Sally Clough Armstrong began practicing vipassana meditation in India in 1981. She moved to the Bay Area in 1988, and worked at Spirit Rock until 1994 in a number of roles, including executive director. She began teaching in 1996, and is one of the guiding teachers of Spirit Rock's Dedicated Practitioner Program.
Sally has always been inspired by the depth and the breadth of the Buddha’s teaching, as presented in the suttas of the Pali Canon, because the truth and power of the Buddha’s words still speak to us today. Her intention in teaching is to make these ancient texts and practices accessible and relevant to all levels of practitioner, from the very new to the dedicated meditator.
For some people, the idea of retreat implies some form of escape or avoidance. But actually, meditation retreats, especially long ones, are deep dive into our direct experience, both individual and collective. Though we disengage from the busyness and distractions of our daily life, we are still deeply engaged in understanding the world and our place in it, and can return from retreat more balanced and compassionate, ready to engage wisely with our lives and the issues of our time.
The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (usually translated as the Foundations of Mindfulness) offers a complete description of the practice of mindfulness, beginning with the direct awareness of the breath and the body, progressing through mindfulness of vedana or feeling tone, to the more subtle object of the Third Foundation, mindfulness of mind states. The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness represents the culmination of this series of practices, and can be seen as a direct pointing, again and again, to the possibility of freedom through direct awareness of where we get caught, and how to turn the mind towards liberation. This talk is an overview of the practices of the Fourth Foundation, which can be seen as both the last in the sequence of practices, and as a progression in itself. It also covers how the Fourth Foundation can be skillfully interwoven into our practice of the other foundations.
There are two main aspects to mental factor of equanimity. The first is a vast and spacious mind, within which all experiences can arise and pass without disturbance. The other is understanding deeply the nature of reality and experience, so the mind is steady in the face of changing conditions. In Buddhist teachings this includes the understanding of kamma, the teachings of cause and effect. This important teaching is not about blame and judgment, but rather an empowering instruction on the possibility of understanding the natural laws of cause and effect, and how to train the mind and heart to reduce suffering and increase well-being for oneself and for others.
There are five factors that are supported for deepening concentration, known as the jhana factors. These factors are developed in any kind of intensive meditation practice, but are particularly supportive for the development of samadhi. They also serve to counterbalance the hindrances. When the hindrances are not active, the mind and heart can be buoyant and open, allowing concentration and insight to deepen.
Though the 2nd Noble Truth points to craving as the cause of suffering, clinging – upadana – is inextricably woven into the experience of suffering. With craving we are reaching towards the object or experience, in clinging we are trying to hold onto it, and make it I, me or mine. Clinging is central to how we create a sense of self through the five aggregates, as pointed to in the first noble truth. We can bring awareness to the process of craving leading to clinging leading to the creation of a sense of self as depicted in the teaching on Dependent Origination, as it is often accompanied by physical energy we can recognize and certain types of thinking. Being mindful of this process allows us to respond wisely, decreasing or abandoning the clinging, and therefore not getting caught in the delusion of self.
To develop any skill, to fully cultivate any qualities in our lives, particularly on the Buddhist path, we need to engage with three kinds of intention that operate on different time frames. Cetana is the moment to moment intention, the urge to do, that we can bring into the field of our mindfulness practice. The next level, Adhitthana, is usually translated as resolve or determination, and is one of the paramis. The highest level is Samma Sankappa, usually translated as right or wise intention. This is the second path factor, after right view, so it is the kind of intention developed by right view. There are three kinds of Right intention - the intention towards renunciation, non-ill will, and non-harming. These skillful intentions can then inform our choices and actions (Adhitthanas) , which we keep in mind through awareness of moment to moment intentions, or cetana.
As we commit to our meditation practice, we can see patterns that are helpful to understand and use to deepen our experience. This is an important part of the training and can give us confidence in the practice and our experience.