Part of a series of teachings given during the Developing Meditative Concentration Retreat at Sravasti Abbey in 2011.
- Forgetting the instructions
- Excitement and laxity
- Introspective awareness
- Non-application of the antidote
- Apply antidote
- Over-application of the antidote
- Questions and answers
Have you noticed how much quieter the room is today than yesterday? Just in one day—the difference. Today I thought to talk about the five faults and the eight antidotes that Maitreya taught in his text “Discriminating the Middle From the Extremes.”
It’s interesting to think about these in relationship to the five hindrances that we already went over and see where they match and where they don’t match and how there’s no contradiction. Just to list them. The five faults are: our old favorite, laziness; second is forgetting the instruction; third is excitement and laxity; fourth is non-application of the antidote; and fifth is over-application of the antidote. The antidotes to them: The first one, laziness, has four antidotes. Those are confidence (another translation is faith), aspiration, effort, and then this one that I don’t know how to translate. They often translate it as pliancy or flexibility but I hear that and I think of a gymnast. I recently began translating it as responsiveness but some people say, “Well, that’s just one quality of it.” But, I don’t know, when you hear flexibility or pliancy, what do you think of? Do you think that the mind can be flexible and pliant? Or do you think of a gymnast? What about responsiveness?
(Inaudible audience responses.)
It’s a mental factor actually. It’s a mental factor. Bikku Bodhi translated it as tranquility, but it’s not actually tranquility. It’s the ability to do what you want with your mind. Malleable? Limber? Maybe malleable. It’s just that ability to do what you want with your mind and also to do what you want with your body. Sometimes they translate it as serviceability. That one makes me think of a car. You get the idea. Those are the four antidotes to laziness.
The antidote for forgetting the instruction is mindfulness. The antidote for excitement and laxity is introspective awareness. The antidote for not applying the antidote is applying the antidote, and the antidote for over-application of the antidote is equanimity. There are many different kinds of equanimity in Buddhism. This equanimity is not the equanimity that you have in the fourth meditative stabilization. It’s not the equanimity of the four immeasurables. It’s a different kind of equanimity. It can get confusing sometimes because you have the same word that’s used differently in different contexts and then it’s easy to get confused.
Let’s go through these one by one.
Our old friend laziness. There are three kinds of laziness. The first kind is what we usually think of as lazy: you lie around and don’t do anything. You’re just kind of wandering around, looking at this, looking at that, sleeping too late. You know. Piddling here, piddling there, not really getting anything done. We are like that, aren’t we?
The second one, the second kind of laziness is keeping ourselves incredibly busy with samsaric activities. So, you’re a workaholic. You go to work, then you go play sports, then you do another hobby, then you talk to your friends, then you have your social life. You’re going here and there and you’re just the busiest of the busy doing mundane activities. Okay? One of my teachers, Geshe Nawangdarghe, had that phrase, the busiest of the busy. That’s the way we are sometimes, aren’t we? They say “Go get a life.” Well, I have a life doing this and that and I can’t have any free time in my schedule. I’ve got to be stressed and overbusy like everybody else, otherwise something’s wrong with my life. So, we create this whole identity of how stressed and busy we are. I really see that. I just got this email yesterday from somebody who was in a very, very severe accident in Seattle and I wanted to write to some Dharma friends to say please go and help this person. I could just imagine all of them writing back to me, and they’re really nice people, saying “I’m so busy I really can’t do it.” Dharma students who are cultivating compassion. “But I’m so busy. My lives are so busy. I have so much to do.” It made me feel uncomfortable even writing them an email to ask them to take care of somebody else. And yet, if you’re doing Dharma practice and you don’t have time to reach out to somebody who is sick, what are you doing? People are so stressed and so busy and they just have absolutely no time. And yet there’s always 24 hours in the day, seven days a week. Who is it that fills up our schedule? Do you have a private secretary that makes you so busy? No. Who is it that fills up our schedule?
Audience member: My wife.
Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): You want us to call Kathy and ask her? (More laughter.)
We are the ones. We are always walking around saying, “I have to do this, and I have to do that.” We don’t actually have to do anything. It’s quite fascinating whenever you say to yourself, “But I have to.” Say to yourself, “No, I choose to.” Take responsibility for what you are doing and then see if you really want to choose those things or not, instead of saying I have to. “I have to, my boss wants me to do this. I have to. My wife wants me to do this. I have to do it, I have to. My cat is even bossing me around, I have to.” Instead of, “I choose to.”
Then, the third kind of laziness, actually we will go back. I was just listing them. This is the introduction. The third kind of laziness is the laziness of discouragement.
If you have these kinds of, types of, laziness really badly, then before you can actually apply the antidotes listed here, you have to do some analytic meditation and really develop a little bit of ability to deal with them. For the laziness, the lying around kind of laziness, piddle a little bit here, piddle a little bit there, I’m tired of piddling so I might as well take a tea break. I’m tired of a tea break so I might as well take a walk in the garden. I’m tired of walking in the garden, I had better lie down for a nap. That kind of laziness. Then, it’s a very good thing to think about death and impermanence. That should wake us up a little bit, a little bit. Because we see that we only have a limited life span and if we are choosing to spend our time just lying around, then, you know, death is coming and at the time of death we can’t say, “Excuse me, I’m not ready yet, come back later.” So, it kind of wakes us up.
If we have that second kind of laziness, the busiest of the busy, really think, give some thought to what you fill your life doing. What you fill your life with. How much time do you spend talking about food? (Laughter.) Have another kitchen manager is the antidote (said jokingly while laughing). It’s fascinating to watch people go out to eat and they spend 20 minutes, half an hour looking at the menu talking about what to order. Have you ever noticed that? I notice it because to me it’s so boring. I want to spend some time with somebody and they’re all, “What do you like? Do you think the string beans are like this or what do they put on the string beans? How much butter in the butter sauce in the string beans?” And spending so much time on this. And just what we spend our time on. The time we spend shopping. The time you spend looking in your closet deciding what to wear. You’re laughing? (Laughter.) Are you having a flashback to your old life? How long do you stand in front of your closet wondering “What to wear and have they seen me wear this before, how often do I wear this, does this match with this, and am I going to be too cold or too hot?” Nowadays, you not only have to match the pants with the skirt with your top, you also have to match it with your hair because your hair might be green or scarlet or something like that. Or blue. Keeping ourselves very busy, doing very worldly things. So, the antidote to that is think about the disadvantages of cyclic existence. How there is absolutely no satisfaction in cyclic existence, there is no security in cyclic existence. Whatever you do to try and find security and satisfaction is by nature not going to succeed. Because that’s the nature of having a body and mind under the control of afflictions and karma.
And then, the laziness of discouragement, people have this one a lot too. “I really can’t do it. This is so hard. I’m not worthy of the Dharma. I’m not worthy of meditation or doing retreat. I hate myself because all this past trauma and I’m just so inferior. Everybody else is better than me, I really don’t know what to do about this mess my life is in. I’ve been divorced 15 times, well actually 15 minus 14, once, but it’s bad and I’m defective goods now and this whole situation is worthless.” I’m sure you can take it from there. I think this is one of the biggest problems Americans have. Canadians too. (Laughter) You look so innocent. (Laughter). But, it’s a big problem, how much we put ourselves down and think we are incapable. Think we are unworthy. Think we are not deserving. Think we are full of faults and can never change. Think that we are hopeless and helpless. I mean, it’s really a huge problem that I think most people have. Do many of you have this problem? You’re laughing again? You have this problem, okay. It’s interesting to think that the mind of discouragement is laziness, that it’s a form of laziness. Why is it laziness? Because we are so wrapped up in our self-loathing and our pity party that we have no energy for Dharma practice. So, we are lazy in terms of doing Dharma practice because we are spending our time doing something else that isn’t very worthwhile.
(Inaudible audience comment.)
Audience: Some say that laziness is related to self-centeredness, that laziness results in a self-centered attitude.
VTC: Yup, that’s exactly it. You can really see how laziness functions under the influence of the self-centered attitude. Why do we lie around? “Well, I don’t feel like it.” Self-centeredness. Why am I the busiest of the busy? Because I am trying to create an image and I’m trying to keep myself so busy that I don’t have to look at how unhappy I am. And then of course, discouragement is all about me and how incapable I am, and how unlovable I am, how defective I am, how hopeless I am, and blah blah blah. All three of these kinds of laziness are really wrapped up in self-centeredness, aren’t they?
When we have compassion in our hearts, and we are looking towards the welfare of all sentient beings, we don’t have time and energy to make a big deal out of our self in an unproductive way. It doesn’t mean that we run around being the busy of the busy taking care of everybody else so we don’t have to look at ourselves, that’s not what I’m talking about. But, when we expand our horizon and we’re not just focused on our self and see other sentient beings’ plight, then compassion is there. But, this laziness, whether it’s discouragement or samsaric business or lying around, all of it is extremely narrow. Isn’t it? Very narrow minded, all about me.
Now you can feel guilty about being lazy. Spend your next 15 million meditation sessions on that please. (Laughter) No, I’m teasing. Don’t do that. The antidotes here that are prescribed for laziness are first of all confidence or faith. The same word can be confidence, trust, faith. It has elements of the meaning of all three of those words. Here, what we are confident about is concentration and the benefits of concentration. We are confident and we trust that developing concentration and specifically attaining the mind of shamanta or serenity is worthwhile. We have faith, confidence, trust in that. That confidence in serenity helps us overcome these kinds of laziness. It’s the initial antidote because it brightens the mind, it makes the mind think, “Oh, this is good, this is interesting.” That leads to the second antidote, which is aspiration.
So, we develop an aspiration to develop concentration. When we have an aspiration, then our mind is really more enthusiastic. It’s kind of like when you have seen a commercial and you want to go get something, there is some energy and enthusiasm.
And so, the third antidote for laziness is effort. Because when we have aspiration, we naturally make effort, we want to accomplish it, we put in the effort. And then as a result of effort, we get this pliancy or malleability, or flexibility, or responsiveness where the mind, you can do what you want with the body or mind without being hampered by rigidity.
So, the pliancy is the actual antidote to laziness. You can see it’s really the opposite of a lazy mind. To get to the pliancy, you have to start off with confidence in, or faith in serenity and then aspiration to attain it, effort and then you get the pliancy, which is the actual antidote.
For the second fault, forgetting the instruction, it doesn’t mean you forget the instructions of doing the meditation. Here instruction means the object, you are forgetting the object of your meditation. You are trying to learn to focus single-pointedly on, let’s say the Buddha, and you finally got yourself to the cushion through overcoming laziness. Laziness prevents you from getting to the cushion. You have overcome that. You are on the cushion. You are sitting down. There’s the Buddha; there one moment, gone the next. You are off and running on some kind of distraction or another. That’s what is meant by forgetting the instruction. So, when we talk about forgetting the instruction, this is happening when our mind gets really caught up with lots of conceptualization, scattering, and discursive thoughts. You are planning this. You are worrying about that. You’re jealous of somebody else for this. And your mind is just all over the place in distraction.
So, mindfulness is the antidote because mindfulness is the mental factor that is familiar with your object of meditation and can remember it, placing the attention on the object of meditation in such a way that it doesn’t get distracted to another object. Mindfulness is what you have to recall and cultivate to bring your mind back when you are off the object of meditation. In the process of developing serenity, there are two qualities we really want to develop. One is stability of the mind on the object. The other is clarity of the mind on the object. So, when you have forgotten the instruction, there is no stability because the mind is off the object. So, mindfulness makes the mind more stable, it puts the mind on the object, creating some stability.
Then, while you are being mindful, then there’s two other main things that come up to disturb us. One is excitement and the other is laxity.
Let’s do excitement first. Excitement falls on the side of attachment. It’s the mind that gets attached to things. They say that attachment is what primarily takes our mind away from the object of meditation or laxity does. I don’t know, some of us may be more expert on anger and have anger be what takes us away from the object. I don’t know. What do you think in watching your own mind? Attachment? Anger? All of them do.
Audience: Anger is very related to attachment.
VTC: That’s very true, when we can’t get it then we get angry. There’s something a little bit pleasant with attachment, with daydreaming. I find what is very interesting is now, because meditation is another buzz word that’s found in Time Magazine. And so now, when people lead you through a visualization, you’re with Prince Charming at the beach. Then going out to dinner, then this and that. You are visualizing this and you’re visualizing yourself as successful, sexy, and everything that your lazy and discouraged mind thinks you aren’t, you are visualizing yourself as being. That’s now marketed as meditation. And visualization. This is how to get over your hang-ups. From a Buddhist viewpoint, it’s just plain old daydreaming. We do it quite well. There’s something a little bit pleasurable about it; well, a lot pleasurable because we can make up our own fantasies and they all come true.
There’s two kinds of excitement. There’s the really gross kind when you’re like totally in “Never Never Land.” At that point, we are off the object of meditation so there’s no stability. The mind is off the object of meditation. So, clearly we have to know what the antidotes are. Here it’s said that introspective awareness is the antidote to excitement. It’s not the actual antidote. The introspective awareness notices that you’re off the object of meditation. Getting your mind back on the object of meditation is the antidote that you need to do. In cases of attachment, you meditate on impermanence, on the foul, the ugly aspect of the object, on the defects of cyclic existence. Those things that lower your mental energy, that make your mind a little bit more sober.
Audience: Can I ask a quick question on that? So, if you are meditating on the Buddha and you lose the energy because you are thinking about an object of attachment, are you saying then that we should go through a progression of disadvantages of that object? Or if we think of the Buddha right away, should we go right back to that?
VTC: If you have just gotten lightly distracted, your mind isn’t really engrossed in the object of attachment, you just renew your mindfulness. Your introspective awareness notices you’re off. You renew your mindfulness. You bring your mind back to the Buddha. But, very often, when our mind is really entrenched in the object of attachment, we’re off in the very next moment. We find our mind keeps going back again, again, and again to the object of our attachment. You know that one, don’t you? At that time, you just can’t notice it with introspective awareness and renew your focus with mindfulness. You have sit and do a meditation that counteracts that excitement. Death and impermanence. Defects of cyclic existence. Meditating on the ugly aspects of the object. In other words, you have to think about exactly the opposite of what you want to think about. When we have attachment in the mind, we’re exaggerating the good qualities, we’re making it permanent. So, we have to balance the mind out by doing the opposite. Okay?
The subtle excitement is you’re on the object of meditation, but you can sense that there’s an undercurrent under your concentration and that you are going to go off the object soon. Do you know that one? You’re on the Buddha, but you can feel something nice kind of starting to come to mind. That is the more subtle aspect. For that, what we really have to do is loosen the mind. Because sometimes, we get this kind of distraction going off the object of meditation because we are holding the object too tightly. Our mode of apprehension is squeezing the object. So, it creates this kind of energy in the mind that makes the mind move away from the object. You have to just loosen the tightness in your mind a little bit so you can come back and stay on the object.
Then, laxity. There are different forms of laxity too. A very, very gross form would be lethargy, or what we call dullness or drowsiness, where you are really about to fall asleep. There too, you’re going off the object into “La-la Land.” That’s lethargy. Then there’s a course or gross kind of laxity where you are kind of on the object but, the clarity of the mind, you have really lost clarity of the mind. That’s more the dullness that we talked about before, the gross laxity. The clarity of the object is kind of gone. Then there’s another one called subtle laxity, that apparently is very, very difficult to ascertain. Because with that one, you have stability, you have clarity, but the intensity of the clarity is diminishing. Here by clarity, we don’t just mean the clarity of the object, but the clarity of the mind that’s meditating. That mental clarity, the subjective mind that’s meditating, the intensity of that clarity is going down. They say with this subtle kind of laxity that very advanced meditators can fall prey to it and they can even stay in states that appear to be single-pointed concentration but it’s actually subtle laxity. They haven’t even attained serenity, let alone the first meditative stabilization. It’s very hard to actually discern because there can be a pleasant feeling, you are absorbed in the object, but the intensity of the clarity is lacking. They say to be really careful of that. I’m too involved in the gross laxity and the gross excitement to notice this one. They say to be very careful of it because if you stay in it and mistake it for actual serenity, not only have you not attained your goal, but also in a future life you can be reborn very dull or be born as an animal, something like this.
We’ve overcome the laziness. Gotten ourself on the cushion by confidence, aspiration, effort, and some pliancy. We don’t have to have full pliancy. We start to meditate. We forget the object of meditation. We renew it and stabilize the mind with mindfulness. Then, excitement comes to disturb us. Gross and subtle excitement and gross and subtle laxity come to disturb us. We remedy those by introspective alertness, which is like a spy that comes up in our meditation from time to time and surveys the situation and checks, “Am I on the object, is the clarity of my mind good?” Or, has laxity come, has excitement come, or am I just totally caught up in distraction? Introspective awareness is what we use there but then we have to use another kind of meditation to really counteract that if just returning to the object of meditation doesn’t work. If we can return to the object or brighten the mind, do that immediately. But if that’s not working, that’s when you do these other meditations.
With laxity, you really want to brighten the mind. Think of light. You want to uplift the mind to regain the clarity and to regain the intensity of the clarity. So, here they say too, you have to tighten the hold on the object. You have to tighten your mode of apprehension a little bit because the laxity is too relaxed. With excitement, the mind might be too tight, so you have to loosen it a tinge. With laxity, the mind is too relaxed, so you have to tighten a little bit. So, it’s like the violin string, trying to get exactly the right thing but of course it’s going to keep changing.
The next problem you run into is not applying the antidote. That’s the fourth fault. And, the antidote to that is applying the antidote. So, have you had it in your meditation you see that you’re off the object, you’re in a very wonderful daydream. But you don’t really want to go back to the Buddha, you want to stay with your daydream so you don’t apply the antidote. There is a certain kind of reluctance here. Or you’re falling asleep and you’re getting drowsy. “I’m falling asleep but…ohh it feels so good.” So, you don’t apply the antidote. This is this is what Venerable Semkye was talking about earlier, “I’m not going to give into it, I’m going to fight it. I’m going to apply the antidote somehow.” That problem comes up of not applying the antidote comes up even though you know that there’s a problem with your meditation.
So, then you overcome that by learning to apply the antidote. And then, the next problem you have is that you keep applying the antidote when you no longer have the problem. It’s like first you have a kid that’s running wild that you’re not disciplining. You have to discipline the kid. But, then after the kid’s behaving, you continue to discipline them. That becomes an interference. When we continue to apply the antidote even when the mind has come back and there’s now stability and clarity, then over-applying the antidote becomes the hindrance. And so, at that point, the remedy is equanimity, just letting things be.
So, those are the five faults and the eight antidotes that Maitreya spoke about. You can see that they are somewhat similar to the five hindrances but, they also go out in a different way. The five hindrances emphasize just emotional problems or wrong views and things that we can have, even when we’re not meditating, that really affect our lives. But the five faults are dealing more specifically with meditation although certainly laziness can come at any time in our life. The other things are more specifically within the context of trying to cultivate serenity.
Audience: In comparing your object as the breath compared to the object of the Buddha, with the breath you have this sense of tension and relaxation or there is a following. With the object of the Buddha there is stability, basically there is no change to that to look at. How do you deal with that in terms of maintaining your level of interest?
VTC: With the breath, there’s movement. With the object of the Buddha, there’s just that object. You’re saying how to maintain your interest. With the breath there’s some change, so that creates some interest, the object of the Buddha is just the Buddha. When we are using the breath to develop concentration, the breath is an introduction to the whole process. After a certain while, when your concentration on the breath deepens, you get what’s called a nimitta, which is a little thing of light that’s an appearance to the mind. The same way that the Buddha is appearing to your mind, this nimitta is appearing to your mind, as usually as it’s off the tip of your nose. And that actually becomes the object you develop serenity on. As you’re deepening your concentration, when you get this nimitta, you change your mind to that. For the very reason that you mention, with the breath there’s movement, there’s change, so it’s harder to develop very deep concentration because of that change that’s going on. With the nimitta, it’s like the image of the Buddha, it’s just one small thing that you focus on.
Audience: I suspect I do the meditation on the Buddha wrong because when I’m listening to you, a lot of attachment arises. I’ve been working with just watching this attachment, this longing. I just go, “Maybe I should be working with the breath?” I’m working with the Buddha because you’ve asked us to. But, I’m calling it out that there are all these huge, exciting, razzle dazzle emotions and that’s my pet peeve. That’s the road I’m on.
VTC: There are some of us who are very enthralled with our emotions, I’m one of those people so I know this really well. Where my emotions are so interesting, so fascinating, I’m feeling. My deep feeling. My deep anger. My deep longing. My deep everything I feel is like so dramatic. Who else is like that, besides Venerable Semkye? She and I together can just go off, “What are you feeling? I’m feeling…” Join our club. At a certain point in your practice, you first of all, if you have that kind of personality, you have to do all the antidotes to all those feelings and try and correct them and balance your mind out. Instead of having them be so intense that they’re dragging you all over the universe. After that, you have to realize how hooked you are on your own emotions. “My emotions are the most important thing that could be happening in this whole wide universe.” You have to develop this mind that’s like, “OK, there’s some intense feeling, that’s nice, what else is new?” Instead of, “I’m feeling!” I keep telling how my mother called me Sarah Bernhard as a little kid, this actress. There’s a certain self-centeredness when we are enraptured with our emotions. There’s a real self-centeredness. You have to do enough of the antidote to start to balance out those emotions and then you just have to say, “Look, my emotions are not the end all and be all of this universe.” So, it’s not really a difficulty with the object of meditation. I mean, it is true that different people have different personalities, different dispositions. Some people, the image of the Buddha doesn’t work, the breath is much more calming for them. For some people the breath doesn’t work. If you have allergies or asthma, boy oh boy, the breath does not work for you as an object of meditation. That’s why the Buddha taught many different types of objects, people have different personalities.
Audience: This is maybe related. Am I off track if every now and then, I get a sense of the Buddha’s compassion and then it makes me feel like weepy. Is that going off track? That intense feeling, like holy cow, this is a possibility there that from this image?.
VTC: When you’re visualizing the image, I think it’s very natural you get some feeling for the Buddha’s qualities and that can be really moving. When that comes, keep your mind on the Buddha. If you start getting weepy, your mind is going to go off the Buddha. You have to feel the compassion and the possibility that, here’s the compassionate Buddha but also the possibility that I can become like that. But, at the same time, stay on your object as much as you can.
Audience: I am having a hard time holding that image of the Buddha if that continues after the retreat. (it will! – laughter), should I , would you suggest to stick with the breath?
VTC: I would suggest, if you mind is really all over the place at the beginning of the session, do the breath for a few minutes and then switch to the image of the Buddha. At least try it out for a while. Because there’s a lot of advantages of using the image of the Buddha, especially if you are somebody who anticipates doing tantric practice in the future. Becoming used to visualization now is very, very beneficial and how it deepens your refuge and everything. Don’t start telling yourself, “I can’t visualize.” Like I was saying yesterday, if I say “pizza” you have an image of pizza in your mind, don’t you? You can even tell me what kind of pizza it is. You can tell me how big it is, can’t you? You can visualize. The thing is, why does the image of pizza come so readily and the image of the Buddha not? That’s the question. Well, it tells you something of what we’re more familiar thinking about, doesn’t it? We spend a lot of time thinking about pizza so of course it comes to mind. We’re not so familiar with thinking about the Buddha. Staying on that image is harder. As you become familiar with the image of the Buddha and because it comes so much, at least in Tibetan practice, and I would say in any practice. If you are taking refuge, are you just addressing refuge to empty space? You’re not. You’re thinking of the Buddha. You’re thinking of the Dharma and the Sangha. There’s something there. You’re not taking refuge in empty space. As you cultivate this ability to visualize and feel like you are in the presence of the Holy Ones, then taking refuge, which comes in all the Buddhist traditions, become much more meaningful for you. You are developing this habituation with thinking about the Buddha. That would be really nice. People talk about, what do you do when you know or you can see there’s going to be a car crash? Wouldn’t it be nice that, at that time, to have so much familiarity with the image of the Buddha that your mind just goes to the image of the Buddha and you are taking refuge. That’s going be incredible benefit to you at that time.
Audience: I have to say that focusing on the Buddha is really hard but really good for me. For me, I’m so used to doing other things while I’m breathing that I can fake myself out that I’m concentrating on the breath when I’m not. And focusing on the Buddha, it is pretty obvious what I’m really doing.
VTC: Somebody else said that too. Somebody who did some retreat on serenity and she said that same thing, that with the image of the Buddha she could really tell when she went off the object of meditation. With the breath it was a little bit harder.
Audience: One of the encouragements I give myself is knowing that when you want to develop any kind of neuroplasticity, it is difficult. It’s going to be hard. And the goal is training against your weakness. Stay committed and there will be incremental successes. I mean that is what they teach stroke victims. Move your little finger. How long do you think it takes stroke victims who are trying to lift their little finger before they finally can do it? It’s this same kind of process. So it’s really neat that when I’m sitting here trying to visualize the Buddha and I get the same kind of discursive thought that I get when I’m kind of doing my breath meditation. It’s really good because I’m when I get to these kind of discursive thoughts, that’s happens when I’m really past all these real big ones down to the smaller ones. I mean, it’s like there is some success in here because I recognized that kind of discursive thought when I’m concentrating.
VTC: When you’re not concentrating, you don’t even realize how distracted you are.
Audience: What happens for me about imaging the Buddha I can hold him in my hand and I’ve seen a lot of him. And that that’s where I get stuck. I’ve seen statues made of light. I seen pictures made of light. Instead of seeing him as a living being. What are some hints about that? My mind gets stuck on a very solid picture.
VTC: Have you held a Buddha statue in your hand? You have to make it into a living being. Thinking of the Buddha not as a statue but as a living being. Maybe try having a discussion with the Buddha in your meditation. At least you’re on the statue. Slowly you can dissolve the solidity and make it into light. You might think of when you are a little kid how you would imagine things and you can do so many things with your imagination, like when you were watching Fantasia and things. Think along that line and see if you can do it in that way.
Audience: Like the woman in the back was talking about comparing the movement of the breath and then going into stability of the Buddha, I hadn’t really made that connection. But, I find myself doing that more often than not. So, I imagine the image moving. And kind of moving to get my attention. I imagine it like father and child and then it getting my attention and I kind of lose it. Is that ok?
VTC: I would not get in the habit of making the Buddha move. Many people say that can actually be a distraction in your meditation that the Buddha starts moving. I think make it bright, use the brightness to get your attention.
Audience: Venerable, I think that you should give us our cell phones back about a half an hour before we have to leave. And I’m not joking about this. I took my cell phone before I came in here and I clicked a photograph of the Buddha. And that is the image that is always on my cell phone. So, every day when my phone rings, it’s there and when I pick it up it’s there. And when I have trouble with my object, I would think of my cell phone. (Laughter.) That image is on my cell phone. And it was a lot easier for me. “Oh, there it is.” I mean, maybe it’s funny a little bit, but it’s imprinting the image.
VTC: (Laughter) Yes, it’s the imprint.
Audience: You talked about this momentary light with the breath, the breathing meditation. Can you talk a little more about how we can use that to help us with our visual imagery of the Buddha?
VTC: If your meditation on the breath gets deep, then you get this little light, this nimitta and that becomes the object of meditation. But, if you start out meditating on the Buddha, you’re already starting out meditating on something that’s made of light. It’s not that you’re going to do the breathing meditation and get the nimitta and then switch over to the Buddha. It’s not like that. Whatever, your object you start with, you want to really stay with that object until once you gain serenity, when you have that pliancy, you can direct your mind to many different objects without a lot of scattering. Does that answer your question?
Audience: If we are doing the breathing meditation and we get a momentary light, then that could become the object instead of the object? Maybe it’s a flash, but that flash could become a little bit longer?
VTC: Yes, but, you have to have fairly good concentration for that to come up. Having said that, don’t get all enchanted with your breathing, and flashes and colors. Some of us have incredible things. I can see like gazillions of faces. If I wanted to, I could get so distracted by the appearance of all these faces. I just totally ignore it. Some people have patterns or lights. Our mind is so creative and can come up with so much stuff so that’s why you have to really not get distracted by different things. Really make sure of what you are doing.
Audience: There are some meditations we talk about from the different traditions on chakras and colors and things that can help develop our concentration.
VTC: You are talking about different meditations using the breath involving the chakras and colors and things like that. First of all, you find those also in other traditions, not necessarily Buddhist ones. So, I can’t really comment on that, what that means there. In terms of Buddhist meditations, when you are doing things with the chakras and the breath, that is a very advanced practice, not usually recommended for beginners to do that in a Buddhist sense. What they teach in other spiritual practices, I can’t comment on because I don’t know.
We have to stop now. We will continue tomorrow. Try going to bed with the image of the Buddha and try waking with the image of the Buddha. See how that affects you. Play with this.