Mindfulness of Death (One of the 10 Recollections)
I've recently been reading a book on Theravada Buddhism ("The Experience of Samadhi" by R.Shankman), which details some core differences in the practice of Concentration, Jhanas (and Mindfulness) taken in both the Pali Suttras and the Commentaries (Vissudhimagga). It is really a good book and recommended reading for some in depth analysis on the nuances around developing concentration and subsequent entry into the Jhanas.
Some attention is given to the use of 40 objects that may be meditated upon as gateways into deep concentration (access level concentration and beyond into the Jhanas).
One particular object was the recollection of 'death', which may only lead to 'access concentration', due to its complex nature, but has been nonetheless extremely interesting and useful for me over the last few days, and really has delivered the goods (ie producing access concentration levels immediately on recollecting the nature and object of personal 'death').
I may write more on this over the coming days.
In the meantime, here's some notes on the 40 objects for contemplation, and also on the 10 Recollections (from the Vissudhimagga and suttas):
Ten recollections (things to contemplate, pursue, and develop):
1. Recollection of the Buddha
2. Recollection of the Dhamma
3. Recollection of the Sangha
4. Recollection of virtue
5. Recollection of generosity
6. Recollection of devas
7. Mindfulness of in and out breathing
8. Mindfulness of death
9. Mindfulness of immersed in the body
10. Recollection of stilling
(from Anguttara Nikaya 1.287)
Mindfulness of Death
§41. "Now, based on what line of reasoning should one often reflect... that 'I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death'? There are beings who are intoxicated with a (typical) living person's intoxication with life. Because of that intoxication with life, they conduct themselves in a bad way in body... in speech... and in mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, that living person's intoxication with life will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker...
"Now, a disciple of the noble ones considers this: 'I am not the only one subject to death, who has not gone beyond death. To the extent that there are beings — past and future, passing away and re-arising — all beings are subject to death, have not gone beyond death.' When he/she often reflects on this, the (factors of the) path take birth. He/she sticks with that path, develops it, cultivates it. As he/she sticks with that path, develops it and cultivates it, the fetters are abandoned, the latent tendencies destroyed."
— AN 5.57
Forty meditation subjects
Of the forty objects meditated upon as kammatthana, the first ten are 'things that one can behold directly', 'kasina', or 'a whole':
(1) earth, (2) water, (3) fire, (4) air, wind, (5) blue, green, (6) yellow, (7) red, (8) white, (9) enclosed space, (10) bright light.
The next ten are objects of repulsion (asubha):
(1) swollen corpse, (2) discolored, bluish, corpse, (3) festering corpse, (4) fissured corpse, (5) gnawed corpse, (6,7) dismembered, or hacked and scattered, corpse, (8) bleeding corpse, (9) worm-eaten corpse, (10) skeleton.
Ten are recollections (anussati):
First three recollections are of the virtues of the Three Jewels:
Next three are recollections of the virtues of:
(4) morality (Śīla)
(5) liberality (cāga)
(6) the wholesome attributes of Devas
(7) the body (kāya)
(8) death (see Upajjhatthana Sutta)
(9) the breath (prāna) or breathing (ānāpāna)
(10) peace (see Nibbana).
Four are stations of Brahma (Brahma-vihara):
(1) unconditional kindness and goodwill (mettā)
(2) compassion (karuna)
(3) sympathetic joy over another's success (mudita)
(4) evenmindedness, equanimity (upekkha)
Four are formless states (four arūpajhānas):
(1) infinite space
(2) infinite consciousness
(3) infinite nothingness
(4) neither perception nor non-perception.
One is of perception of disgust of food (aharepatikulasanna).
The last is analysis of the four elements (catudhatuvavatthana): earth (pathavi), water (apo), fire (tejo), air (vayo).
Of these, due to their complexity, eight recollections (excluding the recollection of the Body (kāyagatāsati) and of Breathing (ānāpānassati)), the perception of disgust of food and the analysis of the four elements only lead to access concentration (upacara samadhi).
Absorption in the first jhana can be realized by mindfulness on the ten kinds of foulness and mindfulness of the body. However, these meditations cannot go beyond the first jhana due to their involving applied thought (vitaka) which is absent from the higher jhanas.
Absorption in the first three jhanas can be realized by contemplating the first three brahma-viharas. However, these meditations cannot aid in attaining the fourth jhana due to the pleasant feelings associated with them. Conversely, once the fourth jhana is induced, the fourth brahma-vihara (equanimity) arises.
Due to the simplicity of subject matter, all four jhanas can be induced through mindfulness of breathing and the ten kasinas.
Meditation subjects and temperaments
All of the aforementioned meditation subjects can suppress the Five Hindrances, thus allowing one to fruitfully pursue wisdom. In addition, anyone can productively apply specific meditation subjects as antidotes, such as meditating on foulness to counteract lust or on the breath to abandon discursive thought.
The Pali commentaries further provide guidelines for suggesting meditation subjects based on one's general temperament:
Greedy: the ten foulness meditations; or, body contemplation.
Hating: the four brahma-viharas; or, the four color kasinas.
Deluded: mindfulness of breath.
Faithful: the first six recollections.
Intelligent: recollection of death or peace; the perception of disgust of food; or, the analysis of the four elements.
Speculative: mindfulness of breath.
The six non-color kasinas and the four formless states are suitable for all temperaments.