- 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
I. The Correct Way of Practicing Meditation
Now, let us take a closer look at samādhi, which means–when interpreted in a simple way—the state of a steadfast mind. We remember well sammā-samādhi in the Noble Eightfold Path (ariya-aṭṭhaṅgika-magga). Sammā-samādhi means “Right Concentration.” The mind is steadfast when it is tranquil, smooth, and strong, when it is focused on one point. When the mind is centered on one object, it stays with the object—stable, at ease, not distracted, not agitated; it is firmly grounded. When it contemplates, it stays with the object and no other thoughts can arise. If we put it in a general term, it is when the mind is at the place where we want it to be. When put in a technical term, it is when the mind is one-pointed. That is to say when the mind is anchored on one point, it stays with the object and is not distracted or lost. When the mind can stay with the object of its choice, it is called samādhi.
If we want to really understand samādhi well, I suggest that we do not spend too much time on the meaning, but rather, we will place emphasis on the benefits. When we look at the benefits, we will see the meaning more clearly as well.
There are three important, beneficial characteristics of a concentrated mind. We shall look at these major benefits as outlined in Buddhism:
1. A concentrated mind is a mind that has power; it has a lot of energy.
2. A concentrated mind is lucid—like clear water. As it is calm, it enables us to see things with clarity. This second point is conducive to wisdom.
3. The third benefit follows as a result of the first and second benefits. When the mind is calm with nothing to disturb it, to confuse it, the mind is at ease, stable, not agitated. It is in a peaceful state. Such a mind is happy. Therefore, people with a concentrated mind are calm and so they are happy. This is also a desirable quality.
These are the three main characteristics of a concentrated mind. We can see here the purposes of practicing samādhi. Let us examine more closely each beneficial characteristic to determine which one has the benefits that the Buddha wants us to pursue.
1. Mental Energy. The following is an analogy by the Buddha:
“Like a river springing from the mountain in a long stream, its swift current drifts away anything that it can carry along. If we close up the openings on both sides of the river, the current in the middle will not spread out, wobble, or go off its course. It will flow speedily and will carry along with it whatever it can sweep away …”1
This saying of the Buddha is aimed at showing the benefits of using mental energy to fortify the strength of wisdom. But generally people like to use mental energy to perform miracles only. When meant for this use, mental energy can be developed to be very strong. Some people in the West find interest in parapsychology. They perform experiments in psychokinesis to show that a concentrated mind can influence the motion of a remote object. It can also make the person look at one point far away and have clairvoyance, or hear remote sounds and have clairaudience. Some people are interested in this kind of benefit that is derived from samādhi.
2. Happiness and Tranquillity. The Buddha exhorted the monks (bhikkhus):
“O Bhikkhus, the development of samādhi, when well-cultivated and regularly practiced, will conduce to a happy life here and now. What does this mean? O Bhikkhus, when free from desires, free from all unwholesome states, one enters the First Absorption …, the Second Absorption …, the Third Absorption …, and the Fourth Absorption …”2
This benefit is also sought after by many people especially in the present-day societies, where emotional problems prevail. In a society which has its structure based on competition, struggles for benefits cause stress to people. People’s minds become tense and in time suffering arises. It is true that the more a society is materially developed, the more people in that society suffer. When people suffer, they want to find release and they find the way of samādhi from Buddhism, Hinduism, and yoga in the East. They turn to samādhi as a means to happiness and tranquillity, a solution to the troubled mind.
3. Clear mind and Development of wisdom. Here is another analogy by the Buddha:
“O Bhikkhus, like a water reservoir that is clear, not muddy, a person with good eye sight standing on the shore will see snails, mollusks, stones, and pebbles, even fish that are swimming or lying still in the reservoir. Why is this so? It is because the water is not muddy. Likewise for the Bhikkhus, with a mind that is not muddy, they will know what is beneficial for themselves, beneficial for other people, and beneficial for both parties. They will be able to realize a superior intuitive attainment beyond a normal person’s capability. This is nānādassana (vision through wisdom) which can lead a person to become a noble being …”3
The foremost benefit of samādhi is a clear mind. When the mind is lucid, it sees what it wants to see with clarity. This is related to wisdom—a mental phenomenon. Samādhi is a quality of the mind. We practice samādhi to bring serenity to the mind. When the mind is serene, it is clear. When it is clear, it is conducive to wisdom. Wisdom can be put to full use and this will enable us to see things with clarity. Many people can remember well what the Buddha said: “Samāhito yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti.4” This means that he who has a steadfast mind will see things clearly as they are. When samādhi is developed, insight—the ability to see the truth—will follow. Samādhi is a foundation, an aid, a supporting factor, a tool to develop and increase wisdom. This benefit is sometimes overlooked, and precisely this is the most important goal, the benefit that we aim to obtain in Buddhism.
Now that we have reached some understanding, let us investigate the subject further to see the underlying purposes of the practice.