The Dhyana-Samadhi Meditation Absorptions - Part 1
The topic of the 9 samadhi absorptions, also called the nine samadhi, dhyana, jnana or jhana, are so important that I'm excerpting this extensive lesson from How to Measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization as a gift to you.
You need to know this material which you won't find anywhere else -- not on the internet (unless someone copies this lesson and distributes it), not in books, and not in front of some other Esoteric or Zen master.
This rare details for this precious infomation just are not publicly available. Until now ...
In my Various Stages of the the Spiritual Experience personalized course that I teach to private students, we go into about twenty to thirty times more information than even this chapter contains, but this chapter is so extensive that it will orient you ocrrectly as regards the samadhi realms of spiritual cultivation. If you are a psychologist, researcher, cultivation student or other seeking extensive case studies on this material and a collection of samadhi descriptions from Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Sufism, Hinduism, yoga, Taoism,Tantra, Vajrayana and Buddhism, they are available in the Stages course.
Here now, please enjoy this most valuable material from How to Measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization:
When we start to devote ourselves to spiritual cultivation practices with the target of settling our busy minds, we will eventually arrive at the calm purity and peacefulness of samadhi. But there are myriad types of samadhi just as there are myriad methods you can practice to attain these various realms of concentration wherein the mind seems absent of heavy discriminative thought. The process of becoming a Bodhisattva can even be considered a type of samadhi.
All of us can be considered the nirmanakaya transformation bodies of original enlightenment. We are the transformation bodies of the original fundamental nature, or the primordial Buddha Vairocana, each striving to recover that primordial state of ever present enlightenment. Despite this common basis of the enlightened nature, our thoughts, habits and merits differ from one individual to the next. This is due to the fact that the karmic streams of each nirmanakaya and its past activities are different.
We all share the same fundamental nature, or ground state of being, which is why many Zen masters speak of "seeing face to face" in reference to belonging to that same intrinsic foundation of enlightenment. Even so, our appearances and functioning behavior are all entirely different.
Despite this common ground state of being, our bodies and minds are also choked full of unwholesome karmic influences and obstructions, and each of us has different primary obstacles that prevent our awakening to enlightenment. Because of these obstructions, our only recourse on the spiritual path is to use whatever pain, joy, and other experiences we encounter to better allow ourselves to realize that dharmakaya true nature of ours. That, in effect, is the gist of spiritual cultivation practice.
Starting from wherever you are, without complaining of your current status (which is of no use), you must use whatever you have as a spring board for the journey to realizing your enlightened true nature, and samadhi is one of the realms you can cultivate that will definitely aid in this task. From samadhi you can cultivate prajna wisdom, and with prajna wisdom you can finally reach the enlightenment of spiritual realization. That is the spiritual liberation that all religions talk about.
Definite principles must be observed if you want to cultivate samadhi, and samadhi itself is absolutely essential to all the paths of self-realization regardless of any particular spiritual school you might follow. In fact, if your spiritual path lacks samadhi and prajna teachings, it is not safe to say that it is a very meritorious or advanced spiritual path, or perhaps it has simply fallen to the wayside.
There are common practice methods for entering into the samadhi states of meditative absorption that most religions follow, and there are also common levels of samadhi, which you can reach no matter what your particular school of spiritual training. Since the samadhi attainments are nondenominational and nonsectarian, the various samadhi are therefore another means often used to measure a person's stage of spiritual advancement. They are a genuine technique for measuring your stage of meditation achievement.
In general, we can say that there are eight major samadhi (also called "absorptions" or jhana) common to all the cultivation schools of the world, and an additional ninth samadhi also exists-called the "nirvana with remainder"--although its attainment lies only within the province of spiritual schools with great prajna wisdom teachings. As with the other samadhi, even this fractional nirvana cannot be equated with enlightenment, although it far surpasses these other realms and is only achieved through great prajna cultivation.
How can we define the differences between these nine samadhi? To start with, the first four of these mental absorptions are properly called the four "dhyana," while the remaining states are typically termed the formless "samadhi" absorptions. In colloquial terms, the first four dhyana are also sometimes called "samadhi" because they refer to a state of meditative concentration characterized by ease and peaceful mental unity. As the Abhidharmakosabhasya of Vasubandhu says,
The famous Chinese dharma translator Xuan Zang, who was immortalized in The Journey to the West, adopted the term ching-lu for his translation of the term dhyana. Xuan Zang got the term ching-lu from the Confucian classic, The Great Learning, and roughly translated, it means "stilling thoughts," or achieving stable concentration. Hence, the dhyana and samadhi are stages of mind, typically achieved through meditation, which are characterized by extreme mental calm (or emptiness) conjoint with awareness.
To be specific, since the samadhi states all involve concentration, we must try to answer, "What exactly is concentration?" We can describe concentration as the centering of consciousness on a single object, the binding of consciousness to a single point. Because of this, concentration is sometimes referred to as "one-pointedness" or "single-mindedness." That, in effect, is the nature of concentration; concentration is to be single-mindedly mentally centered or focused on some particular mental scenario.
All minds possess concentration since concentration is a mental event among the ten omnipresent mental factors, but weak concentration cannot be equated with the extent of one-pointedness required of samadhi. The reason that samadhi is characterized by an extremely stable field of concentration is because most ordinary monkey-mind thoughts are absent within this state, and thus within samadhi there is very little coarse discriminatory activity.
The concentration realm of the samadhi or dhyana is a state wherein your mind has one-pointed focus and is calm, undistracted and unscattered. In this state, the mind is not excited to a state of disturbance, nor is it dulled to a state of blankness or torpor. In samadhi the mind is balanced, awake, and aware. Whenever our mind achieves this sort of empty but focused concentration, which is very different than our normal mental state of scattered discriminatory mentation, we can call it a type of samadhi absorption.
What are some of the other different terms used in place of "samadhi"? Sometimes it is translated as samapatti or samaya and even satori (in Japanese), and it is often translated as "taming," "rectifying," or "stabilizing the mind." When you become adept at fixing the mind on a single point so that it settles there without stirring, this is a state of samadhi absorption. For instance, in the Complete Enlightenment Sutra Buddha says,
When a meditator performs their practice while keeping truly still, then due to having purified their thoughts, a calm discernment will emerge as they become aware of the sensual cravings and delusional workings of their discriminatory mind. As these false thoughts and feelings, which intrude to corrupt their body and mind, start to become eliminated, from within will flow forth a relaxation and lightening up of their sensory agitations, along with a sense of quiet harmoniousness. ... This skillful state is samadhi, which is the bringing of the mind to rest when it ceases to chase after things.
There are many different ways to describe the state of mental samadhi, but perhaps the best definition includes a description of how to reach this state.
Most spiritual practices for attaining samadhi are based on the principles of cessation and contemplation practice, which is also known as shamatha-vipashyana cultivation practice. The principles for this type of meditative practice were best outlined by Chih-i, founder of the Chinese Tien-tai school, who created the six step method of cultivating the breath to arrive at samadhi.
For our purposes it will be useful to go into some detail about these steps, for in this way you will learn how to enter into samadhi and how to deepen your realization of this spiritual state. The actual experience of samadhi is infinitely more important than just knowing the definition of the word.
THE SIX STEPS FOR CULTIVATING SAMADHI
The first of these six steps for cultivating cessation-observation is for a meditator to cultivate their breath just by watching it, or by counting it until it calms down. The next step is riding the breath, which means letting your awareness ride upon your breath so that it reaches an even calmer and more subtle state of flow. At this point, your breathing will become so subtle, and your thoughts will become so fine, that the two can blend into one.
The third step in cultivating samadhi is cessation, wherein your external breathing-because of relaxation--slows so much that it stops, and thoughts then seem to disappear or cease. This is the hsi stage of the Tao school, and this point constitutes the actual yogic practice of pranayama, for Patanjali's Yoga Sutras says, "pranayama is the cutting off of the inhalation and exhalation." The Hatha Yoga Pradipika provides us with yet another reference in saying:
Just as salt dissolves in water and becomes one with it, so also in samadhi there occurs the union of mind with atman. Mind dissolves in breath and breath subsides. Both then become one in samadhi. This state of equilibrium results from the union of the jivatnam (individual self) and paramatman (divine self). When mind Thus, is calmed, we are in samadhi.
Accordingly, when you reach the state of cessation your thoughts will eventually settle just as will any dust suspended floating in a glass of dirty water. All you have to do is maintain the third person observer-like awareness of the mind, and refrain from energizing your mind by adding lots of extra thought energy. Then your mental realm will eventually settle naturally all by itself.
If you continue with this practice according to the steps already outlined, the four dhyana can all be attained in your spiritual practice, but you should not attach to them when they arise. If you let the mind rest it will automatically become pure and clear, but you should never dwell with attachment in any state of clarity that arises. This is the correct practice of cessation, and this is what will result in the state of samadhi. If you focus on the breath and attain one-pointed concentration in this manner, coarse mental discrimination will die down and eventually become empty. This is a state of concentration, but in cultivation terms it is most often called "emptiness."
These first three initial steps of cultivation practice initial focus on the body somewhat, but at this point in Tien-tai practice, the focus should entirely switch over to the mind. In other words, after an initial emphasis on physical calming and relaxation, you must next turn inwards to cultivate the mind.
First we can say that you cultivate body samadhi, and next you work on attaining mental samadhi. Mental cultivation means cultivating prajna wisdom rather than investigating phenomena, so the fourth step in Chih-i's six dharma doors is to switch from a focus on following your breath to observing your mind as your external respiration starts to calm down and diminish in coarseness. This practice is called observation or contemplation, and is the point when prajna wisdom can arise.
In spiritual practice, at the point of cessation when your breath has stopped and miscellaneous thoughts have died out, you should look into the mind and inquire, "What has stopped? What has reached cessation?" You should look into your mind and watch for thoughts, but they will not be there since they have died down. Yet that thing which has the power to recognize thoughts and observe them coming or going is still there, and that's It. That is what you want to find through cultivation, and you can find it by so relaxing that you let go of all things to realize it; the more you mentally let go of your body and mind, the more your prajna wisdom will arise and the greater it will become until you can achieve this realization.
Hence, at the stage of observation in your spiritual cultivation, you will reach a point where your mind is extremely calm, clear, crisp, and aware, absent of all the miscellaneous thoughts which normally trouble us. The state you reach will be one of emptiness, clarity, and cessation. And what can know in this state is our wordless, prajna wisdom that knows through direct knowing.
There are two mental characteristics absent in this state, but which can disturb it: (1) torpor, which is like a foggy, sleepy state of mind, and (2) mental excitedness or scatteredness. In normal situations our mind is always in one of these states or the other, but in samadhi there are no wandering thoughts, foggy thoughts, or scattered thoughts. The state of samadhi is so clear of random thoughts that it is like a clear sky free of clouds for ten thousand miles in all directions. Hence, after reaching some special state of cessation, the famous Zen master Han Shan wrote:
Thoughts can stop in our minds, but thoughts are not the mind. Thoughts are just phenomena that arise in the mind; they are things that appear in the mind. The mind is really completely empty but has the capability of awareness that can know arising thoughts; thoughts are just empty experiential realms that it can know, and so we say "experience."
In fact, the initial state of mental emptiness and clarity which you can reach because of thought cessation is not really the mind either, but is still just a mental phenomenon or experiential realm known by the true mind! It is still a thought of emptiness rather than true emptiness. This stillness is like one super-big thought that you can still know, but it is not the prepositional you. Hence, at this stage of mental stopping achieved through cessation-contemplation practice, you are still within the realm of phenomena arising out of the mind.
This situation of mental calming is like the lightness and darkness of day and night which are always alternating, but That Thing which can perceive the light and darkness is neither light nor darkness. That Thing which stands behind them never moves, and never leaves its place. In fact, it will never change and has never changed because It, itself, is empty and void of everything. By definition, this void is changeless.
All the infinite things tumultuously coursing through the past into the future cannot affect this fundamental one at all because they constitute a false realm empty as well. So that original thing will still be there throughout all the miraculous transformations, and yet it does not experience them as realities because they are falsities lacking a true existence. On the road of spirituality, we practice cultivating prajna wisdom and samadhi in order to return to That One and rest in its true nature without any efforts or artificialities. It is that fundamental one which we seek.
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