Today I am nearing the end of my reflections on the six Buddhist Parami, often translated as the Six Perfections – the shortlist favoured in the Mahayana scriptures. I will consider the larger list of ten Parami – or Paramita – at a later time. In my last entry, I contemplated Viriya, also translated as Energy or Effort. The last in the list will be wisdom.
So finally we’ve come to Dhyāna, Sanskrit for ‘meditation’. One of the ‘sticky’ teachings of my root guru, the Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche, was that we were unlikely to be able to enter fully and mindfully into meditation before we had developed the four previously listed perfections of generosity, morality, patience and energy/effort. My experience over the past twenty five or so years, backs up this idea. As I have become more generous; more patient with myself and with others; more aware of what constitutes wholesome action and wholesome relationship; and as my effort and energy has become steadier, the ability to move into a calm, mindful state in formal meditation has become more consistent. There’s still plenty of room to develop all these qualities but there is more interest, confidence and ease in how I meditate these days.
On the other hand, I hesitate to calculate just how many times over the years I have felt that I am “going back to the beginning” in my meditation practice. This even applied to starting off on the three-month retreat that Alan and I undertook during 2008 in our teacher’s house in Canada. We were referred to as “the meditators” with her supporting us in every way, including doing all our shopping for us – so that we could ‘retreat’ from worldly affairs. It is interesting now to reflect on how I watched the mind settling down and gaining clarity over the weeks, and then months, as I filled my days with meditation, walking, Ch’i Kung and Tai Chi. While calm and clarity became more common, and achieved more rapidly as time went on, my pattern included days of dullness, mental agitation and doubt that usually followed experiences of insight and/or deep absorption, otherwise referred to as jhana.
To be technical for a moment, dhyana (meditation) is broadly translated as ‘contemplation’ and ‘one pointed concentration’ and the related Sanskrit term ‘Samadhi’ is often used in its place. I don’t want to get into a scholarly discussion of fine differences between these terms and neither am I going to review the broad range of meditative techniques that can be used to calm the mind and promote the development of wisdom. Suffice it to say, that dhyana tends to be linked, especially in the Theravadan tradition, with what Buddha described as the eight progressive states of absorption meditation or jhāna.
I like the description of samadhi given in Wikepedia when I looked today. Here it is:
In Buddhism, samadhi is traditionally developed by contemplating one of 40 different objects, such as mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) and loving kindness (metta).
Upon development of samadhi, one’s mind becomes purified of defilements, calm, tranquil, and luminous. Once the meditator achieves a strong and powerful concentration, his [her] mind is ready to penetrate and see into the ultimate nature of reality, eventually obtaining release from all suffering.
Uses of samādhi
In the Anguttara Nikaya, [a Theravadan Buddhist scripture], the Buddha identifies four types of concentration development, each with a different goal:
1.a pleasant abiding in this current life – achieved through concentrative development of the four jhanas
2.knowledge and the divine eye – achieved by concentration on light
3.mindfulness and clear comprehension – achieved through concentrative mindfulness of the rise and fall of feelings, perceptions and thoughts
4.the destruction of the taints – achieved through concentrative mindfulness of the rise and fall of the Five Aggregates.
Reading this description of samadhi and the reference above to dhyana, absorption meditation and the jhanas, the overlapping meanings are evident.
Returning briefly to my own experience of meditation, my training has been largely in the Mahayana (similar to the Dalai Lama) and Vajrayana traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. While calm abiding and Vipassana – insight through mindfulness – are common practices in all the traditions, meditations on the Four Divine Abidings (loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity) and a vast range of creative visualisations and associated mantras play an important part in Mahayana and Vajrayana meditations. These still involve contemplation and and concentration but include sound, colour, symbol and devotion, using (amongst a big repertoire of methods) the process of creation and dissolution as a means to gain understanding of relative and absolute ‘truth’; form and emptiness. Much, much more to be said about this at some later date!
And so, I think these few words are enough for now. A quick glimpse will have to suffice! If you would like to comment on your experience of meditation – from any perspective – that would be great. I hope there will be ongoing dialogue on this website on meditative experiences and fruits, such as insights into the nature of mind and the process of creation and dissolution as we cycle through Samsara ….
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