- 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
1. Samādhi for Mental Energy
Many people are interested in the mental energy aspect of samādhi, in psychic power and marvels. If samādhi were good for these only, Buddhism would not have been born. In India, they had a long history of experience in this; the practice of yoga existed before Buddhism. The Buddha went to different yoga masters before his Enlightenment; he practiced samādhi and attained the highest realm of jhāna (absorption).
There are eight levels of jhāna: four jhānas of the Fine-Material Sphere and four jhānas of the Immaterial Sphere. The Buddha’s first master, Āḷāra Kālāma, attained the seventh level of jhāna—Ākiñcaññāyatana (Sphere of Nothingness). The Buddha went to study with him and also attained this level. But the Buddha was not satisfied, he left and went to study with Master Uddaka Rāmaputta. This master attained one level higher: the eighth level of jhāna—Nevasaññānāsaññāyatana (Sphere of Neither Perception Nor Non-perception). The Buddha attained this level as well. His master informed him that he had completed the knowledge that he could obtain from him and invited him to stay and teach the followers. The Buddha considered the proposal but concluded that this was not his goal. He left again, this time to search on his own.
Many yogis, ascetics, hermits before the Buddha era had psychic power and attained jhānas. But the Buddha was not satisfied. If our goal is to have psychic power and to attain jhāna only, we do not need Buddhism, because other people have achieved them already. This is a point to which we have to pay attention. Please note that after the Buddha attained Enlightenment, he discouraged the use of samādhi for the purpose of attaining psychic power and for the marvels of performing miracles.
The Buddha outlined the three Marvels (pāṭihāriya) in connection with samādhi as follows:
1. Marvel of psychic power (Iddhi-pāṭihāriya): the ability to use different kinds of psychic power: to fly, to walk in the air or on the water, to go beneath the earth, etc …
2. Marvel of mind-reading (Ādesanā-pāṭihāriya): the ability to read the minds of others: what they think, how they think, what they intend to do, or how the state of their mind is.
3. Marvel of teaching (Anusāsanī-pāṭihāriya): the teaching of the way to cultivate wisdom, to know the truth by oneself.
Only the third Marvel is praised by the Buddha; the first and second Marvels are discouraged. Why so? One important reason is that with the first and second Marvels, when someone is able to do these things, the ability belongs to him only. Other people will simply be interested to view them as miracles and come to rely on him. When people rely on others, they are dependent and are not free. In the case of the third Marvel, the Buddha taught people to cultivate wisdom. It is a marvel in the sense that when they achieved wisdom, they saw the truth for themselves. When they saw the truth for themselves, they knew how to do by themselves whatever they were taught to do and thus became independent of the Buddha. In the same way that he himself came to see the truth, the Buddha taught others to cultivate wisdom. When wisdom was developed, people were able to see the truth, just as the Buddha saw it. They became free and did not have to rely on the Buddha any more. But with the first and second Marvels, they had to count on the Buddha and hoped to depend on him continuously. The Buddha wanted them to be independent. Therefore, he discouraged the attainment of the first and second Marvels, which are good in some particular cases only. We have to be careful when they are used in the long term, they can lead to carelessness. When we see people with supernatural power, we respect them, we are drawn to them and tend to depend on them. We wait for them to give us what we wish to obtain. As a result, we do not know how to face problems, how to solve problems, how to move on in life. We are bound to stay in place without making any progress. The Buddha did not want this to happen.
We can see that the Buddha exceeded everyone else in psychic power. Even though he only praised anusāsanī-pāṭihāriya, he was also supreme in iddhi-pāṭihāriya and ādesanā-pāṭihāriya. It should be noted that during all of the 45 years that the Buddha taught Dhamma (the laws of nature), he never used his psychic power for anyone to gain anything. This is an important observation which is often ignored. Why is it that the Buddha never used his psychic power for anyone to obtain what he wanted during those 45 years? It is because the Buddha did not want anyone to depend on him. If people kept relying on him, they would become careless; they would not think of standing on their own feet, not learn to cope with problems on their own. If we do not face problems ourselves, we will not learn. So, if we are interested in psychic power, we have to be careful not to go astray from the doctrines of Buddhism. Any interest that we have in it should not be a hindrance for us to stand on our own feet. We should discipline and cultivate ourselves and work diligently to gain the right results. This is one of the important doctrines of Buddhism.
Buddhism transcends the practices of ascetics and hermits. In the ancient times—as a matter of fact, even today—ascetics and yogis in India like to compete with each other in the matter of psychic power. But the Buddha did not like this. He said that if people were concerned solely with psychic power, they would not make progress. Under what circumstances then would the Buddha use his psychic power? He would utilize psychic power when he chose to have people who were proud of their personal psychic power accept his superiority and be ready to listen to his teaching. In the Buddha’s time, people considered psychic power as very important; whoever did not have it would not be considered an Arahant (one who has attained nibbāna). They believed that an Arahant must have psychic power. But the Buddha did not think of it as a criterion of being an Arahant. The Buddha was living in a society which had this belief, and as a supreme master—one who proclaimed a great religion—he had to have this kind of power in order for others to believe in him in the first place. The Buddha used his psychic power as a tool to proclaim Buddhism. At that time, when people with powers met together, they challenged each other’s ability. If you did not have the powers, people would not believe in you.
We look at the example of the Buddha’s meeting with matted-haired ascetics (jaṭila). These ascetics possessed super psychic power and were very respected by the public who held that Arahants should have psychic power. For this reason, the Buddha went to see them first. The Buddha reasoned that if he did not prove he was more advanced, people would not listen to him. They would say no one could be compared to their chief ascetic. When the Buddha went to see the chief ascetic, he was put to the test for several nights, but each night he prevailed. In the end, the chief ascetic realized that the Buddha was more highly developed. When he realized this and surrendered, he was willing to listen to the Buddha. Before that time he would not listen and boasted that he was the number one, others were no match for him. When the chief ascetic was willing to listen, the Buddha started to teach him with anusāsanī-pāṭihāriya. He realized the truth and accepted the Buddha’s views on psychic power and the Buddha stopped using it himself. We see how the Buddha used psychic power to conquer the unbelievers. Once they surrendered, he stopped using it. He never used it as a means to give special favors to anyone.
Another critical point that we have to bear in mind besides the ones mentioned earlier in using samādhi as a way to gain psychic power is that when someone has this kind of power, other people will come to rely on him. He will not be free. More importantly, this kind of power does not eliminate mental defilements (greed, hatred, and delusion), nor can it put an end to suffering. There is no warranty of purity and freedom for people who use samādhi merely for this purpose. The best one can achieve is a calm mind with the mental defilements also calm temporarily under the power of samādhi, which is called vikkhambhana-vimutti (temporary deliverance by suppression). But when there is something to stir up the mind, the defilements can reassert.
There is a story of a senior monk who was a meditation master after the time of Buddha. Being an experienced master, he attained a high level of samādhi. As he had been practicing meditation for a long time, his mind was calm, his defilements were suppressed and calmed; so there was no chance for them to surface. He thought he had attained the Arahantship. A master who is not an Arahant can teach disciples to attain the Arahantship, because the ability to succeed depends on one’s own development; the master only teaches them the principles and techniques.
This senior monk had large numbers of disciples who came to study with him; they learned the techniques and practiced by themselves and some of them were able to realize Arahantship. One of the disciples knew that his master had not attained the goal and wanted to warn him. But he did not want to tell him directly because being the master, he might not like it. If he became angry or resisted, it could be dangerous to his practice. This disciple found a way by creating a vision of an elephant. One day while the master was sitting, taking his ease, an elephant was made seen to be charging in. Taken aback and caught off guard, the master got up at once and was ready to leap away. His Arahant disciple seized the tail of his robe and gave it a sudden pull. The master was thus able to regain his mindfulness.
The reason why the master was able to regain his awareness was that he had been practicing for a considerable time, and it was just that his mindfulness was not sharp at that very moment. When his disciple pulled his robe abruptly, his mindfulness came back. And with this, he realized that he had not achieved Arahantship. Arahants no longer experience any feeling of fright because they have no more defilements that will give rise to fear. Fear befalls people who still have greed (lobha), hatred (dosa), and delusion (moha). Those who have craving (taṇhā) have fear. When there are no defilements, there is no fear. The master knew this; he knew he still had defilements and turned to his disciples for help. He continued his practice and eventually attained Arahantship.
What I want to point out here is that the possession of supernatural power, the attainment of jhāna or samādhi in the sense of mental energy does not help to make one an Arahant, nor does it help to end defilements and suffering. It only helps to calm the mind and the defilements will then settle down temporarily. This is also good and useful in one way. For some people who have attained a certain level of samādhi but still have defilements, there is a chance that they will become imbued with a sense of their own importance. If this is the case, the situation can become worse. Because when we do not have authority or power, even though we have defilements, they are not powerful. But once we know that we have some kind of authority and power, we may feel presumptuously arrogant. The same goes with people who have psychic power. If they still have defilements and feel proud of themselves, they can do worse things.
An example can be seen in the case of the monk Devadatta. Devadatta attained a high level of abhiññā (superknowledge) though still at a worldly level. He became conscious of his power and came to think of gain, honor, and so forth. He made use of his psychic power to get what he wanted and what he got in the end was his own ruin.
As we can see from the above, the use of samādhi for the sole purpose of producing psychic power and marvels can become a hindrance in our pursuit of the highest goal. Hence, we have to exercise caution to prevent us from falling into carelessness.
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