Samatha: A Buddhist form of Meditation Focuses on a Prayer or an Object for Tranquility

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Samatha can be translated as ‘concentration’ or ‘tranquility’. It is a state of mind in which it is brought to rest. Most systems of meditation lay emphasis upon the ‘Samatha’ component. In this, the meditator focuses on either a prayer or any such item like a box, a candle, a chant, a religious image or any other object, informs Navodita, our Yoga expert, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

Let us focus more on the Vipassana form of meditation and other forms of Buddhist meditation. In Pali, the original language of Theravada literature, it is mentioned that there are two main types of Buddhist meditation – one is Vipassana and the other is Samatha.

Vipassana is also called the ‘Insight Meditation’, a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. While Samatha can be translated as ‘concentration’ or ‘tranquility’. It is a state of mind in which it is brought to rest. Most systems of meditation lay emphasis upon the ‘Samatha’ component. In this, the meditator focuses on either a prayer or any such item like a box, a candle, a chant, a religious image or any other object. The result is a state of bliss which lasts until the meditator wants to continue sitting. There are many types of Samatha meditation: one is based on attention to the breath.

By regular daily practice of the Samatha, unruly mind gradually becomes calmer and clearer. The way our mind works becomes less confusing to you and you begin to understand the habits of mind that hold you back from freedom and happiness. You become kinder to yourself and to those around you.

Buddhist monk, Thrangu Rinpoche says, when you perform a physical action, the action can have either a negative or a positive result. When you say something, it can either be good or bad. With words and actions, you can see tangible results but with thoughts there is no concrete action expressed. The mind determines your physical and verbal actions as whatever, you say or do, there is a thought behind it. When the thought is positive, it is followed by good actions and whenever the thoughts are negative, actions that follow are negative. Hence the starting point to feeling good is to change the way you think. Whatever is troubling the mind can usually be set right with a good session of meditation. While changing a mental disposition it is important to change habits. When you manage to change your mental habits, you can change your physical actions and verbal behavior. Once you have changed these, it is easy to achieve Buddhahood.

However, while doing this sort of meditation, you need to pay attention to the posture you are sitting in. It is important to keep the body straight so that the subtle channels of the body will be straight, too. If these subtle channels are straight, then the subtle energies will circulate freely. The neck should be slightly bent downwards towards the stomach. The legs should be crossed is a simple cross-legged pose. The body should be kept composed and ‘together’ for a long time, so sit comfortably. Lastly, keep the body and mind focused.

It is said by well-known Buddhist monks that meditation should be done for a short duration but repeated several times. Awareness is knowing exactly what you are doing and why you are doing it. Hence, it’s important to focus on the state of your mind in meditation. While meditating, you should not follow a thought about the past, nor should you anticipate the future and you should not be involved with thoughts of the present, too. You should just relax and then leave them all alone. You should not follow the thread of these thoughts and you will notice that the mind quietens on its own quite naturally. Meditation is simply leaving things as they are without being too relaxed or too tense.

It is also added that there are two main obstacles to good meditation- either being too relaxed or being too tense. When you become too relaxed, you start to follow your thoughts and become absorbed in them. When you are too tense, you are too absorbed in concentrating and in being tranquil so that in the end the mind cannot remain tranquil and becomes distracted. You have to constantly try to find a balance between being too relaxed and too tense. One Buddhist nun, Saraha, said that your mind should be like that of a person spinning the thread. If he puts too much tension on it, it breaks and if it’s too loose, it won’t be strong enough.

Finally, once you have watched your posture and your mind, you can now start working on your meditation. There are three main techniques of meditation: focusing on an outer object, concentrating on an inner object, and concentrating on no object. While focusing on an outer object, it is useful to meditate on an object like a statue or an idol. You have to simply remain aware of the statue in front of you and not remain distracted by the thoughts. When looking at the statue, you should not strain your eyes and should just register the picture of the Buddha in your mind. If other thoughts arise, you should try to become aware of these thoughts as quickly as possible and immediately drop them and return your awareness to the statue. This meditation is difficult to do for a very long time as you become lost in your thoughts very easily. When you look at the statue, don’t think ‘statue, statue, statue’. Instead look at it and try not to let the image drift out of your mind. If you start having an important thought, then try to get your attention back to the statue, else one thought chain will usher in a number of other thoughts. Hence you should always focus on the ‘support’ of the meditation which is the statue.

Hence your power of concentration improves with every session of meditation. Next time, we will bring more such meditative techniques.

©Navodita Pande

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Navodita Pande has been practicing yoga since she was 9 years old in Iyengar Yoga. In April 1995, she performed at the International Yoga Seminar. In January 2003, Navodita taught at Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mandir in New York. Navodita had a Yoga show on NDTV 24×7 and was also the official yoga trainer for Miss Delhi contestants in 2007. She currently teaches Yoga and Reiki to
people in Kanpur.