Reading the Pali Canon has been an astounding journey for me. I’ve spent many years as a religious seeker, and I feel like I’ve finally found a spiritual system that goes most of the way toward making sense. And those parts that I don’t understand seem at least promising, which is great.
So… for the last several months I’ve been meditating solo for at least 30-45 minutes every day, and I have two questions.
- For a layman, what is the correct relationship between ethics and meditation? The Canon often seems to describe meditation as occurring after the cultivation of noble ethics. It’s intended primarily (though not exclusively) for monks and nuns. Yes, MN 51 among others shows that early lay Buddhists also meditated in similar ways. But laymen are seldom if ever instructed in meditation in the Canon, so… what would an early Buddhist approach to this question look like?
I am very conscious that wrong concentration is a serious danger, and I am concerned that my concentration will necessarily be wrong if I do not adhere to the full spectrum of noble ethics – avoid entertainments, don’t eat at the wrong time, observe chastity, forsake my material possessions, and so on. I’m not doing those things right now, and my family life is such that I recognize an obligation to remain as a layman. I do try to be ethical, but I’m still struggling with basic things like the five precepts and wrong speech in particular.
I know that meditation is not widely practiced by the laity in present-day Buddhist countries. I see the Canon appears to approve of it, but… under what ethical conditions should it be attempted?
- Specifically regarding ānāpānasati: I have made this a central part of my meditation. But it occurs to me that maybe I’m doing it wrong.
How much control is there over the breath? My current practice is simply to make the breath comfortable and regular, and then observe it. I’ve gotten noticeably better at this. There are times when it seems like everything else is happening in another galaxy, and the breath is this massive, heaving presence throughout my entire sensorium. There are few thoughts, and sometimes none, and it’s blissful.
But this may be wrong concentration, I fear, because the Ānāpānasati Sutta does not describe meditation in this way. If I am being honest with myself, I must admit that I am still making my breath regular and taking in the correct amount of it. I’m not just observing the breath purely doing its thing. And so again I’m forced to consider that everything I have done is just harmful wrong concentration. I’m grasping the breath, aren’t I?