Friday, October 05, 2007
Threefold Training 2: Samadhi
In undertaking the life of Dharma/Yoga, we step away from the known status quo, into the unknown; the realm of infinite possibilities. However, the strength and power of our conditioning (samskaras and vasanas) can be a strong force, pulling us back into the known whenever we touch the uncertainties of the unknown. As it is often said, we choose the familiar, even familiar pain and suffering rather than risk the uncertain and unknown.
Our relationship to the unknown matters, and our mental resistance to it can actually provide us with myriad opportunities for insight and deeper understanding. It is Samadhi, the power of concentrated attention, that allows us to stay with whatever is arising, with whatever is present, known and unknown.
“Inspiration” tends to be short-lived. When we look honestly at ourselves, we may find that we seem to lack sustained focus. Self-centered thoughts – including the self-doubting aspect hinders our continued application and dedication to awakening. We have to be fired up to take steps away from our familiar, conventional securities (which are, afterall, based upon delusion).
It is Samadhi that allows for meaningful outer action. It seems paradoxical that an alleged stated of internal concentration is just what is needed for skillful action, but it is the ability to keep calm and steady through all circumstances that allows one to be a source of support and transformation for all beings. As Thich Nhat Hanh has repeatedly said, one person who kept calm on a sinking ship could save the lives of many.
Mind-training, which again may seem self-serving (think of all the negative put-downs such as ‘navel gazing’ that our culture uses to denigrate meditation), proves immensely beneficial for our personal, social and working life. To be truly beneficial, however, it must exist with morality and wisdom (the other two aspects of the Threefold Training). Without the other two, Samadhi could be a form of navel gazing indeed. This kind of Samadhi would generate selfishness at the expense of wisdom and generosity. It is no coincidence that one of the strongest attractions to Buddhist practices in the West is meditation. It is often the first stepping stone to deep inquiry and the realization of wisdom and the overcoming of selfishness.
Different meditation practices serve different purposes, and it is imperative that we understand the context of our practice. This points to the importance of integrating theory and practice. Various meditations are designed to transform consciousness, open the heart, bring clarity and calm. Mindfulness helps to do all this by entering into the depths of the human mind.
Dedicated, long-term meditators can explore the various depths of Samadhi and experience altered states of consciousness. Perceptions can grow extremely subtle. There can be an opening of what is referred to as the Divine Eye. Such experiences such as out-of-body experiences, astral projection, contact with various realms and beings, as well as various physical changes are common. None of them are to be clung to at the risk of continued bondage to conditions.
All Yoga traditions point to the natural arising of such experiences, and while they can provide insights, calm and bliss, they are also seen as potential obstacles to liberation. They are by definition not “Right Samadhi” which is the Samadhi that leads to clear understanding of reality, and freedom from samsaric conditioning.
Meditation training gives support to a natural Samadhi in daily life. It is what the Viapassana tradition calls ‘samahitata.’ There is alertness, purity and calm present throughout our activities. The tantric tradition calls this Sahaja Samadhi: spontaneous Samadhi.
1. Be aware of stillness before movement (for example, Telephone Meditation, letting the phone ring three times before answering it).
2. After parting from someone, experience silence.
3. In the midst of doing, pause, mindfully breathe in and out one to three breaths.
4. Practice opening to feeling the aliveness of your whole being.
Meditation can be the focusing on a particular object, known and familiar. This can be the breath, sound, a candle flame etc. With such ‘one-pointed’ focus, we leave out interest in all other phenomena. We cultivate a depth of calmness, a steady observation and sustained presence. Such focus can contribute to our ability to be concentrated in matters of daily life. However, we must be careful not to get caught in willfulness and the creation of tension by pushing and straining to remain concentrated.
We can also train in opening our focus to ‘choiceless awareness.’ This kind of meditation embraces all objects and cultivates a sense of unity, spaciousness and natural intimacy with all things. In choiceless awareness, we develop equanimity, neither picking nor choosing, free of grasping and clinging. However, with this kind of practice, we must be aware of the potential to ‘space-out.’
In calm, clear abiding, no-self arises and non-dual realization and liberation are possible. With no-self, there are no story lines, no roles, no beliefs. Such non-dual realization releases contentment, sublime joy and effortless presence. “I,” “me,” and “mine” arise provisionally, but not problematically, which simply means, we no longer are trapped in the concepts.
Samadhi enables us to stay steady, in touch with the process of life, including ageing, illness, death, birth, and death. The insights and understanding emerge from seeing clearly. They can arise through everyday ordinary mind or in the depth of meditation. The possibility for non-dual realization is always present. Practice just makes up more prone to its arising, but is not its cause. Insight and understanding confirm liberation – not some teacher or other ‘final authority.’ Such awakening can occur as a sudden breakthrough or in a more gradual way.
1. What time are you willing to devote to cultivating Samadhi?
2. What do you find yourself most concentrating on in daily life?
3. What gives you joy as a result of focused attention?
4. Have you ever experienced a depth of Samadhi that was truly illuminating?
.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 12:37 PM