Thursday, February 26, 2015

Doors: Getting through to the First Meditation

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Crystal Quintero, Wisdom

As in ancient times in many ancient Buddhist cultures, we are using the word "meditation" as a translation of the Buddhist term jhana (Sanskrit dhyana, Japanese zen, Chinese ch'an, Tibetan samten), "meditative absorption." Usually the English word "meditation" represents the more general bhavana, "cultivation," development, literally "bringing [something] into being." When? Now. Where? Right here.

Not alone, not together, meditation needs support like at Unplug, L.A. (Katie Falkenberg)

Calm it, concentrate it, liberate it by insight
Understood as absorption, its importance is raised because Buddhism teaches a path to freedom composed of calm and insight. There will be no insight without calm founded on serene concentration. And it is easy, it is non-doing. How could it be non-doing?

We are constantly running, chasing, pursuing, but what if we slipped into a warm tub and wanted the water to calm, the splashing to stop? What should we do? Tamp down the waves and ripples with our hands? That effort would cause more splashing. What if we were to do nothing more than calm down. If we calm down and slip into the tub, one with the warm soothing water, look at the miracle that happens! The water settles down by itself. The mind is the same way.

Approaching meditation in the same way, first we cultivate calm concentration. Concentration sounds wrong because of the connotation/association we have of effort in concentrating, intensifying, focusing... We all have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), and some of us even have ADHD (H is for hyperactivity).

I'm trying, I'm trying, I'm concentrating, I'm working, I'm efforting (Thinkstock/BBC)
We are terrified and not good at paying attention, sitting still, or just "doing nothing." Unsettled, unconcentrated, there is little advantage to be had from insight practices. At best they will calm us a little by keeping us engaged, but they would be so much more powerful if we came to them calm and already concentrated (collected, unified, with the power of one-pointed attention).

First of all, why do we even need to concentrate? It is because calm without concentration equals sleep, and meditation is not sleep. It is letting go of everything but the object of meditation. If the subtle-breath is used as the meditation object, keeping attention at the nostrils will intensify the mind by becoming interested, absorbed, amazed by what the breath is secretly doing there.

It reflects the mind/heart in real time. As the mind goes, the breath changes. As the breath gets more subtle, the mind becomes more refined leading to "meditation" defined here as full absorption, being pulled into the object, no separation of self and object, merging, union, collectedness. It is purifying and serves as the foundation of insight practices (vipassana).

I'm afraid of bliss
Wisdom springs from meditation (h.koppdelaney/flickr).
Many practitioners fear absorption, as if it is so blissful, so overwhelmingly pleasurable that one will never come out. This fear is unfounded. No one has ever been lost in these sublime feelings. Keep going forward through the pleasure to equanimity and one-pointedness, which are more refined than the bliss.

Great Daibutsu (Marcus Antonius Braun)
This is an interesting fear because the ascetic Siddhartha had it under the Bodhi tree before he became the Buddha. He would never have become the Buddha, the "Awakened One," if he had remained fearful of it. The turn came when he wondered why he feared pleasure, a pleasure not rooted in sensuality. He thought this (the jhanas) might very well be the path to enlightenment. The certainty came to him that this was indeed the way to enlightenment. He practiced it, and it worked. It led him to such concentration (samma samadhi) that emerging from it and applying the practice of Dependent Origination for the sake of insight -- asking the question, Why is there suffering/What is its origin? Reviewing the 12 causal links one breaks through to higher knowledge, to liberating insight, and makes an end of suffering in this very life.

Sharon, does the Sayadaw know the way?
Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw has worked with tens of thousands of meditators and not once has he ever seen someone get pull into and stuck in the blissful feelings of meditation. Feelings are feelings, formations that cannot be made permanent. They will not last.

These blissful feelings, like their physical counterpart feeling, are no different. One danger is that an uninstructed person, not understanding these waves of bliss, might get distracted and try to make them happen again and again, but going to a good teacher will cure that. People by fearing and decrying meditative absorption fear and decry the Buddha's teaching, which is what? The Buddha teaches a path to freedom of calm and insight. First calm, then insight.

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