Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Shi'nay - Calm Abiding Meditation
Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche.
This afternoon session marks the start of a program of teachings at the Bodhi Path Centre. I now begin with a teaching on Shi'nay.
Training the mind and a trained mind are two different things. To practise Shi'nay is training, and it is different from a 'trained Shi'nay'. There are different varieties of Shi'nay practices but they all serve one purpose and it is to train the mind to be in Shi'nay.
Shi'nay is an ordinary level of mind. To attain a trained Shi'nay does not depend on purification of mind, or the accumulation of merit, or Lhakthong (Vipassana) meditation. So it will not take long to achieve the results of Shi'nay. But success in Shi'nay does, however, depend very much on how many times a day, and how long you can do it. What is essential is consistency of practice.
Mind does not exist substantially, or physically. Once you are trained, then you will have the flexibility of mind to do many things. How well you have trained will determine how much freedom of mind you have to remain in one level, while thinking, or concentrating. You are considered trained when your mind has this kind of freedom. This is the trained state, and to get there, you employ the methods of training.
To have this flexibility of mind of Shi'nay is very useful. You have heard of the so-called Five eyes and the Five extensive powers of the mind to know hidden things. You can access these states after you have achieved the training of Shi'nay. If you have wings then you can fly anywhere you'd like. If you are a good swimmer, you can swim in whichever way you want. Mind has limitless skills. When you have trained your mind, you will have more freedom than you do now. Since mind is not physical, it is very easy to use it everywhere. Through training, you will know more extensively than what you do now, which is rather limited.
At present, your mind has no peace because you are not free to be at peace. Because the mind is in the habit of thinking constantly, like a waterfall, it is totally overwhelmed by thoughts. The habit of thinking is very strong. All the time, you are thinking because the mind connects to everything and everywhere. The thoughts are therefore incessant, and you have no freedom, only distractions. If you hear something, mind connects to the sound. If you feel anything, or see anything, your mind is right there. Mind is totally inundated by contacts. There is no rest, no peace. Peace of mind means to be free from thoughts. You need freedom of mind to have control of your mind. This means you need to be free from confusion. Then you will be able to maintain your mind in its peace.
Because mind has no form or substance, the extent of mind's peace is limitless. There is just peace. When you are able to go deeper into the nature of mind, then it is called a realization of mind, which can get rid of the ignorance of mind. First you should have the freedom to rest in the peace of mind. Later, you develop the skill to realize the nature of mind, and then you will be free of the ignorance. These are the steps.
To achieve some freedom of mind, you practise Shi'nay. The level of Shi'nay within the ordinary level of mind does not take long to achieve. However, it does depend on effective methods. They are effective in pacifying the mind, to free it from thoughts, or to give it some freedom. One very effective method to gain control over the habit of thinking is to concentrate on the breath.
breathing and meditation sitting posture
The main causes for mind's restlessness are ignorance and dualistic attachments. But temporarily, an imbalance in the physical posture can also disturb the mind.
To maintain a proper balance in the internal circulation, you need to know how to breathe gently. When your breathing is proper, it brings about a very balanced circulation in the body. It makes your mind comfortable and clear. The Buddha gave a lot of advice on health, too. One such advice is proper breathing, which keeps your physique very steady and comfortable.
To make mind peaceful, the sitting posture must be correct. A wrong sitting posture will give you physical as well as some nervous problems. Sit in the shape of a pyramid (triangular-shaped) where all sides of the body are properly balanced. It was exactly how the Buddha sat under the tree. He sat on a stone-seat with some kusha grass layered on top. Nowadays, we use cushions, and we don't need to go to the forest either.
Here are the points for a proper sitting posture (They include all the points of the seven-point posture) :
- While sitting, the backside should be a little higher. The lap in front is thus lowered and slopes slightly downward. If you sit as you would on a sofa with the front higher and the back lower, then you cannot meditate. The full lotus posture for the legs is fine. If you cannot sit fully cross-legged, then you can adopt the half lotus posture with the left leg in and the right leg out.
- Regarding the two hands, the right hand is placed on top and in the left hand. Both hands are resting on the lap.
- The two elbows should not be bent. They should be straight, but not too much. If you have long arms that reach past the lap, you could rest the hands on the feet to give them support.
- The shoulders should be raised up slightly.
- Your eyes are open and looking downward and slightly ahead of you so that you can see the tip of your nose.
- The head or neck is tilted very slightly forward and not too much.
The stomach should be in. Below the navel is the abdomen. When you gently press in the stomach, the breath will go down to the abdomen so just keep it there. In this way, you will feel very comfortable. If you keep the breath in the stomach then it will become uncomfortable to meditate.
- The back should be straight, and when it is, your whole posture will naturally be proper. And the inner circulation of the breath will be smooth.
- The mouth is gently closed and you breathe through your nose. You should not breathe through the mouth. Just naturally, breathe very gently.
What is beneficial for health is to visualize the breath as a very bright (not straight, but slightly arched) beam of crystal light. This will prevent you from falling asleep, or feeling drowsy. The bright light brightens your mind and keeps away dullness. But do not attach to it. You should not have a vision of crystal as practised in some crystal religion. The object here is for your mind to concentrate on your breath. When breathing out, the light is almost touching to the ground, and when you breathe in, it comes back into you and down into the navel. The light is just a visualisation. It is not real. It is not like the tongue of a lizard, going out and in again. The light should be independent of you.
As to the length of practice, in the beginning, it should not be too long. Later on, when you are more trained, you can practise for a longer period. To concentrate means to focus the mind on the breath, and to keep the awareness. To be aware means you know what you are doing. And at the same time, you can count by mind. You can also use a mala, a counter, or you can use a clock, and time yourself for five minutes. Afterwards, relax a little, feeling free, and then you can start again. It does not matter whether you do it for five minutes, or for three, the point is to do it with quality. This means to keep the awareness, and try not to think unnoticed.
Training means to develop new habits. Your habit now is thinking constantly. You don't need training in that. You already do it all the time. To train a new habit depends on the accumulation of the desired new habit. This means to accumulate 'quality', which is to focus with awareness – this is proper training. If you do one hour without resting during which time you are very distracted, then you are nurturing a bad habit again. Therefore, do it for just a short while, but with quality. There's nothing wrong with that. To be clear means you realize, you are fully aware, whether you are concentrated or not. True, awareness is also thought, but that does not matter for now.
A 5-minute session with quality counting to 10, is much better than a 10-minute session of lower quality where you are distracted. In the latter case, you are not accumulating good habits. Instead, you are practising making mistakes. Therefore, do the five minutes well, and take breaks in between. If you can manage a count with quality to 10 for a five-minute period, then you will be trained very quickly. Soon you will be able to increase the duration to ten quality minutes with counting to 10. Many of my students in Washington D.C. in America can comfortably count to 100. There is even one member there, who could count to one thousand. Then mind is very, very peaceful and you will experience the wide peace of the mind. For extensive training, the practitioners train to have the capacity to count up to many thousands. This means that they are then fully trained.
the levels of Shi'nay
Counting the breaths is the first level. Not counting, or letting the mind to simply follow the breath is the second, and subtler level. A third level is where the mind does not even follow the breath. Mind just rests on the breath. Between these first three levels, you progress from coarse to more subtle, to very subtle. All three levels fall within the very preliminary levels of Shi'nay.
Another three levels that are even subtler follow the preliminary levels. The first of these is called realization of the connection of mind and breath where the realization of the described connection becomes the object of focus. When you are able to control mind then you will know how to do it. If you don't have the control then it is difficult to imagine. But, that is the first step of the advanced Shi'nay.
Once you have become proficient in the first, you can then progress to the second level called playing. At this level, you will play a lot with the mind in order to extend the skills of the mind.
The next or third level is called pure level. This level is connected to Lhakthong (Vipassana). There you will enter into the natural peace of the mind. There is a way to enter into a more profound, deeper, or subtler state of mind.
You will be taught these levels according to your own progress in your practice. What I have presented to you is for your information only. The main thing for you to do now is to start the practice of the counting of breaths. The first three preliminary levels are very important. To dance in the water, you must first know how to swim. So, start from the counting.
Shi'nay is very important. Without Shi'nay you can never meditate. There is no chance, no way to meditate without Shi'nay. Think about it, how can you meditate with this busy mind? You cannot keep the candle lit in the wind. You cannot ride a wild horse without taming it first. Mind is like a wild horse so you should train it. And discipline is quite important in order to train the mind to be clear and energetic.
advice regarding eating
Usually, the advice for Shi'nay meditators is not to eat very heavy foods after 1p.m. This is very true from experience. When we do summer retreat in the monastery for 45 days, we do not eat after 1p.m. Mind is indeed very clear at that time.
During the time when Buddhism flourished in India, many highly qualified Indian monks and meditators had meditated very well. And when the Dharma was first introduced in Tibet, the Tibetans could not follow and meditate exactly like the Indian masters did. Their meditations were less successful but still good. One contributing factor for the difference had to do with eating. The very good Indian meditators had strictly kept the discipline of not eating after 1p.m. This was something the Tibetan meditators were unable to do. Meditators in China were even less successful than the Tibetan monks because they liked to eat a lot. Here we are talking about success in meditation. However, where karma is concerned, the Chinese monks in general, have less karma because they are vegetarians. The Tibetan lamas on the other hand, had to eat meat of the lamb and yak, especially in the olden days, when there were no other foods.
Milarepa's diet consisted only of nettles. His diet, too, became a training tool for him. You can find this in his biography. He would think to himself in this way.
Food needs salt. Salt is food. Nettle is food. To add salt, I eat more nettles.
He was not making fun in the least. He would reason with himself and then he would apply the reasoning in his own experience. This was his line of reasoning.
Salt is food. Between food and salt, there is no difference so they are equal. Therefore, instead of adding salt, I will eat some more nettles.
Food needs butter. But butter is food. As far as their natures are concerned, food and butter are the same. So instead of butter, I will eat some more nettles.
So Milarepa ate only nettles. Not everybody can do what he did. Therefore, it takes the rest of us longer.
To be vegetarian like the Chinese monks, and then to eat only twice in the morning and not after 1p.m. will certainly make one very successful at practice. This was difficult for many people in the past especially for travellers who had the added problem of inconvenience. But nowadays, health foods are very popular and readily available. Meditators could easily manage to have more proteins in their diets. One could eat more in the morning, and only very light foods in the afternoon. This should prove very helpful for meditation. When the meditation is already advanced, then diet, or the timing of meals, will no longer exert as much effect on it.
be careful of attachments
In general, your job or everything else you do to make your daily life run smoothly is very important. As I explained this morning, attachment is the main chain, which ties up your mind. A very important advice then is to curb your attachments. They are the chains that tie you down. It is not your work or anything else that you have to do that binds you. It is your grasping and attachment. If you can make your mind freer from this kind of grasping, then the Western way of life will not deter or disrupt your meditation.
Again, how to sit is very important; sit in the right posture as I have demonstrated. The next is how to concentrate, how to keep your mind in the awareness of your concentration. And then comes discipline. These three points are key to the success of Shi'nay meditation.
Summary of meditation posture and method
We will do some meditation now.
The posture: The right hand is in the left hand and rests on your left leg. Raise the shoulders a little, but not forward, a little more towards the back. Keep the stomach in. Breathe into the stomach and press it down. Keep it below the navel, in the abdomen. The spine should be kept straight up. The neck is bent down a little. The eyes look to the ground along the nose. The mouth and the tongue are kept normal. The mouth is closed but without pressure. The advice is not to close the eyes when doing Shi'nay. Keep the eyes normal as usual. Blinking is not a problem.
Then concentrate on your breath. Breathe out gently, visualize your breath as a slightly curved beam of light, and it almost touches the ground. Then, it independently comes back in. You inhale and it goes down almost touching your navel. In, out, in, out. Concentrate and keep the awareness of whether the mind is focused on the breathing and the beam of light, or not.
While you are meditating, don't be tense. But if you are too relaxed then you will fall asleep. So by thinking, or by forcing your mind to be brighter, you energize yourself.
Visualize your breath from the two nostrils, but as one beam of light, slightly curved, and independent of you. It's tiny but very clear. Inhale and exhale. Do not try to think that the light is really there. It is just a vision. It is like training a wild horse. In the beginning, it is very uncomfortable for the horse to be controlled by people. It's the same for the mind. At first, the mind doesn't want to agree with you. But later, the mind will become naturally calm. Then, the mind will be very comfortable.
Concentrate on one thing. Try not to think so much.
When you breathe out, the tip of the light beam nearly touches the ground, and the other end of the beam is almost out just underneath the nose. Since the beam is visualized, it does not have to exactly follow through the whole body.
When you are used to it then you can expand it. You could do it all the way to the tip of the toe and so on. You will do that later. It will produce a good effect also. For now, visualize the light beam from the navel to the nose and out, more in a curve.
For beginners, those of you who have never done any meditation, this is very uncomfortable. The mind won't stay focused. You may feel that you can never do it well. But do it. Quickly you will get used to it. You can do it.