Let me introduce myself. My name is Andrew Levin; I am from the New York City area and this is my second post on the site. I was "alevin," a junior member on E-sangha but am now here after it has shut down. I want to say hi and what's up to all those that are now here from E-Sangha, especially Bhikkhu Pesala, who I am a big fan of.
My question today is on meditation technique. I couldn't find an exact answer to my question in any of my library of Dhamma books exactly, just bits and pieces.
Basically, I want to know how one proceeds meditating with the Noble Eightfold Path as it progresses from right intention through insight meditation. As I understand it, one of the preliminary things to do is develop a mind that pervades loving-kindness and compassion.
I quote Bhikkhu Bodhi twice from his book "The Noble Eightfold Path":
We have to begin by straightening out our views and clarifying our intentions. Then we have to purify our conduct — our speech, action, and livelihood. Taking these measures as our foundation, we have to apply ourselves with energy and mindfulness to the cultivation of concentration and insight. The rest is a matter of gradual practice and gradual progress, without expecting quick results.
With regard to the metta and karuna part of right intention, I quote him again:
metta can be widened by directional suffusion, proceeding in the various directions — east, south, west, north, above, below — then it can be extended to all beings without distinction. In the end one suffuses the entire world with a mind of loving-kindness "vast, sublime, and immeasurable, without enmity, without aversion."
So it seems we are to to develop a mind of lovingkindness and compassion as a first step before practicing the foundations of mindfulness.
However, at what point does this stop? I have read in different works that metta and karuna practice is also a great way of making merit productive for a future fortunate rebirth:
This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "All the grounds for making merit leading to spontaneously arising (in heaven) do not equal one-sixteenth of the awareness-release through good will. Good will — surpassing them — shines, blazes, & dazzles."
So it doesn't seem right to me that we should then give it up after we have expanded it, stop the meditation, and practice only the foundations of mindfulness from then on. Indeed, we read in Itivuttaka 1.22 that the Buddha practiced this for years on end to make a great deal of merit:
This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "Monks, don't be afraid of acts of merit. This is another way of saying what is blissful, desirable, pleasing, endearing, charming — i.e., acts of merit. I am cognizant that, having long performed meritorious deeds, I long experienced desirable, pleasing, endearing, charming results. Having developed a mind of good will for seven years, then for seven aeons of contraction & expansion I didn't return to this world. Whenever the aeon was contracting, I went to the realm of Streaming Radiance. "
Certainly this should be a long-term, maybe even life-long contemplation. But do we really want to delay developing wisdom through satipatthana until we have done seven years of metta (assuming we do it an hour or few a day)?
It seems to me that metta meditation should not be put down after a certain amount of time so that we can practice satipatthana instead. Indeed, I glean from the Metta sutta that Metta can be contemplating continuously and even helps for attaining supramundane:
As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings. With good will for the entire cosmos, cultivate a limitless heart: Above, below, & all around, unobstructed, without enmity or hate. Whether standing, walking, sitting, or lying down, as long as one is alert, one should be resolved on this mindfulness. This is called a sublime abiding here & now.
Not taken with views, but virtuous & consummate in vision, having subdued desire for sensual pleasures, one never again will lie in the womb.
I don't know if metta can contribute to insight meditation. I have personally developed some insight with expanding metta, but it seems to me that even if it does not directly lead to the supramundane, we can at least take the sutta's guidance as an ideal or try to keep the "spirit" of it by full-time practice of metta bhavana.
How, then, I ask, when one wants to begin insight practice, after laying the groundwork in renunciation, metta, karuna, and morality, is one to keep the two continuing with each other, such that one can have a continuous practice of insight meditation, while still pervading metta both to keep in spirit with continued pervsation of metta at outlined in the Metta Sutta, and to continue to make use of its potent abillity for generating merit as a means towards a fortunate future birth (we all want to have that to fall back on, don't we)?
On the mindfulness side of things, taking a look at Soma Thera's "The Way of Mindfulness," we see that when one is not practicing on the primary object of (insight) meditation, one is reflecting on the postures and so forth. So, how are we to combine this with metta practice?
Wholetime practice of mindfulness consists in the carrying out of each of the three following activities of contemplation at the proper time: attention to the preliminary object of concentration, reflection on the modes of deportment and clear comprehension. When one is not attending to the preliminary object for one good reason or another, one should be reflecting on the modes of deportment, or be doing clear comprehension.
Should we do, say, an hour of metta a day, to develop a compassionate mind state and merit, and at those times be reflecting in the background on the postures and so forth, should we "put down" satipatthana during time set aside for metta, or should we try to practice metta 'together' with the foundations of mindfulness rather than do one at a time, although it seems this could be a bit challenging (not that we shouldn't do it anyway if that's the correct course of action!)?
So that's my question to the Dhamma Wheel. It's a pretty practical question about technique and procedure. I posed it to a friend on EFNet/#buddhism but was just told this is the type of thing you ask a teacher, but I don't have a teacher and I thought I could get good advice from people who are in the know, such as those of you on this board.
Thanks, and I welcome myself to the board!!