- Samādhi in Buddhism
- I. The Correct Way of Practicing Meditation
- — 1. Samādhi for Mental Energy
- — 2. Samādhi for Happiness and Tranquillity
- — 3. Samādhi for Clear Mind and Cultivation of Wisdom
- Attendant Benefits
- II. Techniques to Prevent and Overcome the Potential Misuses of Samādhi
- — 1. Maintaining the Five Controlling Faculties in Equilibrium
- — 2. Attuning the Practice to Conform to the Threefold Training
- The Foundation of Mindfulness
- Appendix — Extract from another Dhamma talk
Let us now look at some of the attendant benefits of samādhi which may be beneficial to the world in the present day. These are, however, only side benefits and cannot be considered as the main purposes of Buddhism.
A concentrated mind is a mind that is stable, firmly centered. It is different from our ordinary mind which is usually busy, incoherent. The latter thinks about this, thinks about that, does not stay on one point. Some scriptures say it is like a monkey. Monkeys do not like to stay in one place; they are restless, constantly running and swinging from one branch to another. Our mind also is like that—it goes from one thought to another. It has so many things to think about. Often it picks up the wrong things, such as things in the past that upset and irritate us; it makes them repeat themselves over and over again or builds up stories around them to make us angry. Sometimes it worries about things in the future that have not yet happened. A mind like this is not at ease. When the mind is not firmly established, mental suffering follows. The mind works together with the body. We have to always remember this point.
Our life is made up of body and mind. Mind and body are interrelated; they work together, one affects the other. If the mind is not firmly established, the body will be affected. The working of the body will not be smooth. For example, when in a state of anger, how is the body? The heart beats fast. The angrier a person is, the louder his heart pounds, like a person climbing up a mountain. How about when fear arises? When fear arises, the face turns pale; sometimes breathing stops, the blood circulation does not flow normally. What follows is that the body gets weak and physical ailments occur. If this happens often, the mind is tense all the time. When the mind is tense, so is the body. The state of mind and body is at a critical point now. Mind and body are at their meeting point when both are tense. When the mind is strained, so is the body. And it follows that the functioning of the body becomes abnormal; health deteriorates and sicknesses occur.
From this we can see an important attendant benefit. When we practice samādhi, our mind works properly; it is at its proper place, smooth and stable. The mind is in a balanced state and lucid. The functioning of the body, like breathing, is also well-maintained at the normal state. If the mind goes deeper into samādhi, it will become more delicate and very calm. When it becomes very calm, it needs less energy.
The working of the mind depends on the brain. The working of the brain needs blood; blood needs oxygen, and oxygen comes from breathing. When the mind is deep in samādhi, the heart is calm, light, and not tired; its need for energy is lessened. The burning of energy in the body is reduced. The need for oxygen becomes less and the breathing becomes more delicate. The rule states that when someone attains the fourth jhāna realm, he does not breathe. That means when measured by the standard of an ordinary person, breathing does not take place. When we put our hand near the nose, we do not feel the breathing because it is very delicate. Very little oxygen is needed. With this small amount of oxygen that it gets, the body can go on for a long time. A person deep in samādhi has a very peaceful mind, smooth breathing and needs little energy. The burning of energy is kept at a minimum and this has an impact on the body—it keeps the body healthy with smooth blood circulation. This is favorable to longevity. There are various types of samādhi, such as the cultivation of the Four Holy Abidings (brahmavihāra): loving-kindness (mettā), compassion (karuṇā), sympathetic joy (muditā), and equanimity (upekkhā). Meditating on these virtues can refresh and temper the mind and give the person a delightful, joyous, and ageless appearance.
As we have said, body and mind are interrelated. Now let us take a look at the other side of the situation. When a person gets angry, physical problems will follow immediately. Because the body needs more energy, breathing becomes heavier. The heart beats faster and the lungs are hard at work; more air is needed, like the person climbing up a mountain. If we tend to get angry easily, our mind and body will deteriorate fast.
When we understand the underlying relationship between samādhi and health, we can use samādhi as an aid in healing. In America, they have started to use samādhi to treat diseases, even those that are considered incurable. At the University of Massachusetts, they opened up a clinic which provides treatments using samādhi combined with physical exercises. The clinic was accepted by the University and became a part of the hospital. It is managed by experts who are experienced in samādhi. This is another example of the attendant benefits of samādhi.
In fact, when we look at samādhi in an overall picture, we see that all these benefits are really just one single thing. We see that when the mind reaches the state of samādhi, it is balanced, centered; nothing can come to bother it. For people whose mind is not disturbed by anything, isn’t it a wonderful thing? When there is nothing to bother it, the mind is at a peaceful state; the function of the body also is well-tuned in harmony with the mind. Everything goes smoothly; the body is in a healthy condition, not tense, with nothing to block its proper functioning. The blood circulation is smooth. As a result, health is well-maintained. Hence, samādhi can be used to boost physical health and to treat diseases.
Even in our daily life, samādhi can be used in a simple way. Whenever we feel uptight, angry, frightened, or we lose our self-confidence, if we have mindfulness and remember, we take a few deep in-breaths and long out-breaths; our breathing will then become well-regulated, balanced and we will feel better immediately. The tension in our body will be alleviated. A simple action of breathing, which is within our reach anytime, can come in handy to redress our negative emotions.
Breathing is another example of the close relationship between body and mind. Like the body of the person climbing up a mountain, when the body gets tired, the breathing becomes labored. But even when one is not climbing up a mountain, not using any physical energy, if one gets angry, one breathes like a mountain climber. This shows that body and mind are closely related.
Now we look at the reverse action—using the body to regulate the mind. When our mind is not in a favorable state, our breathing becomes abnormal. We regulate our breathing to a steady rhythm and mindfulness will follow suit. When we breathe this way, we have to have mindfulness. When mindfulness is present—mindfulness is a mental quality—body and mind work together to improve the state of the mind, and anger is dissolved. Free of hindrances, the mind of wisdom starts to see things more distinctly and is able to investigate the matter.
Mindfulness is a virtue, a quality of the mind. Body and mind work together to regulate the state of the mind and to alleviate the negative emotions. Wisdom is not clouded and is given a chance to develop, and we are thus able to see things clearly. If an angry person lets go of his emotion without realizing it, does not try to control it, he is bound to go the wrong way. The Buddha said that a person with anger is a person without wisdom. Wisdom is lost. An angry person does not care about right or wrong, good or bad. A person in anger can even kill his own mother. This is one of the outcomes of anger.
With this understanding in mind, when anger arises, we can use a simple technique like breathing to help us. At that moment, we do not even know whether we have stopped breathing or whether we are breathing heavily. So we regulate our breathing by taking steady deep inhalations and long exhalations. Our mood will be relieved, our mind calm, mindfulness sharp, and wisdom will follow in due course. In this way, we are able to think clearly.
Samādhi is not confined simply to the period of time when we are actually sitting in meditation; we can practice samādhi anytime, anywhere. We do not have to wait until we are angry or tense to make use of it. For instance, when we are not occupied in any activities, our mind will become restless. So we look at our breath—breathing in and out evenly, with full awareness. Let our mind stay with our breath; this alone is already helpful.
As we can see, regular practice of samādhi is essential. The benefits derived from samādhi come at different levels as cited above. And the ultimate benefit according to the Buddhist principle is its role as a factor to support wisdom leading to the achievement of the final goal in the Threefold Training. When samādhi is developed, the mind is appropriate for work. Its work is to cultivate wisdom—wisdom to investigate, to realize the Three Characteristics (tilakkhaṇa) of impermanence (aniccatā), suffering (dukkhatā), and non-self (anattatā). The ability to know the true nature of all things with a liberated mind will lead us to the ultimate goal of Buddhism—this is the real purpose that we pursue.
Now that samādhi has become a popular subject, we have to be aware of what people have in mind when they talk about samādhi; which value or benefit they look for, and whether it is right according to the Buddhist principle. As a reminder, people in the West tend to look at samādhi as a means to cope with stress and suffering caused by emotional problems. If one is not careful, samādhi can be turned into a tranquilizer as discussed above. Once used in this way, it can bring harm to life and to society. Samādhi can be misused.