The Attention Revolution by B. Alan Wallace

This book has been a manual for me on several solitary retreats now. Using the stages as a map I find very useful. Compared to Culadasa’s The Mind Illuminated this book is less detailed, but I find that makes it easier to work with. The instructions for knowing which stage you are on are very clear and simple. It’s hard to mistake.

The full achievement of shamatha is detailed in this book. A good companion is Gen Lamrimpa’s book, How to Practice Shamatha Meditation TK.

One thing to note is that Alan Wallace uses a benchmark for achieving shamatha that I have not seen others use within the Buddhist community. He cites his sources and they are excellent, so what he says I do not doubt. But I do find it strange that no one else seems to say the same things.

Anyway, these are my highlights below. I would recommend buying a physical copy of the book as it’ll be a manual to constantly refer to if you are on retreat and off from technology.

The Attention Revolution by B. Alan Wallace

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Some modern teachers of Theravada Buddhism claim that only “momentary shamatha” is needed for insight meditation, implying that sustained, focused attention is unnecessary.

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Tibetan Buddhism, on the other hand, does provide detailed instructions for achieving focused attention. Thus is it is all the more perplexing that among Tibetan Buddhist meditators today, both inside and outside Tibet, very few devote themselves to sustained shamatha practice.

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Hardly anyone heeds the counsel of the great meditators of Tibet’s past, who claim that the achievement of shamatha is necessary for all advanced forms of meditation to be fully effective.

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But they don’t cure anything. They merely suppress symptoms while generating harmful side effects, and even if you don’t become addicted, you may develop a psychic dependence on them—perhaps

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Each of us chooses, by our ways of attending to things, the universe we inhabit and the people we encounter. But for most of us, this “choice” is unconscious, so it’s not really a choice at all.

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The reality that appears to us is not so much what’s out there as it is those aspects of the world we have focused on.

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I suggest that if you were able to focus your attention at will, you could actually choose the uni-verse you appear to inhabit.

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James recognized the enormous significance of the ability to voluntarily sustain one’s attention on a chosen topic, declaring that an education that could effectively improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. 3 But he was at a loss when it came to providing practical directions for achieving this goal.

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Can the mind be irreversibly freed from its emotional afflictions, such as craving, hostility, depression, envy, and pride? Are there limits to our love and compassion?

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literature—the ten stages described by the eighth-century Indian Buddhist contemplative Kamalashila in his classic work Stages of Meditation.

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Flashes of insight are valuable, but after the fleeting bliss of such meditative experiences, the dirty laundry of the mind still awaits cleaning.

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For that, contemplative insight must be supported by a high degree of attentional balance, and this requires systematic training.

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One progresses through each stage by rooting out progressively more subtle forms of the two obsta-cles: mental agitation and dullness.

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For the first four stages, you should practice whatever method you find easiest. By stage five, the mind is relatively stable, and you can move on to subtler techniques. For achieving the first four stages, I recommend the practice of mind-fulness of breathing,

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Beginning with the fifth stage, I recommend a method called settling the mind in its natural state. In this technique, you direct your attention to mental experiences, all the events—thoughts, mental images, and emotions—that arise in the domain of the mind. This method is drawn from the Dzogchen, or “Great Perfection” lineage, but is found in other Buddhist traditions as well.

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With the instructions for the eighth attentional stage onward, we move on to the still subtler practice of maintaining awareness of awareness itself. The technique is called shamatha without an object. Here the practice is not so much one of developing attentional stability and vividness as it is of discovering the stillness and luminosity inherent in awareness itself.

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You may use any one of the three methods to progress along all ten stages of attentional development, or you may follow the sequence described in this book.

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According to Tibetan oral tradition, among meditators who are well qual-ified to embark on this discipline, those of sharpest faculties may be able to achieve all ten stages within three months; those with “medium“ faculties may take six months; and those with “dull“ faculties may require nine months.

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This level of professional training may seem daunting and unfeasible to most readers of this book, but compare it to the training of Olympic ath-letes. Only a small number of individuals have the time, ability, and incli-nation to devote themselves to such training, which can appear at first glance to have little relevance for the diverse practical problems facing humanity today. But research on serious athletes has yielded many valu-able insights concerning diet, exercise, and human motivation that are rel-evant to the general public. While the training of Olympic athletes is focused primarily on achieving physical excellence, this attentional train-ing is concerned with achieving optimal levels of attentional performance.

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Mindfulness in this context differs somewhat from the way some contemporary meditation teachers present it. Vipassana teachers, for instance, commonly explain mindfulness as a moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness of what-ever arises. In the context of shamatha, however, mindfulness refers to attending continuously to a familiar object, without forgetfulness or distraction.

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Hyperactivity is characterized by excitation, agitation, and distraction, while an attention deficit is characterized by laxity, dullness, and lethargy.

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Now bring your awareness to the tac-tile sensations throughout your body, from the soles of your feet up to the crown of your head. Note the sensations in your shoulders and neck, and if you detect any tightness there, release it. Likewise, be aware of the mus-cles of your face—your jaws, temples, and forehead, as well as your eyes—and soften any area that feels constricted. Let your face relax like that of a sleeping baby, and set your entire body at ease.
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Full body relaxation FIRST.

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Be at ease. Be still. Be vigilant. These three qualities of the body are to be maintained throughout all meditation sessions.

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This is a “field approach” to training the attention. Instead of pinpoint-ing the attention on a mental image, a prayer, a mantra, or a specific region of the body, open your awareness to the entire field of sensations through-out the body, especially those related to respiration.

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We are all aware of the way the body heals itself. Physicians don’t heal abrasions, and surgeons don’t mend bone fractures. Instead, they do what-ever they can to allow the body to heal itself—by keeping the wound clean, setting the broken bone, and so on. These are so common that it’s easy to lose sight of the extraordinary nature of the body’s own healing power.

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We have to start by assuming the body knows how to breathe better than the mind does.

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How much satisfaction has your life brought

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To flourish individually, we must consider the well-being of those around us. As the Buddha declared, “One who loves himself will never harm another.”8

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Buddhism, misguided desires are called craving, which here means an attrac-tion for something whose desirable qualities we exaggerate while ignoring any undesirable qualities.

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we are betting our lives that we can find the happiness we seek by chasing fleeting pleasures. Psychologists have called this the hedonic treadmill,

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coarse excitation, which we typically encounter during the initial stages of attentional training. The second two levels of excitation, medium excitation and subtle excitation,

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When you can occasionally maintain continuity of awareness of bodily sensations for about a minute, you have reached the second stage.

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If you are a seasoned meditator, you have probably found that involuntary, internal commentary on your practice can be an obstacle. Even the ongoing thought, “Here is the in-breath…Here is the out-breath…” can be an intrusion. However, inter-nal commentary can also be useful, especially in the first two stages of shamatha

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Meditation is a balancing act between attention and relaxation.

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One way to cultivate attentional stability is to direct our attention down-ward to the sensations in the abdomen

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Mindfulness of the entire body is very helpful for relaxing the mind, but this technique of focusing on the abdomen, which is commonly taught in the Burmese Theravada tradition, can be especially helpful for stabiliz-ing the mind.

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the word ana-panasati, which is usually translated as “mindfulness of breathing,” as “mindfulness with breathing.”16 What we attend to in this practice is the field of tactile sensations; what we attend with is the breathing.

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cognitive deficit disorder.

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c ognitive hyperactivity

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Even in the midst of work, we can take off fifteen seconds here and sixty seconds there to balance the attention by quietly focusing on the breath.

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“In the seen there is only the seen; in the heard, there is only the heard; in the sensed, there is only the sensed; in the mentally perceived, there is only the mentally perceived.”17

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According to Buddhist psychology, in any single moment of awareness, which may be as brief as one millisecond, attention is focused in only one sense field.

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you may become attached to this state of mind, and that can result in apathetic indifference to those around you and the world at large. You’ve got your own quiet space of serenity, and you may not want to be disturbed.

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Sanskrit word for meditation is bhavana, which simply means “cultivation.”

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Whenyoureachthethirdstage, resurgentattention, duringeachprac-tice session your attention is fixed most of the time upon your meditative object. By now, you will have increased the duration of each session beyond the initial twenty-four minutes to perhaps twice that.

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As your attention gradually stabilizes, you may increase the duration of each session by increments of three minutes.

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At all times, though, value the quality of your meditation over the quantity of time spent in each session.

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If you sit for long periods but let your mind rove around unnoticed among distractions or fall into dullness, not only are you wasting your time, but also you are developing bad habits that will only get harder and harder to break.

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The third stage is achieved only when your mind remains focused on the object most of the time in virtually all your sessions.

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coarse laxity, which occurs when your attention mostly disengages from the object and sinks into a spaced-out vacancy.

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While the main force of your awareness is directed to the meditation object with mindfulness, this needs to be supported with the faculty of introspection, which allows for the quality control of attention, enabling you to swiftly note when the mind has fallen into either excitation or laxity.

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Your first antidote to excitation is to relax more deeply; to counteract laxity, arouse your attention.

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If you are practicing for only a session or two each day, you may not progress beyond the second attentional stage.

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The reason for this is simple: if you are balancing your attention for an hour or so each day, but letting it become fragmented and distracted for the other fifteen hours of waking time each day, then the attentional coherence cultivated during these brief sessions is overwhelmed by the distractions of the rest of the day.

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The achievement of the stage of resurgent attention requires a greater commit-ment to practice. This will entail multiple sessions of meditation each day, practiced within a quiet, contemplative way of life that supports the culti-vation of inner calm and collectedness.

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The key to success is to conduct your life between sessions in such a way that you don’t lose the ground you have gained.

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the initial emphasis in shamatha practice is on relaxation, which can be induced by attending to the sensations of breathing throughout the body. The second emphasis is on stability of attention, and for this it can be helpful to observe the sensations of breathing in the region of the belly. Then, having established a foundation of relaxation and stability, we shift the emphasis to cultivating vividness of attention.

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It is crucially important that stability is not gained at the expense of relaxation, and that the increase of vividness does not coincide with the decrease of stability. The relationship among these three qualities can be likened to the roots, trunk, and foliage of a tree. As your practice grows, the roots of relaxation go deeper, the trunk of stability gets stronger, and the foliage of vividness reaches higher.

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This analogy refers to the healing effect of balanced attention. When awareness is brought to rest on a neutral object, such as the breath, imme-diately every distressing thought disappears, and the mind becomes peace-ful, sublime, and happy. These qualities do not arise from the object of awareness—the breath—but from the nature of the mind in a state of bal-ance. This approach to healing the mind is similar to healing the physical body. The Buddha implied in his rain cloud analogy that the mind, like the body, has an innate power to heal itself.

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But as your mind calms down again, the breathing and the sensations that go with it become finer, and this once again challenges you to heighten the degree of vividness.

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Especially when you meditate many hours a day, you may experience within your body prana, or vital energies, shifting and releasing pockets of ten-sion. When you engage in mindfulness of breathing, these energies begin to balance and flow naturally. This is a process that takes time, and while the energies redistribute themselves, their movement produces various sen-sations.

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practice of shamatha results in an anomalous kind of attention. Nor-mally, when the mind is relaxed, attention is slack, and when attention is aroused, this brings with it a state of tension, a tightening of the body and mind. But in this practice, the more you arouse your attention, the more deeply the mind relaxes.

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Always go for qual-ity over quantity. Unbroken continuity of practice is vital.

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Imagine starting a fire by rub-bing two sticks together: if you rub the sticks together for only a few moments, then rest, then do it for a few moments, then rest, you could continue in this way for years without even igniting a spark.

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Solitary meditation doesn’t cause mental imbalances, but uncovers them.

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But this requires courage to face your own inner demons and persist in the practice despite the emo-tional upheavals that are bound to occur in the course of this training.

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When I lead shamatha seminars, I like to think of them as “expeditions” rather than “retreats.”

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In the practice of shamatha, we discover how deeply our minds are trapped in the twin ruts of excitation and laxity. In the Buddhist tradition, a mind trapped in these ruts is said to be dysfunctional,

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This practice is a direct antidote to feelings of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness that may arise in the course of intensive, sus-tained meditation, or simply in the course of daily living.

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close attention. At this point, due to the power of enhanced mindfulness, you no longer completely forget your chosen object, the tactile sensations of the breath at the nostrils.

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Each of your sessions may now last an hour or longer, and throughout this time, your attention cannot be involuntarily drawn entirely away from the object.

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You are now free of coarse excitation.

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At this stage it is said that you achieve the power of mindfulness. 27 In the Indian and Tibetan Mahayana traditions, mindfulness is defined as the mental faculty of maintaining attention, without forgetfulness or distrac-tion, on a familiar object.

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The modern Vipassana approach views mindfulness as nondiscriminating, moment-to-moment “bare awareness”; the Indo-Tibetan tradition, however, characterizes mind-fulness as bearing in mind the object of attention, the state of not forget-ting, not being distracted, and not floating.32

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present…If you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is memory. When you then become aware that you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is mindfulness.”33

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Mindfulness is cultivated in the practice of shamatha, and it is applied in the practice of contemplative insight

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While your attention is no longer prone to coarse excitation, it is still flawed by a medium degree of excitation and coarse laxity.

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When medium excitation occurs, you don’t completely lose track of your object of attention, but involuntary thoughts occupy the center of attention and the meditative object is displaced to the periphery.

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To compare this with coarse excitation, let’s again take the analogy of tuning into a radio sta-tion. Coarse excitation is like losing your chosen station altogether, as your tuner slips either to another station or into mere static. Medium excitation is like drifting slightly toward another station but not so completely that you can no longer hear your chosen station at all. You still hear it, but it’s muffled by extraneous noise.

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As superimpo-sitions are released, the sense of your body having definite physical borders fades and you enter deeper and deeper levels of tranquillity.

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However, to continue all the way along the path of shamatha, eventually you must shift your attention from the tactile sensations of breathing to an “acquired sign” (Pali: uggaha-nimitta), a symbol of the air element that appears before the mind’s eye as you progress in shamatha practice.

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As you progress in this practice, increase the duration of your sessions for as long as you are able to maintain a quality of attention rela-tively free of laxity and excitation.

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While Buddhaghosa includes certain kinds of tactile sensations among the acquired signs associated with the breath practice, the Indo-Tibetan Mahayana tradition emphasizes that advanced stages along the path to shamatha can be achieved only by focusing on a mental object, not a sensory impression.40

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The reason for this is that the development of shamatha entails the cultiva-tion of an exceptionally high degree of attentional vividness. By focusing on an object of any of the physical senses, you can certainly develop stability,

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but vividness will not be enhanced to its full potential. For this, a mental object is needed. It is commonly pointed out in the Buddhist tradition that shamatha is achieved with mental awareness, not sensory awareness.

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Buddhist meditation treatises. While the modern Vipassana tradition emphasizes that in the practice of mindfulness we must accept our faults without making any attempt to change them,42 this advice is a departure from the Buddha’s teachings and the writings of the great masters of the past.

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If you want to develop exceptional vividness, first develop relaxation, second develop sta-bility, and then finally increase vividness.

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With just a small shift in circumstances, each one could have been close to me. This is true of every-one in the world. With just a small shift, everyone who seems a stranger to us—each with hopes, fears, and yearnings—could be a dear friend.

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He radiated a sense of happiness and kind-ness. He invited me in and offered me tea. In different circumstances, I might have felt that I was special or that he was especially fond of me. Jhampa Wangdü’s compassion and warmth were genuine, but it became obvious to me that his affection was utterly free of personal attachment. I expect anybody would have been received in the same way. But knowing this did not make this reception any less sweet. It was an experience of unconditional love,

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The Tibetan verb drupa, commonly translated as “to practice,” also means “to accom-plish.”

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When asked, “What are you doing?” a contemplative might answer, “I am practicing/accomplishing shamatha.” Practice and achievement are one and the same.

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From the perspective of modern psychology, the fact that contemplatives can live in solitude for years without falling into depression, apathy, or mental turmoil is astonishing.

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At this point, you find that you can take satisfaction in your practice, even though there is still some resistance to it. You have pro-gressed well on this path, and the results of your efforts are apparent to you.

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you must now confront another prob-lem that was lurking in the shadows of your mind all along: coarse laxity.

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This is a peace-ful state of mind, so the ignorant may mistake it for the attainment of shamatha, which literally means quiescence, tranquillity, and serenity. True shamatha is imbued not only with a degree of stability far beyond that achieved at this stage of attentional practice but also with an extraordinary vividness that one has hardly begun to develop at this point in the training.

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The primary challenge here is to overcome laxity without undermining stability. The way to counteract laxity is to arouse the attention, to take a greater interest in the object of meditation. Tibetan contemplatives liken this to stringing a lute. If the strings are too taut, they may easily break under the strain, but if they are too slack, the instrument is unplayable. Likewise, the task at this point is to determine the proper “pitch” of attention. If you arouse the mind too much in your efforts to remedy lax-ity, it will easily fall into excitation, but if you relax too much, you will likely succumb to laxity.

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Having achieved the third and fourth stages with the power of mindful-ness, the fifth stage is achieved by the power of introspection.

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The power of introspection is the faculty of monitoring the quality of your attention, and this skill must now be honed so that you can detect more and more subtle degrees of laxity and excitation.

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“Mindfulness has the characteristic of remembering. Its function is not to forget. It is manifested as guarding. Introspection has the character-istic of non-confusion. Its function is to investigate. It is manifested as scrutiny.”45

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“Mindfulness and introspection are taught, for the first prevents the attention from straying from the meditative object, while the second rec-ognizes that the attention is straying.”46

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Buddhist psychology classifies introspection as a form of intelligence (prajna), and its development has long been an important element of Buddhist meditation. A similar mental faculty, usually called metacognition, is now coming under the scrutiny of modern psychologists. Cognitive researchers have defined metacognition as knowledge of one’s own cogni-tive and affective processes and states, as well as the ability to consciously and deliberately monitor and regulate those processes and states.48

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Padmasambhava, the Indian master instrumental in first bringing Buddhism to Tibet, encour-aged the use of multiple methods to counter the tenacious impediments to the achievement of shamatha.49

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Such roving from one meditation object and technique to another, always on the prowl for a greater “bang for your buck,” can undermine any sustained practice of shamatha. Repeatedly experimenting with different techniques can prevent you from achieving expertise in any of them.

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While many people practice meditation to achieve “altered states of consciousness,” from a Buddhist perspective, our habitual mindsets, in which we are drawn under the influence of such imbalances as craving, anxiety, stress, and frustration, are already altered states of consciousness.

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The object of mindfulness in the practice of settling the mind in its natural state is no longer the subtle sensations of the breath at the nostrils, but the space of the mind and whatever events arise within that space.

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Practicing “without distraction” means not allowing your mind to be carried away by thoughts and sense impressions. Be present here and now, and when thoughts arise pertaining to the past or future or rumina-tions about the present, don’t be abducted by them.

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be attentive to everything that comes up in the mind, but don’t grasp onto anything.

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In this practice, let your mind be like the sky. Whatever moves through it, the sky never reacts. It doesn’t stop anything from moving through it, it doesn’t hold onto anything that’s present, nor does it control anything. The sky doesn’t prefer rainbows to clouds, but-terflies to jet planes. Whatever comes up in the field of awareness, without distraction or grasping, just let it be.

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When you are settling the mind in its natural state, occasionally falling into distraction or grasping, you experience a semblance of what it is like to fall from the state of pristine awareness (Tibetan: rigpa) into the mind of dualistic grasping. This is not something that occurred long ago in a Buddhist Garden of Eden. It happens each moment that the dualistic mind is activated and we lose sight of our own true nature.

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This is true for pro-fessional training in the cognitive sciences—there are no expert psycholo-gists or neuroscientists who are entirely self-taught—and in a myriad of other fields.

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It is possible to waste an enormous amount of time in faulty meditative practice, and there is also the possibility of damaging your mind, so it is important to find qualified instructors and to listen closely to their counsel.

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As the Dalai Lama responded when asked whether it is necessary to have a teacher in order to achieve enlightenment, “No, but it can save you a lot of time!”

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“gentle vase breathing,”

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The goal of the vase breath is to converge the vital energies, or pranas, in the central channel in your abdomen and allow them to settle in this region.

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In this practice, it is important that your eyes are open, vacantly resting your gaze in the space in front of you.

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Blink as often as you like and don’t strain your eyes in any way. Let them be as relaxed as if you were daydreaming with your eyes open.

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By leaving the eyes open, while focusing your attention on the domain of mental events, the artificial barrier between “inner” and “outer” begins to dissolve. Especially in our materialist society, we have gotten used to the idea that our thoughts and all other mental events are inside our heads. But this has never been demonstrated scientifically. All that is known in this regard is that mental events are correlated with neural events, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are located in the same place.

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In this practice, by leaving your eyes open but directing your attention to the mind, this conceptually superimposed demarcation between inner and outer begins to erode. You begin to recognize that your thoughts are not occurring in here, in your head, nor are they occurring out there in space.

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This practice challenges the existence of an absolutely objective space of the physical senses that is absolutely separate from a subjective space of the mind. You are now on a path to realizing the meaning of nonduality.

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The limpidity of consciousness refers to its qualities of transparency and luminosity.

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Clarity, limpidity, and radiance are qual-ities of awareness itself, not qualities added to it by meditation. So this practice is one of discovering, not developing, the innate stillness and vivid-ness of awareness.

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“Between sessions, it is fine to meditate on the value of such practice and to arouse your motivation to engage in it with great dili-gence. But during your meditation sessions themselves, let go of all such desires. Release your hopes and your fears, and simply devote yourself to the practice, moment by moment.”

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It is a big mistake to judge the value of meditation solely on the basis of how good you feel while meditating.

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Walking is good exercise between sessions, but very strong aerobic exercise may agitate your nerv-ous system and mind in ways that detract from the practice. Experiment for yourself to see what kind of diet and exercise best support your practice.

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While many Westerners love to report their meditative experiences to others, this runs against the grain of traditional Buddhist practice. Tibetans have an old saying: If you fill a gourd with just a little water and shake it, it makes a lot of noise. But if you fill it to the brim and shake it, it makes no sound.

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Generations of seasoned contemplatives have found that making any claims about one’s spiritual achievements—even if they are true—creates obstacles to one’s practice.

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Sensory objects take on a quality of transparency, as mere appearances to the mind, rather than solid objects “out there.” Even your own body appears “empty” of substance. All that appears to the mind is an interrelated matrix of sensory phenomena, but these qualities no longer appear to belong to something absolutely objective, for that sense of reified duality is diminishing.

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As the old saying goes, “Sticks and stones can break your bones,” but appearances to the mind cannot harm you if you don’t grasp onto them,

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When your mind is free of grasping, it provides no target; it can be harmed no more than the sky can be harmed by a missile attack.

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In the practice of mindfulness of breathing, you are faced with the challenge of carefully observing, without controlling, sensations within the body associated with the breathing. Now you face a similar challenge of carefully observing events within the mind without regulating or evaluating them in any way.

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In the shamatha practice of mindfulness of breathing, you let go of thoughts as soon as you detect them and return your attention to the breath. But now, instead of letting thoughts go, you let them be.

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Don’t even prefer the absence of thoughts to the presence of thoughts. They are not the problem. Being distracted by and grasping onto thoughts is the problem.

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But when settling the mind in its natural state, thoughts are anything but continuous. They come and go sporadically, so the stability of attention is not in relation to a specific object. It’s a quality of your subjective aware-ness.

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Even when thoughts are on the move, because you are not distracted by them and don’t grasp onto them, your awareness remains still. This is called the fusion of stillness and movement.

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Recognize that in the practice of shamatha, “doing your best” doesn’t mean “trying your hardest.” If you’re trying your hardest, you’re trying too hard and you’ll burn out if you persist in that way.
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ton-glen counteract emotional imbalances of depression and excitement.
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Some of them are discrete, like thoughts and images, while others are nebulous, like emotions and moods.

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This is potentially an extraordi-narily deep kind of therapy, and the more intensively you practice it, the more important it is to proceed under the guidance of an experienced, com-passionate teacher.

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implement the core instructions of this practice: whatever arises in the mind, do not be carried away by it, and do not grasp onto or identify with it. Just let it be. Watch thoughts, feelings, or other mental events arise, with discerning intelligence be aware of their nature, and let them slip back into the space of awareness without any judgment or intervention on your part.

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Düdjom Lingpa’s explanation of demons is that they are externalized projections of afflictive tendencies of the mind, such as hatred, greed, con-fusion, pride, and jealousy.
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It should come as some solace that none of these unnerving experiences are freshly introduced into your mind by meditative practice. Whatever comes up was already there, previously hidden by the turbulence and dullness of the mind.

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Earth constitution

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Water constitution

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Fire constitution

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Air constitution

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Space constitution

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It should come as some consolation that the difficulties encountered in the practice of settling the mind in its natural state are finite. Eventually you will emerge through the layers of the psyche into a clear and luminous space of awareness.

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But that does not mean that the image we see is the copy of what-ever the object outside is like. Whatever it is like, in absolute terms, we do not know.

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These sensory impressions of colors, sounds, smells, and so on are no more tangible than thoughts or dreams. While we seem to experience colors and so on as they exist in the objective world, independent of our senses, this is an illusion, very much like a dream.

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S T A G E 7 : F U L L Y P A C I F I E D A T T E N T I O N •••

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at the stage of fully pacified attention. You have become highly adept at balancing and refining your attention, and the rest of the journey to the realization of shamatha is all downhill.

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When settling the mind in its natural state, you are doing even less. Now you don’t even prefer thoughts to be absent. Instead of deliberately letting them go—banishing them from your mind—you let them be, with-out deliberately influencing them in any way. You simply maintain con-stant mindfulness of the space of the mind and whatever events occur in that space.

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In this practice it is crucial to observe the movement of thoughts without intervention.

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The practice of meditation that is unrelated to any view or hypothesis is as limited as scientific research that is conducted without ref-erence to a scientific view of reality.

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In the practice of shamatha without a sign, the attention is not directed to anything. It rests in its own nature, simply being aware of its own presence. Nominally, you could say that awareness takes itself as its object. But experientially, this practice is more a matter of taking no object. You sim-ply let your awareness rest, without any referent, in its own innate lumi-nosity and cognizance.

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If you become muddled and unmindful, you have slipped into laxity, or dimness. So clear up this problem, arouse your aware-ness, and shift your gaze. If you become distracted and excited, it is important that you lower your gaze and release your aware-ness.

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This practice is one of pro-found inactivity. You are being aware of being aware, but you are not really doing anything. The illusory, independent ego is temporarily put out of work,

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The unity of absolute space and primordial consciousness is the Great Perfection, often referred to as the “one taste” of all phenomena.

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Thus, in reference to the absolute ground state of consciousness, the Buddha declared, “All phenomena are preceded by the mind. When the mind is comprehended, all phenomena are comprehended. By bringing the mind under control, all things are brought under control.”78

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There are three classes of real phenomena: (1) material phenomena, which are composed of elementary particles, (2) cognitive phenomena, which consciously apprehend objects, and (3) abstract composites, such as time, justice, institutions, and people.

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physics—reality can be understood only in relation to specific cognitive frames of reference.81 Subject and object are always interrelated, and neither can exist without the other, implying a kind of universal, ontological relativity.

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S T A G E 9 : A T T E N T I O N A L B A L A N C E

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Be unrelenting toward ideation, and each time you observe the nature of any ideation that arises, those thoughts will vanish by themselves, following which, a vacuity appears. Likewise, if you examine the mind also when it remains without fluctuation, you will see an unobscured, clear, and vivid vacuity, without any dif-ference between the former and latter states. Among meditators that is acclaimed and called “the fusion of stillness and dispersion.”84

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The purpose of shamatha meditation is to develop or unveil the stability and vividness of attention.

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In this way, shamatha can be viewed as “contemplative technology,” whereas the practice of vipashyana is a kind of “contemplative science.”

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The Buddha emphasizes this sequence countless times, as when he poses the question, “What, monks, is the sufficing condition of knowledge and vision of things as they really are?” and responds, “It should be answered, ‘Concentration’ (samadhi).”86

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The achievement of shamatha does not mean that you have realized emptiness, the bedrock insight necessary for Buddhist liberation. And the realization of emptiness does not mean that you have recognized pristine awareness. You may indeed gain some insight into emptiness without hav-ing achieved shamatha, but that realization will not be durable or capable of fully purifying your mind of its afflictive tendencies.
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The first step in the nighttime practice of dream yoga is to recognize the dream and maintain the stability and vividness of that recognition. The second step is to practice transforming the contents of the dream, both in terms of your own presence in the dream and in terms of everything that “objectively” appears to you.

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The Tibetan Buddhist tradition views the processes of (1) falling asleep, (2) dreaming, and (3) waking as parallel to the processes of (1) dying, (2) passing through the intermediate state (bardo) after death and prior to one’s next birth, and (3) taking rebirth.

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If you do not recognize the intermediate state for what it is, you will respond to events in that transitional period simply out of habit, as in a nonlucid dream. But if you recognize the intermediate state and maintain a clear awareness of the nature of this phase of existence, you open up whole dimensions of freedom, as in a lucid dream.
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Similarly by seeing through all such things as fire, precipices, and carnivorous animals, all fears will arise as samadhi.…

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Most of us assume that we are lucid—clearly aware of the nature of our existence—while in the waking state, but in comparison to a buddha, we are sleepwalkers, moving through life and death in a nonlucid dream. According

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Dzogchen view, every-thing in the entire universe consists of phenomena arising from the pri-mordial unity of pristine awareness and the absolute space of phenomena. If we viewed reality from that perspective, instead of from the limited van-tage point of a human psyche, the whole world would appear as a dream, and we would be the dreamer. The potentials of freedom for those who are truly awakened are infinite.

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S T A G E 1 0 : S H A M A T H A •••

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The nine preceding stages entail many incremental changes, but the actual accomplishment of shamatha involves a radical tran-sition in your body and mind.

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When physical pliancy initially arises, the vital energies catalyze an extraordinary sense of physical bliss, which then triggers an equally excep-tional experience of mental bliss. This rush of physical and mental rapture is transient, which is a good thing, for it so captivates the attention that you can do little else except enjoy it. Gradually it subsides and you are freed from the turbulence caused by this intense joy.

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Padmasambhava described this state as follows: Flawless shamatha is like an oil-lamp that is unmoved by the air. Wherever the awareness is placed, it is unwaveringly present; awareness is vividly clear, without being sullied by laxity, lethargy, or dimness; wherever the awareness is directed, it is steady and sharply pointed; and unmoved by adventitious thoughts, it is straight. Thus, a flawless meditative state arises in your mindstream; and until this happens, it is important that you settle the mind in its natural state. Without genuine shamatha arising in your mindstream, even if awareness is pointed out, it becomes nothing more than an object of intellectual under-standing. So you are left simply giving lip-service to the view, and there is the danger that you may succumb to dogmatism. Thus, the root of all meditative states depends upon this, so do not be introduced to pristine awareness too soon, but practice until you have a fine experience of stability.93

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The factor of coarse examination, which counters the combined hinderances of lethargy and drowsiness 2. The factor of precise investigation, which counters the hindrance of uncertainty 3. The factor of well-being, which counters the hindrance of malice 4. The factor of bliss, which counters the combined hindrances of excitation and anxiety 5. The factor of single-pointed attention, which counters sensual craving

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A significant difference between access to the first stabilization and the actual state of that stabilization is that in the former, you gain only a tenuous freedom from the five hindrances, whereas in the latter, your immunity to them is stronger.

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With access to the first stabilization, you can effortlessly remain in samadhi for at least four hours at a stretch, without the slightest perturbation from either subtle laxity or excitation. But once you have achieved the actual state of the first stabilization, samadhi can be sustained, according to Buddhaghosa, “for a whole night and a whole day, just as a healthy man, after rising from his seat, could stand a whole day.”100

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When your mind disengages from activity, it naturally slips back into a space-like state of awareness, and physical and mental pliancy arise very swiftly.

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If you wish to proceed beyond access concentration to the actual state of the first stabi-lization, you steadfastly focus on the counterpart sign until you can main-tain your attention on it for a whole day and night.

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Your mind has become so still and divorced from discursive thoughts that you feel you could remain in meditation uninterruptedly for months or even years, with no awareness of the passage of time.

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While abiding in shamatha, you may have little or no experience of the passage of time, for the sense of time requires memory, which is activated through conceptualization;

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Consider that five thousand hours of training, at a rate of fifty hours each week for fifty weeks of the year, is the amount of time commonly required to achieve expertise in a high-level skill. To reach an exceptionally high level of mastery, ten thousand hours may be required. If we place shamatha training in this context, it may give us some idea about the degree of commitment needed to achieve such attentional skills.

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At the end of the one-year shamatha retreat led by Gen Lamrimpa in 1988, one meditator sat four sessions each day, each one last-ing three hours. Another sat for just two sessions, each more than seven hours long. Neither one, according to Gen Lamrimpa, had achieved shamatha at that point, but both had made very good progress. When they arose from their meditations after so many hours, it felt to them as if no time had passed at all, and their bodies and minds were filled with blissful and relaxed sensations.

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Such degrees of mental balance (concen-tration), the Buddha declared, are a necessary prerequisite for gaining expe-riential knowledge and vision of things as they really are (wisdom).104

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When examining a tapestry in a dark room, if you illuminate it with a radiant, steady lamp, you can vividly examine the images. If the lamp is dim, or, though bright, flickers in the wind, your observation will be impaired.

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In the 1960s, a series of debates was held among Theravada Buddhist scholars, with one side arguing that the achievement of the first meditative stabi-lization is required to achieve liberation, and the other side arguing that momentary concentration is sufficient for vipashyana practice to fully lib-erate the mind.112

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If the paranormal abilities listed above look like sheer magic to us, who have grown accustomed to the material-istic biases of modern science, it is good to remember that the products of modern technology look just as much like magic to people from traditional societies where science has not been taught.

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Three elements appear to be crucial for the realization of a meaningful life: the pursuit of genuine happiness, truth, and virtue.

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Socrates’ lament, “I am still unable, as the Delphic inscrip-tion orders, to know myself; and it really seems to me ridiculous to look into other things before I have understood that.”120

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Metacognition in Educational Theory and Practice

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112 This debate is recorded on the following website:

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