Keep Everything in Context

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

Keep Everything in Context

The Buddha recognized that meditation can dig up unskillful thoughts in the mind, unskillful states, but he had a solution for them. It comes down to how you breathe, how you talk to yourself, the perceptions and feelings you focus on.

The most famous case was that of some monks who were practicing body contemplation without any supervision.

The Buddha had gone off on a personal retreat into the forest, and they got so disgusted with their bodies that they ended up committing suicide.

The Buddha came out of retreat, noticed that there were a lot fewer monks around, so called the remaining monks together and told them, when anything unskillful comes up in the mind as you meditate, or if the meditation is aggravating unskillful thoughts, switch back to the breath.

Then he listed the sixteen steps of breath meditation, in which you don’t just sit with whatever is coming up. You actively try to counteract it.

If the mind is too energetic, you breathe in a way that calms it down. It’s getting too depressed, you breathe in a way that encourages it, enlivens it, gladdens it. If there’s too much energy coursing through the body, you calm that down as well. If the breath is tight and unpleasant, figure out some way to breathe that would bring more pleasure.

In other words, when something really unskillful comes up, use breath meditation as a way of dealing with these three forms of fabrication and finding the antidote.

…don’t just sit there with whatever’s coming up and look at it. You have a policy for how not to get entangled, how not to get involved, and you [refer to/focus on/work with…] those three kinds of fabrication.

There are other passages where the Buddha says that if you find thoughts of regret coming up, things you’ve done in the past that you feel really bad about, realize the best thing you can do is to resolve not to repeat the mistake and to engage in brahmavihara meditation.

Think thoughts of goodwill for everybody, thoughts of compassion, thoughts of empathetic joy, thoughts of equanimity. Try to make your mind unlimited so that the pain of having made a mistake like that doesn’t overwhelm you.

The important thing to realize is that whatever unskillful things come up in the mind, there’s always a skillful antidote. In some cases, the Buddha just indicates in a general way what it might be. In other cases, he’s more specific.

But in either case, you can take his indications and work with them, realizing that if something unskillful comes into the mind, it’s a type of karma.

It may come from past karma, but you’ve got the possibility of making better choices, better karma, in the present moment.

This is the most important thing you’ve got to keep in mind…

These reflections by Ajaan Geoff are from the Dhamma talk, “Staying on Track June 1, 2021.” [Also in PDF format.]