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The System of Meditation Revisited

by Kulaprabha

Introductory talk: The System of Meditation Revisited
by Kulaprabha
Cittapala deserves a vote of thanks for producing the booklet 'The System of
Meditation Revisited', in which he has drawn on much of what Bhante has said
about meditation, put it into a structure, and added some of his own
comments. It's a very good read, though not exactly an easy one. At the very
least I recommend that you read the sections in the booklet covering each of
the following talks, because that will give you a better context in which to
understand what is said in each talk.
Which system of meditation is being revisited?

When Dayanandi told me that we would be studying the system of
meditation on the Convention, at first what I thought she meant was Bhante's
description of the system of meditation as the five basic meditation practices,
which he describes in a very traditional way, categorising them as either
samatha or vipassana. But, as I discovered, the Convention programme is
actually based on the subsequent system outlined in Cittapala’s booklet,
which describes meditation in terms of four aspects: integration, positive
emotion, spiritual death and spiritual rebirth. So in this introduction I want to
make three remarks about these four aspects, which makes me sound a bit
like the Pali Canon (not that there is anything wrong with that). They are just
three trains of thought that emerged partly from my e-mail communication
with Dayanandi and partly from reading bits of what Chittapala had sent me
of his booklet.

First remark: Pay attention to the four elements of meditation
These four aspects of meditation (integration, positive emotion, spiritual
death and spiritual rebirth) strike me as being very general. They are like
facets of meditation, even principial elements of a meditation practice, like
signposts in the mental landscape, or even compass bearings; they are
directions which we need to bear in mind if we are going to attempt to
meditate in order to change ourselves, especially to loosen our sense of self
during meditation practice. In effect, what Bhante is saying to us is, pay
attention: pay attention to the element of integration, the element of positive
emotion, of spiritual death, and of spiritual rebirth. If you want to build an
effective, or a real, meditation practice, pay attention to these four elements.
And then he goes on to suggest how particular meditation practices can be
linked to each of these four elements or signposts.

I think that this way of teaching is what makes Bhante such a good Dharma
teacher. He gives a principial structure, in this case about meditation, and
some more specific suggestions, but he leaves us to work out what will
particularly suit the conditions we live in and especially our own particular
mind. He provides us with a guiding perspective or foundation and then the
freedom to build up our own detailed practice on that foundation. That was
Page 1 of 6 the first thing that struck me about this whole system of meditation.

Second remark: Verifying the system
The second remark follows on from the first. If these four aspects of
meditation are a system, we will need to verify for ourselves how that system
operates. How do these four elements interact, how do they interconnect, how
do they influence one another, how does this system work? I've noticed that
people have different responses to the word 'system'. When I hear it, I think
`Oh good, a system! Now I can find out how it works and what it relates to.’
But I've noticed that other people are not so empathetic towards systems.
However, if we are really going to look at this system of meditation we have
to try and see it as a whole, and that does mean trying to see how it works as
a system. If you're like me, you’re going to enjoy doing that, but if you aren’t
so empathetic towards systems, you may have to work at it a bit, to try and
see this particular system as a whole.

This brings to mind that story from the Pali Canon about the blind men and
the elephant: one man touches the tusk and thinks the elephant is a plough-
share; another touches the leg and thinks it is a tree; another touches the tail
and thinks it is a brush. If we do the equivalent of that with this meditation
system, if we just look at the bits we like and don't bother about the bits we
don't like, or don't put some effort into seeing how it works as a whole, then
we're going to be in a somewhat similar position. So don't let yourself be
blind to this system of meditation; it just needs some effort. In his booklet
Cittapala talks about this from the point of view of looking at different
models for this system. Of course, if you like systems, you like models too.
There are various models that can be applied to these four aspects of
meditation. Chittapala says quite a lot about that, and I am going to say
something as well.

Applying a linear/spiral model to the system
First of all you could think of the four elements as being linked in a linear
way, so that from the first element you move through into the second one,
then the third, then the fourth. Bhante describes such systems as being
progressive and cumulative, which implies time and a course of events. It's a
temporal model and you can develop that basic model into a spiral one, the
kind of model we use for all sorts of Dharmic lists. In this system of
meditation, it's rather like a chain of elements; we go through the cycle once,
and then the fruits of that effort feed back into the first of the elements again.
For instance, if integration was where you started, integration is reinforced
and strengthened, informed by your previous practice of the first turn of the
cycle. It doesn't all happen quite in an ABCD-like manner, but you can
certainly apply that spiral model to this system, to see if it works like that.
Both linear and temporal models are developmental.

Page 2 of 6 It is important to understand that moving through those four elements,
whether in a line or in a spiral, doesn’t necessarily imply that you progress
through four separate types of meditation practice. You can do that, and
Bhante has given suggestions about connecting mindfulness of breathing with
integration, the brahma viharas with positive emotion and so on. But in his
booklet Cittapala makes the point quite strongly that although you can do it
that way, it's not necessarily the only way to do it. You could just choose one
practice, or perhaps two, and deliberately cultivate all four elements of the
system within that one practice or those two practices. If you were to do that,
you would need to reflect on and probably rework the practice or practices
you've chosen. It is possible to do that with the basic mindfulness of breathing
practice, and I think probably with the brahma viharas, but we don't teach
those practices in that way. So if we in the Order are going to use one type of
practice and bring all four elements of meditation into it, we're going to have
to think through very carefully how to do that for ourselves, and in a sense
rework the practice for our own needs.

Applying a spatial model to the system
These four elements of meditation can also be considered as a spatial model.
You can think of the four elements as being four mutually supportive
conditioning factors, paccayas. Paccaya means support or conditioning factor.
In the Pali Canon the Buddha talks about particular links in the nidana chain
as being mutually supportive and he likens it, I think, to sheaves of reeds or
corn. The sheaves stand up because they're leaning against one another, they
mutually support one another. That would work with just two sheaves of
corn, but you could have as many as you like, and I think we can look at this
system as being like four mutually supportive sheaves of corn, sheaves of
meditation, all present together.
This model raises other questions. Would any one element be sufficient unto
itself? Could one element be pre-eminent; could there be a specific emphasis
on one element? If you think of them as being mutually supportive, would it
work if one element was pre-eminent amongst the four? I don't know the
answer to this, because it depends on one's own mind and one's own
approach, but it's definitely a useful question to bear in mind. Another
question is, what would happen if one element isn't there? If positive emotion
ceases, hopefully temporarily, what happens to that element of our
meditation practice? So all these kinds of question are raised by a mutually
supportive model. What happens if one element is not there, or is weak?
What happens if one element is pre-eminent - how does that reverberate
around the other aspects of the model? And how does each element support
the other three?
Also, as it’s a spatial model, is there something around which these four
elements are constellated, something that isn't the four elements themselves
around which they orbit or circulate? And if there is such a centre of gravity
in the middle, does it give a particular shape to these four elements, perhaps
Page 3 of 6 pulling them together or bringing them into alignment in a ...

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