Shamatha Meditation: The Nine Methods of Placement
From beginningless time, our mind has always been distracted outwardly, unable to rest even for a single minute. Now, the decreasing of humans’ attention span and the prevalence of mental sufferings also reiterate the importance of meditation. Although there are many ways to practice meditation, the guidance here stands out a mile as it summarizes all stages of experiences that one will go through during meditation from the very beginning level to the highest level, points out clearly the hindrances one may encounter and provides the corresponding antidotes. If one can practice regularly in daily life according to this instruction, one will get mastery over one’s mind and achieve ultimate tranquility.
Today, I will give some essential instructions on the traditional practice of meditation which has a history of over 2,000 years. Later if time allows, we can do a short meditation together. For this meditation, if practicing regularly in daily life, you will get mastery over your mind. Of course, to achieve this, it needs your diligence and effort.
Although there are many ways to practice meditation, the foremost is to get rid of five faults by applying the eight antidotes. These eight antidotes can be included in the six powers. And relying upon the six powers and the nine methods of placement, one gradually gets mastery over one’s mind. I’ll briefly talk about the ways of eliminating the five faults and the nine methods of placement.
Firstly, the five faults that prevent concentration are laziness, forgetting the instructions, dullness and agitation, under-application, and over-application. Those who are very lazy and sloppy always procrastinate practice and cannot do it in accordance with instructions. Also those who always forget the instructions of meditation that they received before are unable to follow these instructions either. These two faults impede the ability to engage in the meditative absorption. In the actual practice, if your mind keeps being distracted outwardly, this is agitation; or if your mind is too tight, you will fall into dullness. These are obstacles during the actual practice of meditation. Other than that, when dullness or agitation are no longer present by applying the antidote, but you doubt whether this way of practice is right or not, thus you overuse the antidote, this is called over-application. If you recognize the presence of dullness or agitation but fail to apply the antidote, this is called under-application. These last two faults are obstacles to the further development of one’s meditation.
So when practicing meditation, you need first to eliminate the faults of laziness and forgetting the instructions, and then to abstain from dullness and agitation in the actual practice, otherwise it’s hard to attain accomplishment in meditation. In the further development stage, avoid the faults of under-application and over-application, and apply the antidote properly. It is also true that for anything we do in the world, it must be in balance, which is an important and widely accepted rule.
In order to eliminate the five faults, one needs to rely on the eight antidotes or the six powers. What are the six powers? First is the power of listening—one must listen to meditation instructions from the teacher before practice. Second is the power of reflection—reflecting on the meaning of instructions. The third one is the power of mindfulness. Next is the power of vigilance, which is to observe if one’s three doors are resting in the state of practice or not. Then is the power of diligence. The last one is the power of complete familiarity which requires constant and long-term practice. It’s very critical for us to apply the six powers into practice.
Next we’ll talk about the nine methods of placement.
The first one is called placement. From beginningless time until now, our mind has always been distracted outwardly, unable to rest even for a single minute. So to begin with, be aware that you are going to meditate and then just simply rest the mind. The first placement is accomplished through the power of hearing the teaching.
The second one is called continual placement, which is to prolong the time of placement that you have achieved in the first stage. We can increase the time gradually from 1 minute to 5 minutes, and then to 10 minutes, etc. Gradually, we will be able to naturally place the mind. This placement mainly relies on the power of reflection and contemplation.
The third one is called persistent placement. When we place the mind, it may be frequently distracted by form, sound, smell and taste, etc. At this time, we should rely on the power of mindfulness to bring the mind back to previous focus. When the mind is distracted again, just bring it back. Try to repeat this process whenever the mind is distracted. Thus we make persistent effort to place the mind. This placement is achieved by the power of mindfulness.
Now we have introduced placement, continual placement, persistent placement, and the fourth one is proximate placement. In this stage, the power of mindfulness is stronger than before—the mind begins to achieve some stability with your powerful antidote. For example, when your mind is in distraction and agitation, remind yourself that if you can’t even focus for such a short time how can you continue your meditation? So just bring your mind back and try to strengthen your mindfulness. This is the fourth one, which is also achieved by the power of mindfulness.
The fifth placement is called taming placement, which is to keep thinking of the benefits of achieving meditative absorption. Just as I mentioned before, it is beneficial to us both physically and mentally. Thus, we need to think of this and other benefits. The taming placement occurs through the power of vigilance.
The sixth is pacifying placement. There would be many faults if we can’t rest our mind. The source of our suffering is conceptual thoughts. Thinking of these faults, we should try all means to place the mind and practice diligently. This placement also occurs through the power of vigilance.
The seventh is called proximate pacifying. When desire arises, we shall apply its antidotes, such as thinking that the body has no true inherent existence. When anger arises we should use the antidote of love and compassion. If it is ignorance, its antidote is to think of the interdependency of the phenomenal world. Such practice can suppress negative emotions and help pacify our mind. This is the seventh placement, which is achieved by the power of diligence.
The eighth placement is called single-pointedness. It means after a longtime practice of meditation, our mind is free from gross conceptual thoughts and basically we can focus one-pointedly on whatever object in our meditation. This placement is also achieved by the power of diligence.
The ninth placement is called resting in equanimity. In due course, one can gradually eliminate all gross and subtle forms of thoughts and the mind can rest for a very long time without wavering. In history there are many practitioners who rested in meditation for several months, or even years. At this time, our mind would become exceedingly peaceful and this is called resting in equanimity. This is mainly accomplished by the power of complete familiarity. Just as I said, through continuous practice of meditation, at some point our mind can effortlessly merge with the object of focus and abides there naturally during all activities. At this stage, the mind remains natural without being disturbed by conceptual thoughts and we would be free from sufferings. This is the last method of placement.
The above-mentioned are the nine methods of placement, or the nine pith instructions, which is very well-known in the eastern culture.
Usually it requires one to sit in the vajra posture during meditation. But today due to the location and space, you can just be seated like the way you seat now. And I just stand here. Let’s meditate together. Generally, it’s not advisable for beginners to stand but it’s okay if one is highly familiar with meditation. Now just be seated in a comfortable way, observe your mind, and then rest it peacefully for a while. Or you can adopt any practice you like. Now let’s first rest the mind for a while and then we’ll continue the speech. Now let’s begin.
Due to thelimited time, that’s all for now, otherwise I won’t be able to finish the speech. I still have a few words to say. As I mentioned earlier, without a peaceful mind, the worldly happiness won’t possess any inherent meaning either. People with negative emotions in mind may bring trouble to their families, and also cause insecurity and negative impact on people around them. As it is said in Buddhist teachings, if one does not tame one’s own mind, one can not benefit oneself, let alone benefit others. So I encourage you to practice diligently so as to tame your mind, this is of great importance.