One of the] great benefits of samadhi, [concentration that results from calming the mind], is happiness and inwardly generated happiness. And the Buddha says this kind of pleasure that is found within the well-collected mind should be pursued and developed. It should be cultivated. There is nothing to fear in this inwardly generated delight and happiness.
What the Buddha is speaking about is an internally born happiness rooted in interconnectedness, and there is very profound insight in cultivating this inwardly generated happiness. It alters our relationship to the world of conditions in deeply ethical ways.
Our relationship to this world of conditions that we all live in is rooted in the externalization both of happiness and unhappiness, and in enchantment with the pleasant conditions and aversion to the unpleasant conditions. We find ourselves endlessly rearranging or trying to rearrange the conditions in our world of the moment, where we have a maximum amount of pleasure and a minimal amount of unpleasantness. We look outward to the world, often with pleading eyes, saying, “Make me happy.” This makes us a consumer of the world. Samadhi is not only a guardian of the mind, it is said to be also a guardian of the world.
In discovering this inwardly generated happiness, the whole surge of craving and aversion begins to calm. We are less entranced with pursuit and avoidance. We are actually protecting the world from the surges and impulses of craving. It’s a deeply ethical cultivation.
Once this inwardly generated happiness is truly glimpsed and cultivated, we no longer pursue craving, aversion, and clinging, knowing that the world of conditions can indeed bring us so much that is pleasant, so much that is delightful, but does not have the innate capacity to deliver the lasting happiness that we seek and long for.
There are numerous discourses that recommend the development of samadhi as an essential factor in beginning to know things actually as they are, relieving perceptions of our associations rooted in the past, or how we have known something before. They allow us to see anew, and to find a sense of wonder in meeting life as it is. We begin to see very experientially the changing nature of all things, to see the lovely and the unlovely, without generating narrative craving and aversion, to know the breath as a breath, the body as the body as sound, as a sound the thought as a thought.
The Buddha speaks of samadhi, at times, as being a journey of purification, which is a word that can be charged with reactivity and an association with impurity and purity. This is not what the Buddha means by this process of purification. Instead, what samadhi does, as the mind begins to calm, settle, and deepen, is bring into the light a consciousness of so much that has been unconscious and buried, yet that is still powerful in generating reactivity. We begin to see the arising and passing of patterns, and we begin to know the unbinding from those patterns that can be so powerful in leading to distress. We begin to be less repetitive in our reactions.
In this process of purification—of everything coming into the light of consciousness—we find ourselves less inclined to define ourselves by the contents of our minds. On the ground of samadhi, we begin to cultivate clarity and the power of wise discernment, and to know what is skillful and what is unskillful, what is wholesome and what is unwholesome, what leads to affliction and what leads to the end of affliction, and what liberates and what binds.
The clarity that is formed of samadhi—this capacity to see clearly, to discern clearly—is the beginning of the ending of distress.
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.