Happy Tsog Day: How to practise the perfection of mental stabilization

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 39 of a 44-part series.

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of mental stabilization
By abandoning the faults of mental sinking, mental excitement, and mental wandering,
And concentrating in single-pointed absorption
On the state that is the lack of true existence of all phenomena.

Happiness is a state of mind, therefore its cause comes from within the mind. In the preface of virtually every book Geshe-la has written and in the first class of every general program course taught in Dharma centers around the world, we are taught that the cause of happiness is inner peace. If our mind is peaceful, then we are happy regardless of what is happening externally. And if our mind is unpeaceful, we are unhappy regardless of what is happening externally. This shows that inner peace is the true cause of happiness. What then is the cause of inner peace? Mixing our mind with virtue. The more we mix our mind with virtue, the more our mind becomes peaceful both now, while we are mixing our mind with virtue, and in the future, when the karmic effects of our mental action of mixing our mind with virtue ripen. Concentration is being able to mix our mind with virtue single-pointedly, free from all distractions. The perfection of concentration is concentrating on virtue with the bodhicitta motivation.

There are three main faults to be abandoned when training in concentration: mental excitement, mental sinking, and mental wandering. Our mind naturally goes towards whatever it thinks is a cause of happiness. Because we currently think external objects of attachment are the cause of happiness, our mind naturally moves towards them. When our mind moves towards an object of attachment, this is mental excitement. Mental sinking is when our mind gradually loses clarity and focus of whatever it is we are trying to concentrate on. It becomes dull, heavy, and we can even fall asleep. Mental wandering is when our mind moves to some other object of Dharma that is not our chosen object of meditation. While technically not a delusion, it is a distraction. We overcome mental excitement by considering the relative benefits of thinking about our object of attachment compared with thinking about our object of Dharma, and then choosing to return our mind to the object of Dharma. We overcome mental sinking by uplifting our mind, improving our posture, and restoring our object of meditation by renewing the contemplation. We overcome mental wandering by reminding ourselves that our chosen object of meditation is not what our mind has wandered towards, and that allowing mental wandering can become a bad habit preventing us from ever making progress along the path.

Improving our concentration occurs in stages, called the mental abidings. With the first mental abiding, we are able to meditate on our object single-pointedly for one minute. On the second mental abiding, we are able to concentrate on our object without distraction for five minutes. With the third mental abiding, every time we forget our object of meditation, we are able to regenerate it very quickly, like effortlessly picking up a ball we just dropped. And on the fourth mental abiding we overcome all faults of gross mental sinking and gross mental excitement for our entire meditation session. In other words, we never completely forget our object of meditation, but we may still have subtle faults to our concentration, such as subtle mental sinking and subtle mental excitement. If we attain the fourth mental abiding on an object of meditation, we can then enter into retreat and it is said we can attain tranquil abiding within six months. Tranquil abiding is an extremely powerful mind of concentration that is free from all gross and subtle mental seeking and mental excitement and is able to remain single-pointedly focused on our object of meditation for as long as we wish, indeed for the rest of our life.

The mind of tranquil abiding is equivalent to a first form realm god mind. Just as it is possible to have a human body but have the mind of a hell being, so too it is possible to have a human body but the mind of a god. Even in sutra, tranquil biting is not the pinnacle of our concentration, but rather the first major milestone in improving our concentration. Our mind can move further and further up into the god realms, attaining increasingly profound levels of concentration, up to an including the peak of samsara. A detailed explanation of these different levels of concentration can be found in the book Ocean of Nectar.

According to tantra, the very subtle mind of great bliss is infinitely more powerful than the mind of tranquil abiding. It is also much easier to generate the mind of great bliss than it is to attain tranquil abiding. Geshe-la explains in and Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that if we can attain the fourth mental abiding on the indestructible drop at our heart, our winds will enter, abide, and dissolve into our central channel. We will then perceive the eight dissolutions until eventually we arrive at the very subtle mind of the clear light of bliss. Through further training in the five stages of completion stage of Heruka, we can increase the quality with which we are able to cause our inner winds to enter, abide, and dissolve into our central channel and thereby generate increasingly qualified experiences of the mind of clear light of bliss. The mind of clear light is the most concentrated mind possible. Why is this? The reason is our mind naturally moves towards whatever we consider to be a cause of happiness. But since there is no experience more sublime than great bliss, our mind has no desire whatsoever to go anywhere else because to do so would be to move from the most pleasant state possible to something less pleasant. Thus, our mind settles into the clear light of bliss much like a marble would settle at the bottom of a bowl.

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