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What is "an inspiring foundation" in SN 47.10?

In the context of this sutta, when one is moving through the Buddha’s instruction and physical tension, mental sluggishness or mental scatteredness of the mind arises, how would the Buddha exactly define “an inspiring foundation”?

SN 47.10
“That’s so true, Ānanda! That’s so true! Any monk or nun who meditates with their mind firmly established in the four kinds of mindfulness meditation can expect to realize a higher distinction than they had before.

What four? It’s when a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. As they meditate observing an aspect of the body, based on the body there arises physical tension, or mental sluggishness, or the mind is externally scattered. That mendicant should direct their mind towards an inspiring foundation. As they do so, joy springs up. Being joyful, rapture springs up. When the mind is full of rapture, the body becomes tranquil. When the body is tranquil, one feels bliss. And when blissful, the mind becomes immersed in samādhi. Then they reflect: ‘I have accomplished the goal for which I directed my mind. Let me now pull back.’ They pull back, and neither place the mind nor keep it connected. They understand: ‘I’m neither placing the mind nor keeping it connected. Mindful within myself, I’m happy.’

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Here is Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation:

“So it is, Ānanda, so it is! It may be expected of anyone, Ānanda—whether bhikkhu or bhikkhuni—who dwells with a mind well established in the four establishments of mindfulness, that such a one will perceive successively loftier stages of distinction.

“What four? Here, Ānanda, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he is contemplating the body in the body, there arises in him, based on the body, either a fever in the body or sluggishness of mind, or the mind is distracted outwardly. That bhikkhu should then direct his mind towards some inspiring sign. When he directs his mind towards some inspiring sign, gladness is born. When he is gladdened, rapture is born. When the mind is uplifted by rapture, the body becomes tranquil. One tranquil in body experiences happiness. The mind of one who is happy becomes concentrated. He reflects thus: ‘The purpose for the sake of which I directed my mind has been achieved. Let me now withdraw it.’ So he withdraws the mind and does not think or examine. He understands: ‘Without thought and examination, internally mindful, I am happy.’

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I understand a “foundation” to be a foundation or basis of meditation, something based on which the mind turns into a state suitable for meditation, which a sluggish or scattered mind obviously is not. This “foundation” may perhaps be someting quite personal, and this may be the reason why the Buddha doesn’t give any more detailed description.

I’ve heard of some that for them, a teddy bear can be such an “inspiring foundation”, whether they have it with them physically, or just recall it mentally—but that teddy bear helps them make their mind glad and inspired. :teddy_bear: :smiley: :wink:

But maybe for you it’s something different …

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Similarly to @sabbamitta I believe it relates to the object of attention. In order to ‘gladden’ the mind, different subjects are used, such as recollections of the Buddha - Buddhanusatti, or dhammanusatti or recollections of any other ‘inspiring’ theme, such as recollections of ones own good conduct etc. Whatever causes the mind state that allows deeper meditation to follow. So in one way this is about understanding cause and effect, and how to condition ones own mind, to yield states conducive for deeper meditation.

And then exactly as per the sutta, once focus and gladness/tranquility etc are established, with the requisite accompanying energy, attention can be turned onto any other meditation object/subject.
:slight_smile: Have fun :slight_smile:

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Thank you @sabbamitta and @Viveka! I heard this before and that was my first inclination. Is this definition mentioned in other suttas? Is this definition something from Visuddhimagga, Abhihdhamma or later tradition?

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It comes from the suttas. Use of all the ‘recollections/nusattis’ is frequently mentioned by Ajahn @Brahmali in his sutta classes, so he may be able to give detailed references.

A quick search of the forum, looking for Buddhanusatti as a search term, lead to this good response

That should be a good start :slight_smile:

Added. And there is the Mahanamasutta AN6.10 SuttaCentral

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SN 47.10 elaborates on the instructions in the third tetrad of the Anapanasati sutta for preparing the mind for breath meditation:

"[9] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the mind.’ [10] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in satisfying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out satisfying the mind.’ [11] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in steadying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out steadying the mind.’ [12] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in releasing the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out releasing the mind.’—MN 118

This in turn relates to the third foundation of mindfulness:

The two states of mind listed next for contemplation, contracted (saúkhitta) and distracted (vikkhitta), both appear to have negative implications.19 The same two terms occur elsewhere in the discourses, with inward “contraction” being the result of sloth-and-torpor, and external “distraction” the outcome of pursuing sensual pleasures.20 The commentaries on the Satipaììhãna Sutta indeed relate the “contracted” state of mind to sloth-and-torpor, while according to them the “distracted” state of mind represents restlessness.21
The ability to balance the mind, by avoiding both contraction and distraction, is an important skill required for the development of deeper levels of concentration or insight. The placing of these two
states of mind at this point in the instructions for contemplation of the mind indicates the need to cultivate such balance, once one has at least temporarily moved beyond the reach of the grosser types of mental unwholesomeness and is aiming towards the development of “higher” states of mind, such as are described in the remainder of
this satipatthãna."—Analayo

The ‘inspiring states’ necessary to correct the mind from being either scattered externally or afflicted by low energy encompass the recollections and contemplation of the impure nature of the body depending on the nature of the distraction. In MN 62 the Buddha provides a list of subjects directed at steadying the mind distracted by sensuality:

The Buddha advising a young monk:

the five elements
four brahma-viharas
unattractiveness of the body
impermanence

In AN 11.12 the Buddha advises a layperson worn down by the vicissitudes of worldly life and advises the six recollections to inspire and bring the mind to concentration.

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The parallel in SA 615 seems to relate it to a sign of purity, generated through pure faith. This sign of purity (淨相) looks as though it corresponds to what is seen in SN 47.10: pasādanīye nimitte.

彼比丘當起淨信,取於淨相,起淨信心;憶念淨相已,其心則悅,悅已生喜;其心喜已,身則猗息;身猗息已,則受身樂;受身樂已,其心則定。

That bhikṣu should give rise to pure faith, grasping hold of this pure manifestation, giving rise to a mind of pure faith. Recollecting this manifestation of purity, the mind becomes gladdened; gladdened, there is the arising of joy; the mind being joyful, the body becomes pliant; the body being pliant, the body feels bliss; the body feeling bliss, the mind becomes concentrated.

There is a common pattern of (1) gladness, (2) joy, (3) pliancy, (4) bliss, (5) samadhi. The first stage is often separating from some unwholesome dharmas, and cultivating wholesome ones.

Examples of wholesome dharmas from the EBT’s, linked with this formula: virtue and non-regret, freedom from remorse, mindfulness of the Tathagata, joy in the Dharma, joy in not taking life, joy in purity, joy in the unity of the Samgha, separation from desires, supreme wondrous detachment, etc.

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Thank you for the Agama reference, I didn’t know about it. The sign here is quite different from the Nikayas. Instead of something external like a teddy bear, puppy or kitten to direct the mind on to foster gladness, it’s an internal recollecting of virtue and focus on the path that inspires gladness, an approach more aligned with the trajectory of the meditation:

SA 615
The Buddha said to Ānanda, “Excellent, excellent! The Four Bases of Mindfulness should be cultivated thusly: dwelling steadfastly, knowing before and after, rising and falling. Why is this so? The mind seeks the external, and as a result seeking arises in the mind, and the mind is scattered, unable to understand how things truly are.

I suppose one could use one or the other as long as the mind becomes gladdened.

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I suppose an external focus can be used to help focus on an internal one. For example, I first heard about the teddy bear in a metta meditation retreat. For those who had difficulties connecting with the feeling of metta, a teddy bear or something similar was recommended. You always have to start from where you are.

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Ven. Analayo suggests the imaging of a puppy or a kitten in developing metta within the Brahmaviharas.

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I 've been thinking about this alot recently as mental sluggishness has been an issue of late, and I have found my inspiring foundation to be recollection of the Triple Gem. Works every time.

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“He reflects, ‘I have attained the aim to which my mind was directed. Let me withdraw.’ He withdraws & engages neither in directed thought nor in evaluation. He discerns that ‘I am not thinking or evaluating. I am inwardly mindful & at ease.’—SN 47.10

This refers to the condition of harmony or ‘being in tune’ which is inherent to balance being attained in the mind. When developed, the power of harmony is considerable:

“There is the case where the monk Moggallāna develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on desire & the fabrications of exertion, thinking, ‘This desire of mine will be neither overly sluggish nor overly active, neither inwardly constricted nor outwardly scattered.’ He keeps perceiving what is in front & behind so that what is in front is the same as what is behind, what is behind is the same as what is in front. What is below is the same as what is above, what is above is the same as what is below (impermanence, antidote to a mind scattered externally). (He dwells) by night as by day, and by day as by night. By means of an awareness thus open & unhampered, he develops a brightened mind (antidote to sloth and torpor).”—-SN 51.14

“Now what do you think, Sona. Before, when you were a house-dweller, were you skilled at playing the vina?”

“Yes, lord.”

“And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were too taut, was your vina in tune & playable?”

“No, lord.”

“And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were too loose, was your vina in tune & playable?”

“No, lord.”

“And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were neither too taut nor too loose, but tuned[1] to be right on pitch, was your vina in tune & playable?”

“Yes, lord.”

“In the same way, Sona, over-aroused persistence leads to restlessness, overly slack persistence leads to laziness. Thus you should determine the right pitch for your persistence, attune[2]the pitch of the [five] faculties [to that], and there pick up your theme.”—(AN 6.55)

The attuned mind is then applied to the theme ( body, feelings, mind, dhamma):

“This, Ānanda, is development based on directing. And what is development based on not directing? A monk, when not directing his mind to external things, discerns that ‘My mind is not directed to external things. It is unconstricted [asaṅkhitta] front & back—released & undirected. And then, I remain focused on the body (feelings, mind, dhamma) in & of itself. I am ardent, alert, mindful, & at ease.’” SN 47.10

Tuning the veena:

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In the transcendental dependent arising formula, the sequence is

faith/confidence (saddhā ) ➔
gladness (pāmojja ) ➔
joy (pīti ) ➔
tranquillity (passaddhi ) …

Ajahn Brahmali addresses how this process works in his exposition of the Upanisā Sutta, in the booklet Dependent Liberation.

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and if

then the instruction is

in order to move through the meditation progression.

It’s becoming clearer to me now that “an inspiring foundation” acts to direct a sluggish or distracted mind towards either the joy of treading the path or a mental object of joy, thus gladdening the mind, moving towards neither placing the mind or keeping the mind connected.

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I was just reading MN20 and it’s relevance to your question became clear, so I thought I’d post it here. The principle is one of using something beneficial/skillful, to dislodge something less beneficial and skillful, and can be applied in many circumstances. It is the principle behind the simile of the Carpenter using a finer peg to dislodge a coarser peg. This principle is used continually through every aspect of the path :slight_smile: One of the wonderful tools that enables a gradual conditioning in line with the Dhamma :slightly_smiling_face: :dharmawheel: :hammer:

The bits in brackets and in bold are my additions to highlight the relevance of your original specific question.

Take a mendicant who is focusing on some foundation of meditation that gives rise to bad, unskillful thoughts connected with desire, hate, and delusion. (or is subject to restlessness or sluggishness ) That mendicant should focus on some other foundation of meditation connected with the skillful. (Or an ‘inspiring foundation’ / object that gladdens the mind, as appropriate ) As they do so, those bad thoughts are given up and come to an end. Their mind becomes stilled internally; it settles, unifies, and becomes immersed in samādhi. It’s like a deft carpenter or their apprentice who’d knock out or extract a large peg with a finer peg. In the same way, a mendicant … should focus on some other foundation of meditation connected with the skillful

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Thank you for that reference and your bracketed additions, Vivika. Of course I know that simile, but connecting it into this theme really makes it come alive and memorable. One is meditating and the mind becomes scattered or sluggish, so one drives out the course peg with a fine one and joy springs up, moving from unskillful back to the noble path. Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

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Oddly, this came to mind (it was also inspiring since I tend to nod off frequently):

AN7.61:2.1: “Are you nodding off, Moggallāna? Are you nodding off?”
AN7.61:2.2: “Yes, sir.”
AN7.61:2.3: “So, Moggallāna, don’t focus on or cultivate the perception that you were meditating on when you fell drowsy.

Then this:

The EBTs are all inspiring foundations, all one click away. Yes, I also click that button.

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