As I did with the other chapters on the different perfections, I will first discuss how we train in the bodhisattva vows related to the perfection of mental stabilization. The vows and commitments are like the synthesis instructions for all that follows. By practicing our vows sincerely, we create all of the necessary conditions for being able to successfully train in the perfection. This is particularly true for the perfection of concentration. Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that the practice of moral discipline is the foundation of concentration. Moral discipline functions to control our gross distractions and concentration functions to control our subtle distractions. Together, they enable us to focus our mind on virtue. The cause of happiness is mixing our mind with virtue. Our ability to do so depends upon concentration, which in turn depends upon the mindfulness we develop through the practice of moral discipline.
Bodhisattva downfall: Neglecting to train in mental stabilization.
The attainment of Tranquil Abiding is necessary to achieve profound realizations. Therefore, if we fail to make an effort in the following areas we incur a secondary downfall: (1) To listen to and think about the instructions on tranquil abiding, and (2) To improve our concentration by training in tranquil abiding.
At the end of the day, we have been given perfect methods for attaining enlightenment. We have been given everything. All we now need to do is actually do them. Our main problem is when we do our practices, our mind is filled with distraction. While outwardly it appears that we are meditating, inside our mind is wandering everywhere except where it is supposed to be, namely on our practice. If we can learn to overcome this one problem, progress along the path will come very quickly.
Why is concentration important? Ultimately, the strength of our concentration determines the extent of our spiritual power. The more powerful our practice, the more quickly and profoundly we make progress. It is no exaggeration to say we are fighting a war against our delusions. It is an all or nothing battle. Either our delusions defeat us or we defeat our delusions. There is no middle ground, there is no peace treaty or compromise possible. Appeasement only emboldens the enemy. Either we exterminate them or they will not stop until we are pinned down into the deepest hell forever. This may sound like exaggerated rhetoric, but it is not.
Delusions are relentless in their deceptions and they will never stop. At no point will they ever be satisfied thinking this person is deluded enough, they will keep deceiving us until they drive us literally insane. The more freedom we give our delusion to reign within our mind, the more they will seize control of us and make us do things which only serve to harm ourself or others. They are an enemy without remorse. They have no redeeming qualities. The only reason why we do not see this or realize it is because they have us so firmly in their grasp that they have convinced us they are our friends. Against an enemy such as this, we need power to defeat them. Concentration is our power.
Concentration has two components: (1) remembering our chosen object of meditation, and (2) realizing its object clearly. In the beginning, our primary focus should be remembering the object. To remember the object means to keep it in mind, to maintain the continuum of keeping the focus of our mind on the object of our choice. The ability to do this is called mindfulness. Mindfulness simply means remembering our object, or more practically, not forgetting it.
If we check, there is really only one reason why we forget our objects of meditation. It is because we think our object of distraction is more important or more interesting than our object of meditation. To us, the value of our objects of distraction seem evident and seem immediate, whereas the value of our objects of meditation seem abstract and seem to be far off in some uncertain future. If we want to remember our objects of meditation, we need to reverse this. Remembering our objects of meditation has to become, for us, the most important thing in our life. If we can remember our objects of meditation, we will find permanent freedom. If we allow ourselves to forget them, we will quickly be swept away and become lost forever. Again, this sounds like hyperbole, but it is not. The stakes are this high, the choices are this stark.
If we want to remember our objects we have to want to remember them because we understand them to be the most important things in our life. We accomplish this by meditating again and again on the benefits of each meditation we do. If we check, a very large proportion of all of Geshe-la’s books is simply an explanation of the benefits of the different objects of meditation. We should not gloss over these and try jump straight to the object of meditation itself. If we do this, we will quickly become distracted, receive almost no benefit, and then gradually abandon our practice. If instead, we take the time in the beginning to focus most of our time and attention on contemplating and meditating on the benefits, then we will become very motivated to remember our objects when we are in meditation. When we meditate on the benefits of a given object of meditation, the most important thing to focus on is not the “what” but rather the “why.” In other words, just knowing what the benefits are will have little power if we do not understand why the given object of meditation produces the actual benefit. If we do not directly see and understand the connection between the two, our desire to mix our mind with these objects of meditation will be superficial at best and lack the power necessary to remain with them. When distractions come, we will eagerly go with them. In particular, we should focus on realizing the benefits of meditating on death, the benefits of bodhichitta, the benefits of the self-generation object and the benefits of the Mahamudra object. These are our main and most powerful objects of meditation.