[Teachings on the "Treasury of Knowledge" by Jamgon Kongtrul the first book of his five books; synthesized and collected from the knowledge and experience of many lineages in Tibet.]
The foundation of Buddhist practice has always been the twofold development of gaining an understanding of the Buddhas teachings, and developing liberation from the klesas, (emotional and cognitive obscurations or factors that obscure our true nature), through the practice of meditation.
The word for meditation in Tibetan means "to hold something unwaveringly firmly, so that there is no movement." This means that during meditation the mind does not fall under the influence of thoughts, obscurations or mental activity. Instead it is completely stable and unwavering. It also means "to become accustomed to doing something," so that it becomes a part of oneself. Meditation is very similar to familiarization because one continues meditating even if it sometimes doesn't go well. Obstacles and problems often arise, but one continues and habituates oneself to meditating until it becomes easy and natural. So through habituation one is able to remain in meditation.
Meditation includes shamatha or tranquility meditation and vipasyana or insight meditation. After receiving the teachings for these two types of meditation, one needs to analyze them with one's intelligence in order to gain a definite understanding of them. After gaining an understanding of these two, it is necessary to practice and meditate so that what one has learned becomes absorbed by the mind. Even if one knows a great deal about dharma,( teachings on Truth, by the Buddha) it will be of no help if one doesn't understand shamatha and vipasyana meditation. Therefore, one must practice meditation so that what is conceptually learned becomes a part of oneself.
There are several levels of understanding. From hearing the buddhist teachings one develops the understanding of listening; from thinking about these teachings one develops the understanding of contemplation. These two are not enough to develop full understanding because one must turn one's mind inward to gain the understanding that comes from meditation. One cannot benefit much from focusing on external phenomena because the mind is bound by the klesas, and the only way to free oneself from the bondage of klesas is to turn inward through meditation. One needs to make the mind peaceful and happy to develop inner wisdom, and this is done by meditation.
Samadhi, the state of deep meditation, is composed of two elements: shamatha and vipasyana. There are, in fact, a great number of meditation techniques, but they can all be included in these two categories. Having understood that all meditation comes from shamatha and vipsyana, one should prepare oneself to do these meditations. One should also seek out specific instructions to practice them. The purpose of practicing shamatha and vipasyana in the hinayana is to achieve happiness and various special qualities. In the mahayana the purpose of meditation is to benefit all beings, this is a wider viewpoint and requires greater motivation. The results of the hinayana and mahayana come from the practice of shamatha and vipasyana. The attaining of day-to-day happiness is also the result of shamatha and vipasyana.
Shamatha is actually the mind resting one-pointedly on an object so that not many thoughts arise and the mind becomes very stable and calm. The mind rests in peace. Shamatha is practiced to prevent the arising of so many thoughts. One might think that shamatha is a state of no thoughts, perhaps like that of a stone. This is incorrect because in shamatha meditation the mind is very calm and stable and also very clear so that it can distinguish and discriminate between all phenomena and see everything as very distinct. This clarity is called vipasyana, or insight, and is developed through shamatha.
If one's mind has many thoughts, one cannot focus on the object of attention. The mind cannot focus on something because of the distraction of thoughts. If the mind can focus one-pointedly without this distraction, one has shamatha meditation. Vipasyana has the clarity of understanding in which everything is seen clearly and distinctly; the relative is seen as relative, the absolute as absolute. So the actual nature of things is seen as it is, and this is what is meant by vipasyana.
Vasubandhu said that in the genuine shamatha the mind is able to rest in the mind. The mind becomes so relaxed that it is able to rest in itself, just as it is, in a natural way, undistracted by thoughts. The word for distracted in Tibetan actually means swept away. The word distracted in this context has in it the connotation of being swept or carried away with no control by a strong river. In the same way, one's mind cannot stay still and is just carried away. Whether a good thought or bad thought comes to mind makes no difference. If one has a white cloud, it obscures the sun; if one has a black cloud, it also obscures the sun. When shamatha is developed, one eliminates distracting thoughts that keep one from being able to examine things. Removing the distracting thoughts leads to perceiving things very clearly and distinctly, which is vipasyana. It is seeing with the eyes of wisdom. . With shamatha and vipasyana one has a genuine state of meditation with the mind resting in mind and being able to distinguish all phenomena.
The necessity of both shamatha and vipasyana is illustrated by the example of the butter lamp, which Tibetans used in the past to illuminate the darkness. A butter lamp's light is very clear and bright. For a lamp to give light it must have the qualities of being steady and not blown by the wind. If the flame is not bright or steady, one won't see things in the dark. In the same way, to see the true nature of phenomena, one has to have a clear understanding and be able to focus the mind on the object for as long as necessary. If either of these is missing then the true nature of things cannot be perceived. One needs to have shamatha (the unwavering light) and vipasyana (the bright flame). With both, one has the complete freedom to focus on anything and is able to eliminate all klesas (emotional and mental obscurations) and develop the wisdom that one needs. If one practices shamatha meditation without vipasyana, one will not be able to understand the true nature of phenomena; one will just be able to rest the mind on something, ie, (mantra, yantra, breath, subtle experiences, etc.) It is like being on vacation; one experiences peace on a vacation, but one doesn't get any lasting results from it
If you practice vipasyana without shamatha, you will not be able to eliminate whatever obscuration that needs to be eliminated, because vipasyana without shamatha is unstable. So even if you have the understanding of vipasyana, your mind will be agitated. Therefore you need to have shamatha and vipasyana.
So with discriminating wisdom we can see the actual, true nature of mind, just as it is. But before this can happen, our mind must be workable, which means that we can do whatever we want with the mind - if we want to send it somewhere, it will go; if we want to leave it in a particular spot, it will stay there. As we know from experience, our mind normally acts as though it belongs to someone else--- it just wanders off somewhere by itself. So we need to have complete control of our mind in order to see the nature of things with the understanding of vipasyana.
Atisha says in his book "Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment" that to do shamatha meditation one needs to have favorable conditions. Even if one is diligent and applies oneself for many years to shamatha meditation, if these favorable conditions are lacking, one will fail to develop real shamatha meditation. However, he also says that if all favorable conditions are present and one concentrates the mind on something good and positive, then one will be able to accomplish shamatha meditation.
These conditions are described as the outer conditions relating to our environment such as healthy, quiet places to meditate, free of distractions; the inner conditions of mind, ie. proper desire, intention, thinking etc. and also the point between mind and the outer world, which is our conduct or behavior. We need to develop love and compassion for all sentient beings so that our minds can rest in a natural peaceful state, in harmony with our inner and outer environment, then favorable conditions for shamatha will develop
There are different postures used in meditation one of them is called the seven aspects of Vairocana. Vairocana is the physical posture of sitting that helps one develop a meditative state and makes the mind stable and clear. Whether the mind becomes unstable depends on what are called the airs or winds ( Sanskrit vayu, Tibetan Lung). There is the gross air, which is the breath that one inhales and exhales. But there is also a subtle air, which is involved with the movements of the body and the movement of thoughts. Body and mind are related, so when these subtle airs become still in the body, the mind also becomes still. One makes these subtle airs stable by working on the inner channels (Sanskrit nadi, Tib. Tsa) through which the airs move. If these channels are straight and stable, the subtle airs will become stable, and then the mind will become stable. To make these channels straight and stable, one must have proper posture during meditation
There are several different subtle airs, or vayus. The subtle air that makes the body stable and firm is the subtle air of earth. The subtle air that keeps the body warm is the subtle air of fire. The subtle air that keeps the body from drying out is the subtle air of water. The subtle air that spreads warmth throughout the body and causes physical movement is called the Subtle air of air. So one has a subtle air for each of the four elements. There is also a fifth, downward-eliminating air, which transforms the food in the stomach, separates the waste matter from the food, and expels the waste through the anus.
The first aspect of the Vairocana is (1) keeping the spine straight so that the central energy channel is straight. The life-force vayu is called prana and flows in the central channel. Prana makes one's body stable and firm. It is also called the earth vayu because it gives stability and strength to the body. If the body is bent forward in meditation, or leaning to the left, right, or backward, then this central channel is going to be bent and the prana flowing within it will be constricted. Therefore if one keeps the spine straight, the earth vayu will flow straight, and this will result in endurance and stability.
The water vayu permeates the body and keeps it moist. If these water vayus flow in the central channel, they will naturally be stable. In order to cause the water vayu to flow in the central channel, (2) one places the hands in a meditative posture (3) with the elbows slightly sticking out. The fire vayu naturally goes upward, while the earth and water vayus naturally go downward. For the fire vayu to enter the central channel, (4) one lowers the chin slightly, which has the effect of preventing the fire vayu from rising upward
To introduce the air vayu into the central channel, (5) one's eyes should be unwavering. The air vayu is connected with the movement of the body, and the eyes naturally have a great deal of movement associated with them. The moving of the eyes will cause the mind to move. So one keeps the eyes still, focused on the space beyond the tip of the nose. (Some texts say four fingers width, some say arms length and this also varies based on the depth of ones experience) This will cause the mind to become still and the air vayu to enter the central channel. (6) The lips are also left to rest quite naturally, with the tongue resting against the palate. To stabilize the downward eliminating vayu, (7) one sits with one's legs in the vajra (full lotus) posture or the semi-crossed posture. You should be relaxed so dont try to force yourself into these postures It is better to sit comfortably than to sit in pain, (so use common sense and maybe a chair if necessary.)
The hands in meditation should be resting in the meditation posture or literally "resting in the equality posture." You can rest the right hand on top of the left hand because "resting equally" means your hands are at the same level, so that if one hand is on the knee, then the other should be on the knee at the same level. It doesn't make any difference; use whichever one you find comfortable.
There are two different kinds of thoughts: gross and subtle. When gross thoughts arise in meditation, one forgets that one is meditation and loses one's mindfulness and awareness. Then one remembers, "Oh, I am meditating" and returns to meditating. These gross thoughts are called an actual distraction. The second kind are subtle thoughts.. With these one does not forget that one is meditating, but remains there thinking, These little thoughts are occurring. One can prevent this from happening by recognizing these thoughts and continuing one's regular practice of mindfulness with each successive instant
Prerequisites for Practicing Vipasyana
First of all one needs to learn how to develop vipasyana because one doesn't naturally possess this knowledge. Therefore, one must rely on someone to give dharma teachings, and this being should be very learned and have studied and understood the texts and commentaries on the Buddha's teachings. It should be someone with actual experience of the teachings and someone who in his or her compassion will care for the pupil. In this age there are many dharma books and many people read them and meditate according to what they have read. This can lead to various difficulties such as finding their bodies shaking (kriyas ) or working very hard without getting any signs of accomplishment from their meditation. One really needs to depend on a learned and experienced teacher because a book cannot adapt the instructions to one's own nature and capabilities. Therefore, one needs an experienced being who is able to teach in accordance with one's specific abilities
In general, the Buddhist practice involves the correct view, mediation, and proper conduct. With the correct view we are able to meditate and through meditation we develop proper conduct. Therefore, the root of these is the view. To develop the correct view, we don't just receive these teachings, but rather we must analyze and examine them continuously. We shouldn't accept teachings with blind faith, however, but we should analyze and examine them so that we can cut through our uncertainty and doubt that the teachings from our teacher are correct and will lead us on the path. From this develops a definite view that the teacher's instructions are genuine, and this is called the definitive or correct viewpoint. Correct viewpoint is the principal causal condition for vipasyana. These three aspects of depending on a teacher, receiving the teachings and analyzing them develop the correct view of vipasyana.
When the teachings of the vajryana were transmitted to Tibet, the practice of contemplating the teachings by relying on the commentaries was developed. Some Chinese and some Western scholars state that this is a defect in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition because it relies so heavily on commentaries instead of relying on the actual words of the Buddha. The reliance on commentaries, however, has a very special purpose because when the Buddha gave teachings, he gave particular teachings to various individuals according to their particular nature so that some of his teachings were the provisional truths (provided for a temporary need, but subject to change) and some were the definitive truths (exhaustive and conclusive ).
If one has to go through the Buddha's teachings deciding which teachings are provisional and which are definitive with logical analysis, one could make many mistakes. But the Buddha prophesied that various masters would come in the future and write commentaries on the teachings to show which teachings were provisional and which definitive.
The Different Forms of Vipasyana
There are four main forms of vipasyana. The first kind of vipasyana is the vipasyana of the Tirthika ( non-Buddhist ) traditions and is found primarily in India. These non- Buddhist traditions practice shamatha meditation to pacify and eliminate most of the obvious klesas. The second kind of vipasyana teachings are the kind the Buddha gave to the sravakas and pratekabuddhas who could not understand the very profound or vast meaning. The third kind of vipasyana is the vipasyana of the bodhisattvas who follow the six paramitas. These teachings are very profound and vast. The fourth kind of vipasyana is that which uses bliss as a special method for quickly attaining realization, or the vipasyana of the mantrayana.
The vipasyana of the sravakas and the pratekabuddhas (the solitary buddhas ) is for those who are without the necessary fortitude to accomplish complete Buddhahood. These kinds of realized beings are found within the hinayana tradition.
The difference between them is the accumulation of merit. If there is some accumulation of merit, then one is a sravaka; if there is a great accumulation of merit then one is a pratyekabuddha. However in terms of shamatha and vipasyana meditation there is only a slight difference between them because both meditate on the four noble truths and the absence of self.
The meditation of vipasyana of the bodhisattva of the mahayana path is the meditation on selflessness of phenomena. A bodhisattva practices meditation based on the six paramitas. There is the selflessness of the individual and the selflessness of phenomena. This second kind of selflessness is the realization that inner consciousness and external phenomena are naturally peaceful and empty. (Of any inherent self existence). So the mahayana meditator believes that the root of samsara (suffering) is the klesas and that the root of the klesas is ego-clinging. Eliminating the clinging to a self is the way to be liberated from samsara.
To eliminate the klesas, the mahayana meditators meditate on the nature of internal and external phenomena in detail to discover that they are completely insubstantial, like bubbles in water. With this realization the klesas naturally disappear. The belief in the reality of external phenomena is called the obscuration of knowledge, and when this obscuration is eliminated there is liberation from samsara. The bodhisattvas therefore meditate on emptiness (shunyata).
The vipasyana meditation of the mahayana is on the realization of emptiness, which is also called dependent origination. This means that all phenomena that arise have a dependence on other phenomena and therefore no true existence of their own. For example, with the reflection of the moon on water, there is no real moon in the water, but due to the interdependence of the moon in the sky and the water on the ground, a reflection of the moon appears. In this same way, all phenomena originate through dependence upon something else and have no true existence of their own. The realization of this fact is the realization of emptiness, and with this realization the klesas cease. So to put an end to klesas, one meditates on emptiness
If one examines phenomena with logic and establishes that they are empty, one can gain an understanding of emptiness, but one doesnt gain a direct experience of emptiness. In the vajrayana approach outer phenomena are understood to be empty; but the practice is to observe the mind. The mind is the source of all happiness and all suffering, the source of all craving and all anger, the source of all love and compassion; whatever occurs comes from the mind.
In the vajrayana or tantra teachings the realization of emptiness is accomplished by looking at the mind itself. Normally one thinks of the mind as being very strong and powerful, especially when all the thoughts and klesas arise. But when one carefully examines to see where the mind actually is, one finds that there is nothing there, just a state of peace. This is called the state of great bliss because there is an absence of suffering and klesas. While meditating one may think, "I cannot meditate because there are so many thoughts coming up." But when one examines where the thoughts come from and what they really are, one finds that they do not exist. There is just this natural state of peace.
There are six root afflictions or klesas. The first is anger, so one looks for where anger first appears, where it comes from, where it stays and so on. One does the same for the second klesa, which is craving or desire for external objects. The third klesa is ignorance and the fourth pride. The fifth klesa is doubt or uncertainty, which has a positive or negative form. The sixth, is afflicted view, which means the belief in self, a clinging to a self. These are the six root mind poisons as described in the commentaries. With each of these one looks for where they first appear, where the dwell, and where they go. This is analytic meditation and through it one realizes the nature of the poisons. When one has this realization, one rests one's mind in this realization. In this way one obtains the realization of the emptiness of things often described as the union of emptiness and knowledge. This knowledge is clarity, an activity that doesn't have any actual true nature because it is emptiness itself. It is just a function but not an actual thing in itself. Clarity is like a quality or attribute, but there is no basis to that quality. There is a process of knowing but no knower who knows. Other than its nature it is just emptiness. So one has this union of clarity and emptiness or this union of knowledge and emptiness. Atisa in his meditation instructions says that normally we think of mind as being a combination of past, present, and future thoughts. We put these together and we think that it is mind. If we analyze it, however, we find that past thoughts don't exist, that they have gone and aren't there any more, that is, they are non-existent. Future thoughts have not yet been created so they are naturally empty. So what we have is just the present, which is a very brief period of time. Examining the present mind is very difficult because we find nothing there with any color, shape, form, or nature. So we find that present mind is not really anything either and is therefore also empty
Having understood the nature of emptiness through analytic meditation, we now look to see who is knowing, who has this understanding, and we find that the knower doesn't exist. So we recognize this indivisibility of knowing and emptiness. This is known as discriminating wisdom or discriminating prajna.
Method of Practice
To develop the view of absence of self one has to meditate. One needs to study first the teachings of selflessness, then analyze and contemplate them so that one can develop a definite understanding of this view. Then one rests one's mind on that, focused on that view but in a totally relaxed state. This resting is like the union of stability of mind and insight, the union of shamatha and vipasyana. One must balance the analytic meditation that develops clarity of mind with stability of mind. Too much analytic meditation will reduce one's stability. Therefore one must relax the mind in a non-analytic state of meditation. Too much non-analytic meditation will diminish the clarity of mind and one begins to sink into dullness, (Or trance ). So one then does repeated analytic meditation to regain one's balance. Developing both clarity and stability will make the mind very powerful.
Emptiness is the essence of the dharma teachings because it is the way we eliminate all the mind poisons and faults. So selflessness and emptiness are very important. Emptiness can become an obstacle to our understanding of karma and our practice of good actions because we may think, "Everything is emptiness, nothing exists, so I don't have to practice dharma." So there is danger involved in this teaching on emptiness. Nagarjuna said that we have to understand emptiness correctly; otherwise it will have a bad effect. If we have a good understanding of emptiness, it helps to develop our meditation, but if we have a mistaken idea of emptiness and think that there is no need to do good actions, we are in danger of developing an obstacle to our dharma practice.
The union of stability of mind (shamatha) and of insight (vipasyana) occurs when the mind is at rest and still, not in the ordinary way, but at rest in the wisdom of the dharmadhatu. (The all-encompassing space that is unoriginated and beginningless from which all phenomena arise.)
The third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, described the nature of shamatha and vipasyana in the vajrayana tradition. In shamatha there are obvious and subtle waves of thoughts that become naturally pacified. He said that these obvious and subtle thoughts become stilled; they are like the sea. There are sometimes large and sometimes small waves on the sea. When these waves cease, then the sea is completely still without movement. In the same way, one sometimes has subtle and sometimes obvious thoughts. If these become completely stilled, the mind becomes totally still, calm, and unmoving like a calm sea. Even when the sea is completely still, there can be some pollution, so one needs to have very clear and pure water running into the sea for it to be completely pure. Likewise, even though the mind has been stilled, there can still be the defect of dullness of the mind. Correct shamatha occurs when the defect of dullness is removed, so that there is a state of calm and stability and also a state of clarity.
Rangjung Dorje also describes vipasyana as looking again and again at something that cannot be seen. So the nature of mind cannot be examined or analyzed. He says that one looks at the nature of mind again and again and nothing of true existence can be found. By looking at this and seeing the true nature of the mind, one becomes free of the doubt and uncertainty of what the mind is like. Instead one develops a certainty through seeing the nature of mind, and this is vipasyana meditation. The primary cause for the development of shamatha and vipasyana is your own diligence and the necessary conditions are the preliminary practices. The first preliminary practice, prostrations, is taking refuge in the three jewels ( of Buddha, dharma, and sangha ) and the development of bodhicitta (the altruistic aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit all beings ), which cause you to enter on the genuine path. The other three preliminaries increase the development of shamatha and vipasyana, ( Vajrasattva practice for purification of your bad karma and obscurations, mandala offering to help your experience and realization; and guru yoga to develop faith and devotion and increase the intensity of your experience of insight in vipasyana meditation ). Having both diligence and the necessary conditions of the preliminary practices enables you to develop the union of shamatha and vipasyana.
It is important to continue steadily with our meditation practice rather than have intense periods of diligence and then give it up because there is no result. This kind of diligence is called unchanging, permanent diligence that enables us to maintain the continuity of our practice. We need this kind of diligence. It is important to have this kind of diligence and not to have any attachment to meditation experiences.