Meditation Class - Beginner's Course Notes

Here're the hand-outs for the Beginners' Class at Wat Palelai Singapore.  The notes for all the classes are listed below and you're welcome to read ahead. Further notes will be added if I find them useful.   With the exception of the preliminary readings, they're listed according to session number; for example, if you'd like to refer to the readings for session 2, look for the readings prefixed with a "2 ......."  the Preliminary readings are prefixed by a "1" too. 
For those who wish to do further readings, please check out the books I've listed under the "Basics of Meditation" page.  It contains a very good selection of books which will give you a good grounding on the subject of meditation.   
 
The comments below gives some context to the reading materials provided.  As mentioned in the classes, I'm tied up with work as well and therefore request your understanding if some of the edits don't come in on time or may not be up tp date.

Preliminary readings
For those joining the class for the first time, it'll be necessary to read them before coming to the first session of the course.  There is one set of chants which we'll use before we start meditating and it also contains the basic meditation steps we'll be using.  The other is an extract from Ajaan Thanissaro's meditation manual "With Each & Every Breath" which gives the basic posture, steps etc.  There's also another article elaborating the benefits of meditation.  These days there are plenty of such articles elaboating the benefits of meditation and I'll give you more examples as we go along the course.  As there'll be many references to the Forest Tradition of Thailand and the Masters of the tradition, it'll be essential to read "Customs of the Noble Ones" an introduction to the tradition in the home page of the website.  This will give you a good understanding of the focus of the teachings of the masters of this meditation tradition.
Session 1 - this handout is Phra Ajaan Lee's view of how meditation benefits practitioners.  I'll be elaborating on more of the benefits as we go along during the sessions. 

Session 2 - there're four readings 1) Virtue 2) The Healing Power of the Precepts 3) Giving and 4) the Five Hindrances.  Do read them in this order.  The Hindrances to good concentration are a set of instructions given by Phra Ajaan Lee and what I cover in class is tocuhing the surface of it.  We will come back to them as we trod along.  The two readings on Sila (Virtue) and Dana (Giving/charity) are extracts from the Suttas (sermons given by the Buddha and arranged by John Bullitt in his web site Access to Insight) - these are the Buddha's words regarding Sila and Dana so you get to 'hear' from the Buddha himself on what he meant by these two practices.  As for the Healing Power of the Precepts, it is an article by Ajaan Thanissaro on how the precepts are to be viewed, not as commandments from 'some one up there' but has more practical and important implications.  Always remember that the precepts are meant to protect us, our family, friends, associates etc from harm and are used by us Buddhists as guides & yardsticks on the way to creating true happiness.
I've also included an extract from Ajaan Thanissaro on the "breath and breathing" in the hopes that it helps clarify what we mean by breath energy, breathing, and learning to be sensitive to the breath sensations in the different parts of the body. Please read them to help get a better understanding of what is meant by 'breath' as it does not mean the wind/air flowing in and out of the nostrils per se.

Session 3 - There're a number of readings listed under "Meditation Course 3" below and they're all focused on the Brahmaviharas or Sublime Divine Abidings, as briefly explained during class.  My suggestion for the reading order is as follows : 1) The Four Immesurable Sublime Attitudes by Phra Ajaan Lee, 2) Head and Heart Together and 3) Metta Means Goodwill by Phra Ajaan Thanissaro.  There're are plenty of books on both the topic of the divine abidings - just google it and you'll find them.  Again, as with breath meditation, the development of these divine attitudes of mind are just that, they're to be developed such that you will constantly exude metta (goodwill/loving kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (emphatetic/altruistic joy - non-jealousy/non-covetuosness) and upekkha (equanimity) to all beings in all directions.  These attitudes of mind form another level for the development of our happiness and peace of mind.  As with dana (giving) and sila (morality), their practice leads to peace of mind and happiness for ourselves and the people around us and help us uproot the opposing unskillful attitudes of hatred, selfishness, jealousy, and how to keep an equanimous state of mind in situations where you can't be of help to others.  
The last piece is on 'common problems' and you're encouraged to return to it from time to time as you may not have encountered some of the problems that  are elaborated on here.  Also, returning to it from time to time will also refresh your memory or put into perspective some issues which may not have rung a bell when you first read about them.
 
Session 4 - The first reading note, "Analyzing the Breath" puts into perspective, my constant suggestion to 'play with the breath' and 'getting acquainted with the breath'.  Ajaan Thanissaro puts into perspective, the practice of breath meditation  and what I've been telling you about - playing with the breath and understanding how it can affect your mental calmness and clarity of mind.   The other article about the five khandas (aggregates) is a very short introduction to the topic but there'll be more discussions further on in other sessions where we'll discuss how the five aggregates are clung to, turning them into 'clinging aggregates' and consequently, conditioning stress/dukkha to arise.   The third article is a light reading on how science is proving meditation to be the right approach to peace of mind etc.  The fourth article is an elaboration of the purpose of contemplating the nature of anicca, anatta, and dukkha - the three perceptions.  Ajaan Thanissaro elaborates very well how these perceptions are to be used in the development of discernment/wisdom, leading all the way to Nibbana.
 
Session 5 - The article 5 puts into context, the Buddhist view of the cosmos, kamma, rebirth, and the different stages of enlightenment.  This will form the backdrop on the discussion on the primary objective of the Buddha's Dhamma - 'dukkha, and the way to end dukkha'.   The second reading is Ajaan Thanissaro's talk entitled 'Bathed In The Breath' - it a good summary of what I meant by "full body" breathing.  Going forward, we'll use Phra Ajaan Lee's technique in combination with the one taught thus far.  
Session 6 - there're a couple of readings related to the session.   To give you a good perspective on how the Buddha's teaching on 'anatta - not self' is in fact a strategy to develop insight into the nature of the five aggregates. The article entitled 'Breath Meditation commentaries' gives 'scriptural' credence to the approach I've been teaching you.  It's a commentary on the sutta on Mindfulness of Breathing by Ajaan Thanissaro, showing you that what we've been using in our approach/technique is what the Buddha has explained in his discourse to his disciples on how to do breath meditation.  The final reading is an article by Ajaan Thanissaro - 'The Path of Concentration and Insight" - to put into perspective the use of Concentration (samadhi/samatha) and Insight (Vipassana).  You'll understand from his article that you need both concentration and insight.  The two practices are NOT mutually exclusive but are both required for wisdom (panna) to arise and in fact, you'll need to develop both of them.

Session 7 - I'll be giving you extracts from Phra Ajaan Lee's book 'Frames of Reference' over the course of the next few sessions.  He wrote this book to explain the practice of the four satipatthanas (four foundations of mindfulness/establishings of mindfulness).  Here's the intro and the first frame of reference - mindfulness of the body.  The second article is by Ajaan Thanissaro and it's to put into perspective that meditation and especially the development of the four satipatthanas; are indeed a process and is not what is commonly referred to by many people as 'bare awareness' or 'going with the flow' etc implying that we do nothing, just watch what's happening.  Buddhist meditation involves 'work'on our part and the work is to constantly contemplate/reflect our objects/frames of reference so as to give rise to wisdom - hence forest/meditation monks are also referred to as 'phra kammathan' or 'kammathana monk' ('kammathana meaning 'the work at hand'.
 
Session 8 - A very good summary of contemplation of the body is a talk by Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco (he is Phra Ajaan Thanissaro's teacher in the USA and who requested Ajaan Thanissaro to be the Abbot of Metta Forest Monastery, USA).  Another good but slightly longer reading is Phra Ajaan Thanissaro's article on Contemplation of the Body.  Together with Phra Ajaan Lee's book extract, these few readings will give you enough grounding on establising mindfulness using the body as a frame of reference. 
 
Session 9 - The first reading is an extract from Phra Ajaan Lee's Frames of Reference - using Mental Qualities as a frame of reference and his summary of the entire development of the frames of reference into being mindful of rupa (physical) and nama (literally 'name' but referring to all mental phenomenon or the mental aspects of our experiences ie feeling, perception/memory recall, fabrications/mental formations, and consciousness).  Pay attention to Phra Ajaan Lee's last comment on study, practice, and attainment.  I've also included Phra Ajaan Thanissaro's work on the Frames of Reference in his work Wings to Awakening.  He gives a very good introduction to the Frames of Reference and how the Buddha has structured the development of frames of reference in a very structured manner. I'll cover a bit more of this overview in the next session. 
 
Session 10 - I've included 3 readings.  The first one is in the form of a powerpoint slide and attempts to put into perspective the Buddha's explaination regarding how the development of breath meditation will at the same time lead to development of the other three frames. These are extracts from the suttas (discourses of the Buddha).  I've also included the Buddha's explaination of how the seven factors of enlightenment are consequently developed when you develop the four frames of reference and how these lead to Release/Nibbana. The second reading is one of Phra Ajaan Thanissaro's talk giving a perspective on how insight arises as a natural consequence of your development of mindfulness of breathing and alertness.  I've often used the word 'contemplate' and you'll notice that this web site is also derived from the word! So, the final reading is a Q&A with Phra Ajaan Chah wherein he explains what contemplation means. Note, there's a formatting issue on this site and the readings are near the top of the list! 
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