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Right Meditation

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by Sangharakshita

... we have been able to show that there is much more to the Noble Eightfold Path than some at least of its modern exponents generally suspect.

Perfect samadhi, then, the culminating phase of the Eightfold Path, is very much more than just good concentration - essentially Perfect samadhi represents the culmination, the fruition if you like, the bringing to fulfilment of the whole process, the whole path, of transformation. Perfect samadhi represents the state of one's being fully and perfectly and thoroughly, from top to bottom, in all aspects and all phases of one's being, transformed. In other words it represents one's transformation, or one's total transformation, the culmination of one's transformation, from an unenlightened state to an Enlightened state. It represents, we may say, the complete and perfect permeation of all aspects of one's being by that Perfect Vision with which one started. Perfect samadhi means that Perfect Vision has in the end triumphed, as it were, and now reigns supreme on every level of one's existence and one's being. And this is surely a very fitting and a very appropriate culmination to the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path, this state of being in this stage thoroughly and perfectly transformed, not just practising Right Concentration.

So if one understands Perfect samadhi in this way as the culmination of the whole process of transformation then real sense is made of the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path, real sense is made of one's journey, one's pilgrimage on that path.

Now in order to understand this just a little better, a little more clearly, let us go back a little bit. I've tried to point out that there are two meanings of this word the two, in between samadhi as concentration and samadhi as Enlightenment ,there is another, an intermediate stage, an intermediate degree which in the Mahayana texts is known as the stage or the degree of samapatti. And samapatti means literally attainments and it suggests all those spiritual experiences occurring as the result of the practice of concentration, but which nevertheless fall short of samadhi in the fullest sense, samadhi in the sense of Enlightenment.

In this way therefore we have three terms, first of all samatha, that is to say concentration, then samapatti attainments, and lastly samadhi in the full and final sense as Enlightenment itself. And these three terms, samatha, samapatti, samadhi, represent between them one single progressive series of spiritual experiences, each one as it were introducing the one that comes next and preparing the way for it. So let us briefly study each of these three in turn and this will give us, as it were cumulatively, some idea, some glimpse, of the nature of samadhi in the more ultimate sense.

First of all Samatha. Samatha means literally just `tranquillity'. It's sometimes translated as `pacification' or `calming down', or sometimes even as simply `calm'. Probably if it was translated just as `peace' we wouldn't be going far wrong because it is a state of deep, indeed very profound, peace and calm of mind, not only of the mind but even, we may say, of the whole being. And in this state or stage of samatha, mental activity, discursive thought, the clattering and chattering of the mental machinery, is either minimal, just very subtle or even entirely absent.

And the state or stage of samatha is also an experience of perfect concentration, one-pointedness of mind, an integration of all the psycho-physical forces and energies of the being. Samatha thus corresponds to what are known as the four dhyanas in Sanskrit or jhanas in Pali - the four states or stages of the higher consciousness. You may remember that we did deal with these the week before last under the heading of Perfect Effort and some of you may remember the Buddha's four similes for these states or stages of higher consciousness.

Now very often samatha is divided into three degrees or three levels or three grades. The first is that of concentration on a gross object, a material object. The second is the stage of concentration on the subtle counterpart of the gross object. And the third is the state of absorption in the object, that is to say into the subtle counterpart of the object. Now this may not be very clear so let me just illustrate. Suppose you take up the practice of concentrating on the image of the Buddha, say a stone image or a metal image or even a painting, a thangka, so this particular image, which is a material thing, is your gross object. So suppose you sit down in front of this image, you look at the image, not of course staring but just looking. You look at the image, you don't pay attention to anything else - you shut out all other sights, all other sounds, and you are just fully concentrated with eyes wide open on that material image of the Buddha - you take it in fully, you take it in completely - and you're aware, you're conscious, of nothing else. This is the first degree, the first level of concentration - concentration on the gross, that is to say the material object.

Then in the second stage you close your eyes. And with your eyes closed you see that image of the Buddha just as clearly as though you had your eyes open and were looking at the material image itself. This of course takes quite a bit of practice and some people visualize more easily than others. But what is meant is that even with eyes closed you can visualize, you can reproduce that material image as vividly and as clearly as though, as I said before, your eyes were open and you were looking at that material image. You see the subtle, the mental counterpart of that image within your own mind and you concentrate upon that. So there's no sensory perception eventually, there's no hearing, there's no seeing with the physical eyes, you're completely concentrated on this subtle, if you like this archetypal, image within. And this is what we call the stage of concentration on the subtle counterpart.

This concentration is very much more intense than of course the first.

Then in the third stage one continues concentrating ever more intensely, ever more one-pointedly, on this subtle counterpart of the originally gross image. And as you concentrate upon it more and more and more, you become as it were assimilated to it - it becomes as it were assimilated to you, you become as it were absorbed into it. The distinction between the two, the subject and the object, the person meditating or concentrating, and the object of concentration, this eventually disappears and you as it were merge with the object of your concentration, you become absorbed in it, you become identified with it, and this is the stage of absorption in the object, that is to say in the subtle counterpart of the object.

So these three degrees, these three levels, comprise what we call samatha, tranquillity or calm. I've taken by way of example this question of concentrating on an image of the Buddha because here the difference between the three degrees can be explained more clearly. But in every type of concentration we start by taking a gross object, we work our way up to the subtle object and then we become absorbed in the subtle object, and these make up the three degrees or three grades of the samatha or practice of tranquillisation or calm.

Now we come on to the second, that is to say another. The type or the kind, also the degree of the experience you get, depends very much upon your personal temperament. It isn't necessarily a question of your degree of spiritual development. Sometimes people conclude that if you have a lot of experiences of this sort you're more advanced than if you just have one or two or don't even have any, but it isn't quite so simple as that.

The commonest sort of experience of an elementary nature is probably the experience of light. As the mind gets more concentrated you may see light of various kinds. Usually people see a white or a yellowish light, sometimes a bluish one, occasionally red or green lights, though these are comparatively rare. And experiences of this sort are a sign, are an indication, that the mind has become concentrated, that the level of awareness has been raised slightly, and that one is beginning to contact something just a little bit beyond the ordinary conscious mind. Some people, instead of seeing lights, hear sounds. They may hear a very deep, sustained sort of musical note rather like a mantra, or they may hear even words pronounced as it were within themselves. They may hear these words very, very clearly at times as though a voice was speaking to them, as though a voice was addressing them. People who believe in God of course often think that God is speaking to them, but according to the Buddha's teaching these sounds, these words, voices, all come from the depths, and sometimes not even from the deepest depths of one's own mind, one's own consciousness. Occasionally it also happens that in the course of the practice of concentration people have the experience of perceiving various scents. Sometimes they perceive as though the whole room in which they're sitting and practising is pervaded by a very sweet-smelling scent like jasmine or roses or something of this sort, and sometimes it can be smelt even by other people. This too is a sign that concentration is developing, the mind is becoming more subtle, more refined, more rarefied, and that one is contacting a higher degree, a higher level of awareness or consciousness. Then as one progresses the experiences change. I'm not going to try to give you an account of all the various experiences but just a few typical ones which are likely to occur with most people.

One may get the ...

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