Adeline Van Waning, a psychiatrist and Buddhist practitioner, takes us inside a groundbreaking study that explores the effects of meditation on the brain and one’s overall well-being.
"There are three kinds of concentration mentioned in the commentaries: 'When bliss is conceived and matured it perfects the threefold concentration, that is, momentary concentration, access concentration, and absorption concentration'. Of these, momentary concentration is the shortest in duration; next comes access concentration; and thirdly absorption concentration which lasts the longest."
The life of a Buddhist monk may seem far-removed from the busy, gadget-packed daily buzz most of us experience. But new research suggests daily meditation can give us a piece of the peaceful life, as the focused practice boosts attention spans.
"You wonder if the mental skills, the calmness, the peace that [Buddhist monks] express, if those things are a result of their very intensive training, or if they were just very special people to begin with," said Katherine MacLean, who worked on the study as a graduate student at the University of California – Davis.
What did the Buddha really mean by “mindfulness?” B. ALAN WALLACE describes how misunderstanding the term can have implications for your practice.
Buddhist scholar and teacher B. Alan Wallace is a prolific author and translator of Buddhist texts. With a B.A. in both physics and the philosophy of science from Amherst College and a Ph.D. in religious st u dies from Stanford Unive rsity, he devo tes much of his time combining his inte rests in the study of Buddhist philosophical and contemplative traditions and their relationship to modern science. Wallace is founder and president of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, in Santa Barbara, California. Here he speaks in depth with Tricycle about what he considers an essential but widely misunderstood Buddhist practice: mindfulness meditation. Wallace argues that our poor understanding of the practice has profound implications for our meditation practice, and may very well draw us from the ultimate fruit of Buddhist practice— liberation from suffering and its underlying causes. The interview was co n d u c ted by email over the co u rse of seve ral months in 2007.
Like a telescope launched into orbit beyond the distortions of the earth’s atmosphere, shamatha meditation provides a platform for exploring the deep space of the mind.
I have been drawn to the practice of shamatha from the time I was first introduced to it, in Dharamsala, India, in the early 1970s. I was immediately intrigued by the possibility of using the methods of shamatha (the word literally means “quiescence”) to explore the nature of the mind firsthand. Such practices lead to advanced stages of samadhi, or meditative concentration, where one is able to focus unwavering attention on a single object. This object may be as small as a single point or as vast as space, so it does not necessarily entail a narrowing of focus, only a coherence of focused attention. This is what Tibetan Buddhists refer to when speaking of “achieving shamatha” and “settling the mind in its natural state.” After studying and practicing Buddhism for ten years, I devoted myself for another four years to exploring solitary retreats in Asia and the United States, training first under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and later under the Sri Lankan monk and scholar Balangoda Ananda
AW 1: Dear Bhante,
I would first like to tell you how much I respect and appreciate the wonderful work you have done in translating the Buddha’s words and clarifying them for the modern world. You are truly an inspiration.
The reason I am writing you now is to ask you about the meaning of sati in authoritative, pre-twentieth-century Pāli/Theravāda sources. As you well know, in the current Vipassana tradition as it has been widely propagated in the West, sati is more or less defined as “bare attention,” or the moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness of whatever arises in the present moment. There is no doubt that the cultivation of such mindfulness is very helpful, but, strangely enough, I have found no evidence in traditional Pāli, Sanskrit, or Tibetan sources to support this definition of sati (smṛti, dran pa). Having looked in the Nikāyas, the Milindapañha, Visuddhimagga, Abhidharmakośa, Abhidharmasamuccaya, and various Tibetan Buddhist texts, I find that they are all in general agreement with this definition from Buddhaghosa:
“By means of it they [i.e., other mental processes] remember, or it itself remembers, or it is simply just remembering, thus it is sati. Its characteristic is not floating; its property is not losing; its manifestation is guarding or the state of being face to face with an object; its basis is strong noting or the close applications of mindfulness of the body and so on. It should be seen as like a post due to its state of being set in the object, and as like a gatekeeper because it guards the gate of the eye and so on.” (Visuddhimagga, XIV, 141)
And this one from Nāgasena:
Sati has the has both the characteristic of “calling to mind” and the characteristic of “taking hold.” He explained further, “sati, when it arises, calls to mind wholesome and unwholesome tendencies, with faults and faultless, inferior and refined, dark and pure, together with their counterparts; sati, when it arises, follows the courses of beneficial and unbeneficial tendencies: these tendencies are beneficial, these unbeneficial; these tendencies are helpful, these unhelpful. Thus, one who practices yoga rejects unbeneficial tendencies and cultivates beneficial tendencies.” (Milindapañha 37-38)
Not to mention this from the Buddha himself: