Focusing the mind

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.

Focusing the mind

Postby sangyey » Sat Jan 01, 2011 11:13 pm

I have been studying on the correct method of Shamatha and from my understanding is that the mental consciousness the only consciousness that does the meditation as opposed to the other 5 avenues of consciousness and therefore that is where you should keep your attention.

Is this correct?

My object is the breath and a mantra but if the statement above is the correct way to practice it would seem like I am using the object as a focus point but I am really keeping my attention in the mental base as opposed to say the abdomen region where I find the breath most prominent.

Do you see where I am going with this? Either I could keep my attention within my abdomen region and uphold resting and clarity there or I could keep it in my mental base and uphold resting and clarity there.

Definitely could use some clarification because it is causing doubt in my practice and internal mental distraction.

Thanks you advance.

~Sangyey
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Re: Focusing the mind

Postby ground » Sun Jan 02, 2011 6:52 am

sangyey wrote:I have been studying on the correct method of Shamatha and from my understanding is that the mental consciousness the only consciousness that does the meditation as opposed to the other 5 avenues of consciousness and therefore that is where you should keep your attention.

Is this correct?

At least the lineage following Asanga, Maitreya and Tsongkhapa teaches that the object is a mental object even if you first get familiar with an object through looking at it. However in case of breath it is perhaps not completely consistent to define it that way (?)

sangyey wrote:My object is the breath and a mantra but if the statement above is the correct way to practice it would seem like I am using the object as a focus point but I am really keeping my attention in the mental base as opposed to say the abdomen region where I find the breath most prominent.

Breath and mantra are two objects not one. There seems to be a misunderstanding if your intention is to follow the a.m. instruction.

sangyey wrote:Do you see where I am going with this? Either I could keep my attention within my abdomen region and uphold resting and clarity there or I could keep it in my mental base and uphold resting and clarity there.

Definitely could use some clarification because it is causing doubt in my practice and internal mental distraction.

Either you use the breath as an object or you use another object. I never heard or read of a mantra being used as object of shamata meditation if shamata meditation is understood as the one being described as covering nine stages and which is the prerequisite for insight meditation according to the a.m. lineage.
If simple "calming the mind" is what you mean with shamata then a mantra might do as well - but again: not in combination with another object like breath. In that way it may be used as a preparatory meditation practice for some "main" meditation.
But watch out! Breath can be used as an object for shamata and as an object for insight as well. The approaches are different. In case of shamata (covering the nine stages) the essentials are: one and only one object; focus one-pointedly on the chosen object and do not change the object before you have reached the goal (which of course is a matter of many meditation sessions). The goal is an "access concentration" on the verge of the 1st concentration (1st jhana).
Only after you have reached this goal once you can change the object as a means of gaining proficiency. But if you keep changing the objects before you will never reach the goal because (joyous) perseverance (5th paramita) is one of the decisive factors for success.

This is how I understood the teachings about shamata in the context of sutra.

As a reference
Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism

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Re: Focusing the mind

Postby sangyey » Sun Jan 02, 2011 5:26 pm

At least the lineage following Asanga, Maitreya and Tsongkhapa teaches that the object is a mental object even if you first get familiar with an object through looking at it. However in case of breath it is perhaps not completely consistent to define it that way (?)


I would have to agree about the breath because it seems that when I was trying to apprehend it as a mental image I was having a very difficult time focusing on it whereas if I just simply placed my concentration on it it was much easier.

Perhaps when visulizing a deity or a Buddha then that is when you would place your attention in the mental base.

Breath and mantra are two objects not one. There seems to be a misunderstanding if your intention is to follow the a.m. instruction.


The object I was given by my Lama was a mantra resounding in the breath. Hopefully that makes more sense.

It seems like I have been having a pretty difficult time achieving a balanced serenity. When first exposed to the Shamatha teachings I was almost overwhelmed by things like the 5 flaws, 8 remedial factors, 2 qualities upheld, 2 primary flaws etc., and I have been having an especially hard time with the eyes open. I know that if I could keep them closed I would almost have no problem but I want to follow my teachers advice especially since I would like to keep receiving teachings from him in the future. One thing that I think may be going on though is that right now and for the past year I have had a tremendous amount of time being a student and working part time I think that I may have just been pushing myself too hard thinking its best to utilize the free time. I think going forward I may just limit myself to one session a day and I am starting to getting a better feel for the overall instructions after studying more thoroughly. Hopefully that will help.
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Re: Focusing the mind

Postby ground » Sun Jan 02, 2011 9:24 pm

If you are practicing a method received from your teacher it may be appropriate to discuss all issues that arise with him? He selected your object.

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Re: Focusing the mind

Postby sangyey » Tue Jan 04, 2011 3:01 am

I think that the problem has to do with not being able to 'rest' sufficiently because my eyes are open. Even if I start to concentrate on the object it just leads to more tension build up. From my own analysis it seems that I need to pay particular attention to remaining calm throughout the session as best I can and then hopefully as time goes by slowly I will be able to bring more stable focus on the object.

That's why I said that if I could just close my eyes I would have no problem but after thinking it through I think I can just try to remain and keep calm and stable throughout the session.
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Re: Focusing the mind

Postby Paul » Wed Feb 02, 2011 2:23 pm

Sounds like you are starting off too tight and getting tighter.

Have you tried starting off in 'stupid shamatha' and slowly tightening up until you've got a good balance between relaxation and non-distraction?

How about doing it very briefly (20 second or so) throughout the day so you get a good taste of what it should be like without having the time to get caught up with analysing it while you are meditating?
Look at the unfathomable spinelessness of man: all the means he's been given to stay alert he uses, in the end, to ornament his sleep. – Rene Daumal
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Re: Focusing the mind

Postby sangyey » Fri Feb 04, 2011 10:15 pm

Hey Hayagriva,

Thank you for the recommendations.


I think your right it's probably better that I start off with a little more relaxation then trying to maintain vivid intensity and perhaps gradually I will be able to foster the clarity as I start to settle in more.

I find when I am focusing on my breath it is easier to maintain relaxation while if I just have an object with my mind like love/compassion towards others I find it easier to uphold the clarity.

-Sangyey
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Re: Focusing the mind

Postby sangyey » Sat Feb 05, 2011 2:21 am

That kind of makes me think.....if having the object of meditation as the breath and that being the first foundation of mindfulness (body) what foundation is metta/karuna....would it be categorized as mindfulness of mind objects (dhammas)?
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Re: Focusing the mind

Postby ground » Sat Feb 05, 2011 2:54 am

sangyey wrote:...what foundation is metta/karuna....would it be categorized as mindfulness of mind objects (dhammas)?


In the context of "feelings" it may be categorized as unworldly pleasant or neutral (if accompanied by equanimity).

In the context of "mindfulness of mind" it may be categorized as an absence of unwholesome states of mind.

In the context of "mindfulness of dhammas/hindrances" it may be categorized as an absence of the hindrances.

In the context of "mindfulness of dhammas/aggregates" it may be categorized as impermanent and as dukkha and nonself if there is attachment to metta/karuna.

In the context of "mindfulness of dhammas/sense-spheres" it may be categorized as a fetter of attachment to mind-objects if there is attachment to metta/karuna.

In the context of "mindfulness of dhammas/enlightement factors" being aware of metta/karuna while not being attached to anything in the world may be categorized as mindfulness, discerning wisdom or the state of metta/karuna as joy, tranquility and if there is abiding in metta/karuna as concentration and if there is non-partiality as equanimity.

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Re: Focusing the mind

Postby ground » Sat Feb 05, 2011 3:05 am

In the same way Bodhicitta and Satipaṭṭhāna can be perfectly integrated!

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Re: Focusing the mind

Postby sangyey » Sat Feb 05, 2011 6:46 pm

Thank you for posting to my question.

I finally think I got what I was doing wrong. It seems like I was mistaken the clarity aspect as focusing on a single point (clearly) but rather I think that Pali: (sampajanna) Tib: (Shes bzhin) really means that you are doing the meditation clearly. The mind's own natural quality is clarity but I was just trying to hold on to the object single-pointedly with vivid-intensity but what I should be doing is making sure that I am just trying to focus on the object but not in a dull way rather with some clear comprehension in the process.
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Re: Focusing the mind

Postby ground » Sun Feb 06, 2011 2:32 pm

Yes, actually Satipaṭṭhāna is not single-pointed meditation although it fosters the qualities necessary for single-pointed absorption and vv. single-pointed meditation in turn fosters the qualities necessary for sati.
Satipaṭṭhāna includes all so called "foundations" (areas of practice) in an interchangeable manner.
Sati is open toward all "directions" although there may be some "support" (against distraction) through loosely focusing on e.g. breath or any other "foundation".

Sati is some sort of "being present with an open, non-attached, clear mind" conjoined with re-cognition of appearing phenomena in the context of the Buddha's teachings.

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Re: Focusing the mind

Postby sangyey » Mon Aug 22, 2011 1:14 am

I am a little confused and maybe someone could help me on the point of upholdng clarity of the object. Do you try to only uphold clarity after you have achieved a mental hold ( dzin cha ) on the object or will it be that from the very start you will have to balance between stability and clarity even when the mental hold is not present?

I also wanted to ask if any other mediators use the mental factor of attention 'yid la byed pa' in their meditations? It seems like that is the technically correct way to initially engage the object of meditation but I think a lot of people primarily just use mindfulness. I want to practice using attention and am curious if anyone has found it to enhance the quality of their meditations.

Thank you.
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