Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Shambhala Meditation Center here is Austin. The center was established in 1976 and offers classes on meditation and Shambhala Buddhism which is a form of Western Buddhism. I made several new friends and had my first lesson in Shamatha Meditation.
During the visit there was a an initial focus on the history of Shambhala Buddhism and then 70% of the 2 hours was focused on Shamatha Meditation, what meditation is, what it isn’t and then about 15 minutes of actual meditation as a group.
In Buddhism, there are two types of meditation: Shamatha and Vipassana. Shamatha is single pointed meditation. Vipassana is an analytic form of meditation. These 2 meditations have to be cultivated in sequence. Shamatha meditation first, and then Vipassana. Although, the individual need not to have fully accomplished the Shamatha meditation, he must have proper experience of Shamatha meditation in order to embark on Vipassana. Without having any experience of Shamatha meditation, then practice of Vipassana meditation is ineffective.
Shamatha meditation helps to free the mind from disturbing emotions and conceptual thinking processes. It brings the mind under control, under discipline, with some degree of single pointed focus, with full alertness of mind. By doing this meditation, the individual is able to suppress disturbing emotions and gain inner peace, harmony and balance.
Vipassana meditation directly helps to pull out the seeds or imprints that are left in our psyche by these manifest emotional defilements and distorted thoughts so that disturbing emotions and thoughts will never reoccur. It brings unchanging and everlasting inner peace, joy and harmony.
The very purpose of Shamatha meditation is not just to feel good for a period of time but to give birth to deeper levels of understanding, of wisdom. So that individuals can see the ultimate reality of phenomena and are able to go beyond ordinary perceptions. Shamatha meditation cuts through ordinary appearances and the confusion between our concepts and reality.
Now, how to engage in Shamatha meditation and what exactly one is doing while sitting and meditating? When sitting in meditation, one is sitting in motionless body and motionless mind. Sitting in motionless body is not difficult. Sitting in motionless mind is not easy because our ordinary mind is so undisciplined and so oriented, or drawn, towards external stimulation. It is very hard to bring the mind to rest and calm with no single wave of thought or thinking process. Although one can bring mind to rest or calm for a short time, our mind can remain blank, or numb, with no sense of freshness and alertness. Thus, one forgets the object of meditation and mind will be influenced by drowsiness, excitement, or wandering. Therefore, it is really not easy for us to live in motionless mind, even during the meditation period.
In brief, Shamatha meditation is the state of single pointed mind, characterized by perfect mental stability and mental clarity, having some degree of freshness within the mind. Mental clarity can only come when the mind becomes free from sluggishness, drowsiness, haziness, cloudiness, numbness and blankness. Mental stability will only come when the mind becomes free from excitement, agitation, manic thoughts and addiction to wandering aimlessly with no definite destination.
Mental drowsiness and excitement are the two obstacles out of the six obstacles of shamatha meditation that we are going to discuss next time. Every human being is fully qualified to practice Shamatha meditation no matter who we are, no matter what kind of culture we come from.
What causes us to fail at perfecting this form of meditation is laziness, forgetfulness, lack of interest, and not being able to see the positive benefits of Shamatha meditation. The reason we are not interested in meditation is that we think of material comforts, luxuries are the best things in life. We are so consumed by the needs and many demands of this life that we become slaves of material comforts. But in fact, material comforts and luxuries are not the best things in our life because life is temporary. We have a lot of fear and worry concerning material comforts. Material comforts really fool us and mislead us in many ways. If we are sincerely able to see the way material comforts effect us then we can sit in meditation without grasping at what may be the end result of our meditation.
During the meditation there was verbal guidance which provided the key techniques that must be followed to achieve success. I would like to go over the things I experienced during the meditation and touch on the parts that I feel are important and how I think they tie directly into Astral Projection.
The first thing we focused on was posture and position. I feel that this is vital for this type of meditation but maybe not for astral projection. The posture was a seated position with legs crossed and sitting slightly lower than the hip. The back must remain straight but comfortable with the ears positioned directly above the shoulders. The arms hang straight down with the hands resting palm down on the knees or thighs. I was not able to get perfectly comfortable in this position however I have terrible posture so I expect this to improve with time.
The next step was relaxing the body. This step is vital for this type of meditation and for astral projection. We moved through each part of the body relaxing each until the entire body was relaxed. This is the exact same thing I do each night while preparing to project and it’s a prerequisite and one of the first steps you will hear on Robert Monroe’s “Gateway Experience” CDs. You must be relaxed for meditation or astral projection to work.
The last and very important step in my opinion was the focus on breath. The goal is to be still and focus all attention on breath with no expectations. When you do this thoughts will naturally arise and when they do, you neither cling to them or push them away, but rather acknowledge and observe them and return your focus to breath. Inner peace can be achieved if you are able to successfully do this. This step is interesting to me because it’s one of the main techniques I use when astral projecting except I focus on a place or object rather than breath. This technique is presented in William Bulhman’s book “Adventures Beyond the Body: How to Experience Out-of-Body Travel”.
In conclusion. I feel that Shamatha Meditation and astral projection are very similar (if not the same) and that by practicing both I should be able to achieve inner peace and astral projection quicker. The two practices complimant each other and I suggest that those of you who are attempting astral projection without practicing meditation add meditation to your lifesytle.