Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, Courtesy of Snow Lion Publications
Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, Courtesy of Snow Lion Publications

There are many methods for creating a mind that is one-pointed and joyful, the most important of which is meditation. The Buddhist tradition offers a multitude of diverse meditations. It is said the Buddha taught eighty-four thousand gates of samadhi [one-pointed concentration]. We first meditate on calm abiding [shamatha], as it is indispensable and easiest for those who are beginning to practice.

In order to practice calm abiding, we need to know its characteristics, its essential nature, and its various categories. Unless we know these things, we will not know how to meditate. First, we take a posture that is different from our normal one: The legs are crossed; the hands rest relaxed on the knees or with the right hand on top of the left, thumbs touching at the level of the navel; the elbows are slightly raised away from the rib cage; the spine is lengthened; the chin is slightly tucked in; the mouth is closed and slightly relaxed with the tip of the tongue touching the palate; the gaze rests about eight finger-widths in front of the nose. A straight posture helps to keep a stable center while we are focusing on the mind, and for this reason, it is important. If our posture is good, calm abiding will go well.

Generally, calm abiding is defined in this way: “Relying on a correct referent, the mind rests one-pointedly.” It can be divided into three ways of meditating: placing the mind using a support, placing the mind without using a support, and placing the mind on the essential nature itself.

When using an external support or object, we place an article in front of our eyes—for example, a flower. By focusing one-pointedly on it, we keep numerous concepts from forming and revolving in our mind. This practice of focusing one-pointedly on an ordinary object is called “calm abiding with an impure external support.” When we focus in the same way on an object that is related to the dharma—a statue or image of the Buddha, a dharma text, and so forth—that is known as “calm abiding with a pure external support.”

When we have become familiar with these first practices and our mind can rest without moving from its object, then we can start the second type of calm abiding, which is without a support. Here, we turn our focus inward and bring to mind an image of the Buddha. If we begin this second practice before we can do the basic one, it will be difficult, since here there is no external object to serve as a referent. With our mind unable to remain focused, concepts will crowd in. So practice the first meditation until it goes very well, and then move on to the second.

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