Sacred geometry

Talk One: Introduction to the Art of Concentration (Samatha Meditation)

As we learn to develop concentration in meditation, samatha (calm, tranquility) is also developed, and together these qualities become a powerful means for deep insight and a source of profound well-being. This progressive series of talks, guided meditations and instructions explores in some detail the art of concentration, primarily through different ways of working with the breath and the body to open to deeper and deeper levels of calmness, presence and joy.
Date8th August 2008
Retreat/SeriesThe Art of Concentration (Samatha Med...


I'd just like to say how happy I am, actually, to be here, and to share these teachings with you, and share something of what I feel, like the gift that has come to me from the Dharma. And particularly these teachings around samatha -- I feel like they and the Dharma as a whole have just made such a massive revolution in my life, and it's just a real joy to share that with you.

Some of you I know, and a lot of you I don't know, so my name is Rob. And just let me introduce Chris. Chris is sitting here, some of you will be able to see him. Chris will be assisting me on the retreat.

So here we are on retreat, and you made it here. In a way, any retreat, any retreat that we do is kind of stepping out of the stream, and a stream of our daily life, and stepping into another stream. We're stepping into a contemplative stream. And that stream, that contemplative stream, is something that just goes back and back and back -- ancient, in generations and millennia, in fact, of human beings who've wanted to take themselves away a little bit from the bustle and the busyness, and just put that aside, and enter into something else, enter into a period, long or short, in order to inquire more deeply into life, in order to see what is possible for human beings, see what is possible for consciousness, and to just have the question: is it possible that I can meet life differently? Is that possible? Is it possible that there's an understanding that can come? Is it possible I can understand life differently? I can understand life and death, even, differently. That's behind this movement. That's behind this stepping into the stream.

[2:42] So in a way, when we come into this stream, we're actually supported by the momentum of that stream, and the momentum of countless human beings over millennia, as I said, that have gone into that, made the same movement, asked the same questions.

This is a samatha retreat. So this word samatha, as you probably know by now, means 'calm' or 'tranquillity.' I'm going to be using two words pretty much interchangeably: one of them is samatha, one of them is samādhi. So they do have slight differences, but for now it's not important. I just probably use them interchangeably -- samatha, samādhi, calm, tranquillity, most usually translated as 'concentration,' which is fine, concentration. A collectedness of mind, a unification of the being, a unification of the mind and the body together. Samatha, samādhi, that collectedness, that calmness, that tranquillity, that concentration, leads to pleasure. It leads to happiness. And I'm saying that right from the beginning in this retreat. It's supposed to lead to pleasure, a sense of well-being, a sense of happiness. This is what we're aiming towards. And more and more, over time, a really deep sense of pleasure and happiness and well-being, really deep, profound -- more profound, I would easily wager, than anything one has known before. That's gradual, so. [laughs]

[4:43] This is not, it's not just a Buddhist thing. So samādhi, samatha, they're even words that are in other traditions. It's not just a Buddhist effort or project to develop calmness, concentration, etc. It goes way back, actually quite a long time before the Buddha. But the Buddha placed huge emphasis on it in his teaching. And if you flick through the original discourses of what the Buddha taught, every few pages he's referring to it and telling people to develop it: "Develop samatha. Develop concentration." Very, very large emphasis on it.

In fact, he recalls that -- some of you know the story -- his decision to really cultivate samatha and concentration was a huge turning point in his practice, one of the major turning points in his practice. He had left the palace, as many of you will know, and he had engaged in years of severe, kind of hardcore asceticism -- really starving himself, really gung-ho asceticism. And one day, he had a memory. He had a memory of when he was a small child sitting in the garden of his father, who was the king, sitting in the garden in the shade of a rose-apple tree. And he was watching a farmer in the distance ploughing a field. And there was something in his being there that enabled him to settle, to open up into a lovely state of the mind -- unified, a lovely state of samatha, unified, very present, very open, very bright, very joyful. And he remembered that as he was practising his hardcore asceticism, and he said the sense was, "That's blameless. There's nothing wrong with that, and what's more, it's probably fruitful. There's fruit there if I can develop that."[1] And he changed his direction and revisited those kind of states, that kind of samatha, etc. Later on, after his awakening, he said, "As long as there is respect for samādhi in people who practise, the Dharma will not decline."[2]

[7:12] So, most of the retreats I teach are insight meditation retreats, and sometimes some other stuff. But mostly it's insight meditation retreats. This is a different kind of retreat. It's going to have, slightly, somewhat of a different emphasis. It's going to have a somewhat different tone than the usual way I would approach teaching. And one of the aspects of that is that I'm almost exclusively only going to be talking about meditation. So usually we'd be bringing in a lot of daily life stuff and examples, etc. Mostly going to be talking about meditation -- certainly in the instructions, but even in the Dharma talks.

And really, really wanting to explore and give a foundation, hopefully, of both the techniques involved here and what's bigger than technique -- the art of it. Because what we're really talking about is an art. There's no question about that. It's not so much about rules of technique, like, "When this happens, you do this, and da-da-da-da-da," like that. Sometimes it can be that simple translation, but it's more of an art. And in a way, I want to communicate something of the art of it, and hope that you begin to get a little feel for the art of it yourself.

I'm also going to say way too much. I'm going to be saying quite a lot of stuff -- much too much, probably, than you can take in at the time. I'm going to be putting lots of information out, lots of little tips and approaches and things to consider, etc. Why? Because people are different, because it's an art. People are different. So I don't know how many people are in this hall, sixty-something, whatever. Different people hear different things. Different people need different things at different times. Different people respond to different things at different times. Different people will find different things useful at different times.

[9:18] So, in putting out certainly the instructions, it's not even that they are particularly linear. It's more of a sort of, I don't know, buffet kind of affair. And because I can't say everything at once, I'm going to have to say them in a certain order. It might be that something later would have been useful at the beginning. Whatever. We can just do what we can do. I will also be mentioning some things sort of in passing, and amplifying them later, and repeating other facets, etc.

So, I'm talking to you, obviously. But I'm also talking to this [recorder] here, in the sense that I'm talking to you right now, and some of you will like this. Some of you are going to really like it a lot. Some of you will not be interested in it at all. But some of you will want to really pursue this afterwards, and that's why I'm talking to the recording. Don't worry if you don't get everything. It will -- assuming it all works [laughs] -- it will be recorded and be there for you to revisit, and you'll say, "Oh, I didn't even hear that the first time." It's okay. So take what you can get, and kind of let the rest go, trusting that the machine is working.

So, I want to talk a lot about attitude tonight, and the attitude that we bring to practice, and the attitude we bring to retreat. Two words tonight -- actually a lot of words tonight, but two words I want to emphasize. [laughs] Two P's, beginning with P: play and patience. These are really, really key for this practice -- actually, I think, for all meditation practice, particularly for samatha. What does 'play' mean? What does it mean to play? What would it mean for us to play with our practice? What does the word 'play' mean? I mean, to me it means there's an element of creativity. There's an element of curiosity. There's experimentation, but in a light way. If we see some kids playing, it's very serious, but they're really enjoying it. That attitude, as much as possible, needs to come into your meditation practice. It's alive with that spirit of play, of experimentation, moment to moment. And really, really, I'm going to be saying this over and over. Really, really want to emphasize that.

[11:46] What are we playing with in this particular practice? We're playing with the breath. I'll explain what I mean later. Playing with the breath. We're playing with the ways we conceive the breath. So usually I think, "Well, got these holes here, and the breath comes in, and then it goes out, and ..." Actually, that's just one way of conceiving of the breath. And we're playing -- and I want to encourage you, and I'll unfold all this over the days -- play with the way we conceive of the breath. Also playing with the way that the mind relates to the breath in the body. So, as human beings, what do we have? We have mind, body, and breath. And that relationship of the way the mind relates to the body. I'll be amplifying this a lot over the days.

In terms of effort, of forcefulness of attention, of sort of strength of attention, or lightness or delicacy of attention -- these are all really, really important factors. Relaxing the attention. So playing with the breath, playing with the way we conceive of the breath, playing with the mind's relationship to the breath, and lastly, playing with perception. We're actually playing with perception, it turns out, when we do this practice, and I will explain all this over the days.

So, play -- very important -- and patience. This is a beginning. You know, we've got five days together, or whatever it is. And we're beginning something here that's actually a lifelong process. It really is. So to have patience. It won't be linear. It's going to be up and down. What I want to give you, what I really want to give you is something you can take away with, in terms of tools that you can then work on. That's what I really want to give to you and want you to be able to take away.

So, I would ask and encourage also, partly based on last year's experience, that you have an open mind to this -- particularly if you've done a lot of meditation before, funnily enough. If you've done a lot of vipassanā or Zen or insight meditation or whatever it is, that you actually have an open mind, just a sense of experimenting for five days, because this will probably feel new, and a different approach, a different even orientation to what practice is.

[14:17] So with the techniques I'm giving out, if it really doesn't work after a few days, just come and say so to me. And you know, I'm not fixed on this technique. I actually don't even care that much about the technique. It's fine. We can find something that works. Now, some of you in this hall I know, and I know quite well. I know your practices well. But one or two of you -- I'm thinking about a small handful right now -- already have been practising in a way that the practice feels very good. So I'm just talking to a small handful of people. It already feels very good in the body. If it already feels very good, stick with what you have, and we can keep going there. So, you know who I'm talking to.

Okay, so as I said, we're going to play with the breath. We're actually manipulating the breath in this practice -- not all the time, but we're going to be doing that as a part of the practice. So it's not like most of the ways that prāṇāyāma gets done with a ... [forceful inhalation] Or a, you know ... [brief inhalation] Or whatever, all that. It's much more delicate. It's much more subtle than that, but we are manipulating the breath. Now, often, there is quite an objection to this, as if we shouldn't be manipulating the breath, that there's something kind of, "That's not proper meditation. That's not proper. That's not what you do if you're spiritual," or something. But I would just actually come right back with a question and say, "Why not?" So this is quite common for most people, to have been taught not to manipulate the breath, not to play with the breath, to let the breath be as it is. And I would say, "Why not?" And to be honest, I've never had someone explain it satisfactorily to me. But I think part of our resistance might be that we talk so much in meditation about 'being with what is.' And a lot of the thrust of practice is just to be with things as they are, without changing, letting go of this kind of compulsion to fiddle around with everything and change it and make it better.

[16:25] But 'being with what is,' beautiful as that is, can never be the whole of practice. Never. And if our practice is only 'being with what is' and not kind of responding and shaping things, then that kind of practice actually doesn't translate that well to our daily life. We are not 100 per cent passive all the time in our life -- no way! We are responding and shaping and steering all the time, every day. Can you imagine driving your car, and the road veers around to the right, and I'm just 'being with what is'? [laughs] It's silly.

So why, actually, would we want to manipulate the breath? Why would we want to play with the breath? Well, to go back to something I mentioned earlier, we're interested in making the sense of the body and the breath as pleasurable and as comfortable as possible. Slowly, slowly, very gradually, that's where we're heading in this practice. We're actually intending consciously to increase the pleasure, the sense of pleasure. And one of the ways we do that, and a significant way we do that, is actually by breathing, manipulating the breathing, playing with the breath until it feels good.

When there is pleasure in the body, the mind, the consciousness, can actually settle with that. Most of the times with breath meditation, breath comes in and out -- it's pretty boring. It's nothing. It's just kind of ... hmm. When there's some pleasure there, the mind is actually interested in staying there instead of just skipping off all the time. And I'll talk much more about this, but that pleasure, too, that sense of comfort, of ease, of openness, of warmth that can come in the body, even just a little bit -- slowly, slowly, we build that, and it becomes a real resource for us in our life, an immense resource for us in our life. It's not a small thing.

[18:33] So, to just be open-minded about that if you find yourself struggling with the idea. Also -- and I will repeat a lot of what I say tonight over the days -- to be open-minded in the sense of trying to let go of preconceived notions of what the breath should feel like. As I said, we tend to think the breath comes in the mouth and the nostrils, and it feels a certain way, or it feels a certain way here, whatever, which is all fine. Of course, that's real. But what would it be to actually try to put that aside, just let go of that, and be very open in terms of how the breath might feel, how the breath moving in the body might feel? Or where I should feel the breath in the body. We tend, again, to think, "It's just going down the tubes here, so that's the only place where I can feel it." Well, maybe not. So just to see if there can be an openness about that. And we allow things to get more and more comfortable, just slowly.

So we're interested in, in this practice, the energy flow. We're interested in the energy flow in the body. That's what we're interested in. That's what we're working with. So if that sounds completely abstract now, don't worry. We'll be working with this and explaining it, and hopefully it will become very clear. We're interested in the sense of the vibration of the body. That's what we're working with. That's what we're interested in. There's a lot to discover here. It's a whole world. It's a beautiful world of discovery, if we can be open.

So on the retreat -- and again, I'll repeat this -- when I say "body," I don't necessarily mean nails and fingers and spleens and all that. What I mean is this area, this area as a sense, as a sense of energy, of vibration, the texture of that, the feeling of that. So when I say, "How is the body?", or "Be with your body," or "Be with the whole body," I mean, "Be with the sense of that area." That's what I mean. But I'll repeat that. And when I say, "the breath," I mean the movement of energy within that -- as well, of course, as the air coming in and out, and the sense of that. So I mean the totality of that.

[21:06] So samādhi -- sometimes we get the sense that samādhi is just a kind of unification. You have an object, like the breath, or like a candle or something, and it's kind of the mind sticking to that, and unifying with it, kind of just melting into it. And it is that, definitely. But in a way, it's much more than that, what samādhi is, and what I'm really wanting to point to and open up on this retreat. It's a lot more than that. It is that, but it's more than that. It has a lot to do with letting go. Samādhi, samatha has a lot to do with letting go -- letting go of the entanglement we usually have with things, with the world, with others, with ourselves, with the present moment, with the past, the future. Letting go of entanglement is actually the primary condition for samatha and samādhi.

And that letting go, letting go of stuff and coming into kind of a unification allows what the Buddha calls -- one way he called samādhi was a "lovely abiding."[3] It allows a lovely abiding, a pleasant abiding. And in a way, that's a big part of what samatha is. So we're cultivating that pleasant abiding. I'll go into all this over the days. In that and through that, our perceptions begin to change. Our perceptions of the breath, of the body, of ourselves, of all kinds of stuff, begin to change, to soften, to open up. We begin to open. The consciousness begins to refine -- just gradually, slowly, not in a linear way -- begins to refine and get more subtle. Things get more subtle, including our sense of body and breath.

[23:10] So someone, and maybe someone here tonight, might be hearing that, and it sounds, "Well, that sounds pretty selfish, to sit here and kind of just try and get as pleasant and blissful as you can." Talking about attitude tonight. I think it's really, really important to see that this is not a selfish process, and if possible, to actually shift it out of that, of any kind of overly self-preoccupied kind of agenda.

Ajahn Buddhadāsa, he's dead now. In the twentieth century, he was one of the great Thai Forest meditation masters, a monk in Thailand, died in the nineties. And he said, "Meditation is a public health measure." You understand? It's like what we do here is actually rippling out. We meditate for the sake of all beings, actually. Ultimately speaking, we meditate for the sake of all beings, for the welfare of all beings -- absolutely. What, as a human being, what am I putting out into the world? What am I putting out in terms of actions? Is the ripple peaceful? Is it helpful? Is it bringing joy? What am I putting out in terms of speech? This is huge. It's huge. What am I putting out in terms of the thoughts and the energetic vibration? So we have a big impact on each other as human beings, and we are sensitive as human beings. What am I putting out?

You know, sometimes when we practise, we lose a bit of the sense of incentive for our practice, and that's going to happen from time to time. Sometimes, reminding ourselves, "It's not just for me. I'm not just doing this for me. I'm doing it for all beings," actually can help. We can deliberately reflect on this in the meditation, to reorient, open up our sense of inspiration and incentive.

[25:24] Ajahn Buddhadāsa, who I just referred to, he used to begin every Dharma talk, he used to begin, "Sisters and brothers in ageing, sickness, and death." [laughter] Which some of you may know is a very Buddhist kind of concept. Basically, what he's saying, "Look, we are in this boat together, and it's sinking." [laughter] That's the reality. We are sisters and brothers in ageing, sickness, and death. There's not one person in this hall, one person alive today who's not going to go through that. We share that as human beings. We share that, and there is something about having that shared sense at the core of our inspiration and aspiration for practice. So we are doing this because we are sisters and brothers in ageing, sickness, and death.

We can really reflect on this. You know, sometimes after one's over the honeymoon period of meditation, which if you're really new will probably be sometime tomorrow morning ... [laughter] Or if you've been doing it for years, it's very easy to slip into a kind of -- not all the time, but just sometimes, you just, you're sitting, and you're sitting regularly, and you're meditating regularly, but there's just a sense of just kind of getting through it, getting it over and done with, because that's kind of a part of what you do in your life. And that happens to all of us. But in a way, one of my teachers used to say, "Well, this kind of 'getting it over with' mind, 'getting through,' what does that do? How does that help? What does it do for my sisters and brothers in ageing, sickness, and death, when I'm just trying to 'get through'? I might not care, but what am I giving others?" So right from the beginning, there's something very important about attitude here, and seeing if that can open up, and encouraging it to open up at times.

[27:37] The Buddha talked about generosity, dāna, as a basis for this practice. So we can regard our practice, our meditation, as an act of dāna, of generosity. Dāna is a Pali word meaning 'giving' or 'generosity.' We can regard it as an act of generosity to all beings. You know, others will be less subject to my irritation, my bad moods, my anger, my reactivity, my lack of calm, my thoughtlessness, etc. That's a gift, just that others are less subject to that. This is very important. Why I'm mentioning it, and why I'm mentioning it tonight: we can bring this attitude of giving, we can resurrect it over and over in the practice when we feel we need. It's very easy for practice to become quite tight, particularly practice like this, like samatha, where we're very clear, right from the beginning, we're trying to get something here. We're trying to get calm. We're trying to develop a sense of well-being, etc. It's very easy for that, because there's a goal -- and I'll be talking a lot about this on the retreat -- for the mind to get a little tight around that, or a lot tight around that. When I shift the view to practice as a giving to others, when there is a movement of giving in the heart, it creates a sense of spaciousness. Have you noticed this? Generosity, as a movement, creates spaciousness in the mind and the heart. When we've got too tight, it allows a spaciousness, and that allows practice to unfold instead of strangling it.

Recently, in the last couple of months, few weeks, I saw, I think, four films about climate change and the environmental crisis. One of them, some of you may have seen it. It's a new film by Al Gore. It's about half an hour. It's floating around on the internet. I don't know if anyone's come across that. It's really, really very good. I don't know what it's called. And I saw a film called Crude Impact, also very good, and The 11th Hour. Almost every time after seeing these films -- I thought, very, very, very thoughtful and well-made -- I came away wondering, kind of, whether humanity could, whether we could pull this off or not. You know, it's such a massive thing. And why is it we keep falling asleep with it? Why is it that it's ...? I don't want to get into a politics thing, but. [laughs] It was in that film, The 11th Hour, how many questions Barack Obama and John McCain, etc., had been asked by different news channels in the US. And it was like 358 from CNN, and 300 from whatever, da-da-da. How many of those were on climate change? Zero, two, one, etc. Why is it we fall asleep around this? And then, even more, as humanity, are we capable of the kind of letting go, shift, renunciation that, as I feel it right now, seems to be being asked of us? Are we actually capable of that? So, as a collective but also individually, are we capable of that renunciation?

[31:27] The inner reservoir of well-being, of happiness -- what we're slowly, slowly gathering in this practice -- makes such a huge difference. To me, it's the biggest factor that allows us to be able to let go and to renounce. We need less. We literally need less. When I have enough inside here, I need less. No question about it; I need less. I don't need to fly wherever on EasyJet to lie on a beach, even if work is busy. I know this is sensitive and everything, and sometimes the problem is, we often don't have, as humanity, collectively and individually, we don't have those inner resources. And the relationship with food, the relationship with entertainment, the relationship with buying stuff to impress the neighbours or the people at work or whatever. One becomes less dependent on things needing to be convenient, needing to be comfortable, needing to have kind of sense pleasure keeping coming at me. Less dependent also on a sense of security so much. This is all really at the heart, I see, of what will enable us as a species to make the shift or not. I don't know if that's overstating it; maybe it is. And this sense of inner reservoir, I think, is massive. It's massive. And the heart, also -- as we develop this slowly, slowly, slowly, really over a lifetime, we actually become more capable of goodness. We become more capable, more available to others, because we have enough. So, the whole idea of renunciation -- what is it, "reduce, reuse, recycle" -- it's actually not scary. It's just not scary.

[33:35] So having generosity as a basis, that attitude of generosity and openness and kind of giving as a basic part of our impulse to practise, really important. Another piece that is really important is just what I call taking care of the heart. Now, we could say that's what practice is. It's taking care of the heart. You know, from beginning to end, we're really taking care of the heart in a very deep way. That's what 'practice' means.

Someone asked the Buddha once, "Okay, samatha -- that sounds great. What does it depend on? What are the causes for samatha and samādhi arising?" And he said, "The most important thing is happiness."[4] Which sounds odd. We just said that samatha leads to happiness, but it actually also depends on happiness. It depends on a certain foundational level of sense of well-being.

So, I'm going to put something out now, and I hope that you will remind yourselves of it periodically through this retreat, which is to incline the heart and incline the mind towards appreciation, just whenever you remember to do that. So by that, I mean reflecting, for instance, everything that's supported you in being here for five days. Maybe someone's looking after some stuff at home for you. Maybe someone's helped you in some way, you know, at work or whatever, so that you could be here. The managers -- there are eight managers here who work incredibly hard to support us all here. The staff members here. You can actually reflect on that as you are here, to allow a sense of appreciation and gratitude. Very significant. It's not a small thing.

We want to nourish joy. We actually want to nourish joy, and we do that in a deliberate way. For most human beings, it's so easy to focus on the negative. And it seems so compelling. You know, well, if you're here, "The food isn't that good, or it's a bit too crowded, you know, it's a full retreat, or da-da-da," whatever it is. And it seems so compelling and so seductive. There's something so seductive, almost, about the complaining mind, even just a little bit. It seems so believable and so true. So partly, what I want to suggest we all do is actually just keep shifting that into a mode of appreciation, of gratitude. Whatever it is that allows that sense, that tunes you into that sense, drop it in periodically, especially when you notice the mind, you know, slip into grumbling mode. So samatha questions this whole tendency of, in a way, being infatuated with the negative. And we'll explore this much more.

[36:47] Appreciation and gratitude -- so, as part of that, being in nature. Take a period, a day. If you can fit it in at a mealtime, great. If you can't, actually take another period, maybe a walking period, even, and go for a walk. Go for a walk, and open the being to seeing, smelling, hearing, to nature, and the beauty of nature.

I'm also going to throw something else out right now, which, I may say again, is that, also take a period of day for some exercise. So that may be your walk. It may be that you do yoga, or Qigong, or Tai Chi, or Huagong, or ... [laughs] Whatever. Kum Nye, or some other Oriental thingy. [laughter] Do that thing. It's going to help in the sense of the body and the body energy. So take a period, again, of walking or whatever, and do that. It's really helpful.

Okay. There will be interviews in the retreat, but these will almost exclusively be group interviews. Originally, when I planned the retreat, I really thought eight people would show up, and I would be working very individually with everyone, but that's obviously not the case. There will be groups. But in a way, on reflection, I actually feel that's better, because there's so much that we're going to learn from each other in this. And you'll see when you go to a group that there's so much in common.

Now, usually, on a meditation retreat, and in interviews during a meditation retreat, kind of anything goes. No, I shouldn't say that. Anything is okay to talk about. So anything that's happening in your life, anything that's struggling with, anything that's going on outside, etc. This retreat, what Chris and I really want to just hear about is the meditation. So how is it going in terms of the body, the breath? And really as much as possible, seeing if the other stuff can be, just for now -- as I said, it's a different emphasis, a different approach; it's not forever -- just a little bit put aside. So that's really what we're interested in is the meditation. That's what the interviews are really about.

[39:27] Now, there's something about this, about doing group interviews, especially with a practice like this which is kind of, as I said, in a way, trying to develop something. And that is the measuring mind and the comparing mind, and the pain of that. So this is, unfortunately, it's a predominantly Western thing. Practising at some Asian-type monasteries, it doesn't really exist, this reticence of sort of ... you can be next to someone who's just way in a different place from you, and it's just okay, it's just okay. It's partly a Western culture thing. I'll actually be talking a lot about this on the retreat. But is it possible that we can kind of not give that, in a way, fear of the measuring mind, and the pain that might be there, if we can not give that too much authority? And we're just there as human beings, in a group together, sisters and brothers in ageing, sickness, and death, sharing what's going on in our practice. And so what if someone's done more than us? So what if someone's done less? So, as much as possible, to encourage that, and also to encourage in the groups to ask questions. You will have a lot of questions in this practice, or you should have a lot of questions. I really want to encourage that questioning.

Okay. Just a few very brief practical things. Silence, which the managers already mentioned in the talk -- yeah, silence. Just to say, this is an integral part of the practice. The Buddha says, "dependent on seclusion."[5] Usually we're so full of stuff that comes to us through talking, which is beautiful, you know, the communication we have through speech. But what would it be to actually not be so full of what's coming from other people, or not filling other people up with what's coming from me? And just quieting, just quieting. So this silence that we, in a way, undertake together, that we commit to together -- that's also an act of generosity. We're supporting each other's practice by really committing to the silence. This can feel odd at first, sixty-whatever people together in silence, not talking to each other, sitting right next to each other. Could it be that there's another kind of stratum of connection, feeling of connection, with people, in and through the silence that's there, that it's actually not about speaking? We can actually feel the life of those around us, and sense that and sense the support, giving and receiving.

[42:31] So, managers have said, please, please, the mobiles, which is so ... Quite unfortunately, I'm realizing it's quite common for people to leave their mobiles on during the retreat, and to text, etc. Just please, please don't. There's a real treasure here. This stream of practice, this samatha, all the tips I'm throwing out that basically I got from others, for the most part -- there's a treasure here. And don't miss the treasure just because you want to send some texts or you don't want to shut off the communication. If there's something that feels like you need to finish business-wise -- I'm aware it's Friday night -- just see if you can do it tonight, and then just give yourself to the retreat, give yourself to the simplicity of being here, the simplicity of the schedule, just kind of surrendering the being to that simplicity.

If you haven't, or rather, if you don't yet feel like you've really arrived, then take a little time tonight after we finish in here, and really just feel yourself arriving. Wander around the grounds, the front, the back. It's very beautiful. Just feel the body, the being, arrive here, just in the quietude, just being here, to settle in.

Last practical thing: Doug also mentioned in the opening talk the ethical guidelines, the precepts, the five precepts. This, really, I see as a gesture of love. It's a movement of love, that we're together, committing to these five precepts. A gesture of respect and care to each other, for each other, to enable an atmosphere of trust, of relaxation, enabling everyone to open, to let the guard down. It's a gift to ourselves. We can let our guard down when we abide, when we live by those ethical guidelines, and we allow others to do so. And that openness that that allows, that openness is a huge part of samatha. It's a huge part of the mind deepening.

  1. MN 36. ↩︎

  2. SN 16:13. ↩︎

  3. AN 4:41. ↩︎

  4. SN 12:23. ↩︎

  5. E.g. SN 46:29. ↩︎

Sacred geometry
Sacred geometry