Mindfulness Meditation and the act of gaining discernment
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 One is about the Five Strengths:
The Five Strengths—a set of factors have to culminate with discernment and they start with the quality of conviction. Conviction in what? Conviction in the principle of karma. That's what it comes down to – our actions do matter. Karma means actions and the first conviction is that you really are responsible for your actions. We fool ourselves sometimes in thinking it is certain situations or certain people that make us behave in a certain way. But when you look more honestly at yourself you see that you are the one who decided what to do. Secondly, your actions have results and those results can be good or bad depending on the quality of the intention behind the act.
So the teaching on karma is a teaching that puts you in charge of shaping your life. It’s a good teaching to believe in. How does this relate to discernment? It provides the basis for the questions you’re going to ask in order to give rise to discernment. Because the principle of karma places a lot of emphasis on the need to act on skillful intentions to get the good results you want. The next basic question you want to ask is: How can you tell whether an intention is skillful or unskillful?
Together with conviction you need the quality of heedfulness: the realization that if you are not careful about your actions you can create a lot of suffering for yourself. Heedfulness is supposed to underlie the development of the Five Strengths leading up to discernment. It is the quality that makes sure you are going to pay close attention to what you are doing, close attention to your intentions and close attention to the results of your actions. Only if the intention looks good should you act on it. Then, while you’re acting, you check the results of your action. After the action is done you check again, because some results are immediate, other results are long term.
So conviction in karma focuses your intention at the right spot and it gets you asking the right questions. Heedfullness gives urgency to your investigation. And the two of them together lead to discernment.