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May 13, 2019


            There are two basic aspects to Buddhist meditation—shamatha, and vipassana.  For this piece I will talk about the first of these.

            Shamatha can be translated as stopping, calming, or concentrating.  Consider this for a moment.  What kind of mental activity can be translated as all three of these things? 

            The three are in fact interrelated in ways that aren’t obvious at first.  When we are calm, concentration becomes easier.  Certainly a scattered mind is neither focused nor concentrated.  The reverse is true as well: when we are concentrated, we are calmer.  Worry and anxiety and so forth have an agitated, unfocused quality, as the mind runs around in circles chasing its own tail. 

            And this is where stopping comes in.  To stop involves a kind of focus, to stopping that agitated and dysphoric searching. 

            One of the implications of this for daily practice is to periodically just come to a halt in the midst of whatever we are doing.  (Do it with me now).  Can you feel that restless energy that wants you to push ahead?  That is something worth knowing and experiencing.  If you stop for a while, it can calm down.  You may notice that you return to whatever you were doing a little calmer and more focused.

            When the Buddha met the serial killer Angulimala on the road, the Buddha just continued to walk.  Angulimala yelled at him to stop.  He was not used to someone being so calm in his presence, with his necklace of fingers from the people he had killed.  The Buddha told him: “It is I who have stopped.  I stopped many years ago.  It is you who have continued to run.”  Angulimala was impressed, not just by the Buddha’s words, but by his demeanor.  He ultimately became a monk himself, stopping the energy of murderous anger that had pushed him on for many years.

            Less dramatically, just try stopping from time to time today.  Maybe in the midst of walking from one room to another.  Maybe as you are about to hit the send button on an email, or say something to another person.  When you are standing in line or at a red light.  When you finish one task and are about to start another.  Take 2 or 3 mindful breaths.  It won’t slow you down at all.  And I think you will find it interesting as a step on the way to greater focus, calmness, and concentration.


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