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Nine stages of sustained attention

Nine stages of sustained attention

The text turns to training the mind on the stages of the path of advanced level practitioners. Part of a series of teachings on the Gomchen Lamrim by Gomchen Ngawang Drakpa. Visit Gomchen Lamrim Study Guide for a full list of contemplation points for the series.

  • Realizing that samsara is unpredictable by nature
  • The six powers and four types of attention
  • The characteristics of each of the nine stages
  • Mental and physical pliancy and the bliss of mental/physical pliancy
  • The attributes of serenity or access concentration

Gomchen Lamrim 121: Nine Stages of Sustained Attention (download)

Contemplation points

  1. Venerable Chodron began the class with explaining what “training” means in Buddhist practice. More than just reading a book and passing a test, training is character building. It is transforming our own mind. It is changing how we respond under stress so that we are flexible and can respond to situations in a way that benefits self and others. With this understanding of training, she offered many tools with which to examine our own experience. Take some time to investigate them:
    • What is the nature of samsara? Where in samsara do we have predictability and stability?
    • If there is no creator and no inherently existent self, just beings who are under the influence of afflictions and karma, who is responsible for making things stable?
    • When you consider all the causes and conditions that must come together for situations to arise, is it reasonable to think that you or anyone else should be able to control them?
    • Remember that the only predictably to be had in samsara is that things are changing in each moment, that we can’t find any lasting happiness in samsara, and that there is no inherently existent self.
    • Consider that if you are rigid and inflexible, it is not because of your environment and the people it in, but because of your own afflictions and false expectations.
    • When you’re uncomfortable with how things change on a dime, watch your clinging to permanence and stability. Instead of letting your mind go to “Why are things like this? They shouldn’t be like this,” go inside… “What do wrong beliefs in permanence and stability make me do? How do they make me think? Is the problem that things change or that I had the expectation that things would go according to my plan? What is really causing my discomfort?”
    • Investigate how fear-based samsara is, how despite the insecurity of samsara, you are trying to make everything secure.
    • When you’re uncomfortable with certain people, instead of listing their bad qualities, check up to see if your own opinion factory is working overtime.
    • When you can’t stand others’ suggestions, ideas, and ways of doing things, look at what you are grasping at – permanence? True existence? Look at your own arrogance. Is your way the only way to do things?
  2. Consider the six powers: hearing, reflection, mindfulness, introspective awareness, effort, and complete familiarity. How do each of these support the development of concentration?
  3. Consider the four types of attention: tight focus, interrupted focus, uninterrupted focus, and spontaneous focus. In your own mind, walk through how one leads to the next as a meditator cultivates meditative stability.
  4. Consider the nine stages of sustained attention: placing the mind, continual placement, repeated placement, close placement, taming, pacifying, thoroughly pacifying, making single-pointed, and placement in equipoise.  In your own mind, walk through how one leads to the next as a meditator cultivates meditative stability.
  5. Regarding the first of the nine stages (placing the mind), Venerable Chodron said that in this stage the appearance of the object isn’t very clear and the mind is plagued with discursive thoughts. To get the mind to stay, we have to learn to withdraw the mind from external objects and generate mindfulness on it. We can start this process now, in the break times (when we’re not on the cushion):
    • Consider: if you are compelled to look every time someone moves in a room or makes noise, how is that going to affect your meditation session? What can you do to start to work on your mindfulness off the cushion so that it benefits your meditation sessions? Be specific?
    • Consider: if you suffer from worry and anxiety, how is that going to affect your meditation session? Are there particularly anxieties that come up repeatedly? What are they? When you’re not in meditation, begin to practice identifying these thoughts simply as “anxious thoughts” instead of feeding them.
  6. After the nine stages, we cultivate mental and physical pliancy, followed by the bliss of mental and physical pliancy. Consider what this kind of serviceability of the body and mind might be like. How might it make a difference in your practice on and off the cushion?
  7. Finally, as meditative stability continues to increase, the meditator attains serenity. Consider some of the benefits of serenity:
    • The body and mind are flexible and serviceable
    • The mind is very spacious
    • The mind can abide firmly on the meditation object
    • There is sense of great clarity
    • In post meditation time, afflictions don’t arise as strongly or as frequently, and craving for sense pleasure decreases significantly
    • Sleep can be transformed into meditation
  8. Better understanding the process of cultivating meditative stability and the many benefits of doing so, resolve to begin cultivating this perfection in your meditation sessions.
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.