On August 30th, we made it through the third paragraph of Putting This Practice Into Context from the Introduction. Note that I will not refer to page numbers because they will vary depending on which edition you are reading.
Variety can be Confusing
Due to the broad variety of meditation offerings in the west, beginning a meditation practice can be confusing and overwhelming. In order to understand more clearly the distinctions between Zen, Theravadin, Tibetan and other practices, Culadasa stresses the importance of understanding the meanings of and relationships between the commonly used terms Awakening, śamatha, vipassanā (Insight), samādhi (concentration or stable attention) and sati (mindfulness). I recommend that you take the time to look them up in Culadasa’s very complete and clear Glossary of terms. Don’t worry about it if you do not understand the terms fully at this point as they will be repeated many times during the course of the book. If you are reading other related books, chances are the terms will be present, too, and will buttress your understanding of them. Think of this as a process in which you will accrue knowledge over time.
What Conditions are Necessary for Awakening?
Culadasa does a great job of explaining the relationship between the two conditions that are necessary for Awakening: śamatha and vipassanā. In my view and based on my own conditioning, the description seems something like a calm, clear lake free of debris (śamatha). The water is so clear that true reality in the form of Insights (vipassanā) can be experienced below the surface at the same time that perceived reality (delusion) is reflected back on the surface with precision. There is no doubt present at the time of Awakening and even though the water may get murky again, the experience of the truth prevails and has changed you at a deep structural level. Take the time to look at the diagrams with the meanings of the terms in mind. Again, it is okay to not understand it completely now, eventually it will be crystal clear to you. Become familiar with the concepts as best you can.
Samādhi (concentration or stable attention) and Sati (mindfulness)
The distinction between these two terms is that Sati (mindfulness) is about the optimal relationship between peripheral awareness and attention for any given task. Samadhi is stable attention or concentration. Stable attention is attention that has been sustained for a period of time. Sati is explained in great detail in the First Interlude that we will be discussing in several weeks. We also discussed how the word samādhi has a bit of a different meaning in Yoga. It is sometimes referred to as Awakening, the first stage (samādhi-pada) of which is when one has merged with the object of meditation.
This Thursday, September 6th, we will continue with the fourth paragraph in Putting This Practice Into Context.