The Path to Awakening: Learn the Preliminaries. {Book Excerpt}

buddha sit meditate

The following is an excerpt from the book The Path to Awakening: How Buddhism’s Seven Points of Mind Training Can Lead You to a Life of Enlightenment and Happiness by Shamar Rinpoche, the 14th Shamarpa, who had worked to spread the Buddhadharma throughout the world for over 30 years.

The mind needs to be tamed.

In order to accomplish this you need to learn shiné or calm abiding meditations. Shi is short for the Tibetan word shiwa which means “tranquil.” Ne is short for népa which means to “rest.” There are many kinds of shiné practice, but the initial level of shiné is crucial to learn in order to have strong stability of concentration. In order to learn that concentration meditation, you first need to know how to sit.

1. You must sit up straight when you meditate. Your legs can be fully crossed in the full lotus position, or half-crossed with the right leg out and the left leg in. It is important that your spine be completely straight. Your stomach is slightly drawn inward and back, while your abdomen is very slightly resting forward for balance. This keeps the central part of the body very straight and it is the ideal posture for meditating.

2. To enhance a straight central torso, your shoulders should also be balanced and straight.

3. As for your hands, you can place them together in the posture of meditation. This means the palms of the hands face up, right hand on top of the left in your lap. Raise your shoulders slightly up and backwards, such that the lengths of the arms are gently pressed against the sides of your body. This position further reinforces an upright and straight spine. Alternatively, you can rest your hands palm down on your knees, taking care to keep the shoulders straight.

4. Your neck should be slightly curved so that your chin is slightly tucked in towards your chest.

5. Your eyes are half open, looking ahead and cast slightly downward.

6. Your mouth should neither be open nor pressed firmly closed. Your lips should be relaxed in a very natural position.

7. Breathing is mainly through the nose and not the mouth.

These are the essential points of a correct physical posture for meditation.

Now for instructions on how the mind should concentrate.

In order to train the mind to concentrate, you must focus on your breath. There are a number of techniques to accomplish this.

First, picture your breath as a very narrow, bright beam of light. As you inhale and exhale you concentrate on this straight beam of light entering and exiting your nostrils. As it enters your nostrils it flows up and through your nose and curves down through your body, all the way to the level of your navel then back out again. Count each breath—that is one exhalation and inhalation—until you reach twenty-one breaths in total.

You can start with a gentle inhalation, then start counting from sending out and taking in your breath—one. Out and in—two, and so forth. Breathe in a relaxed way, pausing after each inhalation and exhalation. In order the help with the counting you can use a mala (meditation beads) or a hand held counter. Count twenty-one breaths and then take a short break. Then start again, counting your breaths up to twenty-one, all the while picturing your breath as a beam of light.

When you first try to do this, your mind may be distracted and it will hard to country twenty-one breaths. Do not be concerned. Just keep calmly placing your concentration back on your breath. Counting twenty-one breaths with good concentration will develop tranquility in your body, speech and mind.

When you can manage to count twenty-one breaths without any disturbance or distraction you will already have achieved a very good quality concentration. When you can count twenty-one breaths many times with the same quality of concentration, your mind will be quickly habituated to this discipline.

When you can count twenty-one breaths enough times that the total number of breaths is twenty-one thousand you will have really achieved a good result: true tranquility.

Obviously, this takes time. Counting twenty-one breaths can be done in approximately five minutes. This means that each hour you can count up to approximately two-hundred and fifty-two breaths. To complete the full twenty-one thousands breaths would take around three and one-half days of continuous concentration.

Of course you can take breaks in between! For example, if you can concentrate for eight hours each day, for ten and one-half days, you would be able to accomplish twenty-one thousands breaths. If you can accomplish this, the results will be excellent.

At this point it is also good to apply some analytical philosophy. As you concentrate your mind on the breath, consider the relationship of mind and breath. Is the mind the same as the breath? Is the mind different from the breath?

At first we understand that mind is not the same as the breath; the breath is something for the mind to focus on so it is not the same as the mind. At the same time, a mind that is focused on the image of the breath is not separate from the breath. This is because in order to have a vision of the breath to focus on, the mind and the breath also cannot be entirely separate. In fact, neither one can exist independently.

With the mind, this type of focused breathing isn’t possible. Breathe out, breathe in. Does that exist on its own? No, because it is controlled. Without the focus of the mind, you will not breathe like that.

The mind and the breath depend on each other to “exist” as we experience them. As is the case with all phenomena, things that are perceived and the mind that perceives are the same. So the mind and the breath are neither of the same nature nor different either.

This is the nature of illusion. It is empty, like a dream. Allow yourself to experience the mind and the breath as neither separate nor one. With this understanding, you should not cling to either mind or breath as truly existent while you are meditating.



Meditation Sutras by a Modern Mystic. {Poem}


Author: Shamar Rinpoche

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Kerem Tapani Gültekin


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Shamar Rinpoche

Shamar Rinpoche (1952–2014), an accomplished Buddhist master and teacher, was the 14th Shamarpa. Born in Tibet, Shamar Rinpoche was recognized by the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa in 1957, and by the 14th Dalai Lama. He organized Bodhi Path Buddhist Centers, a network of centers in which a non-sectarian approach to meditation is practiced and authored several books, including a key text for students The Path to Awakening (Delphinium Books), a presentation of Chekawa Yeshe Dorje’s Seven Points of Mind Training.