|the practice of the one whom recites the words of dhamma notes|
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vâcanaka is ideally practised for one hour at the same time every day, using a short sutta for group practice or a medium too long sutta for personal individual practice. The sutta is chosen prior to the start of the vâcanaka session, and maybe a daily progression through a particular collection of the cannon or, as a stand alone text. Either way it is helpful to stay with the text for at least five days, and spending two days using the time set aside for vâcanaka to meditate formally allowing the previous sessions to ripen fully, and to clean the space used for practice so the next text is picked up with a clean slate. The cleaning is a symbolic moving on, although we don't want to disregard any insights found within the practice involving any text, we also need to be completely focussed upon the present text.
Selecting a time for vâcanaka is important. Some methods are to practice vâcanaka for one hour in the morning, afternoon or evening, or to divide it into two half-hour periods, one in the morning and one in the evening. The key is to pre-select the time that will be devoted to the practice and keep to it. Using the same time every day leads to a daily habit of practice that becomes highly effective due to the repetition.
The place for vâcanaka practice is to be free from distractions, unassuming, well illuminated and able to be ventilated. This means it should be isolated from other people, telephones, visual distractions, etc. Some find an image of a favourite teacher or of the Buddha to be helpful. The same place should be used for vâcanaka as much as possible, especially as one first begins to practice it as familiarity with a location reduces distraction away from the meditation practice. If one can be sure to use the same location daily spending the first session meditating with open eyes can help reduce distractions, or, one may wish to meditate in different unaccustomed places, for the express purpose of finding a place that will be dedicated to vâcanaka alone and not other daily activities. Some practitioners may wish to conduct a special personalized dedication ceremony to set the area mentally aside for the practice.
Prior to reading, it is important to engage in a transitional activity that takes one from the normal state of mind to a more contemplative and meditative state. A few moments of meditation and a short dedication help to set the tone and improve the vâcanaka sessions.
Once the stage is set it is time to begin the vâcanaka practice.
There are four phases of the meditation practice, which do not necessarily need to progress in an ordered fashion when done as an individual practice as one may move between different phases of the meditation practice very freely as seam appropriate, but for beginners and group practice it is recommended to keep with a ordered progression.
The Four Moments
Reading (vâcana (nt.), recitation; reading.) - This first moment consists in reading the scriptural passage slowly, and attentively several times. One may wish to write down, or speak out loud words, phrases, or whole passages that stick out, or grasp ones attention during this moment.
Reflecting (cintenta : [pr.p. of cinteti] thinking; reflecting.) - Gravitate around the word or phrase that stick out, or grasp ones attention for a few minutes. Let it sink in slowly and deeply until you are resting in it. Listen for what the word or phrase is saying to you at this moment in your life, what it may be offering, demanding, or sharing. Expressing how the words and phrases feel to you what they raise up.
Resting in the meaning (paccavekkhati : [pati + ava + ikkh + a] considers; reviews; contemplates.) - Allowing oneself to simply rest exploring the meaning for a time. Stilling the proliferations within your heart, yet remaining open, curious of every detail, noting details of similarity, advice on practice,
Expressing (sallapati : [saṃ + lap + a] converses; talks with.) – In the sallapati, this consecration-meditation practice, we allow our real selves to be touched and changed by the teaching. When you are ready openly and honestly express with the group, and most importantly to yourself, your personal experience of the words, phrases and text as a whole. This is a dialogue with the text, with its meaning, and what it is saying to us, this maybe expressed as a reflection, lament, or praise.
If this is an individual practice write down the thoughts that have come your way, at the end of the session, or between the movements.
Listening to the sound of one's own voice while reading aloud the sutta, or expressing oneself within the sharing side of the vâcanaka practice can help us to hear our feelings, moods, & emotions and become aware of those which are not fully within our consciousness yet, thus enabling us to apply upright effort. Listening to others enables us to tune into ourselves by looking at our own reaction to how we perceive others behaviour, or the groups progression during the session.
As a contemplative practice, vâcanaka is practised to enable the practitioner to creatively engage with the sutta on various levels depending on one's educational background, spiritual strengths and insight. The expected outcome will be a deeper knowledge of the sutta, oneself, others and the Dhamma, and to see all these in a gradually increasing light of confidence and discernment.
These four movements of vâcanaka may not always follow a linear progression. Allow yourself freedom. The aim is to move into the depths of silence and stillness where we can hear the Dhamma and respond to this through our life. This practice is an invitation into a movement from stillness into insight and back into the stillness, to dwell there within the Dhamma.
In today’s understanding it can be described as ‘attentive listening or observation’ – allowing what is observed to speak to our situations in a fresh way.
akkharasamaya : [m.] the science of writing and reading.
vâcana (nt.), recitation; reading.
vâcanaka : [nt.] The ceremony or place of recitation.
dhammacetiya : [nt.] a shrine in which sacred texts are enshrined.
Pâṭha (m.) a passage; text reading.
pariyattidhara : [adj.] knowing Scripture by heart.
sarabhâṇaka : [m.] one who recites the sacred texts.