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Dharma and Disciples

Shamatha Meditation

Geshe Dakpa Topgyal from the Charleston, South Carolina Tibetan Society has been a friend of Geshe Dorjee, our resident teacher, since he and Geshe Dorjee were young monks at the age of 12 years old. We are delighted to include transcripts from a few of his recent teachings on our site.

In Buddhism, there are two types of meditation: Shamatha and Vipassana. Shamatha is single pointed meditation. Vipassana is an analytic form of meditation. These 2 meditations have to be cultivated in sequence. Shamatha meditation first, and then Vipassana. Although, the individual need not to have fully accomplished the Shamatha meditation, he must have proper experience of Shamatha meditation in order to embark on Vipassana. Without having any experience of Shamatha meditation, then practice of Vipassana meditation is ineffective.

Shamatha meditation helps to free the mind from disturbing emotions and conceptual thinking processes. It brings the mind under control, under discipline, with some degree of single pointed focus, with full alertness of mind. By doing this meditation, the individual is able to suppress disturbing emotions and gain inner peace, harmony and balance.

Vipassana meditation directly helps to pull out the seeds or imprints that are left in our psyche by these manifest emotional defilements and distorted thoughts so that disturbing emotions and thoughts will never reoccur. It brings unchanging and everlasting inner peace, joy and harmony.

The very purpose of Shamatha meditation is not just to feel good for a period of time but to give birth to deeper levels of understanding, of wisdom. So that individuals can see the ultimate reality of phenomena and are able to go beyond ordinary perceptions. Shamatha meditation cuts through ordinary appearances and the confusion between our concepts and reality.

Now, how to engage in Shamatha meditation and what exactly one is doing while sitting and meditating? When sitting in meditation, one is sitting in motionless body and motionless mind. Sitting in motionless body is not difficult. Sitting in motionless mind is not easy because our ordinary mind is so undisciplined and so oriented, or drawn, towards external stimulation. It is very hard to bring the mind to rest and calm with no single wave of thought or thinking process. Although one can bring mind to rest or calm for a short time, our mind can remain blank, or numb, with no sense of freshness and alertness. Thus, one forgets the object of meditation and mind will be influenced by drowsiness, excitement, or wandering. Therefore, it is really not easy for us to live in motionless mind, even during the meditation period.

In brief, Shamatha meditation is the state of single pointed mind, characterized by perfect mental stability and mental clarity, having some degree of freshness within the mind. Mental clarity can only come when the mind becomes free from sluggishness, drowsiness, haziness, cloudiness, numbness and blankness. Mental stability will only come when the mind becomes free from excitement, agitation, manic thoughts and addiction to wandering aimlessly with no definite destination.

Mental drowsiness and excitement are the two obstacles out of the six obstacles of shamatha meditation that we are going to discuss next time. Every human being is fully qualified to practice Shamatha meditation no matter who we are, no matter what kind of culture we come from.

What causes us to fail at perfecting this form of meditation is laziness, forgetfulness, lack of interest, and not being able to see the positive benefits of Shamatha meditation. The reason we are not interested in meditation is that we think of material comforts, luxuries are the best things in life. We are so consumed by the needs and many demands of this life that we become slaves of material comforts. But in fact, material comforts and luxuries are not the best things in our life because life is temporary. We have a lot of fear and worry concerning material comforts. Material comforts really fool us and mislead us in many ways. If we are sincerely able to see the way material comforts effect us then we can sit in meditation without grasping at what may be the end result of our meditation.

Student : So how do we let go of an end result and just do it?

Geshe la : It is like eating food. When you eat food, you just keep eating and naturally your stomach fills up. You don't need to live with the thought of when your stomach fills up. We don't have to worry about the result, it happens. Considering the end result is only distracting. It is the same way in meditation, it only proves distracting, then we lose the process and meditation becomes frustrating. Just sit in meditation with no expectation.

Student : I am reading the Bhavanakrama. In the part about Tranquilization (which is the same as shamatha, I think) Kamalasila says, "When the mind sinks," ( which I think is the same as 'mental drowsiness'), "you should think of a delightful object such as the body of the Buddha or a light." Do you have any other ideas, or 'delightful objects; to counteract drowsiness?

Geshe la : Objects that cause you to lift up your mind are all delightful objects. You are correct in your assumptions about what they are talking about in the book, metal sinking = mental drowsiness.

Student : Are living people possible delightful objects?

Geshe la : Your girlfriend? If this isn't a delightful object, then logically it must be a horrible object. Maybe I am wrong because I am a monk! (hahahaha) So, living people can be objects of meditation. Bodhisattvas, Mother Theresa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, etc., are all, or were at one time, living beings.

Student : I have heard that monks are to look at women as 'female demons'.

Geshe la : This is totally wrong! In tantric teachings, especially, the male practitioner must try and see ALL females as dakinis!

Student : Geshe la, in my readings on western thought and my readings in Eastern thought, I keep coming across all kinds of expressions that more or less say to view our reality as sacred. Even Plato saw this, everything right down to the last little thing. What is your thought on this?

Geshe la : I have many thoughts! In Sutrayana teaching, I don't think it teaches that our reality as sacred. It only teaches us to view and see every sentient being as a sacred because of Buddha nature. In Vajrayana teachings, we are taught to view our reality as sacred and as pure. The very purpose Vajrayana teachings and practice is to dissolve our ordinary perception, ordinary clinging, and ordinary appearance. We can only view our reality as sacred and pure when we are able to dissolve the ordinary clinging, ordinary perception, and ordinary appearance. Otherwise, there is no way to see our reality as sacred and the expression 'our reality' becomes just a dry word.

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