The Tapussa Sutta (On Renunciation - AN 9:41) has some rather profound things to say about concentration training and gaining awakening. Being rather inexperienced in the practice (i.e. I practice alone), I am interested in gaining some insight from you all concerning the Sutta’s meaning.
In the Sutta, the Buddha describes how he achieved the four Jhānas and five higher attainments in rather simple terms. Interestingly, the Sutta suggests that renunciation is the first step in each of these attainments… almost like a “master key” to the development of Right Concentration. The Sutta’s instructions for advancing to the next stage of concentration began with this pattern:
“If, having seen the drawback of [the renounced object], I were to pursue that theme; and if, having understood the reward of being without [the renounced object], I were to familiarize myself with it, there’s the possibility that my heart would leap up at being without [the renounced object], grow confident, steadfast, & firm, seeing it as peace.”
Now my approach to meditation has been somewhat opposite to this. Once focused on the breath, I watch my mind and try to drop any thoughts which distract me from the breath. However, I often I find myself noticing / labeling the thoughts that arise as being associated with either skillful or unskillful thought patterns… (e.g. being associated with something negative like the three defilements and/or three characteristics of existence or being something positive… like an association with a wholesome state of Mettā). Although I try to not label excessively, I somewhat tolerate this inner-dialog as part of the training… it feels vaguely like what I would expect vipassanā (i.e. insight) to be like… If you agree or disagree on that issue and approach, I’d like to hear why.
Anyways, in the Sutta the Buddha seems to suggest that I should first renounce certain mind states / attachments in order to experience “the reward of being without”. Once I have done that, the skillful perceptions from that insight will take care of themselves. In a way, it seems like he’s saying do Samatha mediation (i.e. complete tranquility) while being especially mindful to renounce a specific craving within your mind (that craving being line with where you currently are in the practice). After observing the mind in that state, you’ll then be inclined to gain a new stage of understanding on what to renounce next. It almost sounds like he is saying to do Samatha mediation with a specific intention and it will naturally give one a new and improved stage of vipassanā? If so, it seems that he’s giving us “a staircase” with clear, predicable, and repetitious steps to climb all the way to enlightenment.
Is my interpretation way off base here or am I onto something? Thoughts anybody?