Sunday, October 27, 2019

Elements of Good Meditation: Attention


The ability to direct your attention and keep it yoked to the object of meditation is fundamental to good meditation. This is the singular most important instruction, the only way to keep your mind in the present moment.

Master Vasubandhu gives nine critical instructions on the art of settling your mind so that you may meditate. In his commentary on Sutraalankara, he says: 

  1. Stabilize the mind 
  2. Settle it completely 
  3. Settle it firmly 
  4. Settle it intensely 
  5. Clear it of obstacles 
  6. Pacify your mind 
  7. Completely pacify it 
  8. Channel the mind into one stream 
  9. Settle the mind in equipoise 

Once you reach the ninth stage, you are ready to meditate.

Positioning of Attention

Scriptures call it cittasthaapana. It also means placement of the mind. This is the first stage in the life of a meditator.

You sit down with an alert mind and position your attention at your object of meditation (which could be breath, sound, form or void, but more on that in later sections). This stage corresponds to the first instruction: stabilizing your mind.

Intermittent Attention

This stage is called samsthaapana and it also means comforting or encouraging attention.

For most part, you’ll discover that your mind wanders off. Every time it does, bring your attention back with the second instruction: settling your mind completely. You had stabilised your mind in the first stage and now you are focused on settling it.

Constant Attention

This stage is called avasthaapana, which, interestingly, also means to expose.

To strengthen your attention and improve its quality, follow the fourth instruction: settling your mind intensely

Fixed Attention

It’s called upasthaapana. Literally, it means to be ready, and that’s what this stage is all about: getting ready for the real meditation. In this stage, the aspirant is mostly able to hold his attention during the session but is still bothered by periods of restlessness and dullness. 

If you follow the first four instructions properly, then by this stage your mind will start to retaliate a bit. It doesn’t want to be restricted. It wants to go its own way. At this stage, if you follow the fifth instruction, you’ll experience fixed attention, and the fifth instruction, as I said earlier is – clearing your mind of obstacles.

Lucid Attention

The meditator is able to experience deep tranquillity of the mind. This stage is called damana in Sanskrit, which means tamed or passionless.

Pacification of the Mind

This stage is called shamana and it means extinguished. By this stage, thoughts extinguish in the mind of this meditator, and, the mind is clear of most mental obstacles.

Complete Pacification of the Mind

It’s called vyupashamana. Most interestingly, the term vyupa means the one who eats out of his own hands. This is one of the finest stages of meditation. In this state, the mind is looking at itself sharply. It’s able to recognize dullness, restlessness, thoughts, emotions and all the other distractions. It is completely pacified and is not afraid to remain established in tranquility.

Intense Attention

The mind attains single-pointed concentration at this stage. It’s called ekotikarana. The meditator can carry out an uninterrupted session of lucid meditation lasting nearly two hours in the steadiest posture. There is practically no dullness or restlessness.

Profound Absorption

It’s called samaadhaana and it means perfect tranquil equipoise. The meditator meditates effortlessly and can remain in tranquil equipoise for an average of four hours at a stretch, including maintaining the posture. And let me tell you four hours of tranquillity can keep you calm for days at end without the slightest ripple of mental disturbance. In the context of meditation, however, the ninth state of attention prepares you to slip into an insightful and blissful session of meditation. 

This stage corresponds to the ninth instruction: settle the mind in equipoise. With a mind that’s settled in equipoise, you are ready to either take deep dives in the ocean of bliss or perform penetrating analysis with discerning wisdom and unearthing a wealth of knowledge and insight for the welfare of those around you.

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