Achieving Shamatha

by Dr Alexander Berzin

The Nine Stages of Settling the Mind


There are nine stages of settling the mind into a state of shamatha:

1. Setting the mind on the object of focus. At this stage, we are merely able to set or place our attention on the object of focus, but are unable to maintain it.

2. Setting with some continuity. Here, we are able to maintain our mental hold on the object with some continuity, but only for a short time before losing it. It takes some time before we recognize that we have lost the object and before we can reestablish our focus.

3. Resetting. Here, we are able to recognize as soon as we have lost our mental hold on the object, and we are able to reset or restore our focus immediately.

4. Closely setting. Here, we do not lose our mental hold on the object, but because the subtle mental flightiness of an undercurrent of thought and middling dullness are strong dangers and can still occur, we need to maintain their opponents very strongly.

5. Taming. Here, we no longer experience gross flightiness, the subtle flightiness of an undercurrent of thought, or gross or middling dullness. However, because we have overstrained to concentrate and have sunk too deeply inwards, we have relaxed the appearance-producing factor giving rise to the appearance of the object of focus. Consequently, we experience subtle dullness. We need to refresh and uplift the mental hold by remembering the benefits of gaining shamatha.

6. Stilling. Here, although there is no longer great danger of subtle mental dullness, nevertheless in uplifting the mind, we became too excited and the mental hold became too tight. Consequently, we experience the subtle flightiness of itchiness to leave the object of focus. We need to use strong alertness to detect this and to relax our mental hold slightly.

7. Complete stilling. Here, although the danger of subtle flightiness or dullness is minimal, we still need to exert effort to rid ourselves of them completely.

8. Single-pointedness. Here, by just relying on a slight effort to apply mental glue at the beginning of the session, we are able to sustain our concentration uninterruptedly throughout the session, without experiencing any level of flightiness or dullness.

9. Absorbed setting. Here, we are able effortlessly to maintain concentration, free of any interruptions, throughout the entire session. This is the attainment of absorbed concentration (Skt. samadhi.)

When, in addition to absorbed concentration, we gain the mental factor of an exhilarating sense of mental and physical fitness to concentrate perfectly on anything for as long as we wish, we gain shamatha.

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