Samatha By C. M. Chen
The reasons are as follows:
- Before one gains Samatha one cannot get Samapatti, as the latter is only gained through the force of the former. It is written in the Sandhinirmocana Sutra: "If you do not get the attainment of ease and lightness, then you cannot get the mystic Samapatti."
- Again, before Samatha attainment one's mind may fix upon some truth, some concentrated train of thought, but even so it will not be possible to maintain this and such investigation cannot be made concrete or actualized. When Samapatti is not sustained by the force of Samatha, it is neither true Sampatti nor is it of much use meditationally.
- If you get Samatha, then your wisdom is increased and you can penetrate into the truth with Samapatti.
- Whatever you think of before the attainment of Samatha is an act of the sixth consciousness and mixed and tainted with the past life of false views and the system of avidya, that is, samsara. Once Samatha is obtained, then the force of it may be used to meditate on the Truth; thus with avidya cut off, your whole system of thought is correctly oriented and turned towards Enlightenment.
- A human being's unwholesome thoughts have accumulated over the ages so that bad habits have been formed: this is because such a one's thoughts are not centered upon Buddha Dharma. So it is hardly possible to use a mind like this to think about the Truth. Before this must come the attainment of Samatha. Buddhists well know that past karma causes habits and would agree in the main with the old school-book adage: "Sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny."
This just describes nicely the character of a human being not possessing the central thought of Buddhism. We must first get rid of the human thoughts (of greed, hatred and delusion) and through the force of Samatha, change to having a pure mind. As Buddhists we might adapt the above saying to our own use: "Sow Samatha, reap Samapatti; sow Samapatti, reap Samapanna; sow Samapanna, reap Samadhi." In this way we gain Full Enlightenment. Of course, there is no destiny here as that term belongs properly to fatalism, a philosophy most unBuddhistic.
- According to the Three Wisdoms of Hearing, Thinking, and Practising, Samapatti pertains to the last one. If you do not practice Samatha to make a foundation for Samapatti, but yet try thinking on the Truth, then this will only be the wisdom of Thinking. It is written in the Ku-sha (Abhidharmakosa), "Based on the full and perfect victorious attainment of Samatha, you may practise the Samapatti of the Four Mindfulnesses."
- According to the Six Paramita and their sequence: the fifth paramita is Dhyana and the sixth, Wisdom. Samatha belongs to dhyana and Samapatti is the cause of wisdom. So first practise the dhyanas and then gain the wisdom. Without the first one cannot get the second.
- According to the Three Knowledges (or Trainings): the first knowledge, morality, is preparatory; the second, called Samadhi or dhyana, is here the Samatha-training; and the third, prajna, is produced from Samapatti.
- And according to the doctrine of Entity and Function: first one must get the static entity of Samatha, and then obtain from it the dynamic function of Samapatti.
- Before you get the attainment of Samatha, your Right View is only of Recognition but after the Samatha force is experienced, you will be able to get the third insight, that of Feeling, and from this the fourth insight, or Inner Realization.
- Even though Ch'an is not of the common meditations and neither needs Samatha nor Samapatti, yet all the Patriarchs have used the phrase, "You should get a time of great spiritual death", that is before you can do anything else, and this somehow corresponds to the Samatha stage.
- The Mahaparinirvana Sutra says: "The reason why a Bodhisattva of the Mahayana gets Enlightenment after a longer time than the Hinayana Arhat, is because his Samatha is not so well developed." We do not follow the Arhat and his ideal but in our talk about meditation we must certainly know the great importance of Samatha.
Expanding upon this, Mr. Chen said further: there are two kinds of Bodhisattvas, one with more wisdom and another having compassion better developed. The latter pay more attention to the foremost four perfections, doing much work for the benefit of sentient beings, and therefore lack wisdom. With a Wisdom Bodhisattva (who has concentrated particularly upon the last two Perfections) birth and death may be cut off at the first of the Ten Bodhisattva Stages, while the other must wait until he reaches the eighth stage for wisdom to be strong enough to accomplish this. Thus we see clearly how much difference there is between one with Samatha and the other without it. In the Buddhas' Sutras and in the Patriarchs' Shastras we seem to see in many places a lack of clarity and established sequence among these steps to meditation. For example, the Buddha preached 25 permutations of dhyana, Samatha and Samapatti in the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment. Why has he done this? Why are the factors not in order? This is because he was addressing great Bodhisattvas who could understand and profit from these various "wheel-turnings," but our book is for neophytes who require a settled sequence for their immature understanding.
To give an example from the Patriarchs' teachings: In T'ien-Tai there are four books in which different arrangements of these stages of meditation practice are given. Since there is lack of certainty, few have gained Enlightenment in this system. The order in which one factor follows from another has not yet been emphasized so that even among the line of T'ien-Tai gurus, admittedly very learned, they have got but few degrees of enlightenment. In the biography of the lineage which gives the lives of the first nine Patriarchs, it is recorded that many of them said before they died: "I am sorry, my attainment is limited. I have led the monks so early and there has been so much to do in the monastery that I regret my meditation is not deeper." Even Chih-I, the virtual founder of T'ien-Tai, repeated Amitabha's name when he died.
II. Some Conditions of Mental Preparation
A. Nine Prayoga:
- The first is of correspondence between one's temperment and the type of practice. This means you should know yourself very well: a person of lust should take up the practices on impurity of the body and so forth; while the hateful character must practise loving-kindness and compassion.
- Of habit. Samatha must be practised regularly.
- Of readiness. One should not linger over outward and distressing activities. Whatever good works are to be done, finish them as quickly as possible and get back to the samatha practice.
- Of not being upside-down. Everything done should be accomplished in accordance with the Dharma and with the proper respect given to the Guru.
- Of proper time. Whichever hindrances arise, know what is the right cure for each of them and apply these medicines as necessary; always act at the right time, neither before, nor after.
- Of recognition. One must know when to go into Samatha, how long to stay in and when to come out; all these to be done at the proper time and by the right method.
- Of not being easily satisfied. It is very necessary to be diligent and so make progress. Do not think of a little progress as a perfect attainment.
- Of not throwing away the yoke. This means the mind must not be left to wander amid the sense-objects and forget Samatha.
- Of the main practice of Samatha.
B. Now we come to the Four Cittotpada or Arisings of Resolve:
- The resolve of training the mind. This means that one should renounce the mind of attachment to worldly things and train to desire only Samatha.
- The resolve to comfort the heart with delights of Dharma.
- The resolve to make the mind easy and comfortable, full of tranquility (prasrabdhi) and free from all oppressions. To get this, all gross discrimination should be renounced.
- The resolve to obtain perfect View. Think of this long and deeply. Remember that it is only by the practice of Samatha that wisdom can arise.
- If this posture is practised, then one easily gains tranquility for Samatha.
- This posture may be held for a long time without strain or pain.
- On the third point, Mr. Chen commented, we must disagree from the learned author, for Tsongkhapa states that the Lotus seat is different than ways of sitting adopted by outsiders. In Tibet presumably this was correct for it may have been unknown to the Bon-pa, the ancient religion of Tibet, and Tsongkhapa certainly never visited India where he might have had the opportunity to see plenty of "outsiders" using this sitting method.
- When people see you seated thus, they will be surprised, and then have some confidence, listen to your teachings, make their obeisance and so become your disciples.
- The Lotus Seat is emphasized by all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
We should, said our yogi rising from his seat, now give some practical instructions for those who feel that the lotus seat posture is difficult. To the writer he said: As there are none of my words here, you must describe my actions in your own.
- Standing erect and balanced upon one leg with the other knee bent and the leg held in front, revolve the foot from the ankle (keeping the rest of the leg still). Rotate in both directions and change from one leg to the other. Stiffness of the ankles will be overcome and pain in the muscles attached thereto will be lessened if this little exercise is practised.
- The same position but circling the leg from the knee. The writer noticed that Mr. Chen's knee joints were remarkably free and as he swung the lower half of his leg around that he moved it in much wider circles than would be possible for most people.
- Again one-leg standing but this time revolving the leg from the thighs. Thus the three joints of the leg one after the other have been exercised--and flexibility of all of them is essential for comfortable Lotus sitting.
Sitting down cross-legged on the carpet, our yogi next demonstrated a method to loosen the muscles behind the knee.
- Take one foot by the ankle holding it from underneath with the opposite hand. Place the other hand on the knee of the same leg. Raise the ankle with the first hand and press down upon the knee with the second. Then release the foot so that with some force it bangs down upon the ground. Mr. Chen did this several times with alternate feet so that our floor (and no doubt downstairs ceiling) shook. The value of a thick rug will be appreciated in this exercise unless bruised ankles are desired.
- Getting up, our yogi then performed a perfect "bend down and touch the toes." At least the knuckles of the hand must touch the ground, better still the complete palm. And, cautioned the yogi, the knees must be straight.
- For the next exercise, Mr. Chen produced a strong wooden stool about eighteen inches high and a large bucket of water full almost to the brim. This he placed in front of the stool. Standing upon the stool, our yogi bent forward from the thighs and placed over the back of his head a broad strap attached to the bucket handle. Then with hands clasped together at his waist (not exerting any thrust with them), he raised the bucket of water without even a tremor of muscular effort, nor did the water spill. This Mr. Chen did several times and very obviously he was exceptionally fit or this could not have been so easily accomplished. All the muscles in the back of one's body would be well-exercised in this way especially those at the spine.
These are some exercises which will, if practised regularly and with patience, ensure eventual easy sitting in the Lotus Posture. Then Mr. Chen gave two further pieces of advice. He said: Before the full Lotus becomes possible, on every occasion when you have the chance, practice sitting in the half position with one foot raised upon the opposite thigh and the other tucked underneath. Also: always keep the legs warm and wrap around them many cloths. This is very essential in cool climates in which the legs and feet may become cold as the blood cannot pass easily through the crossed limbs. If the legs become cold, you will get much pain and trouble and this is difficult to cure. Keeping them warm, there will be no pain and one may then sit for a long time.
If a man practises with diligence and patience, Mr. Chen continued, then there is no limit to the age at which he may gain the Full Lotus though of course it is usually easier for the young. I myself only started at the age of 28 and became perfect in the posture very slowly, over many months, and at first experienced much pain. Even now my walking is a little different from the normal way, due to this sitting.
If with all energy and patience a meditator finds that one cannot do it, then whatever cross-legged position he may adopt he should keep the feet clenched, that is with the toes drawn together underneath the feet and the muscles of the soles somewhat tense. In walking too, this is a good practice for yogis as it leads to a conservation of inner energies. Mr. Chen demonstrated this "pigeon-toed" walk which certainly required mindfulness to maintain it but results in upward flowing energies not dissipated as in the usual flat-footed walk. Sitting with the feet curled up in this way, even if one cannot achieve the Lotus, will ensure that energy currents in the body flow upwards (as the full Lotus automatically causes them to do since the feet there naturally assume an upward and slightly curled position like two small wings).
IV. Nine Steps and Six Conditions for Samatha
We had already seen the list which Mr. Chen produced, a ready typed copy taken from one of his unpublished books, and the writer was duly thankful for this advantage. This helpful series of steps which we believe to be unknown as such in the Theravada tradition is given below:
- Inward Abiding?to be able to draw back the mind from holding "outward" evil thoughts and settle it well on the inward sight. (First condition).
- Continuous Abiding-to be able to make the mind continually abide on the inward sight. (Second condition).
- Well-Abiding?if any thought falls away from the inward sight, it is well fixed again upon this. (Third condition).
- Near the Good Abiding?all the outward thoughts are on the inward sight. (Third condition).
- Overwhelm?the outward thoughts have been overwhelmed by the inward sight. (Fourth condition).
- Silence-the mind has been pacified and kept silent. (Fourth condition).
- Deep Silence-the sleepy mind and the distracted mind are overwhelmed by the deep silence. (Fifth condition).
- One-pointed Attention-the mind always pays attention to only one point, that is, the inward sight without even moving a little or ceasing for a short time. (Fifth condition).
- Equal Abiding?the mind itself is always equally abiding everywhere and without any forceful compulsion. (Sixth condition).
Our yogi, then went on to say: If one attains the nine steps then one must have the six conditions applying to them. They are noted after each of the above nine steps for easy reference and consist of:
- First Condition: the instruction of hearing. Without this, one cannot follow and practise. This applies to the first Step.
- Second Condition: right thinking. All thinking will return to the object of concentration. This applies to the second Step.
- Third Condition: the condition of remembrance. Relevant to the third and fourth Steps.
- Fourth Condition: rightly recognizing, applying to the fifth and sixth Steps.
- Fifth Condition: Diligence is required for the seventh and eighth Steps.
- Sixth Condition: the force of habitual practice. This applies to the last of the nine Steps.
Here, in addition, one should arrange an object of concentration suitable in color to the character of the practitioner. For the concentration of a person with a distracted mind, an object made of stone, with a painted surface, circular in shape and deep in color (blue, black, etc.) should be taken. For the person inclined to sleepiness, the concentration object should be light, such as white or yellow. Such are the directions given for developing the Samatha based on outward objects.
For inward Samatha development, any point central in the body may be used. Here our yogi indicated particularly the area between the eyes, the heart region, or the navel. If one easily goes to sleep then choose a higher point but if the obstacle experienced is disturbance, take a lower one. One's concentration point should not always be changed but should be varied according to circumstance.
Some books actually confuse these two, while the number of different explanations given in different treatises may confuse readers. Therefore, we should have a clear explanation: the one offered here is my own and not to be found elsewhere.
|(i Samapatti of Samatha|
Now what do these mean? At the beginning of practice one may choose a point and focus attention upon it but that will not be true Samapatti as one does it only for Samatha. This kind of abiding on a point only belongs to the realm of intellectual thinkinga Samapatti of scientific investigation. The first Samatha of the second couple is reached when one has already got the attainment of Samatha: it equates with steps 7, 8, and 9 in the Nine Steps previously mentioned. The first Samapatti of the third couple is explained thus: when one is meditating on the Truth and one finds the mind wandering off among objects unsuitable to one's investigation, then one develops another Samapatti as a corrective to the latter one, which is the original Samapatti. After Samatha has been produced, Samapatti arises from it. This investigation is of Truth itself, of steadfast understanding. Thus the second Samatha of the second couple and the second Samapatti of the third couple are used in their common sense.
The mind fixed on some image or stone, etc. is in the Samapatti of investigation and this should not be confused with the final stage here called the Samapatti of truth. By distinguishing these six we shall not confuse an intellectual concentration for a true understanding which can only arise from developed Samatha.
VI. Mistakes in Practice and Their Cures
The Six Defects or blemishes described are
- Forgetting the instruction
- Excitedness when the mind is lifted up
- Negligence in not acting at the proper time
- Over-zealousness, over-enthusiasm
The Eight Cures for the above are:
To Cure the first:
- Have faith
- Maintain the desire for Enlightenment if you understand fully the importance of meditation, you will always pursue it.
- Comfortable Abiding not to give pain to yourself by extreme asceticism.
- With these four medicines we shall not be lazy.
- To cure forgetfulness:
- The medicine of mindfulness
- The cure for sleepiness and excitability is:
- Right recognition awake quickly to the trouble and cure it. Think upon painful things and see that there's no time to waste.
- To cure the fifth defect:
- Right thinking think of what may result from apathy or negligence. Either one must think in this way or obstacles will overcome one, then one will not act, and so fall to sleep.
- As a cure for over-zealousness:
- Renunciation of likes and dislikes, leading to equanimity.
Here I offer you some knowledge. The most troublesome of these defects are the third and the fourth, lethargy and excitedness. They vex the meditator, first one and then the other, when one has finished the other begins.
In Tsongkhapa's "Nga-Rim", his work on the Tantras, he has mentioned these particular faults and made them a basis of classification to gather some practices to counteract them. "If you have a sleepy mind you must do this", etc. But this I refuse. These states are bound to be experienced by neophytes and we should expect to find good advice against them in the Hinayana and even in the Mahayana. But the Tantras are not for beginners and by the time one is fit to practice their teachings, these hindrances should have been overcome. As we should expect, in the "Great Stages of the Path" by the same author, much space is given to these two, but they should not appear as important in a major tantric work.
I just say to meditators: If you follow the sequence found in our work then these two defects will be finished. When even the followers of Mahayana and Vajrayana are still experiencing these states, we are thereby warned of the importance of Samatha practices. I have practised Samatha for many years and in particular paid attention to these two hindrances so as to rid myself of them.
|Category||Conditions Leading to Disturbed Mind||Conditions Leading to Sleepy Mind|
|Food||Too little||Too much|
(chili and spicy food)
|Earth-element (potato, bread, etc.)|
|Weather||Too Cold||Too hot|
|Season (Chinese)||Summer, Winter||Spring, Autumn|
|Light||Very strong||Too weak or dark|
|Clothes||Too few||Too many|
|Color||Red, orange, yellow||Green, blue, black|
|Breath||Only through right nostril||Only through left nostril|
|Mental Poison||Greed (lobha), Hatred (dosa)||Ignorance (moha)|
One should know all these conditions and take only the middle course of action, but not either of the extremes. This is cure by prevention. These things should be known immediately when they appear and very thoroughlyjust as a man knows: today is hot, wear light clothes.
Besides varying the place of concentration according to one's mental state, it is well to remember that the neck bent a little forward will lead to a greater upward flow of energy thus counteracting sleepiness; while leaning the spine (still straight) a little backward reduces the energy and may be tried against the restless mind. Regarding the eyes: open them widely when drowsiness comes but for disturbance, it is best to have them just half-closed.
Samatha is a little close to sleepiness: actually just before sleep overcomes the mind, good Samatha can be obtained, though few people know how to experience this. Either they drop off to sleep or are disturbed by the demon of distraction.
- The five senses themselves not abiding in theibesir own nature, as when the eye is not restrained and allowed to roam hither and thither. The same applies to the other senses but the eye is chief. Confucius says: "To see others' minds, see others' eyes." The eyes are a good indication of the mental state. The senses should all be kept upon one point, that is upon whatever is to be done at the moment.
- External distractions. To avoid these, see the chapter on Preparation and the advice given there for choosing a silent place for retreat.
- Internal distractions. For disturbing feelings from within the body, employ the weapons of renunciation, impermanence, and impurity.
- Those distractions caused by ideas of "I" and "mine," review with sunyata.
- Confusion of thoughts arising in the mind on the different yanas of Buddhism and their respective teachings.
If these five have gone, then there will be good Samatha.
VII. Realization of Samatha
Here we shall outline the Four Dhyanas and the Eighteen Conditions which are the mental factors characterizing these states of concentration. First to be considered are the Four Steps leading up to the First Dhyana.
- Roughly Abiding. At this stage of Samatha attainment, the meditator can only abide for a short time and roughly, his mind sometimes wandering from the concentration.
- Subtly Abiding. The body and mind become very pure and empty.
- The Samatha of the Desire Realm. Even though the meditator feels so pure and light and can prolong his Samatha, still the body and mind are experienced by him.
- Not-yet-reached Samatha. The body seems like the sky, as inside one does not see the body, outside one sees nothing. Still the practitioner keeps some natural obstacles so that the First Dhyana cannot be attained. No body, no mind, but this is not true sunyata, only the experience of akasa, as the sampatti of sunyata is not practised.
With constant Samatha practice, the Eight Touches and the Ten Merits will come after sometime: This is called the sign of the complete First Dhyana. Upon entry into this first state of concentration these Eight are accompanied by Ten, as below:
A. Eight Internal Touches
I have decided for myself among: the Eight Touches which are connected with the various elements: coldness and smoothness, the water element; earth element is found in heaviness and roughness, while the element of fire is irritation and heat. Their determination forms an important part in meditations analysing them.
B. The Ten Merits
- feeling empty
- the goodness-mind
- soft pliancy
- gross pleasure
- subtle joy
C. Among all the dhyanas there are Eighteen Conditions (dhyananga) altogether.
In the First Dhyana only five occur:
- Staticness, quiescence
- While in the Second Dhyana, four branches are found, having gotten rid of the first two in the last list:
- Pure condition of faith
- Experience of the Eight Touches and Ten Merits does not occur again because one has already attained the Form-World, the change here being only one of increased concentration.
- In the Third Dhyana, one gets rid of pleasure and the following five conditions characterize this state:
- The attainment of the Fourth Dhyana depends on the renunciation of joy; there still remain another four factors:
- No pain, no pleasure
- Heart, Essence, Entity
- The last is meant in a Samatha sense not in a philosophic way.
The experience of these states and their various factors is common to outsiders as well as to Buddhists, common in fact to all religions. Among all the results of realizing them, bodily repose and light mind (prasrabdhi) is very important.
D. One must know:
- Bodily Prasrabdhi. At this state our body may become extremely heavy as with the weight of accumulated sorrow. With diligent concentration this sorrow can be suppressed and after the force of Samatha is experienced these sorrows cannot arise. When one has gotten bodily prasrabdhi the body feels light and reposeful and whatever one does is accomplished gracefully and easily.
- Mental Prasrabdhi. The mind easily contacts goodness and is seldom overcome by evil. It becomes easy to get right thoughts and to reject the unwholesome ones. Samapatti then becomes possible.
- What is the foregoing sign? One will feel some inward wind on the top of the head and a sense of ease and comfort. At first the head seems very heavy and compressed as though it might explode, as though even the bones might breakin spite of this one feels at ease. Afterwards, only light, smooth and comfortable sensations are experienced. Then comes the fourth stage:
- A light and reposeful wind in all parts of the body. It pervades every where this is the real sign of Samatha. Unless and until this is gained, one cannot practise Samapatti.
Mr. Chen then took up the Digha Nikaya translation and opened it at the Dasuttara Suttanta in the section dealing with the groups of five. After the series of Four Stages just given, Mr. Chen continued, the meditator will get these five and he pointed with his finger to a paragraph in the Sutra:
"Five Factors of Perfect Concentration: the suffusion of rapture, the suffusion of easeful bliss, the suffusion of telepathic consciousness, the suffusion of light and images of retrospective thought."