This line from the story posted by Chris
reminded me of something I've been meaning to ask:
"We must constantly keep ourselves under observation--not only others. In fact, let others be our mirror wherein we may discover our own defilements."
In the Satipatthana Sutta, there is a line that goes:
"In this way he abides contemplating the body/feelings/mind/dhammas internally, or he abides contemplating the body/feelings/mind/dhammas externally, or he abides contemplating the body/feelings mind/dhammas both internally and externally..."
This is the part of sutta that Ven. Analayo calls the 'refrain', the modus operandi
of satipatthana, if you like. He suggests that the "task of this 'refrain' is to direct attention to those aspects that are essential for the proper practice of each exercise" (p. 92). The refrain also tells us to contemplate the 'arising/passing', with 'bare knowledge and continuous mindfulness' and 'independently without clinging'.
I am, however, curious about the part that says 'internally/externally'. These two terms are not further elaborated in the Satipatthana Sutta. But to sum up Ven. Analayo's arguments very briefly, he examines two ways of interpreting 'internally/externally'.
The first way of interpreting follows the Abhidhammic and commentarial literature, which interprets 'internally/externally' to encompass phenomenon arising in oneself and others. So, when one contemplates body/feelings/mind/dhammas, one contemplates them in oneself and in others. We of course cannot read the minds of others. But reading the Abhidhammic and commentarial literature, Ven. Analayo suggests that we can direct mindfulness towards the outer manifestations of others (facial expressions, posture, movements, etc) so as to practice satipatthana 'externally'.
The second way of interpretating is suggested by some contemporary teachers who interpret 'internally/externally' to refer to what is inside of the body and what is on the outside of the body--i.e. the surface of the skin. I won't reproduce Ven. Analayo's arguments in detail here. But he more or less argues that while such interpretations are not entirely unfounded and have their practical benefits, they have their limits (e.g. it becomes hard to maintain such a distinction when one begins to contemplate the dhammas).
So, leaving aside the more contemporary interpretations, I have some questions about the more 'classical' way of understanding 'internally/externally'. Following the sequence stated in the Satipatthana Sutta, one first practices internal contemplation, which then becomes the basis of external contemplation. And finally one contemplates both internally and externally. Ven. Analayo thus opines that "indeed to be aware of one's feelings and reactions enables one to understand the feelings and reactions of others more easily". He adds:
'For a balanced development of awareness, this shift from the internal to the external is of considerable importance. Awareness applied only internally can lead to self-centredness. One can become excessively concerned with what happens with and within oneself while at the same time remaining unaware of how one's action and behaviour affect others. Practicing both internal and external satipatthana can prevent such lopsidedness and achieve a skillful balance between introspection and extroversion' (p. 98).
When we talk about meditation we often speak of it as a kind of introspective practice. But in light of the above, we see that it shouldn't be only introspective. Indeed, the force of introspection should propel one towards a certain extroversion, a greater sensitivity to the thoughts and feelings of others.
So my questions are: Do you actually make a conscious effort to contemplate 'externally'? Should we attempt to do so? Or is this something that happens 'naturally' as we build up the momentum of 'internal' contemplation?