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Phase IIb - Acquiring the tools and skills

The 3-S program uses the "3 Trainings" of the Buddhist tradition to describe the skills and tools needed for traveling a Spiritual path because they are universal, non-sectarian, and therefore suitable for individuals of all faiths. Modify this list if your personal religious beliefs and practices suggest the need for learning additional skills and tools.

Step 1. Moral Practice: Establishing one's personal code of ethical behavior

The foundation of a Spiritual path is moral practice. This requires doing no harm to self or others in speech, action, or livelihood.

  • Speech: Refraining from unwholesome speech (e.g., false or harsh speech, slander, gossip, or meaningless chatter) and engaging only in wholesome speech that is gentle and courteous, and engenders harmony among people.
  • Action: Refraining from actions that cause harm to self or others (i.e., the precepts against killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and intoxication), and engaging only in wholesome actions that are beneficial to all living beings.
  • Livelihood: Refraining from making one's living in a manner that directly or indirectly breaks the precepts against killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and intoxication, or in a manner that causes or encourages others to do so.

Reflect. Reflect on your own moral practice. Is there any difference between what you feel you "ought" to be doing according to the code of conduct of your own Spiritual/religious tradition, and what you are "actually" doing. Are the ethical standards that you have established for the conduct of your day-to-day activities consistent with the Spiritual path you are designing and constructing? If there are any discrepancies, reflect on what changes need to be made.

Step 2. Meditation Practice: Training one's mind to take the right path

Moral practice alone is not enough for the construction and maintenance of a Spiritual path. A Spiritual journey also requires the ability to control one's mental processes, so that wholesome thoughts become the foundation of one's moral practice. Through the practice of meditation one develops this capacity. The three steps in meditation training are:

  • Effort: Anyone who has ever tried to control the flow or content of his or her thoughts, knows that it takes enormous effort to focus the mind. Buddhists in the Theravada tradition have likened our ongoing stream of thoughts to a wild monkey in its forest home jumping here, there, and everywhere, seemingly unmanageable by those who are observing it, and disinclined to be tamed. Even those people who describe themselves as always 'in control' will likely admit that even they are not able to control the wandering of their "monkey mind." As you no doubt discovered while completing Phase 1 of the 3-S program, it is your wandering mind that at any moment can take you off on a journey of thoughts (cognitive scripts) and/or behaviors (behavioral action sequences), such that, before you know it, you have accessed a habitual self-schema, and you find yourself back traveling an old path (or superhighway) that is inconsistent with your Spiritual ideals, and is extremely difficult to exit. Strong effort is therefore an essential tool for the construction and maintenance of your Spiritual path and, as will be described shortly, is a tool you will learn to use skillfully in your meditation practice.
  • Mindfulness: The Spiritual path you are constructing, with its moment-by-moment destinations, requires that you are fully aware of each moment. However, in the course of our normal daily lives, we are usually more aware of the past or of an anticipated future than we are of the present moment. Therefore, the skill of mindfulness will need to be developed. As will be described shortly, this is a skill you will be developing with your meditation practice by learning to become aware of the breath against the nostrils. The breath is used in the practice of mindfulness meditation because, as it passes in and out, it produces physical sensations in and around the nostrils that can be experienced on a moment-by-moment basis.
  • Concentration: Reaching the moment-by-moment destinations of your Spiritual path requires not only strong effort, and mindfulness, but also excellent concentration skills because you will need to remain fully aware of each moment as it arises and passes away. The practice of meditating on the breath will help you develop this important skill. When you begin to focus your awareness on the breath, you will find that your mind will soon wander away. You will learn to bring it back, but again it will wander away. And again you will bring it back, and again it will wander away. You will continue taming your "monkey mind" by gently, but firmly, bringing it back again and again each time it wanders away. Thus, you will develop your concentration and your ability to fully experience and express the moment-by-moment destinations of your personal Spiritual path.

There are numerous books available on the subject of meditation, many providing detailed instructions for beginners (see Reading List). What follows here are some general guidelines:

Rehearse (practice)

  • Location: Identify a suitable location in your home that is quiet and free of distractions and that can be used by you daily. If possible, this space should not be used by you for any other purpose. However, if this is not possible, select a space that you do not typically use for sleeping or relaxing (i.e., somewhere other than your bed or favorite armchair or any place where the risk for activation of habitual self-schemas is high).
  • Time: Identify a suitable time of day (preferably shortly after arising when your mind is quiet) that you can set aside specifically for the purpose of meditation. If you are someone with a busy schedule, it is recommended that you awake 30-60 minutes earlier than usual to avoid activating habitual self-schemas by concerns that this time should be spent on other activities. Remind yourself that this time is special -- it is for you to practice the skills needed for your Path and to experience your Spiritual nature at increasingly deeper levels; it is therefore to be safeguarded.
  • Posture: It is recommended that you assume a posture that is not associated with your habitual self-schema, but rather, one that, with practice, can become strongly associated with the experience of being on your Spiritual path. The posture usually associated with meditation is sitting cross-legged on a cushion or mat on the floor, with back straight, and hands together resting palms up in your lap. However, modify this posture based on your own physical abilities, remembering that the posture should enable you to remain alert. Therefore, if you prefer to lie down, lie on your back on the floor, rather than on your bed; or, if you prefer to sit in a chair, sit with both feet firmly against the floor, and back straight rather than lounging to prevent falling asleep.
  • Breathing: If you are a beginner, it is recommended that you close your eyes. Begin by acknowledging your personal Spiritual Guide or your Spiritual path and its destination, in whatever way is meaningful to you. Affirm your intention to increase your power of concentration, take one long breath in and out, and allow yourself to settle down. Continue breathing normally through your nose. To help you focus, you may wish to say to yourself 'breathing in' as you breathe in, and 'breathing out' as you breath out. Breathing normally, continue concentrating on your in-breath and your out-breath, but now focus specifically on the sensations that arise and pass away as the breath makes contact with the inside of your nostrils, the rim of your nostrils, and your upper lip. Focus your attention just on this small area and become aware of the sensations you experience as the breath travels in and out. When thoughts arise, see if you can resist the desire to engage them. Using your strong effort, make the conscious decision not to follow them to wherever they may lead. As soon as you become aware that your mind has wandered, gently, but firmly, pull it back; return your awareness to the sensations created by the breath as it moves across the area around your nostrils. No need to be discouraged when the mind wanders, this is normal. If you continue to have difficulty concentrating on the breath, see if you can concentrate better by counting ten breaths. For example:

    When breathing in, think:
    'Breathing in, one';
    when breathing out, think
    'Breathing out, one.'
    and continuing ...
    'Breathing in, two, breathing out, two.
    Breathing in, three; breathing out, three.
    Continue until you reach ten, and then begin again.

    If your mind wanders and you lose track of the number you have reached, begin again at ... 'Breathing in, one; Breathing out, one ... ' and so forth.

You will repeat this pattern of focusing on the breath and becoming aware of and redirecting your thoughts throughout your meditation. This is how, with concentration and patient persistent effort, you learn to "tame the monkey mind" that jumps here, there, and everywhere, and you can become more open and receptive to experiencing the peace and serenity of your true nature.

You may want to begin by devoting just 10 minutes daily to your meditation. Do not attempt to sit for long periods if you are a beginner. However, before you begin, you will need to dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to using this time for increasing your 'power' of concentration. Commit yourself to taking back the power you have given to the wandering monkey mind. Make the conscious decision to begin the practice of training it. Until your concentration skill is well developed, it is recommended that you do not use this time for prayer or reflection (set aside other times for these practices), but rather use this time to increase your ability to retain your single-pointed focus on the breath. By so doing, your capacity for focusing on your Spiritual path's moment-by-moment destinations throughout your daily life will increase markedly. As soon as you feel comfortable concentrating on the breath for 10 minutes, increase the time to 15 minutes, and so on, until you can meditate for 40-60 minutes a day. Remember, by being consistent in every aspect of your practice you will also be creating a behavioral action sequence that will facilitate the seamless integration of your meditation practice into your daily life.

Mental Imagery (visualization) as another Path construction tool

Multisensory mental imagery is another skill that will be extremely useful to you as you go about the process of building, maintaining, and using your personal Spiritual path. Construction begins with the mind's eye -- you form vivid, detailed, multi-sensory images of your Path and what it would look and feel like to travel this Path. By visualizing yourself, or another, as an actor playing the part of someone traveling your Spiritual path, you are conducting internal dress-rehearsals prior to "taking your act on the road." Continued access to your Path is also influenced by your mental imagery. You may have a well-constructed Spiritual path, but if mental images arise habitually that are inconsistent with the moment-by-moment destinations of this Path, it will not be readily accessed. Rather, the inconsistent imagery, and the sensations it produces, will serve as a detour that takes you almost instantaneously to a different path that is inconsistent with the experience and expression of your Spiritual nature. The 3-S program therefore offers frequent opportunity for the practice of visualization. In addition to the visualization exercises that accompany each suggested Self-Reflection exercise, there are guided imagery exercises available as written scripts by clicking on specific scripts when they are referred to in the text. You may wish to record these scripts in your own voice to be played back during your practice. These guided-imagery exercises will be used primarily during construction and maintenance of your Path in Phases 2d and Phase 3. (Pre-recorded guided visualization audio will be available at this web site shortly.)

Step 3. Wisdom: Developing insight into one's true nature

Although the practice of meditation, as described above, can be truly life changing, and can help you attain states of deep peace and tranquility as you construct and maintain your Spiritual path, it is not in itself the goal of most Spiritual paths. In most Spiritual/religious traditions, a Spiritual path ideally involves gaining increased insight into one's true nature. This is, of course, a lifelong process. Wisdom is not expected to be gained prior to beginning your Spiritual journey. Rather, it (like the other two trainings in ethical conduct and concentration) is to be developed through diligent practice, day-by-day, moment-by-moment, as you proceed along your Path. In Buddhist traditions, the training in wisdom has two steps:

  • Intention: Gaining insight into one's true nature requires very strong intention and lifelong commitment to the on-going practice of the other two trainings (ethical conduct and meditation practice), and increased mastery of each of their steps. That is, engaging only in speech, action, and livelihood that cause no harm to any living being; and developing the effort, mindfulness, and concentration that are necessary for gaining control over one's own mind, and for gaining insight into the habitual mental processes that keep us all ignorant of our true nature.
  • Understanding: It is only when you personally experience reality within the framework of your own body that you come to understand the habitual patterns that have kept you trapped and in ignorance of your true nature. Once you have made a commitment to the first two trainings (to behave according to your code of conduct and to train your mind), you can begin the practice of insight meditation (vipassana) which will provide you with this personal experience. When you practice insight meditation, you take on the role of scientist methodically observing your subject -- your self -- as if under a microscope. You will have already begun this process in your daily meditation in Training 2 when you focused your mind and became aware of the sensation of the breath as it moves across the areas in and around your nostrils (anapana-sati). However, when you are ready to practice insight meditation, it will be like increasing your microscope's strength such that you come to experience even the most subtle physical sensations. As you do, you become aware of the rapidity with which the particles (kalapas) that make up your physical form (and all form), arise and pass away, constantly changing. Through personal experience, you gain insight into the impermanent nature (anicca) of all mental, emotional, and physical form. You also become aware of your habitual reactions (sankharas) to the sensations in your body that are going on all the time, usually beneath the level of awareness. Because we are ignorant about the impermanent nature of sensation, we react with craving when we perceive the sensation as pleasant; that is, we try to cling to it, wish it would stay, wish it would return. We react with aversion if we perceive it as unpleasant; that is, we come to hate it, wish it would go away, wish it would never return. Thus, these habits of craving and aversion to sensations that are actually arising and passing away with great rapidity keep us forever dissatisfied (dukka). However, with insight meditation, one penetrates the unconscious mind (anusaya) to reveal these habitual, conditioned, patterns (e.g., what in 3-S we call the habitual self-schemas). By learning to observe sensations mindfully, with equanimity, as they arise and pass away, you are able to clear away the old habitual patterns of craving and aversion that lead to dissatisfaction. You also realize that the habitual 'self' to which you were so attached is an illusion (annatta), and you gain further insight into your true nature. As in a number of religious traditions which speak of the spiritual journey as culminating in an ultimate Union in which self merges or is abandoned, in Buddhist philosophy, through wisdom (panna) one understands not only that 'self' as a construct is no longer needed, but that it serves to keep us ignorant of our true nature. In the 3-S program, you will construct and use a Spiritual self-schema -- your personal Spiritual path -- is an expedient means to gaining insight into your true nature. This self-schema is to be abandoned once the ultimate destination or goal is reached. To learn more about Vipassana, it is recommended that you take a course. For example, a free 10-day course is offered by Vipassana Meditation Centers around the world. There are also a number of other possibilities for extensive training listed in the Resources.

This ends the discourse on the three trainings of the Buddhist tradition. Reflect on any additional skills and tools you might need for your own personal Path. In the next section, you will begin to 'clear the site' in readiness for construction.

Click to continue to Phase IIc