Tranquility Meditation (Shamatha): The Buddhist tradition divides meditation into two kinds: Tranquility (shamatha) and analytical (vipashyana). In Shamatha meditation we are learning to calm and stabilize the mind. There are many benefits for doing this. It helps with developing concentration, being more alert and generally aware of what’s going on within and around us. It also helps with pliancy of body and mind, so that our mind and physical actions are more in sync. Also, developing a calm and stable mind allows us to make more effective use of ourselves, rather than our mind being scattered. We can engage in whatever activity we are doing with more concentration and awareness.
The two aspects of stabilizing and calming the mind are:
- Physical alignment
- Managing mental events with Mindfulness
7 physical alignments for good posture in meditation
- The spine should be erect – whether sitting on a cushion or chair
- Hands resting one upon the other in your lap, or resting on their respective knees with the arms slightly away from the body to allow air to circulate around body
- Your chest should be a little lifted and the shoulders a little bit back and broadened or stretched
- Head inclined slightly forward
- Lower jaw can be relaxed down but lips touching
- Tip of tongue resting on roof of month just behind teeth
- Eyes in half rested gaze, gazing along the nose
The breath should be even and soft; we should relax any unnecessary tension; keep the body feeling light (not heavy or sluggish); the posture should not be excessively painful or causing physical harm.
Managing Mental Events
- We use our breath as our focus. Observing and experiencing the gentle breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils (tip of the nose). This is our focus. To help to relax the mind we simply observe the breath.
- We allow thoughts to come and go without being overly engaged in them.
- Relax around the content of the mind no matter how interesting some thoughts or mental events seem to be.
- Whenever we become aware that we have become lost in our thoughts and have forgotten about our meditative focus we simply release our curiosity and engagement in the thoughts and reinstate our focus on the breath. Avoiding judgment of ourselves, and remaining relaxed as much as possible.
How Long to Sit in Meditation
It can be beneficial to meditate on a regular basis. 10 to 20 minutes a day is a good amount of time to begin with. It is also a good amount of time to sustain over a period of time. This can be increased over time as one wishes. These are guidelines only. Professional advise should be sort for any ongoing physical or mental problems.
Suggested Reading – books by author Traleg Kyabgon
Titles available from Shambhala Publications www.shambhala.com
- The Essence of Buddhism
- Mind At Ease
- Karma, What It is ,What it isn’t, Why it matters
Titles available from Shogam Publications www.shogam.org
- Moonbeams of Mahamudra,
- Luminous Bliss
New To Buddhism? Beginning the Journey:
Excerpts from book The Essence of Buddhism by Traleg Kyabgon
An element of uncertainty characterizes any journey. Buddhism teaches that we are already travelling around in uncertainty. It is just that we have become familiar with it this familiar world is regarded as cyclic existence, samsara. Therefore, the impulse to embark on a spiritual journey arises from the fact that we do not feel at home in this world. We feel that there must be another kind of world to explore. We have begun to see through the facade, the inauthenticity of everything that we experience.
Buddhist teachings often refer to the path, but we need to reflect on what it actually means to travel this spiritual path. Essentially, it entails undergoing a journey of change and transformation, discovering things that were previously outside our experience. A spiritual practitioner can be compared to a traveler or a pilgrim. When you become a traveler, you leave behind your familiar world and venture forth into unknown territory. You may have read something about the places that you want to visit or heard stories about them, but you have never actually been there yourself. Likewise, on a spiritual journey.
The Tibetan Buddhist tradition is not based on one particular school of Buddhism as such; rather it tries to incorporate a variety of thought from many different traditions. This is known as the “three yanas” perspective on Buddhism. Yana (Sanskrit) is the spiritual vehicle that transports the individual from the samsaric condition to the freedom of nirvana.
The three vehicles are the Hinayana, the Mahayana and the Vajrayana. The Hinayana or “small vehicle”, refers to the early teachings on the four noble truths, karma and rebirth and training in ethics, concentration and wisdom. These teachings set out the foundations of Buddhist practice such as mindfulness and awareness and the path towards enlightenment. “If we want to change our behavior, we must have a greater understanding of our own minds and we need to change our attitudes.”
The Mahayana or “great vehicle”, builds upon the fundamentals whereby the practitioner aims to achieve the benefit of all beings. The view here is that through working for the benefit of other beings, one is achieving benefit for oneself also. Self and other both have the common goal of wishing to be free of the pain and dissatisfaction common to our existence. “Mahayana Buddhism goes further by saying that, if one wants to achieve enlightenment, one needs to do it with a twopronged approach. The two prongs are compassion and wisdom.”
The Vajrayana or “indestructible vehicle” involves further methods designed to expedite the process of spiritual growth. These methods which are not found in the sutric Mahayana include visualization practices, the recitation of mantras and working with the physical energies in the body. The Hinayana and Mahayana teachings are incorporated within Vajrayana practices such as deity visualization. For example, we might visualize a deity with six legs. The legs represent the six paramitas which are important aspects that one cultivates in the Mahayana teachings. “The tantric system has many names, such as Tantrayana, Vajrayana, and Mantrayana. Tantra is called gyu in Tibetan, meaning “continuity,” because the tantric teaching emphasize the idea of continuity between the inner nature of a person in the condition of samsara and the inner nature of the person when in the state of nirvana.”