Mindfulness in Plain English

Posted on February 27th, 2013

Book notes from Mindfulness in Plain English (2011) by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Buddhism addresses two major types of meditation. They are different mental skills, modes of functioning or qualities of consciousness. In Pali, the original language of Theravada literature, they are called ‘Vipassana’ and ‘Samatha’. ‘Vipassana’ can be translated as ‘insight’, a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. ‘Samatha’ can be translated as ‘concentration’ or ‘tranquility’. It is a state in which the mind is brought to rest, focused only on one item and not allowed to wander.

The essence of our experience is change. Change is incessant. Moment by moment life flows by and it is never the same.

There is not a thing wrong with this. It is the nature of the universe.

Happiness and peace. Those are really the prime issues in human existence. That is what all of us are seeking.

What we really seek is not the surface goals. They are just means to an end. What we are really after is the feeling of relief that comes when the drive is satisfied. Relief, relaxation and an end to the tension. Peace, happiness, no more yearning.

The Dhammapada is an ancient Buddhist text which anticipated Freud by thousands of years. It says: “What you are now is the result of what you were. What you will be tomorrow will be the result of what you are now. The consequences of an evil mind will follow you like the cart follows the ox that pulls it. The consequences of a purified mind will follow you like your own shadow. No one can do more for you than your own purified mind - no parent, no relative, no friend, no one. A well-disciplined mind brings happiness”.

Throw a stone into a stream. The running water would smooth the surface, but the inner part remains unchanged. Take that same stone and place it in the intense fires of a forge, and the whole stone changes inside and outside. It all melts. Civilization changes man on the outside. Meditation softens him within, through and through.

The purpose of meditation is personal transformation.

The you that goes in one side of the meditation experience is not the same you that comes out the other side. It changes your character by a process of sensitization, by making you deeply aware of your own thoughts, words, and deeds. Your arrogance evaporates and your antagonism dries up. Your mind becomes still and calm. And your life smoothes out. Thus meditation properly performed prepares you to meet the ups and downs of existence. It reduces your tension, your fear, and your worry. Restlessness recedes and passion moderates. Things begin to fall into place and your life becomes a glide instead of a struggle. All of this happens through understanding.

Meditation sharpens your concentration and your thinking power. Then, piece by piece, your own subconscious motives and mechanics become clear to you. Your intuition sharpens. The precision of your thought increases and gradually you come to a direct knowledge of things as they really are, without prejudice and without illusion. So

The goal is awareness, an awareness so intense, concentrated and finely tuned that you will be able to pierce the inner workings of reality itself.

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