How to Deepen Concentration
Buddhist Illumination is never achieved by developing mental power nor by deifying reasoning. On the contrary, it is attained by breaking any ties which attach us to the mind. - Samael Aun Weor, The Doomed Aryan Race
It is very important that every meditator understands very well the process and the development of real concentration. Without it, we cannot have a real meditation practice. There is a quote from a very famous Tibetan Lama who said this about a 100 years ago. He said,
Though you may pretend you are doing a practice, you are not practicing at all if you do not know what is required to achieve single pointed concentration. You must definitely achieve single pointed concentration with two features: great clarity together with some stability, and tight image retention. - Pabongka Rinpoche, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand
Meditation starts with very strong concentration and image clarity. So the first thing we have to establish is to make sure we understand what concentration is. How we develop it and what are the stages, what are the levels, what are the qualities, what are the factors that are involved. This has all been mapped out, you do not have to guess about it, you can know precisely where you are in your practice. This is one of the great misconceptions about meditation. People think it is vague. People tend to think that meditation is like spacing out. It is not, it is the opposite. Meditation is about developing profound attention and perception. The nature of the consciousness is to perceive and we all have consciousness which means we all have the capacity to perceive. And there are of course levels of consciousness. This is that Line of Being and the Line of Life. The Line of Being maps out all those levels while the Line of Life is just time.
So we see from this chart immediately that consciousness has no relationship whatsoever with time. This is a huge hurdle for most people because we think in "time" we will awaken. "Someday, I will have awakened consciousness" or an have awakened experience, and that way of thinking is a fallacy. It is not dependant on time, it is dependant upon developing the consciousness itself which is independent of time, it is separate. It runs an entirely different paradigm than time. Because of that we must take advantage of every moment. Every instant of life is an instant within which the consciousness is functioning. Thus we perceive. However, because we have such Karma, such problems that we have all created in our minds, we only perceive in accordance with our consciousness, what we have available. And because we have trapped so much of ourselves in desire, we have so little of our consciousness free. This means we perceive very little consciously. Most of the time we perceive unconsciously. That means we are asleep most of the time.
We understand in Gnosis that we have more or less 3% of consciousness. This is what is free, it does not mean that It is automatically active. It has to be made active. The connection has to be there, otherwise it is not active. When you are on "auto-pilot," the free consciousness is not active.
So for most people, most of our lives is spent asleep. Generally speaking, the period of childhood, let's say from 0 to 5 more or less, is the most conscious period of time that anyone has in their entire life. And we all know that is true because we remember that time as having something different, there was something different about it, even though we cannot explain it, we all know it. And the difference was the consciousness was free. The ego, the mind, had not yet incorporated into our psyche because there is a period of development when we grow up when the mind gradually incorporates and the child slowly changes. Anybody who has children has observed how much a child changes between two and seven. The personality can completely invert, a 100%, total change, and that is because those egos are incorporated little by little.
This is something that we have to profoundly reflect on and understand: that most of the time we are living life trapped within desire. This is our big obstacle and to develop Shamatha, to develop concentration, we have to begin changing this ratio. The first step of that is to activate the three percent (the Essence) that we have and that is done through paying attention. When we learn to pay attention we activate the 3%. It is a small little bit but if you have 100% darkness and 3% light, you at least have a candle. You can at least find your way around; you may not see much but at least you can see that light. It is the same with learning how to pay attention. I keep drilling this point, because if this is not understood, meditation will never be understood. Meditation is simply an extension of paying attention, that is all. There is nothing more than that.
And experiences in meditation are experiences of the consciousness; that means if we never learn how to activate the 3%, we will never learn how to activate positive meditative experiences. If we do not learn to pay attention using the 3%, then when we meditate, all that we experience is desire, that is all that we will see, that is all that we will know. It is what remains in the mind, the subconsciousness, the unconsciousness and the infraconsciousness. These are desire, memory, history, fear, worry, anxiety, regret, pride. So we must learn first of all, how to activate the 3%; that is what these first four lectures are really about. How do we activate the consciousness, how do we pay attention? In concept, maybe it is simple but to hear something and to do it are two different things. One must do it, activate the consciousness, learn to be present, learn to be aware and from that you can then learn to enter into what we are about to talk about today: How to Deepen Concentration.
What we talked about in previous classes was that meditation is really a unity of two elements, Shamatha and Vipassana. In Gnostic terms, Shamatha is related with willpower and Vipassana is related with imagination.
The key to power is found in the harmonious vibrating union of Imagination and Willpower. - Samael Aun Weor, Tarot and Kabbalah
Shamatha is concentration, but it is concentration with the root of the term Calm Abiding, mental peace. Shamatha literally means "to dwell in stability" or peace. So concentration has as it is primary attribute "peacefulness." We do not usually attribute that to willpower; we often think of willpower as being something very fierce. In some sense it is, because it is a masculine energy that is very projective, it pushes, yet it must do so without desire. Imagination, on the other hand, is feminine, and receptive. In later classes we are going to talk in great detail about Vipassana; right now we are focusing on Shamatha, willpower.
When in harmony and balance, willpower and imagination produce Samadhi. If these two, willpower and imagination unite in perfect balance, Samadhi is the natural result. So what that tells us is very simple. If we learn to concentrate with mental peace, with stability of the mind, and we learn how to imagine with the consciousness, positively, we enter Samadhi. This is not something that is exclusive to certain types of people. It is not something that requires that you pay a fee, or pay dues to somebody. This is the natural capacity of every human being. Of course, to access that you have to put together the proper causes and conditions.
The meditator who learns to unify willpower and imagination walks consciously in the internal planes, able to perceive imagery from the inner world, the astral plane, the mental plane, the causal plane and beyond, from the other dimensions of nature both inferior and superior. And again this is something that is the natural capacity of every human being.
The fact is that we all have willpower and we all know how to imagine things. The problem is that all of our willpower is trapped in desire, and all of our imagination is also trapped in desire. What we tend to imagine is fantasy, we tend to daydream. We tend to fantasize with our desires and we tend to act with the will to fulfill desire. That is the 97%, and it is very clear that we all have this problem. Thus it is very easy for us to imagine something lustful, very clear, very vibrant, very easy. It is very difficult for us to imagine something positive, to imagine ourselves in a new way. This becomes the challenge because this requires the free consciousness to do it. The ego cannot. The person who has achieved this ability has achieved it by putting together the right causes and conditions. If you understand those elements then you can do it do. You put in the work and the effort, it is something anybody can achieve.
The causes and conditions we have talked about so far:
- Relaxation: we must be 100% relaxed.
- Concentration: we need to learn to achieve perfect concentration.
As it is now, when we meditate, or even during our daily lives, each of us has achieved a certain amount of relaxation and a certain amount of concentration. All we have to do is to increase those amounts and the way to do it is simple: you remove the obstacles.
If you look at the Two Lines, we see many levels of consciousness, from a demon to an angel. We see increasing levels of density as we descend. The higher we are the lighter, the more free, the lower, the more dense, the heavier. So we have to examine ourselves: how heavy are we? How heavy is the mind that we have? How attached are we to life?
One way to look at the Line of Being is as the Line of Sacrifice. Most of us believe only the Line of Life exists so we live our lives as slaves to the desire to accumulate. We try to get as much experience, as much desire, as much pleasure, as many boats and cars as we can gather. And then in the end we die, we lose all of it.
To achieve higher levels in the Line of Being we have to sacrifice; but what must we sacrifice? Our desires. So it is directly opposed to accumulation or attachment.
We live our lives absorbed in lower levels of the consciousness, surrounded by the elements of the "Path of Accumulation." What do you think all of our media, advertising, television and movies are about? Accumulating.
The great saints obviously were alive and existed in time. They were born, they grew, they did what ever they did and they died, but they did not walk the Path of Accumulation; all those great saints renounced everything in themselves of materialism and desire.
Let us say we have 30% relaxation and 10% concentration (meaning we are 70% tense and 90% distracted). When we try to meditate with this situation we sit with a very active mind. The result is a lot of thoughts, desires, memories, hopes, wishes, and very little peace, meaning very little Shamatha. And the body is tense, stiff, it vibrates, it moves, it cannot sit still. This is situation of the typical meditator when we begin.
What will free the remaining concentration and relaxation is to renounce the attachments. I will give you a very simple example. You sit to meditate and you feel pain in your leg, you do not like the pain, but the truth is, you are attached to it, because you are paying attention to it, because you are thinking about it, because you are giving it energy. That is the root of attachment. Attachment can be that "I like it" or "I do not like it." It is either one; it is still attachment. And because of that attachment there is no relaxation and there is no concentration. So the solution to overcoming that obstacle is renounce that pain. And renouncing in this sense does not mean to ignore it; you see it, but you simply stop paying attention to it. And if you are a parent, you have already developed this skill, because you have to learn where your kids are but to ignore them. True?
This is something that anyone can learn to do. The truth is you have to want to do it. And the reason we are not able to increase our concentration and relaxation is because we do not want to renounce our thoughts, we do not want to renounce our desires, we do not want to renounce our pain. Somehow we believe they define who we are. This is why 99% of the people who want to meditate cannot, because they are not willing to renounce illusion.
These are illusions of the intellect, illusions of the heart and illusions of the body. All of these are rooted in sensation, they are rooted in imagery, but the imagery of fantasy. Memories are fantasy. Dreams about the future are fantasy. By far the majority of what processes through our psyche is a lie, a flat out lie. And yet we believe those lies, we remain attached to those lies, thus we cannot meditate. This point cannot be over emphasized. If you can grasp how this concept applies to your practice, you will totally change your practice. You will revolutionize it because then you will be able to grasp as you meditate, when thoughts, when feelings and the sensations arise; "these are lies." And in that, you can renounce them, you can say "I am not these thoughts, I am not these feelings, I am not these sensations, they are illusions. They are all impermanent." And from that you will make very rapid progress. Of course the root of all that is willpower, the willpower to Sacrifice.
As we understand in Gnosis, the Law of the Christ is Sacrifice. To become one with the Christ is to embody the spirit of Sacrifice. This Sacrifice is the renunciation of sensation. To renounce the material object is pointless if we still crave it in our heart and mind. Real sacrifice is the cutting of all ties in the mind.
Now if we can grasp that and begin to apply it, we can begin to see changes in the depth of our concentration. We can begin to see how our ability to pay attention begins to change. There are qualities to the consciousness that begin to adjust themselves, and become different.
Shamata: Calm Abiding
There is a very common chart in teaching of Mahayana Buddhism which outlines stages of the development of Shamatha. There are nine primary stages.
Do not be overwhelmed by this graphic, or label it as "intellectual." It is a teaching of the Buddha Maitreya which simply provides a basic outline to understand the levels of concentration and how to move deeper in your practice. The knowledge presented here is actually quite simple and intuitive.
When we begin to meditate we start at the bottom of the chart, at level zero: Wild Mind. When we do not know anything about meditation, we do not know anything about attention, we do not know anything about consciousness, we go around through life like most people, which means we do not exercise any control over the mind whatsoever. The mind instead controls us. And probably most of us still have this exact situation. So when we look at the very beginning of meditation, we have a mind that is completely wild. There is no conscious control at all. This type of person does not understand what the attention is and how to use it. And the person who suffers from a wild mind, sees a completely chaotic fluctuation in the mind. Of course everyone who has this condition does not believe they have it. They will feel normal and that "thinking," which is always running, is their self, their real identity. Everyone who suffers from a wild mind believes that everything is OK. They suffer, and they do not know why.
When someone begins to study any kind of Gnosis, whether it is called Gnosis or something else, but I mean the real teaching, they hear the teaching. So, on the chart, on the right you see, Hearing the Teachings. The power of that, the influence of that, produces a change. And any real teaching would encourage the students to learn how to meditate, how to pay attention. Generally they begin with teaching ethics, morality, which is a way to observe oneself, to not break those rules. As they deepen, they become more serious and they learn what it is really about, and how to pay attention.
Resting the Mind (1)
So, the beginning meditator, having heard about the teaching, attempts to practice meditation (concentration practice) and experiences the very first level of Shamatha which you can call Placement, or Resting the Mind (1). What this means is that the person is just beginning to learn how to put the attention on one thing, but they cannot do it. Probably most of us agree that this is where we are. We put the attention on something, then we lose it, we put it back, we lose it, we put it back, we lose it,... a thousand times. If, that is, we remembered at all to do it. Many people in this first stage sit to meditate and they last about 15 seconds and the next 10 or 15 minutes they are dreaming; they completely forget that they are there to meditate. Maybe at the end they remember they are supposed to be meditating, but most of the time they just dream.
Some will come to the instructor and say, "This practice is not working for me, my mind is getting worse, I have more thoughts, it is out of control, I need to stop doing this practice, it is hurting me." Most students have that experience. It simply means that the student is actually doing it right. They are starting to see the truth of their own mind and it is out of control. This is a natural step. Everybody experiences it; the mind seems to be completely insane, it is chaos.
To advance beyond this stage, the student needs the power listed on the right: Hearing the Teachings. The student needs to study, to learn, to comprehend.
Continual Placement (2)
So if someone is able to remain firm and continue with their practice, they can go deeper. The next level is called Continual Placement (2), and it is here where a student is becoming a little more consistent. There are brief periods of continuity and they do not last very long, maybe a few seconds, may be thirty seconds or a minute. But they are interspersed with periods of being distracted by thoughts, by feelings, by fantasies, by worries, etc. This is the second level.
At this level the mind is now becoming split between distraction and the object of meditation.
The quality of these first two levels is that the student has to have an extremely tight control of the attention, very firm, very strict. That is what is meant by Tightly Focused Control or Engagement. It takes a lot of energy. It is exhausting and it can be frustrating.
To go deeper, to achieve greater continuity of concentration, the student needs the power listed on the right: Contemplating the Teachings. This means that the student should be learning how to apply the teachings in daily life, really letting the knowledge become a part of how one lives. This includes studying in a deeper way, through meditation, through discussion, through practice.
Now naturally as we go through these levels, every level has obstacles. And every time we approach a new obstacle there is a whole new group of students that will not get past them. So by the time we get to the second level, probably 50% of the people that tried to learn how to meditate have quit. That is a guess, it may be more. It takes willpower. Again, this is the development of Shamatha, which is pure willpower, it is just concentration. Each level involves some kind of renunciation, to sacrifice something in the mind.
Patch-like Placement (3)
The next level is called Patch-like Placement (3) because in this stage the meditator is more able to recognize that they lose the meditation. By the time someone has developed Shamatha to the 3rd degree they have come to a place where they begin to recognize they are distracted and bring themselves back to their meditation. This means that the period of time of distraction is growing less and the period of time of concentration is increasing.
In the third level the mind is usually on the object of concentration, that means most of the time, majority of the time. So, it could be 75%, it could be more. Most of the time the attention is able to stay focused on the object of concentration. Again to reach that is simply effort. It is not a question of time, it is a question of renunciation.
Now let me give you another example of how this works. Let us say that you are very attached to your bank account, and you want to make sure you always have at least $2,000 in your checking account but right now you do not. So you have thoughts that worry you all day long about it, "What am I going do, I gotta make sure I get a little more money, maybe I gotta work more hours, maybe I should sell something, I gotta make sure I have got at least $2,000 in that account." If you are thinking that way all day, then when you go home in the evening to meditate those thoughts will continue, because you fed them your energy all day long. They are not just going to stop when you are ready to meditate. They will continue; in fact, they will seem much more intense. In order for you to go deeper you will have to renounce the habit of thinking that way during the day. It is simple. Stop thinking about it all day long, and it will not bother you when you meditate.
Now to do this with everything in your life takes a lot of discipline, and that is why this lecture is called Mental Discipline. It is the discipline to renounce the mind, to renounce thinking, to renounce daydreaming, fantasizing, worrying. They are all a waste of energy. And if you really are sincere with how you observe yourself, you will quickly see that most of your thoughts are the same thoughts you had yesterday and the same thoughts that you had the day before that and the day before that, etc. So why do we persist in continually beating on the same worry? Because we are attached.
The student who is working to go deeper, from the 3rd to the 4th level of Shamata, needs the power of Mindfulness. As we discussed earlier, this is the ability to maintain continuity of awareness during the day and during meditation. This is Self-observation.
Close Placement (4)
The next level is called Close Placement (4). It has this term because the meditator experiences a new way of seeing. It is subtle. The sense of separation between the observer and the observed changes, it shifts. It also means that the student is going deeper into another level of engagement. In the 3rd and 4th level, one has Interrupted Engagement. And all that means is that it is a little easier to be consistent in concentration. Concentration is still interrupted, but it is no longer tightly controlled. It is possible to relax a little more in the concentration and from that relaxation arises a closeness to the object we are concentrating on. The concentration is sharper; it is not perfect, but sharper. The mind is more stable.
Now what distinguishes this level is that the mind, being stable, does not distract the way it did before so that the meditator never looses the object of meditation. KEY POINT: to establish the fourth degree of Shamatha, the meditator never loses the object of meditation.
Now keep in mind that we are on number four and there are nine levels of concentration. In this level a great number of minor distractions have been completely removed. And what that means is that the person who establishes this understands what Self-remembering is. The only way you can reach this degree of concentration is if you are able to concentrate all day long. You must have developed a certain capacity for Self-remembering to achieve Close Placement in Shamatha. And what is the power needed to get beyond the 4th level? One must work to extend and deepen Self-observation and Self-remembering.
Now, going deeper, we have the level called Subduing (5). This means that we are beginning to subdue the mind or distraction. At this level the meditator is obviously concentrated and the meditator does not forget that they are meditating, but they still need to improve the continuity of awareness, the continuity of attention. Now this is really an interesting point because, let say we are meditating on the image of a Buddha; the meditator is able to observe that object without ever losing it. So there is no distraction strong enough to take them away from that object. But in this level of meditation their main focus does not become that object anymore, it becomes how they pay attention to it. So there is a shift. They have already established the ability to perfectly observe the object, now they observe how they observe it. That is deeper Self-remembering, deeper levels of attention and concentration. It is something that comes naturally as you remove distractions. In doing that one learns to increase the clarity of meditation.
All along there is so much distraction, so much fogginess in the mind, that from here on up the work is to increase clarity and stability to make them perfect. So through the next four levels that is what is happening: six is Pacifying, again increasing the control of the distraction, removing more subtle forms of distractions. The next is Fully Pacifying. Eight is Single Pointed Mind. Nine is Shamatha, which is perfect equanimity.
Fully Pacifying (7)
At level seven, Fully Pacifying (7), one is able to comprehend forms of distractions before they arise. That requires extremely sharp concentration. It means basically that the meditator perceives thoughts before they show up. It is hard to understand that, but when you reach that degree, there it is, it is true. There are surges and as you observe, you feel it, you sense it, and you are able to cut the distractions before they interfere with your meditation. So this is a very refined degree of concentration, yet it is still not perfect.
Single Pointed Application (8)
Once that has been established, the meditator reaches Single Pointed Application (8). That means there is now a one pointed mind, but it is not perfect because it still requires some effort to maintain it. That means there is still some subtle degrees of interference, or distractions. Once that has been seen and acknowledged, the meditator naturally moves into nine which is perfect concentration with no effort. Now there is a little irony in this. The most supreme degree of concentration is really the most supreme degree of willpower and yet it requires no effort. This teaches us something really profound, that real willpower is effortless. And if you observe and learn about all the great masters and teachers, their greatest moments show tremendous willpower but they also seem perfectly effortless. That is the natural manifestation of the consciousness.
Four Degrees of Engagement
Now on the chart, there are Four Degrees of Engagement outlined, which helps to make more sense of all these levels. This is the middle column. So starting at the bottom, normal life means that we have no control, no awareness of how to control attention. We move around tossed by life, by Karma. When we learn a little about the teachings, we learn to start paying attention, we learn tightly focused attention which means we have to put a great deal of force into the effort to pay attention. That means we need a lot of discipline and a lot of willpower to really develop that. This is the fourth form of attention. We have to be very very strict, very rigorous and put everything into developing strong attention all day and in every practice. But as you ascend, concentration becomes easier, more natural. So this is another way that you can measure your own depth of concentration. To observe in yourself how much effort it requires to pay perfect attention to something and to be sincere. It requires willpower and effort. We have to be sincere and honest and use our energy in the right way to develop our practice properly.
We cannot expect to go anywhere if we are only doing this ten minutes a day. You are not going to get anywhere. You are going to spin your wheels for a long time. You have to make continual effort to control the attention. So in the beginning it feels like it is overwhelming your life and in some sense it is. How you control your attention needs to become the most important thing that exists. And from that, gradually, you relax. Little by little it becomes spontaneous and you do not have to worry about it, it is happening naturally, easily. But that only arrives through effort.
The Power Needed
The last column on our chart is called The Power Needed. And what that means is that these are the powers that one needs in order to conquer those levels of concentration. So in the very bottom we have hearing the teachings. Really in the beginning it is the most important thing, you really need to study, you need to understand the practices very well. You need to listen, study and read and listen to your teachers, and comprehend the instructions. But to go deeper than that we have to really contemplate them, think about them, they have to integrate with our life. And that is the next level.
At a certain point, there is no more thinking to be done, you have got it figured out and you need to do your work. Many people get stuck in thinking about the teachings and they never go further than that. It is very common in this culture. That must be transcended. There is a point of development that every student must transcend which is moving from thinking about the teachings to living them. And living them requires no thought, one simply acts. That is the next level, Mindfulness. To move through Interrupted Engagement, to really deepen concentration through these levels, one must increase mindfulness. We must become mindful of what we are doing, because in these degrees, these levels, what is typically happening is that the meditator is forgetting they are meditating, they become distracted and they forget. So all they need to do is to learn how to pay attention and how to remember that they are meditating.
You need to be more mindful during the day, you need to pay attention to what you are doing in every moment and do one thing at a time. And from that naturally your meditation will deepen, your concentration will deepen.
In the beginning, you can utilize the mind itself in this effort; if the mind will not be quiet on its own, make it focus on what you are doing by identifying your actions in thought. If you are washing the dishes, think, "I am doing the dishes, I am washing a fork." This can help you move toward doing things without thought. Eventually, you wash without thought, yet with perfect awareness. No thought. Just mindfulness. That power moves you deeper, that practice moves you deeper.
Concentration and Kabbalah
All the levels of Shamatha correspond to the Line of Being. However, they are not the whole map of the Self-realization of the Being. To achieve Shamata (9) is a baby step. Beyond the chart, are many other levels. They are mapped on the Tree of Life. The Line of Being is in the center of the Tree of Life. The central column is the Column of Consciousness, the Column of Equilibrium. Equilibrium in the 9th degree of Shamatha is in Tiphereth; this power of Tiphereth is Willpower. This is the human soul, Tiphereth, and that energy is the energy of the willpower.
The Essence that we have, the free consciousness, is a spark of Tiphereth, the Human Soul. To deepen concentration and establish Self-remembering is to empower the presence of the Monad within ourselves. The very nature of the Essence is to Self-remember, but the mind interferes.
As we have discussed, willpower and imagination perfectly unified produce Samadhi. And that is what we need; we need the experience of Samadhi in order to have the strength of will to renounce illusion. Samadhi is the experience of what is real. It is something anyone can access if the causes and conditions are there. And that experience arises naturally when Shamatha and Vipassana are perfectly unified.
You have to develop both at the same time. Many schools are making the mistake of teaching either one or the other and thus the students may have a little peace, they may have a little understanding, but they will never develop the full complete experience of Samadhi.
The wild mind is really very deep. It is what is called Klipoth or the inferior worlds (the inverted tree below Malkuth, the physical world). This is the surging mind that we all have. And it is important to understand that even if somebody has reached the development of very strong concentration, that does not mean they have removed the mind itself. The demons are also able to concentrate very well; that is how they accomplish their works of Black Magic: through willpower and imagination united but working towards evil. They empower the ego rather than the consciousness.
So the key to power, as Samael Aun Weor has said, is found by uniting willpower and imagination. That same key is used to perform good actions and bad actions. It is a question of how we use it.
This is the point of developing meditation: to develop the capacities that we all have inside.
Having experiences and developing concentration are good things, but they do not remove the causes of suffering. Removing the causes of suffering can only be achieved with Shamatha and Vipassana in unity with the Essence, because those elements produce comprehension, which is Samadhi. And that is what we are going to study in the next few classes. So do not be fooled; developing concentration is important, it is required, it is necessary, but the truth is that real change only begins when we can comprehend the ego in meditation, and comprehension results from the unity of imagination and willpower under the auspices of our own Inner Being.
Any student can begin to work with the Vipassana technique we are going to examine shortly, but the real effective use of the comprehension practices begins with stabilized concentration. To meditate effectively, one should reach Close Placement (4) and be able to never forget that one is meditating in order to access comprehension. That is not to say that comprehension is absent before this level; comprehension begins the moment we utilize the consciousness in a positive manner. But to access comprehension in meditation at will, one needs to have a certain degree of concentration. You at least need to have the ability to keep paying attention, to not forget. If you are constantly forgetting that you are meditating, the subsequent techniques are not going to help you very much. You may be fighting distraction to come back to your object, so long as you are remembering that you are meditating. But many people in the beginning do not even remember that they are meditating. They sit, and 20 minutes later we think, "Oh wait, I was supposed to be meditating, oh well." If you are in that stage you need to deepen your concentration. Work consistently with the practices to deepen concentration.
Let me give you an example; you are driving a car. This is a very difficult thing to do with perfect attention because it is kind of dull; typically we drive our cars and we like to daydream, we have a radio going, we are drinking a Coke, or even having a conversation at the same time. Maybe even on the cell phone at the same time. So we have a lot of activities. And we are thinking, "Well I am driving, there is nothing else to do." This is a mistake. What we have to learn is to do one thing at a time, to pay attention to one thing at a time. So the example is, if you are driving your car, just drive and that is all. You are going find out that your mind hates this. Your mind will give you such a hard time. You will not believe the complaints, and the way your mind is so clever to justify itself. "Oh, I know how to pay attention, I can have the radio on. I can pay attention just fine, so I can use my cell phone, I need to make this call."
The mind wants us to think "it is nothing." But it is these little things that keep us enslaved to the mind. The little things. And it becomes more true, the more you deepen your practice. The interference becomes more subtle. And the mind becomes more clever, it does not become easier, it becomes more clever. So the best way to overcome is to learn to do one thing at a time, slow down. If you are walking, walk, if you are eating, just eat. If you have to think about a problem, think about it, make a decision and leave it alone. Honestly speaking, none of us need to think about a problem all day. To solve a problem we just need to think about it once, come to a solution and that is it. And if you thought it through and there is no solution, there is no reason to think about it. And if there is a solution, there is no reason to think about it, we just need to solve it, we just need to do it. And none of us seem to realize that. And so we think about it and think about it and dream, "If I do it this way, or that way, maybe if I asked so and so," it is a waste of time and it is a huge distraction and a huge obstacle in developing concentration.
They asked the master Bokujo: "Do we have to dress and eat daily? How could we escape from this?"
The master replied: "We eat, we get dressed."
"I do not comprehend," said the disciple.
"Then get dressed and eat," said the master.
This is precisely action free of the opposites: Do we eat, do we get dressed? Why make a problem of that? Why think about other things while we are eating and getting dressed?
If you are eating, eat; if you are getting dressed, get dressed, and if you are walking on the street, walk, walk, walk, but do not think about anything else. Do only what you are doing. Do not run away from the facts; do not fill them with so many meanings, symbols, sermons and warnings. Live them without allegories, live them with a receptive mind from moment to moment.
Comprehend that I am talking to you about the path of action, free of the painful battle of the opposites.
I am talking to you about action without distractions, without evasions, without fantasies, without abstractions of any kind.
Change thy character, beloved, change it through intelligent action, free of the battle of the opposites.
When the doors of fantasy are closed, the organ of intuition awakens.
Action, free of the battle of the opposites, is intuitive action, full action; for where there is plenitude, the "I" is absent.
Question: In levels one through three, is it common to feel exhausted from practicing?
Answer: Yes. But why is it common? We become exhausted because the Essence is weak. We are not accustomed to using the consciousness. This is a very shocking truth to face in oneself. The fact that we do not know how to use our own consciousness is a real shame. But, fortunately, we still have the opportunity to change that, and learn how to use it. So in the beginning, the consciousness is weak. We need to grow it steadily, consistently, with patience, through learning how to Self-observe and how to concentrate our attention.
We are also exhausted because we are wasting the energy of the mind. Sometimes the meditation can feel exhausting and usually it is because we are battling the mind with the mind. It depends on your type of personality. We tend to have a psychological limp. We see life through one of these centers, one of the three brains. We tend to waste most of our energy through one of them. Westerners, even if they are an emotional type, waste tremendous energy in thinking. But they may be thinking about their feelings. So they have that emotional disposition but they are wasting that energy through thought, through emotion and through action.
That is the other part of renunciation. When you renounce thinking about something, literally what you are doing is, you are saying, "I am not going to waste energy on these thoughts anymore. I need that energy to awaken my consciousness. I do not need to lose my energy worrying about going to Home Depot. Home Depot wants my energy, that is for sure. They want as much of my energy as they can get. I am not going give it to them and I am not going give it to the President." Thinking about this stuff all the time is a waste of time.
Question: But shouldn't we be drowsy when we meditate?
Answer: Absolutely, you should only meditate when you feel drowsy. But there is a distinction between feeling somewhat physically drowsy and having the mind exhausted. Because if the mind and the heart are exhausted, we are going fall asleep.
Question: Is it of any guidance to look at what's going on inside of ourselves, to see what is happening?
Answer: Absolutely, it is only a question of how and when to look.
Perfect Shamatha does not mean there is an absence of thought or feeling, it means the attention is perfectly concentrated. Thoughts may still arise.
If thoughts arise, remain present in that,
and if no thoughts arise,
remain present in that just the same.
The point is not really whether the mind is producing thoughts or not, the point is, are we able to remain at ease and attentive no matter what happens? That is what Shamatha is.
Remember the example we gave of the boat being tossed in the ocean. That is us. The ocean is completely chaotic; that is the mind. We are that spark, that consciousness, that 3% that is getting tossed around. We need to learn to hold on to the mast, the center of the boat. That is the concentration practice. Do not let go. In the beginning we forget. We need to hold on to it. And so we get tossed around, fall into the ocean and we get hurt. As we go a little further, levels 3 and 4 and 5, we are remembering to never let go. The mind is still moving, there is still activity but we do not go with the mind. When we reach Shamata, number 9, we can let go of the pole because no matter what the boat does, or the ocean does, we can fly, we are independent of that. That is perfect concentration. That degree of concentration does not depend on a particular practice, it does not need the pole anymore, it is spontaneous. In fact on a deeper level this is one of the meanings of Jesus walking in the water: Perfect mastery over the mind. The mind could not touch him. He had that, a perfect Shamatha, nothing could distract him. Nothing could shake his equilibrium, and that is not dependant on a practice, it is not dependent on a concept, it is spontaneous pure attention.
To reach that one must have perfect awareness of what is happening within. Yet, until we have developed some stability of concentration, to look within may be like jumping off the boat into the ocean. First, learn how to hold on to the object of meditation until you no longer forget you are meditating. Then, you will learn how to look around inside.
Question: It sounds like it is more like taking this chaotic motion and making it all organized well.
Answer: No, not exactly. It is not caring if there is motion or not, it is learning to see life as it is, without qualification, without saying it is good or bad. It is not being concerned whether there are thoughts or no thought. Not being concerned if one is rich or poor, that is all.
Truthfully speaking, if you are concerned about having a quiet mind, you are distracted, you are thinking, you are not meditating.
If you are watching, you are observing, if you are concentrated and attentive, then you are meditating. But if you are thinking about it, you are not.
Concentration is the act of observation.
If thoughts arise,
Remain present in that state;
If no thoughts arise,
Remain present in that state;
There is no difference in the Presence in either state.
- Garab Dorje, Dzogchen Master
Question: I always forget to pay attention during the day.
Answer: Take something to pay attention to that never leaves you, like your breath. You can also use a watch alarm to remind you. Set it for every hour or half hour. But do not let yourself fall into a mechanical observation; after awhile, this practice can become another mechanical habit. Nonetheless, it can help you develop more continuity so long as you do it consciously.
Question: Can I do that all the time?
Answer: Always. And this helps to prepare you for some of the deeper levels of concentration. Let me explain how. When you learn to pay attention to breathing, which is a practice called Annapana, this practice helps you to learn to focus your concentration on something that is non-conceptual. It is not an image, it is not thought, it is a sensation. So if you focus on the idea of breathing, you are not doing it. If you focus on the sensation of the breath, then you can enter into how this practice works. This is the most fundamental practice in any school, learning to pay attention to breathing. I am sure everybody has heard of it. But the power that practice has is extremely deep. If you learn to pay attention to your breathing at all times, you will learn to meditate. What you will learn is how to be aware of your breath as you do other things. When you are starting to prepare yourself for those deeper levels, you will be observing one thing and paying attention to another. You are breathing and you are having a conversation, or you are breathing and you are walking, you are observing the breath and you are doing these other things.
It is the same thing when you meditate, you are observing your visualization, but you are also observing how you observe it. So observing the breath has deep implications.
However, it can also become an obstacle and I will explain how. Some students become so habituated to concentrating on the breath that they never abandon it. And this becomes an obstacle when they try to deepen Samatha and Vipassana together. In order to fully comprehend who we are, we have to learn to meditate, but to begin to transcend all these levels until we ascend to the higher ways of perceiving. What it means is this, if you become attached to observing the breath, you are observing a physical sensation and thus that meditator, when they begin to sit to meditate, observes the breath; if that person wants to get deeper in their meditation often times they have this habit or concept that they must continually observe the breath. And then it becomes an obstacle; in order to have a deeper meditation you have to abandon the physical body one hundred percent. You have to completely forget about it. And if you are observing the breath, you are not abandoning the body. Annapana can become an attachment to the physical body. So that is when it can become an obstacle, something to watch for. The same is true of other practices, they can become limits in that manner.
Prepare yourself to meditate by relaxing your three brains in the manner previously described.
Vocalize the vowel O for five to ten minutes, while visualizing a warm flame in your heart. Make the images real; enjoy the visualization, but stay focused on your heart and the sound.
Now vocalize the vowel I ("e" as in tree) while imagining a gathering of energy in your forehead, between your eyebrows. Do this for five to ten minutes.
Now imagine an apple. Fix your concentration upon your image and stay focused. Do not wander. Imagine all of the details of the apple: the color, the texture, the grain, the shape, turn it around, move it if you want, but do not allow yourself to wander to anything else. Stay focused on this visualization for about ten minutes. Notice that your mind will want to interfere, to change the apple, to make it better, or the mind will bring other elements to distract you.
Be consistent. Do this practice everyday for at least one week.