• Samadhi and shi’nay

How do we attain these meditative absorptions ? In fact, the path consists of two stages: the stages of samatha and vipassana as described earlier. Tignédzin or samadhi, are respectively Tibetan and Sanskrit words which express the state of meditative absorption. These terms exist to point out actual meditative experience. As humans in the state of confusion, we do not know what it means when we talk of meditative absorption. Meditators do know because they have experienced it.

They have therefore created a terminology pointing towards these experiences allowing us in turn to have an experience of them. Thus, when we say Tignédzin or samadhi, this also means everything that occurs in meditation. When the mind is settled in meditation, it is completely absorbed. This state of samadhi is characterised by clarity, a dimension of clear awareness which recognises the mind. Meditative absorption has nothing to do with a state of unconsciousness, as could be the case in deep sleep or in a coma.

There is no obscurity in samadhi. On the contrary, when we are in the meditative absorption of shi'nay, mental pacification, there is no longer anything that can be an obstacle or a hindrance. Thoughts no longer bother the mind so there is no distraction in it.

  • Penetrating insight

We have just explained what shi'nay or samatha is. We now come to the explanation for the second stage of lhaktong or vipassana, sometimes known as penetrating insight. We will use the word vipassana. This stage is where the meditation goes deeper. Here we examine and investigate how the mind functions. A way of explaining the mind's progression along the path exists in terms of what are called 'the five paths'. There is firstly the path of accumulation which itself is divided into three parts : a part for complete beginners, a middle level part and a part for those who are the most advanced on this level. The end of this path of accumulation leads us into the path of application.

This is a level in which we can reinforce the vipassana meditation, it is at this point that we deepen the meditation, moving from shi'nay to lhaktong. Vipassana is the moment when we develop the capacity which is inherent in the mind to know phenomena and to recognise itself. Due to this wisdom, sherab in Tibetan, the mind can recognise the nature of phenomena and of mind itself, whether it is phenomena of samsara or phenomena related to the enlightened mind.

Kunzig Shamar RinpocheThe mind is capable of knowing everything. When it is not in the dimension of wisdom, we identify ourselves as "I" and we hold the view that things are really existing. We ourselves are really existing and we grasp on to phenomena around us as having an independent existence, as real entities. The deeper we go into this meditation, the more wisdom will develop, and the more the mind will have the capacity to recognise what 'things' really are. We will come to realise that phenomena do not have this solidity, or independence, or the existence that we give them. The more advanced we are in this meditation, the more our grasping will dissolve and eventually we will not find anything with an independent existence that is an entity in itself. This applies for the ego and for external phenomena. Developing wisdom is therefore linked to vipassana meditation.

  • Obstacles

Now let us look at the various obstacles that we can encounter in samatha and vipassana. The obstacles to samatha are firstly, a mind that is continuously agitated and secondly regret. With regards to vipassana, the three obstacles are mental obscurity, drowsiness, and doubt.

  • The obstacles to samatha :

An agitated mind can be due to a strong emotion. For example, having a lot of desires can create disturbances in the mind. Having to deal with various difficulties and being attached with regards to these difficulties can also create agitation in the mind.

The second obstacle to samatha is regret. It arises in meditation when we think about and regret what we have done in the past. We may remember the intent or motivation for certain actions. These thoughts distract and agitate the mind. There is really no benefit in recalling such past deeds. What was done was done and cannot be undone. Reassessing our past actions only leads to further agitation.

  • Obstacles to vipassana are:

Mental obscurity :
The first is mental obscurity. It is a heaviness that arises in the mind and in the body. The effect is a loss of suppleness or flexibility. This heaviness is like a veil that comes and settles in the mind. It covers the mind. This can arise when we meditate after having eaten too much or after having consumed very greasy foods. Mental obscurity can also be the result of a karmic accumulation.

This obstacle is falling asleep during meditation. It is obviously related to sleep and to the fact that we like to sleep a lot. If we eat too much or eat very greasy foods, we will fall asleep easily in meditation. It is important to sleep, however the importance of regulating sleep is explained in the vinaya, on the subject of discipline. While doing intensive meditation, the meditator should go to sleep around 10 o'clock at night and wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning. This constitutes the ideal sleep pattern. Moreover, it is recommended not to eat food after 1 o'clock in the afternoon. Drinking liquids, which are clear enough to see our reflection in them, is nevertheless acceptable.

Another significant obstacle is doubt. The presence of doubt is likely to pose a problem for us in our efforts to meditate. Here, we are talking about doubts relating to the path and the results of the path. We have many doubts about what we are doing which therefore become significant hindrances to vipassana.

  • Obstacles common to both samatha and vipassana :

Having described the respective obstacles to samatha and vipassana, we will now examine two types of obstacles common to both these meditations.

Greed for pleasures and malevolence :
The first is a form of greed for the pleasures of the senses. We have a need to experience the different pleasures of the senses and we are attached to these sensations. The mind is then occupied all the time with these desires and is disturbed by them. Malevolence is a form of ill will where the mind is unceasingly preoccupied with an attitude aimed at doing harm to others. The mind is constantly engaged in conjuring and building up plans to achieve this negative end.

Speculation :
When we are committed to a practice, the mind is distracted by other practises and we jump from one practice to another. This is what is meant by speculation. We begin one form of meditation and then for no good reason, it no longer satisfies us and we switch to another practice. In this way, we end up not finishing any practice. When we practise the path of Mahamudra, we need to persevere, to go through with it without giving it up for something else.

External and internal objects and events :
Another distraction is the various external objects, the objects of the senses. The mind is endlessly preoccupied with things that are around us. The mind seizes them and identifies with them. In turn, distractions are created in the mind provoking numerous disturbing emotions.

Internal events can equally cause distractions. There are two inner distractions that are sometimes explained as one. But here, we will distinguish them as two in the following way. Firstly, there is the drowsiness that was described earlier, a form of dull-wit, a heaviness of the body and mind. Secondly, there is a distraction due to mental obscurity, which is a lack of clarity, a lack of consciousness. The mind is agitated by all sorts of events and we are not conscious of them. This type of distraction takes another form for the more advanced meditators in that they become attached to meditative experiences. Indeed, the more advanced we are, the more peaceful and calm the mind is. We arrive at a certain peace, which is pleasant, and there is happiness. When we get attached to this type of pleasant experience, it becomes a distraction, a so-called internal distraction.

If we are not practitioners ourselves, if we have not yet started to meditate we might ask : "what are they talking about ?" Because for us, it is not yet a direct experience, a personal one, we cannot really understand it.

These various types of distractions arise when we practise. Only then will we have direct experience of them. We should also know that if we fabricate or manufacture our own meditation, we are likely to fall into these various types of distractions; the distraction due to outer objects, internal distractions and the distraction that generates pride which is known as the distraction of negative karma.

On the other hand, mental obscurity, dullness and drowsiness can be understood by everyone. You don't have to meditate to experience that. Even if we do not understand now, it is important for us to listen and to know these things from the very beginning. They will make sense to us later as we advance in the practice. .

Stabilizing the Mind  

The antidotes for the obstacles