Dwelling phase in meditation
Good morning everyone, here is the Dharma Expresso for this Saturday.
Today, I will talk about the dwelling phase of meditation. The beginners who practice for 6 months to a year should know where you are at in terms of the progress and level of your meditation practice. Let’s skip the entering and exiting phases of meditation and go right into the dwelling phase.
For the beginners who are about to start the intermediate stage of meditation, please remember the following steps:
First, when we sit in meditation, we need to get to a state of complete relaxation and stillness. How relaxed and still? It is sitting motionless and calm, not moving or fidgeting. You might wonder why we need to sit still and relax? Because when we stay motionless and completely relaxed, we can be gentle. By doing so, we halt the power of our karmic force. Imagine this karmic energy is like a vehicle moving at 100 miles per hour; to change its direction, we have to reduce its speed. Similarly, we need to reduce the intensity of our karmic force. Since the karmic force and our body are inseparable - our body and actions create karma - we have to slow down and stop moving our body.
During the sitting session, we relax our tissues and muscles and affirm: “I am relaxed and still.” We could also affirm: “I am serene” because our body is calm and motionless. The goal at this point is to be completely relaxed and motionless. Without attaining this state, we cannot go to the second step.
The second step is to achieve the subtle breath. Once we have reached the stillness state, we switch our focus to the breath. Our breath gradually settles down and becomes gentler.
Why do we focus on the breath? Because breathing is life, breathing is our consciousness. When breathing stops, we die. Therefore, our breath expresses our life and consciousness. When we cultivate, our consciousness becomes more profound; hence, our breathing should become subtler.
There are 3 concise stages of cultivating the breath:
- First, we should practice deep breathing. What is deep breathing? It is breathing by extending and contracting our lower abdomen instead of our chest. When we practice deep breathing, we manipulate the diaphragm, so we need to focus on the lower part of our belly. By inhaling and exhaling from the lower abdomen, your diaphragm rises and falls. That is deep breathing.
- Second, we should breathe slower. How? Instead of breathing 15 times per minute, we reduce it to 10 breaths per minute then down to 6 breaths or 4 breaths per minute. Breathing 4 times per minute is slow breathing. If you can slow down to 2 breaths per minute, you are doing great.
- Third, subtle breathing. What is subtle breathing? Subtle breathing is to breathe until you don’t feel your body anymore. The body is still and motionless. Because we don’t feel our body anymore, we consider it to have disappeared. That is the state of subtle breathing. We know that the body is there, but it no longer bother us. Our internal energy settles down. When we achieve this state, we affirm: “I am serene” - a profound serenity.
So the first step is to achieve relaxation and stillness, the second step is to accomplish subtle breathing.
After this stage, there are many means to transcend the subtle breath. Otherwise, we will stay at this stage forever.
Single-minded recitation of the mantra is one method of our precious bowl meditation that will help us transcend the subtle breath.
It leads us to the third step, called the unobstructed flow of the mantra. In the beginning, the flow of mantra is slow, like water dripping. Later on, it becomes nonstop but does not have to be fast. The brain controls the speed of the recitation. First, it is slow then becomes quicker, more focused then nonstop. After a while, we will reach the stage of self-mastery, there is no need to pay attention to the recitation anymore; it will flow freely. Finally, the flow is like a ray of light in our head. Because it is a ray of light, we no longer stay with the breath and the body. The flow of mantra becomes the flow of liberation.
Why do we recite the mantra? Because its nature is the flow of liberation, the light, and transcends the body. You might think of the flow of mantra as thoughts or thought skandha, but in fact, the flow of mantra, its function, nature, mark, and manifestation, transcends the thought skandha. It is the flow of liberation, the door, and entrance to the Dharmadhatu. It is the means to enter the Dharmadhatu. This third step is vital, and we need to affirm “I am the flow of liberation.”
There are still the fourth and fifth steps. For now, we need to focus on reciting the mantra and sitting still. We have to sit quietly because when we fidget, we cannot halt our karmic force. The first step is to stop our karmic hindrances, as I mentioned earlier.
If you only recite mantra without sitting motionless, then you might be cultivating to be both a saint and a demon or ghost. It means you are always stirring things up because you cannot be quiet and serene.
If you rely on focusing well but not breathing subtly then you are leading a turbulence life. Your lifestyle is very mundane, not transcendent. You cannot lead a saintly life when your breath is not subtle.
In summary, we need to combine the 3 steps when we sit in meditation. It is vital that we accomplish all 3 components. Many people think: “It is enough that I can just sit and vibrate the mantra.” Not true. If you only rely on the recitation of the mantra, then you will become a “mantra master”. The mantra masters can recite mantra very well and quickly and can control the ghosts and spirits but they cannot liberate themselves. They think they are in the flow of liberation, in the assembly of the saints but they are not. It is because all sainthoods begin with purifying the body, the breath, the lifestyle and not just reciting the mantra. It is the difference between a mantra master and a person who cultivates Vajrayana, Shingon Buddhism, Great Compassion mantra, or the transformation body of a Bodhisattva.
You can see that our meditation practice goes through the vital steps of relaxation, subtle breathing and transforming our karma, our life force, our activities, the way we speak, and how we express our love. Ultimately, we transcend our ordinary life to enter the life of sainthood and unite with the flow of liberation.
Please note that we have not talked about the fourth step which is to enter the flow and dis-identify with the object, and how we come in to the circle of liberation and let go of all and transcend all.
Thanks, everyone, for listening to the philosophy of meditation. The dwelling phase is essential, and there are still a lot of materials to cover. I will continue with the talk later, for now, it is enjoyable enough to practice with these three steps.
Have a beautiful and invigorating day.
Dharma Master Heng Chang
(Translated and transcribed by Compassionate Service Society)