When the Buddha spoke about meditation, he spoke about samādhi. The word samādhi comes from ‘sam-a-dha’, which means as much as ‘gathering’, ‘uniting’ or ‘unifying’ the mind. In other words: concentration.
The word samādhi is almost synonymous with the word samatha (calm) and samatha meditation is the meditation method by which one develops samādhi.
Concentration works directly against desire. If the mind is concentrated then there is no desire, and it is desire that stands at the source of all our suffering.
Samatha Meditation on Buddho
In the practice of samatha meditation the mind is focussed on a specific object.
The Buddha taught 40 such meditation objects. He never said that one object is better than another, they can all be used to achieve concentration.
We practice samatha meditation on buddho by listening to the sound one makes by repeating the word buddho (spoken as “bodaw”) out loud over and over again.
This is a form of buddhanusati meditation, the recollection of the qualities of the Buddha, one of the meditation objects recommended by the Buddha.
Traditionally one actively reflects on these qualities during buddhanusati meditation to generate inspiration and energy for example. Samatha meditation on buddho is a derivative of this method.
The sound created by repeating buddho out loud represents and embodies the qualities of the Buddha. During this meditation there should be only one intention, one object in the mind, namely the Buddha.
In essence the practice is to listen to the sound and do nothing else. The rest happens on it’s own. It’s very simple.
So the meditation method is easy, but the mind is not easy, it makes difficulties. That’s why continuous practice is so important. If you try to focus your mind on buddho over and over again, day in, day out, it will become easier by itself.
As the strength of your mind and the depth of your concentration on buddho increases, you connect to the qualities of the Buddha at a deeper and deeper level and enliven them in yourself to an ever-increasing degree.
Ultimately, this meditation system embraces the entire gradual Buddhist path of morality (sīla), concentration (samādhi) and wisdom (paññā).
Inner Silence through Meditation on Sound
Ahba teaches that concentration on sound as an object is very suitable for our western mind.
With samatha meditation you try to calm your mind, but at first your mind does not want to be calm at all. It resists the inner silence.
If you don’t yet have concentration, everything that can distract you is an extra obstacle, an extra possibility for the mind not to be still. Especially seeing or hearing things makes it very difficult to get concentration.
Visual input can easily be switched off by simply closing your eyes. With sound it is a different story. If you live in a city, there is a good chance that you will always hear sound around you. A moped driving by, a siren, the neighbors, etc.
By using sound as a meditation object the hearing and therefore the mind can be further protected against external distractions.
Another advantage of meditation on sound is the increasing clarity that comes with increasing concentration. With meditation on breathing, for example, the clarity of the object (the breath at the tip of the nose) decreases with increasing concentration. With sound one hears more and more layers with increasing concentration, and this can cause an upward spiral of concentration to be generated.
But it’s all about Insight isn’t it?
Ahba teaches that developing insight through vipassanā–meditation (insight meditation) is meaningless as long as there is no foundation of concentration. After all, you do not build a house without a foundation either.
Only when there is a solid foundation do you build the walls and place the roof. Furnishing the house is then an easy matter.
Concentration is the foundation. Only once concentration is deep and solid will there be room for wisdom to arise.
Ahba gives a window through which you look outside as an example. If the window is dirty you can’t see what’s going on outside. If you clean the window a little, you can look through it a little. If you have cleaned the window completely you can see through it without distortion. It is the same with purifying the mind through concentration meditation after which you can see things as they really are.
By meditating on buddho you build a very strong foundation. Ahba uses this meditation as a key to open the gate to concentration, after which another object can be used if that helps to bring about further deepening.
If concentration has become deep, firm and reliable in the sense that it always arises as soon as you sit down, then it is possible, for example, to switch to the mental recitation of buddho or to meditation objects such as mettā (loving-kindness), marana (death), anapana (breathing) or vipassanā (insight).
However, this is not strictly necessary. Ultimately it is possible to use samatha meditation on buddho to achieve such a high concentration that all sensory doors can be closed and only the mind focused on the Buddha remains.
The wisdom of the Buddha then comes along in the wake of this concentration, and liberation can be achieved.
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