Directed and Undirected Meditation
(Samyutta Nikaya 47:10)
The venerable Ananda arose early one morning, and taking up his robe and bowl approached a certain settlement of nuns, where he sat down on a seat that had been prepared. A number of nuns approached the venerable Ananda, and after greeting him, sat down to one side. So seated, these nuns said this to the venerable Ananda: “There are here, Ananda sir, a number of nuns who abide with minds well established in the four foundations of mindfulness. Their understanding is becoming ever greater and more excellent.”
“So it is, Sisters, so it is!” replied Ananda. “Indeed for anybody, Sisters, whether monk or nun, who abides with a mind well established in the four foundations of mindfulness — it is to be expected that their understanding becomes ever greater and more excellent.”
[Ananda later relates this exchange to the Buddha, who approves of his response and then elaborates:]
Here, Ananda, a monk abides contemplating body as body* — ardent, fully aware, mindful — leading away the unhappiness that comes from wanting the things of the world. And for one who is abiding contemplating body as body,* a bodily object arises, or bodily distress, or mental sluggishness, that scatters his mind outward. Then the monk should direct his mind to some satisfactory image. When the mind is directed to some satisfactory image, happiness is born. From this happiness, joy is then born. With a joyful mind, the body relaxes. A relaxed body feels content, and the mind of one content becomes concentrated. He then reflects: “The purpose for which I directed my my mind has been accomplished. So now I shall withdraw [directed attention from the image].” He withdraws, and no longer thinks upon or thinks about [the image]. He understands: “I am not thinking upon or thinking about [anything]. Inwardly mindful, I am content.” This is directed meditation.
And what is undirected meditation? Not directing his mind outward, a monk understands: “My mind is not directed outward.” He understands: “Not focused on before or after; free; undirected.” And he understands: “I abide observing body as body — ardent, fully aware, mindful — I am content.” This is undirected meditation.
And so, Ananda, I have taught directed meditation; and I have taught undirected meditation. Whatever is to be done by a teacher with compassion for the welfare of students, that has been done by me out of compassion for you. Here are the roots of trees. Here are empty places. Get down and meditate. Don’t be lazy. Don’t become one who is later remorseful. This is my instruction to you.
NOTE: *These passages are repeated for the other three foundations of mindfulness: feelings as feelings; mind as mind; mental states as mental states.
Translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki.