The Buddhism of Tibet

The following article is from the Autumn, 2002 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


Unlike most books by the Dalai Lama which are edited compilations of talks that he has given, this book consists of two texts that he himself wrote and two that he chose—all especially aimed at helping Western readers become better grounded in Buddhism. He wrote The Buddhism of Tibet and The Key to the Middle Way sections to explain the principle topics and central practices of Buddhism. He chose The Precious Garland by Nagaijunaand The Song of the Four Mindfulnesses by the Seventh Dalai Lama for their treatment of the bodhisattva path, the necessity of developing positive karma, and for their explanation of emptiness and tantra

An excerpt from The Buddhism of Tibet follows.

Training in Higher Meditative Stabilisation

Then, how does one progress in the training of meditative stabilisation, which is the mind's abiding one-pointedly on its object?

There are many types of meditative stabilisation, but let us explain calm abiding (samatha) here. The nature of calm abiding is the one-pointed abiding on any object without distraction of a mind conjoined with a bliss of physical and mental pliancy. If it is supplemented with taking refuge, it is a Buddhist practice, and if it is supplemented with an aspiration to highest enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, it is a Mahayana practice. Its merits are that, if one has achieved calm abiding, one's mind and body are pervaded by joy and bliss; one can—through the power of its mental and physical pliancy—set the mind on any virtuous object one chooses; and many special qualities such as clairvoyance and emanations are attained.

The main purpose and advantage of calm abiding are that through it one can achieve special insight (vipasyana), which realises emptiness, and can thereby be liberated from cyclic existence. Also, most of the secondary beneficial attributes of the three vehicles (Hinayana, Mahayana and Tantrayana) arise in dependence on calm abiding. The benefits are many.

One should have all the following causal collections for the achievement of calm abiding. The place where one practices should be free of noise, since noise is a thorn to concentration; the area and water should be congenial. The meditator himself should have few wants, know satisfaction, be free from the din and bustle of the world, and should avoid non-virtuous physical and verbal deeds. Through hearing and thinking he should have eliminated misconceptions about the subjects of meditation, he should know how to reflect on the faults of desire, on the meaning of impermanence and so on.

With regard to the actual practice of calm abiding, Maitreya says in his Discrimination of the Middle Way and the Extremes (Madhyantavibhanga):

The cause of its arising is to observe the relinquishing of the five faults and the application of the eight antidotes.

The five faults to be relinquished are:

  1. Laziness: not wishing to cultivate meditative stabilisation.
  2. Forgetfulness: not remembering the object of meditation.
  3. Lethargy and excitement: interruptions of meditative stabilisation.
  4. Non-application of the antidotes: occurring when lethargy and excitement arise.
  5. Over-application: continuing to apply the antidotes even though lethargy and excitement have been extinguished.

The eight antidotes are the means for relinquishing these faults. The antidotes to laziness are:

1 Faith: seeing the good qualities of meditative stabilisation.

2 Aspiration: seeking to attain those good qualities.

3 Effort: delighting in engaging in meditative stabilisation.

4 Physical and mental pliancy: an effect [of effort].

The antidote to forgetfulness is:

5 Mindfulness: maintaining concentration on an object continuously.

The antidote to lethargy and excitement is:

6 Awareness: knowing that lethargy or excitement has arisen or is arising.

The antidote to non-application is:

7 Application: engaging in the antidotes to lethargy or excitement.

The antidote to over-application is:

8 Desisting from application: relaxing one's effort.


Having attained calm abiding, the mind is serviceable, and no matter on what type of virtuous object or meaning it is set, the mind remains there one-pointedly.

Through applying the eight antidotes the five faults are gradually eliminated, and one passes through nine states of concentration.

1 Setting the mind: collecting the mind and aiming it at an internal object [such as the visualised form of Buddha],

2 Continually setting: prolonging concentration on the object more than in the previous state.

3 Re-setting: immediately recognising distraction and returning to the object.

4 Increased setting: collecting the mind from concentrating on the gross [aspects of the visualised object of meditation] and setting it more and more steadily on the subtle [details of the object].

5 Disciplining: knowing the good qualities of meditative stabilisation and taking joy in them.

6 Pacifying: ceasing dislike for meditative stabilisation.

7 Thorough pacifying: through effort relinquishing even subtle lethargy and excitement just after they arise.

8 Making one-pointed: generating meditative stabilisation continuously within the context of its being impossible for the non-conducive to interrupt the process.

9 Putting in equipoise: spontaneously fixing on the object of meditation without requiring the effort of relying on mindfulness and awareness.

The above nine states of concentration are accomplished by means of the six powers. The first state is accomplished through the power of hearing, the second through the power of thinking, and the third and fourth through the power of mindfulness. The fifth and sixth are accomplished through the power of awareness, the seventh and eighth through the power of effort, and the ninth through the power of familiarity. The periods of the four mental activities [which are ways in which the mind engages its object] occur during the nine states of concentration:

1 Forcibly fixing: during the first and second states the mind is strenuously fixed on its object of concentration.

2 Interruptedly fixing: from the third to the seventh state concentration occurs intermittently.

3 Non-interruptedly fixing: during the eighth state the mind is capable of staying on its object without interruption.

4 Effortlessly fixing: during the ninth state the mind spontaneously remains on its object.

If one knows the nature, order and distinctions of the levels explained above without error and cultivates calm abiding, one can easily generate faultless meditative stabilisation in about a year.

This has been a treatment of the topic of calm abiding that applies to objects in general. In particular, if one cultivates calm abiding taking the mind itself as the object, additional advantages are found. One identifies one's own mind. The mind is as vacuous as space, not having any physical qualities such as form or shape. It is something that merely perceives whatever aspects of an object appear to it with vivid clarity. Once the mind has been identified to be like this, one then engages in the nine states, the relinquishing of the five faults, the application of the eight antidotes and so forth, as has been explained above in the discussion of objects in general. One thus cultivates calm abiding.

This has been a mere enumeration of the elements of calm abiding in the sense of my having made an extreme abbreviation of Maitreya's and Asanga's instructions. The measure of having achieved calm abiding is that once physical and then mental pliancy have been achieved, one attains a pliancy of immovability, which is the mind's abiding one-pointedly on its object. At that time one achieves an actual calm abiding which is included in the preparation stage for the first concentration. Of the three realms, this concentration belongs to the form realm. Having attained calm abiding, the mind is serviceable, and no matter on what type of virtuous object or meaning it is set, the mind remains there one-pointedly.

Through the force of this, the ability of the mind to comprehend a meaning is very great.

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