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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.'
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.
- either verses or mantras [see: LIFESTYLE - CHANTING]
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.
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.
on the breath
on one leg be
completely still press
one of the energy centres
a mantra use
your beads close
your eyes relax
light (or something 'holy')
at a flower bring
a teacher or loved one to mind
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.