Bhavana in daily life

A friend wrote to me:

Hi Robert,
could you explain in a little more detail what you actually do on a daily basis? Is it just a matter of recognition, as in “…This is feeling…now this is intention…”, etc?

There are 2 kinds of bhavana (“meditation”),lakkhaṇārammaṇūpanijjhānena, in the dispensation (sasana).

Lakkhaṇūpanijjhāna is what is sometimes called insight meditation (the way of the sukkhavipassakā) , seeing phenomena as they are as anicca, dukkha and anatta.
And ārammaṇūpanijjhāna is samatha, serenity meditation. Notice that jhana is the suffix of both – but the concentration is quite different…

Eventually even the one skilled in samatha must turn towards the lakkhana if they are to really benefit from the teachings.

As one interested in the way of the sukkhavipassakā the way this plays out in daily life is varied but talking about the ayatana , the sense fields.:

Firstly without enough wise consideration of Dhamma related to them no development can occur.
Think of a moment of seeing now - there are the colors that are sensed, the eyebase and the cakkhu-viññana (seeing consciousness). These three are each conditioned in various ways and yet they manage to come together briefly. No manager arranging this. It is happening now. This is only understood vaguely- but that is fine, that is the way it must be. I take the pali phrase cira kala bhavana seriously - long time development…

Even at this basic level there is increasing understanding of the difference between concept and reality for one thing. Because the focus is on the realities which underlie the conceptual world, it becomes hard to take the ups and downs of life too seriously.

An analogy is watching a movie- fear, joy, excitement , anticipation, boredom – all these emotions may arise when sitting in front of the TV but we know it is just a show. And life starts to be seen, sometimes, like that.


what do you actually do on a daily basis? Is it just a matter of recognition, as in “…This is feeling…now this is intention…”, etc?

So in the last post I mentioned the value of contemplation of the Dhamma and this is really the main part of what I do on a daily basis. Yes I do examine what is appearing in the present moment - but it is very unmethodical.
I know the Burmese method have their students do such vigorous noting and I tried that many years ago. Personally I found it increased the idea that sati could be made to arise - it wasn’t supportive of the truth that sati (and all dhammas) are completely anatta, uncontrollable.

I think most people underestimate the importance of reflecting on the teachings and comparing the deep Dhamma with every aspect of life, every moment really.
They think contemplating (in words) is a second rate practice and want to go directly to experiencing realities: And it is true that, yes, the intellectual understanding does /should eventuallly lead to direct awareness of whatever element is appearing.
But it is a very gradual process and even after true satipatthana arises there is needed more and more consideration of the teachings that supports more understanding, leading to more direct insight, a virtuous circle.

Returning to what I said about the 'unmethodical" examining of objects. Take an easy example: it is almost second nature now, to see that if irritation with someone/something arises that it is simply dosa, a conditioned element. Because I have studied Abhidhamma for years there are many different thoughts that might arise along with this.
Here is one possible example of the thinking I might have.“There was seeing and visible object, hearing and sound and then there were the many mind door processes. None of them are self” . While thinking in this way dosa has already fallen away and is replaced by an interest in the process itself… But there are many other trains of thought , related to Dhamma, that might also occur. So no mechanical rote recitation, it depends on what aspect of Dhamma I have been contemplating.

And I go for long periods without any contemplation and that is the nature of the busy layman’s life.
Once the the Buddha recommended that 500 wealthy merchants should dwell considering the deep teachings on suññata, voidness of self :

“Let the Blessed One, venerable sir, exhort us and instruct us in a way that may lead to our welfare and happiness for a long time.”
[The Buddha]
“Therefore, Dhammadinna, you should train yourselves thus: ‘From time to time we will enter and dwell upon those discourses spoken by the Tathāgata that are deep, deep in meaning, supramundane, dealing with emptiness.’ It is in such a way that you should train yourselves.”

Yet those laymen replied that they were caught up in worldly activities and it was hard for them to do this. And I am the same, but still Dhamma is a predominant interest for a significant portion of the time.

Here is another sutta: … ript=latin
anguttara nikaya
About Dhammika
5. Dhammikavagga
With Ānanda
Reverend Sāriputta, take a mendicant who memorizes the teaching—statements, mixed prose & verse, discussions, verses, inspired exclamations, legends, stories of past lives, amazing stories, and elaborations.
Then, just as they learned and memorized it, they teach others in detail, make them recite in detail, practice reciting in detail, and think about and consider the teaching in their heart, examining it with the mind.
They enter the rains retreat in a monastery with senior mendicants who are very learned, inheritors of the heritage, who have memorized the teachings, the monastic law, and the outlines.From time to time they go up to those mendicants and ask them questions:‘Why, sir, does it say this? What does that mean?’Those venerables clarify what is unclear, reveal what is obscure, and dispel doubt regarding the many doubtful matters.
This is how a mendicant gets to hear a teaching they haven’t heard before. It’s how they remember those teachings they have heard. It’s how they keep rehearsing the teachings they’ve already got to know. And it’s how they come to understand what they haven’t understood before.

I have been fortunate to know Sujin Boriharnwanaket for decades and spent hundreds of hours going over subtle teachings and asking her to explain this or that. At the center where she teaches there are genuine pali experts who sometimes she calls on during our discussions to clarify a phrase - one was Ajarn Somporn who died a few years back in his 90s. He was on the Thai government committee in charge of the Pali to Thai translations.
But anyway these days, thanks to the PTS and Bhikkhu Bodhi, there are good translations readily available…

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When I started out it was hard to find good resources and there was little discussion available on right and wrong paths.
In this technical age Buddhist forums play their part in encouraging discussions on deep Dhamma and allow all of us to discuss different aspects of Dhamma.

But even now it is difficult for newcomers- how to tell who is explaining correctly among all the mass of information out there?
I would say take anatta and conditionality as the measure: does the explanation agree with this or is there a subtle belief that there must be a manager who is being aware.
There are only fleeting elements - this should be kept in mind.


I was asked about the term cira kala bhavana - long time development:

Tasso hi bodhisambhāresu bhāvanā sabbasambhārabhāvanā nirantarabhāvanā cirakālabhāvanā sakkaccabhāvanā cāti. Tāsu ‘‘kappe ca satasahasse, caturo ca asaṅkhiye’’ti iminā cirakālabhāvanā vuttā.Cariyapitaka Atthakatha文字資料/南傳佛教圖書館%20Theravada%20Buddhism%20E-Library/006%20Chattha%20Sangayana及辭典/pali/s0512a.att.htm

Using chatGPT to translate:

The provided Pali text discusses the types of development (bhāvanā) in the context of the accumulations towards enlightenment (bodhisambhāresu), highlighting the comprehensive development of all accumulations (sabbasambhārabhāvanā), continuous development (nirantarabhāvanā), long-term development (cirakālabhāvanā), and careful development (sakkaccabhāvanā). Specifically, it mentions “cirakālabhāvanā” as development over a long period, indicated by the phrase ‘‘kappe ca satasahasse, caturo ca asaṅkhiye’’, referring to the cultivation that spans eons and hundreds of thousands of years. This passage emphasizes the profound and extended commitment required in the practice of developing the foundations for enlightenment

and here:

Atthakatha Book 32 : PALI ROMAN
Thera.A.1 (paramatthadī.1)
Dīghamaddhānanti cirakālaṃ anādimati saṃsāre aparimāṇakālaṃ.