Bodhisattva Downfall: Being preoccupied with the taste of mental stabilization
Here taste refers to the experience of bliss, peace, and suppleness induced by concentration. If we become attached to this and regard it as the ultimate result of concentration, we incur a downfall because this attachment diminishes our wish to help others. The real value of concentration is it is a means by which higher realizations can be achieved.
For most of us, we have very little experience of the taste of actual mental stabilization, so from one perspective this downfall can seem remote to our experience. But it drives at a deeper point in terms of how we approach our practice of meditation. There is a fundamental difference between meditating in search of results and meditating in pursuit of creating causes. The former is an example of this downfall and the latter is the correct way of practicing.
What does it mean to meditate in search of results? Quite simply it means our intention of meditation is to enjoy pleasant inner experiences while doing so. In other words, we treat meditation as simply another means of fulfilling our worldly concern of experiencing pleasure. We like to feel “blissed out” or we want to forget our troubles or we simply become attached to experiencing results while we meditate. Or we become despondent when our practice is a struggle, we can’t seem to focus, find our objects, and we feel nothing in our practice. All of these are examples of this downfall. The definition of pure practice is practicing for the sake of our future lives. Clearly practicing for the sake of the time during our meditation session is not that.
Attachment to experiencing results while meditating is very common and can be very subtle. We perhaps want to experience some sort of “ah ha” moment, or perhaps we are attached to attaining a certain level of mental concentration, such as the second mental abiding. In our Tantric practice, it is very easy to become attached to the imagery and the visualizations, relating to it as some form of spiritual pornography. At a subtle level, it can simply be a subtle form of wanting to harvest the results of past efforts and judging the success of our meditation against the standard of whether or not it was a “good meditation” (by which we mean one that was pleasant and easy going). Such attachment to results while meditating quickly destroys our practice. Attachment functions to separate us from the objects of our attachment, so the more attached to results we become the more distant they will be. Likewise, when results do not come, we quickly become frustrated with our practice and can falsely conclude that it doesn’t work. Many have completely abandoned their practice for this reason. This can especially be a problem for people who do retreat. In my view, attachment to results during retreat is the single biggest problem people face during retreat, and if they do not learn how to overcome it retreat time can be a living hell creating all sorts of bad habits they then carry into their daily practice.
The correct way of practicing is to completely forget about any results. Our only goal in engaging in practice is to create good causes, not harvest their results. We seek not to experience any results, rather we seek to progressively improve the quality with which we create good causes for ourselves. Like a training gymnast, we strive to perfect the internal gymnastics routine that is our sadhana. Like someone diligently saving up their money, we view our daily practice as our rare opportunity to put away some good causes for a better future. Like a squirrel, we go about the work of stocking up inner resources for the long winter ahead. For a practitioner free from attachment to results, difficulties during meditation are greeted with enthusiasm since we know we are working through our greatest obstacles. The greater the inner struggle, the happier we are because we know it is by persevering through them that we will make it to the other side. Retreat for a pure practitioner is not engaged in with any hope for results, rather it is viewed as an extremely rare and precious opportunity to create countless good causes for the future. Venerable Tharchin said we should think that everything that happens in this life was caused by actions of our past lives, and everything we do now will not ripen in this life but only in our future lives. While of course this is not strictly true, there will be some effects which ripen from causes created in this life, as a mental outlook this is perfect.