mindful Morsel: Christian Insight Meditation

by Lydia Anderson
February 3, 2014
Mon, 02/03/2014 - 10:58 -- landerson

This week's morsel comes from Christian Insight Meditation. Drawing heavily on the teachings of St. John of the Cross, and also drawing from the illuminating writings of Teresa of Avila, the authors here offer a masterful explication of a practice and path firmly grounded in the meditative technology of Eastern wisdom, yet Christian in spirit. The practice is particularly valuable for taking prayer beyond discursiveness, petition, and thinking. This selection looks at the Buddha's teachings on purity of heart and right understanding.

Right Understanding

Right understanding means clear-seeing, seeing reality as it truly is, without the blinders of desires, aversions, or delusions. It is seeing the truth of things unclouded by any smoke screens that self-sense throws up in self-protection. Life itself teaches us these truths at one level, just as we may intellectually comprehend them even more superficially.

Faithful and careful awareness practice brings increasingly deeper, clearer seeing—seeing that can radically purify our hearts. What Buddhists call insight knowledge comes from deepening meditation practice. This is not conceptual knowledge or even simple lived awareness of these truths experienced in our lives. In meditation, understanding comes by deep, direct seeing that produces life-changing learning.

Body and mind The first insight knowledge is of mental and physical reality. It means clearly understanding physical realities, such as sensations we call painful or the sound when a bell is struck. It also means understanding mental phenomena—consciousness and mindstates; for example, just what is a thought, or what is anger or fear? We also clearly distinguish physical from mental phenomena. We become able to distinguish among different types of mental experience. Initially, many people have trouble seeing the difference between an emotion and thought about the emotion.

Cause and effect A second insight knowledge is cause and effect. We see how pleasantness of feeling-tone easily leads to greed if we are not alert, how unpleasantness draws out aversion, and how we become bored and inattentive when feeling-tone is neutral. Clear awareness of feeling-tone can keep us from moving into greed, aversion, or delusion.

We also see how intentions precede each action. Awareness of intentions lets us cancel those that are not appropriate. If we fail to see intentions, they impel unskillful action whenever an unwholesome mind-state gets sufficiently strong. Feeling-tone and intention mark crucial points of freedom once we clearly see cause and effect regarding them.

Knowledge of cause and effect goes even deeper. We see multiple cause-effect relationships in our choices,understanding how they condition future options and situations. We realize that each choice to indulge a habit, obsession, compulsion, or addiction tilts the balance making it easier to so choose the next time.We see how each “no” to unwholesomeness makes saying “no” again easier. We realize that nothing is free; everything counts and has its consequences.

We see the absolute interconnection of all of us in and with all of nature! I have frequently commented that “the Mystical Body of the Christ” was just beautiful words tome until I had direct experience of our connectedness in Buddhist practice.

Insight practice shows how our choices affect not only all beings, including ourselves, but all matter also.As a people,we are becoming painfully aware of how habits of waste affect our environment. In practice, we see even more subtle connections that attest to everything’s being part of one cosmic process.We become attentive to the effects of all our choices.We see these truths by faithfully paying full attention to the physical and mental experiences that draw awareness to themselves.

The three characteristics Another insight knowledge reveals the nature of conditioned reality, of all realities subject to cause and effect. A rugged period of practice teaches us to see clearly the three universal characteristics that mark everything except Nibbana.

We see for ourselves the truth of suffering in all lives. Irrefutable meditation experiences also show the fleeting nature of phenomena, how things come into existence simply to pass out again. We comprehend what the Buddha meant by no-self, understanding how—since only Nibbana is unchanging—all lived realities are truly only processes with a beginning and end.

This time in practice is often very unpleasant; however, it purges attachments, develops patience and compassion, and finally leads to a holy life. These insights leave us greatly humbled and deeply committed to spiritual practice. Our meditation becomes self-propelling with sharp, clear, and penetrating understanding.

Knowing the path In the following delightfully easy period of practice, we are in great danger of attachment to pleasant meditation experiences. Eventually, deepening knowledge brings sure seeing of the right path of practice. We realize that we do not practice for comfort or pleasure, but for purgation. We understand that purifying conduct and mind is the only way out of the human dilemma—that no magic, hard wishing, or other maneuver does the job. This greatly lessens attachment to pleasantness, and prepares us for the even more rugged purgation that follows.

Advanced insight In advanced insight,we radically experience the three characteristics. We see clearly that all is change; even consciousness itself dies with each experience and is reborn with the next. Although “things” and experiences look solid and continuous, they are only rapidly changing processes. Everything is simultaneously being born and dying.

We deeply realize that what is never stationary, never lasting, can never be lastingly satisfying.The suffering in even pleasant experience becomes very apparent. All pleasures end; all favorite cups eventually break. All relationships come to parting—by death, if not before. However beautiful, delightful, inspiring, or joy-filled an experience, it ends and therefore brings no lasting satisfaction.

We clearly see that nothing has any unchanging fixedness we can consider a permanent,enduring entity. We recognize how what we call our selves are simply interlocking processes that have come together because of conditions, and will eventually come apart. All is process, the constant interchange of processes within processes within processes. Often these realizations come with stark feelings of aloneness, impotence, vulnerability, and lack. The purgation is rigorous and intense.

A great yearning for liberation that consumes all of one’s being eventually comes. Next follows the deeply balanced equanimity of complete surrender; we accept any and all occurrences equally. This balanced state of mind is “near” Nibbana. Buddhists say that we have the wisdom of knowledge and vision of the way at this point.

Fruition Advanced insight culminates in “touching” Nibbana, being “in” the one Reality not subject to the fluctuations, insecurity, and suffering of human life. Nibbana—the unconditioned, the unchanging, the unborn, the undying, the permanent, peace, rest, haven, home—is beyond any earthly joy, delight, or stillness. Thing-ness and flux cease; faith has been perfected, and we now know by direct experience. This is the highest wisdom, analogous to John’s loving knowledge of God.

To read more from Christian Insight Meditation, click here.

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