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Home > Advanced Meditation > Mahamudra > Mahamudra Eliminating the Darkness of Unawareness > Part Two: A Stilled and Settled State of Shamatha

Mahamudra Eliminating the Darkness of Unawareness

(Phyag-chen ma-rig mun-sel)
by the Ninth Karmapa Wangchug-dorjey
(Kar-ma-pa dBang-phyug rdo-rje, 1556-1603)
translated by Alexander Berzin, 1977
according to explanations by Beru Khyentse Rinpoche

revised translation by Alexander Berzin, February 2008

Part Two: A Stilled and Settled State of Shamatha

The Essential Points concerning the Body and Mind

As for the actual fundamental part, there are two (sections): a stilled and settled state of shamatha and an exceptionally perceptive state of vipashyana.

As for the first, in general, there are many methods for developing samadhi, absorbed concentration. But, if you know one set of essential points, then hindrances and interferences will not come about and, parted from any faults regarding shamatha or vipashyana, boon experiences and stable realizations of primordial deep awareness will occur without any labor. By indicating the teachings (for this) through the gateway of the body posture of Vairochana, you will have a method for effortlessly developing absorbed concentration for the generation and complete stages (of anuttarayoga tantra) and the boon experiences of bliss, clarity, and nonconceptuality.

Therefore, since beginners need to rely on the essential points concerning the body posture, then concerning that:

  • in order to bring the downward-going energy-winds under control, have your legs be in either the vajra-posture or the sattva-posture.

  • In order to make the energy-winds of the earth element remain in the central energy-channel, straighten your spine like a pointed tube.
  • In order to induce the energy-winds of the water element into the central channel, clasp your hands together beneath your navel in the total absorption mudra-gesture, raising your shoulder blades back toward each other.
  • To induce the energy-winds of the fire element into the central channel, keep your neck slightly bent like a hook.
  • To induce the energy-winds of the wind element into the central channel, have your eyes neither wide-open nor shut, but gazing at a point straight ahead from the tip of your nose.
  • Have your tongue and lips dropped down to their natural state or have your tongue touching against your upper palate.

With your body held with the essential points of posture like that, then once the movement of conceptual thought has naturally purified itself away, many advantages such as nonconceptuality and so forth will dawn. But even just with your body held with those essential points of posture, your body and mind will pass into a blissful and tranquil state.

Therefore, having made (your body and mind) be neither too tight nor too tense, first expel a little air and then set your breathing into unlabored exhaling and inhaling. Refresh your memory a bit about the preliminaries and then do not bring to mind past actions or think about doing something in the future or that you are doing something (now). Without adopting or rejecting, set your mind into a state of normal awareness in the present moment – its real nature, fresh and clean, at ease, naturally simple, and which has neither been fashioned nor contrived. Through this, your mind will become serviceable and will develop absorbed concentration. Therefore, because these essential points of posture of the body and mind are the foundation stone for meditation, earnestly practice them.

That is the first point (for shamatha meditation).

Focusing on a Visual Object

If you are unable to settle your mind into that state, then, by focusing it, direct your manner of gaze externally at a stick, a pebble, a Buddha statue, the flame of a butter lamp, the sky, and so forth, whatever suits you. Without thinking at all about the color, shape, and so on of that basis for focus, rid yourself of both being either too overly tense or slipping into being carefree and loose. In other words, having set (your mind), without the slightest meandering, on merely that which you have taken as the basis for your focus, cut off completely all rambling of other conceptual thoughts.

Alternatively, focus on either the syllables white OM, red AH, and blue HUM, or on white, red, and blue drops, whichever suits you, drawn in front of you and in the essential nature of the enlightening body, speech, and mind of all the Buddhas. In short, direct and set (your mind) single-pointedly on whatever type of visual object suits it and which is pleasurable for it to take. If you try to settle your mind on something your temperament cannot take at all and which is not at all in character of how you (usually) set (your mind), then when you try to make (your mind) go (there), it will stick (your attention) onto anything else that just comes up, without taking care about sending it (to that object).

Completely cut off all signs of conceptual thoughts, such as “I am meditating” or “I am not meditating,” or hopes to be able to settle your mind or worries that you will be unable to settle it, and the likes. Meditate while maintaining account of your mindfulness not getting into meandering, for even an instant, to some­thing that it should not be meditating on at all. Have your sessions be well-divided, with many short ones, and do not become discouraged about having to cut off distraction again and again and having to totally absorb (your mind) once more with clarity, lucidity, and joy. It is important to train in all that.

If it will be comfortable for your mind to take any one of these (visual objects) as its basis for focus, then do that. If you wish to take all of them in turn, this is permitted. But, if you have taken one and find that sufficient, do not feel that you have to go on to take them all, as if going through an alphabet primer.

In short, having your mind take whichever visual object suits it is the second point (for shamatha meditation).

Other Sensory Objects

Once you have taken that (visual object as your basis for focus), then take as well, in turn, a sound that is the object of your ears, a smell that is the object of your nose, a taste that is the object of your tongue, a physical sensation that is the object of your body, and so forth. As for the sound, smell, and so on, for that, direct your mind at merely a distinct sound or a pronounced smell and hold it with the hook of your mindfulness, without meandering. Maintain your mind on whatever (sensory object it is focusing on) and, except for setting (your mind) into being dropped down to its natural state, do not scrutinize whether (the sound, smell, taste, or physical sensation) is wonderful or terrible, intense or slight, and so forth.

Break your sessions while your clarity is still comprehensive. In other words, take a rest (at that point); do not let (your clarity) enter into a turbid state. In between sessions, in relation to everything, simply do not let the rope of your mindfulness break. Have the gaze of your eyes fall toward the tip of your nose and whether, physically, you are walking or sitting or, verbally, you are speaking or talking, do not do these too strongly or too excessively. Cut, as well, the stream of thoughts in your mind having signs (of dualism).

In other words, getting progressively into the habit of being totally absorbed is the third point (for shamatha meditation).

Eliminating Mental Dullness and Flightiness of Mind

Furthermore, to eliminate such things as the faults of mental dullness and flightiness of mind, meditate that at the middle of your brow is a drop, merely the size of a pea, white, shiny, glistening, spherical, and extremely lucid, and then direct your mind at it. On some occasions, direct your mind at a black, shiny, spherical drop, merely the size of a pea, at the edge of your meditation mat.

When you have mental dullness, direct your faculty of knowing at the white one and have your way of gazing be into space. Have a fresh breeze (blow) on your body and splash yourself with running water. Have your clothes be thin and follow a light diet. Do not sit near a fire or in the sun.

When your faculty of awareness is flighty – in other words, when your mind gets distracted to many things – direct your way of gazing and faculty of imagination at the black drop. As for your way of behaving, keep warm, do physical exercise, and follow a rich, heavy diet.

When you have neither mental dullness nor flightiness of mind, direct your eyes and faculty of awareness at either a small blue drop or material object (visualized) at the edge of your shadow straight ahead. With respect to these, first send them out, merely projecting them, thinking, “I shall meditate on a drop or so forth like this.” After that, when there is clarity or (even) when there is not much clarity, pay attention to it, merely thinking, “There it is, like this.” Then, without making an examination or minute investigation, set (your mind) into its natural mode, without the slightest meandering from being dropped down to its natural state.

Break your sessions while your clarity is still comprehensive and then meditate again. In other words, make your sessions be short and numerous.

The mind’s hold (on its object) is the fourth point (for shamatha meditation).

Focusing on No Object

As for directing (your mind) at no basis, look with staring eyes into space straight in front of you and then have them be without any focal object at which they are directed. Make your mental (consciousness) as well have not the slightest meandering, not thinking anything.

Do not bring to mind anything concerning (what qualities this state) has or does not have, or what has passed or has not yet come. Having posted (alertness) merely as a spy (to check), with great diligence, that your mindfulness does not meander, set (your mind) into a relaxed, soft, uncontrived, fresh and clean state. In other words, set it into not meandering for even an instant, like when inserting a thread through the eye of a needle; into not being turbulent, like an ocean parted from waves; into not exerting effort or trying to accomplish anything, like an eagle soaring through the heights; and part it from all hopes and worries.

When there is no meandering from that (state), conceptual thoughts will not come. But in the event of meandering (occurring), then because conceptual thoughts will come rapidly afresh, one after the next, try to recognize them as soon as they arise. In other words, look right at them in a denuding manner and then set (your mind) as before.

Similarly, no matter how (your mind) has been distracted by conceptual thoughts, recognize them and then, without doing any stopping or establishing of anything, or feeling happy or unhappy, set (your mind) on these (thoughts) themselves and look at them with the eye of discriminating awareness. Take the conceptual thoughts themselves as the basis for your mind to hold and then set it on them.

Cultivating (your mind) not to fall into any state that is too tight or too loose is the fifth point (for shamatha meditation).

Focusing on the Breath and the Three Stages of Settling the Mind

As for basing your mind’s hold on the breath as a method, hold your breath in the “ having a vase” manner and then set (your mind on it) with no meandering. If you cannot gather (your breath) together into “having a vase,” then since you will need to take counting it (as your object instead), take for your count the movement of the breath in, its movement out, and its resting inside. Count at first merely twenty-one (rounds) and then gradually up to a hundred. Direct your mind at your nostrils and, taking your breath for your count, do not let (your mind) meander to anything else whatsoever.

But if you can take (as your basis for focus) filling (your breath up inside you “in a vase”) and then sending it forth, first expel your breath three times and, after that, breathe in, holding (your breath) for as long as you can and pressing it down beneath your navel. When you are unable (to hold it any longer), then, clearing it out, send it forth. Do like that again and again, not letting (your mind) meander to anything other than just that. If mental dullness or flightiness of mind occurs, earnestly practice the methods to eliminate them in progressive stages.

If you have been unable to pull (yourself by the rope through the ring in) your nose into a settling (of your mind) on any of those enumerated objects for focus, then take any other object for focus, whatever kind suits you. (After all,) the type of person (you are) is not at all certain. For some, each point that strikes them from a discourse brings about a settling (of their minds) in two or three (tries). While for a few, even if they have meditated a lot, (such a settling) comes as something difficult to develop. But if you have nourished (meditation) without procrastination, it is impossible not to develop (a settling of your mind). However, it is necessary to have an experienced guru, who, in harmony with the mental capacity of the disciple, serves to dispel your hindrances, to enhance your progress, and so forth.

By having nourished (your meditation) in that way, the settling (of your mind) will first be like a steep mountain waterfall: your conceptual thoughts are coarse and many. Second, your coarse thoughts will set (like the sun). Although occasionally some conceptual thoughts will suddenly arise, you have come to recognize them and, as soon as you do, they subside by themselves. The stream of your meditation flows on steadily like a mighty river. Finally, all your conceptual thoughts, both coarse and subtle, set (like the sun) and you pass utterly into a state of nonconceptuality.

Since a tranquil, limpid, vividly transparent, crystal-clear, pristine settling (of your mind) into a state of bliss, clarity, and nonconceptuality will occur, enhance your joyful perseverance until you develop such a settling. Even after you have developed it, practice it without any break.

That is the sixth point (for shamatha meditation).

Eliminating Mental Tightness and Looseness

If you have not developed this third (stage of) settling the mind, you need to enhance your joyful perseverance still more and then work through the gateway of tightening (your mental hold), loosening (it), and meditating turned away (from having to do either).

In regard to that, for tightening (your mental hold if it is too loose, keep) the essential points of body posture and way of gazing, and housebreak your faculty of awareness. In other words, tighten up (your meditation) with discipline. Do not let (your mind) get into meandering for even an instant. Be as if walking across a single-planked bridge. Without (think­ing), “This focal object is what I should be meditating on,” perk (your mind) up so that it is vibrant (like a bell) and draw it quite tightly. Do not let (your mind) get into meandering for even an instant and make your sessions short and numerous.

For loosening (your mental hold if it is too tight), take exercise and (keep the appropriate) way of gazing. Do not have anything like, “This is my basis for focus for meditation.” (Just) letting your mind loosen itself into its natural mode, set it in a non-manufactured, unself-conscious, not-anxiously-caring (state), what­ever comes up. Let it become soft and relaxed, and dropped down to its natural state. Tranquil, without exerting yourself or trying to accomplish anything, relax like a baby with a full stomach or a pile of straw when the rope binding it has been cut. Setting (your mind) in that (condition), keep your mindfulness in the ever-present moment, without the slightest meandering from that state. Not meditating on anything other than that, set (your mind) in its natural mode. If your meditation sessions have been short, lengthen them slightly. Settle in a serene state of mind and, after it dissipates, take a rest. But even in between meditation sessions, maintain account of your mindfulness.

When meditating while turned away (from the necessity either to tighten or loosen your mental hold), there will be times when you have no meandering; and then conceptual thoughts will not come. But when (your mind) meanders or many conceptual thoughts arise based on some fleeting circumstances, if you ask, “Should I try to rid (my mind of) them, or what?” just look right at them kindly and think, “Wherever you are stirring to, just stir!” and thus you will intrude on (your mind’s) stirring (and interrupt it).

Then one more will arise; a second will arise. When you have recognized them, do not even try to rid (your mind) of them, but also do not follow them out. Do not be happy if your mind is settled or unhappy if it is stirring. Without having any hopes or worries, such as worrying that your meditation will not happen or hoping that it will be good, take those very thoughts as the basis for your mind to hold. In other words, without purposely trying to accomplish a nonconceptual state from stopping your thoughts, take the thoughts themselves as your cognitive object. Set (your mind) right on them and the thoughts clear away, stilling down by their own accord, and thus a nonconceptual state naturally dawns.

Practicing like that is the seventh point (for shamatha meditation).

The Actual State of Shamatha and the Three Boon Experiences

Next is the way to develop an (actual) state of shamatha and getting to know it face to face.

A definitional stilled and settled state of shamatha is one in which the mind is stilled of all mental wandering, be it conceptual thoughts or grasping at defining characteristics, and is settled single-pointedly in its essential nonconceptual nature, parted from mental dullness, flightiness of mind, and foggy-mindedness. Previously attained with effort, but now, without relying on effort, (it comes about) easily, and is blissful, expansively open, and fluidly flowing. Even when you arise from meditation, your mind keeps circling back right to that (state), without changing into something else.

Even when walking, sitting, and so on, your faculty of awareness is leisured, dignified, relaxed, comfortable, and limpid. Low-keyed in that it is not enraptured or dazzled by appearances, it does not purposely engage its awareness in (any) cognitive object; so that, not taking in the fine details of (any) object, its intellect does not enter into mentally wandering.

There are three equal boon experiences (that you have in this state) – bliss, clarity, and nonconceptuality. Depending on which is in a greater proportion, many things will occur: the boon experience of heightened vision, the boon experience of heightened hearing, advanced awareness, and even extraphysical powers. Whatever is appropriate (to that greater proportion) will also dawn: the ten signs (of absorbed concentration), and so forth. With faultless shamatha, (such things) will indeed develop on your mental continuum like that.

This (state of shamatha) is the basis on which to develop all good qualities, such as an exceptionally perceptive state of vipashyana and more. So at this point, no matter what good or bad experiences happen (to you) – physical sickness, mental suffering, good or bad dreams, advanced awareness, extraphysical powers, bliss, clarity, nonconceptuality, and so forth – do not get attached or cling (to them). Decisive that they lack any essence, do not indulge yourself in cogitating thoughts of happiness or depression (about them). If you cling to these boon experiences, they (only) serve as a root for circling in recurring samsara or (specifically) in one of its three planes of existence: they cannot liberate you from compulsive samsaric rebirth. Even non-Buddhists have merely that much (attainment from their meditation), but they are not benefited by that.

So, in short, if you cling to whatever boon experiences or stable realizations (you gain from attaining a state of shamatha), they will destruct. But, by (remaining in) a state of detachment from them and not being ensnared in clinging, you will extend their duration. In other words, with joyful perseverance, pull yourself out from ever departing (from this state).

Since the benefits are beyond imagination if you have meditated enhancing your endurance for hardships, train like that. As both the spiritual master and disciple must not have made any mistakes about boon experiences, understanding (of the instructions concerning them), stable realizations, and the actual way to develop (shamatha), gain certainty (about them) from having met them face to face. And foremost, when (perceiving) desirable sensory objects, then without thirsting for them, have your firm conviction in your guru and appreciation (for him or her) be uncontrived.

Having perfected a bodhichitta aim with respect to the six types of wandering beings, then maintaining account of your mindfulness not getting into meandering, keep your plans (merely) short-term and few and (execute them straight up and down like) a bellows. Do not let yourself come under the sway of worldly matters or the eight transitory things in life.

All this is very important. Since, if you have practiced faultlessly like that, boon experiences and stable realizations will effortlessly arise, earnestly practicing like that is the eighth point (for shamatha meditation).