MN 20 synopsis and flash cards

MN 20 is the twentieth sutta (teaching) in the middle length teachings of the Buddha. It describes a five step process for training the mind that will eventually result in thinking what you want to think, and not thinking what you don’t want to think. It works in meditation and in everyday life I have been doing it since 2019 and I now think what I want about 95% of the time. Flash cards pdf file link at the bottom of this page. When any step is successful, exit from the process. I recommend doing the steps strictly in order for at least 3 months before choosing to apply them out of order.

Step 1: Drive out the problem thought with a known wholesome thought like a carpenter would drive out a wooden peg with a thinner one. The commentaries assert that you need to have three wholesome thoughts prepared for use, one each to oppose greed, aversion, and delusion. Basically you meditate for a few seconds. To oppose greedy thoughts, I use contemplation of the repulsiveness of feeding. To oppose thoughts founded in aversion, I use “may all beings be wisely happy.” For thoughts based in delusion I use mindfulness of the body.

When you are successful, you will feel the mind settle and still comfortably and the problem thought will not be a problem any more. If that does not occur, on to step 2.

Step 2: Regard the thought as a danger to you, truly it leads to your suffering. Explore how that mode of thinking leads to suffering. Then for bonus points add the instructions from MN 61 on how to train the mind when reflecting on harmful mental acts and feel gently horrified, repulsed and disgusted at the thought – dedicate that energy to self restraint. The horrified and repulsed can be overdone and then you burn out and it takes a long time to heal. be on your guard against overdoing it. 

As before, When you are successful, you will feel the mind settle and still comfortably. If not, on to step 3

Step 3: Ignore the problem thought. This gives the first two inputs more room to work their magic. Take away the thought’s importance. I like to imagine that my attention is one of those sticky hand toys and I peel it off of the problem thought and place it on the wholesome thought from step 1.

Success is recognized as before.

Step 4: Still thought formation as regards the problem thought. The Buddha uses a simile of a man who is running thinking “Why am I running? Why don’t I walk – then walking… then thinking why don’t I stand… why don’t I sit… why don’t I lie down…

If it works, You’ll know because the mind will settle inwardly, still and calm if not, step 5.

Step 5: Clench your teeth, push your tongue against the roof of your mouth and hit, bend, and crush the part of your mind that endorses the problem thought until submission using the parts of your mind that are obeying you. I must advise against using edged or pointed stabby weapons of the mind. It is difficult to stop using them, and they wind up being used against you.

When you are successful, you will feel the mind settle and still comfortably. If not, the Buddha did not say what to do, I’ve been assuming that I must have messed up one of the earlier steps and starting over at step one.