I have transcribed and slightly edited His Holiness the Dalai Lama's comments on shamatha in his prereliminary teachings to granting the Kalachakra Empowerment, Washington DC, July 11, 2011. I hope you find his words as inspiring as I do.
“The wisdom arising from meditation is not only through investigation but from familiarization so that it is something living, it automatically develops, and that is the counterforce [to mental afflictions]. In order to achieve that, our mind must be controlled, not by force, but by mental effort, which only comes voluntarily, never through force. That single-pointed mind you call ‘shamatha’ is common in India for thousands of years in all traditions, a common practice. Sometimes I do feel that we Tibetans are a little bit negligent on that. We makes excuses, and that is a mistake. Now in terms of my own experience, I think I have some experience of shunyata as a result of almost 50 years of effort. Even before I left Tibet, I’d already developed genuine interest in that. After I came to India, I made regular effort to study, to think, to analyze. So now when I think of that view, or reality, there is some sort of feeling there. But due to a lack of single-pointed mind, it cannot go further. The Heart Sutra mentions, “gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate.” Unless you experience single-pointed meditation, the “gate, gate” is meaningless. So if you’re really serious about “gate, gate” (“go, go”), then you must start the practice of samadhi. This is very important—a single-pointed mind.
Now the main method for single-pointed meditation is the cultivation of mindfulness and introspection. Here mindfulness means that the object on which your mind concentrates is thoroughly held. That means the image or picture of that must be held in mind. That means mindfulness. Then, not only that, but the mind must be very sharp, fully alert. If the object is a bit hazy and your mind is slack, that is a great danger for proper samadhi. The mind must not only hold the object of your meditation, your mind must be fully alert. You must have a very sharp mind. Whether such obstacles occur or not, you need introspection to monitor that. These two are the main instruments for developing a single-pointed mind. For that reason in our daily life, even in our dreams, some sort of mindfulness of what is right must be sustained. Then you watch whether your mental action, verbal action, physical action go in the wrong direction. Constantly watch. That is training in ethics, a constant watching to see whether your physical action goes the right direction or not. Constantly check. And likewise for speech, check whether it goes the right way or not. Among the three trainings, training in ethics is the basis. That develops these two: mindfulness and introspection. Then the second practice is single-pointed mind. Once we experience that, then no matter what we focus on—whether conventional things, or mind itself, or shunyata—wherever your mind is put, it remains there single-pointedly. That is immensely helpful for penetrating your object of meditation, in this case, shunyata. Those are the three trainings, the main method to achieve moksha, or liberation. That is the Theravada tradition and the Bodhisattva tradition—all the same. Without that, you cannot go further. You can train, you can study, you can develop altruism, but you cannot go on the actual path without samadhi, without wisdom. That is how to achieve liberation.”
“When we stop memories about the past and do not let in hopes and visions of the future, then in that moment you get the feeling of nothingness, vacuous. That is not emptiness (shunyata). We are normally so caught up in feelings and images. While you prolong for a little while that sense of vacuity, then you get a sense of sheer luminosity. It mirrors appearances but is itself nothing. It is nothing in particular, but reflects everything. That is the conventional reality of the mind. It is neutral, just pure luminosity. Then concentrate on it as long as you can."
Then once that becomes familiar, then take that as an object and further investigate the reality of that. The mind must be designated on the continuation of that experience…so what is the mind? Through further investigation, you can’t find it. Then you touch the ultimate reality of the mind.
Then to practice something subtler than focusing on an external object but coarser than focusing on the mind as the object of meditation, it’s best to focus on the in- and out-breath. So single-pointedly concentrate on your breathing, just coming and going. You can count 20, 50, 100 breaths. This is one way of training the mind that is so scattered. This gives it some discipline…As you discipline the mind, you can begin with a coarser object like the breathing, and then go to subtler objects."
With warm greetings to you all,