wise investigationRead Now
WISE INVESTIGATION by Louise Taylor 11/8/22
Wise investigation is the second, of seven awakening factors outlined by the Buddha. The first is mindfulness and the other 5 are energy, joy, tranquility, concentration and equanimity. Although they are not strictly linear each one has a profound effect on the next. For instance, without mindfulness we cannot chose to investigate what we become aware through mindfulness.
This piece on wise investigation was inspired by a conversation that I had with a friend recently who wanted to talk through a dilemma she was having.
And this dilemma was a really juicy dilemma and I could feel myself getting caught in the seductive stories and the options and the thought processes going on behind the decision-making until this tiny little voice of Insight ,that I often drop into my own meditation, asked ‘what is happening now?’ I immediately lost interest in the stories and became curious about the mind-state fuelling them.
Without mindfulness we are caught up in the unpleasant mind-state/emotion and engaged in the never-ending papanca (mental proliferation) of trying to ‘think’ our way out of them and into other, more pleasant ones. All the while, not realising that this is creating more dukkha (pain). With mindfulness we are able to witness that the mind-state is present, noting its qualities and presence in the body from the expansive, non-judgemental, open and receptive space that mindfulness affords.
This is where we take a huge step into the unknown because instead of being lost in these stories that reflect the mind-states present we start to look at what is happening now, what mind-state is present, and from here we can begin wise investigation. Becoming intimate with the mind-state, its impermanent, impersonal nature. Seeing what conditions it and what it conditions. Dharma inquiry, wise investigation begins to reveal to us the human condition.
My friend was experiencing the feeling of dilemma. Dilemma was present and the experience was unpleasant. Its very nature is to have internal parts in conflict. My friend was unable to move forward into present moment process and ease and was caught in great mental proliferation. However, with a little investigation we found out that doubt was also present together with the inner critic and fear. The experience of this was exhausting and immobilising. With a little more investigating we found out that this was a familiar place to be for her, although the stories and characters were different.
We all have patterns and mind-states that are habitual and left unseen may create suffering for ourselves and for those around us, so although the story might seem fresh and therefore seductive the mind-state is habitual and conditioned.
We didn’t solve the dilemma over that cup of coffee, but my friend walked away with better insight into what was arising and inspired to explore with gentleness a wise relationship to these states as they arose.
This is what we can utilise in meditation, when we recognise we are caught up in compelling thought, when there is emotional distraction from our meditation object, we can use the mind-state as a secondary meditation object and investigate.
So I'd like to offer four guidelines for wise investigation.
The first guideline is that mindfulness, as previously mentioned, must be present. As you start to put investigation into practice in your meditation and in every day life, be vigilant for noticing any judgement, any sign of the inner critic coming in and judging you negatively for what you are discovering through mindfulness. As an awakening factor investigation creates energy and awe as we see into the human condition. Sometimes when we're seeing the suffering of the human condition we will be filled with a sense of compassion, but it does not create negative judgement. If it is present, lean back into true mindfulness and be aware that the inner critic, judgement, is present. This too can be investigated.
The second guideline is to keep your awareness on the body so although you may be investigating the phenomena of a mind-state or emotion, look for the manifestation of it in the body. In this way you will be guaranteed to stay in the moment and be appreciative of how particular mind-states feel in the body so you have greater wisdom to recognise them when they arise. Ask the questions; where is it in my body? What is its texture? What is the physical sensation? If it where to be a colour, what colour is it? Does it move? Etc.
Guideline number three is to see the impermanence within different mind-state and emotions. Notice that the mind-state has arisen due to causes and conditions, be aware as you drop the story of how the mind-state feels within the body, how it changes and be aware of how it ends. No matter what you are experiencing, be at dilemma, grief loneliness, anger this mind-state and emotion will fall away without you needing to do anything at all. To be present to that falling away and experience it happening is incredibly liberating and a wonderful insight to behold.
The fourth guideline, is to investigate the impersonal nature of all mind-states. This is where careful use of language is important. There’s a big difference between saying ‘I am angry’ and ‘anger is present’. Everyone of us experiences the whole spectrum of emotions at one time or another. Each mind-state/emotion is conditioned, our stories may be different but the emotions are universal. As you begin to investigate use statements that encourage this incremental shift away from the idea of a solid unchanging self, noticing any changes in perception and experience.
Wise investigation cultivates insights that are uplifting no matter what is being investigated. In the Satipatthana Sutta, these are the Bhuddha’s words:
“Abiding thus mindful, one investigates and examines the state with wisdom, and embarks upon full inquiry into it.
In one who investigates and examines that state with wisdom and embarks upon a full inquiry into it, tireless energy is aroused. On whatever occasion tireless energy is aroused…. On that occasion the energy awakening factor is aroused …; and one develops it, and by development it comes to fulfilment.”
Louise Taylor is an insight meditation teacher and dharma practitioner with over 20 years experience