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.
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.
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 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
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):
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.
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.
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.