If there be none in front, nor none behind
Be found, is one alone and in the woods
Exceeding pleasant does his life become.
Come then! alone I'll get me hence and go
To lead the forest-life the Buddha praised,
And taste the welfare which the brother knows,
Who dwells alone with concentrated mind...
Those were the words of a prince who longed to live in the forest (Theragatha, Canto X, 234, Ekavihariya). Do we not all have moments when we wish to have none in front and none behind us, moments when we wish to dwell alone with concentrated mind? It seems impossible to find tranquillity in daily life. We have people around us the whole day, and there is noise everywhere. The real cause of our restlessness, however, is not outside but inside ourselves; the real cause is our own defilements. We may not commit grave crimes such as killing or stealing, but we think about unwholesome things and we spend much time in talking about other people's mistakes and shortcomings. We harm ourselves in that way. Unwholesomeness is harmful, to both body and mind. We can see the difference in appearance between a restless person and one who is serene and full of loving-kindness.
It is not easy to change our habits. If we are used to having thoughts with lobha, dosa and moha, and if we are used to speaking in an unwholesome way then we cannot expect to change ourselves at once. For how long have we been accumulating unwholesomeness? Because of our accumulated unwholesome tendencies we are hindered in doing good deeds, speaking in a wholesome way and having wholesome thoughts. This makes us restless and agitated. We would like to have peace of mind but we do not know where to find it.
Dana (generosity), sila (morality) and bhavana (mental development) are ways of having peace of mind, of having kusala cittas instead of akusala cittas. It depends on our accumulations which ways of wholesomeness we are inclined to develop. Some people are inclined to dana. When they offer food to the monks and pay respect to them they have peace of mind. Others again are inclined to mental development, which includes: studying and teaching Dhamma, samatha (tranquil meditation) and vipassana.
For mental development one needs to have knowledge of Dhamma. In reading the Tipitaka (Vinaya, Suttanta and Abhidhamma) one will have more understanding of the teachings. If one studies Dhamma, ponders over it and teaches Dhamma to others there are conditions for many kusala cittas with panna (wisdom). Both one's own life and the lives of others will be enriched. One will have peace of mind.
Samatha and vipassana cannot be developed without knowledge of the practice, because both samatha and vipassana are degrees of panna. If one wants to have a higher degree of tranquillity one develops samatha. Samatha is a means of being removed from sense impressions and thus one is at those moments not enslaved by them. The aim of samatha is to develop samadhi or concentration, by means of which defilements are temporarily eliminated, but not eradicated- only panna developed in vipassana can eradicate defilements.
Can samatha be developed in daily life? Not everyone intends to or is able to cultivate samatha to the degree of jhana (absorption-concentration). But even if one does not develop samatha to the degree of jhana, one can have tranquillity of mind while one concentrates on one of the meditation subjects (kammatthana). This can be done in daily life. Those who have free time or lead a secluded life may want to spend their time in the most useful way; they may want to apply themselves to samatha. There is not always opportunity for dana or sila, but for mental development there is opportunity at any moment. Instead of thinking about unwholesome things and about the faults or vices of other people one can think of the meditation subjects. Developing wholesome thoughts is more useful than sitting idly when one has free time.
There are forty meditation subjects (kammatthana) for samatha (for details see Visuddhimagga, Chapters IV-X). Some of these subjects, such as the loathsomeness of the body, the corpses in different stages of dissolution, and the mindfulness of breathing can be used both for samatha and for vipassana. In samatha the aim is tranquillity. It depends on one's character which subject of meditations is most helpful for tranquillity. For some people the meditations on a corpse help them to have less attachment to sense impressions. We all have to see dead people or dead animals at times. When we have read about the meditations on corpses and pondered over them there is a condition for wholesome thoughts to arise at those moments, instead of cittas with aversion. We may remember what the Buddha said about the impermanence of all conditioned things.
We read in the 'Thera-Therigatha' (Psalms of the Brethren, Psalms of the Sisters) about people who were restless, who could find no peace of mind. Meditations on corpses and the foulness of the body helped them to be less agitated. In the 'Theragatha' (Canto VI, 213, Kulla) we read about the monk Kulla:
Kulla had gone to where the dead lie still
And there he saw a woman's body cast,
Untended in the field, the food of worms.
'Behold the foul compound, Kulla, diseased,
Impure, dripping, exuding, pride of fools.'
Grasping the mirror of the holy Norm,
To win the vision by its lore revealed,
I saw reflected there, without, within,
The nature of this empty, fleeting frame.
As is this body, so that or was once.
And as that body, so will this one be...
As long as we live in this world we have to look at bodies all the time, at bodies which are alive or dead. On account of what we see unwholesome thoughts may arise. If we have pondered over the loathsomeness of the body, there may be conditions for kusala cittas to arise instead of akusala cittas.
There are people for whom the meditation on the loathsomeness of the body is not helpful; they may instead be inclined to the recollections of the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha. Or one may recollect 'virtue', which is another meditation subject. It is better to think of the virtues than of the faults or vices of others. The recollection of generosity may encourage us to more generosity. In the 'Visuddhimagga' (VII, 107) we read that the person who starts to develop this recollection should make the following resolution: 'From now on, when there is anyone present to receive, I shall not eat even a single mouthful without having given a gift.' Then he should recollect the following: 'It is gain for me, it is great gain for em, that in a generation obsessed by the stain of avarice I abide with my heart free form stain of avarice, and am freely generous and openhanded, that I delight in relinquishing, expect to be asked, and rejoice in giving and sharing.'
Mindfulness of breathing, which can be used for samatha and for vipassana, is a difficult subject since breath is very subtle. In samatha too there are sati and panna, but they are different from the sati and panna in vipassana; in samatha the concept of self is not eradicated.
We learn that the rupa which we call 'breath' appears where it touches the nostril or upper lip. It falls away immediately at the place where it appears. Sati is aware of it when the exhaling and inhaling are long and when they are short. We read in the 'Visuddhimagga' (VIII, 197):
The navel is the beginning of the air issuing out, the heart is its middle and the nose-tip is its end. The nose-tip is the beginning of the air entering in, the heart is its middle and the navel its end. And if he follows after that, his mind is distracted by disquiet and perturbation...
One should not follow the going out and coming in of the breath, one should only be aware of breath where it touches the nostril. This is explained by way of similes. We read (VIII, 200):
This is the simile of the gate-keeper: just as a gate-keeper does not examine people inside and outside the town, asking 'Who are you? Where have you come from? Where are you going? What have you got in your hand?'- for those people are not his concern- but does examine each man as he arrives at the gate, so too, the incoming breaths that have gone inside and the outgoing breaths that have gone outside are not this bhikkhu's concern, but they are his concern each time they arrive at the (nostril) gate itself.
There are meditations which are 'divine abidings' (Brahma-vihara). They are recollections about loving-kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). The recollection of metta can help those who have thoughts of ill-will. Instead of having dosa one thinks the following thought of metta: 'May all beings be free from enmity, affliction and anxiety, and live happily.' (Visuddhimagga IX, 9). One extends this wish not only to human beings, but to all creatures. One can develop this meditation subject and suffuse the whole world in all directions with metta, until metta is boundless.
Several of the kammatthana can be our recollections in daily life and give us moments of peace. Some people, however, want to concentrate on one of the meditation subjects in order to have a higher degree of samadhi (concentration). What is samadhi? Samadhi is a cetasika, a mental factor arising with the citta. Samadhi is ekaggata cetasika, which arises not only with kusala cittas, but with every citta. Its function is the focussing of the citta on one object. For example, when there is seeing-consciousness, the object experienced by the citta is colour. Ekaggata cetasika which arises with the citta causes the citta to experience only that object. Each citta can have only one object at a time. The type of ekaggata cetasika or samadhi arising with a kusala citta is different from the type of samadhi arising with an akusala citta.
The 'Visuddhimagga' states about samadhi (in the chapter on Concentration, III, 4 ):
What are its characteristic, function, manifestation and proximate cause? Concentration has non-distraction as its characteristic. Its function is to eliminate distraction. It is manifested as non-wavering. Because of the words 'Being blissful, his mind becomes concentrated' (D.i, 73) its proximate cause is bliss.
Samadhi in vipassana is different from samatha. In vipassana it arises together with the panna which knows the characteristic of nama or rupa presenting itself through one of the six doors. This kind of samadhi is the samma-samadhi of the eightfold Path.
In the practice of samatha there are three stages of samadhi. When it is still the preliminary stage of samadhi (parikamma samadhi) the citta thinks of the meditation subject, but is not jhanacitta. It is kamavacara citta (a citta of the sensuous plane of consciousness). Kamavacara cittas are the cittas we have in daily life when, for example we see, think or wish. Even when the samadhi is developed to the stage of upacara samadhi (access concentration), the citta is still not jhanacitta. When samadhi is developed to the stage of appana-samadhi (attainment concentration) the citta is jhanacitta. The jhanacitta thinks of the meditation subject with absorption-concentration. When one attains jhana there is no seeing, no hearing nor any other sense impressions. The jhanacitta is of a higher level of consciousness. There are two kinds of jhanacittas: rupa-jhanacittas and arupa-jhanacittas .
If people do not know about the different stages of samadhi they may erroneously think that they have jhanacittas or may doubt whether they have attained jhana or not. The jhanacitta is accompanied by panna. If one has doubts is clear that there is no panna. One should know that doubt is not panna. Even if one has no intention of cultivating jhana it is useful to know about the different degrees of samadhi. One might have cultivated jhana in a past life and if there are conditions, one of the degrees of samadhi could arise. People who have not studied Dhamma are confused as to the meaning of jhana and of nibbana. They might take jhana or one of the other stages of samadhi for nibbana.
Of the forty meditation subjects, some can lead only to upacara samadhi (access concentration); some lead to rupa-jhana but not to its highest stage; and some lead to the highest stage of rupa-jhana. Those who see the disadvantages of the meditation subjects of rupa-jhana develop the meditation subjects of the four arupa-jhanas which are: the sphere of nothingness and the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. (Perception in the fourth arupa-jhana is very subtle.)
Of those who cultivate samatha only very few can attain jhana. Much skill has to be developed in order to attain jhana. One should know the conditions for the attainment of jhana and what can obstruct the attainment of jhana. We read in the 'Visuddhimagga' (XII, 8) ho w difficult it is to attain parikamma samadhi (preliminary stage), upacara samadhi (access concentration), to attain jhana and to develop the skills in jhana in order to acquire supernatural powers.
People today want to experience something which is beyond this world because they feel distressed about life or they are bored. Wouldn't we sometimes like to know about the future? We may be curious as to what fortune-tellers can predict about our life. Many of us read the horoscope in the daily newspaper, and even if we say that we do not believe in those things we cannot help attaching some importance to them. Sick people who cannot be cured by a doctor go to healers who claim that they can treat diseases in a more effective way than doctors. We may well go to fortune-tellers, or to people who claim to have clairvoyance, but we still do not know ourselves. We still have defilements, we still have ignorance, we still have to continue in the cycle of birth and death. As long as there are attachment, ill-will and ignorance in one's heart, true happiness cannot be found.
In the Buddha's time people developed jhana until they became quite skilful and acquired supernatural powers. Those who have attained the highest stage of rupa-jhanas and arupa-jhanas can apply themselves to the development of supernatural powers. The development of those powers is extremely difficult; only a few of those who attain jhana can develop them. The supernatural powers developed by means of samatha are: miraculous powers such as flying through the air, walking on water, diving into the earth; the 'Celestial Ear' or clairvoyance; the power of recollecting one's past lives; the 'Celestial Eye' (clairvoyance), by means of which one also sees the passing away and rebirth of beings.
We read in the 'Discourse on the Fruits of the Life of a Recluse' (Samanna-Phala Sutta, par. 87, Digha Nikaya) that the Buddha spoke to the King of Magadha about the recluse who has supernatural powers. The Buddha said to the King:
With his heart thus serene, made pure, translucent, cultured, devoid of evil, supple, ready to act, firm and imperturbable, he applies and bends down his mind to the modes of the Wondrous Gift. He enjoys the Wondrous Gift in its various modes- being one he becomes many, or having become many he becomes one again; he becomes visible or invisible; he goes, feeling no obstruction, to the further side of a wall or rampart or hill, as if through air; he penetrates up and down through solid ground, as if through water; he walks on water without breaking through, as if on solid ground; he travels crosslegged in the sky, like the birds on wing; even the Moon and the Sun, so powerful, so mighty though they be, does he touch and feel with his hand; he reaches in the body even up to the heaven of Brahma.
In Buddhism one learns to study cause and effect. People are impressed by extraordinary things when they do not know the conditions that give rise to them. Each phenomenon in our life has conditions through which it arises. When we know this we are not surprised by strange phenomena. Sariputta, Moggallana and other disciples had supernatural powers: but they did not cling to them or take them for self because they realized that those phenomena arise by conditions.
Samatha is a way of kusala kamma and it brings about kusala vipaka. Samatha can help people to be more calm. But defilements cannot be eradicated by samatha, even if it is developed to the degree of jhana. Nor can defilements be eradicated by supernatural powers. Jhanas and supernatural powers do not lead to the end of ignorance. The Buddha, when he was still a Bodhisatta, developed samatha, but he attained enlightenment through vipassana during the third watch of the night.`
In the Vinaya (Part I, Parajaka I) we read about the Buddha spoke to the brahman of Veranja about the 'three watches' of the night in which he attained enlightenment. In the first watch he could, by means of concentration developed in samatha, recollect his former births. In the second watch he could, by means of concentration, see the passing away and rebirth of beings. In the third watch his defilements were eradicated. We read:
Then with mind collected... I directed the mind towards the knowledge of the destruction of the cankers. I knew as it really is: This is dukkha, this is the arising of dukkha, this is the ceasing of dukkha, this is the course leading to the ceasing of dukkha... I knew: Destroyed is rebirth, lived is the Brahma-life, done is what was to be done, there is no beyond for this state of things. This was, brahman, the third knowledge attained by me in the third watch of that night. Ignorance was dispelled, knowledge arose, darkness was dispelled, light arose...
The four ariyan truths can be known through vipassana. How could one know that nama and rupa are dukkha unless one is mindful of their characteristics when they appear at the present moment? Only thus will we know that they are impermanent and unsatisfactory.
This degree of knowledge leads to the eradication of defilements.