Meditation - when do we gain insight?

We meditate, developing mindfulness, developing concentration, and after a while we begin to wonder - “When is the discernment going to come”? “ When are the insights going to come?”

Mindfulness and concentration are prerequisites, but there’s also more. You can meditate for ten, twenty, thirty years and still not gain any discernment because you are lacking some proper qualities that are needed for insights to arise.

There are Five Strengths and Seven Factors for Awakening.

Part Two is about the Seven Factors of Awakening.

The Seven Factors for Awakening are similar: You start out with mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches you to be mindful of your mind states, mental qualities and your body. Why? So that you can be really clear on what your actions are and what the results are. If you are concerned with other issues especially things that other people are doing, you miss what you are doing. So you focus right here, get yourself in the present moment, not simply because the present moment is a good moment in and of itself, but because it’s the only place where you are going to see your intentions in action.

Mindfulness puts you in a position to develop the second factor for Awakening: the discernment factor, called “analysis of qualities.” The qualities here are qualities in the mind, mental states, in the present. The main factor here is appropriate attention to the skillful and unskillful states arising in the mind. You pay attention to what intentions you act on, trying to see what is skillful and what is not. Remembering that the test for judging whether your actions are skillful is by their results: how much harm do they cause? How much happiness? Discernment focuses on actions in terms of cause and effect, and works at developing greater and greater skill in acting.

You want to look at the results and ask yourself, “Are they really satisfactory? Do they give permanent results?” The purpose is so you do not get complacent and they help in the process of heedfulness so that your standards for judging your actions stay high. In judging the results of your actions you are not going to settle for anything but work towards more skillful results.

In our culture at present it is considered psychologically unhealthy to set very high standards for yourself. What does that do? It creates a society of very middling people, mediocre people, people who experience a mediocre level of happiness. (Buddha said) “Don’t satisfy yourself with just ordinary, everyday wellbeing, because it’s not well all the time. If you’re going to set your sights, set your sights on something of more permanent value (the noble search) for happiness that doesn’t change.

Be mindful to ask yourself regularly: - “What are you doing? What are your intentions? What are the results of your actions based on those intentions? Are you content with them or do you want better?” “I want better than this. I’ve got this human life; what am I going to do with it?” And the answer should be, “I’m going to do the best I can to find true happiness, to have something to hold onto, something to show for all the suffering I’ve been through as I take birth, age, grow ill, and die.”

So we should think about these issues as we meditate. We’re not getting into the present just to stop there. That would be like someone who, after a great deal of effort, finally gets to a road—and then lies down on the road, forgetting that the road is there to be followed to see where it takes you. When you get into the present moment, that’s not enough. You have to learn how to ask yourself the right questions of the present moment, in particular, “What are your intentions right now and what results do they have?” Intentions just don’t float in and out of the mind without leaving a trace. They leave their mark. They do have results. Are you satisfied with the results? If not, what can you do to get better results? Learning how to ask these questions is what gives rise to discernment so that your actions go beyond just the ordinary, mundane level.

There are four kinds of action:

1. actions that are skillful on a mundane level;

2. actions that are not skillful on the mundane level;

3. actions that are mixed;

and then actions that take you beyond the mundane level - that open you up and bring you to the end of action -

4. action that is really worthwhile. Become as skillful as possible in what you do. Use the discernment that shows you how to act in those ways, that detects what your intentions is with what is skillful and what is unskillful, what in the results of your actions are satisfactory or not: that is what guides you in the right direction.

Take your intention towards happiness seriously - add your conviction that you can do things that lead to happiness. Take your intention, take your conviction and put them together and then mindfully watch as skillfully as you can to see what you are doing. Monitor the results of your practice and adjust them as necessary. It is these factors all taken together that lead to the discernment that leads to release.

There is no one technique that can guarantee that you will gain discernment, just as there is no one technique that has a monopoly on giving rise to discernment. The techniques are things that you use in your quest for discernment, but your quest has to be informed by more than techniques. It has to be informed by the right questions, by the right qualities of mind, by the rigor you bring to your attention to what you’re doing, by your willingness to set the highest possible standards for yourself, your unwillingness to settle for mundane happiness. That is how discernment comes about.

- Buddha’s teachings taught by Thanissaro Bhikkhu -

Mindfulness and gaining insight
Meditation and gaining insight

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