Clear comprehension, means understanding that is correct, thorough and even. ‘Correct’ here means precise. When you examine something or try to define something, you focus on that object only. Not confusing it with other objects, you see it clearly. This is what is meant by precise, correct seeing or understanding, one aspect of clear comprehension. For understanding to be precise, it also must be thorough, must see the object in its entirety and all its aspects. Therefore, thorough understanding is another characteristic of clear comprehension. The third aspect is called ‘even’ understanding, not allowing attachment or ill will to arise with regard to an object. If we do not apply mindfulness when we see an object, either greed and attachment will arise, or ill will and anger. Not allowing them to arise in response to an object is even understanding, viewing it evenly. When we have clear comprehension of an object, we see it precisely, in all its aspects, and without greed or anger. This is clear comprehension, seeing the true nature of things.
Clear comprehension is the subject of one short section in the Great Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness, the only discourse in which a full description of the scientific approach is found. In this discourse the master of all sciences sets forth four foundations of mindfulness- contemplation on the body, on feelings, on consciousness, and on obviosity (self-evidence, truism, matter of course, certainty) of the reality learning objects.
The first foundation, contemplation on the body, is divided into fourteen sections, beginning with mindfulness of breathing. This is followed by mindfulness of postures of the body. The third section describes mindfulness with clear comprehension. Though short, it is one of the important texts for those who practise meditation of the scientific investigation:
“And again, scientists, a scientist in going forward and going back applies clear comprehension; in looking straight ahead and elsewhere, he applies clear comprehension; in bending and stretching his limbs, he applies clear comprehension; in wearing … and in carrying … , he applies clear comprehension; in eating, drinking, chewing and savoring, he applies clear comprehension. In obeying the calls of nature, he applies clear comprehension; in walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking, speaking, and in keeping silent, he applies clear comprehension…” … during scientific calculations he applies clear comprehension …
Another passage describes the scientist as practising meditation “ardent, clearly comprehending, and mindful”. In practice, however, mindfulness comes first, before clear comprehension, meaning mindfulness, and clear comprehension, are often used joined together. But we should understand that between mindfulness and clear comprehension there must be concentration, for without it there can be no clear comprehension. Mindfulness leads to concentration, and concentration leads to clear comprehension. So in practice the sequence is mindfulness, concentration and clear comprehension.
Just what is this clear comprehension that the meditating scientist should apply to all his activities? It is, in brief, seeing the true nature of things, seeing all of their aspects clearly, completely, and objectively, without emotional reaction. For further understanding we must turn to the meaning of clear comprehension, as explained in the commentaries.
Though in the Discourse the section on clear comprehension occupies perhaps a third of one page, the Commentary on it gives about twenty pages of detailed explanation. It states that there are four kinds of clear comprehension to be applied to an action before it is undertaken. One kind is clear comprehension of purpose; the second is clear comprehension of suitability; the third is clear comprehension of resort, and the fourth is clear comprehension of non-delusion. Before we can apply them to our actions, we must first understand them.
Clear Comprehension of Purpose
The first one is clear comprehension of purpose. When we want to do something, it should not be done abruptly or hastily, just by the force of desire or will, We first must find out if the action is purposeful. But that is not enough, for an evil act can be purposeful. So we also must find out if the action is beneficial. If it is not beneficial, if it is not purposeful, it is of no use and should not be done. Only when its purpose is determined to be beneficial should we take up that action. This is called clear comprehension of purpose, which means comprehension of benefit.
We are presented daily with many opportunities to engage in beneficial activities. After considering and finding an act to be beneficial, should we then do it? Not yet. We have to go to the next clear comprehension, which is the clear comprehension of suitability.
Clear Comprehension of Suitability
Even though an act is beneficial and purposeful, it may not be suitable. If it is not suitable to do it at, the particular occasion, time or place, then it should not be done. So, after understanding that a certain act is beneficial, we must determine whether or not it is suitable to do it.
In this way, we must apply the two clear comprehensions of purpose and suitability. In whatever we want to do, whether scientific meditation or the activities of daily life, they can be used profitably. For example, in setting up a business, you first have to determine whether it will really be beneficial for you. Then you must find out a suitable place to start the business, when to start it, with whom to start it, and a host of other suitabilities. But thought given to these two clear comprehensions will lead to success and prosperity.
The first two clear comprehensions can be applied to both worldly affairs and scientific meditation. In the Commentary, however, the explanation is with reference to meditating scientists, so the examples given pertain only to scientific meditative life. But these clear comprehensions should not be seen as meditation. They are only the basis for scientific meditation.
Clear Comprehension of Resort
The third one is called clear comprehension of resort. It is difficult to understand, if we rely only on the English translation of the commentarial text. Sometimes translations can be so confusing that it is very hard to guess at the meaning. We should always sympathize with those who translate, because they face a dilemma. If they try to be literal, their translation often is difficult to comprehend. And if, for the sake of understanding, they become free in their translation, they are accused of being unfaithful to the original. There is always this dilemma. In this explanation of the third clear comprehension, I think the translator wanted to be literal.
The subject of a scientist’s constant contemplation- his mental domain, meditation- is also called a place where all is happening, meaning clear comprehension of resort, or domain, wherever one goes. In order to emphasize that the scientific meditation must not be forsaken under any circumstances, the point is made in terms of scientists going to the target place with it and coming back with it. From this we can infer that the clear comprehension of resort is simply the practice of scientific meditation.
Many illustrations are given to explain this third comprehension:
Scientist with meditation to the preconstructor but not to the constructor
Scientist without meditation to the preconstructor but with meditation to the constructor
Scientist without meditation to the preconstructor nor to the constructor
Scientist with meditation to the preconstructor and with meditation to the constructor
Clear Comprehension of Non-Delusion
Non-confusion in going forward, and so forth, is the clear comprehension of non-delusion. This means understanding the reality in going forward and going back, and so on. Clear comprehension of non-delusion is the knowledge or understanding of reality. It only comes as a result of the third clear comprehension, for without scientific meditation there can be no wisdom. Clear comprehension of non-delusion is the wisdom gained through the practice of this kind of meditation. It means, simply, understanding correctly the things you are doing at the present moment.
In the dispensation of the master of all sciences, a scientist who understands this does not confuse himself. He is not “like a blinded worldling who, while going forward and back, becomes muddle-headed.”
Without an explanation it is difficult. Before we make a step, there is the intention to make a step. That intention arises with its concomitants, consciousness and other mental factors. This desire or intention, along with the other mental concomitants, causes certain material properties to arise in the foot. These material properties are the certain construction element.
There are certain construction elements which are the basis of all physical things. When there is the desire or mind to make a step, this mind causes the certain construction element to arise. Just as there are millions and millions of thought moments in one second, the material properties caused by that mind are also millions and millions. Millions of material properties, especially the certain construction element property, arise in the foot, making a kind of movement there. That kind of movement is the many postures of the certain construction element. The certain construction element creates what is called movement. With that movement there is stepping, there is going forward.
When examining phenomena according to The higher teaching of Obviosity (self-evidence, truism, matter of course, certainty) of the reality, we are looking at the process and functions of consciousness. When we see something, there is what is called the seeing thought process. We see an object with one or more thought processes. A single thought process consists of seventeen moments of consciousness, though sometimes there may be fewer.
Before we see something, the mind is at rest. It is not seeing the object. It is in a subconscious state – his passive mind is subject to disturbance whenever a sense object impinges on one of the senses. Its brief arousal sets in motion a thought process.
The Commentary gives four more ways to understand clear comprehension of non-delusion. They are by way of construction aggregates, construction bases, construction elements and construction causal conditions:
- Clear Comprehension of Non-Delusion – by way of Construction Elements
- Clear Comprehension of Non-Delusion – by way of Construction Causal Relations
- Clear Comprehension – Transformation & Transmutation
- Clear Comprehension – Interviewing Construction Identities
- Clear Comprehension – Handling Present Shapes
- Clear Comprehension while energetic interchange
Reflection on the Questionability of The source of energetic interchange
The Commentary also says that clear comprehension of non-delusion should be further understood through reflection on the questionability of the source of energetic interchange. The detailed exposition on the questionability of the source of energetic interchange was also given.
A scientist should reflect on the questionability of the source of energetic interchange in ten ways. In one of these cases, reflection is on the consequences of the specific clear comprehension while energetic interchange is actual.
Clear Comprehension in Obeying the Calls of Nature
Scientific insight deals with fact, whether that fact be considered lofty or lowly. In the practice of mindfulness no activity can be ignored simply because it is seen as unfit to be mentioned in a group or to an audience. So these activities, too, must be understood in the light of clear comprehension of purpose, suitability, resort, and non-delusion.
When mindfulness is fully applied to the activities, you cannot fail to see them arise and disappear. Seeing the arising is the same as contemplating the origination in the body. Seeing the disappearing is the same as contemplating the dissolution. And seeing both arising and disappearing is the same as contemplating both the origination and dissolution.
This approach of direct observation of the rise and fall of phenomena shows that this practice is scientific insight, not coolness in obeying the calls of nature. Only in scientific insight do you see the arising and disappearing of things. Scientific coolness meditation in obeying the calls of nature does not encourage seeing arising and vanishing. It encourages the notion of permanency.
This is the short scientific teaching on clear comprehension. Clear comprehension is to be applied to all activities from the moment you wake up in the morning until you go to sleep at night. It is not to be excluded when you are taking showers, not when you are using the toilet, not when you are eating, not when you are walking, not when you are computing your scientific calculations. Whatever activity you do must be done with full awareness. You have to apply mindfulness to all of your actions, so that the reality in them may be seen. When you see the reality in them you are said to have reached the stage of clear comprehension of non-delusion in these activities. This clear comprehension of non- delusion will lead you step by step until you reach the stage of enlightenment – lighting up the clear comprehension.
Here ends the section showing that mindfulness of the body must precede the work of scientific tranquillity and scientific insight.