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Samatha

Buddha Mind - get one, be one.

INTRO | BASICS | POSTURE | SAMATHA||VIPASSANA | BREATH | METTA | ASUBHA | WALKING

 

 

 


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The couplet 'Samatha - Vipassana' can be thought of as a definition for what is generally called meditation. Each is discussed separately but it must be remembered that they are like two sides of a coin and both are picked up together. One side may be specifically examined but the other side is always there.
Samatha is usually translated as tranquillity. It has several synonyms: concentration, one-pointedness of mind, undistractedness (samadhi, cittekaggata, avikkhepa). Samatha is the unperturbed, peaceful and lucid state of mind attained by mental concentration. The word 'samatha' has a range of meanings but is commonly thought of as concentration. It is an essential ingredient for training the mind toward liberation. We all have some ability to concentrate and some people have a natural aptitude but there is usually always a need to strengthen this factor. You will get a sense of your ability as you practice.

Developing concentration. Why?
Working backwards from the goal of Buddhism - the realisation of nibbana. This realisation is a clear seeing of the way things are (seeing the Truth); there are many similies about light (en-light-enment), vision, seeing, etc.. Experience (including realisiation) takes place in the mind and to be mind-full is to be aware of what the mind is full of. The mind is pretty speedy and huge amounts of data zip about over the course of time. If we are to be capable of deciding what is worth taking up and what data is just rubbish then we need to be able to examine the stuff, look at it. Some stuff, like junk mail, you know straight away it is rubbish. Bin it! In the search for truth we need to develop sharp eyes, a sharp mind; this is the ability to concentrate. If we are distracted when we are looking at something we may well miss an important clue and not recognise the value of that thing, thought or idea. The opposite of someone with good attention might be a scatter brain - or an air head - or wooly minded.
Another aspect of concentration practice is that what one chooses to concentrate on (fill the mind with) has an effect on the mind - study garbage = garbage mind. Study truth = noble mind. And the basic truth that we are looking to see is that all things are impermanent - more on this under VIPASSANA

Developing concentration. How?
Mostly it is about repetition.
"The mastering of any art is the seemingly endless repetition of seemingly useless exercises."
This is a bit of a drag but there seems no alternative. Like learning to play a musical instrument - doing the scales again and again. Learning to ride a bicycle - falling off, get on again, fall off, get on again. And the art that we are trying to master is mindfulness - that abiltity to be aware, to see things, to notice life, to be awake to reality. Various concentration exercises develop this art.

 

 

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Buddha Mind

Exercises:
The general idea is that one chooses an object to focus the mind on. The mind wanders away from the object and is gently brought back again - and again - and again.... This is the exercise. Like doing weights in a gym; lift the weight, let it down, lift, lower, up, down. The bodies muscles are strengthened. So too with concentration - the minds 'muscles' are strengthened, minfulness is honed. We are strong enough to hold our world in the palm of our - mind. Buddha Mind.
An object should be selected relative to the practioners disposition. For example: a 'small' object for an unsteady nature, a large one for a dull nature, a beautiful one for an angry nature and an ugly one for a lustful nature. If your concentration is weak you should choose something tangible enough for you to 'hold' - if it is strong then select something quite refined and subtle. Either way it should always challenge your threshold of attention. It is also recommended that you find a suitable object and work with it for quite a long time - say several months, or even years. The alternative is 'butterfly practice' - flitting here and there but not really settling.
There are a great many objects recommended but perhaps the most commonly used is the breath. Because of this it is dealt with under a separate heading. There are traditionally forty meditation objects which can be divided into two groups; internal and external. You can read this list [see RESOURCES - themes] but it may not be clear from this what to do.
With internal objects there is a degree of relfection and contemplation. The danger here is that one gets caught up in thought and forgets that it is a concentration exercise. Take the first item on the list - recollection of the virtues of the Buddha. As a pre-requisite to this one might study the life of the Buddha and get an appreciation of the effort, determination, generosity, etc. that was involved. These qualities are internalised in some symbolic way so that just concentrating on the word 'Buddha' connects one with that broad perceptual association. Or one may memorise the list of ten qualities (paramita) that the Buddha developed leading to his enlightenment. These can be gone through (repetitively) as a list, holding the meaning, the value of each quality, in one's mind.
A variety of (internal) bodily sensations can be used as an object of meditation. These might arise at any of the major energy centres, or other areas, and may have a particular characteristic - buzzing, tingling, warmth, etc. Some people hear a high pitched ringing sound (in the head, ears, mind?) and this can be used to focus on. If any of these things are clear and consistent they can be usefully developed. Don't feel as if you should experience any of this - these things are not in any way a measure of success, they are just objects which can be used for developing concentration.
It is possible to use 'no object' as your object. This is sometimes referred to as choiceless awareness and the mind makes no effort to hold anything - there is just mindfulness of mind. This technique is useful as a 'transfer' into everyday mindfulness where the content of the mind is very fluid.
There is a degree of creativity involved and access to an experienced teacher is invaluable. Whatever object(s) you select always bear in mind the principles of samatha practice: sustained attention (on the object), sustained association (with the qualities of the object). There should always be a conscious awareness of what one is doing - 'Now I am visualising a Buddha.' - 'Now I am reciting the ten paramita.'

 


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External objects are often easier to begin with as one is using a very tangible thing. The range here is equally as unlimited as it is with internal objects and the same dangers apply. Choose one object and work with it for a good while; be very clear about the boundaries of one's object; notice the difference between awareness of the object and thinking about the object. Also choose your object relative to your concentration ability - if you are very restless you may need a 'strong' object - like drum music (careful not to get lost in it).
You can use visual objects - a flower, a candle, a dish of water, a coloured disk, a piece of earth.
You can use aural objects - a bell, sit next to a waterfall, birdsong, your own voice, music or ambient sounds.
Tactile objects - beads are very good (you could associate this with a mantra), pour water from one dish to another (with associated sound) - perhaps over the fingers of one hand, shift small stones or shiny pebbles from one dish to another (try doing it without any sound), try dancing with a bell (without any sound), hold a smooth stone (small rock) at chest height (feel the weight, coolness, texture).
Use all the senses - but don't let them be using you. It is possible to really concentrate on and fully appreciate and enjoy the fragrance of a flower without losing awareness.

The body is a superb object for developing concentration. Read the item on POSTURE for more ideas. Unlike the mind the body is relatively stable and aspects of it (like the breath) are quite persistent. There are two aspects to body meditation - physical and energetic - and both can be developed as part of the same concentration exercise. There are structured forms like yoga and tai chi and these are well worth developing as a discipline but don't feel you have to. It is possible to use the principles of these forms without taking up the whole form - remember that we are focussing here on concentration exercises not on getting your foot behind your head.
Stand with your feet apart and imagine you are holding a ball of energy in front of your belly (you could try with a real ball to begin if you like). Move it steadily from side to side. Is there any internal energetic connection? Move your hands wider apart and try to retain the shape of the ball with your fingers. Concentrate on the ball that isn't there. Spheres are universal archetypes and you can find 'yours' in this movement. This is just a suggestion - which may not be of use - don't be disheartened by not being able to 'do it like the books say.' Experiment, concentrate, focus, listen to your internal world. You will find a body exercise that 'feels right' as an object.
Chanting - either verses or mantras [see: LIFESTYLE - CHANTING]
Body sweeping: An exercise that is part internal and part body (external). You can do this sitting or standing. Try with eyes open or closed. Bring the mind to focus on a specific part of the body - say the belly. Really concentrate on the flesh, the warmth, any feelings (emotional or physical), consciously relax that area. You can direct positive thoughts or energy to that area with a sense of well-wishing. You can repeat this on various parts of the body. Once you have a good familiarity with your internal body you can develop a 'sweeping' attention which can be quick or slow. Say, start at the top of the head and sweep down through the body passing over all the areas, the internal organs, the muscles - noting any irregularities or positive energies. You can apply a balancing energy.
Key events in the day can be used.
We tend to have many parts of the day that are process oriented - things that take a slice of time. For example: filling the water kettle for tea, waiting for the person you phoned to answer, waiting at traffic lights, walking between rooms (see: WALKING), downloading a page off the web, if nothing else, sitting on the loo. There are usually a lot of these little time pause capsules. Train yourself to bring mindfulness into these spaces. Bring attention to the body. Make sure the body is in an unsupported, balanced state - not leaning against the wall, etc. There are things you could do to enhance the sense of presence in these situations.
Focus on the breath stand on one leg be completely still press one of the energy centres recite a mantra use your beads close your eyes relax visualise light (or something 'holy') gaze at a flower bring a teacher or loved one to mind The list is endless but the objective is always to move from the complex to the simple. To be awake, to be aware. To be alive - and know how that is.

Trust your intuition.

INTRO | BASICS | POSTURE | SAMATHA||VIPASSANA | BREATH | METTA | ASUBHA | WALKING