E:Someone here recently mentioned the Zen practice of “shikantaza”– which is the practice of taking whatever arises as the object of investigation. The Tibetan schools have many approaches that employ this type of mindfulness to whatever arises as well. In all cases, these are considered advanced practices for those who have already developed sati and samadhi to a very high degree, such that the mind can remain undistracted for long periods of time.

I appreciate that the aim of many meditation techniques is to concentrate and so minimize distraction. But I also know – as I think you do- that ‘distraction’ is only concept (whatever it is) and that it is aversion to the distraction that is the problem. So there are two ways to go: either develop samatha by means of wholesome concentration on an object such as death; or know the reality of the moment (then the ‘distraction becomes the object). I think no rule as to which is best or when to apply- it is our own path of inquiry that will teach us when one or the other is right.


E:By constrast, to skip the rudiments of bhavana (like seated meditation with favorable external conditions, such as quiet and so on) in favor of attempting to know that there is “just seeing”, for example, there is little or no development–at least not of samma sati.


You know we have only 4 postures – sitting, walking, lying and standing. So any awareness has to occur during this time. I used to have rather subtle thoughts, still do, that another time, another place another posture, another feeling, would be a better condition for awareness. Gradually I’ve begun to learn- just a tad and not very often- that there is only the here and now. That investigating what is here now is more fundamental and basic than getting into an ideal external situation. Because that ideal doesn’t really exist – it is a concept tied up with craving that obscures the present moment. I think then the quiet places become more common – little moments while in a crowd that are there more often than we realise.


Thanks for coming in with these comments. I think the idea you are expressing here is that bare attention to akusala mind-states will result in their falling away.

This idea is sometimes taken to form the basis of a kind of ‘practice’, as a way of having less aksuala. As I see it, however, that is just another attempt at control of dhammas, and is not the development of the path taught by the Buddha.


H: Attending to exactly what arises, with calm and clarity and equanimity is precisely what the Buddha taught, especially in such suttas as the Satipatthana Sutta.


The difficulty with attending to exactly what arises is that it is something that can only be done with panna. That panna does not arise simply because we determine to attend to dhammas. It’s arising is conditioned by (prior) hearing of and reflection on the teachings, and the application to the present moment of what has been thus understood at a conceptual level.

So there cannot be attending to dhammas at will, even for those who have heard and studied the teachings a lot, let alone for those who rely on a form of practice.

And unless panna is present, things cannot be seen as they truly are, and any assumed ‘attending to dhammas’ would not in fact be so.

And he taught it with an AIM, the cultivation of the mind.


As regards cultivation of the mind, the mindfulness that experiences dhammas as they truly are is itself cultivation, because it is kusala of the highest level (the level of insight). There is not a form of ‘practice’ to be undertaken, such as attending to what arises, that somehow results in the arising of kusala of one kind or another.

There is no general principle that more awareness means less akusala manifesting in one’s life. Of course, the development of awareness will bring a better appreciation of all kinds of kusala, but the latent tendencies for akusala will see to it that akusala continues to arise in our life regardless (this is all part of starting from where we now are, I think).


Most people don’t like having it suggested that their way of ‘practice’ is just another way of trying to control dhammas, so I understand the strength of your reaction.

But I think it’s important to see that progress in the development of insight into the true nature of a presently arising dhamma, on the one hand, and the nature and amount of aksuala that arises in our life, on the other, are separate things that are not directly (and inversely) related.


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