Vipassana goalkeeping

by Danai Chanchaochai, Bangkok Post, April 1, 2005

The balanced mind not only becomes peaceful in itself, but it helps others also to become peaceful

Bangkok, Thailand -- Even if you are not an avid football fan you will certainly understand the importance of the goalkeeper. His job of course is to prevent the opposing team scoring by getting past his defences and driving the ball into the net. One of the aspects of mindfulness is just like that.

We have to be own ever vigilante goalkeeper and prevent the distractions and desires that cause suffering from getting into our net.

Now we will continue with more advice from our "Dhamma Vipassana Coach" Phra Archarn Manop Upasamo:

To be a really good goalkeeper you have to always pay close attention to your senses. You may think you do this anyway. That you are fully aware of the world around you - of its sights, sounds, smell, tastes, of even its touch. Well maybe and maybe not.

First of all, let's recap about the nature of our senses. They are, as is everything of this world - impermanent. By this we mean that whatever we perceive through any of those senses it is with us only temporarily. We may thrill to the song of a bird and watch fascinated as another joins in from a lofty perch, creating in the treetops a joyful avian aria that for us seems no less than an anthem to nature itself. Yet that whole uplifting experience is impermanent. Even if it's repeated, it will be different, and of another time.

If you doubt this, think carefully. Is there any sense or feeling that stays forever? There are none. Remember our little experiment last week about observing the bothersome effect of the summer heat on our bodies? If you practiced that you will have noticed the nature of the heat itself to have been elusive. You could not pinpoint it. While you were busy with your observations your mind and body became free from the oppressive heat itself. It no longer bothered you.

The Buddha said that mind is the forerunner of all thought, speech and action. Consciousness it is. The world forms on the senses, through the six windows of perception - the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. Here is where we form identities, create myths, and fabricate illusions. It is where separation occurs, values are forged, and principles shaped. In this very literal sense, we are our minds and our minds are us.

After you start to observe with all your senses for a while, you'll notice that there always seems to be something new calling for your attention, new things for you to observe emerging all the time. Simply walking down a busy street can cause our senses to be bombarded with new sights, sounds, smells, every second or two. The eye-catching movements of the showman-like noodle vendor, the steam rising from the simmering pot that pervades the immediate area with its trademark aroma. And next door, the banging and scraping of the stir fryer as he conjures up another dish for a customer who creates yet more stimulation for our senses as he drags his stool squeakingly across the pavement and cracks open his can of soft drink.

Sense stimulation doesn't always have to be about man made hustle and bustle. There's a great symphony of non-stop movement in nature itself. Ever thought provoking, ever changing. Never permanent.

Remember that our organs of sight, hearing, smell, and taste are simply channels for capturing the sensations around us and transmitting them our minds. What we make of them is basically up to us. What to some is literally music to the ears can be torture for others. For those individuals who find themselves assailed by the ever increasing noise of this world, its very impermanence offers some consolation. It can't, and fortunately does not, last forever. The cacophony of commerce with its high volume advertisements, the thump, thump of disco music that has long escaped the confines of the discotheque and now assails us even in the park - those too will not last.

Because most of us do live in the workaday world with its myriad distractions and temptations we really do need to develop our own Vipassana goalkeeping skills to keep all those potential defilements out. The techniques of Vipassana self-observation shows us reality in its two aspects, inner and outer. Previously, we might look looked with open eyes, but missed the inner truth. We would look outside in our own blind reactions toward pleasant and unpleasant sensations, not understanding that the cause of suffering lies within.

Now, with Vipassana, we can for example, be aware of our breathing and of what is happening inside. Whatever it is, breath or sensation, we know just to observe it, without losing the balance of the mind. We stop reacting, stop multiplying the misery. Instead, we allow the defilement to manifest and pass away.

As we become a better and better Vipassana goalkeeper we find that just as on the football field, the more skilful we become, the better we can serve other members of the team. In football after all, a team needs more than a good goalkeeper to become a great winning side.

The more we practice Vipassana meditation, the more quickly we will come out of negativity. Gradually the mind becomes freed of the defilements; it becomes pure. A pure mind is always full of loving kindness - love for all others; full of compassion for the failings and sufferings of others; full of joy at their success and happiness; full of equanimity in the face of any situation.

When we get to this stage, the entire pattern of our life will begin to change. It will no longer possible to do anything which will disturb the peace and happiness of others. Instead, the balanced mind not only becomes peaceful in itself, but it helps others also to become peaceful. Our whole life will become permeated with peace and harmony.

Until you have achieved that noble state, remember to make mindfulness your best friend. If you use it wisely it will alert you every time a distraction or defilement tries to break through your defences. If we use a modern analogy from the world of computers we can think of mindfulness like a firewall. It will keep all those potential hackers at bay. But you must remember to keep it up to date.

The teachings of Phra Acharn Manop Upasamo are transcribed and translated for Dhamma Moments by Nashara Siamwalla.

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