2020-04-07: Samādhi (2 of 5) Connecting, and Sustaining Awareness
11:23PM Jun 19, 2020
So again, good morning and today I'll continue on the theme of samdāhi, the fourth of the five faculties and I have a lot of reverence for samdāhi. Somehow this samdāhi represents a wonderful state of being, of wholeness, of subtleness of well being that somehow makes me feel feel whole in this world or, or settled or peaceful beyond or wider than anything I could think. And that's somebody that the very best is kind of like entering into sacred ground. So maybe it's a little dangerous to treat somebody in such a lofty way but I do have that kind of feeling for it.
And so yesterday I talked about two aspects of concentration, samdāhi. Both that's our preparations for developing concentration and it's also part and parcel of concentration. But think of it as appropriate to be to arrive to initiate the process of concentration is to relax, let go and let go into being centered to find a center within you. And the idea is to compose yourself on that center to be settled. And this is an alternative way of talking about being focused. Many times concentration is associated with focus. And so to bring a focus of the mind on the breathing, for example, or whatever you're concentrating on. That's fine, but it tends to lend itself to being in the control tower of the head, with the mind's eye looking and like a laser beam or something.
In the Buddhist teaching samdāhi is a state, initially as a fully embodied state. It's our whole body is to fuse with the qualities of concentration. It's not only a mental act so to talk about composing ourselves. To me it is a physical language. We compose our whole body, we settle our body, we align our body and settle. And in that aligning and settling, we begin the process of concentration. And it works particularly well I think if we compose ourselves on the breathing, or compose ourselves on some center of gravity within. So it is a kind of reorienting ourselves, maybe from how we usually are thinking and doing or being in the world to something that may be for some people counterintuitive, or even foreign. We're settled and composed with our body here and now. And not thinking about things, and wanting things, and avoiding things with our mind. And so with relaxing, letting go centering ourselves on the breathing.
When we when we have that initial beginning, then there are two movements of concentration practice that are the initiating and engaging parts of concentration practice, and that can go hand in hand with mindfulness practice. It doesn't have to be separate. And in the ancient language, it's called 'vitakka,' and 'vicāra.' In the way my brain plays with words and sounds, vitakka, to me sounds like a knock: "tock, tock, knock knock." Its and initial showing up and connecting, "Knock knock, I'm here, open the door," or "Here and I'm going to be letting you know that I'm here.' And, and the vicāra, the sound of it to me vicāra - I like to kind of stretch the ā -- more like lingering or staying or coursing or surfing on something. There's continuity there.
So there's vitakka, wh is sometimes called the initial application of mind or attention. It's bringing our attention to the focus. So if we're focusing on the breathing, if that's the center of gravity for meditation, and the mind wanders off and goes someplace else, then comes the very act of bringing the mind back and reconnecting to the breathing - knocking on the breath, here I am. And that initial connection is just a momentary thing, "Here I am." It does involve a little bit of rudimentary thinking. In fact, the word vitakka in Pali can also mean thinking. If you notice your mind is wandering off, there is some kind of cognitive working of the mind, "Okay, let's come back. Let's reconnect to the breathing.'
How we have those thoughts and how we do that coming back to the breathing is actually very important. It may be more important than actually returning to the breath. Because we want to make the return be something that's welcome, enjoyable, and calming in and of itself. I know that sometimes I've jerked my mind back, kind of violently. I was feeling bad or, there I am again, drifting off and jerking back. And that's more agitating. I've also sometimes pounced back on the breath: "Okay, now I'm going to really going to bore into it." And that also is actually more agitating than calming.
So how can we come back in a calm way and reconnect to the experience of breathing? In the ancient language of the Buddha, in the teachings, there is no equivalent idea that we use in English of coming back or returning to your breathing. It is a metaphor to bring the mind back. The mind doesn't go anywhere. The mind is always here. And the metaphor bring it back may lend itself to certain kind of agitation or movement, moving the mind or feeling that movement. Vitakka is noticing that we're drifting off. And then having this thought of, "Where's the breathing?" and then allowing the breathing to knock on you, "Here I am. Knock knock." So there's no movement, it's more of a relaxing, opening, and making that initial connection. So that's a conscious, somewhat intentional movement: "Okay, back. Here I am."
Then, once we're there, some people are very good at this coming back and connecting to the breathing or to the focus of meditation. And once they're there, they kind of don't apply themselves so much anymore. And so then the mind wanders off again.
The second aspect of concentration is vicāra, which is sustaining the attention on the breathing or on the object of attention -- lingering, hanging out there. The analogy that's used in one of the ancient texts is that vitakka is placing a cloth on a bronze bronze bowl, and vicāra is rubbing it, cleaning it, polishing it. A more poetic image that used is a bee landing on a flower -- that's vitakka. And vicāra is the bee walking around picking up the pollen, exploring, wandering around on the flower. The word vicāra comes from the word 'cāra,' to walk, to wander. The idea is that we're wandering; we're staying with the feeling. Some translators and meditation teachers translate vicāra as evaluating -- a bit kind of being there and discovering the experience, getting to know it better, feeling it, letting it register more fully.
So vitakka is connecting to the breath or allowing the breathing to connect to you and your awareness. And then vicāra is sustaining that attention over time, lingering there, resting in that, letting go into the whole experience of exhale. So you're really there "vicāra-ing," cruising on, resting in being polished by the exhale. The whole length of the exhale stays in awareness. And then the same for the inhale to connect to the inhale, the whole inhale. And this vitakka and vicāra are relevant to some degree. At the beginning of each breath, on each inhale and each exhale, there's a connection. And then there's the resting, sustaining it. Now this idea of connecting and then sustaining through time. But sustaining will always stop, always come to an end. And so it's always going to be a time to do it again. And again. Sometimes sustaining can be a long time, really long. You start, and your mind can wander off. But more often, especially near the beginning, it wanders off quickly and sustaining doesn't have much momentum.
The analogy I like for vitakka on vicāra is a push scooter. You have one foot on the top of the scooter and the other is pushing the ground, and pushing you along. And if you give yourself a good push, then the momentum will carry you for a while. You don't have to push for a while. But the momentum eventually, unless you're going down a steep hill, the momentum fades away. It disappears, and then you have to push again. And and then you glide along. When I was a kid on a scooter, I never complained about having to push again to get the momentum going.
So sometimes as we start developing concentration practice, these two movements -- the little pushing, that tap of vitakka, that little tap, and then gliding along, allowing yourselvf to glide along, to be carried along as we go. Then when we need the other kind of connection, that little push again, "Here we go," we push again, and then ride it, ride it, ride it. As the practice deepens, these two actions are intentional. To connect or allow the breath to connect to us. It's intentional to linger and ride it, or to let it wash over us. The whole experience as you do that. You settle into the practice more and more. At some point, this need for vitakka and vicāra -- connecting and sustaining -- falls away. And we're just really right there, and just cruising along. No thought needed to keep going that way.
And so finally, what I'd like to say is these two things that I've talked about today, the initial connection, and the sustaining of the connection of awareness. If you want to experiment with it, see if you can find a way to do it that's calm, relaxed, spacious, without expectation or demand that it be in any any kind of way. See if you can actually make it fun, or nice, or enjoyable. So you actually you like doing it. You want to come and do it. It's not doesn't feel like work. Just like for a kid pushing a scooter is not to work.
So thank you very much for being here and I'll continue the theme of samādhi tomorrow, and take it to the next level maybe. I've said it many times, but I feel very appreciative, and a lot of gratitude for being able to do this together with all of you. Thank you.