Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.
- Cultivating serenity based on ethical conduct
- The five hindrances according to the Pali tradition
- The five hindrances—and antidotes—according to Maitreya’s text
- The importance of studying the lamrim and doing purification alongside developing concentration
Gems of Wisdom: Verse 65 (download)
Where is the tranquil place to rest the weary mind?
The bed of firm samadhi undisturbed by mental wandering.
Samadhi means single-pointed concentration. And we have that as a mental factor. One meaning of the word “samadhi” refers to a mental factor which we have now, which we want to be able to develop. And when he’s talking about resting the weary mind, that is referring to the term zhiné, which I translate as serenity, but many people translate as calm abiding. So a peaceful place to rest the mind, a calm abiding. Yes? I think translating it as “calm abiding” you don’t really get the meaning of what’s going on. I don’t know if “serenity” is better. A “serene mind,” I think, is better. Tranquility.
Of the three higher trainings—ethical conduct, concentration, and wisdom—this pertains to the second one. So we cultivate serenity (samadhi) based on ethical conduct, and it then helps us in the development of wisdom. They say that when you want to realize emptiness, your wisdom knows the object to negate, and your samadhi is able to stay on that absence of that object without wavering. So they say it’s like somebody trying to chop down a tree. (And you have some experience with this.) So you need strength to move the ax. That’s like the concentration. But you need to hit the same point again and again. So that’s like the wisdom that knows exactly what we’re negating. If you don’t know what you’re negating it’s like trying to cut down a tree and sometimes your ax goes here and sometimes it goes here. You know when the saws are dull this is what happens. And if you lack strength, it’s like [wimpy], nothing’s going to happen. So similar in our meditation, we need the strength of the samadhi to do it.
In the Pali canon they speak of five hindrances to samadhi. In Maitreya’s works they speak of five hindrances. They’re slightly different. More than slightly different. But we have to eliminate all of them. And that all comes to the same point. In the Pali tradition:
the first one is sensual desire—the mind always wandering off to things of pleasure;
the second one is ill-will—when we’re just fed up and we’re angry;
the third one is—they often do it sloth and torpor, but I have another translation—but the mind is dull, without energy, can’t hold the object of meditation. Blah;
the next one is restlessness and regret—so that’s when the mind is flitting from object to object, and regret where we’re regretting things we did in the past or things that we should do but haven’t done yet. Things like that;
and the last one is doubt—where you do not know, “Is this the right way to meditate, is it the wrong way to meditate? Will I develop samadhi? Is it possible? Maybe not.”
We have to slowly work through those. That’s the presentation in the Pali canon.
In Maitreya’s text then you have the five hindrances you have:
- not staying on the object,
- laxity and excitement,
- not applying the antidote,
- and over-applying the antidote.
For the first one, which is laziness, which we’re all very familiar with, at least I am…. There are eight antidotes to these five, and four of them apply to this first one.
So, for laziness you have to have:
Faith in the practice. We talked about faith a few days ago. So some kind of faith coming from understanding.
Admiration for the practice.
Energy to attain it.
Pliancy, which is the mind that is very flexible, you can apply on an object and keep it there.
For the one of losing the object, then you have to apply mindfulness, which is what keeps your mind on the object.
For excitement and laxity we apply introspective awareness which notes the presence of those two, and then we have to apply the respective antidote, actually, for those two.
For not applying the antidote when you should—you’ve noticed you have an obstacle but you keep on with it (Gee, this is such a nice daydream.) Then the antidote is to apply the remedy.
And for over-applying it means you keep on applying the antidote even after you’ve calmed the mind down, then it’s kind of resting the mind from applying the antidote.
We have to practice this very diligently to deepen our concentration.
They say if you want to really attain samadhi you have to be in a retreat situation. And the situation has to be one with certain requisite factors. It can’t just be going off and living somewhere. It has to have a whole set of proper factors. But in our daily practice we can certainly try to improve our concentration. But we shouldn’t expect that we’re going to gain full-fledged serenity while having a life with many different kinds of activities. You need to—in the retreat—keep your life extremely simple and not think about any other things, really, to gain that.
We need to do many things along the path. If you develop concentration but you haven’t accumulated merit and done purification and you don’t know the lamrim very well, then your practice is really missing something. Because you may have concentration, but you don’t know how to apply it. So that’s, I think, one of the reasons why His Holiness really encourages us to do a lot of analytical meditation—to learn the lamrim very well. Because as you understand the lamrim it begins to take the air out of your distractions in your meditation. Because when you meditate on the lamrim you see, “Oh my daydreams are really dumb. No use spending my time on them. Holding grudges is useless, so let’s apply the antidotes and develop some fortitude.” You really learn how to work with your mind through the thought training teachings and the lamrim. And that will help your concentration. Although, like I said, to develop full-fledged concentration you really need the special setting to do it in.
[Response to audience] Yes, so somebody you know who did many years of single-pointed meditation in India. And then came back here and said to you, “I have to start all over on the lamrim.” Because she didn’t have that foundation. Could only go so far.