Presented by Jhampa Shaneman
These lectures were transcribed by T Vd Broek. Heartfelt gratitude is offered for all the hours of work spent on this Dharma activity. These talks are offered free of charge. They have been slightly edited.
Feb 5 1991
Re-introduction to Concentration:
From the time of the Buddha to the present the teachings have passed through two lineages, Manjushri through to Nagarjuna to Shantideva termed the lineage of the wisdom transmission. Also in lineage form from Buddha to Maitreya to Asanga to Dipamkara to Atisha, called the extensive methods lineage. In that way Buddhism, though it should be the unification of method and wisdom, has these two lineages of practitioners who were able to expound profoundly on the two subjects. So you have what is termed profound wisdom and extensive activities or method. These two lineages when they came to Tibet were said to be combined in the Great Sage Atisha.
Atisha was born of royal lineage yet decided to become a monk and so pursued ordination and received teachings from various masters. Having attained high level proficiency, he decided to seek out a special lineage on the side of method. The wisdom teachings were in India quite established by Nagarjuna onwards and Atisha had received those teachings. Yet on the side of method, there was a lack. In investigating in India for the lineage of method, he discovered it had died within the country. Although the lineage had been taught, there were no remaining practitioners with great realizations to carry on the transmission. In searching, Atisha learned of the sage Dipamkara who had received the teaching and then moved to Indonesia. So Atisha sailed for thirteen months to Indonesia and found Dipamkara and took twelve years of teachings to receive the transmission of those teachings.
Then Atisha are turned to India and began to teach. Because he was a highly realized scholar, he became the abbot of Nalanda Monastery in Bodh-gaya, the place where Naropa, one of the great sages for the Vajra Yogini lineages was an abbot of at one time. Nalanda was a great seat for learning! The monastery was broken into four sections, the Monastery of the north, the east, the south, and the west. Atisha became the abbot of one of the gates, they were called. He became renowned for being one of the greatest teachers of the time.
The Tibetans, being interested in Buddhism, made overtures to Atisha to come to Tibet. He refused and said he had too many responsibilities. The officials of the Monastery came to know the Tibetans intentions and started to make sure the Tibetans could not get to him. Politics! Finally the Tibetans got a nugget of gold the size of man's head and smuggled it in the night time to Atisha and offered it on a mandala to him requesting him to come to Tibet. And with this, along with stories of hardships, Atisha promised to seriously consider this.
He then went to the temple of Bodhgaya and on one side of it was a particular statue of Tara and Atisha made prayers and it is said the statue talked to him and said his life would be shortened by twenty years if he went to Tibet. But, the benefits of going to Tibet would far surpass what he could accomplish in twenty years of longer life. And if he went to Tibet, Tara would personally protect him and always guide him. With that revelation Atisha travelled to Tibet.
On the way he spent a year in Nepal and taught extensively and finally arrived in Tibet. This is around the time of the tenth century. At that time he wrote "The Light on the Path", one of the first texts termed the unification of method and wisdom called the graduated path to enlightenment. It was a light on the path as in it was a light that took you through each stage of the path. In that way it was very clear and precise. On the basis of this, the teachings on concentration are included in the eighth chapter or so, which are the point of having entered into the practice of the six perfections, which is a mahayana practice for beings who have altruistic aspirations, and is considered the fifth practice to undertake as it is required for the development of profound wisdom.
When I previously introduced the subject, I introduced it in the sense of saying that if you, as individuals wish to have realizations, it is important to cultivate concentration. Concentration will be the door which will open up your mind to realizations about yourself. It is related to as like if there were a pool of water which was murky, concentration is that ability to hold the water calm so the mud, when it settles, the small fish of your intellect can swim through the water in an easy manner to be able to observe the nature of mind, which is like the pond.
In that way you should allow yourself to think of the qualities of concentration and the benefits that can be received by it. It allows your mind to settle and thereby gain better perception on the actual nature of your mind. Another analogy of concentration is like, if this room had windows on the various walls and the only light in it being a small candle n the middle of the room, the wind blowing through will make the candle flame flicker. The things on the walls, interesting to look at, you could not see them clearly because everything is flickering all of the time because of the wind blowing at the candle flame. Like that, if you want to see everything well, you should learn how to shut the various shutters on the windows and in that way the candle can burn very brightly and steadily, and you can look very clearly at all of the objects. So the wind blowing through the room is said to be like delusions. When the delusions are free and rampant, there is very little internal insight. When one can learn how to still the mind, still the delusions, calm them with concentration, then the light of insight will blaze forth and one will quickly realize the nature of mind and in that way can gain insights into the nature of reality.
Those analogies are for the quality of concentration and what it allows you to do. The foundations for concentration, which is where I am going to stop this evening, are, if we use the analogy of the six perfections, it has the basis that first one should practice generosity, then morality, then patience, enthusiasm, and then one can practice meditation. It is given in that form because if one does not have prerequisites for concentration, it will be hard to develop. Generosity is not a crucial aspect of concentration, although if one does undertake the practice of generosity, it says one is in a more positive position.
A definite prerequisite for concentration is morality. If one has no interest to develop morality defined as the wish not to harm others, then concentration will never be established because one's mind will never have the desire to calm itself or termed, subdue the delusions. Because there would be no need. Why? Morality is the desire to abandon harmful activities which cause harm to others, physical, with your mouth by being abusive, deceitful, and mental or with the mind. Ill will is easy, but attachment is also harmful to oneself and others because it does things which are not sensible. Morality on all levels, physical, verbal and mental, is a very important pre-requisite to concentration because it means there is intention to control the mind from going to the negative or causing harm.
Patience applied to one, being patient with inflicted harms, and patience also has the ability to bear the hardships that practice requires. Some of us might get up early in the morning to meditate! That is a hardship because most of us would like to stay in bed! Maybe in the evening it would be lovely to crash at eleven o'clock when tired, but if you have not done your meditation, you apply yourself for twenty minutes to meditate. Even if your meditation is not that successful, still there is the hardship that you have undertaken that discipline. Therefore that is part of patience, the ability to persevere at something which is sometimes not that easy. So patience is a prerequisite for concentration.
Enthusiasm, the fourth of the perfections, is very important. If you do not have joy and enthusiasm in pursuing what you are seeking, then it becomes very boring and difficult. So enthusiasm is important!
In seeking concentration, in the context of the teachings you will be receiving, it is taught within the style of Atisha based on the Stages of the Path and should be seen as being similar to the stilling of the wind that causes the candle to flicker, or like a pond which allows the mud to settle so the the little fish of your intellect can swim through and see all of the various corners of the nature of your mind. The prerequisites are having a positive attitude, some sense of morality, patience and perseverance.
For the meditation I would like you to allow yourself to be with yourself and develop an ability to settle. The object of concentration can be your breathing which helps the mind disengage the intellectual process. Internal dialogue slows with the observation of the breath. With that, alow yourself to see, does your mind settle and become more clear? Or is there a stronger arisal of internal dialogue which obstructs you from being able to realize your mind. Is there a continuous stream of intellectual thoughts, then that means that there is a particular energy pushing it. And so you can investigate that and try to realize how to diffuse it and allow the mind to settle, become more clear, allow the realizations to reveal themselves.
Copyright 1994 Daka's Buddhist Consulting
All Rights Reserved