Mindfulness, metta and the dhyanas
Feb01

Mindfulness, metta and the dhyanas

This article was published in the February 2014 issue of Shabda, the journal of the Triratna Buddhist Order.   I thought I’d try to say something about how mindfulness fits in with the dhyanas as I have recently been exploring this topic in my book. The path obviously involves both metta and mindfulness, as these are a large part of Buddhist ethics, have their own meditation practices, and are present at the highest reaches of the path (there is the term mettacetovimutti, which I take to mean ‘liberation of the mind through loving kindness.’) But how do they both fit in with the dhyanas and with the path to Nirvana as described in say the Mahasaccaka Sutta?   The key starting point to Gautama stepping onto the path to Nirvana was when he remembered the rose apple tree experience. The way that that is usually rendered is in terms him simply having a memory of an experience. Thanissaro translates the passage in the Mahasaccaka Sutta for instance as: ‘Then, following on from that memory came the conscious realisation: “This is the path to awakening.”‘ The Pali here is satanusari vinnanam ahosi eseva maggo bodhaya’ti and so the word being translated as memory here is sati.   It is common for us to think of mindfulness as recollection. This is largely due to the word smrti, the Sanskrit word usually rendered as mindfulness, whose root smr is rendered in the Monier Williams Sanskrit Dictionary as:   ‘to remember , recollect , bear in mind , call to mind , think of , be mindful of’   But we need to bear in mind that Sanskrit is the language of the Vedas, and of the Vedic sacrificial religion which pre-dated the Buddha and whose doctrines he rejected. So we cannot really be sure how much the sense of smrti as ‘recollection’ isn’t influenced by its meaning in the Vedic context. There are two kinds of Vedic texts: the sruti and the smrti. The sruti are sacred texts such as the Rg Veda – a set of hymns to various gods – which were composed 900 years before the Buddha and which nobody has the right to alter. Unchanged, they have been passed down from one age to the next. The reason why they are called sruti is that the disciple hears their words from their guru (sruti literally means hearing.) The smrtis on the other hand are texts compiled by self-realized sages, called rishis, based upon their own insights into the sruti. (an modern day example is Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.) So the rishi maintains the Vedic tradition. When a part of the...

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