THE TRAINING OF CONCENTRATION - Buddhism, Philosophy, and Khmer Literature


Buddhism, Philosophy, and Khmer Literature

The teachings of the Buddha are aimed solely at liberating sentient beings from suffering. The Basic Teachings of Buddha which are core to Buddhism are: The Three Universal Truths; The Four Noble Truths; and The Noble Eightfold Path.

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Monday, June 10, 2019



Tranquility Meditation (Samatha Bhāvanā)
The training of concentration is the second and middle stage of the Noble Eiahtfold Path. It consists of develop­ing the three constituents of the Noble Eightfold Path that constitute the training of concentration (samādhi sikkhā):
       (1)Sammāvāyāma - the right effort,
(2) Sammāsati - the right mindfulness,
(3) Sammāsamādhi -- the right concentration.
          If one can exert strenuous effort to be vigilantly mindful of a meditation object, one can build up mental concen­tration.
The right concentration, according to Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta, is the concentration associated with the four rūpāvacara Jhānas, which are the meditative absorptions in the fine-material sphere. Visuddhimagga (the Path of Purification), however, ex­tends the right concentration from the neighbourhood concentration (upacāra samādhi) to the concentration associated with any of the four rūpāvacara jhānas and the four arūpāvacara jhānas, which are the meditative absorptions in the immaterial sphere.
          To attain the right concentration one has to undertake tranquility meditation systematically.

• What is Meditation?
Meditation is a simple, practical way of training and purifying the mind to calm down, culture and develop the mind. It is, therefore, mental culture or mental development that produces so much good effect that it should be practised repeatedly.
Meditation initially involves focussing the mind on a suitable object of meditation, and applying mindifulness to be aware of the object constantly. By being mindful of the meditation object, one controls the mind from wan­dering from one sense-object to another, thus preventing desires, craving, aversion, worry, remorse, distraction and vain thoughts from arising.
          Thus meditation helps wholesome consciousness to arise continuously, develops wholesome positive quali­ties, and strengthens mental power and mind control. Since wholesome consciousness gives rise to wholesome kamma, which will bear good results in due course, medi­tation is the most beneficial way of living.
Besides meditation relaxes and rehabilitates the mind, building up joy, tranquillity, peace and happiness immediately. It reduces tension, stress and strain, high blood pressure, and the tendency to smoke, drink or use drugs. It relieves fatigue and cures many physical ailments. It remarkably brings about physical and mental well-be­ing. Thus meditation is also an art of living happily and healthily.

• Two Types of Meditation
The Buddhist Canons describe two types of meditation (bhāvanā):
(1) Samatha bhāvanā - Tranguillity-meditation.
(2) Vipassanā bhāvanā - Insight-meditation.
The mental training and mental culture dealing with calm or tranguillity is called 'samatha bhāvanā', and that dealing with 'insight' is called 'Vipassanā bhāvanā.
(1) Samatha bhāvanā
`Samatha' means 'tranquility, calm or quietude' which is the concentrated, unshaken, undefiled and peace­ful state of mind. It is called 'calm' because it calms down the five hindrances (Nīvaraṇas)including passions.
Thus samatha bhāvanā is the mental training which calms down the five hindrances and develops tranquillity and mental concentration.
In order to do so, the mind is focussed on a medi­tation-object, which is one's own breath, and strenuous effort is exerted to be aware of the object constantly. Whenever the mind wanders out to other sense objects, it is brought back to the meditation object. By trying to be mindful of the meditation object continuously, one strengthens the jhāna factors which associate with whole­some consciousness (kusala citta).
When the jhāna factors become strong, they can suppress and temporarily eliminate the hindrances which agitate and inflict the mind. When the hindrances are totally suppressed from arising for one hour, two hours or more, the neighbourhood concentration or access con­centration (Upacāra bhāvanā) is attained.
By meditating further one can raise the concentra­tion to meditative absorption (jhāna). There are four stages of meditative absorption in the tine material sphere (four rūpāvacara jhānas) and four stages of meditative absorption in the immaterial sphere (four arūpāvacara jhānas).
Samatha or tranquility or concentration (samādhi) stands for 'ekaggata cetasika', a mental factor which as­sociates with every consciousness. Ekaggata literally means 'one-pointedness'; it focusses the mind on an ob­ject; it binds the mental concomitants with consciousness together to be at a state of one-pointedness on the object of meditation.
Thus samatha bhāvanā or tranquillity meditation is the mental training which calms down and suppresses the mental hindrances by strengthening the jhāna factors including ekaggata so as to attain the neighbourhood con­centration and the higher jhāna concentration.

(2) Vipassanā bhāvanā
Vipassanā means 'insight' or 'to see things as they really are in many special ways'. It is the intuitive insight into the true nature of all physical and mental phenomena of existence.
Vipassanā stands for 'paññā-cetasika', a men­tal factor which associates with wholesome conscious­ness. `Paññā' literally means 'knowledge or wisdom'.
Vipassanā bhāvanā or insight meditation deve­lops the paññā cetasika by constantly investigating and contemplating on the three characteristic marks of all psycho-physical phenomena, namely, impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha), and impersonnality or non-self (anatta).
Vipassanā bhāvanā developsinsight wisdom (Vipassanā-ñāṇa) one after another until the Path-wis­dom (magga-ñāṇa) and its Fruition-wisdom (phala-ñāṇa) are realized. Then the meditator becomes a noble person (ariyā) and can enjoy the unique bliss of Nibbāna as much as he or she wishes.

• The Role of Meditation in the Noble Path
The Eightfold Noble Path is made up of eight con­stituents which can be classified as Threefold Noble Train­ing - viz., the Training of Morality, the Training of Concentration, and the Training of Wisdom. The purpose of the Threefold Training is to eradicate all the defilements which are the root causes of all suffering. The objective of the Threefold Training is to realize Nibbāna and enjoy eternal peace and happiness.

          The Ten Defilements (kilesas) are:
1. Moha                -ignorance of the realities, delusion
2. Lobha=taṇha     -desire, craving, attachment
3. Dosa                 -anger, hatred, aversion  
4. Māna                -pride or conceit
5. Diṭṭhi                -Wrongview
6. vicikicchā          -sceptical doubt
7. Uddacca            -restlessness
8. Thina                -sloth or laziness
9. Ahirika              -lack of moral shame
10. Anotappa        -lack of moral dread
These defilements have been thriving and flourish­ing in the minds of worldlings from time immemorial, and they have grown like a big tree. Now, if we want to destroy a big tree, we must cut off the branches first, then the trunk, and dig out the roots and burn them all.
In the same way to eradicate all detilements, we must first undertake the training of morality to cleanse our minds from course, inflated and aggressive defilements called vitikkama kilesās. These are the branches of the big kilesa-tree. If we stop the training, these coarse, aggressive defilements will grow up anew just as the tree grows up new branches.
Now after cutting off the branches, we must cut the trunk of the tree. This is similar to undertaking the training of concentration after establishing good morality. To accomplish the training of concentration, we un­dertake tranquillity meditation. This will calm down, sub­due, and suppress the defilements which have arisen, and are agitating and inflicting the mind. These awaken and active defilements are called pariyuṭṭhāna kilesās. Among these, the five most active ones - lobha, dosa, thina, uddhacca and vicikicchā - are known as the hin­drances (nīvaraṇas). When we attain the neighbourhood concentration or the higher jhāna concentration, all these agitating defilements including the hindrances are well subdued and suppressed.
Now, after cutting the trunk of the tree, the roots still remain under ground, and they will grow into a new tree again. In the same way, when the active defilements are subdued, latent or dormant defilements known as anusaya kilesas still remain. They are like the roots of defilements, capable of growing into pariyuṭṭhāna kilesās and vitikkama kilesas very quickly. So the anusayas must be uprooted and destroyed completely in order to eradi­cate the defilements, the cause of suffering, once and for ever. It is like digging out the roots and burning them so as to destroy the tree once and forever.
To eradicate the latent defilements is not an easy task. It is indeed the most profound and difficult task in the world. To accomplish this task we must undertake in sight meditation very ardently, strenuously and correctly. Vipassanā bhāvanā accomplishes the training of wisdom. Only the highest wisdom, that is the four stages of Path-wisdom, can eliminate and destroy the anusayas com­pletely.
Now when we attain the right concentration, the mind becomes very powerful. It radiates very bright and penetrative light. With the help of this meditation light, we can penetrate into our body and mind with our mind-eye to observe the ultimate realities - cittas, cetasikas and rūpas, which are the fundamental units of all psycho­physical phenomena. These nāmas and rūpas are arising and dissolving very rapidly and incessantly in accordance with the law of Dependent Origination (paṭiccasamuppāda) and the Paṭṭhāna causal Relations.
In Vipassanā bhāvanā we must perform the right investigation (sammā-saṅkappa) into these nāmas and rūpas and their causal relations in order to develop the right understanding (sammā-diṭṭhi) of all psycho-physical phenomena. After developing ten insight knowledges (vipassanā-ñāṇa), we shall attain the Path-wisdom (Maggañāṇa) and its Fruition-wisdom (Phalañāṇa). The Path-wisdom in four stages can eradicate ignorance or avijjā (moha) completely. And when avijjā is eradicated, all the remaining defilements are also totally eliminated. We shall be enlightened to the Four Noble Truths and be­come noble persons (Ariyas) who can enjoy the supreme bliss of Nibbāna as much as they wish.

• The Purpose and Objective of Tranquility Medi­tation
The purpose of tranquility meditation (samatha bhāvanā) is to accomplish the training of concentration (samādhi-sikkhā). In order to accomplish the training of concentration, we must train and culture our mind to make it free from all defilements.
          To achieve this purpose we try to focus our mind on a meditation subject prescribed by the Buddha for the purpose of tranquility meditation. We must establish ourselves in moralitv before we undertake tranquility meditation. The training of morality subdues and pre­vents the inflated, aggresive defilements (vitikkama kilesas) from arising in the mind.
But the moderate defilements that have arisen in the mind keep agitating the mind to make it restless and distracted. By focussing the mind on the meditation subject, we directly control the mind and prevent it from be­coming restless and distracted. By doing so we develop wholesome minds (mahākusala cittas) and the jhāna-fac­tors which associate with the wholesome minds.
As the jhāna factor, become more and more de­veloped, they calm down and subdue the hindrances as well as other defilements. When all the defilements are well subdued and suppressed, the access jhāna and the access or neighbourhood concentration are attained. By meditat­ing further, one can attain jhāna and jhāna concentration when the mind can be kept tree from defilernents for longer periods.
The objective or goal of tranquility meditation is to attain the right concentration (sammāsamādhi) which is equivalent to the concentration associated with the four pāvacara jhānas. The right concentration is used as the basis for insight meditation.

• Mental Concentration and the Need to develop it
            Mental concentration is the concentrated, un­shaken, undefiled and peaceful state of mind, It is also the state of one-pointedness of mind or profitable unifi­cation of mind.
            It is synonymous with 'samādhi' which stands for 'ekaggata cetasika'. 'Ekaggata' is rendered here as 'uni­fication of mind' in the sense of agreement and hamony of consciousness and its concomitants in focussing on a single object. It is sometimes rendered `one-pointedness' in that sense, or in the sense of the focussing of a searchlight.
In Samādhi Sutta and many others, the Buddha exhorted the bhikkhus to develop concentration to be able to see things as they really are.
            "Samādhiṃ bhikkhave bhāvetha samāhito bhikkhave bhikkhu yathabhūtaṃ pajānāti."
            "Oh monks, try to develop mental concen­tration. The monk, who has developed concen­tration, will be able to see things as they really are."
The normal human eye has very limited vision. It cannot see in the dark whereas many animals such as dogs, cats and rats can move about in the dark.
Again the normal human mind is shielded and blinded by the hindrances as well as other defilements. When these defiiements are driven away, though tempo rarily, by undertaking tranquility meditation and attaining the access concentration or the jhāna concentration, the mind becomes pure and very powerful. It radiates very bright and penetrative light which can pass through bod­ies and walls.
This bright and penetrative light is the most pow­erful weapon for undertaking insight meditation. With the help of this light one can observe objects nearby as well as those which are far away with one's mind-eye while keeping the eyes closed. Also one can scan layer after layer of one's body in detail just like scanning with ultra­sound. One can also analyze one's mind and body in detail to observe the ultimate realities - cittas, cetasikas and rūpas, which evade the detection even by the latest sci­ence equipment.
So, with the help of this meditation light, one can readily undertake insight meditation, systematically inves­tigating the true natures of the ultimate realities to develop insight knowledge one after another and finally to realize Nibbāna with the Path-wisdom and the Fruition-­wisdom.

• The Subject of Meditation (Kammatthana)
To undertake tranquillity-meditation or insight­meditation we need a suitable object to focus our atten­tion on as consciousness cannot arise without a sense ­object striking a sense-organ.
            A meditation subject serves as the 'place or base' as well as the 'subject of meditation' for carrying out the act of meditation. It also serves as the 'working ground' or 'training ground' for training the mind in order to de­velop and culture it. In developing and culturing the mind, the meditation subject must not provoke lust or aver­sion.
The subject of tranquillity-meditation should be one of the forty subjects prescribed by the Buddha himself.
            The subject of insight-meditation is the three character­istic marks of existence, viz., impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and not-self (anatta).

• Forty Subjects of Tranquillity Meditation (Samatha Kammaṭṭhāna)

(a) Seven Classes of Meditation Subjects
1 Kasiṇa                    - 10 kasiṇa subjects or devices
2 Asubha                    - 10 loathsome subjects
3 Anussati                  - 10 recollection subjects
4 Braham-vihāra      - 4 subjects of divine abidings
5 Āruppa                    -4 subjects of immaterial states
6 Āhārepaṭikūla-saññā     - 1 subject of perception of repulsiveness in nutriments
7 Catudhātuvavatthāna    - 1 subject of definiting the 4 elements

(b) Ten Kasiṇas
`Kasiṇa' means `whole' or `complete'. It is so called because it should be observed wholly or completely in meditation, and also because the light issuing from the conceptualized sign or image is extended to all directions without limitation.
Because it should be observed wholly, the shape of a kasiṇa should be circular with its diameter equal to one span and four fingers, i.e. about one foot, if it is observed from a distance of two and a half cubits or 3 feet 9 inches.
1Pathavī-kasiṇa     -earth kasiṇa
2Apo-kasiṇa.           -water kasiṇa
3Tejo-kasiṇa            -fire kasiṇa
4 Vayo- kasiṇa        -air kasiṇa
5 Nīla- kasiṇa          -blue kasiṇa
6 Pīta- kasiṇa           -yellow kasiṇa
7Lohita- kasiṇa      -red kasiṇa
8Odata- kasiṇa       -white kasiṇa
9 Āloka- kasiṇa       -light kasiṇa
10Ākāsa- kasiṇa     -space Kasiṇa
By meditation on a kusina one can develop the five rupa vacara jhānas and then proceed to develop the four arūpāvacara jhānas. After attaining all these jhānas in all the kasiṇas,one can practise further to develop five mundane supernonnal powers (lokiya-abhiññās).

(c) Ten Asubhas
They refer to the ten signs of foulness or the ten kinds of corpses which may be found in some cementeries or charnel grounds or battle fields where dead bodies are not buried or cremated and where flesh-eating animals such as dogs, jackals, wolves and vultures frequent.
In modern days any kind of corpse which shows the repulsive nature of the body is a suitable subject for meditation.
Worldlings are, as a rule, very strongly attached to their bodies as well as to others' bodies by lust (rāga). The best way to suppress this lust and the best remedy to cure the rāga-disease is asubha bhāvanā. So it was made a compulsory meditation subject at the time of the Buddha. The ten signs of foulness or the ten kinds of corpses are as follows.

1 Uddhumātatka       – rotten, bloated corpse;
2 Vinīlaka                  -  blue-black corpse with patchy discolouration;
3 Vipubbaka             - festering corpse with pus oozing out,
4 Vicchiddaka           - a corpse cut in the middle;
5 Vikhāyitaka            - a gnawned corpse
6Vikkhittaka            - scattered corpse, i.e. the limbs, the head, etc., are scattered here and there;
7 Hatavikkhittaka   - the hacked and scattered corpse;
8 Lohitaka                - blood-smeared corpse;
9 Puḷuvaka               - worm-infested corpse;
10 Aṭṭhika                 - a skeleton.
In asubha bhāvanā the highest concentration attainable is the first rūpāvacara Jhāna-samādhi.

(d) Ten Recollections (Anussatis)
'Anussati' means repeated reflection or recollec­tion or constant mindfulness.
In Aṅguttaranikāya Ekadhamma Pāḷi the Bud­dha said, "Oh Bhikkhu, if one of the ten anussatis is practised and developed repeatedly, making it a habit, then it will lead to the disgust of the endless round of rebirth, to the abandonment of attachment, to the cessa­tion and pacification of lust and other mental defilements, to the insight of the three characteristic marks of exist­ence, to the enlightenment of the four Noble Truths, and to the realization of Nibbāna."

The ten anussatis are:
1. Buddhānussati     -recollection of the Buddha
2. Dhammānussati -recollection of the Dhamma
3. Saṅghānussati   -recollection of the Samgha
4. Sīlānussati        -recollection of morality (sīla)
5. Cāgānussati      -recollection of genero­sity (cāga)
6. Devatānussati   -recollection of deities
7. Maraṇānussati  -recollection of death
8. Kāyagatāsati     -mindfulness of the thirty­ two parts of the body
9. Ānāpānasati      -mindfulness of breathing
10. Upasamānussati        -recollection of peace
The eight anussatis (Nos. 1-7+10) will develop the mind to the state of access concentration (upacārasamādhi), kāyagatasati to the firstrūpāvacara jhāna, and ānāpānasati to the five rūpāvacara jhānas.

(e) Four Divine Abidings (Brahmavihāra)
`Brahmavihāra' means 'noble living' or 'sublime living' or 'divine abiding'. Anyone who is in the engross­ing state of jhāna while practising one of the four brahmavihāras is said to be living nobly and sublimely like brahmas, or he is in the sublime or divine state of living.
            1. Mettā         - loving-kindness
            2. Karuṇā      - compassion
            3. Muditā       - sympathetic and appreciative joy
            4 Upekkhā     - equanimity
Systematic meditation on mettā, karuṇā, muditā can develop the four rūpāvacara jhānas in the fivefold method whereas upekkhā-bhāvanā can lead to the fifth rūpāvacara-jhāna.

(f) Four Immaterial States (Āruppas)
The following four immaterial states or bases are used as meditation subjects to develop the four arūpāvacara jhānas.
          1. Ākāsa                         -boundless space
          2. Viññāṇa                      -Boundless consciousness
          3. Ākiñcañña                  -nothingness
          4. N'eva-saññā-nāsaññā   -neither perception nor non-perception
          In practice one has to develop the five rūpāvacara-jhānas first by meditating on one of the kasiṇas, and then making the fifth jhāna as the base, one climbs higher to four arūpāvacara-jhānas by meditating on the āruppas in the order described above.

(g) Perception of Repulsiveness in Nutriment (Āhāre-paṭikūla-saññā)
'Āhāre' means 'nutriment or food', `paṭikūla', 're­pulsiveness', and 'saññā', 'perception'.
So 'āhārepaṭikūlasaññā' is the meditation in­tended to develop the perception of repulsiveness on food. This perception will subdue the craving for good food (rasa-taṇhā).

(h) Definition of the Four Elements (Catudhātuvavatthāna)
'Catudhātu' means the four primary elements, viz., pathavī, āpo, tejo, and vāyo. 
'Vavatthāna' means the knowledge of characterizing (the elements)
The four primary elements form the basis of all corporeal phenomena. They are present in every part and particle of our boby. So they must be characterized by their distinct properties.
The Meditation on āhārepaṭikūlasaññā and catudhātuvavatthāna lead to the neighbourhood concen­tration.

• Temperament (Carita)
(a) Six Types of Temperament
Different persons have different temperament or personal nature. Six types of temperament are to be noted.
- greedy temperament
- hating temperament
deluded temperament
- faithful temperament
intelligent temperament
speculative temperament
In accordance with six types of temperament six types of persons are to be noted.
The greedy-natured person, who has greedy temperament, used to dress smartly, likes perfumes and ornaments, and indulges in sense pleasure.
The hate-natured person, who has hating tempera­ment, is generally short-tempered and gets angry easily even over trivial things.
The dull-natured person, who has deluded tempera­ment, is generally perplexed, distracted and wavering with sceptical doubt.
The faithful-natured person, who has faithful tem­perament, is generally very pious and venerates the sa­cred Triple Gem frequently.
The intelligent-natured person, who has intelligent temperament, relies on reasons and would not believe eas­ily.
The ruminating-natured person, who has specula­tive temperament, thinks over this and that without ac­complishing much.

(b) Suitability of Kammaṭṭhāna to Carita
The right coupling of temperament with medita­tion-subject is beneficial for quick development of men­tal concentration (samādhi).
          1. The greedy-natured person with greedy tempera­ment should exercise one of the ten signs of foulness (asubha-kammaṭṭhānas) or kāyagatasati kammaṭṭhāna as these meditation-subjects can subdue lust and passion effectively.
2. The hate-natured person with hating temperament should practise the four divine abidings (brahmavihāra ­kammaṭṭhānas) or one of the four colour kasiṇas, that is nīla, pīta, lohita or odāta kasiṇa. These meditation sub­jects are pure and serene and can delight persons who prac­tise them.
          3. The dull-natured herson with deluded tempera­ment as well as the ruminating-natured person with specu­lative temperament should practise ānāpānasati. The minds of these person are restless and distracted because of restlessness (uddhacca), sceptical doubt (vicikicchā)and applied thought (vitakka). In ānāpānasati, the in ­going breath and the out going breath have to be noted mindfully. As the in-breath and the out-breath occur rhyth­mically, ānāpānasati can arrest the mind and calm down a restless mind quickly.
4. The faithful-nattired person with faithful tempera­ment should practise Buddhānussati, Dhammānussati, Saṅghānussati, Sīlānussati, Cāgānussati and Devatānussati. The faith (saddhā)in this person is already strong, and it will be further strengthened to great benefits by undertaking these anussatis.
5. The intelligent-natured person with intelligent temperament should exercise maraṇānussati, upasamānussati, āhārepaṭikūla-saññā, or catudhātuvavatthāna. These meditation subjects are deep and subtle, and thus they can stimulate and strengthen the wisdom of the intelligent-natured person.
6. The meditation subjects which are suitable to all types of persons are the earth kasiṇa, the water kasiṇa, the fire kasiṇa, the air kasiṇa, the light kasiṇa, the space kasiṇa and the four immaterial states (āruppas).
The above coupling is made in the form of direct opposition and complete suitability. But actually there is no meditation subject nor profitable development that does not suppress greed, hatred, and delusion, and promote faith, mindfulness, mental concentration. wisdom, etc.
1 "Visuddhi Magga " by Bhaddantācariya Buddhaghosa, translated into Myanmarby Ven. Nandamālā, Vol.I, pp. 160-227.
2 "The Path of Purification (Visuddhi Magga) " by Bhaddantācariya Buddhaghosa, translated by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli, pp. 84-126.
3 "The Path of Purity (Visuddhi Magga) " by Bhaddantācariya Buddhaghosa, translated by Pe Maung Tin, PTS, pp. 97-137.
Review Questions
1       Describe the role of meditation in the Noble Eight­fold Path.
2       What is meditation? How does tranquility-medita­tion differ from insight-meditation?
3       What is samatha-bhāvanā? What are its purpose and objective?
4       What is mental concentration? Why should we develop it?
5       What is the subject of meditation? Describe the forty subjects of tranquility-meditation briefly.
6       Describe the six types of temperament and the meditation subjects that suit each type of tempera­tnent.
7       Describe the ten kasiṇas. What can we attain from kasiṇa meditation?
8     What are the ten signs of foulness? Why did the Buddha advise newly ordained bhikkhus to pactise the meditation on foulness?
9     Describe the ten Anussatis. How did the Buddha comment on the practice of anussatis?
10. Why did the Buddha exhort bhikkhus to develop concentration?


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