Achieving Shamatha

by Dr Alexander Berzin

The Eight Composing Mental Factors


To overcome laziness, we need to apply the first four of the eight composing mental factors:


  1. Belief in a fact, namely in the advantages of achieving shamatha.

  2. This leads to the conscious intention to concentrate.

  3. This leads to joyful perseverance, happily making an effort to do something constructive.

  4. This leads to a sense of fitness, which gives us the flexibility to apply ourselves to the practice.


Shantideva explains four supports and two forces to enhance joyful perseverance:


  • Firm aspiration is being firmly convinced of the benefits of the goal and the drawbacks of not achieving it, so that aspiration to attain it cannot be swayed.


  • Steadfastness or self-confidence comes from examining if we are capable of achieving the goal and, being convinced that we are, applying ourselves steadily, even though progress goes up and down.


  • Joy is not being satisfied with just a little progress, but taking joy in advancing, with a sense of self-satisfaction.


  • Rest is taking a break when tired, but not out of laziness, in order to refresh ourselves.


  • Naturally accepting is naturally to accept what we need to practice and what we need to rid ourselves of in order to reach our goals, and naturally to accept the hardships involved, having examined them realistically.


  • Taking control is to take control of ourselves and apply ourselves to what we wish to achieve.

To overcome forgetting the instructions or losing the object of focus, we need to apply:


5. Mindfulness, remembering, keeping the mental hold on the object of focus, like "mental glue."


To overcome mental flightiness or mental dullness, we need to apply:


6. Alertness, to check the condition of our mindfulness. If the mental glue becomes undone due to gross flightiness or dullness, so that we lose the object, alertness triggers the restoring attention to focus once more on the object. Alternatively, it triggers tightening the grip or loosening the grip of mindfulness in the case of middling and subtle dullness or subtle flightiness.


To overcome the deterrent of not applying the opponents for them, we need to apply:


7. Readiness to apply opponents. This comes from the two powers to enhance joyful perseverance: naturally accepting what has to be done and what has to be gotten rid of, and taking control to apply ourselves.


To overcome not stopping applying opponents when they are no longer necessary, we need to apply:


8. Relaxation of opponents. This refers also to knowing when to take a rest, knowing not to push more than is appropriate.

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© Bodhicitta 2020