Notes on Talk Eight
2015 Dhamma Talk Series
Samadhi: Phra Pandit Regrets He’s Unable to Lunch Today
There was once a King who took his army into battle and won. Entering the enemy’s palace he told his soldiers tht whatever they could put their hands on, was theirs. The soldiers went crazy, and ran about grabbing everything they could.
All except for a young boy. He sat thoughtful.
The King said to him “go on – you too”
The boy asked “anything I can lay my hands on in this palace? I’m not sure I believe you.”
The King was taken aback, but assured the boy that he was the King and as good as his word. So the boy came over to the King and put his hands on the King’s crown.
The story is a lesson – on not getting too excited about obvious rewards, and to look for the thing that actually has the most value. The latest possessions and toys, really don’t make you much happier. They seem to, but it is a habit. You get something you like. Then you want to get another one (or you want to get that ‘liking’ feeling back!). But even a superficial look at your own life, or others, shows little correlation between having things, and being happy.
What about more spiritual desires? For a good relationship, for stability of income and freedom from illness?
You don’t have to look far to find impoverished people, or sick people, who are rather happy. Nor do you need to lift many rocks to find the rich and healthy who are unhappy or even suicidal.
Relationships and safety are things worth pursuing. Just because something does not solve every problem in life, does not mean that it isn’t worthwhile. By all means, do your best both as a giver and a receiver in the relationship stakes. Look after your pension.
But observe your habits. It is a deep misconception that me + something nice, has got to be better than just me. Everyone falls into this error over and over.
In the TED talk above the researcher shows that being in the present moment is a fairly reliable way to feel happier. He even shows that in unpleasant circumstances too, you feel better if you are present with your experience. The big hole in his research, is that it is conducted via iPhone app, and we know there is no segment of the population more delusional that iPhone users!
But there is another problem with his research. Happiness is not the goal of mindfulness. According to Buddhism, happiness is what arises when you do the right thing – when you are a good person (so we might say ‘moral happiness’). And its benefit is that it enables you to concentrate the mind. Happiness is not the goal of the mystic path.
Further, mindfulness, when you get more advanced at it, is not ‘being present’. In fact, it is not possible to be anything BUT present. There is only the present moment. Tying your attention to the physical actions in the present moment is only one part of the practise, and a beginner’s part. It has a therapeutic effect, but then, research shows, so does colouring in pictures.
Mindfulness is Sati (recollection) and Sampajanya (awareness). The recollection of your own awareness. Thereby it is disengaging from your actions, not absorbing attention into them. But that’s another story.
The boy who put his hand on the crown of the King did not get the crown. Not right away at least. But he was taken under the King’s wing, and later adopted. After the old King passed away, the adopted boy got to rule the Kingdom. The lesson of the story? Think carefully about what is the highest good. Don’t get too excited running about after temporary things, and take the long term view.
Samadhi – the Eighth Step
The last three steps of the Yoga path are to be considered together as they “comprise the perfect discipline of consciousness.”
[6.1] Concentration locks consciousness on a single area.
[7.1] In meditative absorption, the entire perceptual flow is aligned with that object.
[8.1] When only the essential nature of the object shines forth, as if formless, integration has arisen.
The YS say repeatedly that the ‘patterning’ of the mind has to be brought to a standstill. Stillness, one way or another, is always the goal of the holy life. It can be brought about in two ways. The first is by temporarily subduing the mind – this is called Samadhi, or concentration. (note that this word has various meanings in Indian philosophy).
In their gross form, as patterns of consciousness, they [attachment and aversion] are subdued through meditative absorption.
Ultimately though, what you can attain through concentration is only temporary. So it is a practise, not the goal. It is the ‘perfect discipline of consciousness’ mentioned above. It is the practise you can bring about through effort. But for the final goal it is necessary to separate consciousness from awareness. This is done chiefly through wisdom practises.
In their subtle form, these causes of suffering are subdued by seeing where they come from.
As we saw in the opening passages of the YS
When the ultimate level of non-reaction has been reached, pure awareness can clearly see itself as independent from the fundamental qualities of nature.
There are four levels of movement of the mind according to YS
- applied thought
- sustained thought
- sense of self
These correspond closely with the Buddhist format of jhana, absorption concentration that we looked at last week
- applied thought
- sustained thought
When the mind has been made still through non-reactivity (see opening stanza of YS), then a ‘faultless jewel’ appears – this is actually the nature of the mind appearing to itself.
As the patterning of consciousness subsides, a transparent way of seeing, called coalescence [samapatti], saturates consciousness; like a jewel, it reflects equally whatever lies before it – whether subject, object, or act of perceiving
These days in Vipassana circles, concentration practises are frowned upon. They are considered to be inferior to vipassana, insight. But note that in both the YS and in original Buddhism, concentration practises are continually recommended. It is not easy to concentrate the mind, and it is true that some people try too hard and go off track trying to force the mind this way or that. But ‘coalescence’ of the mind is needed at some point. One Buddhist sutta says it can be before or after insight practises.
The difficulty with concentration practise is that it is fueled by intention. You have to launch yourself into it. So even though the mind escapes suffering by absorbing in bliss and equanimity, the power of the intention will run out and the state will be lost.
The Buddha compared it to a bear that is tethered to a stout post. The bear will tug and pull and try to escape. Eventually it will stop still, and go to sleep for a while. But when it wakes up, it will find itself tethered to that same pole.
In the same way, the mind migh escape suffering during the meditation, but it will revert to this same suffering self after the state is lost.
This is mentioned in the Four Noble Truths in the Dhammacakka sutta – the first sermon of the Buddha. He says the cause of suffering is desire (Tanha) “lingering now here, now there” during the three states of sense desire, ‘becoming’ concentration and ‘annihilation’ concentration.
Once the perfect discipline of consciousness is mastered, wisdom dawns.
Perfect discipline is mastered in stages.
These three components – concentration, absorption, and integration – are more interiorized than the preceding five. [of the 8 steps]
The transformation toward total stillness occurs as new latent impressions [Sankhara – intentions to action] fostering cessation arise to prevent the activation of distractive, stored ones, and moments of stillness begin to permeate
So the kinds of meditation and mindfulness we saw in the ‘happiness’ video at the start, are barely entry level when we compare to the original teachings. I call it ‘Oprah’ practise. Any kind of manipulation of consciousness is not the goal – it is only another state of consciousness. Samadhi represents as high and as far as you can take the generation of states of mind.
‘Consciousness’ remember, is a moment of cognizing something.
With the English term we understand consciousness to be some kind of field into which things come and go. Or else we understand it to be a stream, which has intensity levels varying from heightened, functional, or sleeping.
To a meditator, consciousness is something that arises and ceases with its object. That is, if you hear a sound and pay attention to it, then you have consciousness with that sound. If you focus on the feelings in your big toe, then consciousness has arisen with that, and will cease momentarily.
Awareness is not the same as consciousness. This point is made repeatedly through the Yoga Sutras, and enlightenment can only arise when awareness has been identified. Then there is no longer any sense of self with the things of consciousness.
For the time being though, it is enough to emphasise the point, in the best way possible – with a story.
Venerable master Nanyue Huairang, a great disciple of the Sixth Patriarch Huineng, asked Mazu Daoyi, “Why are you in meditation?” He replied, “Because I want to be a Buddha.” Thereupon Huairang took a brick and polished it in front of Mazu’s hermitage day after day.
Till one day, Mazu asked him, “Why are you polishing the brick?”
Huairang replied, “I am polishing it into a mirror.”
Mazu asked, “How can you make a mirror by polishing a brick?”
Huairang said, “If I cannot make a mirror by polishing a brick, how can you become a Buddha by sitting in meditation?”
And here ends this eight week special program. Though just for a sense of completion I will add notes on this theme of separating awareness and consciousness, that is so central to the Yoga Sutras path.
When I started I had not given the Yoga Sutras more than a cursory read. I think it is a messy text, and I am planning to put together a more ordered version. I have enjoyed re-reading the text every week, pulling out the things relevant to each step. And I enjoy practising public speaking. It’s not easy trying to hold people’s attention over 2 months!
Four people, other than myself, actually made it along every week. Many others I saw there regularly. If you all keep coming, then I will do my part and organise events.
Videos from each week are sitting on my computer. But editing, captioning and adding slides takes a month for each one hour video, so it will be a long time before I get them up on Youtube.
In the meantime, even if this text is a little esoteric, take your time. Get on to the path, and things will change. Sit for 20 minutes a day, on a mat in a special place. Just sit, and watch the breath. Things will become clear over time. No facebook, no worrying, no planning, just sit and be with yourself. Birds can do it. Cats can do it. Just sit and be with your own breath. Make it a habit. 🙂