Calm Abiding

Meditator by Nathan Phaneuf


I’ve been continuing my close reading of Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. This is the root text for the many lamrim texts that followed. The copy I have includes the root text in both English and Tibetan, and a commentary by Geshe Sonam Rinchen (translated by Ruth Sonam).

Last night’s reading included verse 38

Without the attainment of calm abiding,
Higher perception will not occur.
Therefore make repeated effort
To accomplish calm abiding.

Some context; Indo-Tibetan traditions present two primary types of meditation that go hand-in-hand with each other; śamatha (calm abiding) and vipaśyanā (insight). As an aside, these aren’t the only types of meditation, but they are fundamental in both sutra and tantra. In short, śamatha signifies a deep level of tranquility that arises when the meditator is able to calm the mind and its stirrings and thereby attain one-pointed concentration on the chosen object of meditation. Vipaśyanā means “clear-seeing”, “insight”, “higher perception”, and signifies the ability to see into, or directly perceive, the essence, reality, or nature of the object of meditation.

What follows is part of Geshe Sonam Rinchen’s commentary on verse 38;

The heightened state of concentration [śamatha] which forms the basis for this [i.e. vipaśyanā] is the same whether attained by Buddhists or non-Buddhists. When accompanied by sincere refuge in the Three Jewels it is a Buddhist practice. When accompanied by a strong wish to gain freedom from cyclical existence it acts as a cause for liberation, while the intention to attain enlightenment for the sake of all living beings makes it a Mahayana practice.

A calmly abiding mind is necessary for attaining special insight according to the sutra tradition and for attaining the stages of generation and completion in the practices of tantra. While Atisha stresses its importance as the foundation for higher perception, Shantideva and other great masters point out that only through special insight into reality can we eliminate the ignorance which lies at the root of cyclic existence, and that such special insight cannot be developed without a calmly abiding mind.

[Footnote; I have been practicing śamatha. It is slow going, but my efforts have not been wasted]