The Foundational Practice Of Tranquillity Meditation
The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
Excerpted from the transcript of "Tranquility And Insight Meditation" (Texas 1992)
Part 2 of 5 | 1, 2, 3, 4 , 5

Of the aspects of meditation, the one that is usually practiced first is tranquillity.  This can be seen in the fact that all different approaches to Buddhism (all the various vehicles) begin their instruction in meditation with an explanation of methods of resting the mind, which is the practice of tranquillity.  This is the way that meditation has been presented in the Buddhist tradition, since its original presentation by the Buddha himself.  Tranquillity is not simply a preliminary practice--something that is done as a beginner and then discarded.  It is an essential element of all meditation practice.  Therefore it must be present in the beginning, throughout the path, and in the end as well.  It is not simply the first meditation, one could also say it is also the last, and the most important, the most constant. 

According to Jamgon Lodro Thaye, the stages or aspects of the practice of tranquillity, and the meaning of tranquillity meditation can be found as indicated etymologically in both the Tibetan and Sanskrit terms for this practice.  The Tibetan term is shiné, and the Sanskrit is shamatha.  In the case of the Tibetan, the first syllable, shi, and in the case of the Sanskrit, the first two syllables, shama, refer to "peace" or "pacification."  The meaning of peace or pacification in this context is that normally our mind is like a whirlwind of agitation.  The agitation is the agitation of thought.  Our thoughts are principally an obsessive concern with past, conceptualization about the present, and especially an obsessive concern with the future.  This means that usually our mind is not experiencing the present moment at all.  We are usually miles ahead of our selves.  As long as this process continues, our mind never comes to rest, and we can never experience any state of pliability or happiness.  As long as this continues, we never really appreciate the present moment, because we are always looking forward, constantly imagining future experiences.  What we are doing at any given moment as long as we are under the sway of this process is preparing for the future.  When we get to the future that we are preparing for, we are preparing for another future.  We never reap the fruits of our own constant obsessive preparation.  So the first syllable shi, or shama in Sanskrit, refers to the pacification of this thought--the slowing or cooling down of this whirlwind of thought, which is conceptualization about the past, the present and the future.  It consists of the mind falling naturally or gliding to rest in an experience of nowness or the present moment.

The second syllable of the Tibetan is , which means "to abide or remain."  In Sanskrit, this is the equivalent of the final syllable of shamatha, tha.  When the mind has come to rest in that way, through the pacification of the thoughts of the three times, it  then abides in that state of rest unwaveringly.  The mind and the tranquillity of that mind become mixed inseparable.  So in fact the aspects of tranquillity and the essence of tranquillity can both be seen from the etymology of the terms which are used to describe it. 

However meditation does not consist only of tranquillity.  The other aspect is insight, which in Tibetan is called lhatong.  The term lhatong literally means "superior seeing."  This can be interpreted as a superior manner of seeing, and also seeing that which is the essential nature.  Its nature is a lucidity, a clarity of mind, based on the foregoing tranquillity, that enables one to determine the characteristics and ultimate nature of all things unmistakenly--without confusion or mix-up of any kind.  Fundamentally it consists of a recognition of the abiding or basic nature of everything, in an unmistaken manner.  For this reason, insight meditation is referred to as superior seeing or superior vision, lhatong. 

The way these two aspects of meditation are practiced is that one begins with the practice of tranquillity; on the basis of that, it becomes possible to practice insight or lhatong.  Through one's practice of insight being based on and carried on in the midst of tranquillity, one eventually ends up practicing a unification of tranquillity and insight.  The unification leads to a very clear and direct experience of the nature of all things.  This brings one very close to what is called the absolute truth. 

In fact all Buddhist meditation practice is contained in these two, tranquillity and insight.  All of the different varieties of practice of the vehicle of causal characteristics (or of the sutras), and of the secret mantra (or vajrayana) are all simply varieties of tranquillity and insight.  Any Buddhist meditation practice is either a tranquillity practice or an insight practice.  This was said by the Buddha himself, in the discourse or sutra which is referred to as The Sutra Which Is a Definitive Explanation of the Buddha's Thought.  He said that all of the meditation that I have taught is merely for these two purposes: for the development of tranquillity and the development of insight. 

Tranquillity is practiced first, and then, following that, insight.  The reason for this is that without the pacification of mental agitation (which is what tranquillity meditation consists of), the clarity of insight meditation cannot be generated with any stability or intensity.  This is explained in the Treasury of Knowledge with an example. The example is the difference between a butter lamp or a candle which is sheltered from the wind, and one which is being buffeted by the wind.  If a candle is outside, without any kind of glass cover or casing, and the wind is blowing, then either the candle will be blown out altogether, or if it remains lit, the flame will be small, and it will be moving around so much that it doesn't cast any stable light, and does not generate any stable illumination.  You cannot really use it to see anything because it is moving too much.  Another example is that if a body of water contains silt, and it is stirred up, the silt obscures the limpidity of the water itself.  The water is not transparent.  If the water is not agitated and the silt is allowed to sink to the bottom, then as it does the water becomes more transparent and more limpid.  In the same way, if insight is practiced without a stable practice of tranquillity, then a stable clarity of insight is impossible.  On the other hand, if one cultivates the practice of insight on the basis and in the context of a stable practice of tranquillity, then the candle flame of one's insight is protected by the glass casing of one's tranquillity.  No matter how much the wind blows, the candle flame is unaffected because it is sheltered from the wind.  It is by means of this combination or integration of tranquillity and insight that a stable wisdom of insight is generated, which will enable one to perform extensive benefits not only for oneself, but for others as well. 

The Practice of Tranquillity

To begin with the practice of tranquillity, one first has to investigate the causes of the development of a stable tranquillity.  The first or the main cause to be cultivated at the beginning is the abandonment of conditions which are not conducive to the state of tranquillity.  Fundamentally there are two types of such conditions.  There are external sources of distraction, which is excessive activity, and internal distractions, which is excessive thought.  Beginners have to begin with eliminating the external distraction or external forces of distraction.  These consist of unnecessary activities, but principally of an improper place of practice.  If one attempts to practice in a place where there is a great deal of distraction, a great deal of things which draw one away from tranquillity meditation, then it is very difficult or impossible to cultivate this.  So it is important in the beginning of one's practice to create an environment for the practice that is solitary and pleasant.  It should be particularly a place where there is no danger; where one does not develop anxiety out of fear of robbers or wild animals or some sort of pestilential disease.  It is inappropriate as a beginner to be unrealistic about this, and to say, "I am just like the siddhas of the past.  I can practice anywhere.  I can go into a graveyard, I can go anywhere where there are thieves and robbers and wild animals and horrible diseases and anything.  I'll just be there and it doesn't matter--it's all the same anyway." It is unrealistic, and it will not lead to any stable tranquillity. 

If one practices in an environment conducive to the development of stable tranquillity, then it will become possible to transcend the internal unconducive conditions, or internal obstacles, as well.  Later on in the text, there is an extensive discussion of what these obstacles consist of.  However, the next topic dealt with is actually how one goes about practicing tranquillity.  At this point one assumes that one has created a suitable environment, and that one has the intention to practice and develop tranquillity. 

Part 2 of 5 | 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 | Talk Index

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