2021-03-07 Mindfulness of Breathing (48) Samadhi Factor of Awakening
7:33PM Mar 7, 2021
The topic for today is the 'samādhi' factor of awakening. Tomorrow's topic will be equanimity.
'Samādhi' is commonly translated as 'concentration' in English. The prolific translator, Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu, an American who lives in San Diego, translates it as 'serenity.' There's a very different feeling between 'concentration' and 'serenity.' When it's translated as 'serenity,' that raises the question: how is it different from 'tranquility' – the factor of awakening that occurs right before 'samādhi'?
'Samādhi' is characterized by stillness. I don't know whether or not the words 'serenity' and 'tranquility' are almost complete synonyms for each other. But if you look at the Pali words – the words of the ancient language – 'passaddhi' is the word for 'tranquility.' I think it has more of a connotation of brightness – a bright, soft quality, a very light feeling. The body can feel very light and soft when there's tranquility. Whereas in 'samādhi,' the primary characteristic is more one of stillness. In 'samādhi,' there's a sense of deep stillness. Things have gotten very still. The greater the 'samādhi,' the more stillness there is.
Also, with 'samādhi,' the stillness can sometimes feel very strong. There can be a strength to it at times. The mind is not distractible. The mind won't wander away at all. Sometimes people describe a feeling of being locked in, in 'samādhi.' The stillness is so strong that – Boom! – we're locked in. The mind's not going to move anywhere, into anything. Whereas, in tranquility, the mind is very tranquil and peaceful, but it's not one hundred percent still, perhaps.
I associate tranquility, as I mentioned yesterday, with a quiet, very peaceful, morning lake – completely placid and still, not a ripple of wind. The morning light is very clear and bright. There's stillness in the air. The birds haven't come out yet. And this body of water is very flat. Tranquility is like a body of water, and I associate it much more with the body than with the mind, somehow.
With 'samādhi,' at least for me, there can be a very embodied feeling that comes with it. But this stillness of the mind is not like a body of water. It's more like the stillness of space. Everything is still in space. Space, in and of itself, is stillness.
Looking up at the sky at night, you see that space has no boundaries. It goes on forever. You can say that space is soft, I guess, but it's not a quality that has 'softness' or 'lightness' as part of it. It's more porous. I associate 'samādhi' more with the mind becoming still, porous, open, with no boundaries.
But definitely it's landed. It's here. It has landed here. Sometimes the sense of the landing place disappears. It's just here, and with this openness. It's not exactly embodied. The body sometimes disappears in deep 'samādhi.'
One of the primary functions of tranquility is to support 'samādhi.' When the body is tranquil it supports the mind becoming more still. It's as if you're trying to land a drone on top of a fast-moving train. It's a little hard. But if the train stops, then you can land it on the roof of the train, perhaps. It's the same thing if you try to land in a body that's agitated – it's hard for the mind to land and be here. So, tranquility creates a nice home – nourishment, support – for the mind to be settled on our experience, rather than being focused on our experience.
The idea of focus in 'samādhi' – sometimes the idea of one-pointedness – may be a metaphor that works for some people: "Okay, I'm really going to be focused, one-pointed on this." But I think of this so-called one-pointedness as a gathering together, so 'all' of us is centered on something. It's being centered on the breathing.
Rather than being one-pointed with the mind, it's coming to rest at the center point of the concentric circles of our life. We're just really right here – so with the breath, completely with the breath, for example (if the focus is on the breath). There's more a feeling of being centered on it, than being focused on it. At least that's how it is for me.
The Buddha said that the nourishment for 'samādhi' is serenity, and the word for that is 'samatha.' It's not the same word as 'samādhi.' But 'samatha,' in my rudimentary understanding of Pali etymology, is even closer to a sense of stillness, landing, taking a stand, where we're really still and quiet.
So, it's a kind of serenity of stillness, not the serenity of softness and lightness. The nourishment of 'samādhi' is stillness. That means to nourish yourself with stillness. Notice the places where you are still – where there is stillness. Perhaps that's within.
There's a woman nearby, a local woman, who's a mindfulness teacher. And she composed a little CD for children called "The Still, Quiet, Place Within." I love that title: "The Still, Quiet, Place Within." Recognize and find a place of stillness, but not one in which we're being held still, or entrapped in being still. Find something that actually feels nourishing and wholesome. And, if you're able to touch into that inner place of nourishing stillness, allow yourself to be nourished by it.
This is one of the wonderful characteristics of the teachings of the Buddha around meditation. It's not just this dreary, dry – "focus on the breath, and stay with the breath, and zero in on the breath," like a technique of mental focus. It's a settling into, allowing, and touching into all the ways in which we feel nourished, wholesome. We feel the wholesomeness, the nourishment, the goodness of something. We're allowed to feel joy. We're allowed to feel happiness.
One of the characteristics of the Buddhist community in the time of the Buddha – apparently a bit unusual in the religious circles of his time – was that the Buddha's disciples smiled a lot. They were always kind of a joyful group.
Meditation's not meant to be a grim practice. Don't take meditation too seriously. Meditation is much too important to take seriously. If you take it too seriously, I think you kind of squeeze some of the life out of it, and that makes it harder to feel the nourishment, wholesomeness, joy, and pleasure of it all.
Don't indulge in those things or hold onto them, expect them, and "huff and puff" for it. But in even in the smallest ways – in the course of the day, or in the course of meditation – you're allowed to tap into and discover the places that feel wholesome, where you feel there's inner goodness, nourishment.
Each of the seven factors has a nourishment. How does 'samādhi' come about if that's the orientation? Not a one-pointed focus, but rather imbibing the nourishment that's here, even if only one percent of yourself feels a good nourishing quality. Maybe that's worth a lot more than the five percent of who you are that's neurotic. If you give one hundred percent of your attention to the five percent that's neurotic, then you're not going to be nourished. But, if you give one hundred percent of your attention to the one percent that's wholesome, then you can be nourished by that. Then things begin to relax and open.
I don't know what percentage you have of all these things. But chances are, if you're a regular human being, you probably give more attention to what's not nourishing than to what is nourishing. So, sit down. And meditate in the nourishing stillness, the nourishing awareness, the nourishing tranquility, the nourishing joy, the nourishing mindfulness.
'Samādhi', the 'samādhi' factor of awakening. When it becomes well developed – meaning you're well nourished by it, supported by feeling the goodness of it – this creates wonderful conditions for the mind to develop and to have equanimity. It's not enforced equanimity, in which you hold yourself still – but equanimity that comes because there's a feeling of being really settled and at ease in this nourishing place of stillness. The 'samādhi' factor of awakening.
So, until we do equanimity, tomorrow – those of you who are coming back for that – you might spend some extra time today seeing if you can become more familiar with whatever capacity and ability you have to discover a nourishing inner stillness – quiet, unwavering, unagitated within. See what it's like to let yourself enjoy it and be nourished.