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Stages of Sitting Meditation
For the benefit of the novice, the following stages of sitting meditation are here explained. You are advised to consider individual differences in temperament while examining these points.
[ Overcoming of physical challenges ]
When you start practicing sitting meditation, the very first thing you will be trained to do is to assume the correct physical posture. At first, it is difficult for anyone to attain the correct posture. Even once you think you have it, you are soon faced with a problem because you are unable to hold the posture for long. At this point, you must carefully condition your body, following the methods prescribed in the Principle Book. There is a limitation to what your body can endure. Trying to forcibly overcome your limitations, or holding the idea that extreme endurance is the best course to take, is not a wise path to follow. The term “overcoming of physical challenges” means to carefully condition your body to overcome its limitations without unnecessary strain. If the physical challenges are not carefully overcome from the beginning, you may suffer later on in your practice or decide to cease practicing altogether.
[ Control of drowsiness ]
Since sitting meditation is usually practiced at the crack of dawn and in stillness, it is easy to succumb to sleep. Therefore, in some sense, it is a battle against drowsiness. This problem has become even more serious for people in today’s society, who are in the habit of going to bed late and also getting up late because of television, computers and such. Defeating drowsiness is a pivotal issue in the practice of sitting meditation. Needless to say, if the temptation of sleep is not overcome, sitting meditation will be fruitless. Nothing will be attained in regard to breathing and control, for instance, not to mention resting in the Danjeon.
Therefore, a practitioner of sitting meditation must tackle the temptation of drowsiness head-on. If you do this faithfully, as if it were a matter of life and death, you will easily prevail.
[ Control of energy and breathing ]
This refers to the smoothing of your physical energy and breath. If you haven’t paid attention to your energy or breathing in daily life, you will most likely find it hard to follow the method prescribed for gathering energy and for control of breathing. Therefore, you must proceed carefully in this task. Your training should continue until controlled breathing comes naturally without a conscious effort, and you feel comfortable with such breathing. Eventually your mind and body will form a perfect oneness, resting in the Danjeon while breathing correctly.
[ Control of persistent and mind-disturbing thoughts ]
Mind-disturbing thoughts occur when the “Three Poisons” (greed, hatred, and delusion) and the “Five Vices” (immoderate desire for wealth and fame, lust, and desire for food, and sleep) are empowered. These thoughts are clinging by nature and are not subdued easily.
When overcoming persistent mind-disturbing thoughts, a head-on confrontation, such as is prescribed for the battle against drowsiness, cannot be recommended. Such a method will only make you grow weary and, as you become tired, the thoughts will grow stronger. A more effective method is needed, and in fact has already been described in passage Seven in The Method of Sitting Meditation. Using the technique given in passage Seven, you will be spared from the trouble of “battling it out” because the mind-disturbing thoughts will naturally fade away. Through this process, the persistent and mind-disturbing thoughts will ultimately vanish by themselves.
Since overcoming mind-disturbing thoughts will serve as a crucial turning point in sitting meditation, you must devote yourself to this task until the very end.
[ Control of fleeting and minute thoughts ]
This refers to the management of little wandering thoughts that float about in a disorderly manner. These fleeting thoughts do not possess the power of the persistent and mind-disturbing thoughts. They don’t remain for long, nor do they exercise great power. They are just wandering thoughts that endlessly come and go, floating in and out of your mind. Things or events that have escaped your attention during the day suddenly come to mind and flee as soon as they are detected. You must take proper steps to clear your mind of such fleeting thoughts. If you repeatedly and faithfully practice such steps and deny those thoughts even the slightest opportunity, they will ultimately disappear on their own.
[ State of Having Arrived ]
When these obstacles are overcome, a clear and orderly mind will be gazing at the Danjeon. The watchful eyes of your mind will be scrupulous and precise so that nothing will be able to work its way into your mind. If, by some minute chance, something were to appear in your mind, you would unrelentingly and severely reprimand it. It is much like a cat with its eyes fixed intently on a mouse. This is the state in which your spirit has reached the Danjeon and is resting there.
[ State of Arrived Once and State of Forgetting Arrived Once ]
There only remains the coming and going of the state of Arrived Once and the state of Forgetting Arrived Once. The state of Forgetting Arrived Once refers to the state in which you forget that your spirit has reached the state of Arrived Once. When your spirit is absorbed deeper into the state of Arrived Once, you will be led to the state of Forgetting Arrived Once. It is the state in which you let go of the fact that your spirit has reached the state of Arrived Once or that it is resting there. That is to say that the man is there, but the bull is not
[ State Void of Arrived Once and Forgetting Arrived Once ]
This is the state in which the state of Arrived Once and the state of Forgetting Arrived Once are both suddenly forgotten. From the state of Arrived Once you enter the state of Forgetting Arrived Once. By being deeply absorbed into the state of Forgetting Arrived Once, both the state of Arrived Once and the state of Forgetting Arrived Once become void. It is the state where there is neither bull nor man
. It is the ideal state for all practitioners, and the ultimate goal in sitting meditation. You will gain deep gratification, absorbed into the so-called perfect state of spiritual concentration (“samadhi”) in which you will “hear but not hear” and will “see but not see”, with all of the six sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, body, and mind) fully functioning.
[ Action and rest become one and the same ]
Although you have attained the samadhi of sitting meditation, you cannot continue to rest there. You must seek out the realm in which action and rest become one. You must set out in pursuit of the state in which you are free of attachment to discrimination even when active, and your discriminations are in accordance with the middle way even at rest. By administering great loving-kindness and great compassion in all directions through infinite expedients, you must exercise boundless dharma grace to benefit the immeasurable number of sentient beings. It is only in the state where action and rest become one and the same that omnipotence and all the virtues of the Buddha can grow deeper and stronger.