MN 20 describes 5 steps for a meditator to take to eliminate bad thoughts. If the first 4 don’t work, the 5th step is:
With teeth clenched and tongue pressed against the roof of the mouth, they squeeze, squash, and torture mind with mind. When they succeed in each of these things, those bad thoughts are given up and come to an end.
How does this fit with equanimity?
Is the Buddha basically recommending suppression of bad thoughts?
Equanimity is just a method like the others, it has an agenda- the removal of stress, and onlooking equanimity is only effective in relatively few circumstances. Most often ‘fabrication of exertion’ has to be applied. These strategies are of both long and short term types. Substitution of opposites such as contemplation of the 32 parts of the body to remove a mind state of desire is applied long-term, whereas blocking an unwanted thought forcibly is a short term tactic. Both methods have the aim of starvation of unwholesome thoughts by preventing them from actualizing. In preventing a thought from actualizing, the mind-state which gave rise to it is progressively starved because it feeds on contact with reality, just as devas cannot access the dhamma except by contact with the human plane.
“He discerns that ‘When I exert a [physical, verbal, or mental] fabrication against this cause of stress, then from the fabrication of exertion there is dispassion. When I look on with equanimity at that cause of stress, then from the development of equanimity there is dispassion.’ So he exerts a fabrication against the cause of stress where there comes dispassion from the fabrication of exertion, and develops equanimity with regard to the cause of stress where there comes dispassion from the development of equanimity. Thus the stress coming from the cause of stress for which there is dispassion through the fabrication of exertion is exhausted & the stress resulting from the cause of stress for which there is dispassion through the development of equanimity is exhausted.”—-MN 101
Inappropriate application of equanimity results in starvation of the investigation factor of awakening;
"And what is lack of food for the arising of unarisen analysis of qualities as a factor for Awakening, or for the growth & increase of analysis of qualities… once it has arisen? There are mental qualities that are skillful & unskillful, blameworthy & blameless, gross & refined, siding with darkness & with light. Not fostering attention to them: This is lack of food for the arising of unarisen analysis of qualities as a factor for Awakening, or for the growth & increase of analysis of qualities… once it has arisen.”—-SN 46.51
Given equanimity is one of the Brahmaviharas, it might be a technique in some situations, but it is also a good state in itself. Which, for me anyway, adds to the confusion of when to let go of equanimity.
It seems that the techniques in MN 20 are not emphasized (or even taught?) these days. In fact, they seem the opposite of the way meditation teachers talk about dealing with tough thoughts. Is that a generally fair assessment?
The instructions in MN 20 seemed a bit shocking to me, having grown up in the West, in a post-Freudian culture that sees repression/suppression as counter-productive. The fact they are shocking does not of course mean the recommendations are wrong. It might mean they identify something missing and needed. But I do find myself struggling to understand how they fit into the overall practice.
In DN 9 a wanderer is questioning the Buddha and there comes a point where it is said to him he cannot understand further because he has other beliefs and practices:
“Potthapada — having other views, other practices, other satisfactions, other aims, other teachers — it’s hard for you to know…”
That is the case here, it would not be possible for you to know the reasoning behind why I recommended metta practice until you were firmly aligned with the suttas. That is the end of my discussion on this matter.
If I were in the grips of bad thoughts (disrupters of equanimity in themselves) so dreadful that the first four gentler methods had failed to deal with them I can’t think I’d have much equanimity left in that particular moment. But if I could get step 5 to work for me, then I could return to my meditation object and let equanimity reestablish itself. Generally the first four work rather well.
And actually, I’ve heard this advice relayed by a number of teachers on different occasions.
Re equanimity, there are many types of upekkha, one of the others being the last of the seven factors of enlightenment. I attach an encyclopedia entry of Ven Anālayo’s that deals with more than a dozen types of equanimity. upekkha.pdf (1.9 MB)
Great points, Gillian. I’m reminded of the section in Analayo’s book A Meditator’s Life of the Buddha where he points out that when the Buddha-to-be was engaged in ascetic practices, he engaged in both forceful control of the mind and forceful control of the breath, the latter an application of a similar strategy of the former.
The subject of this thread is the last of the five attempts at overcoming unwholesome thoughts, a last resort. To quote Analayo:
"…From this viewpoint, it would indeed be natural for him to to try next to remove defilements from the mind by sheer force, as described in the passage above (Mahasaccaka sutta). In other words, after attempts to leave defilements behind through the cultivation of deep concentration had not been successful, he now opted for a direct confrontation in an attempt to force defilements out of the mind.
This method does indeed stop unwholesome thoughts in the mind, which explains why it features in the Vitakkasanthana sutta and it’s parallel as a last resort when one is hopelessly overwhelmed by unwholesome thoughts and perhaps on the brink of expressing these in unwholesome words or actions. This has only a temporary affect, however. Due to the conditioned and not-self nature of the mind, it is not possible to control it completely by sheer willpower. Instead, a gradual process of mental cultivation is required to change the habit patterns of the mind step by step."
Good question! It’s a technique for reestablishing equanimity when all else fails. If you’re in no position to treat an evil desire with gentler medicine, yes absolutely you should suppress a bad desire in whatever way you can until you calm down enough to apply gentler medicine.
For example, if you catch your romantic partner cheating on you and so you fly into a rage and find yourself about to murder the both of them… That would be an excellent time to “crush mind with mind.” Do literally whatever you have to to prevent yourself from following through on that.
As you mentioned, it’s a kind of “in case of emergency” solution. Not something you should reach for every day, but when you really can’t control yourself any other way… “crush mind with mind.”
But Bhante how exactly is done itself is also not cruel. It’s tongue actually your using against the mind. I think I saw an explanation by Hindu Sadhu. I went try it and it works. The tongue is the mind going against mind. The proper way to do it is just holding the tongue the same place and just keep pretending to tame mind. (actually that’s what your doing )
Wow! Thanks for that. I actually saw a YouTube video explaining somewhat like it’s in the wiki. Exactly that what I mean. Your right. Maybe just for the sake of understanding maybe that information can be used. Maybe in books is better. Like footnote.
In the beginning stages and for most practitioners, the tip of the tongue touches the soft palate as far back as possible without straining, or is placed in contact with the uvula at the back of the mouth.
This the Sadhu was explaining. It’s seems to be a ancient practice
My former colleague Dr Jim Mallinson edited the khecarīvidyā for his doctoral thesis. In it, he examined the early evidence for practices related to the khecarī-mudrā, including that found in the Pali texts.
You can read his thesis online here (relevant section p.23ff).
Regarding the three references in the Pali texts, this is what Jim concluded (p.26):
Now this is not the place to add to the already considerable debate over the inconsistencies of the Pali Canon by investigating whether or not this technique was indeed practised or approved of by the Buddha.For our purposes it is enough to conclude that these passages provide evidence that an ascetic technique involving the pressing of the tongue against the palate (but not its insertion above the palate) was current at the time of the composition of the Pali canon and that this practice had two aims: the control of the mind and the suppression of hunger and thirst.