This is Part III of "The Practice of Meditation", covering three more topics:
- The Stages over which the Mind Progresses
- The Mission of Alertness or Attention
- Aids to the Preservation of States in Meditation
7. THE STAGES OVER WHICH THE MIND PROGRESSES
Make the right preparations before you commence your meditation practice, like hearing more and understanding more and also knowing the ways to remove the obstacles to meditation. However, our minds, the consciousness itself, are accustomed to waywardness and confusion and cannot be tamed in a short space of time. Therefore, it takes considerable time and effort to settle the mind and the process can be briefly summarized in nine stages.
- Staying Inward - The mind is accustomed to clinging to outward objects and spheres. When you hear the proper teachings and give rise to a pure faith, you show a willingness to practice meditation. First of all, you turn your mind inward to observe the objects or spheres of your choice. Your inward contemplation may not be on the proper track at first, and tends to drag itself outward. You have to make an effort to keep the mind seeking inward. This requires the "power of hearing".
- Staying Continuously - When the mind is gradually made to turn inward, there are times when you lose hold of previous thoughts and forget the sphere of your observation, then you should immediately bring your mind back and resume continuity of your flow of thoughts on the target object or sphere, ensuring no interruption thereto even for a moment. This requires the "power of contemplation".
- Staying Securely - If there are outward stimuli resulting in torpid-mindedness and agitation, and an unclear mind, you should quickly turn your mind around to stay securely in the observation of your previous target object or sphere.
- Staying Close - When your observation advances from the coarse level to the delicate level, your mind is gradually collected from outward ramblings, and you only feel that your mind is calm and clear like a pool of water. For the above-mentioned two stages, it requires the "power of mindfulness".
- Staying Tame - When the mind can stay calm in the face of agreeable circumstances but is upset in the face of disagreeable circumstances, it will bring on a feeling of disgust to your meditation practice. Try to overcome this feeling at once by observing the merits arising from your meditation practice, and arousing a feeling of joy towards your meditation practice.
- Staying Still - If there is a feeling of the mind's concentration being relaxed you should be aware of it instantly and try to bring the mind back to a stage of concentration. By doing so, if you think that you have a way of guarding your mind and thus give rise to a feeling of joy, you should immediately counter this which is also a source of delusion. For these two staying powers there need be the "power of correct understanding".
- Staying Extremely Still - At this very juncture, wat ch carefully to counter the very minute discriminative delusions, whether they have arisen or not. Be sure to extinguish all desires of love and greed, or even the feeling of getting accustomed and tired.
- Staying on One-Pointedness of mind - When all the minute delusions like torpid-mindedness, agitation, desire, anger have ceased to function, the mind can remain in samadhi continuously and is aware of its originally pure nature. With further efforts in this direction, the mind will dwell in samadhi for a much prolonged period of time. For these two staying powers, there need be the "power of zeal and progress".
- Staying in State of Concentration Effortlessly and Naturally - Due to the continuous practice of meditation, and with the accumulation of experience, the practice becomes so natural that it requires no conscious effort and the mind can remain still and in a state of samadhi. At that time it can be said that you have accomplished in the practice of "stopping". This requires the "power of continuous practice".
8. THE MISSION OF ALERTNESS OR ATTENTION
That you can control your mind from waywardness and make it seek inward and concentrate without wavering is due to the power of alertness or attention. It helps to bring on right thoughts and keep them without stopping. As there are different stages in calming the mind, there are four kinds of alertness or attention:
- Enforced Attention - When you begin to practice meditation your mind is unsettled like running water and unrestrained like a wild horse. This Attention is responsible for firmly holding on to your mind's "stopping" function to bring it to rest, though only barely at first. The first two stages of staying the mind as described under Topic 7 are dependent on this Attention.
- Intermittent Enforced Attention - If you can forcibly keep the mind on the object of observation, there are still times when your mind loses its grip. You must be alert and try to bring it back. If there is an interval of break-off, try to keep the mind continuously focused. When the feeling of getting tired arises, try to evoke the pleasures associated with meditation. When desire abounds, try to keep the mind unattached. Although this may not be always the case, this Attention is not to be relaxed. The third to seventh stages of staying the mind are dependent on this Attention.
- Enforced Attention with Effort - To remove the obstacles to meditation and render the
mind fixated on one object or sphere uninterruptedly depends on this Enforced Attention with Effort. Always observe the Three Jewels, contemplate on the merits of the Precepts, know that there is progress so the mind is not timid. The eighth stage relies on this attention.
Enforced Attention Without Effort - When you reach a stage where control of your mind comes naturally and you can freely attain samadhi without any intermittent confusion or waywardness, you can maintain your deep concentration without any safeguard, then you will experience a sense of bodily comfort and mental elatedness. The ninth stage relies on this attention.
9. AIDS TO THE PRESERVATION OF STATES IN MEDITATION
Although you possess the resources for meditation practice, and have made sufficient preparation work, removed the obstacles to meditation and rendered your mind well under control, there still needs to be aids to its preservation to ensure the progress. This is the observation of the Precepts.
The observation of the Precepts is a must condition for both monastic and laymen alike. It helps to regulate your daily life and you should heed the following four points:
- Be untainted in what you see and hear - The practitioner contemplates on the dharma that he hears and tries to understand its meaning. He then practices accordingly, and this is termed "practice according to dharma." If, however, the practitioner does not understand the meaning of the dharma that he hears but relies on other people's instructions or interpretations, and practices accordingly, this is termed "practice according to faith." If he sees and hears the true dharma, seeks instructions from true masters, he will certainly benefit immensely. If he sees and hears too diversely, engages in playful amusements, or seeks instructions from heathen masters or religions, he will easily fall prey to heterodox views and practices. He will not attain the proper samadhi and even if he manages to obtain it, he will easily go astray. Therefore, for the meditation practitioner, he must be careful not to be unduly tainted by heterodox views and ideas.
- Drink and eat at the right time and in the right amounts - You have to eat and drink to sustain your body. All you seek is sufficient nutrition, so do not indulge in gratification of your gastronomical instincts. The amounts of intake vary with the individual and any excess or deficiency will affect his practice.
- No excessive sleep - Sleep only at midnight and you can regain your physical strength. If you sleep too much, you can give rise to torpid-mindedness. Be always alert, make good use of your time to practice meditation.
- Be conscious of your deportment - Whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying, be always mindful that your body never transgresses and your mind never wanders. When alone, be like in a company, and watch your speech and behavior.
(to be continued...)