Brightening the Mind

Ajahn Karuṇadhammo • August 2012

Recent discussions and Dhamma talk reflections have focused on the theme of right effort. Many of us can be so caught up in what we think of as Dhamma practice or meditation practice that we create a narrow focus for ourselves. Several of us here came to Buddhism with a focus on the practice of meditation in the context of silent retreat, oftentimes with a very specific technique related to quieting the mind. Sometimes it’s easy to get the idea that Buddhist practice boils down to right concentration or a specific meditation method. But the Buddha’s Eightfold Path is much broader than that. Right effort, one of these path factors, is a significant skill to be developed. With right effort, we are learning to be sensitive to the effect our minds have on what it is we’re doing. We are examining and asking ourselves, Are wholesome states increasing or unwholesome states decreasing? That’s our benchmark. That’s our measure of whatever it is we’re doing in what we call our Buddhist practice.

For instance, the theme today for Upāsikā Day, “Brightening the Mind,” focuses on the formal side of meditation, which is often—but not explicitly—talked about in terms of contemplation. There are many kinds of active reflections the Buddha gave to help prepare, brighten, and soften the mind. By building on those qualities we can develop more refined states of concentration. So that is our orientation—to learn how to develop and prepare the mind, not only with formal meditation practice, but also in our daily activities.

The rest of the path is oriented toward the other supports and developments of right view and the attitudes and actions that are part and parcel of our practice to liberate the mind. We follow this path by paying attention to whatever it is we are doing, in the livelihood we’ve chosen and in the activities and various ways we express ourselves in body, speech, and mind. We can ask ourselves if what we are doing or thinking is leading toward wholesome states of mind—toward more peace, contentment, and satisfaction, or toward less stress, suffering, clinging, and holding on to unskillful habits of responding in the world. We can use that as the benchmark around all of our activities, everything we do. This in turn allows us to let go of the belief that meditation or practice is something we do only after our activities are done, when we get up to our kuṭis or find a place to sit quietly. We are gaining insight into the perspective that it’s all practice right here and right now, toward the increasing of wholesome mind states and the decreasing of unwholesome ones.