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This post is once again from a contemporary and experiential perspective, which may be understandably irrelevant to those who prefer to derive a methodology solely from their studious and reasoned arguments about descriptions recounted from relatively ancient people's direct experience and as recorded in canonical and commentarial books. This owing to these books longstanding cache (the respect for these sagacious ancients is something about which I can only say that I think the highest esteem for the Blessed Buddha and his Noble Sangha is entirely justified in relation to what I have encountered in the nature of my own introspective experience). However what I offer here may be of some use to those who are simply interested in replicating what those in the long gone past have done for themselves without recourse to a great deal of technical jargon.
The development of discernment, insights, skillful mental qualities, realizations, and understandings for oneself, however these are later categorized, can only proceed from intensive and extensive introspective self examination. This would be my interpretation of the meaning of 'the only way' as I suspect the Buddha originally intended that statement and not a reference to some sort of technique.
In practice, successful introspective insights, realizations and understanding are ultimately comprehensive of every phenomena that occurs within an individual human being and a full cognizance of how it is that these phenomena come to occur.
By necessity the investigation begins with a relatively superficial but ever deepening kind of attentive introspection which encounters a diversity of changing conditions arising and passing in the changing elemental forms which make up the body, a diversity of sensory awareness of forms of external stimulus arising and passing in contact with the bodily senses, a diversity of fleeting sensations arising and passing throughout the body, a diversity of thought objects arising and passing in the mind and a diversity of mental qualities which together make up conscious awareness of the rest that is introspectively cognizable.
One can continue examining one's nature in this way for an extensive period of time until one discerns and develops considerable insight into the consistent instability of all of this flux of temporary and shifting perceptions and the patterns of shifting conscious attention which are supportive of this experiential flux. One develops from this the direct insight that none of this can possibly be considered 'ones self' or the property of 'ones self' as it is neither entirely under ones control nor entirely estranged from the influence of ones directed introspective conscious attention.
On this basis one can then proceed to investigate what underlies this flux and one encounters mental qualities more directly in terms of the hindrances to steadily directed mindful attention. In this way one can develop both considerable discernment and insight into unskillful and skillful mental qualities and one can considerably strengthen the mental quality of concentration through the examination and overcoming of the five mental qualities which significantly hinder any kind of singular, steady, maneuverable and fully focused or concentrated mindful attention.
One is then more readily capable of examining how it is that consciousness is capable of such rapid movement and change as it rapidly shifts from one object to the next in relation to the sensations arising and passing via sense contacts, in the forms of bodily sensations, in the forms of thought objects and in the nature of mental qualities. One develops considerable discernment and insight in this way into the qualities of and the causes of and the effects of all of the varieties of this flux of conscious attention.
On the basis of these previous discernments and insights one then is capable of noting that conscious contact potentially pervades the entire body. One may then examine what occurs if, instead of directing attention to the flux of sense perceptions, diverse and momentary sensations within the body, diverse and momentary thought objects and shifting mental qualities, one examined the point of contact between consciousness and the entire body as a whole, as a single perception of the body fully pervaded with conscious awareness.
On the basis of the well developed discernment that conscious contact pervades the entire body and on the basis of the well developed mental quality of concentration one steadies this perception of the body pervaded by conscious awareness and one discovers that, in contrast to the diversity, the discomfort and the flux typical of a rapidly changing flow of perception that this sort of perception, the steady perception of the whole body is significantly more pleasant, simple and calm.
On the basis of this discernment of and insight into a much calmer, steadier and more concentrated kind of perception and on the basis of discovering this type of novel and persistently pleasant sensation, a sensation that is not related to the changing responses of the bodily forms, the objects of the senses or of thought objects. One may then discern that one can further stabilize and steady this novel and singular type of perception of the body pervaded by concentrated conscious attention effortlessly.
One may note on the occasion of this singular, steady and novel type of perception the presence of the appearance that the body is filled with light. One can discern that this is briefly interesting but that persisting in the perception of light leads to nothing but the persistence of this perception and that it can therefore be discounted whereupon it will eventually fade from attention as well.
On the basis of the effortless stability of this steadiness of pleasant perception of the form of the body as a whole, wholly pervaded by conscious attention, or in other words on the basis of the fully developed capacity for effortless concentration on one type of perception, one can further directly discern the qualities present within this novel form of perception without concern for any interruptions in the various forms of the more typical or ordinary perceptions of the diversity of bodily forms, the diversity of sense perceptions, the diversity of body sensations, the diversity of thought objects and the changes in mental qualities.
One is then in a position to directly discern the qualities that make up the fully developed mental quality of effortless concentration. One can discern that the attention to the body pervaded by conscious contact is indeed very pleasant and unusual in that it is not connected with the flux of perceptions but rather serves as the basis for consciousness of the more typical flux of perceptions.
One can then move on to examine the subtler qualities involved in the mental quality of concentrated attention and thereby both discernment and the mental quality of concentration are further refined.
One can then discern that the body fully pervaded by conscious contact is a very pleasant perception but not owing to the same causes as the type of pleasant perception that comes through sense contacts with that which is otherwise pleasing but owing to the steadiness and simplicity of the perception of the whole body in itself.
One can then discern that there is a corresponding pleasant perception which is simply a mental quality. One can then discern that in this subtle redirection of attention the perception of the pleasant perception of the body fades away and that the more subtle perception of the simplicity of the mental quality of the concentration is in the forefront of attention, that the mental qualities are even more simple and that this is even more subtly pleasant.
One can then discern that there is a mental quality of concentration which can take this steadiness and simplicity and pleasantness of a mental quality as its object and one can discern that with this subtle shift of attention onto the mental quality of concentration itself the pleasant mental quality which was previously most prominent fades away and the quality of the concentrated conscious attention is now itself the object of its own attention.
One can then discern that due to attention fully occupied with attending to the mental qualities of concentrated attention the awareness of the body has faded entirely from ones concentrated conscious attention. One can then discern that owning to such a refined concentration of conscious attention one is now capable of carefully examining and discerning the mental qualities supportive of consciousness directly without any interruption from the coarser object of conscious attention to form and the subtler object of pleasant mental qualities.
One can then discern that apart from awareness of contact with the body the mental quality of consciousness appears boundless as it has no contact with the object of form upon which to base any sense of confinement. One can then discern that without any contact with the object of form the perception of boundless space is largely useless as a space empty of forms cannot be measured or qualified in any way.
One can then shift attention to the quality of conscious contact that occupies the sense of boundless space and discern that this mental quality also appears boundless. One can then discern that the sense of boundless space fades away and the sense of boundless consciousness predominates.
One can then discern that the sense of boundless consciousness without objects of consciousness to qualify it is likewise largely useless as it too serves no purpose. One may then discern that the sense of boundless consciousness also fades away and with this one may discern that one has shifted one's attention to the perception of nothingness or no-thing-ness.
One can then discern that the conscious attention to no-thing-ness requires both this very comprehensive and subtle kind of concentration of attention to no-thing and no qualities of any-thing together with the quality of consciousness. One may then discern that with the subtle shift of attention to the quality of consciousness itself one can discern the fading away of the consciousness of no-thing-ness.
One can not discern at this point how very subtle and slight and completely useless consciousness so concentrated and refined actually is because it is completely cut off from all other mental qualities and objects of consciousness but upon exiting from this concentration into any of the previous concentrations or into the ordinary forms of conscious attention one can reflect and readily conclude that, fully and absolutely concentrated and in isolation, the quality of consciousness is very subtle, slight and entirely useless.
When one has reduced the previously variously complicated and compounded nature of consciousness to the absolute limit of its simplification by means of the skillful employment of discernment, insight and concentration, one can then move on to examine what might be found if one proceeded to abandon the underlying quality of consciousness itself.
One then discovers that consciousness can indeed fully cease and that there is another kind of unmade, unborn and indescribable dhamma to be found in the absence of consciousness and the objects of consciousness or in other words in the absence of being and becoming.
One then discovers, for the first time, something sukkha, something indescribably pleasant and peaceful, something uncompounded, something neither born nor dying but that it too is without self or atta, that it too is anatta and upon emerging from this cessation one subsequently encounters the arising of incredible dispassion for all that is compounded and conscious together with an incredible relief to have finally encountered something else which is neither conscious nor compounded. One may then discern that one need only wait upon and cultivate this dispassion until it is also comprehensive and complete, while similarly waiting upon this dependently conditioned body and mind until these have run their course and then gratefully acquiesce into that that which remains, the directly known, supreme and lasting sukkha.
This is how discernment and concentration work together, in practice and in fact. http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=7360&start=140#p121431