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In Buddhism it is said that for people to live healthy and effective lives
it is both useful and important for them to cultivate a daily practice of
meditation. By benefiting their own minds in this way, making themselves more
calm, controlled and self-aware, they become both happier individuals and
better members of society. In Tibetan we have the terms rangdon and shendon
(1) which translates respectively as 'the purpose of oneself' and 'the
purpose of others.' To be of benefit to the world, we have to first put
ourselves in order. In the Mahayana, the motivation is to benefit ourselves
in order to be of greater benefit to the world. Meditation is cultivated on
The Tibetan term for meditation is gom (2). Gom literally means to
familiarize the mind with a concept, aspect ofbeing, or theme. In this
context it means to familiarize our mind with a spiritually significant
subject, or to integrate the essence of that theme into our stream of
It is important to understand something about the types of meditation
practiced in Buddhism. The most general categorization of these is into a
twofold scheme: analytical meditation; and concentrated meditation.
Analytical meditation is that part of the process of seeking a spiritual
path wherein one investigates the relevant aspects of the object (of
meditation) by means of reasoning. This helps one to gain strong conviction
and a deeper understanding.
For example, in order to gain realization of the ultimate nature of the
mind, it is necessary for us first to understand the mode of its existence.
This is not possible without applying some kind of technique, and the
success in the appication of a technique must be preceded by our having
examined well the dynamics of that method.
In general, any kind of mental investigation with an intention of
seeking a spiritual goal can be called analytical meditation.
Concentrated meditation is the phase of mental application wherein our
mind is able to remain focused on a chosen object for a prolonged period of
time. That is to say, concentrated meditation occurs when we understand a
technique to the extent that we are able to place the mind on a given
subject with some degree of stability. Normally, analytical meditation
proceeds the concentrated application.
Within concentrated meditation there is a special method for achieving
one-pointedness of mind. This method is called zhiney (3) in Tibetan, and
shamatha in Sanskrit. The form and method as well as the goal of zhiney is
more or less the same in both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. That is to
say, it is considered to be a common practice of meditation for both. Zhiney
is said to be the foundation of all the meditational qualities required for
traversing the spiritual paths.
Apart from zhiney, most other Buddhist meditaions differ from their
Hindu counterparts. These differences are often explained in terms of the
perspective if the meditator, and also the objects meditated upon.
In general it is said that Buddhist meditation must be motivated by
disinterest with samsaric existence, and by compassionate thoughts towards
all sentient beings. Another characteristic of Buddhist meditation is that
all the various techniques must be pervaded by the concept of selflessness,
As mentioned earlier, meditaiton can be of different types. In
particular I would like to discuss the type called zhiney, or single-pointed
The practice of zhiney is very important to and useful for us, because
it is the principal method for calming and stabliizing the mind. Without it
our meditations will not lead to higher realization.
When we have achieved a single-pointed mind our thoughts become clear,
calm and stable. In that state we can reason effectively, penetrating deeply
into any object of meditation and thus attaining pure realization of its
true nature. This penetrative mind is called lhagtong (4) in Tibetan, from
the Sanskrit visashyana, which means 'special insight.'
The difference between single-pointed meditation and special insight is
that the former principally has the function of pacifying our mind, and thus
enabling us to concentrate mor deeply on a given subject. Special insight,
on the other hand has the ability to analyze and penetrate into the subtle
nature of an object.
Thus, if we sincerely seek the realization of truth we should first
develop clarity and strength of mind by means of the zhiney training, and
then turn this force toward the cultivation of special insight.
Kamalashila, (5) a ninth-cnetury Indian saint-scholar, uses the analogy
of a lamp to explain how wisdom arises from a single-pointed mind. When a
candle is put in a place where there is no wind, it can clearly illuminate
everything around it. Similarly, when our mind becomes clear and still, and
is free from agitation and dullness, we are able to develop clear and deep
insight into the higher nature of the objects upon which we are meditating.
Among the many objects taken as the focus of meditation for developing
single-pointedness, concentrating on our breath as an antidote to discursive
thought is very popular and common. Another popular object of concentration
in this method is the mind itself.
By developing concentration one passes through nine stages. These nine
stages are mentioned according to the gradual development of stability of
the mind. I will just list the names of the nine, as this conveys something
of a sense of their nature:
(1) inwardly placing the mind on the object;
(2) extending the duration of the concentration;
(3) replacing the mind on the object when it is distracted;
(4) continuously restoring the focus of the mind
(5) achieving a state of inner control;
(6) achieving a state of inner pacification;
(7) achieving a state of complete inner pacification;
(8) achieving single-pointed mind; and
(9) achieving mental equlibrium.
As said earlier meditation has the effect of pacifying the mind. For
ascetics and ordinary people alike, peace of mind is essential. If you have
a peaceful and clear mind, this will enable you to be more effective in any
activity that you undertake, be it temporal or spiritual.
Certain meditations of the tantric path involve visualizing oneself as a
particular deity. These generally are to be performed only by initiates; but
sometimes they can be performed by non-initiates as a method of cultivating
The pracice of meditation has many beneficial effects, from relieving us
of stress, to improving our physical and mental health, and making us into
more happy and effective human beings. In the end, though its ultimate goal
is to lead us to the states of higher being, nirvana and enlightenment. When
we practice it well, all of these beneficial effects become ours.
1.Tib., Rangdon and gZhan-don. (back to text)
2.Tib., sGom. The term is linked to the word 'to familiarize,' in the sense
of to integrate. (back to text)
3.Tib., Zhi-gnas, which literally means 'abiding in peace,' or 'peacful
repose.' The sense of the term is that the mind rests on the subject of
meditation without the disturbances of being distracted by the two obstacles
of torpor and agitation, or mental wandering. (back to text)
4. Tib., Lhag-mthong, which literally means 'special seeing.' The term is
related to the cultivation of wisdom, or sherab (Tib., Shesrab; Sanskrit,
prajna). (back to text)
5. Kamalashila played a very important role in the development of Tibetan
religious history. It was he who was invited to Tibet toward the end of the
eighth century, and who met and defeated the Chinese monk Huashang Mahayana
in debate, an encounter that would set the tone of Tibet's future spiritual
direction. The former represented the classical Indian tradition, and the
latter represented a form of Chinese ch'an (or zen in Japanese).
Kamalashila, one of India's foremost logicians, easily won the contest. From
that time onward Tibet looked almost exclusively to India for its spiritual
and cultural direction.
This simile is taken from Kamalashila's "Stages of Meditation" (Skt.,
Bhavanakrama; Tib., bsGomrim; Toh. 3916). (back to text)
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