The Right Equipment

อาจารย์ มุนินโท

The Right Equipment

The result we are looking for in contemplative enquiry is the understanding that actually resolves suffering.

To arrive at such understanding requires skill in using the tools in our spiritual toolkit. It might also mean we need to acquire more tools. As with any task, if we don’t have the right equipment, we can’t do the work. If we don’t have access to modes of investigation any more subtle than common-or-garden thinking, we will be disappointed in our efforts.

This is what the spiritual exercises of meditation and wise reflection are for: they introduce us to more subtle ways of working with the dynamics of our inner worlds.

There are many ways of talking about the tools required to apply ourselves competently to the inner work. Different teachers will share according to what they have found has worked for them. In my experience there are three main tools: mindfulness (sati), sense restraint (indriya saṃvara) and wise reflection (yoniso manasikara).

We could also speak in terms of the five Spiritual Faculties: confidence (saddhā), vitality (viriya), mindfulness (sati), collectedness (samādhi) and discernment (paññā), but in this teaching I would like to stay with the first set of tools.

Mindfulness is to do with the quality of watchfulness. An image the Buddha gave to help us appreciate mindfulness was that of a gatekeeper, standing alert at the gate to the city, observing the comings and goings. Or we could think of the doorman at a hotel, watching who comes in and who goes out. The doorman doesn’t carry the bags up to the rooms or leave with a guest in a taxi. He stays watchfully at the entrance to the hotel.

Sense restraint is the ability to set boundaries and keep to them. I mentioned earlier our body’s immune system, which has the function of saying no to agents of disease that threaten to disrupt our physical health. We also need to be able to say no to any excessive exuberance that threatens to disrupt our hearts. Excessive exuberance shows itself in our tendency to become lost by either following the feelings which arise when we meet sense objects – sights, sounds, scents, flavours, sensations and ideas – or denying them. These are the two extreme reactions.

When sense restraint is well developed we have an ability to contain reactions, neither following nor denying them. Thus the feelings which arise with sense contact are available for investigation, and we don’t have to be intimidated by sense objects: the attractive, the repulsive or anything in-between.

Wise reflection is what we do with the new-found perspective on the inner landscape. The benefit of exercising mindfulness and sense restraint is an increase in inner awareness. We start to see in ways we didn’t even suspect were possible before; we start to understand what our teachers meant when they encouraged us to read our own hearts.

When the faculties of mindfulness and sense restraint are not adequately developed, we have difficulty in seeing what it is that keeps tripping us up. When they have been adequately developed, wise reflection can do its work, which is to look more deeply, to listen more accurately, beyond the surface appearance of things. Wise reflection loves looking for and finding the most relevant questions to ask, those questions which begin to ease the tension and actually resolve our suffering.

This reflection by Ajahn Munindo is from the book, Alert to the Needs of the Journey, (pdf) pp. 61-63.