The Ten Recollections as Practical Tools for Meditation
In a previous post I explained that samma-sati, as the seventh step of the Eightfold Path, is called “right mindfulness” as it refers to discerning phenomena as they truly are, in and of themselves, while staying ardent, alert, and mindful while putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. Anussati means recollection, contemplation, mindfulness, meditation, etc. There are ten anussati (recollections) which are used as practical tools to counter any particular challenges or unskillful states of mind we may come across in meditative practice. However, technically speaking, only seven of these are really “recollections” (anussati) – because three of these are actually types of mindfulness (sati) practice.
The Ekadhammapaei says if these recollections are developed, they will invariably lead to “weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.” These recollections and mindfulness practices highlight the roles that memory and thought play in training our mind. Sati, as mindfulness, is an active function of our memory as it refers to the ability to keep something in mind, such as certain intentions or thoughts, to induce the mental states of confidence and well-being which are necessary for developing concentration, tranquility and insight. This is to incline the mind, once tranquility and insight have been sufficiently developed, towards the deathless or “consciousness without feature”.
The Mahanama Sutta says that the recollections can be developed “while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children.” Therefore, these meditative tools can be practiced and developed anywhere and at any time.
The ten recollections and mindfulness practices can be summarized as follows:
1. Recollection of the Buddha (Buddhanussati)
2. Recollection of the Dharma (Dhammanussati)
These first two recollections induce a sense of confidence (pasada) in the teachings and practice set forth by Buddha.
3. Recollection of the Sangha (Sanghanussati)
The recollection of the Sangha can induce a sense of confidence (pasada) in the teachings and discipline set forth by Buddha, and in one’s own ability to follow the practice.
5. Recollection of one’s own liberality (caganussati)
6. Recollection of the devas (devatanussati)
These last three recollections induce a sense of confidence (pasada) in one’s ability to follow the teachings and discipline of the Buddha. The joy and confidence induced may help bring the mind to concentration and cleanse it of fermentations and defilements. This is performed as an adjunct to mindfulness practice. For example, by cultivating the virtue, generosity, and other qualities attributed to the devas – our mind can become more focused, as we gain a better sense of the Dharma, and a sense of the joy that is connected with it. It is when we have become “joyful” that “rapture” arises. It follows that when we are rapturous that the body grows calm. When our body, and more importantly our mind, is calmed – there is pleasure. And it is when there is this sense of pleasure that our mind becomes more easily concentrated.
7. Mindfulness of in-and-out breathing (anapanasati)
Of all of the themes regarding meditation taught by the Buddha, mindfulness of in-and-out breathing is treated in the most detail. Mindfulness of in-and-out breathing and mindfulness immersed in the body are the two primary themes for developing tranquility and insight leading to strong concentration in terms of the jhanas (or meditative absorptions). The development of these jhanas gives added power to tranquility and insight in leading the mind to release.
8. Mindfulness of death (maranassati)
Mindfulness of death is meant to evoke a sense of samvega – that is, an anxious sense of urgency in which the ordinary intoxication with life will either grow weaker or be entirely abandoned. This involves understanding the dangers and futility of human life, with all of its fermentations and defilements, with a sense of urgency in finding a way beyond such limitations. This further induces a quality of heedfulness in approaching Buddhist practice, which is basic to all skillful endeavors. For example, when one considers that: “I am not the only one subject to death, who has not gone beyond death. To the extent that there are beings – past and future, passing away and re-arising – all beings are subject to death, have not gone beyond death”, and this is often reflected upon, that the factors of the path will become apparent. This can inspire us to stick with the path, developing and cultivating it until the fetters are abandoned, and latent tendencies are destroyed.
9. Mindfulness immersed in the body (kayagatasati)
Mindfulness of in-and-out breathing and mindfulness immersed in the body play complementary roles on the path. There is also much overlap between the two, such as the first four steps of breath meditation are also listed as techniques in mindfulness immersed in the body. Mindfulness immersed in the body, such as its aspect as contemplation of the unattractiveness of the body, can take on strong fermentations that in some cases do not respond to the tranquil concentration induced by mindfulness of in-and-out breathing.
However, if mindfulness immersed in the body does induce strong feelings of disgust and revulsion which may cause the mind to respond in very unskillful ways, the practicing mindfulness of in-and-out breathing again can help dispel such feelings – by replacing them with a refreshing feeling which may helps keep the mind remain more skillful. Therefore, these two practices in mindfulness work together to keep the mind balanced and on course.
10. Recollection of peace or stilling (upasamanussati)
Once the mind has been brought to a developed state of tranquility and insight – and is even able to discern the pleasures of jhana as inconstant, stressful, and not-self – recollection of stilling is prescribed by the Buddha so that the mind will not simply keep focused on the drawbacks of fabricated experiences. This is achieved by inclining the mind to the property of deathlessness: the exquisite peace regarding the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving – that is, dispassion, cessation, Nirvana.