January  2003   2545   Number 63 

Sati-sampajanna: The Brightest Kamma; Ajahn Sucitto
Silent Attentiveness & the Mirror-like Mind; Ajahn Vimalo
A few words on Dhamma from Down Under; Ajahn Kalyano
Cycles of time: Renewal; Ajahn Thaniya


Sati-sampajanna: The Brightest Kamma
A talk given by Ajahn Sucitto at Cittaviveka to commemorate the completion of the Buddha-rupa for the new Dhamma Hall, August 2002.
In the last few weeks, we've been having a Buddha-image created in this monastery by Ajahn Nonti. He's a sculptor from Thailand who came over here to do this as an act of dana (generosity). It's been a very lovely occasion; both the fact that the Buddha is being made and offered freely, and that it's been done in a friendly and enjoyable way. Many people have been able to help with it. Yesterday there were nine people sanding the Buddha-image. It's not that big, yet nine people were scrubbing away on it, not colliding with each other and enjoying doing that together. Getting nine people to do anything together in an enjoyable way is a pretty good thing to have happening. I think this is the power of the occasion and the power of the Buddha! Everybody was doing it from a place of freedom, willingness and co-operativeness. There's a very lovely quality of good kamma in that; doing something which will have lasting significance and also doing it in a way that one is able to feel happy rather than intense, fearful or worried. There's an immediate result - one feels happy - and a long-term result - you're doing something you feel will be of benefit for others.
In the way that good kamma works, there's immediate results (vipaka), and long-term results that other people can also benefit from. In a few days we hope to be able to install the Buddha-image in the Dhamma Hall. As an image I find it very lovely, it makes me feel happy just to look at it. It has a quality of softness - nothing harsh, nothing intimidating, nothing intense about it - just a very soft, inviting quality that, when I look at it, brings up a sense of feeling welcome, feeling okay and feeling relaxed. This is a very good reminder for meditation. Sometimes in meditation people can get quite grim and fraught with all kinds of worries, needs, possibilities and demands going on in the mind; we really need a basis of feeling welcomed and blessed. When I use these words I'm just trying to give words to something that's more a mood than a thought. When we are sitting somewhere where we feel very welcome and trusted, that there's benevolence around us, we can let ourselves open up. This is what the image brings up in my mind. It's another reflection on what good kamma is about.

Good kamma (volitional action) in the scriptures is generally called 'bright kamma' as opposed to 'dark kamma'. 'Bright' means you feel bright; it's not just a matter of an idea but of a felt sense of 'bright' and uplifted. 'Bright' has the sense of something opening, of softness and joy; it has these tones to it. While 'dark' means shut down, contracted, closed. What would we like to sit in when we meditate? Meditation implies dealing with the discomforts of the body and the pains of the heart. So it would be nice to have a good place to sit, so that you've got something on your side, wouldn't it? Externally we can say a Buddha image, a Dhamma Hall, a monastery or friends can do that; internally what does that is the results of one's good kamma. To have good friends, a monastery and a Buddha-image is a source of brightness. That there was a historical Buddha whose presence is still glowing through the ages, and that we hear that and resonate with it - this is a bright result for us, something we should not take lightly or squander. The image of the Buddha gives us a reminder of what brightness is about, the beauty of that. Brightness is a heart-tone, a felt tone rather than a judgement - good/bad, right/wrong. This is something to check inwardly: the quality of the actions that we do and the context that we generate around ourselves, is it bright? The quality of what we say and think - does it give bright results or dark results? We're dependent upon what we say and do; that's what creates the particular situations that we end up living in.
The image of the Buddha gives us a reminder of what brightness is about, the beauty of that.
To be able to know, not just think or have somebody tell you, but to really feel the quality of good kamma, you have to enter into the heart, the citta (the affective sense of mind). This is a source of kamma and repository of its results. There are three main sources and repositories of kamma, of action that we do. The first is the body; physically we do things. The second is through the heart; we aspire, we love, we share - this is bright; we feel negative, malicious and so forth - this is the dark. The dark kamma is generated in the heart, isn't it? We then act upon that through our body, or our speech. The speech faculty is the third form of kamma. Our speech faculty also refers to the thinking mind. In English 'mind' straddles both the mood or the affective sense, and also conceptual activity. It means both. But in the Pali language we have 'citta' which is to do with the affective, emotive, feeling sense; and 'mano' which is to do with conceiving or organising, with the production of concepts.
Mano deals with the articulation of thoughts; it defines things. Through that we then produce speech. Mano produces a particular object so we're able to say, 'This is a dog.' 'This is a bell.' 'This is tomorrow.' We are able to imagine things and juggle theories around quarks and mesons, or the other side of the universe and what happened before the universe began. We can also define particular mind-states. This is the act of mano. Citta is the quality of that which moves - we're uplifted, we're excited, we're depressed, we're joyful, we're hurt - it's that affective sense. It's in the affective sense that you can fully feel and know the effects of volitional action, because everything proceeds from there. We're also very much affected by physical and mental feelings. Mental feelings are to do with perception. When we feel hurt it's likely that what will come out of that sense, is something unsteady, or cloudy, a reaction. Somebody says something and, 'Oh, that sounded really hostile to me.' That's a perception, isn't it? There's an interpretation of the words - 'Somebody was reading the names out of all the monks and they left my name out. I feel completely ignored.' That mood is a creation of mental kamma. 'My name's been left off the list and I've been here all these years! I feel quite hurt by that.' There's a powerful feeling; more so than if somebody accidentally dropped something on me.
Around the mental perceptions we create all kinds of things, like deliberation -'He did that on purpose.' This produces a tremendous amount of feeling for us. Also, mental perception itself is based upon past kamma, on things that have happened. So, 'This is the fourteenth time this year they've left my name off the list. Ugh! If they'd done it once I'd have thought it was just a mistake. I'm out of here!' That one action was felt more because of all the previous actions that had occurred. This is called 'inherited' kamma: the inherited result (vipaka) acts as a foundation for fresh kamma, it intensifies it. If somebody turns up late for a meeting - well, okay. Every day he turns up late; this really is quite a different effect, isn't it? Perceptually it feels disrespectful. Based upon that mental perception comes a feeling. That produces an emotional reaction, and from that we decide to do something about it. We can feel angry, irritable or hurt but we may be able to check those and not say anything. But even if we do check them they can still linger in the heart as a resentful or depressed feeling. So these kinds of mental kamma can stain the whole of one's heart, so it doesn't feel bright any more.
When we cultivate good kamma, it also cleans away old stuff. We recognise that once we have done something, there must be a result. But from that result we can refrain from creating a new thing dependent upon that. That is, I don't have to keep on doing something - either missing people's names or turning up late, or anything like that. I can stop and put a bit of effort and intelligence into it and be clear. I don't have to keep creating fresh kamma based upon negative inheritance. It does mean we have to be able to keep looking carefully - 'Is the mind bright? Is the mind clear? Is the mind present?' We might say that the supreme kamma is to be mindful, because if we establish that it momentarily frees the mind from results of the past. This means that our moods are going to be clearer and brighter; our actions and speech are going to be clearer and brighter. If we do this for ourselves, it means what we put out is going to be clearer and brighter. This means other people have an easier time: there's an element of compassion in that for others.
Mindfulness is the factor that brings us into the present and keeps us clear. Mindfulness is linked to the mano faculty; that is, it defines boundaries and objects, it says 'That's that'. Tonally, it's quite neutral. It's not happy or anything; just, 'That's that.' The ability to form a boundary around something, to say 'That's a feeling. That's a mood. That's happening there.' this is mindfulness. The two aspects of mind work with each other. That is: citta, the subjective sense of what's happening to me, produces a mood, a felt sense; and mano helps to pin-point, define and say 'That's that.' Mindfulness helps, doesn't it, because in the feeling sense there are no boundaries. You just feel 'Whoa...!' It's everywhere. And if that felt sense doesn't have a boundary around it, it starts to proliferate; 'I am. I always will be. People don't like me. I'm terrible...' It just goes on and on and on escalating. If we get over-ebullient we can be charging around feeling, 'Well, I'm feeling on top of the world and everything's great,' and being quite insensitive to how our behaviour affects others. So, even when our intentions are good, not to be mindful means that our good intention doesn't have this essential quality of reflection, placing and measuring it within what's happening right now - 'How does this affect others?'

Mindfulness is based upon Right View. Right View is that there is a good result to good deeds. There is a sense of recognising the laws of kamma and what we're connected to; recognising parents, recognising enlightened beings and what good we do. It's not just that there's a good feeling, but seeing that this good feeling is also one that leads to a good result. There are different kinds of pleasant feeling we can have, but the quality of mindfulness is to know, 'This is a feeling,' and it's able to recognise the mind-state that accompanies it. There's some clarity there, a steadying effect. We don't just go into the feeling; we go into the feeling area itself, which is the citta area, and we're able to be clear and conscious of it. It's not something we're careless about. With a negative feeling, 'okay this is a negative feeling; it feels like this; it arises with that perception or that memory, and it subsides when I practise metta or forgiveness, or when I just sit with it and let it subside by itself.' With a good feeling, 'it's based upon this perception and thought, and it subsides when that thought or perception is removed.'
The other aspect that acts as a ground for our meditation is called sampajanna, which means something like 'full comprehension'. This is a citta-effect. Just as the mindfulness is a mano thing where you direct your ability to form a boundary, sampajanna is the ability to subtly sense. It's a very subtle form of citta-effect. It's not really to do with the feeling tone so much as the receptivity, the ability to feel. There's pleasure and displeasure, which are feelings, but there's also our ability to feel, our sensitivity. The quality of sampajanna provides this; you really sense something, you get the whole of it. This is essential. Mindfulness can point to something, rest upon it so you don't just scurry past it; and sampajanna is sensitising to the whole of it. 'What's the meaning of this? What's the whole of this?' In our daily life, it's important both to do good but also to know it's bright. Which means you have to spend some time to focus on and get the whole sense of it. This is the ground for meditation - mindfulness and full comprehension.
In the on-going cultivation of the path, bright kamma is significant. The Buddha teaches kamma and the dissolution of kamma, the dissolution of the need for these on-going volitional tendencies. The possibility of these only comes around through good kamma - through the bright kamma of mindfulness and full comprehension. It's pretty difficult to have full comprehension of something that's unskilful. If we try to get our minds to spread over and sensitise to a negative act, it doesn't do it very easily. When the results (vipaka) of dark kamma are present, it's not so easy to have mindfulness and full comprehension. The mind begins to writhe, wriggle and run away; the feeling is so unpleasant. So we have to apply bright intention in the present in order to fully acknowledge, understand, and allow dark residues to pass away. Patience, courage, love: these bright intentions can support mindfulness and full comprehension. Then there's not the impulse to move into negative deeds; there's a sense of recoiling from them. The mind moves away from dark kamma because our system does not want pain, and dark kamma is painful. Even to hold a negative thought about someone is unpleasant. We're left with a sense of cultivating bright kamma not from some moral 'Thou shalt-' point of view, but just because it feels enjoyable and the way we can live with ourselves, feel we have dignity and worth.

We might say that mindfulness and full comprehension perfects bright kamma and eradicates dark kamma, not through disapproval but because of this simple sense of not wanting to be with something that feels bad. We don't have to form judgements about ourselves. Picking up everything we've done and complaining about it, that is dark kamma, isn't it? There's negativity and harshness there. There may be some truth (whatever that is) to it; we can always find facts to back it up. But you realise that these facts are just conceptual things like, 'On Thursday 19th you did this.' You don't get the full sense of what was happening on Thursday 19th, where my mind was at, what was going on and how bad it really was. But you can come to that sense of 'Oh, in the heart there's a sense of disappointment, and agitation.' This is the residue; this is the vipaka. Okay, there's a dark residue but it could mean anything really. It could be a bad physical action; it could be a bad verbal action; or it could be bad mental action happening right now - the critical, negative mind acting right now. We don't have to know which. All we need to know is, this is dark vipaka. It could be because I'm being harsh or judgemental; I'll only be able to be clear about that when I come into a bright space. The main thing is to clean it out. This is a meditative process.
A meditative process means we take refuge, we establish our ground in what's good, what's bright: in Buddha, gentleness, loving-kindness, clarity, that we're someone in the family of the Buddha who can attune to these qualities and feel them as worthy. We can establish that ground and begin to get a sense of being on the beautiful ground of the Dhamma.

In meditation first of all establish the good ground - we shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to get into regurgitating all our old stuff. It can be through Buddhanussati (recollection of the Buddha), recollecting good deeds or loving-kindness. The primary meditation is to get to a good place so that mindfulness and full comprehension can unfold. If you start from a dark place, mindfulness and full comprehension tend to contract because it's so unpleasant. Sometimes if we meditate from the idea of, 'just be mindful,' and we start off feeling dark - 'just be mindful of being dark or fed-up'; that this is being authentic as we're dealing with real issues - we're not actually dealing with them because the proper basis to do so isn't established. Instead one establishes that proper basis of bright kamma in the present moment by reflecting on good deeds - 'It's safe here. Right now nobody wants to harm me. Right now I don't want to harm anybody. There are the results of good deeds. I am one who can understand that and is interested in it.' The sense of being able to be with yourself is enhanced and mindfulness and full comprehension are there. We're then able to actually review something that is in the mind - a doubt, or a worry - because we've got the proper capacity to do so. Essentially mindfulness and full comprehension establishes a place that's both clear (mindfulness) and spacious (full comprehension). There are these two qualities to it. The citta feels open and bright. Then you can sense it contracts when something negative or hurtful comes into it.
The process of clearing one's dark residues is almost like putting a piece of dirty laundry into a lake. The cleaning is done both by action (placing the laundry in the lake) and without it - the water of pure awareness does the cleaning. So you take that dark and put it into the clean water and keep washing it until the dirt comes out. You keep feeling it and sensing it, and let go of what comes up. We establish mindfulness, such as around the body, around the Buddha, or around metta, and keep cleaning the heart of the dark residues - the fearfulness, the hurt, the worry or whatever it is. This is a healing process. Whenever we're able to clear some of the dark residues there is an increasing sense of lightness, of brightness. Over time as we cultivate, there's an increasing ground of well-being, a sphere of brightness that we can abide in.

Right at the heart of that are what are called the Enlightenment Factors: mindfulness, which is coupled with comprehension and investigation (dhamma-vicaya), energy, rapture, tranquillity, samadhi and equanimity. These are the qualities of this ground of brightness that begins to be more discernable in the heart. The healthy quality of the citta is like this. It's able to investigate and handle material; it's able to feel bright and uplifted; it has the energetic resources; it can calm itself; it can be equanimous; it can gather itself together; it's fully flexed.

We might say that all these seven awarenesses, are one way of defining what wisdom and compassion are. Wisdom is both the ability to rest and to know that ground of being, the 'Buddha-ground'. To know that we can understand that as this; not as an entity, not as myself, but something that's been revealed through skilful cultivation; this is wisdom. Compassion is, whatever afflictive experience there is, I'm prepared to place it on that ground in order to heal it. There's compassion for what happens internally. Whatever afflictive residues there are I am willing to bring my full comprehension around them, to bear with them, to feel for them. We're able to digest this stuff. What happens externally I can allow myself to open and sense. Compassion is the active aspect of enlightenment, and wisdom is the stasis of it. This is what we are building up through every bright deed that we do, as long as they're coupled with mindfulness. This bright ground doesn't arise spontaneously. One enters it dependent upon conditions - conditions of good kamma and attending to the results and aspirations of our lives - what's called merit (punna).

It's good to recognise how in the Buddha's teaching the emotive nuances that go along with any skilful deeds amplify it. If there's an act of generosity - which is very good - if it's coupled with respect then that magnifies it. So that if we connect to and do things that are respectful towards the Buddha, or the meaning that very word carries for us, the heart is made bright because of the power of perception and meaning. Externally, if we do something that's supportive to a Buddha or an entire Sangha, and by supporting them, their vast ability to support others - we generate good kamma that way.

In the heart, the very quality of respect always heightens the significance of something, doesn't it? The fuller implications of a good action one senses more clearly when we're doing things which allow the time and space to fully reflect on their meaning. The subtle volitional or perceptual mental factors involved in reflection amplify the sense of brightness. So then, we find that doing small things, like offering one stick of incense to a Buddha, has very powerful kammic effects. We can look at it and think, 'Well, incense, metal image... What's the point of this?' But how narrow and stultified is the mind being in that moment? The reflective sense of 'I am making an offering to a completely enlightened being' is a lot bigger, isn't it?

Kamma is a large area. When we consider it in terms of the immediate effect of brightening, it gives us a great sense of ability and possibility. If we can amplify whatever we do with a quality of love and devotion then the effects are powerful intimately, internally. We may think that we've got to do something massive and important, build a hospital or something - which certainly is bright kamma - but perhaps we don't have the resources or the capacity to do that. As you know, there are philanthropists who earn five million dollars a day. So then, 'Okay, there's $11 million to some university.' It sounds very good, doesn't it? But what are the results in their minds if they haven't trained in mindfulness, clear comprehension and full sensitivity? Yet when one poor person offers one stick of incense to a Buddha with a full loving heart, we recognise, 'Well, they have made a lot of bright kamma!' In the terms of the heart, it makes complete sense, whereas in the thinking mind it's nothing much. And it's in the heart-sense where the most powerful kamma is accrued.

With a sense of respect and deep appreciation for his work, I would like to dedicate this talk to Ajahn Nonti, who will be leaving us in a few days, acknowledging the enormous good kamma in his gift. We hope his work will stay with us for many years and be an inspiring image for our practice.