Stage I Samatha
In stage I samatha, the mind effortlessly stays with the object of meditation, thoughts are infrequent and there is a high degree of metacognitive awareness and mindfulness. The meditation object is vivid and multifaceted, and the practitioner can stabilize the mind on an object and remain with the object. In the beginning stages of samatha, there can be a process of energetic unfolding, and there may be occasional unpleasant energetic manifestations of the hindrances at this stage.
Samatha as a term describes a state of consciousness that is significantly different in some tangible way to ordinary consciousness. The state of samatha involves varying degrees of mental and physical pliancy, which arise as a result of unification around a shared intention (in this case, the intention to meditate and the intention to keep the attention on some meditation object). This is simply the mind experiencing an accumulated release of karma – the intention is highly conditioned and so a larger part of the mind participates in the intention- so much so that the bodily fabrications are lessened, or even cease entirely.
This fading of sense perceptions is an opportunity to directly observe dependent origination in a very tangible way, and it begins to be accessed from Stage I Samatha. The reason this insight comes about only after some initial insight, is that the fading of sense perceptions when entering a state of samatha, is in itself a very powerful insight experience, and as such the two conditions are related. Insight as it is defined in the SigmaTropic System involves accompanying changes in baseline samatha ability and unification of mind.
Mindfulness is required during all moments of the day in order to guard the mind from the influence of sensual objects on the mind. The mind has a conditioned ability to dwell in states of calm pristine presence, and behavior is seen to directly influence their state of mind at all times. With the increased level of focus the meditator possesses now, the meditator can begin to develop their visualization abilities. The meditator will experience a series of unfolding processes as the mind becomes more congruently unified around any of their intentions. They have been training a skill to perceive clearly and unwaveringly, and this “unification of mind” around any intention becomes stronger and stronger. The meditator has the direct experience of the effortless power of the mind, and jhanas serve to both elucidate dependent origination in direct experience, and also to promote the unification process. However, their samatha ability has yet to bleed out into daily life, and so this phase involves a typically extensive process of learning how to gladden the mind in everyday life off cushion and making the state of calm abiding permeate all facets of life.
Introduction to Jhana Practice
“‘I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the first jhana.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said? There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’
This excerpt from the Jhana sutta perfectly sums up the purpose and strategy of the practice to be outlined here and deserves a thorough explanation. The Buddha was very precise in his descriptions here, and often a westerner will read the above and discount the very clear and literal instruction – rationalizing in that the language is dated, out of touch with modern practice. The description above is literal and perfect.
There is the case where a monk, secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.
Here we see that the first jhana arises under two simple conditions– secluded from sensual objects, and secluded from unskillful qualities (of mind, i.e. the 5 hindrances). The first jhana arises under these conditions. According to this instruction, removing the mind from sensuality and the hindrances brings about first jhana. The essence of first jhana is rapture and pleasure. Thus, when the mind is secluded from sensuality (not engaged in secual delight) and free from the hindrances (a state which can be cultivated reproducibly and made to arise on command), first jhana happens of its own accord – naturally. This is correct, and if you’re really paying attention to the mind when the first jhana arises, it can be seen as a very precise description. Technique wise, this is the essence of this practice method- mastering the attainment of first jhana. There is directed thought and evaluation going on in the first jhana – the mind is having thoughts related to the factors of the jhana. There is a mental knowing of “this is first jhana, wow this feels really good” 1st jhana.
Seclusion from sensuality implies sensual restraint. The practitioner is specifically turning away from objects of the world. This means sex, chocolate and rock and roll. The mind is instead focused internally and derives pleasure not from the world, but from it’s own innate blissful inherent qualities. The phrase “secluded from sensuality and unskillful qualities” is a first instruction essentially anywhere the Buddha mentions jhanas. These words are repeated again and again, and it is clear why.
To seclude the mind from unskillful qualities, oddly enough we can undertake clear stepwise practices that have been used for centuries to bring about purification of mind and conduct. This really is a ethics heavy meditation method, and we start to see how interrelated our morality practice is with our insight and concentration practice. We can reinforce our Brahmacharya and prayer practices to facilitate the process along. The more we seclude the mind from unskillful qualities and the hindrances, the more readily rapture and concentration and energy and other positive factors of mind arise in our experience. This gives the mind all the power that would have been used up for a distracting thought, now we have that energy at our disposal.
A key inflection point in the samatha map according to the SigmaTropic system, is the need to channel the often exciting joy and energy of effective practice in the mind away from self-ownership. We don’t want to let it go to our heads. We learn to re-channel the ownership of those fruits toward the divine. We will see in stage II samatha and stage III samatha that consciously releasing ownership of the states promotes them to arise in the future because it releases self-attachment and is consistent with the view of emptiness, which is reinforced by the positive effects of the practice. This compounding of interests is called “unification of mind”. Other practices which relieve self-attachment and clinging are prayer, metta, prostration, and Brahmacharya. In order to reach stage I samatha there is insight into non-self. And that same insight into non-self that allows the state of samatha to arise, is a conditioning factor for the further blossoming of samatha into stages II and III.