Saturday, March 13, 2010

Nintendo Dharma

Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom

Nintendo Dharma

You may have noticed how easy it is to stay present when you engage in an activity you enjoy, like playing some sport, watching a movie, reading a book, or even playing Nintendo. Why can we be so concentrated in these activities, and yet find ourselves distracted and restless when we meditate? Surprisingly, this simple question can lead us to a profound understanding of suffering and freedom.

What we call mind is the naturally pure knowing faculty - invisible, clear, and lucid. In some Tibetan text it is called "the cognizing power of emptiness." But mind includes more than just knowing, because in each moment of experience different qualities, or mental factors arise with it and color the knowing in various ways. For example, greed, hatred, love, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom, among many others, are all mental factors arising and passing in different moments, each functioning in its own way.

When we engage in various activities, different mental factors are at work. In Nintendo, we need to be right there with the game or we lose. The mind needs to be steady and one-pointed, with the factor of concentration quite strong. In addition to concentration, another quality of mind plays a critical role - the mental factor of perception. Perception recognizes, names, and remembers appearances by picking out their distinguishing marks. Through the power of perception we recognize each appearing object of experience: woman, man, pine tree, Abraham Lincoln, computer, car, and innumerable others. Concentration and perception keep us present and absorbed in whatever life-game is happening.

Meditation practice is different. In order to develop insight and wisdom, we need to add the factor of mindfulness to the mental equation of concentration and perception. Mindfulness goes beyond the simple recognition of what is happening. It goes beyond keeping the mind steady. Through its strong power of observation, mindfulness uncovers the characteristic nature of experience itself.

Absorption in a movie or in Nintendo does not reveal the momentariness of phenomena. We do not see the impermanence and insubstantiality of all things and events, nor do we notice the empty nature of awareness itself. Perception and concentration arise in every moment; even when the gets lost in thought, we still recognize what it is that we are thinking. But only mindfulness reveals that we are thinking. This is a critical difference. Perception by itself does not lead to insight into impermanence and selflessness, because it engages us in the content and story of what appears. Mindfulness emerges from the story and notices the moment-to-moment arising and passing of sense impressions, thoughts, and consciousness itself.

If we understand these three important factors of mind clearly - concentration, perception, and mindfulness - then their coming into balance becomes the field of freedom.

(Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom, pg. 37-38)

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