In the following Sunday meditation classes I would like to teach the means for developing calm abiding--single-pointed concentration. I will teach as well as I can and I would like you to try to learn these points so that when you actually come to develop single-pointed concentration on your own, you can do it, and when you come to teach other people concentration you are not handicapped by a lack of knowledge.
Practitioners need to develop single-pointed concentration because they need to have stability of mind, control over mind. At the moment our minds are like flags that flap in the breeze. They are completely at the whim of the winds of thought. Sometimes we feel that we would like to pursue our practice of Dharma and at other times we think, "What's the use of Dharma?" and so on. Thus we need to develop a very strong and stable mind that remains fixed on our chosen values and on objects of concentration.
Development of single-pointed concentration is taught under the following six headings:
These six headings cover the entire teachings on the method of developing single-pointed concentration. These teachings were initially taught by the Buddha in The Thought Unravelling Sutra and were included by Maitreyanath in his Ornament for the Mahayana Sutras (Mahayanasutralamkara). They were simplified by the great Indian master Asanga, then elaborated again by Kamalashila, and once again simplified for the Tibetan people by the great Indian master Atisha. It would be quite difficult to go through all these works to find the method of developing single-pointed concentration, therefore Jamgön Lama Tsongkhapa explained this method in an integrated form in The Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path (Lamrim Chenmo).
These are the prerequisites that a truly serious seeker of calm abiding must have. According to Atisha, without them even if a practitioner were to try to develop concentration for thousands of years, he or she simply would not be able to do it. However if a person truly fulfils these prerequisites and then applies him or herself to developing concentration, that person can develop calm abiding in a matter of six months. Thus these prerequisites are very important.
Thus we will choose the Buddha as our object of concentration. Keeping the physical postures, in particular a balanced, upright back, we visualize the Buddha in the space before us at the level of our forehead, then meditate on--meaning familiarize ourselves with--the Buddha we have visualized.
As I have told you before, throughout the infinite past our minds have been governed by our way of thinking, and most of the time our attitude is deeply influenced by negative thoughts. When we are influenced by negative thoughts we are influenced to do, or say, or think things which are negative. In this way we have been influenced by our negative thoughts to engage in negative karmas--negative actions of body, speech and mind. Once actions are performed an important cause is created and this cause in turn brings an effect. The causes we have created so far have been negative causes, the causes of suffering. As a result, just as we have been creating negative karma throughout beginningless time, so have we been experiencing the fruits of those actions throughout beginningless time--so much so that there is no kind of suffering, mental or physical, that we have not undergone. This trend will repeat itself in the future unless we are able to cut through the vicious circle. The only way to sever it is to abandon negative attitudes, negative thoughts. For as long as we are unable to abandon our delusions the ongoing trend will continue--it will only cease once a person has cut through the vicious circle. Only when a person has been able to do that will he or she begin to experience the untainted peace and happiness which is called 'everlasting peace'. Delusions or negative attitudes are very powerful. They provide a very forceful impetus for us to behave negatively.
We have a variety of negative thoughts that are responsible for different negative actions. Let us take the example of attachment or desire. Desire and lust are very powerful--once we have been overcome by them we lose our sense of judgement, our sense of embarrassment and sense of shame, and go out to get what we want without any thought for the consequences.
What we need is a strong mind which does not fall under the influence of negative thoughts. One of the ways to develop a strong, unshakeable mind is to develop calm abiding.
Before a person begins to practise concentration in order to develop calm abiding, he or she needs to fulfil the prerequisites.
The first characteristic is that it is a place where necessities for survival and practice are easily available. If we don't have easy access to basic necessities we will have to spend most of our time trying to find them and thus will have little time or energy for practice.
The second characteristic of a conducive place is that it is "a good place". A place is a good place if it has already been lived in or at least visited by a realized master. The presence of realized masters has a tremendous influence on a place and a place blessed by their presence has a tremendous influence on practitioners of future generations. Bodhgaya, for instance, isn't inherently a powerful place: it has become powerful because the Buddha and other powerful beings have lived there or visited there. Through the Buddha's own spiritual power the place was blessed--so much so that the place has retained his blessings and the blessings of great masters who went there after him. Thus even today when people go to Bodhgaya they are overwhelmed by its peace.
In the same way this place in Dunedin is a blessed place in the sense that a lot of Dharma activities have taken place here and there are many scriptures and objects that represent the enlightened body, speech and mind. As a result, when we come here we feel much better than we do at home. Therefore this place has a beneficial influence on the people who come here.
As well as the powerful presence of realized beings, good activities influence a place and this influence is felt by all who go to that place. Conversely, cruel activities influence a place negatively. If you go to a slaughterhouse, for instance, the moment you get there there is something about the place that puts you off.
Another feature of a good place is that there is no threat to one's life--from robbers or wild animals for instance. A good place is also not haunted by spirits or ghosts. When we have not developed the power of mind that is impervious to negative forces we can fall victim to external fears. Therefore at the beginning of our practice it is important not to choose a place that is haunted.
The third characteristic of a conducive place is that it is an environment where one's health is not at risk. It should be a clean, attractive, open place, with good water. If you drink certain water it upsets your stomach, so the water at your place of practice must be congenial to your system.
The fourth characteristic is a place where there are good friends. A good friend is a friend who is extremely virtuous and for whose sake you dare not do something bad, for fear of displeasing or upsetting him or her. Your good friend should also be well informed about the practice so that at times when you are uncertain you can consult him or her and find out how to proceed. It is important not to have a friend who takes more interest in worldly entertainment than in spiritual endeavour. If you live with a friend who takes snuff, for instance, you also will get the habit of taking snuff; if you live with a friend who smokes you will very possibly begin to smoke. Such habits caught from unfortunate friends will have a tremendously negative influence on your practice.
A conducive place is one where you find all the requirements of comfort in meditation. Although material comfort is implied here, according to Lama Dorje Chang (referring to the late Junior Tutor of H. H. the Dalai Lama) "requirements of comfort" refers more importantly to the comfort of instructions, so that when the person settles down to practise in that place he or she has no anxieties or worries about how to proceed--nothing is left unclear, everything about the practice to be undertaken has been absolutely clarified. Thus full preparation in terms of instruction is said to be one of the characteristics of the place.
The "comfort" of a place is also said to refer to its quietness. Because sound is one of the biggest hindrances to developing concentration, the place should be very quiet: a place where there are no noises of humans during the day, no noise of running water etc during the night.
The Teacher of Gods and Men declared that being satisfied Was the greatest of all riches. Remain Satisfied always. One knowing satisfaction is Truly wealthy, even without material possessions.
I will deal with the last prerequisite for developing concentration next week.