- 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
2. Samādhi for Happiness and Tranquillity
Before talking about the last point on samādhi—clear mind, I would like to go over the use of samādhi for happiness and tranquillity. The use of samādhi as a means for happiness and tranquillity is also very beneficial—not only is this a good way for relaxation, but also a way to prevent and remedy emotional problems such as stress, restlessness, confusion, disturbance, anxiety, loneliness, forlornness, and so forth. The mind will thus be at ease and happy.
However, to aim for merely these purposes in samādhi is not enough according to the principles of Buddhism. This is still not the goal of Buddhism. This is only using samādhi to address mental problems and deal with suffering up to a certain level. Moreover, such a usage may become a detriment and has to be applied with wisdom. If we are not careful and keep using samādhi for these purposes only, it may be turned into a tranquilizer which may cause heedlessness leading to loss and may become a hindrance to attaining the goal of Buddhism.
There are only certain beings who can fully use samādhi for happiness and calmness with safety, without running into the hazard of its becoming a tranquilizer, they are the Arahants. This is because Arahants have already reached the goal of Buddhism; they do not have to go further on the path. For them, heedlessness does not exist. Thus, they can use samādhi as a means for rest between work; this is called diṭṭhadhamma-sukhavihāra (an immediate happy state of mind). People, in general, can do likewise, but it must really be kept within limits as with the Arahants and not overdone to such an extent that it becomes a tranquilizer.
A tranquilizer is something that soothes and makes people comfortable. We may use it even as medicine that calms the mind when we have emotional problems. Like when we are excited, depressed, uptight, or cannot sleep, we take medicine to help us go to sleep. The medicine does help, but it also has its limits; it has its negative side effects. We can use it to momentarily relieve our stress, to overcome the conditions. But if we count on it to save us from our predicaments on a long term, it is really not a good idea.
There are many kinds of tranquilizers available. The more people strive for happiness from material consumption, the more problems they will encounter. Since material comfort can provide happiness to a certain extent only, sometimes boredom follows after happiness is gained. There is also another kind of people who are always on the run for happiness through material acquisitions but are never satisfied. Life that is full of competition brings about a tense mind. People strive in every way to get what they want, and at the same time, they fear losing the fortune that they have accumulated. The expectation to gain happiness through material possessions entices the mind in different ways, to the extent that some people come to identify happiness with abundance in material goods only. Material comfort can produce happiness as well as boredom. When we identify our hope for happiness with material goods only, our life will have meaning in material consumption only. When we are tired of material goods, we become tired of life. When we are disappointed with material goods, we become disappointed with life. When there is no meaning in material goods, there is no meaning in life.
This has become a predominant issue in developed societies that are affluent in material goods and that stress material wealth. A society that is developed and rich in material goods does not necessarily have a basis for happiness. It is true that such a society has a high rate of suicide. People in a poor society rarely commit suicide. In America, the rate of suicide that is increasing is suicide among the youth. According to the statistics of USA Today, during the last 30 years, the rate of suicide among the American youth increased by 300%. These are statistics produced by the American National Institute of Mental Health. How is this possible for young people between 15-19 years old? People are stunned when the youth commit suicide in a society that is prosperous with everything that could be desired. Normally young people are at a prime age of joy; they have the strength to look for happiness. Why then do they want to resort to death and miss out on happiness?
A society that is rich and progressive does not provide a warranty in the matter of securing happiness. In such a society, happiness tends to be identified with material wealth. As this trend continues, people who get bored with material goods become bored with life as well. This has become a serious threat to society and civilization in the present time. People in the past did not so much identify happiness with material goods because they did not have that much to consume. Their happiness came from other sources. Material comfort is not the only source of happiness. But now with people opting for economic prosperity or material progress, the society is turned into a consumer-oriented society. People seek only to consume; happiness comes only from consumption. And so the meaning of life is being attached to material consumption. This is the tendency in the developed societies now and the situation is getting more complicated. Such an unhealthy environment poses threats and hazards to a civilization that has followed the wrong path.
I would like to go back to where we were talking about the use of samādhi as a tranquilizer. In societies where emotional problems prevail, people look for happiness in material comfort but meet with failure, or they get what they want but it does not bring them the happiness expected. What do they do? Life no longer has any meaning for them. One way is to commit suicide out of disappointment; another way is to put their hope on tranquilizers. As a consequence, a choice of exit for people who have not found happiness is tranquilizer, starting with drugs. Hence, the use of drugs is widespread in these societies.
People who may not take drugs sometimes engage in habits such as drinking, gambling, or things that are more delicate like music, various forms of entertainment, or sports. The tranquilizer that is more refined for the mind is samādhi. We do not need to depend on addictive substances or even on music; when we have problems and troubles, we go to samādhi to relieve us from worries and anxieties. Samādhi helps to achieve happiness and peacefulness.
But if we keep using samādhi in this way without proper attention, it can also be turned into a tranquilizer. What does a tranquilizer do? It relieves us from our stress, suffering and troubles; we are happy to be temporarily free from our frustration and misery. But in reality the actual problems are not solved; the defilements deep underneath are still there. The real issues in family and in society are not dealt with. If whenever we are unhappy or when we suffer, we simply turn to samādhi for some peaceful moments, the problems will not be solved and there may even be new ones. Therefore, it is wrong to be interested in samādhi merely as a tranquilizer in view of the following:
1. The possibility of falling into carelessness. When people are soothed and comfortable, they can escape temporarily from their problems and suffering. But the real problems are not solved. To avoid problems is to become negligent and attached to comfort. When people are comfortable, they do not want to do anything. Things that need to be done are not done; issues that need to be addressed are not taken care of. They have no diligence and perseverance to do what should be done; they stop and become careless.
2. An obstacle to the practice of the Threefold Training System. What is more important is that in Buddhism, all doctrines of the Dhamma are covered under the Threefold Training (ti-sikkhā): morality (sīla), mental qualities (samādhi), and wisdom (paññā). This training calls for discipline and practice to cultivate oneself in order to enable life to proceed to its goal which is the complete extinction of suffering. So long as the goal is not reached, we cannot stop. Samādhi being part of the process of the Threefold Training has to be a means for us to advance to a higher state, not to soothe us and leave us basking in comfort.