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Question
when practicing sitting meditation for mindfulness, it is said that we should only observe things and not think about them. we are encouraged to try our level best to remain in the present moment with our breath. just to observe things and let go. not cling to them nor to try to get rid of them. how does this practice of  living in the present moment help us unattach ourselves from people and circumstances in the long run?

Answer
Dear Gurinder Singh,

Thank you for the opportunity to answer your question.

"When practicing sitting meditation for mindfulness, it is said that we should only observe things and not think about them. we are encouraged to try our level best to remain in the present moment with our breath. just to observe things and let go. not cling to them nor to try to get rid of them."

There are two types of meditation - Samatha and Vipassana. (Please note that neither of them require sitting or any one position)

Samatha is what you are talking about in this question. Samatha lends itself to two things:

1. Tranquility - With tranquility, you are calm and peaceful and not thinking. It is similar to sleeping or napping. It is meant to give you rest and nothing else. That is the extent of Samatha meditation's power.

2. Mindfulness - With mindfulness, you are focused and alert. You know what is occurring and emotions that pass through your mind. It is meant to give you focus and mindfulness. That is the extent of mindful meditation's power.

Many people are under the EXTREMELY WRONG perception that these two meditation techniques will automatically solve problems or generate knowledge or wisdom just by doing them.

This is like thinking people spontaneously gain knowledge from sleeping or napping. Or that just by staring intently at something, that we will become smarter.

In order to solve problems or to learn about ourselves or other things or to un-attach ourselves from people and circumstances, we must us Vipassana meditation - or Vipassana contemplation.

In this technique, we contemplate the problem or issue we want to understand. We look for lessons, misunderstandings, misperceptions and mistakes we have made in regards to this problem or issue. We use reason and logic, and use our past experiences as backup for these reasons and logic. Through this type of contemplation, we become smarter and wiser.

Samatha meditation serves as backup for Vipassana contemplation. Just like how sleep or napping gives us energy to do daily work.

Samatha is like resting. Vipassana is like working. We must employ both in order to make a living in this world. However, most successful people must work more than they sleep.

A teacher once gave an example of detaching. Imagine a person who has a big barrel of water filled with apples. He keeps reaching in and pulling out apples. However, if he were to reach in and pull out a snake, what would it take for him to "let go" or "detach" from that snake? Would have to go sit down and focus on his breathing first? Would he have to stare or focus and develop mindfulness of that snake? No. All he has to do, is know the risk of danger in that snake. If he knows what that snake could do, that is, he has thought about it before, he would immediately get rid (detach) from the snake. No meditating necessary.

Just so, for us to detach from the things that we cling to, we must think and contemplate upon the dangers, suffering (dukkha) and risk involved in not detaching. We don't detach from anger by just watching or ignoring it. We detach by learning why we are wrong to be angry and what happens to us after we get angry. By knowing these two things, we are able to stop or reduce our anger.

I hope I have answered your questions.  

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Anandapanyo Bhikkhu

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I can answer questions about Buddhist practice, Buddhist understanding and how to apply Buddhism to daily life. I can help analyze Buddhist sayings and teachings. In addition, I can help with questions Buddhism stories, fables and Vinaya(rules). I have meditated for over 10 years and can help you start with meditation. In addition, I can help provide insight into what to do when you feel that you have hit a wall with your meditation. My main area of expertise is how to think in accordance with Sammaditthi (the right view - and number 1 in the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path. If I cannot answer your question, I have many able teachers with over 20 years experience to help me, so chances are I will be able to find an answer for you.

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I have been practicing Buddhism since I was born, but as a serious practice since 2003. I started studying under various famous Thai Theravada masters. Finally, I met and studied under Phra Acariya Thoon Khippapanyo who has recently passed away on Nov 11, 2008 and is widely accepted as a great Arahant (fully enlightened) teacher of our time. In addition, I have personally read and studied much of the Buddhist scriptures and popular literature available. I have recently undertaken the ordination vows and have become a Buddhist monk in the theravada forest monk tradition. I reside at a temple with many dedicated practitioners and great teachers. I have been practicing training my mind to be aligned with right view (sammaditthi) for over 10 years. I have also been meditating for over 10 years. In my time spent with Acariya Thoon, I learned many things and was able to incorporate them into my life. In addition to practicing Buddhism within temples and my home, I used to own two restaurants and managed commercial real estate. I had to deal with many different and problems. I learned how to use Buddhism to fix my problems, both externally (my environment) and internally (within me).

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