Guarding the Sense Doors

After one has established a solid practice of virtue imbued with renunciation, goodwill, and harmlessness through the practice of right action, right speech, and right livelihood, based on Right View and Right Intention, one is ready to start practicing the next part of the gradual training: Guarding the Sense Doors.

Like Virtue, guarding the sense doors is an essential skill that needs to be developed and continually practiced as one progresses in the gradual training.

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And what more is to be done?
We will guard our senses, not grasping at the form seen by the eye, not grasping at the sound heard by the ear.

Having abandoned attachment and aversion, we will guard the eye faculty. While staying in seclusion, if unwholesome, unskillful thoughts of covetousness and discontent arise, we should practice restraint, protect our eye faculty, and establish restraint over the eye faculty.

Having heard a sound with the ear ...
Having smelled an odor with the nose ...
Having tasted a flavor with the tongue ...
Having touched a tactile sensation with the body ...

Knowing a mental phenomenon with the mind, we should not grasp at its signs or features.

If, while staying in seclusion, unguarded, uncontrolled thoughts of covetousness and discontent arise, we should practice restraint, protect our mind faculty, and establish restraint over the mind faculty.

This is how you should train.

MN39







Guarding the Sense Doors in the Modern World

Living in today's world is very different from the isolated existence of desciples during the time of the Tathagata. We're constantly bombarded by social media, 24-hour news, online shopping, and an overwhelming influx of information.

People's lives are filled with all kinds of responsibilities, duties, social and leisure activities, shopping, fitness, etc.

To follow the Tathagata's gradual path, rooted in renunciation, one must first take significant steps to eliminate harmful influences and activities irrelevant to the practice.

Before beginning the practice of guarding the sense doors, it's crucial to assess all sources of contact in one's life, identifying those that fuel clinging, aversion, and delusion.

Some circumstances to consider:

Stay aware of your urges for such media, and observe how you use them to escape stress and agitation in your life.

Analyze your activities and routines. Let go of any activities that are not essential for your livelihood, care of your family, or maintenance of your health.

Eventually, as one progresses in the practice, one will come to realize that all the above are a source of stress and suffering and will be abandoned.







Distance Oneself and Be Alone

Author: Linmu

The places where modern people live are often filled with various comfortable and enticing colors, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. These five external conditions are referred to as the five desires.

An untamed heart has difficulty resisting the temptations of the five desires, therefore, when exposed to them, various forms of greed and attachment will continuously arise. In order to avoid these temptations and reduce the generation of greed, we should try to stay away from bustling and noisy places as much as possible.

Go to a quiet and undisturbed wilderness or vacant house, restrain the senses, moderate your diet, regulate your behavior and conduct, reduce tasks, and live a simple life. If conditions do not allow, you can arrange a quiet and simple room at home or nearby for solitude. When entering this room, you should restrain yourself as mentioned before.


Overview of Guarding the Sense Doors

After significantly simplifying one's life and greatly reducing sources of unwholesome contact in one's environment, one can start practicing guarding the sense doors.

Guarding the sense doors should be practiced throughout the day, in all tasks.

The main skill to be developed when guarding the sense doors is discerning when our mind makes contact with objects in what the Tathagata calls "The World," the Five Aggregates, and the objectification, the propagation of feelings, perceptions, intentions, and thoughts that result from this contact.

Guarding the sense doors is developing appropriate attention, which is making contact with objects of "The World" in a way that does not lead to clinging, aversion, or delusion.

Guarding the sense doors is the practice and intention not to get entangled with the objects of the six senses. If we cling to objects or personalize events in our experience, we get entangled with them, lost in their illusions. What the Tathagata calls greed and aversion, clinging to the Five Aggregates.

Appropriate attention and guarding the sense doors are rooted in renunciation, meaning one is not trying to avoid or prevent anything from reaching the senses. Instead, it comes from the deep understanding that nothing is worth grasping and will only result in agitation and stress.

Right Intention, based on Right View, when continually reinforced, is the "power" that keeps the mind stable, centered, collected, and unified, intent on guarding itself from becoming entangled in greed, aversion, and delusion.

In other words, appropriate attention at this stage of the practice, is attention on renunciation itself.







The Simile of the Six Animals

Author: Linmu

The Tathagata gives the simile of the six animals. If you catch six different animals - a dog, a bird, a snake, a wolf, a fish, and a monkey - and tie them all to the same pillar in the square. Dogs want to enter the village, birds want to fly into the sky, snakes want to crawl into holes, wolves want to go to the wilderness, fish want to jump into the water, and monkeys want to enter the forest. Each has its own desired destination.

But because each animal is tied up and kept struggling, it eventually becomes exhausted and can only rely on the pillar for support. The six constrained senses are like these six animals, constantly wanting to climb and explore their favorite phenomena. To tame these senses, we also need to tie them to a pillar, and this pillar is the body.

Attention on the body is the rope that keeps the senses attached to the post and prevents them from grasping and getting entangled in the environment or in our thoughts.

Guarding the Sense Doors, Eating Mindfully, Practicing Wakefulness, and Right Mindfulness all require one to establish attention on the body to protect oneself from any greed and aversion.

Depending on the situation, one might need to tighten the rope, bring attention closer to the body, for example, when faced with challenging situations like delightful sights. At other times, we may loosen the rope and allow the senses more freedom, making attention wider, for example, when performing tasks like crossing the street.

Eventually as the six senses no longer grasp or feed on their respective objects, for example sights, sounds and tastes, they settle down and are content resting in place.


The senses are like a snake, a crocodile, a bird, a dog, a jackal, and a monkey all tied up together, pulling in all directions towards their natural habitat. Mindfulness is like a post that keeps them grounded:




Practicing Guarding the Sense Doors

When you first start practicing guarding the sense doors, keep your senses tied to the post, the body. In other words, don't let the senses reach outside the body to grasp or interact with objects of the "world." Don't let your attention become scattered; instead, keep it in the confines of the body.

As one performs a task, one is mindful, while at the same time being aware of one’s mind and body keeping aware of any tension or scattering of attention.

Mindfulness involves balancing between too tight and too loose attention, ensuring there is no clinging, aversion, or delusion. It also requires spreading awareness throughout the body to counteract unawareness, which leads to the propagation of unwholesome mental states.

Even when engaged in tasks that demand full attention, it's beneficial to maintain a small amount of attention on the mind and body. When there is no tension or tightness in the body and the mind is not scattered, the result is enhanced efficiency and lower stress levels.

If one has developed Right View and Right Intention and mindfulness is established in the body, one naturally does not want to get entangled in anything. One just stays with the intention not to get entangled in thoughts or distractions, keeping the mind clear and peaceful.

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Any desire-passion with regard to the eye is a defilement of the mind.

Any desire-passion with regard to the ear… the nose… the tongue… the body… the intellect is a defilement of the mind.

When, with regard to these six bases, the defilements of awareness are abandoned, then the mind is inclined to renunciation.

The mind fostered by renunciation feels malleable for the direct knowing of those qualities worth realizing.

SN27:1


Appropriate Attention

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When one attends improperly, unarisen defilements arise and arisen defilements increase.

When one attends properly, unarisen defilements do not arise and arisen defilements are abandoned.

MN2

When the Tathagata says, "we will not grasp at any theme or variations," consider that a liberated person understands that nothing in this world is intrinsically beautiful or ugly, tasty or distasteful, and that all judgments are products of the Five Aggregates. Taken by themselves, these judgments are empty of any substance. His or her mind does not grasp or react to existence based on these illusions.

Appropriate attention is directing attention not at the sense objects and entanglements of the world but instead directing attention to the source or cause of the problem, the root or origin of stress and suffering, clinging to the Five Aggregates. That is, seeing through the illusion that the Five Aggregates can provide dependable happyness and satisfaction and instead see the reality that it is clinging to the Five Aggregates that causes stress and dissatisfaction.

Unlike disciples in the Tathagata’s time, who were mostly solitary and primarily concerned with guarding the sense doors when interacting with lay people, for example when going for alms, people in the modern world have a much greater amount of distractions and disturbances to deal with.

The initial objective of appropriate attention when guarding the sense doors is to become aware of the things we habitually pay attention to and the power they have to affect us, and cause disturbances in our lives, stress and suffering.

Guarding the sense doors includes identifying and abandoning all unnecessary unwholesome contacts in one’s environment, unwholesome habits, and any circumstances that lead to the unwholesome propagation of thoughts.

For the circumstances that one cannot avoid, one needs to learn how to make contact with them without increasing disturbances in one’s life, in order to avoid getting entangled in greed, aversion, or delusion.

As one advances in the practice, the emphasis will change from guarding the senses from the objects of the “World" to guarding from the danger of the sense doors themselves. In other words, clinging to the Five Aggregates as me, myself or mine.


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When attending to things, if unarisen sensual desire arises or arisen sensual desire increases; if unarisen desire for existence arises or arisen desire for existence increases; if unarisen ignorance arises or arisen ignorance increases—these are the things that should not be attended to, which he does not attend to.

MN2

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Whatever one keeps pursuing with his thinking & pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness








Understanding Contact

Understanding "contact" is essential for developing one's practice. Contact refers to the coming together of three factors:

The Sense Organ: Such as the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or the mind.

The Sense Object: What is seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched, or cognized.

Sense Consciousness: The awareness and process of cognition of the sense object.

Eye Contact is when light waves representing a visible form, the sense object, encounter the eye, the sense organ, and visual consciousness arises, resulting in the sensation of seeing.

Visual consciousness involves several processes: the reconstruction of the sensed object from the light waves perceived by the eye, this is imbued with contextual elements like time, 3D space and distance, previously stored perceptions and feelings are recalled from memory, and a sense of self is injected into the experience as one existing apart from the object being seen among other cognitive processes.

Although there may be objects present in awareness; there must be a cognitive, self-referencing process, "a meeting of the three" for contact to occur.

When there is no contact, there is no greed, aversion, or clinging.

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When it comes to things that are to be seen, heard, thought, and known:

in the seen will be merely the seen; in the heard will be merely the heard; in the thought will be merely the thought; in the known will be merely the known.

When this is the case, you won’t be ‘by that’. When you’re not ‘by that’, you won’t be ‘in that’. When you’re not ‘in that’, you won’t be in this world or the world beyond or in between the two.

Just this is the end of suffering.

When there is self-referencing, your sense of self is "in" the looking, your sense of self is "in" the object itself, this is clinging.

Contact is the start of the chain of cognition that makes things personal. Memory is accessed to create feelings and perceptions, which include the perception of one being separate from the object of perception and a self that needs to interact with the object. This then propagates into thoughts, views, and actions.

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Dependent on eye & forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact.

With contact as a requisite condition, there is feeling. What one feels, one perceives (labels in the mind)..

What one perceives, one thinks about. What one thinks about, one complicates.

Based on what a person complicates, the perceptions & categories of objectification assail him/her with regard to past, present, & future forms cognizable via the eye.

MN18


Experiencing Contact

Contact can be discerned because when contact is made, there is self-referencing occurring. As contact is made, feelings and perceptions arise, which results in the mind labeling the contact as good, bad, or neutral. In other words, making the contact personal, resulting in stress.

To experience contact, choose an object in peripheral vision, slowly turn your head towards it, but do not look directly at it. At some point, you will notice that when you make contact with the object, it feels as if attention momentarily shifts back to the mind while the cognition process takes place. This is self-referencing or contact.

When practicing guarding the sense doors and when getting entangled with an object in the environment, there is a pull or push (greed or aversion) towards the object, there is labelling the object as good, bad or neutral. This is contact or self-referencing.

Becoming aware of the push and pull, the labelling of objects and the judging of things as good, bad or neutral is crucial for recognizing contact and the resulting clinging, greed and aversion.


Two kinds of thoughts

As we progress in the practice of Guarding the Sense Doors, the the emphasis shifts from guarding the senses to guarding the mind itself.

The Tathagata describes how he divided thoughts into two kinds, wholesome and unwholesome, and abandoned unwholesome thoughts:








Mindfulness Like the Pilings of a Dam

The following article has been adapted for the gradual training:

Upāsikā Kee Nanayon

If we don’t pay attention to keeping the mind centered or neutral as its foundation, it will wander off in various ways in pursuit of preoccupations or sensory contacts, giving rise to turmoil and restlessness. But when we practice restraint over the sensory doors by maintaining continuous mindfulness, it’s like driving in the pilings for a dam. If you’ve ever seen the pilings for a dam, you’ll know that they’re driven deep, deep into the ground so that they’re absolutely firm and immovable. But if you drive them into mud, they’re easily swayed by the slightest contact. This should give us an idea of how firm our mindfulness should be in supervising the mind to make it stable, able to withstand sensory contact without liking or disliking its objects.

The stability of your mindfulness is something you have to maintain continuously in your every activity. The mind will stop being scattered in search of preoccupations. Otherwise, the mind will get stirred up whenever there’s sensory contact, like a rudderless ship going wherever the wind and waves take it. This is why you need mindfulness to guard the mind at every moment. If you can make mindfulness constant in every activity, the mind will be continuously neutral, ready to probe and investigate for insight.

As a first step in driving in the pilings for our dam—in other words, in making mindfulness stable—we have to be intent on neutrality as our basic stance. There’s nothing you have to think about. Simply make the mind solid in its neutrality. If you can do this continuously, that’s when you’ll have a true standard for your investigation because the mind will have gathered into concentration. But this concentration is something you have to watch over carefully to make sure it’s not just oblivious indifference. Make the mind firmly established and centered so that it doesn’t get absentminded or distracted. Maintain steady mindfulness, and there’s nothing else you have to do. Keep the mind firm and neutral, not thinking of anything at all. Make sure this stability stays continuous. When anything pops up, no matter how, keep the mind neutral. For example, if there’s a feeling of pleasure or pain, don’t focus on the feeling. Simply reinforce your intention to keep the mind stable—and there will be a sense of neutrality in that stability.

If you’re careful not to let the mind get absentminded or distracted, singleness of mind and concentration will become continuous.

Mindfulness is the key factor in all of this, keeping the mind from concocting thoughts or labeling things. Everything has to stop. Keep this foundation snug and stable. Then you can relax your attention while keeping the mind in the same state of neutrality. Relax your attention so that it feels just right. The mind will be able to stay in this state, free from any thoughts that might wander off the path. Then keep an eye out to see that no matter what you do or say, the mind stays solidly in its normal state of inward knowing.

If the mind is stable within itself, you’re protected on all sides. When sensory contacts come, you stay intent on keeping your mental stability. Even if there are any momentary slips in your mindfulness, you get right back to the stability of the mind. Other than that, there’s nothing you have to do. The mind will let go without your having to do anything else. The way you used to like this, hate that, turn left here, turn right there, won’t be able to happen. The mind will stay neutral, equanimous, just right. If mindfulness lapses, you get right back to your mindfulness, recognizing when the mind is centered and neutral toward its objects, and then keeping it that way.

The pilings for the dam of mindfulness have to be driven in so that they’re solid and secure with your every activity. Keep working at this no matter what you’re doing. If you can train the mind so that stability is its basic foundation, it won’t get into mischief. It won’t cause you any trouble. It won’t concoct thoughts. It will be quiet. Once it’s quiet and centered, it will grow more refined and probe in to penetrate within itself, to know its own state of centered, concentration from within.

As for sensory contacts, those are things outside—appearing only to disappear—so it’s not interested. This can make cravings disband. The mind will simply stay stable, centered, and firm in its neutrality. This stability can easily help you abandon the cravings that lie latent in connection with all feelings. But if you don’t keep the mind centered and unified in advance like this, craving will create issues, provoking the mind into turmoil, wanting to change things to get this or that kind of happiness.

If we practice in this way repeatedly, hammering at this point over and over again, it’s like driving pilings into the ground. The deeper we can drive them, the more immovable they’ll be. That’s when you’ll be able to withstand sensory contacts. Otherwise, the mind will start boiling over with its thought concoctions in pursuit of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. Sometimes it keeps concocting the same old senseless issues over and over again. This is because the pilings of mindfulness aren’t yet firmly in place. The way we’ve been stumbling through life is due to the fact that we haven’t really practiced to the point where mindfulness is continuous enough to make the mind firmly centered and neutral. So we have to make our dam of mindfulness solid and secure.

This centeredness of mind is something we should develop with every activity, with every in-and-out breath. This way we’ll be able to see through our illusions, all the way into the truths of inconstancy and not-self. Otherwise, the mind will stray off here and there like a mischievous monkey—yet even monkeys can be caught and trained to perform tricks. In the same way, the mind can be trained, but if you don’t tie it to the post of mindfulness and give it a taste of discipline, it’ll be very hard to tame.

When training the mind, you shouldn’t force it too much, nor can you simply let it go its habitual ways. You have to test yourself to see what gets results. If you don’t get your mindfulness stable, it’ll quickly run out after preoccupations or easily waver under the impact of its objects. When people let their minds simply drift along with the flow of things, it’s because they haven’t established mindfulness as a solid foundation. When this is the case, they can’t stop. They can’t grow still. They can’t be free. This is why we have to start by driving in the pilings for our dam so that they are good and solid, keeping the mind stable, centered, and unified whether we’re sitting, standing, walking, or lying down. This stability will then be able to withstand everything. Your mindfulness will stay with its foundation, just like a monkey tied to a post: It can’t run off or get into mischief. It can only circle the post to which its leash is tied.

Keep training the mind until it’s tame enough to settle down and investigate things, for if it’s still scattered about, it’s of no use at all. You have to train it until it’s familiar with what inner stability is like, for your own instability and lack of intention and commitment in training it - is what allows it to get all entangled with thought concoctions, with things that arise and then pass away. You have to get it to stop. Why is it so mischievous? Why is it so scattered? Why does it keep wandering off? Get it under control! Get it to stop, to settle down, and grow centered and unified!

Once you have practiced in this way, the next step is to use mindfulness to maintain it in your every activity, so that even if there are any distractions, they last only for a moment and don’t turn into long issues. Keep driving in the pilings until they’re solid every time there’s an impact from external objects or so that the mental concoctions that go straying out from within are all brought to stillness in every way.

This training isn’t really all that hard. The important point is that, whichever of the many practice subjects you choose, you stay mindful and aware with a mind state that’s centered and neutral. If, when the mind goes straying out after objects, you keep bringing it back to its centeredness over and over again, the mind will eventually be able to stay firmly in its foundation. In other words, its mindfulness will become constant, ready to probe and investigate, because when the mind really settles down, it gains the power to see things "as they are", within itself clearly. If it’s not centered, it can jumble everything up to fool you, switching from this issue to that, from this role to that; but if it’s centered, it can disband everything—all defilements, cravings, and attachments—on every side.

So what this practice comes down to is how much effort and persistence you put into getting the mind firmly centered and unified. Once it’s firm, then when there arise all the sufferings and defilements that would otherwise get it soiled and worked up, it can withstand them just as the pilings of a dam can withstand windstorms without budging. You have to be clearly aware of this state of mind so that you won’t go out liking this or hating that. This state will then become your point of departure for probing and investigating so as to gain the insight that sees clearly all the way through—but you have to make sure that this centeredness is continuous. Then you won’t have to think about anything. Simply look right in, deeply and subtly.

The important point is that you get rid of absentmindedness and distractions. This in itself gets rid of a lot of delusion and ignorance, and leaves no opening for craving to create any issues that will stir up the mind and set it wandering. This is because we’ve established our foundation in advance. Even if we lose our normal balance a little bit, we get right back to keeping attention on the stability of our centered and unified mind. If we keep at this over and over again, the stability of the mind with its continuous mindfulness will enable us to probe into the truths of inconstancy, stress, and not-self.

In the beginning, though, you don’t have to do any probing. It’s better to simply keep your intention on the stability of your foundation, for if you start probing when the mind isn’t really centered and stable, you’ll end up scattered. So keep your intention on making centeredness the basic level of the mind and then start probing in deeper and deeper. This will lead to insights that grow more and more telling and profound, bringing the mind to a state of freedom within itself, or to a state where it is no longer hassled by defilement.

This in itself will bring about true mastery over the sense doors. At first, when we started out, we weren’t able to exercise any real restraint over the eyes and ears, but once the mind becomes firmly centered, then the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body are automatically brought under control. If there’s no mindfulness and concentration, you can’t keep your eyes under control, because the mind will want to use them to look and to see, it will want to use the ears to listen to all kinds of things. So instead of exercising restraint outside, at the senses, we exercise it inside, right at the mind, making the mind firmly centered and neutral at all times. Regardless of whether you’re talking or whatever, the mind’s attention stays in place. Once you can do this, you’ll regard the objects of the senses as meaningless. You won’t have to take issue with things, thinking, “This is good, I like it. This is bad, I don’t like it. This is pretty; that’s ugly.” The same holds true with the sounds you hear. You won’t take issue with them. You focus instead on the neutral, uninvolved centeredness of the mind. This is the basic foundation for neutrality.

When you can do this, everything becomes neutral. When the eye sees a form, it’s neutral. When the ear hears a sound, it’s neutral—the mind is neutral, the sound is neutral, everything is all neutral—because we’ve closed five of the six sense doors and then settled ourselves in neutrality right at the mind. This takes care of everything. Whatever the eye may see, the ear may hear, the nose may smell, the tongue may taste, or the body may touch, the mind doesn’t take issue with anything at all. It stays centered, neutral, and impartial. Take just this much and give it a try.


Moderation in Eating

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And how, monks, should you train yourselves?

You should think:
We will be content with the bare minimum, taking food in moderation.

We will reflect wisely on the purpose of eating, not indulging in sensual pleasures or beautifying ourselves, but only to sustain this body, to avoid harm, and to support the holy life.

We will abandon old feelings and not generate new feelings. We will maintain our well-being and live blamelessly.

MN39






Because eating is a significant source of pleasure for humans, practicing mindfulness when eating is a good way to understand how we become absorbed in flavors, get entangled in the passion of eating, and sometimes get lost in delusion even though there is no longer any hunger or need to eat.

By practicing Renunciation when eating, we can observe how our minds create flavors and tastes. When we let go of seeking pleasure, these mental enhancements no longer influence us. Since we no longer depend on tastes for our happiness, we are free to stop eating when the body is satisfied.

Being mindful and practicing renunciation in eating is beneficial because overeating can be a major obstacle on the path. It's also a way to assess our levels of clinging, aversion, and delusion, attachment to our body."

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When physical food is fully understood, the lust for the five cords of sensual pleasure is fully understood.

When the lust for the five cords of sensual pleasure is fully understood, there is no fetter bound by which a noble disciple might come back to this world.

SN12.63

The perception of repulsiveness in food, when developed and frequently practiced leads to the deathless: