Comments on Tips to Avoid Drowsiness

Yesterday I talked about the sutta in the Anguttara Nikaya on sleepiness, usually translated as “Nodding”. It’s a beautiful little story about the Buddha giving advice on how to deal with sleepiness in meditation. Is this something that affects some of you?

It used to effect me a lot, but then I found out a really good long term solution: get more sleep. But that doesn’t necessarily help if you are on an intensive retreat or whatnot. If you don’t know the sutta, but knowing what you know about the teaching, what would you guess would be the Buddha’s advice? Maybe to just sit with the sleepiness? To notice sleepiness?

No! Instead the Buddha gave a list of very practical advice for DEALING with the sleepiness. It’s a problem to be dealt with.

AN 85 The  Nodding Sutta
The Buddha was at the Deer Park at a place called the Crocodile Haunt. Nice name! A couple of things occur to me. First, smart Crocodiles to hang out at the Deer Park. Second, I would NOT have drowsiness problems meditating at a place called the Crocodile Haunt.

Maha Moggallana (this great monk, before his enlightenment) was in Kallavalaputta. He was trying to meditate, but kept getting drowsy and nodding.The Buddha used his divine eye to see across space and see his beloved disciple struggling. So he teleported himself alla Star Trek immediately to be in front of Maha Moggallana.

Now, if it were me, and the Buddha suddenly teleported himself instantaneously to be in front of me, my problems with drowsiness would pretty much be immediately solved. Nevertheless, Maha Moggallana was apparently unimpressed. Either that or he was seriously drowsy. The Buddha asked him, “Are you nodding, Moggallana? Are you nodding?” And (I can imagine pretty meekly) he replied “Yes, lord.”

The Buddha goes on to give some practical advice on how to avoid drowsiness. Now, something I think rather important is at stake here. Namely, just because you are sitting with crossed legs and your eyes closed, doesn’t mean you’re following the breath. Maybe 90% of the time you are and should be, but when you need different medicine, do what is useful for your meditation. Tomorrow I’ll talk about one type of useful medicine.


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