Achieving Shamatha

by Dr Alexander Berzin

Levels of Mental Flightiness

and Mental Dullness


The mental hold on an object of focus has two aspects, mental placement (mental abiding) and appearance-making (clarity). The latter aspect gives rise to the cognitive appearance of the object.


Mental flightiness (agitation), a subcategory of mental wandering or distraction, is a fault of the mental placement on the object due to desire or attachment. There are two levels:


1. With gross flightiness of mind, we completely lose mental placement on the object because our mental hold on it is so weak that it is lost.


2. With subtle flightiness of mind, we keep the hold, but not tightly enough, so that there is an undercurrent of thought about the object or about something else. Even if there is no undercurrent of thought, yet because the hold is slightly too tight, we feel restless and are "itching" to leave.

Mental dullness (sinking) is an interruption to concentration due to a fault in the appearance-making factor of the mental hold. It has three levels:


1. With gross mental dullness, we lose the object because the appearance-making factor is too weak to give rise to it. This can be with or without foggy-mindedness (heaviness of body and mind), and with or without sleepiness.


2. With middling mental dullness, we give rise to an appearance of the object, but the hold is not tight and so it lacks sharp focus.


3. With subtle mental dullness, we give rise to an appearance of the object and have sharp focus, but because the mental hold is still not sufficiently tight, it is not fresh. Being "spaced out" can refer to all three levels of dullness.

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© Bodhicitta 2020