Shamata Meditation 2

August 28, 1998

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Geshe la :

I am going to continue our discussion from the last Friday we met. We have been talking about shamata meditation, mainly about the five faults, and the eight adjustments. Without overcoming the five faults, it is almost impossible for an individual to complete shamata meditation no matter how long one engages in this practice. One might gain some degree of mental stability that lasts for a period of time although one has not overcome these five faults. Last time we talked about the first of the five faults, Laziness.

The second fault is forgetfulness. This means forgetting the instruction of meditation that have been given by one's meditation teacher. Especially forgetting the objects of meditation on which one is focusing one's awareness due to lack of mindfulness.

Mindfulness refers to the mental capacity of being able to maintain one's awareness in the present moment absent of judgment, projection, and excitement. This aspect of mind is a very essential element that needs to occur while the individual is sitting in meditation. This directly helps one to not forget the meditation instruction, and the object upon which one is maintaining awareness. Mindfulness is not only important during meditation period, it is also very important during everyday life. Therefore, it is important to practice and maintain awareness of the things and objects that occur before you. Once maintaining the awareness of the present moment becomes a habit, this will provide full support for maintaining single-pointed focus during meditation. It also helps to intensify or reinforce the stability of mind.

Mental stability is one of the principle elements of Shamata meditation. Mental stability will only occur when the mind begins to turn more inward, getting rid of the old habits of running and chasing after the objects of the five senses.

The third fault is laxity or dullness and excitement or distraction. Mental dullness and excitement are the two most serious obstacles to accomplishing Shamata meditation. Mental stability and mental clarity are the characteristics of Shamata meditation. An individual is prevented from gaining mental clarity by dullness, laxity, haziness, fogginess, sleepiness, or a state of sinking. An individual is prevented from gaining mental stability by distraction, excitement, and mental wandering.

Mental dullness and laxity are the direct results of mental sluggishness. It obscures the freshness of mind and mind becomes numb. Mental sluggishness is the process of mental dullness. Sluggishness refers to a feeling of heaviness in mind and body. This leads to mental sinking, and numbness. Or one could say, mental dullness suppresses the freshness and lucidity of mind, leaving mind in a state of sleep, with neither single-pointed focus, nor freshness. There are two types of mental dullness, gross and subtle.

Now, what's mental excitement? Mental excitement is a part of attachment. Therefore, mental excitement mainly occurs when we encounter desirable objects or events. Mental excitement will rarely occur when we are encountering painful objects or events. This indicates that excitement is part of attachment. Attachment itself is a kind of distraction because it frequently draws our attention, or causes us to yearn for the object. Attachment causes us to think of ways and means to obtain that particular object. It causes mind to be restless.

Again there are two types of excitement, gross and subtle. Or, one could say, the external distraction and internal distraction. Gross, or external distraction means our focus and attention goes after particular objects and things almost out of our control. Subtle, or inner distraction means that although our mind focuses attention on not chasing after a particular object or thing, it engages in and entertains inner chit chat.

If mind is not following any particular objects, still it is very possible that mind no longer focuses awareness on the objects of meditation by engaging in inner chit chat.

Without working to combat dullness and excitement, one cannot gain the highest form of mental stability and mental clarity.

The fourth fault is non-application. Non-application here means consciously not applying an antidote to mental dullness and excitement soon after one notices and recognizes the mental dullness and excitement are arising or at the edge of arising. The antidote for non-application is vigilance and alertness.

The fifth fault is application. Here application means consciously applying application though the mental dullness and excitement have not yet arising or one could say, untimely application. When the individual applies application to combat the mental dullness and excitement, when it is not needed then it only serves to distract the mind and the focus.

These are called the 5 hindrances or 5 faults.

Student : Geshe la, mental sluggishness seems a major obstacle during illness, especially when one would be entering the death experience or dealing with medications. I can see how the more time we have to practice Shamata meditation the more prepared we will be for illness and death. But we will run out of time for practice. Are there any special efforts we can make at such times to help make up for our lack of practice?

Geshe la : If we don't have an experience during our lifetime, at the time of death there is not that much you can do.

Student : In the book "Calming the Mind", Pliancy is stated as the primary antidote to laziness.... I do not quite understand the use of the word here, could you explain a bit?

Geshe la : Pliancy means mental inner bliss that develops or occurs as a result of Shamata meditation. Often it is translated as mental suppleness. Mental suppleness is not a mere inner relaxation. It is not a mere inner calmness.
It is the perfect inner balance or harmony supported by perfect inner calmness and relaxation. This is called Pliancy.

Student : Can you recommend a good, basic introduction text for a beginner?

Geshe la : The book about meditation "Calming the Mind" by Gen Lamrimpa and "Miracles of Mind" by Thich Nhat Hahn.

Student : Explain the five hindrances please?

Geshe la : The five hindrances are laziness, forgetfulness, dullness, excitement, non-application and application. Application and non-application is something like carrying a flashlight during daytime when you don't need it and not carrying a flashlight at night when you do need it, respectively.

Student : I have read the "Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" and it inspired me to think more of bodhisattvas. Is this too noble a goal for someone who is just beginning the path?

Geshe la : The entire Buddhist teachings and practices are directly aimed at helping others and making oneself useful for the best service of other's happiness or well-being. You should aspire for bodhisattva.

Student : Is there an antidote to laziness about sitting down to practice? Is it normal that this happens occasionally?

Geshe la : Practicing does not necessarily mean sitting. Like the great Indian sage Shantideva, author of "A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life", he practiced sleeping, all the time sleeping which means he practiced lying down instead of sitting or standing. In general the antidote to laziness is interest. When you are interested you will put your time and energy to that effort and then a clear understanding about what you are doing, what it leads to, what it brings to oneself and how it changes or improves your inner condition of life. These are all the antidotes.

Student : How does one combat attachment?

Geshe la : The best means of combating attachment is to understanding the nature of the objects of attachment. The nature of the objects of attachment is temporary, illusory, subject to changes into undesirability and leads further dissatisfaction, frustration, disappointment, anger, worry and fear. Also, understanding the nature of attachment itself and the disadvantages of attachment.

Student : We often hear the term "Grounded in Meditation". To me also means grounded in one's life. What is a good explanation for this term "Grounded?"

Geshe la : Grounded means rooted. That means if our whole life is rooted in meditation then one is able to remain in calm and peaceful state of mind in any situation or circumstance one finds oneself. If our life is not rooted in meditation then we are like someone sitting in a roller coaster, which means life is pretty jumpy bumpy in which there is no room to experience peace and the meaning of life.

Student : Could love also mean attachment as when one loves a pet for example?

Geshe la : One must be careful about this when we talk about love. Primarily there are two types of love. One is pure love free of attachment and the other is the love influenced by attachment. The difference between these two is the pure love directed towards someone will never change, will never weaken when that person changes. Love influenced by attachment will suddenly change and weakens when that person or object changes.

Student : How does a simple westerner, such as myself, root my life in meditation?

Geshe la : It is not easy. First one needs to study, acquire understanding, devote time and energy to sit and meditate and finally taking meditation as a part of daily life. In this way one live can be rooted in meditation and one is always able to live in a perfect atmosphere of meditation not driving oneself as victims of ones emotional disturbances.

Student : I live in an area with no access to teachers or temples. Do you think a teacher is an absolute necessity?

Geshe la : Actually yes. Studying and learning from a living qualified teacher is completely different from learning and studying from books. Studying and receiving teachings from living teacher has a tremendous influence in filling oneself with spirituality and gaining deeper levels of spiritual understanding. Studying and learning from a book lacks some of the things mentioned above.

Student : My question is in regards to something that may be other than the lecture it has to do with self-defense. Assuming that you were a farmer and had to protect your crops what is your view about having to exterminate certain pests or what if someone intends to harm you?

Geshe la : According to Buddhism engaging in killing deliberately or consciously is always negative. Especially killing pests or insects to protect one's self or for ones own interest rather than the interest and the benefits of larger community. But I would say first is try to see whether there is another solution or an alternative means of dealing with the situation other than directly and doubtlessly adopting exterminating. If and when there is no choice other than exterminating then one should not hold anger or frustration and a feeling of satisfaction or rejoice. Rather one should have a sense of regret and then engage in purification practices such as recitation of purification mantra. Here is the purification mantra:


It would be nice to recite this mantra at least 108 times a day.

Student :: Geshe la, will you dedicate merit?

Geshe La: May those who are sick and ill quickly be freed from their infirmities and ailments. May the disease and the sickness never occur again.

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