2021-03-16 Mindfulness of Breathing (55) Abiding in Harmony
3:03PM Mar 16, 2021
The eleventh step of Mindfulness of Breathing is: "Breathing in, one concentrates. Breathing out, one concentrates – concentrates the mind." This relates to the whole topic of 'samādhi' in Buddhism – a word often translated as 'concentration.' It's worth spending more days on this step because 'samādhi' is such an important foundation for the final steps of Mindfulness of Breathing. We don't want to rush through this.
Ideally, we're coming along a little bit. We're following just enough, getting a sense or a feel for what these steps are about. We have some inner reference point for what we're doing as we continue, even though the next steps are getting into – as classically described – deeper and deeper states of meditation.
These sixteen steps are also relevant in ways well short of deep states of meditation. We can go through them even in relatively ordinary states, recognizing the little shifts that represent these different states. I'm hoping that by going slowly enough, we can follow along. So, we're spending more time with 'samādhi.'
I've already said some of this, but the word for 'concentrate' – in these sixteen steps– has also been translated as 'steady.' I like to translate it as 'unify' – "to unify the mind," or to 'steady' or to "stabilize the mind." The word is 'samādahati.' The verb 'ādahati' means "to place something." It's like placing the mind; placing awareness on the object we're focusing on. We're placing it on the breathing.
I love the expression 'landing.' Just landing on it – gently landing like a helicopter or a drone. It's like a bird that flies in, almost stopping in the air, an inch or so above the ground. It just lands on the ground. We come in and land. We land, settle, and place ourselves.
I'm very fond of using the word 'compose' or 'composure.' We're composing ourselves on the breathing. 'Samādhi' is an act of composing ourselves. The word 'pose' also means to place or to stand someplace. So we're taking a stand and resting in there. To settle, to steady are all words associated with 'samādhi.'
'Samādhi' itself is often translated as 'concentration,' but, more generally, it means meditation, or a state we're in – a state of mind we're in. It can be many different states in which we're quite settled, steady, and peaceful.
I want to read you a very early commentary from the Abhidamma. It defines 'samādhi,' and it's a wonderful definition. It lists a whole series of definitions. "'Samādhi' means embracing. 'Samādhi' means completion. 'Samādhi' means single-pointed. 'Samādhi' means unconfused. 'Samādhi' means unscattered. 'Samādhi' means undisturbed. 'Samādhi' means unperturbed. 'Samādhi' means liberation."
The next series is particularly nice: "'Samādhi' is seeking harmony. 'Samādhi' is acquiring harmony. 'Samādhi' is receiving harmony. 'Samādhi' is grasping harmony – taking hold of it. 'Samādhi' is entering harmony. 'Samādhi' is going along in harmony. 'Samādhi' is lightening up in harmony. 'Samādhi' is being lit up in harmony. 'Samādhi' is harmony, welfare and happiness."
This is a wonderful list – the idea of harmony, eveness or balance. The word is 'sama.' We get a very different feeling for 'samādhi' from these kinds of descriptions than we would if we thought of 'samādhi' as just one-pointedness of mind.
We've talked about absorption states – 'jhānas.' Sometimes the way they're talked about, they have an intensity, a laser-like focus. People really try hard to get into them, not realizing that a big part of 'samādhi' is letting go, relaxing, and settling more and more deeply.
For the 'jhānas' – absorption states, the verbs related to them are 'entering' the states, and 'abiding' in them. The idea of entering is, I think, a beautiful image. We're not looking to zero-in, or to force ourselves to be in any state. Rather, we're entering into what I like to think of as a sacred area – a sacred piece of land, or a temple. We enter into it with some reverence, respect, and care.
How we are – how we enter – is an important part of the entering. The two verbs are "to enter" and "to abide." This means that we take time to linger and reside in those states. Whatever kind of 'samādhi' states – or good, nourishing states – there are, we abide in them so that we can be conditioned by them.
There's a reconditioning process that happens through meditation. Life, as we go through it, can condition us in all kinds of negative ways. Meditation helps to undo that. The conditioning that comes from greed, hatred, and delusion is very different than the conditioning that comes from generosity, love, and wisdom.
Some people have even said that 'samādhi' is a is kind of a re-parenting – if parenting didn't go so well for us growing up. It has a very deep and profound impact on us if we allow ourselves to be nourished by it. This requires abiding – abiding in it, dwelling in it – so that we can really let the goodness of these states seep in and affect us.
If we're in a hurry to get more and more concentrated, we're not going to allow the nourishment to really recondition, open and soften us in a way that's useful on the path of liberation.
I thought I would also read you a list of the things that the Buddha talks about and encourages people to 'abide in.' In the modern United States, there's often a discussion about 'being' rather than 'doing.' It's said that meditation is a chance just to 'be.' I don't think the Buddha would quite say it that way.
Rather than 'being,' he talks about 'abiding.' But he's always talking about abiding 'in' something – in something that's wholesome and good. Not just being angry or fuming. If you abide in that, it may have a negative impact – if that fuming, resentment, and anger are simmering along. That's a whole different topic: how to be wise with things like anger. But for the Buddha, it's abiding.
So here are the states of abiding the Buddha talks about: "Abiding in safety. Abiding in fearlessness. Abiding in a mind free from the hindrances. Abiding in equanimity. Abiding in contentment. Abiding in pleasure. Abiding in happiness and gladness. Abiding in happiness without moving the body or uttering a word."
"Abiding in loving kindness. Abiding in compassion. Abiding in a mind-like space. Abiding in the Dharma. Abiding observing impermanence. Abiding in stillness, devoted to a pleasant abiding here and now." The Buddha often describes 'samādhi' states as a pleasant abiding, here and now.
And then: "Abiding in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness." It's very significant that the word is 'abiding' in the Four Foundations. It doesn't say practice the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. It says abide in them.
"Abiding in bliss. Abiding in emptiness. Abiding in peaceful liberation. Abiding in the supreme goal."
So to abide, one has to be patient. I think of abiding as being very closely akin to being in a receptive state. When we abide, we're patient. We're not in a hurry. And we're in a receptive state, feeling the goodness of all these states – all these ways of being.
We're talking here about the eleventh step of 'ānāpānasati.' Of course, when we sit down to meditate, there are times when these states are not available. We are angry. We are agitated. To sit down and say: "Just sit here and abide in these good feelings" simply doesn't work. So we learn to practice with the first steps of 'ānāpānasati' that can really support us in the challenging states of being we can have in daily life.
As meditation proceeds, at some point we experience the goodness, nourishing feelings, beneficial feelings, and the sensations that are here. The Buddha encourages us to abide in them. And when they arise in 'samādhi' – these states of harmony, settledness, steadiness, unification – now we're really here in the present moment.
We can really feel that, in the present, there is harmony, joy, well-being, gladness – all the possible different flavors of goodness that might be there. Whatever the flavor of the day is, there's also a very important place to abide in, to receive. Let it nourish us, fill us. Let it penetrate and permeate us in some way.
To dwell in these states is not to be thinking about them. It's not to be seeking, planning, expecting, wanting and holding onto things. It's just simply abiding. Allow them to be there. Bask in them. Enjoy them and breathe with and through them.
In Mindfulness of Breathing, the reference point is always breathing – breathing in, and breathing out. So we're always using that as a support, guide, grounding, or a pointer – a way of staying in these different steps. Now we're staying with the breathing, abiding in these states, abiding in the present moment – in the pleasant state, here and now.
The word in Pali is 'viharati.' It is related to the word 'vihāra,' meaning a monastery, a place where monks and nuns reside. You might, for the rest of the day – the next twenty-four hours – have the word 'abide' or 'abiding' – 'viharati' or 'vihāra' – as something you keep close by. Maybe you can write it on a sticky note and keep it with you, or have it posted in some places.
And see when in the day it's beneficial for you to pause and abide with what's happening. Especially when there's goodness, or something nourishing – and you abide and really take it in. Learn to abide. And learn to be nourished by your abiding states.
So, thank you. We'll continue with 'samādhi' for a few more days until we get to the twelfth step which is "liberating the mind." And that's only the twelfth of sixteen.
Thank you all very much.