The Dhyana-Samadhi Meditation Absorptions - Part 2
A GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE SAMADHI
The nine samadhi absorptions all involve some degree of purity, peacefulness, stability and concentration but in each of these meditative realms, the concentration and purity is of an entirely different character. As a result, these samadhi absorptions can only be considered training stages that help prepare you for realizing your fundamental nature. Someone with high wisdom can cultivate to realize their fundamental nature directly without having to cultivate these practice stations, and this sort of direct practice is laid out in the Complete Enlightenment Sutra and Surangama Sutra. However, since most people cannot do this, the various samadhi realms are usually laid out in a graduated path of attainment so that people have some method to cultivate to the Tao.
In terms of the spiritual cultivation ranks involved in this training path for enlightenment, there are four dhyana, followed by four formless samadhi, and also the ninth great wisdom samadhi that is the nirvana with remainder of the Arhats. The four dhyana are what most spiritual schools focus upon, and are themselves levels of ever-increasing mental refinement. The first dhyana is the lowest of these attainments, the second dhyana is a degree higher in spiritual purity, the third dhyana is yet higher in terms of spiritual refinement, and the highest meditative level of the four is the fourth dhyana.
In terms of the degrees of progressive refinement, the first dhyana can be categorized as having the attributes of vitarka mental investigation, vicara mental analysis or consideration, physical bliss (rapture), mental happiness (joy) and one-pointed concentration (single-mindedness). As someone climbs the ranks of meditation, many of these characteristics are purified away so that by the time someone reaches the fourth dhyana attainment, they are solely abiding in a very ultra-refined state of just one-pointed concentration without any other coarse mental factors. In other words, the fourth dhyana can be characterized by the very purest stage of the calm abiding or single-mindedness that constitutes samadhi. The characteristics of the four dhyana can therefore loosely be summarized as follows:
MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF THE FIRST FOUR DHYANA
As human beings we live in the Realm of Desire, but the four dhyana attainments correspond to higher mental states within the Realm of Form, which can be described as a type of energy realm. As to the four formless samadhi absorptions, they correspond to the heavens, realms, or states of mind characterizing the Realm of Formlessness. Thus when anyone cultivates a state of samadhi, we can loosely say that his or her mind finally matches with Heaven.
When a practitioner attains the first dhyana, we can say they have finally escaped from, or ascended out of the Realm of Desire, because this cultivation attainment places them at the initial entry level into the Realm of Form. The second dhyana corresponds to a firmer or higher level of being within the Form Realm, and by the time a spiritual practitioner has reached the third and fourth dhyana in their meditation work, their level of spiritual attainment has progressed to the very top stages of the Form Realm. When anyone achieves a dhyana attainment, their attainment level matches with the heavenly beings who inhabit the equivalent spiritual realm. Such an individual is in this world, and yet their mind is beyond it.
In this particular spiritual ranking scheme, each of the higher realms--as you would naturally expect--is progressively more refined, higher, or purer than the realms below it. For instance, the Desire Realm is equivalent to the material world of phenomena, the Form Realm can be equated with a higher energy world, and the Formless Realm can best be compared to a great transcendental spiritual realm. The Form Realm is so pure compared to the Desire Realm that you have no more sexual desire when you reach it; what you have is more akin to affection. In the Formless Realm, all sorts of gross thoughts are absent for it really is a profound stage of spiritual being.
The four dhyana of the Form Realm are common stages of spiritual attainment you can achieve through meditation practice. Thus, so they are commonly shared by most every genuine religious school. The four formless samadhi of the Formless Realm are also common stages of attainment as well, and include:
Each of these four samadhi absorptions represents a stage of attainment in the Formless Realm. In other words, if you can attain any of these samadhi, it means you can reach the realm of experience of the various heavenly beings residing in the Realm of Formlessness. If you can cultivate any one of these samadhi to stability and master its attainment level, you might even be reborn in the corresponding heaven yourself.
The last samadhi of the nine is the "nirvana" samadhi of the Arhats. In this samadhi everything is gone --spirit, wisdom, consciousness--absolutely everything is emptied out. If you attain this samadhi you become a Great Arhat and can jump out of the Three Realms of Desire, Form and Formlessness, but this is only achievable if you also cultivate the transcendental prajna wisdom taught in Buddhism. Although it is a high spiritual state, this samadhi still has some remainders of imperfection because the individual who achieves it still retains a trace of subtle defilements, and these defilements will necessitate rebirth after an extraordinarily long period of time.
These nine samadhi are the basic practice vehicles people cultivate in order to attain the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya spiritual bodies. They are also a way of ranking or measuring someone's stage of cultivation attainments. While all beings share the dharmakaya body, which Westerners identify as God and Easterners as Tao, in actual fact few people actually attain self-realization and enlightenment because they cultivate incorrectly or do not put in the required effort.
Even monks and nuns, whose entire lives are devoted to spiritual cultivation, tend to take spiritual cultivation as a humdrum job after awhile, and attach to it no sense of urgency. As a result, they, too, fail to climb the samadhi ranks of spiritual attainment. Many even enter a holy order simply to avoid the world rather than because it gives them the perfect chance to search for self-realization. And so when we survey the various schools of the world, we can find many techniques for attaining samadhi as a stepping stone or practice vehicle along the path for awakening to the dharmakaya, but we find very few practitioners committed to actually attaining the ranks of samadhi. Those who attain some stage of samadhi today are rare indeed.
Religious people usually know all the teachings about spiritual cultivation, but what they are usually missing are the motivated efforts to attain the states of spiritual samadhi that can lead to genuine spiritual realization. Just studying words in holy texts is not enough, for you have to meditate to empty the mind in order to experience the spiritual states of Heaven. But even if we only considered very committed spiritual cultivation practitioners, we would still find very few people who practice meditation and other spiritual exercises correctly, because most people lack sufficient wisdom to know the meaning of the path, and therefore how to correctly apply themselves.
If they have not yet "seen the path," then they usually end up spending practice time without making too much spiritual progress at all, and seeing the path requires merit, wisdom and hard effort. Thus it is that few people ever succeed in the great matter of spiritual self-realization.
No matter whether one follows a Buddhist path, Christian path, Jain path, Hindu path, Islamic path, Jewish path, Shintoist path, the Hinayana school, Mahayana school, orthodoxism or esotericism, Taoism or Confucianism or whatever, these samadhi absorptions are definitely within your reach. Everyone is capable of attaining them because everyone already has the Tao, and these are just levels of clearing the mind. All the great spiritual heroes of religious traditions were usually heroes precisely because they cultivated samadhi; without it they were nothing. In fact, it is the samadhi attainments that make someone a saint, guru, prophet, sage, avatar, Arhat, adept, master, initiated or accomplished one. You cannot elect or vote individuals into this stage, for they must practice to attain samadhi themselves.
The samadhi attainments are not evil ways, but just specific realms of mind which you can scientifically reach through the process of mental resting and nonattachment. How could that produce anything evil? In fact, to explain it using the Christian terminology employed by medieval monks who cultivated samadhi: by letting go of self-thoughts and anything else that belongs to the ego, and thereby cultivating selflessness, one clears the mind of all selfishness and ego so that only the connection or fullness of God remains. The spiritual state resultantly reached is the spiritual state of samadhi.
Many different spiritual traditions therefore know of these samadhi, since they are the spiritual practice methods common to all schools (although classified under different names and terminology), but very few people can accurately characterize the various differences behind these states. To understand the stages of the cultivation path, we must therefore analyze these states of spiritual attainment in some detail.
THE FIRST DHYANA
Whenever a meditator can finally detach themselves from the view of being a physical body, or having a physical form, then the first dhyana can finally be attained. This sort of detachment will produce a wonderful experience of mental joy (or happiness) along with a comfortable feeling of physical bliss felt in every body cell. But you can only achieve this state if you detach from the body and mind, for that is the only way in which this physical bliss and mental joy will arise.
In the past, many Christian saints and lay cultivators were often described as having entered a state of "rapture," and many of these historical accounts used this term to refer to the joy and bliss characteristics of the first dhyana attainment. Of course, whether or not this was actually the first dhyana, or simply emotional fervor (as often seen in bhakti worship), depended upon whether or not a number of other dhyana characteristics were there as well.
If we connect the statements from the Esoteric and Tao schools that "bliss arises when the jing descends," "when full of jing, a practitioner does not think of sex," and "jing transforms into chi," we can correctly surmise that the first dhyana is somehow related to transformations involving a spiritual practitioner's jing and chi. Furthermore, an extremely intelligent person can pull together various other cultivation teachings we have gone over to understand how the first dhyana becomes the actual target of sexual cultivation practice, and how it corresponds to the bliss and emptiness brought about by kundalini cultivation. In short, the fact that the first dhyana involves mental joy and physical bliss, which are related to jing and chi, strongly suggests that its achievement involves attaining a state of harmony between the physical and mental natures.
When, as a meditation practitioner, you can actually succeed in abandoning the rigid mental hold you usually have on your physical body, and become free of habitually clinging to its sensations as well as free of the idea of being a body, you will naturally experience some degree of psychological joy and physical bliss. You will experience them because when you totally let go of the body and the mind, your chi circulations will flow freely without restriction. This free circulation will, in turn, produce positive mental and physical states.
Achieving the first dhyana does not necessarily mean that you will be free of the skandha of sensation, yet it does indicate definite progress towards the Tao. In addition, the very fact that bliss and joy arise through the first dhyana accomplishment serves to remind us that the root of the body (which experiences bliss) and mind (which experiences joy) are one, which should help focus our efforts in cultivation attainment.
When you attain the first dhyana, you will experience such mental joy and physical comfort in every cell that the experience will far surpass anything available within the Desire Realm, including sexual orgasm. Thus, you will get a taste of the pleasurable state experienced every moment within the higher Desire Realm heavens, and this bliss will signify a transformation beginning to take place in every cell of your body. But to attain this experiential realm, it is absolutely necessary that you first achieve one-pointed concentration, and there are various factors that can interfere with this accomplishment.
Factors Inhibiting Samadhi
The main factors that keep us from accomplishing any of the dhyana are our desires for fortune, fame, food, sleep and sex. In addition, we can also say that our attachment to sounds, smells, tastes, tangibles, visibles, etc., also keep us from attaining the four dhyana. In terms of meditation, drowsiness (torpor) and excitedness are enemies of the dhyana, and in terms of psychology, the factors of desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt expand this list. You can mention any number of factors which serve as cultivation hindrances, but perhaps the biggest hurdle to attaining the dhyana are the five poisons.
The five poisons that inhibit the attainment of the dhyana are desire, anger, pride, ignorance, and doubt (lack of faith). As we have covered before, these are fundamental karmic forces that constantly create all sorts of mental troubles and afflictions. They are unwholesome mental factors that keep us ignorantly bound up with our bodies and ordinary mentation. For instance, you might begin to experience physical bliss through your meditation, and then sexual desire might seize you so that you end up losing your jing through masturbation.
Another problem is that the attachment to bliss might become so strong that this attachment ends up plateauing your cultivation progress because you end up holding onto that state. You might also become inflated with pride at reaching some stage of cultivation, which in turn might end up strengthening your view of the ego. You might also begin to have doubts, and wonder about the path and whether you can attain the dhyana at all. All these various hindrances can arise and inhibit your progress on the spiritual path.
These are not the only factors that can prevent your entry into the first dhyana. Naturally you must cultivate merit and wisdom, practice the discipline of accumulating and maintaining your jing without leakage, and must devote yourself to practicing meditation (through an appropriate cultivation sadhana) in order to reach the first dhyana. These requirements are necessary for any sort of spiritual work and subsequent stage of attainment. Furthermore, if you do not work on detaching from deviant and erroneous views, you will have trouble entering any type of dhyana as well.
What are these deviant views that can inhibit the attainment of dhyana? As previously discussed when we dealt with the skandha of volition, they are the view of taking the body as the self, the view of taking anything in an extreme way, the view of holding onto subjective judgments (loving your own personal views), accepting incorrect knowledge and information as true, the view of improper discipline, and various false notions regarding the experiential realms you may encounter in cultivation. You have to jump out of these views in order to make any sort of substantial progress in spiritual cultivation. To detach from these things means being open in mind, and another word for this flexibility is emptiness.
These five views are fundamental karmic sources of trouble. If you can get past these views, you can reach the various dhyana and start to really transform your unwholesome tendencies, habits and behaviors. People today seem to have adopted the New Age mentality that simply going to conferences and workshops will help transform your thoughts and behavior. This is certainly a beneficial type of involvement; however, you can only really start to purify your unwholesome habits and mental afflictions when you start cultivating the mind on a deep level by mastering the various samadhi.
When you transform things at the deep level of mind, this is the only type of real and lasting transformation. In fact, you can only transform things at a level of true depth when you cultivate the samadhi and dhyana, because this is the only thing that can purify habit chi flows and reach down far enough to purify the roots of behavior. Otherwise, simple "changes in behavior" are usually just changes in outward conditions, or the result of binding yourself to a set of rigid rules and regulations that do not ever transform the fundamental impulses of your behavior.
Each of the characteristics of the first dhyana acts as an antidote to certain emotional afflictions which work to prevent this state from arising: applied thought counteracts doubts, the consideration of mental analysis counteracts the hindrance of torpor, mental joy counteracts aversion and hate, physical bliss counteracts agitation and worry, and the achievement of single-mindedness counteracts the factor of desire. Hence, you can see that we all have these root afflictions affecting us, and these afflictions are the enemies of the dhyana. However, the dhyana are also the antidotes to these afflictions, so cultivating the dhyana is the true way to go about the human being task of changing, which means perfecting, our behavior.
The karmic afflictions that prevent entry into samadhi and dhyana are like a big knot of karmic forces that will impel you to do things no matter how many spiritual conferences or sensitivity classes you attend. They will compel and push you to do things even when you know you should not. Therefore, this is another reason why the mind and body must both be transformed before we can see the Tao, for otherwise the mind and body will both serve as obstacles on the path.
Both the mind and body can impel you to perform certain acts of behavior, so both have to be pacified on the cultivation trail, and brought to a higher degree of perfection. However, if you can transform the mind and body to the extent that the pressure behind these impulsive stirrings dies down, the obstacles on the path will be greatly lessened. Then it will be much easier to cultivate the dhyana.
There are many routes we can follow to cultivate a realization of the first dhyana. Regardless of the route or routes chosen, Chinese culture has two phrases of instruction that should help guide us through all these practices:
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