A teaching on shamatha meditation, based on the text The Nine Stages of Stability of Mind. The illustration of this is at the bottom of this page.
NOTES FROM THE TEACHING
Rinpoche begins by talking about the benefits of chanting and reading the prayers in Kagyu Monlam prayer book, which has been translated to many different languages, and of listening to them being recited in the event; and by reminding us that meditation is only one of the three trainings of Buddhism, conduct (based on compassion) and wisdom being the other two. Without these two, meditation could be used in a negative way also. As a starting point of meditation or any practice we should reflect on our motivation, which should be altruistic, and correct it if necessary. All our other powers could be misused, but compassion and wisdom can never be misused. With wisdom and compassion, anything positive that you have will only be used for a good purpose. On the other hand, mind tamed by meditation forms a basis for developing compassion and wisdom.
Then Rinpoche gives an introduction to actual meditation, starting from awareness and mindfulness, and gives a simple meditation practice of 21 breaths.
Shamatha meditation is about taming the mind, in order to bring us the lasting happiness and peace regardless of what is happening. For this we have only two tools: awareness and mindfulness.
Stages 1 to 4 are about developing stability, 5-6 about developing clarity, and 7-9 about building up strength.
Stages are called: 1. placement, 2. continual placement, 3. repeated placement, 4. close placement
When you are disturbed from your placement, you are distracted. At 1st stage, you feel you have become very distracted. Actually, you are becoming increasingly aware of your distractions, so it’s good progress. So you arrive at 2nd stage. Thoughts come and go, but you can remain in state of calmness for longer. When distracted, you immediately bring it back without making judgements, which is the 3rd stage. There is a continuous, spacious mindfulness.
1st stage is about the recognition of our distraction. Stages 2-3 are about how long we are able to remain undistracted. At this stage, mind can still have distraction and also dullness. Dullness can be of different levels from gross (sleep) to more subtle. Mind has to be clear and aware, although not carried away. That is 4th stage, with mindfulness perfected. Mind becomes very stable.
The next stages are called: 5. taming, and 6. pacifying. These are about developing clarity. At 5th stage, your meditation becomes very easy and joyful. Since there is no need to do anything, no struggle, it is like a holiday. At 6th stage, there is less even subtle dullness. Awareness is perfected.
The last stages are called: 7. completely pacifying, 8. one-pointedness, and 9. equanimity (resting in a balanced way). They are about building up the strength. At 7th stage, mind is very clear and stable, but very strong provocations may still shake it, so diligence and alertness are needed. At 8th stage, you can effortlessly remain completely stable for one whole session. At 9th stage the mind becomes completely tamed.
These should not be taken with too much importance. What is important is to do the practice, and not to judge.
Summarised by Rinpoche:
Stage 1 is when you recognise the thoughts.
Stage 2 is when you experience that your thoughts and emotions are having some rest.
Stage 3 is when you notice that your thoughts and emotions are a little bit exhausted or tired.
Difference between 1 and 2 is how long you can remain undistracted.
Difference between 2 and 3 is how often and how long you become distracted.
Difference between 3 and 4 is whether your mind loses the object of meditation or not.
Difference between 4 and 5 is whether there is gross dullness or not.
Difference between 5 and 6 is whether you have to be very careful about the subtle dullness or not.
Difference between stages 6 and 7 is whether you have to be careful about the subtle dullness and distraction or not.
Difference between stages 7 and 8 is whether there is subtle distraction and dullness or not.
Difference between stages 8 and 9 is whether you have to make any effort or not.
Stage 9 is where it happens spontaneously and effortlessly.
When you have accomplished all stages of shamatha meditation, then vipashyana, or insight meditation, the wisdom, is easy to arise. And then with your strong compassion you will rush down to help all beings in samsara.
Two versions of each session: English only (parts 1-3) and with French translation (4-6).
Photos thanks to Kagyu Meunlam France website and Facebook page.
For more information, visit: https://www.kagyumeunlamfrance.org/