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Shamata Meditation

Geshe Dakpa Topgyal: Shamata Meditation
Dateline: Columbia: March 17, 2001

Shamata Meditation

There are two types of Shamata meditation. In one, the meditator
focuses on the objects of meditation, maintaining a single-point focus.
In the second, the meditator concentrates on compassion or bodhichitta.
It’s important to understand that, during this second type of
meditation, you are not using compassion or bodhichitta as an object of
meditation. Rather, you are transferring your mind or thoughts or
feelings into the nature of compassion.
In the initial stage of generating compassion, you need some form of
analysis. Our deep sense of always looking out for No. 1, of seeing our
self as more important than others and our happiness as more important
than others' happiness must be recognized. Our compassion for others
will come, once we dissolve the deep sense of looking out for No. 1 and
see that helping others is more important.
Once we are able to let go of our self-cherishing attitude and replace
it with an understanding that the happiness of others is more important
than our self, we can cultivate or sustain this attitude of compassion.
We maintain it without the deep sense of I, without looking for the
self. So we are not using compassion as an object of focus.We are,
instead, practicing the experience of compassion.
When we do single-point focus, we use our own breath or an attractive,
appealing image of Buddha that has a calming effect. We are not
transforming our minds into the nature or aspects of Buddha; we remain
separate in mind and emotions. We are simply using an image of Buddha to
maintain one-pointed focus. We are not becoming Buddha; Buddha is not
becoming us. The image simply is used to practice and to learn
concentration. We want to stay with the awareness of an image – and
nothing else.
In either of these meditations – single-point focus or generating
thoughts or feelings into compassion – mindfulness is the key element.
In single-point focus, we use an image to maintain focus; this is a
means of controlling the mind. When generating compassion, we are
generating the thoughts or feelings of compassion, then remaining with
that thought or feeling.
To understand better, it helps to understand the general state of the
ordinary mind. The ordinary mind during day-to-day life does three
things: 1) The ordinary mind is constantly thinking of the past, whether
it’s useful or not, and then creating conceptual elaborations. 2) The
ordinary mind is always thinking of the future, whether it’s useful or
not, imagining plans, projects and with those imaginings, feeling fear,
worry, expectations, anticipation. 3) The ordinary mind is trying to
change the present situation.
It’s almost impossible to find a time when the mind is not doing at
least one of these three things.
And it’s not enough to just stop doing these three things; that alone is
not meditation. But it is a beginning.
Not moving, just sitting, that is not meditating. We must acknowledge
that our ordinary mind is usually doing these three things and recognize
the time when our ordinary mind is not doing these three things. Then
it’s easy to recognize the beginning of meditation.
Notice that when the mind does not engage in these three activities –
dwelling on the past, dwelling on the future, or changing the present –
the mind is resting.
When you are sitting, it is most important to prevent the mind from
engaging in these three activities, and that is the hardest thing, the
greatest struggle for most of us.
Sometimes we stop these three activities, but our mind thinks about
something irrelevant, something unrelated to our lives. That, too, is
bad; the irrelevant thought is an imprint. The nature of gross mind is
to be attracted to external objects. Without control of the gross mind,
we can’t activate our very subtle mind.

How to meditate using single-point focus:

Use any form of a solid object, an image of Buddha, a flower.
You don’t have to look at the flower. Your five senses do not play a
You use your own mental picture of the object you have chosen for your
single-point focus. The object of meditation is not the actual flower,
but your image of it.
Close your eyes, and the image is there. Just think of the image. If
possible, let the image be "in" your mind. Try to eliminate the
separation between your mind and the image, so there is nothing but the
flower. Become one with the flower, the flower one with you.
When your concentration is strong and stable, you don’t need to think,
"This is a flower."
Even though you are using your imagination, when your concentration is
strong and stable, the flower becomes a "real" flower. You can even
smell it!
If you are using the image of Buddha, you may start to experience
personal contact or communication with Buddha. You may feel this contact
or communication is about to happen or is happening. This is of great
significance in Tantric practice.
Stay with your awareness. Don’t try to change it; don’t try to go
deeper. Just stay with it. There should be no difference between your
awareness of the image and of yourself. At that moment, you will have
lost your sense of self.
Stay there long enough, and when your meditation ends, you may feel what
some people would call "disoriented." You aren’t actually disoriented.
You are experiencing the gap between self and a sense of no-self. You
just have lost your sense of self temporarily, and this causes some
temporary confusion.

Questions and Answers:

Question: When you’re meditating, if you have an emotional response, if
you feel touched, is that good or bad?
Answer: Any emotional feeling, whether it makes you feel good or bad,
ignore it. Put it aside; don’t listen to its tone. If you try to force
feelings aside or try to redirect, you will agitate yourself.
If you successfully stay in your meditation, in a resting place, you
may, however, experience an unusual feeling of inner quietness or
emotional joy or bliss.
Question: Who is Buddha?
Answer: A person or being whose mind is completely purified and reaches
perfection. It is a state of mind.
We also talk of the historical Buddha. He was born in India 2,600 years
ago to a Hindu family. At a young age he renounced the material world
and became a monk. He chose to live in the jungle in solitude,
meditating and searching to understand the cause of human suffering. He
found the cause of suffering and the means of getting out of suffering.
So he taught the Four Noble Truths, which deal with the existence of
suffering, the cause of suffering, and the ways and means of ending
When we talk of Buddha, we are often referring to the historical Buddha,
who reached enlightenment and the highest form of human happiness.
Question: What is meant when we talk about letting go of our sense of
Answer: It is important to dissolve the sense of I. The stronger the
sense of I, the more likely you will feel everything is insecure, the
more likely you will be fearful and will worry. If you have a strong
sense of I, even a small pain becomes big. If you have a strong sense of
I, happiness becomes fragile. A sense of I intensifies small pains and
reduces big happiness.
Most meditators can reduce physical pain by dissolving a sense of self.
They can enhance happiness or joy by diminishing the sense of I. Then
everything becomes secure. The mind remains calm and without bias.
When we work to dissolve the strong sense of I, we are not really
destroying who we are. We are only destroying a mistakenly recognized I.