Question: While mindfulness fixes your attention on the object of meditation as explained above, is it appropriate to monitor your meditation and think about whether you are holding the object of meditation well?
Reply: You have to do this, for Kamalasila’s second Stages of Meditation states:
After you have thus set your attention on whatever your chosen object of meditation may be, fix it there continuously. While you stay right with the object, analyze and investigate your mind, thinking: “Is my mind apprehending the object of meditation well? Or is it lax? Or is it distracted by the appearance of external objects?”
It is not that you stop your concentration and then look at your mind. Rather, while maintaining your state of concentration, you just look to see whether your attention is staying where it was previously set on the primary object of meditation and, if it is not, whether there is laxity or excitement. After you have settled into concentration, you monitor this at moderate intervals, neither too often nor too seldom. If you do this while the intensity and force of the previous awareness are not quite gone, it takes place within the perspective of this awareness. This has the purpose of both enabling long-lasting, intense stability, and letting you quickly recognize laxity and excitement.
Accordingly, this is how you sustain your mindfulness, for a necessary cause of powerful and continuous mindfulness is sustaining your meditation by repeatedly reminding yourself, at intervals, of the intended object of meditation. Asanga’s Sravaka Levels says:
In this regard, what is a one-pointed mind? Any continuum of attention that remembers again and again, focuses on a consistently similar object, and is continuous, free of misdeeds, and possessed of delight is called “concentration,” as well as “a one-pointed virtuous mind.”
What does it remember again and again? You perceive the object of meditation—the characteristic of someone in equipoise—from the viewpoint of any teaching that you have memorized or heard, and upon which you have received instructions and explications from your gurus. You engage and focus on this object with continuous mindfulness.
Also, Sthiramati’s Explanation of the “Separation of the Middle from the Extremes” states:
The statement “Mindfulness means not forgetting the object of meditation” means that you mentally express the instructions on stabilizing your mind.
Therefore, you maintain mindfulness to stop forgetfulness wherein you stray from the object of meditation. Hence, non-forgetfulness of the object of meditation—wherein forgetfulness is stopped—is when you “mentally express” the object of meditation; you bring the object of meditation to mind again and again. For example, when you are anxious about forgetting something you know, it will be hard to forget if you recall it again and again.
Thus, you have to remind yourself of the object of meditation at moderate intervals in order to develop strong mindfulness. The way to strengthen your vigilance, which notices laxity and excitement, is to lock your attention on the object of meditation without distraction, and then to monitor it. Realize that if you repudiate such a procedure by thinking, “This is discursiveness,” it will be extremely difficult to develop powerful mindfulness and vigilance.
(c’)) The length of sessions
Question: When you fix your attention on the object of meditation with mindfulness, is there a definite length for the session, such that you say, “I will stabilize my mind on the object only until then”?
Reply: On this matter, all earlier gurus of the various Tibetan lineages say that you have to do numerous short sessions. Why? Some say that if you meditate in brief sessions and stop when it is going well, you will still be eager to meditate at the end of each session, while if the session is long, you will become weary. Others explain that if the session is long, it is easy to fall under the sway of laxity and excitement, so it is hard to develop flawless concentration. Asanga’s Sravaka Levels and other classic texts do not state the length of sessions clearly. However, Kamalasila’s third Stages of Meditation does say:
At this stage engage in meditative equipoise for twenty-four minutes, an hour-and-a-half, three hours, or as long as you can.
While this statement occurs in the context of the length of the session for cultivating insight after you have already achieved serenity, it is clearly similar when you are first achieving serenity, so do it this way.
If you practice the techniques of mindfulness and vigilance explained above—reminding yourself of the object of meditation and monitoring your meditation at moderate intervals—it does not matter if the session is a little long. However, usually one of two things will happen when you are a beginner and have a long session. On the one hand you may become distracted due to forgetfulness. In this case, you will not recognize the occurrence of any laxity or excitement quickly but only after a long period of time. On the other hand, though you may not lose your mindfulness, it is easy to fall under the sway of laxity and excitement, and you will not quickly recognize them when they occur. The first situation hinders the development of strong mindfulness; the latter hinders the development of strong vigilance. Hence, it is very difficult to stop laxity and excitement.
In particular, failing to recognize laxity and excitement after you have become distracted due to forgetting the object of meditation is much worse than failing to quickly recognize laxity and excitement while not forgetting the object of meditation. So the techniques for maintaining mindfulness—the previously explained remedies which stop the breakdown of mindfulness ensuing from distraction—are very important.
If you have great forgetfulness ensuing from distraction, as well as vigilance so weak that it does not quickly recognize laxity and excitement, then your session must be short. If it is hard for you to forget the object and you can quickly notice laxity and excitement, it does not matter if the session is a little long. This is the idea behind Kamalasila’s statement above that the duration of a session is indefinite—twenty-four minutes and so forth. In short, since the duration has to comport with your mental capacity, Kamalasila says “as long as you can.”
If temporary injury to your mind or body does not occur, set your mind in equipoise. If such injury does occur, do not persist in meditating, but immediately stop your session and then clear away the impediments in your mental and physical constituents. Then meditate. This is what the adepts intended, so recognize that doing this is an aspect of how long a meditation session should be.
Lamrim Chenmo Pg53L07-Pg55LL01