Conditions for developing serenity
Conditions for developing serenity
Part of a series of teachings on Essence of Refined Gold by the Third Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Sonam Gyatso. The text is a commentary on Songs of Experience by Lama Tsongkhapa.
- Six conditions for developing meditative stabilization
- Meditation posture
- Dealing with physical pain during meditation
- Dealing with the mental reaction to physical pain
- The second set of hindrances to developing concentration as described by Asanga and Maitreya
Essence of Refined Gold 49 (download)
Let’s take a moment and cultivate our motivation. Really feel the joy of having a precious human life. Feel the joy of having a precious human life, and especially rejoice in our interest in the Dharma. Appreciate the possibility of attaining enlightenment, both because we have the buddha nature and because we have the cooperative conditions of the Mahayana teachings and teachers as well as the possibility to practice. Let’s make the strong determination to use this opportunity wisely and tonight specifically to listen to the teachings, to contemplate them, so we meditate on them. We want to do this for the benefit of all living beings, attaining enlightenment ourselves so we’ll have the wisdom, compassion, and skillful means to really help them on the path.
We’ve been talking about the six far-reaching practices that a bodhisattva does motivated by bodhicitta for the purpose of attaining enlightenment. We’ve talked about generosity, ethical conduct, patience, joyous effort, and now we’re on meditative stabilization. Last week, we talked about the various hindrances. I was saying that there are two sets of hindrances, one that is spoken of predominately in the Pali tradition and is also mentioned the bodhisattva path, and the other one that is spoken of predominantly in Maitreya and Asanga’s texts. I don’t think I went through the conditions for attaining meditative stabilization, so I think I better do that before I get into the next set of hindrances, I don’t want to burden you with too many. I think it’s important to notice the conditions we want to have upon us if we really intend to develop shamata or serenity, which is also translated as quiescence or tranquility or calm-abiding. I’m using the word serenity.
Lots of times we come into Buddhism and say, “I’m going to gain samadhi right away. I’m going to meditate a little bit in the morning, and then I’m going to go jogging, go to work, get coffee, social life, and come back for another 15 minute meditation in the evening and I’ll have samadhi in no time at all.” Well maybe with exceptional karma. But as for the rest of us, the great masters talked about certain conditions, external and internal conditions that are important if we intend to be able to develop very deep concentration. Knowing these helps us to set up these conditions as best we can. Also, knowing these helps us to realize that if we don’t have all these conditions, then don’t stress out about not having single-pointed concentration. If we don’t have the causes and conditions then the result is not going to come, so don’t stress, saying “my concentration is so terrible, so terrible.” It’s because it doesn’t have the conditions surrounding it to develop it.
The first condition is a favorable place. The middle of New York with the windows open on Fifth Avenue with the telephone ringing and the internet playing your favorite thing, and your iPod plugged in, is not listed among those favorable places. So favorable places: First of all, a place that is calm and clean. If you are in a place where there’s a lot of energy and rushing around and that kind of vibration, that’s going to affect your mind, you’re not going to be able to stabilize your mind and concentrate. You want a clean place because a clean place affects your mind in a positive way. It makes your mind more peaceful. If you are in a place with a lot of rubbish and stuff around, that’s going to affect your mind. If you try and go meditate in the middle of your office with your computer there and all your correspondence, do you think you can meditate well? Or in your house with all the kids’ toys spread all over the carpet and a bunch of dirty dishes in the sink? No. We need a calm, clean place.
We need a place where we have easy access to food and water and the necessities of life – medicine and things like that. Sometimes people get very idealistic, “I’m going to go to the Himalayas and meditate.” I’m not sure how they’re thinking to get food and fresh water, maybe they’re planning on packing their microwave up there, but I don’t think that will go too well. We want easy access to food and water, so also you don’t have to spend much time worrying about how to get things or running around trying to get things to sustain your practice.
The third quality in a place is that it’s been used by previous meditators. This one isn’t always possible here in the West but at least a place that has some kind of calm, still, sacred feeling. In Asia there are many places where previous meditators have meditated and if you go there, it becomes easier to concentrate, and your mind remembers them sitting there, and it automatically tries to be like that. Here in the West we are in the process of setting up centers and monasteries and temples where we are blessing that environment and creating that energy.
Next quality of a favorable place is that it is free of danger and misdeeds. You don’t want a place with lots of wild animals or wild people. When I moved to the Abbey, we are in the middle of nowhere and I was living in Ananda, people would say, “Aren’t you afraid being in the forest?” Actually, I felt much safer than I do in the city. A place where there’s no chance of getting diseases, illnesses and injuries and danger where your mind is preoccupied with your own safety.
The next quality is that you are near other meditators, either teachers you can rely on or other people who are doing a similar practice to yours who have some experience. The reason for this is that things come up when we are meditating and we need to have resources and people around you who can help. Sometimes we go into retreat all naïve and think that it’s going to be bliss, but then you start remembering things from the past and meanwhile you’ve forgotten what the antidotes for anger and emotional upset are. You need to have a teacher, experienced meditator around you who can remind you of the antidotes or teach the antidotes to you. If you are having difficulty relaxing or falling asleep, they can give you tips on what to do or remind you of the ones that you know or give you resource books. Sometimes things come up when we are doing a very strict retreat and you need access to people who can assist you. Those are the conditions for a favorable place. A favorable place is the first of the conditions that we need.
The second condition is a clear understanding of how to do the practice. If you are doing a retreat to develop serenity, you need to know exactly how to do the practice. How do you develop mindfulness? How do you develop introspection or clear comprehension? What is your object of meditation? What to do if certain obstacles come. You need to have a clear understanding of this. If you’re doing another kind of retreat, you need to know what kind of retreat you’re doing. If you are doing retreat in general, are you doing a retreat on a deity, are you doing lamrim retreat, are you doing serenity retreat? What are you doing? You need to know very clearly. You can’t just kind of walk in and say, “I’m doing retreat, what am I supposed to do?” Doing retreat really takes some preparation and you need to learn the practice that you’re doing before you go into the retreat situation. Of course you will study the practice more in depth in the retreat and get some experience in meditation but you need to understand the general instructions clearly before you start. Starting a retreat isn’t the time to kind of go, “What am I supposed to do?”
You really start preparing for a retreat a long time before you begin and have a very clear understanding of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. If you don’t have that, then it’s much better to wait and have instructions from a teacher about what retreats do and how to do that retreat and get some familiarity with it before you go into the situation. If you accumulate the causes and conditions for a good retreat, then that will follow. A lot of times, if it’s your first time doing retreat, Lama Yeshe used to always recommend that we do a group retreat. If you have difficulty maintaining the discipline for regular daily practice, then you’re probably going to have difficulty maintaining discipline of the retreat if you are doing the retreat alone. If you do retreat with a group, then the whole group has the schedule and you are sitting at certain times and because everybody’s doing that, you automatically do it. This also happens to be a benefit of living at a monastery or temple because everybody is, “I can’t get up at 4:30 in the morning.” Well you will if everybody else is. “I can’t sit for that long.” You will if everybody else is. Doing it in a group is very, very helpful. That’s regarding a retreat in general.
Another condition is that you are free from gross desires. That is a difficult one, isn’t it? Why is that? Why do we have to be free from gross desires? Otherwise, you sit down on your meditation cushion and what are you doing? You are pulling out your mental Sky Mall booklet. When you fly you have the Sky Mall, you have your mental Sky Mall booklet and you’re paging through your little booklet of everything you want to buy as soon as you finish retreat. It will be difficult developing concentration. Where does your internal Sky Mall booklet come from? It comes from having a lot of gross desires. Before going to retreat, you have to really start working with that mind that says, “I want X, Y, and Z.” Or the way we usually phrase it is, “I need X, Y, and Z.” We have a difficult time discriminating between what we want and what we need so we just think that we need it all. That makes it easy, doesn’t it? And it sounds much better than saying “I want.” Wanting sounds like we’re maybe a little bit self-centered or attached and we don’t want to appear that way to other people so, “I really need another car, I need my 20th pair of shoes, I need to upgrade this, and I need that,” as if we are going to collapse from starvation if we don’t get it. The American consumer mind is not a good condition for doing retreat. Maybe I should also say the Mexican consumer mind, but I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t be too restrictive to one country, everybody has that. To have few gross desires.
The next condition is to be easily content. If you’re doing strict retreat, people may be bringing you food. If you’re not easily content, then you can say, “I don’t like that, why don’t you bring this. I don’t like this meditation, I want that. I don’t like that Buddhist statue that somebody brought me, I want another one.” It can happen in many ways. We want few gross desires and we want to be easily content. If we are easily content, then whatever we have is good enough. Regardless of whether we do a strict retreat or not, developing these qualities is very good for our Dharma practice in general.
So really practicing, here’s a new mantra for you: What I have is good enough. It has a few mantras that are related: What I have is good enough, what I do is good enough, who I am is good enough. Try that. It’s a new one for us, because we are constantly taught to be dissatisfied. That’s how our country survives, and our economy survives, is based on this dissatisfaction, we need more and we need better. Not only material thinking more and better, but we compare ourselves to other people and we think we need to do more and better. Here’s somebody else who knows more than me so, “I’d better get more knowledge.” Someone has a higher job position than me, so I better compete with them and get and be like them. Here’s somebody who works harder, I’d better work more overtime. We feel so discontent even with what we do, “I don’t do enough.” Then we squeeze ourselves, we stress ourselves out. Or we think we aren’t good enough, everybody else has buddha nature, [its’s] only me who doesn’t. That’s what we all think. And then, “Everybody here is so quietly meditating, only me.” All these things of discontent with what we have, what we do, who we are, that acts as a big hindrance to developing concentration because we are always going to be thinking about that in our mind. “I should meditate more. I should meditate longer sessions (even though they say to have shorter sessions). I should concentrate more.” We grit our teeth and we clench our fists and we’re going to battle with those delusions. It doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work. We have to have a certain degree of self-acceptance and comfort level with our self. Stop comparing ourselves to other people.
I think that one of the worst things we do is how we compare ourselves with other people. If we do it in a constructive way and we see that somebody’s better than us in a certain way, we can say, “If they can do it, I can do it.” That’s okay. That way of comparing ourselves to others is okay. But usually, what happens is we compare ourselves to others and if somebody’s better than us, then we get jealous. Jealousy, forget about concentrating when we’re jealous. Then that brings low self-esteem, and that brings depression, and that makes it difficult to develop concentration. Or, if we compare ourselves to somebody else and we’re better, then we get arrogant and conceited and sometimes that leads to becoming too complacent and apathetic and negligent, so that’s not so good. Or, we compare ourselves with others and we feel equal and we compete. “I’m going to sit one minute more in meditation, even though my legs are killing me and I can’t concentrate worth beans.” That kind of competition isn’t very kind, in regular life or in spiritual practice.
Try to breed contentment, really try that. What I have is good enough. Whatever you have, really think it’s good enough. Work, it’s good enough. What I do is good enough. In the future, maybe I can improve but at least for right now, we can’t change the present so might as well like it. In the future I can gradually improve. Who I am is good enough. We don’t have to be like everybody else, we all have our own individual unique talents and qualities, so to think that we have to have the qualities and talents of other people is really unrealistic. It’s much better to see what specific talents and qualities we have and use those, rather than thinking that we have to be God’s gift to the world. Let’s focus on contentment.
The next condition is to be free from involvement with worldly activities. This one is difficult, now that there’s email and telephones and things like that. You try and do retreat and, “Well, I gotta check my email, I gotta check the message machine.” This is why it is very good to go to another place where you don’t live to do retreat. Where you don’t have email. You might use your computer for studying but you don’t have email access, you don’t have a telephone. There’s no cell phones allowed. You’re not involved in lots of worldly activities. If you are trying to make plans for future activities, you’re trying to do business during the middle of a retreat, if you’re trying to arrange your parent’s 35th wedding anniversary, whatever it is, you are going to be back and forth and doing things and that doesn’t work too well with retreat. Very little involvement with worldly activities. If you are involved with those activities, you won’t have time to sit, or when you are sitting, you are going to be thinking about what you are doing in the break time.
The last one is pure ethical conduct. Whatever level of precepts of you have, to keep that level of precepts. A retreat situation is a very good time to work on your ethical conduct and to study your precepts, whether they are pratimoksha precepts, bodhisattva precepts, tantric precepts. They are very good to study in the break time and really refine your ethical conduct. The reason for this is when we keep good ethical conduct, our mind is very relaxed. When we don’t keep ethical conduct, our mind has a lot of regret, it has a lot of guilt, it has a lot of turmoil. It has fear because we’ve done something we’ve shouldn’t and other people are going to find out about it. If we really make an effort toward good ethical conduct, our mind can be very peaceful and there’s no interruption from regret, guilt, fear, uncertainty, and these kinds of things. These are the six conditions, I will read them over so make sure you have six here. Preferable place, a clear understanding how to do the practice, free from gross desires, feeling satisfied and content, free from involvement from worldly activities, and pure ethical conduct, those six.
This is especially good during a retreat in serenity. For general retreats, you may not necessarily have every single one of these, but as much as possible have all of these, that much better your retreat’s going to be. You have a good situation and you won’t have to be battling the external hindrances or the internal hindrance of all your ignorance or regret and those kinds of things.
In terms of meditation posture. If you can sit in the vajra position, that’s the best. Some people call the vajra position the lotus position, I’m not quite sure why but I think the name is the vajra position. Your legs are crossed. The left foot is on the right thigh and the right foot is put on the left thigh. Your left foot is in closer to you and then the right foot. If you can’t sit like that, you can put one of the legs down, put your right leg down and keep the left leg up. If you can’t sit like that, then you can sit in what we call the Tara position with your left leg closer in and your right leg in front of that, not stretched out like Tara, but like you are sitting. Or, if you can’t sit like that, in the Tara position where both your legs are flat and it’s quite comfortable, then cross-legged. If you need to put cushions under your knees, that’s okay. You might have to experiment a little bit with cushions under your rear to get the right height, to get the right shape, to get the right hardness or hardness. One little bit of advice is after a certain while, give up trying to find the perfect cushion, because it’s not an issue of the cushion, it’s an issue of our body that’s out of shape and our body that has restless energy.
Your back is straight, the hands are the right on the left, palms up, thumbs are together forming a triangle, and this is in your lap, against your body. Your shoulders are level. Your arms, there is a little bit of space here, between the body and the arms. You don’t want it like this, chicken wings, and you don’t want it like that. Just kind of relaxed. Your head is level, or you might tuck your chin in just a tinge. Don’t lift your chin up like this. I notice that a lot of people who have bifocals tilt their chin up, that’s why I don’t wear my glasses all the time. Your head is level and straight. Your nose is even with your navel, don’t droop your head because it will keep on drooping. Your mouth is closed but your teeth are not clenched, your mouth should be relaxed. If you have allergies or a cold, breathing through your mouth is okay. It’s not the best situation during breathing meditation but it’s better than not breathing. Some of you may have been at the retreat at Cloud Mountain in June, which is the height of the allergy season and I was teaching breathing meditation and I couldn’t breathe at all. I was just like with one tissue after the other. Do the best you can.
What other points did I miss about this? Legs, shoulders, back, head, mouth, eyes. Your eyes. It’s good if you can keep them a little bit open, you’re not really looking at anything, they’re just a wee bit open and they’re down. If you’re going put them anywhere, they say at the tip of your nose but that can give you a headache, it’s not so comfortable, so down here just in front of you. You’re not looking at anything. The reason for keeping your eyes a little bit open is because that way some light comes in and prevents you from getting drowsy and also that helps you become familiar with doing meditation while your senses are still functioning. It’s preferable to meditate in a quiet place but you’re never going to find a perfectly quiet place, so we have to also learn to deal with noise and to just be able to recognize it and not pay too much attention to it, getting distracted by it.
The typical thing is for beginners, you sit down to meditate and then you hear some noise. “Why is the refrigerator going off? It knows I’m meditating. I can’t stand this noise from the refrigerator.” Or, “The person next to me in the meditation hall is breathing so loud! Don’t they know that you’re not supposed to make noise when you breathe? Why don’t they be quiet?” And so and so when they are clicking their mala when you are during a mantra retreat. And then they take the mala and put it down on the table – BANG! And you’re furious. Who does that guy think he is, clicking his mala when I’m trying to develop concentration? She has been teaching about cherishing others more than yourself, why doesn’t he cherish me more than his mala? We get so upset. Or, the other thing is the person turns the pages of their sadhana. Have you ever sat next to one of those? We get so mad, furious. If you’re getting mad because of some noise, remember that the problem is not the noise, the problem is your mind.
I think there is some Zen story, something about is the flag moving or is the air moving? The answer was it’s the mind that’s moving. This is it. It’s not somebody else that’s making noise, it’s my mind that’s making noise. All my irritation and anger at that person, that’s my own internal noise, my own internal conversation. What I have found to be the best way to deal with these kinds of things is to completely welcome the person. You hear a baby crying, “I’m so glad that baby was born. May that baby grow up to be healthy and happy and a Dharma practitioner.” You hear somebody clicking their mala, “Wow, isn’t it wonderful that they’re doing retreat and saying mantra.” You can hear somebody turning pages of their sadhana, “Wow, it’s great that they have come here to do retreat.” You hear a car go by, this isn’t the ideal situation for developing serenity retreat, but in your daily practice you hear the car go by, “May that person be well and happy. May they be safe in their car.” The refrigerator goes on, “It’s my refrigerator, what am I blaming other people for? How kind of somebody to make the refrigerator even though it makes noise.” I’ve found the best things to prevent getting angry at the noise is to completely welcome it. That doesn’t we mean pay attention to it, but it stops the anger and the anger soon becomes a much bigger problem than the noise.
When you’re angry, you get up from your meditation session and you are ready to give the guy sitting in the back the dirtiest look because they squirmed too much in the meditation. We have lots of laughs about this at the Abbey. You do group retreat and somebody comes in, we had such a big laugh about this. He was late for a session and he was wearing one of those nylon jackets, that makes so much noise. And he was trying to take it off quietly. Then you have the person who’s undoing the zipper one little thing at a time, they don’t want to make any noise like zhuuup, so they just do the zhiip. And you just wish they would take the jacket off. The main thing is be able to laugh at these kinds of things instead of getting upset and know that the other person’s probably much more embarrassed. With the person behind you that squirms, or the middle-aged woman who’s taking off her jacket, have some compassion. We welcome sentient beings and remember our motivation.
Another important factor in our meditation is having the correct motivation. I spoke a little bit about this last time. Really, the importance of, at the beginning of the session, setting a strong motivation and specifically a motivation of bodhicitta. I lead one before teachings every time but when you’re on your own, you can invent your own bodhicitta motivation, not invent like make it up out of nowhere, but you can go about it in different ways. Maybe sometimes you think more about precious human life, or sometimes you think about death and impermanence or sometimes you think about cyclic existence and sometimes you do the bodhicitta meditations. Whatever it is, you lead yourself to the conclusion that I am doing this in order to become a Buddha for the benefit of sentient beings. The stronger your motivation is at the beginning of the session, the better your session is going to go. We all know that when we are highly motivated for something, we enjoy it more, it goes easier, we do it better. Really take some time with your motivation.
In terms of the hindrances, none of them mention pain. Neither set of five hindrances, none of them mention pain so let me talk a little bit about pain. First of all, I think at least what I discovered with myself is at the beginning I had so much restless physical energy. We are not used to sitting still, are we? We always have to get up and go do something. Our body doesn’t know how to sit still, and our mind doesn’t know how to sit still. It takes some time just getting yourself to be able to sit still and sometimes the restless energy will come out as pain. I remember when I did Vajrasattva retreat after knowing the Dharma about a year. My right leg, I was stretching, bending, this and that and the other thing because it was always hurting. After a while, I discovered it wasn’t so much the pain as much as it was just restless physical energy. Learn to sit there and if you feel that restless physical energy, just sit there, you don’t need to move. Observe that energy and observe how your mind reacts to it. The mind sometimes says, “I can’t sit here one split second longer. I have to get up, I have to move, I have to do something.” Do you have that come up sometimes? It’s like you feel like everything is just so tense and you can’t sit there one second longer and you just sit there and watch that feeling, observe that feeling. You don’t have to be that feeling, you can step back and observe that feeling. What does that feel? Where in my body is that restless feeling located or is it my mind that’s telling me a restless story? What is it? Do some investigation there.
Another good thing for restless energy, for the mind that says, “I have to get up and answer that phone call,” or “I have to get up and do this and that.” When you first sit down for your session, ask yourself, you have however long you are going to meditate and you say, “Is there anything earth-shatteringly important that I have to do for X number of minutes?” If there is, like somebody’s going to die, take them to the hospital before you do your meditation session. But if there’s nothing of earth-shattering importance at the beginning at the session, you decided there’s nothing else that is more important that you need to be doing at this time, so then you sit there. If the thought comes up, “I’ve really got to do this!” You say, “I thought about it beforehand and I decided that there was nothing that couldn’t wait until the end of the session.” Then you put that down.
For pain itself. There are two elements of pain, there’s the physical pain and then there’s what the mind does with the pain. The physical pain is just a tactile sensation, that’s all it is, a tactile sensation. What’s very interesting to observe is how the mind reacts to that tactile sensation. “My knee hurts. If I don’t move my knee, the whole cartilage is going to get torn apart and I’m going to need knee replacement surgery and I can’t afford that right now because I don’t have enough insurance. Why did I take this job that doesn’t give me good enough insurance?” And then you are off on a distraction, aren’t you? It’s just a physical pain, it’s a physical sensation. Are you really going to be crippled forever if you don’t move your knee? Highly unlikely. If something is excruciatingly painful, adjust your position. But don’t adjust your position the first time the thought comes in your mind to do it because otherwise, that’s this restless mind. You can begin to see how the mind reacts to pain. It’s interesting. Each of us might be a little bit different but sometimes you feel a small pain and our mind gets so incredibly worried. You’re sitting there meditating and your stomach gurgles and you go, “What’s happening, maybe I have an ulcer,” and we dream up all these incredible things.
Watch that. Watch how the mind relates to sensations in the body. Try and differentiate what is the sensation, the physical sensation that is from your tactile consciousness, and what is your mind’s reaction to that? Separate them out. This is a very very good thing to be able to do. Not just for our meditation but because we have bodies that are under the influence of karma and afflictions, our body is always going to hurt in one way or another at one time or another. Developing some ability to observe the pain without getting in the middle of it, and without letting our mind go on a whole big trip about how catastrophic that pain is. Developing that ability is very very helpful for us. Separate out what’s the mind and what’s the body. When our mind starts to spin, it hardly needs anything, just some little funny sensation in the tip of our finger and all of a sudden we are self-diagnosing ourselves with some horrible illness and being afraid. There’s no need at all to do that.
That’s one thing, separate the two. Another thing is, sometimes when you are watching the physical sensation, try and figure out exactly where the sensation is. It’s very interesting because when you try and do that, and you try and draw a little mental line around where that pain is, it’s very interesting, it moves and it changes and you become a little bit uncertain exactly what the sensation is that you are looking for. It’s very interesting to do that. Another thing, which I find very helpful because this leads into some reflection on emptiness is, “Why do I call this pain?” If I say that I am experiencing pain, how do I know I’m experiencing pain, why do I call this sensation pain? I don’t mean to get for you to get involved in some mental thing up here, but you are focused on the sensation and what is painful about this sensation? What exactly is the pain? Very interesting. That’s a good thing to do. The taking-and-giving meditation. May everybody who has aching knees and aching back–may I take all their suffering and the karma that produces that away from them. May I bring it in and blow up my own self-centered thought and give them, radiate out, hip replacements and knee replacements. Radiate out aspirin, no. Radiate out healthy bodies, getting closer. Extend loving kindness to the others.
This is the second set of hindrances. There’s five hindrances and then there’s eight remedies or antidotes to them. The first hindrance is our old friend, starts with an L. Love? No. Laxity? No. Laziness! That’s it. The first hindrance is laziness. The second one is forgetting the object of meditation. The third one is laxity and excitement combined together. They’re listed as one, not as two. The fourth one is not applying the antidote to lethargy and excitement when you should and the fifth one is applying the antidote or over applying the antidote when you no longer have that hindrance. Those are the five hindrances. They’re a bit different than that first set.
Then there’s eight antidotes. The first four antidotes apply to laziness. The first antidote is faith, then aspiration, then effort, and then pliancy. I’m just listing these right now, I will go back and describe them. For the second one, forgetting the object, the antidote for that is mindfulness. For the third one, laxity and excitement, the antidote is alertness or introspective awareness. For the fourth one, of not applying the antidote when you need to, the antidote to that is applying the antidote. The antidote to over applying the antidote is equanimity.
Let’s go back to the beginning. We won’t get through all five of these as we just have a couple of minutes. The first one of laziness. Here we come back, because laziness we’ve talked about. Do you remember that first one? Sloth and torpor, sleeping and procrastination. The second one is busy-ness, doing useless things. Third one, discouragement. Those three. If we have any of those three, it’s going to be difficult to develop concentration. We won’t get to the cushion, we are too busy doing something else and procrastinating. Or we get to the cushion and we tell ourselves we can’t do it, so we get up. Faith doesn’t mean faith without investigation. Here what faith means is faith in meditative stabilization, faith in concentration, faith that it’s possible to develop that quality. What we do is reflect on the advantages of developing concentration and the disadvantages of not developing concentration. When you reflect on those, you feel, “Oh wow, this is something I want to do.” There are three kinds of faith. This is the admiring kind of faith. You admire concentration by seeing its advantages and the disadvantages of not having it.
Disadvantages of not having concentration. It’s very difficult to develop any good qualities because you can’t stay focused. It becomes a hindrance to developing good qualities in general. It becomes a hindrance for realizing emptiness or developing bodhicitta, things like that. The benefits of developing concentration: to be in the gate for all these good qualities. If you can stay focused on something, you can train your mind in that good quality. Whatever meditation you decide to do, if you can concentrate, the understanding of that meditation will come to you so much easier because you can stay on the topic. If you are doing lam rim meditation, or daily meditation, or whatever, you will be able to stay on that so some understanding will come much easier.
Concentration is also very very good for your health because to be able to concentrate means overcoming all these different hindrances that we talked about. These hindrances are often things that interfere with our health, aren’t they? You have a lot of lethargy, it’s not healthy. A lot of anxiety, or restlessness, or worry, regret, or ill will, these things are not so good for your health. Developing concentration is very good for your physical health and it’s also good for your mental health. When we are able to attain levels of samadhi, the afflictions are suppressed. The very gross level of afflictions, they aren’t eliminated completely, but they’re suppressed. The jealously, the resentment, the rebelliousness, the negligence, the conceit, all these things they don’t manifest in the mind in a very gross, interfering way when you have high stages of concentration. The mind becomes very very peaceful as well.
If we really reflect on these benefits of developing concentration, then we have some interest in it and our mind is eager. That leads to the next one, which is aspiration. When we have the interest that comes from having faith and seeing the advantages and disadvantages, then we have the aspiration to develop concentration. When we have the aspiration to do something, then we make effort to do it. The effort isn’t torturous effort, it’s joyous effort because we aspire and interested in it. The actual antidote to laziness is pliancy, which is a very flexible state of body and mind. It’s a mental factor where you can put your attention on an object and your mind is very flexible and can stay there. It leads to very deep experiences of contentment and bliss, so that’s the actual antidote to laziness.
That’s the first of the hindrances, we will continue with the next ones next week. In the meantime, hopefully there’s something in here you can use in your daily practice. Especially work on developing contentment: what I have is good enough, what I do is good enough, what I am is good enough. If you can have that, overcoming sloth and torpor, busy-ness and discouragement, all of that comes much easier.
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.