shamatha

Meditation:
  
  
The actual practice of meditation is to go beyond concept and simply rest in the state of nondual experience. The ability to rest in that way comes from contemplation, from analytical meditation, which gradually leads us to the stage of nonconceptual meditation.
  
Shamatha meditation is a practice that supports the development of a stable, one-pointed concentration, which brings the mind to a state of peace and tranquility. Thus, it is also known as “resting meditation.”
  
Vipashyana means “clear seeing” or “superior seeing.” Fundamentally, it consists of methods that bring about the recognition of the nature of mind, and is marked by a sense of openness and spaciousness.
—  Dzogchen Ponlop, Mind Beyond Death

Training the mind well is a useful activity. You can see this even in draft animals, like elephants, oxen, and water buffaloes. Before we can put them to work, we have to train them. Only when they’re well trained can we use their strength and put it to different purposes. All of you know this.

A mind well trained is of many times greater value. Look at the Buddha and his noble disciples. They changed their status from being run-of-the-mill people to being noble ones, respected by people all over. And they’ve benefited us in more wide-ranging ways than we could ever determine. All of this comes from the fact that they’ve trained their minds well.

A mind well trained is of use in every occupation. It enables us to do our work with circumspection. It makes us reasonable instead of impulsive, and enables us to experience a happiness appropriate to our station in life.

—  Ajahn Chah

The Nine Progressive Stages of Mental Development According to Shamatha Meditation Practice (Tibetan Thangka Painting).
The practice of Shamatha meditation develops the ability to focus the mind in single-pointed perfect concentration and is a prerequisite for the development of vipashyana or analytical insight meditation. Shamatha meditation should ideally practice in an isolated place and one should seat in meditation posture of Vairochana Buddha. The object of concentration is usually the image of the Buddha or a deity. The illustration of the development of mental tranquility is brilliantly depicted in this thangka in nine progressive stages of mental development which are obtained through the six powers of study, contemplation, memory, comprehension, diligence and perfection. The first stage is attained through the power of study and or hearing. The monk fixes his mind on the object of concentration. Here a monk chasing, binding, leading and subduing elephant whose colour progresses from black to white. The elephant represents the mind and its black colour the gross aspects of mental dullness. The monkey represents distraction or mental agitations, and its black colour, scattering. The hare represents the more subtle aspect of sinking. The hooked goad and lasso which the monk wields represent clear understanding and mindful recollection. The progressive diminishing along the path represents the decreasing degree of effort needed to cultivate understanding and recollection. The five sense objects represent the five sensual source of distraction.

The music in my head

Today I spent all day digging deep into Mahamudra practice. Without going into detail, and I’m sure this ability will fade, but as I walk down the street after the first day I find the normal chatter of my mind returning. But its substance seems less solid.

A tune arises and as I walk something reminds me to regard it without interest and suddenly it fades.

Reminds me of the folks who say, “I can’t get that song out of my head!”. Makes me want to say, “You could learn how if you wanted…”

And then I think to myself, “If you do the practice with that goal in mind, you’ll never attain it.”

Back to the drawing board I guess…

If we have ambitions—even if our aim is enlightenment— then there is no meditation, because we are thinking about it, craving it, fantasizing, imagining things. That is not meditation. This is why an important characteristic of shamatha meditation is to let go of any goal and simply sit for the sake of sitting. We breathe in and out, and we just watch that. Nothing else. It doesn’t matter if we get enlightenment or not. It doesn’t matter if our friends get enlightened faster. Who cares? We are just breathing. We just sit straight and watch the breath in and out. Nothing else. We let go of our ambitions. This includes trying to do a perfect shamatha meditation. We should get rid of even that. Just sit.
—  Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

I am not the same Trungpa you saw a few days ago. I am a fresh, new Trungpa –right now! And I will always be that way. I will be dead and gone tonight, and right now, this very moment, I am dying and being born. So the next time I give a talk, I will be entirely different.

You can’t rely on one particular reference point. In some sense that is extraordinarily fresh and feels good, but on the other hand it may be sad, because you wan to hang onto the past, constantly. Until there’s enough familiarity with the mentality of shamatha and vipashyana, you won’t understand this. And that pracitce of shamatha/vipashyana goes on, up to the level of vajrayana discipline as well.

—  Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche from “The Heart of the Buddha”, pg. 12
The Art of Stopping

‘Buddhist mediation has two aspects - shamatha and vipashyana. We tend to stress the importance of vipashyana (”looking deeply”) because it can bring us insight and liberation from suffering and afflictions. But the practice of shamatha (”stopping”) is fundamental. If we cannot stop, we cannot have insight.

There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, “Where are you going?” and the first man replies, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!” This is also our story. We are riding a horse, we don’t know where we are going, and we are powerless. We are always running, and it has become a habit. We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. We are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others.

We have to learn the art of stopping - stopping our thinking, our habit energies, our forgetfulness, the strong emotions that rule us. When an emotion rushes through us like a storm we have no peace. We turn on the TV and then we turn it off. We pick up a book and then we put it down. How can we stop our fear, despair, anger, and crazing? We can stop by practicing mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful smiling, and deep looking in order to understand. When we are mindful, deeply touching the present moment, the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy.’

- Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of The Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation.

Meditation While Sick The First

A new experience, this, mindfulness meditation with a sinus infection. The interesting thing is, even while feeling “miserable,” which I don’t really feel, even though in this condition I normally would, the meditation experience was, sadly, the same.

I expected to be bothered by all kinds of distractions. Perhaps my condition isn’t as bad as I thought it was. Perhaps some of the “bad” in my illness is added by my mind.

Scary.

As I wait for my vision to clear (it was 40 minutes, which means I won’t be able to see clearly for 10-15 minutes), I am scanning my body, and noticing that my sinuses feel clearer than they did before I started, but still inflamed. Granted, I used my neti pot right before I sat down, so perhaps my meditation simply allowed my face to relax enough not to add in any extra trouble.

In any case, I call it a smashing success. It makes me wonder, though, how much of the experience of “being sick” is actually the physical suffering of the body vs. the extra suffering the mind adds on?

Why would the mind do something like that when it’s clearly not good for me? Ha!

Crazy.

But cool to be able to have the experience. I’m glad to have been given it.

Falling apart

As I made my way through this week I stumbled much more than I normally do. I think I may have apologized to more people this week than in the past month or more.

They say that once you start walking the Path in earnest the world starts to fall apart. It certainly feels like it lately.

But I realize that falling apart is necessary. In order to conquer my ego I have to notice it. What better way than to have it bruised constantly during the same time I’m building up my ability to be aware of it?

I only hope I don’t leave too many casualties in my wake.

Best to keep trying and be aware of my sharp edges before they cut someone…

Pilates => Meditation = Energized!

I sat for a little while directly after doing a pilates workout, and my muscles seemed to know exactly what to do to keep me upright. It was an exhilarating experience! Not only did my typical overactive shoulder blade stay exactly where it was supposed to be, I was able to experience what it’s like to go from breathing hard to bring more oxygen into my body to slowly and gradually cooling down. All during a mindful state.

Pretty neat to watch!

And, I was able to go 20 minutes at night without much trouble or sleepiness. Which is always the difficulty for me. Since I don’t often sleep well, this is often a problem. But the natural high of just having exercised carried me through.

Definitely an experiment worth repeating when I have the opportunity!

A really good session and some reflections on repetition

Just 2 minutes ago I finished a 30-minute session outside. It was humid, with a slight breeze. The sky was gray. A garbage truck went by near the beginning but didn’t stay for long. Beautiful bird sounds mixed with the neighbor’s AC unit made for a beautiful background mix of earth and man. A squirrel was harvesting fruit from the neighbor’s tree.

And my mind was more still than it has been for a while. Thoughts were coming up but didn’t stick around long. I am reminded yet again that taking breaks from the practice are actually setbacks. And keeping a consistent rhythm improves the quality of my practice.

Haven’t yet gotten up the courage to re-introduce tong len, but I hope to. I have a feeling that repetition will help with the emotional intensity I have been shying away from, but my mind still reacts with self-protection. When I have done the practice before I found myself much more prone to losing control of my emotions during the day. What I think I need is to find the right balance of compassion practice and mindfulness practice.

Perhaps I will ask my Meditation Instructor about that.

Do Nothing

‘I’m going to talk a little about shamatha meditation, and I thought it would be good to try and actually do the mediation as we go along. The actual technique is very simple. All the great meditators of the past advised us to sit up straight when we mediate. When we sit up straight, there is a sense of alertness, a sense of importance - it produces the right atmosphere. In this particular instruction, I’m going to suggest we don’t use an external object, such as a flower, but instead follow the standard Theravada tradition of using our breath as the object. So we concentrate on our breathing: we simply follow our breath in and out. That’s it. Our mind is focused on the breathing, our posture is straight, our eyes are open. That’s the essential technique: basically doing nothing.

Lets do that for a while.

Short Meditation Session:

We simply sit straight and we watch our breathing. We are not concerned with distractions, with all the thoughts that occupy our mind. We just sit - alone, by ourselves, no reference at all. Us, the breathing, and the concentration. That’s all we have.’

- Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinoche, Do Nothing: A Guided Mediation, from the Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.

One who neglects the branches of tranquillity (shamatha), even though he struggles mightily to meditate for millennium upon millennium, never will attain concentration (samadhi).

When the tranquillity of yogins is attained, so too are the transcendental faculties (abhijna). Nonetheless obscuration is not destroyed without the perfection of insight (prajnaparamita). 

Sacred texts teach that bondage arises when insight (prajna) is severed from means (upaya), and means is cut off from insight as well. Therefore, never neglect this union.

– Atiśa

Lessons learned from suffering in the world today

I asked myself during my contemplation this evening to review how I felt during the day. And from that simple intention arose some amazing learnings. Several events stood out, and from each of them I learned an important lesson.

Lesson 1: sometimes broadcast text communication is useful to protect people from interruptions. The team has always been good at communicating when they know things are going badly, and my assumptions that they weren’t paying attention were unfounded.

Lesson 2: create space even when the container you’re in doesn’t allow for it. Meetings go bad because the people in them aren’t respectful. And while I spend much time when I design my meetings to create a container that encourages respect naturally, others don’t have that skill. And I need to be a better participant when that occurs. Creating my own personal container is a thing I need to learn better to do.

Lesson 3: just because I’m a leader doesn’t mean the people around me don’t have good ideas. I need to treat them as equals, and let them lead when they clearly have the skills to do so.

Lesson 4: having a grudge against one’s workplace is a great way to create tunnel vision. The moment I notice I’m acting un-skillfully, it would behoove me to take stock and look back immediately. My relationships with my coworkers are too precious – skillful means are always called for.

Pretty cool for 15 minutes of meditation and contemplation. I am so glad I added this practice to my daily routine!

Two hours in 85 degree weather with no wind. To my normal habitual mind this would have been miserable. To a meditative mind, it was curious. A practice of paying attention to the sweat rolling down my face. Of listening to the wildlife and sounds of the city around me.

Sure, comfort wasn’t really top of the agenda. But it also wasn’t all that bad. And it certainly could have been hotter.

But it was really nice practice. And I was glad to have done it. While the regularity of my sessions has not really gotten any better, I remain hopeful that these longer sessions will eventually jump-start me back into a good habit.

More experimentation is in order.

Eventually, I’m sure, I will settle into some sort of routine. Or maybe not? I’ve not really understood if there is value in routine, or if there is yet another balance to be struck between having a routine and not being unsettled when one doesn’t keep in the groove.

Another thing to work with.

And again I am reminded – all of the world presents itself as a teacher. Shall I embrace each moment as an opportunity to practice?

Here’s hoping I can break down enough of my ego to accomplish at least some of that ideal.