The late Thai monk Luang Por Viriyang Sirintharo, who was still teaching actively when he was 100 years old, once said that insight meditation can facilitate mental and physical healing.
While this may sound mysterious, the explanation is simple: a person who can control their mind through refining the practices of sila (Pali. morality) and sati (mindfulness) will be less stressed in performing their daily tasks and be more positively balanced, due to having wholesome intentions and better control over their mental and physical actions.
On this point, Luang Por Viriyang has said in his Instructions for Meditation Teachers: “The meditative mind at work is an effective rest which promotes positive thinking and management capability.”
Conversely, he also notes: “The movement which is the vibration of the brain can become severe on some occasions─and such severe moments can create severe impacts resulting in severe effects.”
We all know how severe mental moments can cause problems in life. Yet, most “normal” people pay little or no attention to the waves vibrating within their minds, and react in a lackadaisical manner, thus allowing mental stresses to increase and become worse.
There are, fortunately, a few people, with little dust in their eyes, who have learned to cultivate mindfulness and equilibrium through the development of bhavana,who are able to keep a cool head, and whose mental-physical systems are not affected in the way we often see in people who are constantly losing their heads and perhaps even experiencing mental and physical health problems.
So how do we develop a state of contemplative mind that leads to a state of mental tranquility and equanimity, and keeps us from becoming mentally imbalanced?
Ajahn Viriyang teaches: “A tranquil state of mind reduces the workload of the nervous system and keeps it from being over-stressed.” (I. 91)
To explain, he provides a simile, which is that developing a tranquil mind “is comparable to the production of flour. Before we can get the flour, a number of processes are taken: from preparing the soil, to sewing the grain, watering, nourishing, spraying against pests and diseases, reaping, milling, grinding, etc., until it becomes flour. People can then measure the quantity of the flour and place its value at a certain degree.” (I.102)
The refinement of flour can be compared to the refinement of the mind.
By comparison, Luang Por says: “Long before the mind can control the meditative state, the meditator has to pass through a similar number of processes and mechanisms, from an initial state of developing a meditative mind and mindfulness, gradually, to a condition in which the mind obtains tranquility.”
Continuing the simile of the production of flour, Luang Por Viriyang explains that, in a meditator who has become firm in his foundations of mindfulness, the mind becomes refined into a state of clear one-pointedness, in which it will not be distracted nor lose focus.
Monks such as Luang Por Viriyang serve as modern examples of how this works in today’s world.
Luang Por knew, however, that there are many who will only be able to achieve one-pointedness temporarily, and then lose it again through being distracted by sense perceptions─which, to extend the analogy, would be comparable to pure flour being contaminated by contact with impurities.
In those who are not yet free from mental distractions and still striving to attain and maintain moral purity (sila)─in those who are distracted by perceptions and consciousness of the eye, ear, nose, mouth, and touch, leading to arising mental-associations—in those of us who are thus distracted, the anchor of any calmness, tranquility, or equanimity thus-far developed can be twisted around unexpectedly by shifting winds and torn-out of its anchor base.
Just as a good yachtsman is always attentive on anchor watch, so a good meditator must be attentive and pay heed that perception of the six sense bases can be the enemy of tranquility and equanimity. The meditator must pay attention that contact through the six senses and the resultant waves of emotions do not make the meditator lose his secure base in anchoring calm. A welling-up of sense perceptions and mental formations could leave him drifting and swirling in a welter of currents and waves, mindlessly, within the stormy seas of the senses─and possibly even swirl and heave him into emotional whirlpools that could suck him down into the undercurrents and nether worlds of an unhealthy mind, from which he may never escape.
On the one hand, the worldly mind, when left unattended, has been compared to a jungle full of monkeys, jumping around every which way, without any sense of purpose or unity. By contrast, in the well-trained meditative mind, once attention has been focused, quelled, and controlled, the mind will be at one-pointed peace, in a state of rest, in equanimity and harmony, free from desire and anxiety.
The problem for many of us, however, will be that whenever there is some latent residue of hidden, unconscious desire or resultant anxiety remaining, we may soon be swept adrift into resultant states of perplexity in which the mind becomes anxious, stressed, and unable to rest.
The way out is through a gradual process of training.
“Such progression,” says Luang Por Viriyang, “is analogous to the development of our physical body.” At its initial state, there is only the element of water. It unifies with vital substances and becomes part of a process in which natural unification and progression produce a micro-organism which is invisible to our eye, and this micro-organism, then, grows, through stages, to become a human body.
“By analogy, the progression of the development of contemplative mind is similar. At its initial state, there is only the barest minimum of mind-consciousness present.”
Its origination, then, evolves, through a process, in phases of meditative development, and eventually the concentrated mind unifies, with calmness in the center of the mind-body organism. Then mindful equanimity develops to a point in which the meditator is able to exercise and maintain control of arising mental and physical intentions and actions.
The difficulty is that it is still possible to become distracted, so it takes firm concentration, determination, effort, patience, and perseverance to be constantly on the watch and in control, to ensure that the balance of the mind maintains unwavering discernment and equanimity.
Ajahn Viriyang observes that the contemplative “mind that is neglected will deteriorate─as sure as wood by worms and bugs, and iron and metal by rust.”
Sila (morality) does not remain constant if left untended and unprotected; so it must be persistently protected.
In summary, it is like the mind watching the mind to ensure that waves of distracted perception cannot swirl-up into accumulations of mental vibrations, which become agitated into stormy, unruly seas.
Viriyang, Luang Phor. 1999. Meditation Instructor Course. Bangkok: Willpower Institute.