The Flavour of Liberation is the first two volumes of an inspirational guide on how to meditate. Unlike most works on this subject, it concentrates upon the experiential flavour of meditation. It is a comprehensive collection of discourses on all aspects of healing and concentration practice, which explains and clarifies key elements of the path in a simple and lucid manner, whilst inspiring the reader to keep developing their meditative potential.
Burgs draws on his wisdom gained from his time in Asia, learning with his teachers in Bali, Burma and India. Since then, over the ten years he has taught meditation in the UK, he has developed his own unique teaching system that brings together both the systematic approach to meditation as well as the more profound transmission of the direct approach, both of which are the cornerstone in Buddhist traditions. He takes us on a journey of penetrating insight. Beginning with an incisive investigation of the human experience, the book progresses through meditation as a tool for healing and the refinement of character, finishing with clarifying instructions on how to start developing the deep states of samadhi (including jhana) that are the culmination of meditative stability. This unique work is an essential guide for those interested in meditation, and is a must read for those wanting to learn more about how beneficial meditation can be to one’s daily life.
PART I: The Basis for Meditation and the Energetics of Our Life Experience
1. The Dhamma is the Flavour of Liberation
2. The Ground of Extraordinary Results
3. Concentration – The First Pillar of the Harmonious Mind
4. Coherent and Incoherent Energy
5. Introduction to Breathing Meditation
6. Circular Breathing Meditation to Calm and Settle the Heart and Mind
7. Mindfulness – The Second Pillar of the Harmonious Mind
8. Developing Four Elements on the Breath to Establish Mindfulness
9. Wisdom Leads to Equanimity – The Third and Fourth Pillars of the Harmonious Mind
10. The Energetics of How Our Life Experience Functions
11. Reviewing the Five Hindrances to see Where Your Meditation Falls Down
12. The Three Roots of the Mind and the Flow of Energy Through the Body
13. What’s Happening to Us as Humans?
14. Using Awareness to Meditate on the Breath
15. Summing Up Ānāpāna
16. Endless Blue Sky
17. Rest Effortlessly Within Yourself, like a Mountain, Lake and Sky
PART II: The Functions of Concentration and Insight in the Healing Process
18. Introduction to the Four Elements
19. Four Elements as a Samatha Practice
20. Four Elements to Refine the Quality of Mind
21. What Makes up the Human Body
22. The Subtle Body Part One: Developing our Meditation to Separate out the Gross and Subtle Body
23. The Subtle Body Part Two: The Kammic Bases of the Body
24. The Causes of Sickness in Our Body
25. Clearing the Solar Plexus
26. How the Mind Affects the Body
27. How the Mind Functions and the Importance of Being with the Feeling
28. Making the Bases Stable
29. The Conscious and Unconscious Mind and the Fruiting of Kamma
30. The Correct Attitude towards the Purification of Kamma
31. The Functions of Bhavanga and Rebirth-Linking Consciousness
32. Separating Past Cause from Future Effect while Meditating on the Body
33. A Key Point On Kamma – Being with How it Feels is the Deepest Healing
PART III: The Refinement of Character as a Basis for Progress Upon the Path
34. The Rite of Passage
35. The Whole Path Out of Suffering Starts and Ends with Virtue
36. Pāramīs, Gratitude and Being of Few Needs
37. We Mark Our Progress by the Refinement of Our Character, Not By What We Think We Know
38. This Precious Human Life
39. When Will I Be Happy?
PART IV: Samādhi: The Field of Yogic Endeavour
Introduction to Jhāna Practice
40. Reflections on Beginning Advanced Meditation Practices
41. Sīla, Samādhi and Paññā (and the need for Samādhi)
42. Conditions for Jhāna
43. Ānāpāna to Absorption
44. Some Brief Comments on the Ānāpāna Sutta
45. A Few Words on Nimitta – The Sign of Concentration
46. The Jhāna Factors and How to Apply Them
47. Meditation on the Body Parts
48. The Value of Meditating on the Body
49. White Kasiṇa from the Skeleton
50. Fire Kasiṇa and the Ground of Samādhi
51. Earth Kasiṇa
52. Reflections on the Four Fine Material Jhānas
53. Internal Alchemy and the Energetic Factors of Samādhi
54. Loving Kindness (Metta)
55. Reflections on Loving Kindness
56. The Immaterial Jhānas
57. Reflections on Samatha
58. Summing Up
59. The Flavour of Liberation
Epilogue: The Deep Sense of Stillness
Afterward: Where Does the Dhamma Really Point?
The Dhamma is both a road map and a vessel. It points to the way out of the darkness of confusion and suffering, and into the light of freedom and peace, and it carries us upon that journey. And it is of one taste. That taste is Liberation.
It is true that we all have within us the potential for Buddhahood, for full awakening. We call this the Buddha-Nature. So the path and its fruit are not something we have to create or turn ourselves into, but rather reveal within ourselves as we peel back the layers of ignorance that blind us to our true nature. But it is not enough simply to be told this, or to subscribe to such a view. That is dangerous indeed. For until we walk the path out of confusion and darkness into freedom and light, we have not yet expressed the living essence of that Buddha-Nature within us, nor have we freed ourselves of the suffering that not knowing it causes.
The Buddha realised this path to the deathless state beyond suffering over two and half thousand years ago. The day of his enlightenment, the day that he came to stand on the far shore of Nibbāna, having reached the causal cessation of suffering, was a milestone in the history of our world cycle. It is not the case that no one before him had freed themselves from suffering. They had. But they hadn’t necessarily understood the path that had carried them there, they merely found a way to let go. That is why the day the Buddha first taught this path to others shortly after his awakening, was perhaps equally as significant a moment in our history as the day of his enlightenment. For it marked the point at which, that which had been known by him, had been shared with others who equally had realised its fruit and tasted the sweetness of the deliverance out of suffering it pointed to.
Since that day the wheel of Dhamma has continued to turn. Those who have walked the path have shared its essence and flavour with others so that they too might come to taste its sweet fruit.
Our libraries are filled with works which testify to the Eightfold Noble Path. There are no end of reference books and translations available to us all. The teachings of the Buddha have been well translated and we are all best served by reading his own words before we have recourse to the commentaries of those who have followed in his footsteps. The systematic path of meditation has been so exquisitely expounded by the great Buddhagosa in his magnum opus; the Visuddhimagga. Most of what has followed has been a commentary on various aspects of this great work and none of them as complete as the original. This and Longchen Rabjam’s “The Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding” are all the texts you will ever need to grasp the essence of both the systematic and the direct path of awakening.
But beyond our studies we must actually walk the path, or perhaps build the vessel and then row it across the river of ignorance that separates us from the cool shore of liberation. In the same way that knowing what ingredients have gone into the making of a cake, in no way gives the experience of its taste, so until we have actually crossed the river, we will only be able to glimpse the opposite shore from afar, leaving us with nothing but ideas of what it might be to cross over.
But once we have crossed the river, we no longer have need of the boat that got us there. It would be foolish and burdensome to carry that same boat around with us all the time, when it has served the purpose for which it was built. And so even the Dhamma that has carried us along the path out of suffering is to be let go, so that not even that remains as a burden to be shouldered. Perhaps that is why I offer this text up now. So that I might let go any holding on to what it contains.
The Dhamma I share with you in these pages is not all the Dhamma that there is, it is merely that Dhamma that carried me across the river. Each of us has our own character and make up, but in general we can see that as humans we will tend to be either view rooted or experience rooted. How do we first start to see which of these two we might be? Ask yourself whether you define life more in terms of your experience or your ideas and views. I myself am experience rooted and so incline naturally more towards a definitive experience than a definitive view. As such I have sought in this book to create a textured account of how we might experience the Path of Dhamma as it unfolds within us, rather than a systematic exposition of the view that underpins it. Those of you who seek a more scholastic exposition are referred to the many great works of those more qualified than me. It is likely that those of you who are similarly experience rooted will resonate more with this text than those who are view rooted. But I similarly hope the material is presented in a way that is accessible and helpful to all who seriously practise meditation.
I do not claim to be a great master, nor am I a scholar. But I share these pages with you so that I can put down the boat that has carried me and be free of its load, knowing that I have done what I might do, to share the flavour of the journey and the taste of its sweet fruit with those who might be inclined to take time to read it. Please do not look to me for an example like so many of the great teachers of the path have offered. There are many teachers and aspirants out there who are a more worthy example than me. The depth of my knowledge of meditation is not the result of this lifetime’s labour, but a pāramī from lifetimes of effort put forth in the past. I, like so many others, have fallen into much complacency since the lifetimes I have spent mastering these practices. Out of complacency and intoxication with the bliss of samādhi, and the life of ease it brought me, I turned away from the path in the past, without having reached its end. Doing so led to many lifetimes of suffering on account of such pride before I was humbled enough to realise the true essence of the Dhamma. I am fully aware that I do not express the qualities of those diligent servants of the Dhamma who live it with each breath they take. But I do believe there is a lesson in my own journey that I wish to share with all of you before you begin to read what follows.
I practised this Dhamma many lifetimes ago and having reached dazzling heights of samādhi, I left my teachers, believing myself to be free. Thereafter I fell gradually into more and more suffering. I spent many lives without re-encountering the Dhamma before some good fortune fruited for me with the meeting of my first teacher in this life. Concentration and insight matured swiftly in me on account of past pāramīs, but as I reached the point of my previous attainment I was tempted again to believe I had reached the goal. I had to dig very deep to get beyond this point and there was every chance I would not succeed. For every noble person who completes the path there are countless others who out of vanity, believing that they had freed themselves, fall into complacency and thereafter unbearable suffering. Most of you who read this will be experiencing a life of such extraordinary good fortune that you may have little sense of urgency. You will probably get to a point where your meditation serves you well and head off in pursuit of your desires. Hopefully, with a more selfless approach to them.
It is true that many of us do have the rarest of opportunities to delight in our worldly good fortunes, and there is a good argument that says having waited so long for a life such as this, why then should we not take full advantage of this opportunity. To this I would say, look around you at this world as it is today. I see everywhere folk taking full advantage of their material good fortune, but very little happiness and even less contentment. Perhaps seeing the plight of so many extraordinarily fortunate beings, let alone those less fortunate, is the prompt that it will take to point us in another direction. For all the good fortune and comfort we may currently be enjoying, it is also the rarest of opportunities to progress on the path to freedom from suffering. We all have a choice as we always do. Either to enjoy now what we are fortunate enough to have or invest now, while we can, in our future well-being. I know if the Buddha was here now he would be imploring us towards the latter. It may well be that the aspiration to seek freedom from suffering has not yet fully arisen in you. Sadly it most often arises only when we are experiencing states of despair, but I do ask you to reflect on how fortunate this life you now have is and consider the rarest of opportunities that it presents. Perhaps then put at least some time and invest some of your good fortune in your future welfare.
Many of you reading this are blessed with such rare good fortune. Consider perhaps how rare it is, these things that we take for granted:
1. To be born human at all.
2. To be fortunate among humans.
3. To be of sound body and mind, not afflicted by sickness both physical and mental.
4. To be born in a time and place relatively stable and free from strife.
5. To be provided with food and shelter with relative ease so that the life is not just an endless struggle to survive.
6. To be born in a time when the Dhamma is available to us and the path well expounded.
These are the things that we often take for granted, and yet it is so rare to find such circumstances as these. They are the result of a vast accumulation of merit in the past. In truth if we look both at our world now and throughout history, we will see that only a handful of beings are ever as fortunate as us.
I find myself in a difficult position as a lay teacher. Whilst I want as many people as possible to realise the tremendous worldly benefits that meditation can bring, I do not want to create the false impression that meditation is an end in itself. It is without doubt right at the heart of the spiritual path out of suffering, but to see it in isolation is to miss the point. Virtue is the true heart of any path, and the only true way out of suffering. To turn to meditation without first making a commitment to virtue, is, as I have said many times, merely an act of vanity.
Most of those who come to me for instruction in meditation are initially seeking steerage and guidance on how to live their lives better and more fruitfully. They may turn to meditation as a tool by which to rediscover a balance within their lives, and of course this is quite understandable. To this end the first three parts of this book will, I hope, be of use to you. But beyond it, it is hoped that some of you will already be pursuing the path of Dhamma, or perhaps, on account of being inspired, may be just starting out upon the path. To this end I hope the second half of this volume and the third volume which covers the development of insight, will be a useful resource. If you do however read this book to the end, I wholeheartedly ask that you read also the volume on insight, lest you fall into the false view that I once did, that such states of samādhi are in themselves sufficient to free us from suffering.
I am not here to convince those who cling to views, of the importance of following this path. If you hold the view that all existence comes to cessation at death and that we are therefore not bound by our conduct, then the Dhamma will hold little appeal to you. It may well be that until we have experienced real suffering and truly grown tired of it, we will not ever commit ourselves to search for its cessation. But I am an optimist. I truly believe that now, while we are already so fortunate, is the very best time to turn our hearts to a more selfless attitude to life. I am certainly convinced that securing safe passage now while we are not afflicted by intense suffering will be infinitely less painful than waiting until we are.
There will be many times upon the path that we may think that we have done what needs to be done. However convinced you might be, I implore you to keep going. Even if your teacher might be inclined to think you have succeeded, know that the ego has no end of resourcefulness when protecting itself from its eventual demise that is the fruition of the path out of suffering. Be ardently committed to not hiding from the truth that the Dhamma points to, for if you do, you will be inspired but not freed by it.
But above all if you take just one nugget from all of these pages it should be this: The whole path starts and finishes with virtue. Long after you have realised the true nature of your being you will still be enslaved by habit patterns of behaviour that constitute your character. Please whatever else you do, never tire in your efforts to overcome them. They are stubborn and hard to surmount. It may be a long time before Path Knowledge cuts off your bondage to them, and even then they may still remain as habits. I implore you to put your commitment to virtue and the right effort to refine your character at the top of your list of priorities in this life, even above all of your worldly or spiritual aspirations. If you are inspired by the accounts you may read of the sublime states of bliss and peace that can be attained through meditation, know that none of them will ever be as pleasing as living a life that is free from regret and remorse. And that comes only from our commitment to virtue and harmlessness.
These pages explain how you might meditate, and they elucidate to you the steps you will need to take to succeed, but know without doubt that meditation is only one part of the path. A path that begins and ends with virtue.
The Buddha’s Eightfold Noble Path is a path of eight branches, all of which need to be fulfilled to ensure a safe passage out of suffering. The eight branches of the noble path are:
These eight branches themselves constitute the three aspects of the path, namely the development of:
Virtue (pali: Sīla), which is right speech, right action and right livelihood
Meditative stability, (pali: Samādhi), which is right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration
Insight, or right understanding,(pali: Paññā), which is right thought and right view.
It should be absolutely clear that the development of preliminary virtue (namely the commitment to right speech, right action and right livelihood), is a pre-requisite for everyone who aspires to develop any distinction in meditation at all, for a mind that is not restrained in conduct will never become settled enough to deeply concentrate. Let it be equally clear that until we develop the capacity to concentrate deeply, we will not be able to develop the insight that can see clearly beyond the illusory appearance of things to what actually constitutes this life. So it is our virtue that will become the basis for our concentration, which is the basis for our capacity to ‘see into’ (insight). And it is the seeing into the truth of things that performs the function of cutting off all the causes of suffering (namely ignorance, greed and aversion). So virtue is the beginning, middle and end of the path.
Ultimately the true testimony of our progress is the gradual refinement of our character and the removal, in stages, of all our capacity to be a burden and harm to ourselves and others. This will take even more commitment than your efforts to develop such deep states of samādhi as the second volume points at. Indeed there are many teachers who urge their students not to develop deep concentration because of the danger of becoming intoxicated with the profoundly peaceful states it brings. I am aware of this risk, but equally I know that both the depth and texture of our life, while still bound by conditions is vastly enriched by our capacity to enter completely into it through concentration and mindfulness. In the same way, our experience of awakening is similarly enriched when we come to it.
There is a fairly recent school of thought that even suggests we should not develop our concentration because it leads to complacency, and that mindfulness alone is the real key to insight. I personally have issue with this view on a number of accounts. Our capacity to pay attention deeply enough to fathom the true nature of what we behold, depends considerably upon our capacity to concentrate. In all the time I have been teaching, I see many people developing mindfulness quite easily but few who truly learn to concentrate. The Buddha referred to Jhāna concentration as right concentration, but he also called it, purification of mind. Most of the work of purification happens during the process of developing Jhāna, so that thereafter insight might develop swiftly and painlessly. One can sit and meditate all of one’s life without developing a deep capacity for concentration, if right effort is not put forth. The right effort that is part of the Eightfold Noble Path is the effort to restrain the mind sufficiently to become properly concentrated. It is by far the hardest mental faculty to cultivate.
While eventually our concentration will become an effortless process, it takes tremendous effort and restraint, patience and determination to become truly concentrated. This work IS in effect the refinement of character that makes us ripe for awakening. Some of the states of concentration explained in this book may at first sound baffling, but rest assured that if you practice systematically by the time you reach that point they will become commonplace and familiar. If one who was just starting to learn to play a musical instrument were to look at the musical score for a Mozart concerto, it may well make little sense. But to one who is accomplished, just a brief glance opens up a whole world of sound to him. In such a way this book will appeal to each of you at different levels, depending upon what stage in your journey you are on, and it may continue to be of value throughout your life as you gradually progress along the path. If you find yourself reaching a point beyond which you cannot currently go, then work with that which is within reach and come back to it in a timely way. I hope that all of you find something of value and interest.
Sadly it often takes many lifetimes of suffering before we are tired enough of our intoxication with ourselves to become utterly convinced that the Buddha was truly seeking our welfare when he asked us to give up what we cling to. I certainly cannot express this to you as convincingly as he did. Few of us begin the journey with utmost virtue as our support, but that the path can be walked by ordinary folk who are willing to change is perhaps the greatest testimony to its universal efficacy. So please, let none of you be overwhelmed by the journey that is laid out in these two volumes. Remember that every intrepid adventurer who sought to conquer the world’s great peaks started his journey in the foothills.
The path out of suffering is a very personal one, even though it takes us to a definitive experience that is beyond all sense of self. In a way, it is a paradox. So each of you will have to work out your own way out of suffering. No one can do it for you. But there are certain milestones along the way that need to be crossed, and there are many cul-de-sacs in which we can become lost for a long time. All I hope, is that the guidance contained in these pages will help you to recognise these milestones and cul-de-sacs as and when you come across them.
The Buddha talked of Pāramīs; those strengths of character that if developed in us, would make for swifter and less painful progress. I will talk more on this subject later, but of all the pāramīs, perhaps the pāramī of truthfulness is the most important. And the most important aspect of this truthfulness is self-honesty. It takes tremendous self-honesty to walk the path out of suffering, and it is utterly pointless to try to convince ourselves that we have covered more ground than we have. It is nothing but an act of vanity to believe we are free when we are not. So please, if there is one thing I would wish to say it is this: keep your own counsel and keep honest pace with your heart. To be free from suffering is not to try to convince ourselves or others that we are free, but to know that we are free. If there is any doubt in your mind about your liberation from suffering – keep going. And even when you are sure – keep going. Once you have come to know Nibbāna itself, it will become your teacher. Continue to learn from it, it will still have so much to teach.
The more time we spend on the shore of liberation, the more the memory of suffering fades. One who cannot remember what it is to suffer will not be well placed to explain the way out of it. Perhaps that is why there are so many more texts written by those upon the path than those who have walked it to its end. It may also explain why the writing of those still walking are often more easy to fathom than the writings of those who have found peace. While it is an inspiration perhaps to read explanations of what it might taste like to partake of the sweet fruit of enlightenment, we most likely will still need a road map to get us there.
My only hope is that this book might at least inspire some of you enough to prompt you to complete whatever vessel you are building and make it truly seaworthy. Thereafter may you fearlessly set sail and head straight to the other side.
Keep going, all the way. Have faith that this path, which has been walked by countless beings throughout the ages, can be walked by you if you have good heart and courage. Remember there is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future. Have faith that that which needs to be done can be done by you. Heart and courage are more important than all the knowledge you will glean from your studies. That heart and that courage come from time spent at sea. So set sail fearlessly and don’t look back until it is with compassion, love and total acceptance that everything is always and everywhere perfect.