BSC-Graduated Peradeniya University, Formerly Senior Commercial Manager at Sri Lankan Airlines and, presently Consultant to Air India GSA in Sri Lanka.
Mindfulness and Insight Meditation is ever so gaining the attention of people mainly as a means to escape from mental stress. Globally speaking there is a vast population especially in the western world who are being impacted by mental stress in their daily lives.
According to the Mental Health Foundation UK 2016 report on facts pertaining to 2014 the situation is of much concern.
Quote” This year’s Fundamental Facts follows the recent publication of the 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS). This highlights that, every week, one in six adults experiences symptoms of a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, and one in five adults has considered taking their own life at some point. Nearly half of adults believe that, in their lifetime, they have had a diagnosable mental health problem, yet only a third have received a diagnosis. The APMS brings to the fore the widening gap between the mental health of young women and young men. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are almost three times as likely (at 26%) to experience a common mental health problem as their male contemporaries (9%) and have higher rates of self-harm, bipolar disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. This is clearly an issue that needs a deeper look and a strategy for addressing the factors that are causing it.
Another group at particular risk includes people in mid-life, with a noticeable increase in the prevalence of common mental health problems for both men and women between the ages of 55 and 64. There are some very worrying levels of poor mental health among people receiving Employment and Support Allowance. Two thirds report common mental health problems and the same percentage report suicidal thoughts, with 43.2% having made a suicide attempt and one third (33.5%) self-harming, indicating that this is a population in great need of targeted support.
Despite an increase in people accessing treatment, around a third of all people with a mental health problem have sought no professional help at all. At the center of the Mental Health Foundation’s research and program work is the belief that many mental health problems are preventable. There is far more scope for interventions that reduce the incidence of people developing mental health problems and also support recovery” Unquote
Indeed, the mental health problems are preventable and there is a clear and well defined path that can help all the people. That path is the understanding of the Eightfold Noble Path as shown in Mangala Sutra, Mindfulness and Insight Meditation and development of Ten Parami. So how can one find the Eightfold Noble Path in the Mangala Sutra?
Let us examine the first stanza of the sutra. “Do not associate the lowly, associate with wise, honor those worthy of honor and this is the greatest blessing”. Unfortunately, most people see this from the external perspective and try to find others who are not foolish but only those seen as wise and scout for the worthy to be honored. But if one with insight look deeper, will realize that the Enlightened One did not mean this. Here the super-mundane truth is for one not to do things that defile one’s mind but do only those that cleanse it.
Then such a person becomes worthy of honor. Things such as killing, stealing, misconduct in desires, of lies, divisive talk, hate talk, frivolous talk, consumption of intoxicants are all lowly and one should refrain from such things. Such a person will be endowed with loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, equanimity etc. Such people are surely worthy of honor. Also this itself is Right View or Samma Ditti. This is the cleansing with insight and the person will know his/her status as shown in the Kosambi Sutra. Such persons are either on the path to stream-entry or are stream-enterers. One who sees the inner truth in Mangala Sutra will clearly see the eightfold noble path so well defined in the most practical manner.
One may also look into Dhammapada, Loka Vagga (The World 13.167) stanza. “Do not follow the lowly ways, do not live heedless; do not associate into false view, do not linger into worldliness”. Here the worldly means self of the six touch -agencies
The next stanza says, “To reside in a suitable locality, to have done merits in the past and setting self in the right course and this is the greatest blessing”. From a mundane perspective one may think of living in a good area, of merits done in previous lives, and now to do more merits as the greatest blessing.
In actual fact, the suitable locality is around oneself and not a territory and a person with restraint can even live in a crowded area and yet be of inner peace. On the contrary one may live in the most luxurious places yet might have a churning mind. He or she does not attach to self or to others or things, has no hatred towards others and will not harm anyone and thereby has set self in the right course. This is Right Contemplation or Samma Sankappa.
“To have much learning and skills, restrained and disciplined, be of right speech and this is the greatest blessing” To have much learning is not what is assimilated with our senses but knowledge of Dhamma and thereby is skilled in the path. Such person/s are restrained and disciplined and will only have right speech Samma Vaacha.
“Caring for one’s mother and father, looking after the spouse and children, and engaged in right actions for living, and this is the greatest blessing”. With righteous living one also looks after parents and the family and is thus of virtue. In a world today where parents are banished away or left in home for aged or even left on the road, there still are those who live in the right path and take care of parents. This is Right Action or Samma Kammantha. Such a person’s actions are ethical and reflect compassion.
“To give generously and be of right conduct, look after one’s relatives and be of blameless action, this is the greatest blessing”. This is about making a living through ethical means and being of no harm to others. This is the fifth step of right livelihood. However right living is fast disappearing with many today resorting to wrong living in this world like sale of weapons, be those WMD (weapons of mass destruction) or WSD (weapons of single destruction), intoxicants, technology that enable people to resort to wrong actions etc. This is Samma Aajiwa or Right Livelihood.
“To loathe and abstain from evil, refrain from taking intoxicants and heedful of Dhamma, this is the greatest blessing.” This is the Right effort in eightfold noble path and is about cleansing of defilements and not accruing new, cultivating the rightful actions and further develop the existing right actions. The person steeped in the practice of this stanza is on the right track of Right Effort.
The seventh and eighth stanzas are, “To be respectful and humble and not be of bloated ego, contented and grateful, listen to Dhamma at right times is the greatest blessing” and “Being patient and obedient, associate Bhikkus and discuss Dhamma at right times, this is the greatest blessing”. None of these can be expected from people with wrong mindfulness and it is such people who are ungrateful. Indeed, the Enlightened One once said, “those with gratitude are rare in this world”. This is Right Mindfulness.
“Fully restrained in the six touch-agencies, living a chaste and righteous life, and realization of the four noble truths, this is the greatest blessing”. Such a person has fully attained the four paths and the four fruits and is now fully liberated. “Unruffled by the eight worldly conditions that confront self, and of a mind that does not get ruffled and free of sorrow, free of defilements, and from fear liberated, this is the greatest blessing” This itself is Right Concentration.
Therefore, the Mangala Sutra gives one the plan of action that should be undertaken for ultimate liberation of Nirvana and not just to recite at occasions that are of worldly benefits. In short this sutra shows us the path to the super-mundane condition, Nirvana.
The one who meditates must first be of virtue, and with Anapana Sathi will build concentration and then move on to developing wisdom. The first two stanzas of this sutra is Wisdom. The next three stanzas form Virtue. The next five stanzas are about Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. This is concentration.
A person who walk the path of meditation will steadfastly observe virtue. The level may be the five precepts, eight livelihood precepts, the eight precepts observed on Poya days, the ten precepts or the precepts as observed by Bhikkus. He or she will knowingly never deviate from the level of virtue once taken. Thus it is important to at least observe the five precepts.
Yet of course there are occasions where people have attained nirvana despite having taken liquor, the case of Minister Santhathi in the cabinet of King Kosala, or Sumana who became a stream-enterer, though initially in life was a lady who practiced wrong sexual conduct for pecuniary benefits. But a person steeped in virtue will find it much easier to progress further.
With virtue instilled, and resolutely protecting the status one will begin Mindfulness Meditation of observing the breath. One may retire to a place of solitude particularly for beginners as it would be quite difficult to build concentration in a disturbing surrounding.
In the second part of this article we shall examine further on mindfulness meditation.