Success in Shamata & Vipashyana

We’re focused on the following for this discussion:

  • Shamata is the practice of mental stability.
  • Vipashyana is the practice of insight meditation.

These are the arms of meditation that will support the practice of Mahamudra (or meditation upon the mind.)

Roots of Shamata & Vipashyana

  • Discipline
    • Devotion
  • Listening to Instructions
  • Reflecting on the Instructions
  • Accumulation of Merit

The three main roots are Discipline, Listening to Instructions and Reflecting upon the instructions.  Secondary roots are Devotion (which builds Discipline) and the Accumulation of Merit.

Discipline

Discipline will depend on our life choices.  Most of us are practicing a life choice of what the old ones called “the householder.”   In modern parlance, we’d say this is the person who works a job and may (or may not) have a family.

We could think of this as the modernist.  Someone who interacts with the structures of society and through that, they are given their source of survival (pay checks, being able to rent a home, etc.)

There are some few who live alone, and off the grid.  These folks may or may not take monks/nun vows.  Such as these have different ideals and survival systems.

Discipline will be different depending on the individual.  For most, we will be modernists (getting paid for labor, the paycheck covering our essentials and non essentials for life.)

Discipline is a path from many traditions.  The Bushido of Japan speaks to Devotion (as does the Hagakure.)  Discipline is also a core feature in Greek Stoicism.   Another path, discussed a bit more below is that of Buddhism – which recommends the use of devotion, in order to build discipline.

Devotion

Maintaining discipline can be through various means.  One particular form of effort (from the Buddhist path) is the act of devotion.

Devotion from this perspective is often towards the spiritual teacher, the “guru” or the lineage training you.

Merit

Merit is a return to action (karma) that benefits the spiritual path. An example of good merit would be those acts of body, speech, and mind.

Body merit is in the helping of others with physical work.  Mind merit is raised in the ways of universal compassion.  Speech merit is those good things we can speak.

Merit is also gained by meditation and spiritual practice.  An example would be the meditation upon a deity representing an aspect of enlightenment.

Traditions of Shamata

Notes from “Essentials of Mahamudra” by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche.

Shamata is the stabilizing meditation that is required for Mahamudra.  There are several notes on the shared tradition of Shamata from “Essentials of Mahamudra.”

In order to calm the mind there are particulars about ourselves we need to work on.

The Body

If we eat too much, it will make the mind sleepy or dull.  Oddly, a dull mind is also an angry mind.  While it will subdue and lower your actions, when something pushes hard enough into your world – the distractions will trigger rage.   This often happens when someone is driving a car, but has their mind on something else.  All of a sudden a car cuts them off… the fear of the near accident snaps them into the present moment and the whole jarring event triggers anger.

Eating too much is a problem for us.  When we eat too much we are distracted and meditation is harder for us to calm down and stabilize.

The Buddhist practice says that we should divide our stomach into 3 parts:

  • One part for food
  • One part for drink
  • One part for breath

By not being too full, we remain vigilant.

Isolation

The Buddhist text suggests going to a place of few or no distractions.  It is often suggested to go on a retreat.  Once Shamata is developed we can replay the experience.

In my personal view, isolation is not necessary for Shamata.  The objects of distraction can become the meditation objects.

For example, if one sat in meditation only to hear a dog howling next door, they might become frustrated and seek further isolation.

This isn’t necessary.  Personally, I’ve come across this same situation in my own life.  When this occurs, it is a good practice to make the sound of the dog howl, your meditation object.

You follow the distracting sound as it is in the present moment.

Exceptions

Exceptions to this rule would be any activity that requires your attention outside of meditation (like driving a car, taking care of someone.)

Objects of Shamata

There are four different types of objects for Shamata meditation:

  • Pervasive Objects of Observation
  • Objects of Observation for Purification
  • Objects of Learning
  • Objects of Observation to Eliminate Emotions

Pervasive Objects of Observation

When one meditates on something extremely vast – beyond physical limitation of size, shape, color, sound, etc.  Such an object of meditation, is itself a “Pervasive Object of Observation.”

In my opinion, this could include the topics of emptiness, God (as long as “God” isn’t something that exists one way or another), love, etc.

I realize that “God,” is not a Buddhist concept, but I feel it would fit here as a vast object that pervades all existence or manifestation.  But it would have to be thought of in the most generic of observations.  One shouldn’t imagine a man, a woman, a light, or not a light.  It would have to be more of a non-tangible, non-physical form of manifestation.

Objects for Purifying Behavior

Impure behavior is a very big issue for humanity.  Regardless of race, religion or nationality, people behave badly.   People are driven by desires, hatreds, pride, and other destructive thoughts.

In my view, most (if not all) of this is caused by a root imperfection: viewing one’s own body as their identity.  This self-identification with a limited scope (body) sets our reactions to the world in a selfish way… which leads to anger, hate, desire and a variety of other problems.

In the Buddhist perspective antidotes are meditations that heal these bad behaviors.  For example:

ANGER is healed by the antidote of compassion meditation.

DESIRE is healed by the antidote of meditation on ugliness & the impurity of our body.

IGNORANCE is healed by meditating on interdependent origination.

PRIDE is healed by meditating on the body composition:

  • Solid aspects of body are Earth elements
  • Fluid aspects of body are Water elements
  • Metabolic aspects of body are Fire elements
  • Movement aspects of body are Air elements

There is no pride, when we realize that we are simply an aggregate of these elements.

MANY ISSUES are resolved by simply meditating on the breath. The breath meditation isn’t directed to any specific problem, and works on all issues by taking one away from everything mundane.

Objects of Learning

These are meditation objects that open our insight into reality.  To resolve this, one works on meditation objects that release attachment to the the limited self, and the physical world around us.

In the Buddhist view, FOUR types of Objects of Learning exist:

  • The 5 Aggregates
  • The 18 Elements
  • The 12 Doorways of Perception
  • Interdependent Relationships

5 Aggregates

Sanskrit is often used to describe an aggregate – the sanskrit word is “skandhas.”  In Buddhism, it is taught that a person is a collection of body and mind that make up 5 groups (or aggregates):

  1. Form
  2. Feeling
  3. Perception
  4. Composition
  5. Consciousness

By meditating on the five skandhas or aggregates, an aspirant begins to see the lack of cohesion of the “self.”  There are things that piled in and added and taken away.  Because of this transitioning behavior we are always changing.

When relating to the body-self, we realize we are without a central essence.

18 Elements

In Buddhism the 18 elements include these groups:

  • 6 sensory objects (vision, sound, taste, smell, touch and psychic or mental sense)
  • 6 sense organs (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, body and mind)
  • 6 consciousnesses (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, body and mind)

The purpose of understanding the 18 elements, is the relationship between cause & effect.

12 Doors of Perception

The 12 doors of perception is the grouping of the 6 SENSE ORGANS and the 6 CONSCIOUSNESSES.  Together, they work to create all sensory perception.

When meditated upon or studied, one understands the emptiness of all sensory perceptions.  That none of it is self-existent.  It is all empty of any essential individual existence.

Interdependent Relationships

The ideas of action (or karma) tell us that every event and action is dependent upon a prior cause.  Meaning that good and bad, are terms not fixed in time and space.  There is a transitory nature to all phenomena.  What was negative, can shift to something neutral or to something positive.  Something positive can shift to something neutral or negative.

This is the emptiness of all things.  Because things are empty, all things are changeable.  I wrote on this in an article about the shifting nature of others.

Objects to Eliminate Disturbing Emotions

It is often obvious that specific emotions are very negative and dangerous for the individual to hold and harness.  Yet our society, often believes that some emotions are beneficial, even though they are destructive.

Anger, for example, is held in therapy as something “good.”  Scientologists would say that “anger” helps one rise from sadness. The Eastern view (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) would say no such thing.  Anger is like dousing yourself with gasoline.  Even though you may intend to express it “correctly,” it often explodes on us – taking over.  We are often taken over, to the extent of not even realizing our problems with anger.

Consider that the absence of disturbing emotions generates peace.  If you question, “what is a disturbing emotion,” then just take a moment when you are disturbed (upset, anxious, fearful) and look at the emotions of that state of mind. Those are the disturbing emotions.

By acknowledging these disturbances we begin to understand the need for freedom from them.  This puts us on the path of a solution.

Method for Purifying Disturbing Emotions

The first antidote is to understand the 4 NOBLE TRUTHS:

  • Mortality is suffering
  • Cause of suffering is our Disturbing Emotions
  • Actions from a Disturbed Mind create suffering
  • There is a way OUT OF SUFFERING through overcoming the bad emotions and actions of ignorance

It is through meditation that we uncouple ourselves from the false sense of self:  Our disturbed emotional states are lost.

VAJRAYANA meditation practice involves visualizing the body of Buddha.    Sometimes the deity is visualized as the meditator itself.  It is believed that such meditations bring the blessings of the deities visualized.   I realize this requires some faith.  If it’s too hard to accept, then start with the less religious forms of meditation, but do note, that this is the path of Mahamudra:  Samatra and Vajrayana practice.

The benefit of meditating upon a deity or spiritual teacher, is that it is believed it is a more stabilizing effort.  In many forms of meditation (such as the breath), distracting thoughts take us away from the meditation often.  Deity meditation focus the mind, holding it on the object.

Beginning Objects of Shamata

Notes from “Essentials of Mahamudra” by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche.

In the previous post the traditions of Shamata were introduced.  The study continues.  When first attempting Shamata what object should a beginner start with?

I suppose this is a personal decision.  Perhaps it’s a decision between a teacher and student.  There is however some general guidelines.

There are two principal objects one can start with:

  • Deities
  • Breath

Deities

In the Mahamudra path of Vajrayana, deities can include:

  • Avalokiteshvara
  • Vajrasattva
  • Vajradhara

I suppose it could be any deity, or perhaps even a guru/teacher.

Breath

The deity focus is said to improve focus and stability of mind. But for some the breath might be more appropriate.

The warning here is that breath meditation is erratic.  We lose concentration, find our mind has wondered and gently bring it back to the breath.

Breath meditation can start with the counting of breath.  Outbreath (1), inbreath(2) and so forth.  There are different ways of counting.  Some may count an outbreath and inbreath as one count.  It doesn’t matter.

What you should remember, is to bring your mind back to the breath after you lose your focus.  In time, the mind will adhere to the breath and counting is not necessary.

Zen practice is heavily based on just breath meditation.

Alertness

What part of you (or the mind) becomes aware that you have lost your focus?

It is your quality of alertness, or perhaps we could say, our quality of mindfulness.

9 Stages of Resting the Mind

Maitreya discusses the Nine stages of resting the mind in the work, “Ornament of the Sutras.”   This practice offers 9 stages of shamata meditation.

The 9 stages include:

  • PLACEMENT: Putting the mind’s attention on an object.
    • Power: The power here is “hearing.”  We hear the instructions for the practice.
    • Mental Application: “Forcibly Engaging” is the mental application for the first two stages.  Here we force our mind to engage the object.
  • CONTINUAL PLACEMENT: Realizing the distractions and returning concentration to the object.
    • Power: This power is Contemplating.  Through contemplation of instructions we reach continual placement.
    • Mental Application: “Forcibly Engaging”
  • PLACING AGAIN: At this point the mind is attached to thoughts (“I must think about this other thing because it’s very important.)  The only way through, is to immediately cut attachment to the thought (to let it go for the duration of the meditation.)
    • Power: Mindfulness is the power of this stage.  Being mindful is required to complete this stage.
    • Mental Application: “Interrupted Engaging” is the mind application that is used in the 3rd, 4th, 5th & 6th stages.
  • PLACING CLOSELY: The mind is detaching from body identity and becomes more vast and larger.  Now, thoughts will appear so small they go unnoticed.  Dealing with this stage, we focus more closely on the small moving things/thoughts.  The “thoughts” or feelings are coming “from below” (small identification) and must be stopped, otherwise they will attach and bring our awareness back down.  Observing and being mindful of these, will cause them to shrink back.
    • Power: Mindfulness is the power of this stage.
    • Mental Application: “Interrupted Engaging.”
  • TAMING: Thoughts are gone or controlled. Here is feeling. The feeling of joy, lightness, relaxation or enthusiasm. Often we want to share with others the process to how we got here. This is the stabilization of the mind.
    • Power: Here the power that drives this and the next stage is the power of “awareness.”  Awareness teachings us to appreciate the good and valuable qualities of stabilized meditation.
    • Mental Application: “Interrupted Engaging.”
  • PACIFYING: Tuning down to a finite layer, we further work to tame the mind from minute attachments and wondering flow.
    • Power: Awareness.
    • Mental Application: “Interrupted Engaging.”
  • THOROUGHLY PACIFIED: Our faults with the mind at this point keep us from a perfect clarity.  We try and recognize the distractions and faults of mind (attachment, pride, depression) and apply an antidote of spiritual practice.
    • Power: The power required here is “Effort.”  Effort shines the jewel of the mind in this and the next stage.
    • Mental Application: “Interrupted Engaging.”
  • ONE POINTEDNESS: All stages prior used mindfulness and alertness.  At this stage the mind is purified by effort alone.
    • Power: Effort
    • Mental Application: “Uninterrupted Engaging,” is the mental discipline that allows us to stay focused on the object.
  • PLACING EVENLY: In the final stage, the mind rests.  Using its own power it simply “is.”
    • Power: Familiarity is the final power that guides us into a self-stabilizing mind.
    • Mental Application: “Spontaneous Engaging,” is that application that causes the mind to rest and self-stabilize.

 

 

Meditation on the Selflessness of Individuals

Notes from “Essentials of Mahamudra” by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche.

When disturbing thoughts or feelings come upon us, such as anger, it’s just too hard to use will alone to contain them.  Just saying, “I wont get mad like this again,” isn’t going to work.  It never works.  That thought, while well intentioned, exists in a different state of mind than the future you that will once again be upset.

Unless one has matured their mindfulness, the moment by moment changes in their feelings and thoughts will go unnoticed.  Each aggression slowly builds upon another, until a tipping point is reached and the anger explodes.

Similarly desire can overtake the best of us.  We may think we’re “beyond it now,” only to find a new temptation, addiction or vice.  That feeling of “I need this,” can often refer to having something someone else has – envy.

Pride also consumes by thinking that you will not be like this other person.  The nature of duality always means there is someone greater and someone lessor.  There is never such a thing as “separate but equal.”  Separation always necessitates favoritism and revulsion.  One thing is seen as greater than another.  It’s the nature of duality.

The Common Self

Each of these (and other) disturbing emotions is centered upon the idea of self.  “I need this,” or “I hate this,” or “This makes ME angry.”

No Self

By analytical reasoning, or by the use of meditation, we can discover that the “self” doesn’t exist at all.

In Buddhism, the idea of self is comprised of 5 skandas or heaps.  With contemplation, there really is no central self.  The body is made up of sense organs, but each on its own isn’t the self.  The assets together do not really make a “self,” (if one is removed, we still think we have a self.)

Contemplation on this can lead one to agree that either there is no self, or the “self,” is beyond the confines of a finite body existence.

Shifting Self

Consider also the shifting nature of self.  “My car,” is a simple extension of self, to include a car.  “My country,” is a sense of self of nationalism.

“I’m in my head…” is the self identified with the brain or mind.  “I’m the body,” or “I’m in my heart center,” are also examples of a different localized idea of self.

If the concept of “self” can transition and shift from parts of human body, to externalized phenomena, is there really a self there at all?

Identification

Consider a situation in which you just purchased your very own, brand new car.  You love it.  One day you go to the market and notice another car with a scratch along the side.  You might think nothing of it, or you might think, “too bad they got their car scratched.”

What happens when the same scratch appears on your car?  “Someone scratched my car!”  Not only has the sense of self popped up, but it appeared with an emotion.

Understanding

By understanding the the ideas of “no self,” shifting nature of the self and false identification, we can form a meditation on these principals.

Doing so, will guide us through the passage of “no self,” and on the other side we’ll find a sense of peace.  At first there might be fear.  But in reality there is no “self” to be afraid.

Even if you do cling to self, there is still the idea of a larger self.  A self that extends far beyond the limited scope existence of a body self.

Phenomena

Notes from “Essentials of Mahamudra” by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche.

In a previous article, the nature of non-self was discussed.  Here, in this article the lack of self in external phenomena is discussed.  Your house, your car, the ground, the sky, trees, even thoughts and feelings are selfless.

Things are not independently originating.  That is, they do not exist on their own.  They are given existence from other things – they exist dependently.

While we know intellectually that phenomena is not permanent, we often act quite contrary.  In truth solid, permanent things do not exist.  As my old lama used to say, “nothing exists they way you think it does.”

Interdependance

Every object or thing depends upon another object to give it context.  Six people could be standing next to one another.  They might range in different heights and I could ask, “who is the tallest?”

In that context one might say, “well that fellow is the tallest,” if we remove the shorter people and added two even taller people, now the previous fellow is the shortest.

There is no self existence short or tall thing.

Together & Separate

Another example is that of an object comprised of other objects. In fact everything is this way.  Take your laptop.  As you look at your computer, what part of it is the laptop?

The laptop doesn’t exist without the dependencies of other parts. There’s a keyboard, display, cpu, memory, hard drive, etc.   Each of these objects on their own is not a laptop.

There is no inherent “laptopness” here, as the “laptop” is really a collection of other things.  Even those components that make up the laptop further break down into other components.  The keyboard (for example) breaks down into individual keys.  The display has a case, glass, filament, pixels, etc.

In the atomic age, we know that everything can be deconstructed to an atomic level.  Even there we can break down below the atom into sub-atomic particles.

In short, there is no laptop.  There is no hand.  There is no house.  There is no job.  There is no fear.  Each of these depends on something else to give it context.

Emptiness

All of this to explain how everything is empty: Empty of Self-Existence.

Even consciousness, the mind is empty of self-existence.  Consciousness itself can be broken down into different parts.

Within the construct of emptiness, anything can appear – yet the things that appear don’t really exist.  Becomes something appears in your world view, doesn’t mean it is not empty.  It is empty.  Because it appears, it is empty.

Emptiness gives rise to all things.

This, I suppose, is the teachings of the Tao Te Ching – that all things come from the Tao.  To which, all things return.  Similar to the Tao Te Ching Chapter 1, again it should be emphasized that experience is far greater than understanding.

Understanding and analysis is good.  Analysis helps us evaluate our experiences and see if the meditation was upon emptiness or not.

But our meditations can not be on the conceptual or analytical understanding of emptiness.  If it is, it will just be a fake thing – much like the Tao Te Ching says, “The name that can be named is not the eternal name.”   To hold it in the mind as a mental concept, shrinks the thing and makes it fake.  Experience is key.