055nineminuteRecently I was thinking about some close friends who are younger than I am, raising families, with busy lives in the world. I could appreciate that it might be quite some time before they would be able to sit a long retreat. So I started wondering if there was a way for people in those circumstances to integrate some kind of meditation technique into their daily activities that could really touch the transformative power of the practice. On longer retreats it’s easier to access meditative depths, but when we’re otherwise intensely engaged, it can be quite a challenge.

The foundation of the Buddha’s path to liberation is known as right understanding, and it consists of two main strands. One is the understanding and application of the teachings on the law of karma—that is, that our actions have consequences. Seeing this, we undertake the practice of generosity and the practice of the precepts. We take care with what we do so that we’re creating conditions for happiness rather than suffering, both for ourselves and others. This strand is frequently talked about, and it covers a lot of what people who are committed to the path usually practice.

But in the context of one’s daily life, the second strand is more difficult to work with. This is the basic understanding of anatta, or “no-self”—the absence of an inherently existing self. In Pali, the language of the oldest written Buddhist teachings, the belief in some core notion of self is called sakkaya-ditthi; this is sometimes translated as “personality belief.” It’s said to be the most dangerous of all the defilements, more dangerous than greed or even hatred, because these are rooted in this mistaken belief. This wrong view of self is central to how we go about in the world, and all kinds of unskillful actions come out of it.

Of course, the Buddha is talking about the unwholesome effects of acting out of this wrong view—this personality view—not only in terms of one life, but of many lifetimes. It’s an extremely powerful conditioning force. And the aim of the practice, central to everything we’re doing, is to free the mind from this misconception.

So the question then arose: how can we really address this issue as laypeople caught up in our day-to-day activities? Quite spontaneously a nine-minute-a-day plan came to me, a way to “turbo-charge” our ongoing practice by doing three short meditations a day, each three minutes long. Each of these sessions targets a particular area of identification where the mistaken sense of self is created and strengthened.

056_9minutemedSession I: Who Is Knowing?

During the first three-minute session we simply sit and listen to sounds, in whatever surroundings we find ourselves. It makes no difference whether we’re on a noisy street or in a quiet room. As we open and relax into the awareness of the various sounds, we ask ourselves a question: “Can I find what’s knowing these sounds?” Clearly, we’re aware of them. But can we find what is knowing? When we investigate, we see there’s nothing to find. There’s noknower, even though knowing is happening.

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