So I’d like to review what we’ve learned to date in a six-point outline:
1. There’s suffering in life. Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good, we always feel an undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty inside.
2. There’s a cause to suffering. The cause of suffering is craving and fundamental ignorance brought on by the ego through the five skandhas. We suffer because of our mistaken belief that we are a separate, independent, solid “I.” The painful and futile struggle to maintain this delusion of ego is known as samsara, or cyclic existence.
3. There’s an end to suffering. The good news is that our obscurations are temporary. They are like passing clouds that obscure the sun of our enlightened nature, which is always present. Therefore, suffering can end because our obscurations can be purified and awakened mind is always available to us.
4. There’s a path to the end of suffering: 1) By living ethically – in other words, according to the dharma; 2) by connecting with the purified and awakened mind: natural resting state of the mind, Aloha, the intelligence and consciousness of the Universe, or as Aunty Nana says “God’s mind;” and 3) by developing wisdom. By doing these three things, we take the exact same journey to freedom from suffering that the buddhas do. We too can wake up.
5. We learned there is magic in the world.
6. We learned how to fully embody shamatha vipashana in our practice (mindfulness awareness or loosening and tightening). The mindfulness (loosening) aspect of meditation is identifying with the outbreath flowing out and dissolving into space. The awareness (tightening) aspect is checking our posture on the inbreath.
The point of shamatha vipashana is to achieve an even and completely balanced state of being by balancing body and mind.
On the inbreath, we check our posture to make sure it’s still correct. On the outbreath, we let go and dissolve into space. That combination produces the best balance for the mind and body.
When we are too tight, we are so enthusiastic that we apply the discipline too vigorously and burn ourselves out. When we are too loose, we couldn’t care less about trying and we avoid the whole thing. These are the two main problems that people face in sitting practice.
One moment you’d like to be disciplined and the next moment you couldn’t care less. There seem to be schizophrenic possibilities of all kinds, and we have tremendous arguments with ourselves about them. However, through shamatha vipashana, we begin to develop a good relationship with ourselves, which is the root of individual salvation and the foundation of meditation practice.
If you don’t have a good relationship with yourself, you cannot understand the dharma – the unconditioned truth – and your body and mind will not be properly coordinated. The practice of meditation helps you coordinate your body and mind. You realize that your mind can be directed to a particular effort – that your mind works.
Through shamatha you are able to raise your mind to an adult level so that your mind does not jump all over the place whenever you try to do something.
If our mind is so untrained that we have no control over it, how can we get anything out of the dharma? It’s not because we’re stupid, but because we are so distracted. We might be sitting there physically and appear to be listening but our mind is miles away jumping all over the place.
Shamatha discipline is the best way for us to work with our mind so that our mind and our body can be properly coordinated and we can eventually fully wake up to who we really are – without doubt or hesitation or interruption.
That idea is the greatest idea ever thought of, thanks to Siddhartha Gautama – the historic Buddha. He did it himself. We could thank him, our meditation lineage, the teachers and everybody who has done that over the past 2,600 years. They all woke up and we could do it, too!
As students of shamatha, we go to our meditation spot, sit down on it, and take our posture. In doing so, we have an expectation that we’re going to practice shamatha, an expectation that something will happen. It’s as if we were sitting on our chair, about to dine, or as if we were taking off our clothes before going to sleep, or turning on the tap before taking a shower. That natural expectation and preparation is a good beginning.