Once we have a deep appreciation of the benefits of our objects of meditation, and mixing our mind with them is genuinely felt to be the most important thing in our life, then we will not find training in concentration to be that difficult. We train as follows: First, we contemplate the benefits of mixing our mind with our chosen object to generate a desire to do so. Then we engage in the contemplations which give rise to our object of meditation as explained in the various books. Once we have found our object, we simply try to maintain the continuum of remembering it, in particular remembering its meaning. In the process of doing this, basically without us being aware of it, our mind will gradually slip away and become distracted by something else. At some point we will “wake up” and become aware of the fact that we have lost our chosen object of concentration. When this happens, we then ask ourselves the question, “what is more beneficial, mixing my mind with this object of distraction or mixing my mind with my object of meditation?” If we have done our preliminary work well of realizing the benefits of our objects of meditation, the answer to this question will be obvious and heart-felt. We then, on the basis of this desire to mix our mind with our object of meditation, re-engage in the contemplations which lead to our object and we start the cycle over. We continue in this way again and again for as long as we have time to actually meditate.
The actual attainment of tranquil abiding appears to be a very high attainment and appears to be very far off. Given this, it is difficult for us to actually be motivated to train in tranquil abiding because it seems like an impossible task. Venerable Tharchin explains if we do not think something is doable, we cannot really generate a genuine effort to do it.
It is useful for us to consider the benefits of the earlier mental abidings. The first mental abiding is being able to remember our object for one minute. This is the basic building block for all subsequent attainments in concentration. Think of how revolutionary it was for humanity to develop the first brick. Think how that one invention has changed the world. It is the same with the first mental abiding. The second mental abiding is being able to remember our object for five minutes. These are the cornerstones of our future enlightenment. Bricks are wonderful, but they can easily fall. If, however, we have the ability to make solid cornerstones then the structure of the object within our mind will be very solid. The third mental abiding is when we forget our object of meditation, we can quickly regain it. This is the difference between having to laboriously make each brick by hand compared with having industrial equipment which can crank them out quickly and perfectly every time.
The fourth mental abiding is the ability to go an entire meditation session, even one that is four hours long, without ever once completely forgetting our object of meditation. We are able to maintain the continuum of our meditation without interruption. This is, in many ways, our most important attainment along the entire path. The benefits of this are countless. First, once we attain the fourth mental abiding, we see directly that it is entirely doable to attain tranquil abiding. Because we see it is doable, we can then easily generate the necessary effort to complete our training in concentration. Once we attain tranquil abiding, enlightenment will come very quickly. Getting to the fourth mental abiding is like entering into a slip stream that leads inexorably to the attainment of tranquil abiding. It is said that once we attain the fourth mental abiding, if we enter into strict retreat it is possible to even attain tranquil abiding within six months.
Second, once we get one object to the fourth mental abiding it is fairly easy to get all of the others to the same level. Venerable Tharchin advises we take one object and get it to the first mental abiding. Once that is stable, we then bring all of the others to the same level. We then do the same with the second mental abiding, the third mental abiding and finally the fourth mental abiding. The attainment of each abiding is like a muscle. Once we build up the strength of a given muscle to lift 10 kilos, then it does not matter if the object we are lifting is round or square, we can lift it. It is the same with the muscle of concentration.
Third, we will have built the foundation of our future enlightenment. Bricks are nice, cornerstones are great, but without a solid foundation it is all vulnerable. Getting all of our meditation objects to the fourth mental abiding is like laying the entire foundation for our future enlightenment. Everything that follows will be built on this foundation, and everything we subsequently build will not be lost nor fall down. Once we get all of our objects of meditation (the 21 lamrim meditation, the six perfections, the three bringings, and the generation and completion stage objects) to the fourth mental abiding we will have laid all the necessary foundation for building enlightenment in our mind. This is a very important moment in our spiritual life. It basically means there is no going back for us for at least the rest of this life. There is no longer a danger of us losing the path in this life. There is no danger of us wasting our precious human life.
Fourth, the greatest benefit of attaining the fourth mental abiding is we can guarantee we will make it to the pure land at the time of our death. Venerable Geshe-la explained at a summer festival many years ago when he first started teaching about the Mahamudra that if we attain the fourth mental abiding on the Mahamudra object, then it is guaranteed we will attain the pure land at the time of death. Once we attain the pure land, we will be guaranteed to complete our training. This means attaining the fourth mental abiding is, for all practical purposes, us reaching a point of inevitable emergence from samsara. If we can just make it to here, we will make it all the way.
Attaining the fourth mental abiding is entirely doable. We may not at present genuinely believe we can attain tranquil abiding, but if we put enough effort into it, we do feel that attaining the fourth mental abiding is something that is doable. It will not be easy, it will take a lot of work, but surely it takes less effort to attain the fourth mental abiding than the amount of effort we put into the average professional career. But just look at the difference in the rewards between the two! A good career may create stable external conditions for the rest of this life; attaining the fourth mental abiding will create stable internal conditions for eternity.