This has three points: attending to the prerequisites of samatha, how to cultivate samatha in reliance upon them, and the measure for the accomplishment of samatha through meditation.


This has six points: staying in a favorable location, having few desires, contentment, completely abandoning one’s many activities, pure ethics, and completely eliminating one’s conceptualization of desire.

As regards staying in a favorable location, the five excellent qualities of location are: (1) good access, in that food, clothing, and so forth can be easily obtained, (2) a good site, in that predators and other wild beasts as well as enemies and the like do not live there, (3) good ground, in that it does not produce diseases, (4) good company, in that one has companions of equal ethics and view, and (5) good attributes, in that during the day there are few people around and at night there is little noise. Ornament for the Mahayana Sutras (8.7) says:

Locations for wise people’s attainments
have good access, a good site, and
good ground, as well as good companions
and conveniences for yoga.

Having few desires means not being excessively attached to good or numerous robes and so forth. Contentment means always being content with merely adequate robes and the like. Completely abandoning one’s many activities is to completely abandon inferior activities such as business, excessive socializing with lay or ordained people, one’s medical practice, astrological calculations, and so forth. Pure ethics means, with regard to pratimoska and bodhisattva vows, not damaging the basis of the trainings through natural or proscribed misdeeds, and even if it is damaged owing to carelessness, it is quickly restored through regret in accordance with the dharma. Completely eliminating one’s conceptualization of desire and the like means you eliminate all conceptualization of desire by meditating on its faults in this life, such as getting killed or arrested, and in future lives, such as birth in the lower realms. Or you should meditate thinking, “All the pleasant and unpleasant things is cyclic existence [187] are impermanent and subject to destruction. As I will definitely be separated from all of them before long, why do I get overly attached and so on?”

Lamp of the Path to Enlightenment (v. 39) says:

Even if you put in great effort
for a thousand years,
concentration will not be accomplished
if the limbs of samatha are impaired.

For those with the heartfelt desire to accomplish the concentration of samatha and special insight, it is therefore essential to put effort into the thirteen prerequisites and the like set forth in Sravaka Levels.


This has two points: the preparation and the actual practice.


You should long cultivate the six preparatory practices explained above as well as bodhicitta and, as part of that, also train in the core meditation topics shared with persons of lesser and medium capacity.


This has two points: the physical posture for meditation and explanation of the stages of meditation.


According to Stages of Meditation, you should sit on a very soft and comfortable seat and adopt a physical posture with the following eight characteristics. The legs may be fully crossed or half crossed. The eyes are directed over the tip of the nose, neither too open nor too closed. You should sit with your body straight and erect, rather than too bent or crooked, and with your mindfulness placed inward. Your shoulders should be straight and even. The head is held not too high nor too low and without tilting to one side; you should keep yourself erect from the nose down to the navel. The teeth and lips should remain natural, just as they are. The tongue should be placed near the upper teeth. As for the breath, your exhalations and inhalations should not be audible, forceful, or uncontrolled. Rather, their coming and going should by all means proceed imperceptibly, leisurely, and effortlessly. Thus you should first accomplish the eightfold posture and especially gentle breathing as explained. [188]


More expositions of the stages of the path say that samatha is accomplished by way of the eight factors set forth in Distinguishing the Middle from the Extremes (Madhyantavibhaga) that eliminates the five faults. The instructions from Geshe Laksorwa’s lineage explain that on top of that, the six powers, the four attentions, and the nine states of attentional development explained in Sravaka Levels must be accomplished. In his Ornament for the Mahayana Sutras and Distinguishing the Middle from the Extreme, the venerable Maitreya also sets forth the nine states of attentional development for mental abiding and the eight factors for eliminating the faults. Following them, Indian scholars such as Haribhadra, Kamalasila, and Santipa also set forth many stages of accomplishing concentration. In the Mantrayana you also need to know them. Within the scriptures, the sutra collection in particular presents extensively the faults of concentration such as the five faults and the way to eliminate them.

This has two parts: the way to generate flawless concentration and the stages of samatha that arise in reliance upon it.


This has three points: what to do before focusing the mind on the object, what to so while focusing the mind on the object, and what to do after focusing the mind on the object.


If you cannot put an end to laziness, which delights not in cultivating concentration but rather in the opposite, it will prevent you from engaging in concentration all along, and even if you achieve it once, it cannot possibly be durable and will therefore deteriorate quickly. For this reason it is of great importance to put an end to laziness from the start.

Now if you achieve pliancy and your body and mind expand with bliss, you will not weary, day or night, in applying yourself to virtue, and laziness will thereby be stopped. To generate it, you must be able to continuously maintain joyous effort for concentration, the cause for generating pliancy. To generate that, you need the intense, sustained aspiration of striving for concentration. To engender that, you need the form faith of captivation from seeing the excellent qualities of concentration. Therefore you should cultivate that faith by repeatedly reflecting on the excellent qualities of concentration.
Distinguishing the Middle from the Extreme (4.5) says:

The basis, that which is based on it,
the cause, the effect…

Here “the basis” is aspiration, which is the basis of effort. “That which is based on it” is effort or joyous effort. [189] The “cause” of aspiration is the faith of conviction with regard to the excellent qualities. The “effect” of effort is pliancy.

The excellent qualities of the concentration to be cultivated here are as follows. Once concentration has been accomplished, mental happiness and physical comfort greatly increase, so that you are always happy in this lifetime. From acquiring physical and mental pliancy, the mind is fit to be placed on any virtuous object at will. Since uncontrolled distraction toward mistaken objects has subsided, you rarely commit faulty conduct, and whatever virtue you perform has great strength. In reliance upon samatha, you can achieve excellent qualities, such as clairvoyance and miraculous powers, and in particular, the realization of special insight that realizes emptiness so that the root of cyclic existence can be cut quickly. If you contemplate any of these and other excellent qualities, the power of your enthusiasm for cultivating concentration will increase. You should get to know them and meditate on them. Once this has arisen, it will constantly compel you from within to cultivate concentration so that you will easily attain it, and since you engage in the meditation again and again, it will be very difficult or it to degenerate after you attain it.


This has two points: how to identify the focal object that is the basis for the mind and how to direct the mind toward it.


This has two points: general presentation of objects and identification of objects for specific situations.


This has two points: indicating the actual objects and indicating what person should meditate on which object.


Among the four types of objects the Blessed One taught for yogis, the first, pervasive objects, is fourfold: the ones you place the mind on without analyzing; those that are objects of analysis; the limits of phenomena, the ultimate mode of being and things in their variety; and the accomplishment of a purpose, which is to achieve transformation through meditation by means of the previous two meditation methods that observe the ultimate mode of being and things in their variety.

As for objects that purify conduct, five meditation objects serve as antidotes to one’s predominant conduct in previous lives. The repulsive, love, dependent arising, the divisions of the elements, and one’s breath, respectively, are the five objects that are antidotes to attachment, hatred, ignorance, pride, and conceptualization.

The objects for the skillful are also fivefold: objects of skill with regard to the aggregates, the elements, the sense fields, and the twelve links of dependent arising, as well as the established and the unestablished. [190]

There are two objects that purify mental afflictions: the relative peacefulness of higher levels compared to lower levels, and the sixteen aspects of the four truths – impermanence and so forth.

In this regard, the objects that purify conduct are special objects in that the attachment and so forth of those who act predominantly from attachment and so forth are easily stopped and concentration is easily achieved in reliance upon them. The objects for the skillful are good objects for samatha because they negate a self of persons apart from those phenomena and are therefore in harmony with the arising of the special insight that realizes selflessness. The objects that purify mental afflictions are of great significance in that they become general antidotes to mental afflictions. There are no pervasive objects apart from the objects listed above. Therefore concentration should be accomplished in reliance upon the objects of samatha with their special purposes. Those who practice concentration with a pebble, a piece of wood, and the like as the object of attention clearly do not know the presentation of objects of meditation.


In accordance with what is set forth in the Questions of Revata Sutra, it is taught that persons with predominant affliction, ranging from those in whom attachment predominates to those in whom discursive thought predominates, should rely on the individual objects of attention specified, ranging from the repulsive to one’s breath, respectively.

Those with balanced conduct and those with slight mental afflictions may concentrate on any one object explained above that they are happy with; they do not need a specific one. In this regard, predominance of one of the five mental afflictions of attachment and so forth means that through habituation to attachment and so forth in previous lives, long-term attachment and so forth arise toward small objects of attachment and so forth. Those with balanced conduct have not been habituated to attachment and so forth in previous lives, but they still do not see them as faulty. Therefore, even though predominant long-term attachment and so forth do not arise toward their respective objects, it is not that they do not occur at all. Those with slights mental afflictions have not been habituated to attachment and so forth in previous lives, and owing to the fact that, among other things, they do see them as faulty, attachment and so forth only arise slowly toward strong and abundant objects of attachment and so forth. They do not arise toward medium or small objects. [191]

Moreover, those with predominant attachment or another one of the five take long to accomplish samatha, those with balanced behaviour not that long, and those with slight mental afflictions accomplish it quickly.


On which object is samatha accomplished here? In general, the meditation objects for individual people are just as explained above. In particular, it is important that those with predominant discursive thought meditate on the breath. Alternatively, the second and third Stages of Meditation follow the Sutra on the Concentration That Perceives the Buddha of the Present Face to Face (Pratyutpannabuddhasamukhavasthitasamadhisutra) and the King of Concentrations Sutra in teaching the accomplishment of concentration observing the Tathagata’s body. Commentary on Difficult Points of Lamp for the Path also quotes statements by Master Bodhibhadra that concentration is accomplished observing the Tathagata’s body.

In the concentration on the Buddha’s body, limitless merit arises through recollecting the Buddha. If your image of that body is clear and stable, it makes a great difference to your visualization of the field for accumulating merit through prostrations, offering prayers, and so forth, as well as the field for purifying obstructions through confession, restraint, and so forth. Its great advantage is also revealed by the excellent benefit that your recollection of the Buddha does not deteriorate at the time of death, by the great difference it makes to deity yoga when you cultivate the path of mantra, and so forth. The King of Concentrations Sutra says:

With his body like the color of gold,
the Lord of the World is exceedingly beautiful.
The bodhisattva whose mind is engaged in this object
is said to be in equipoise meditation.

You should make something like that your object of attention.

Moreover, between the two types of visualization, one that sees the object as freshly contrived by the mind and one that sees the object as naturally present, the latter has the great distinction of generating faith, and as it also accords with the teachings of both [sutra and tantra] vehicles, you should proceed in the latter way.

As you investigate the object of attention, the basis for the mind to focus on, first find a good painted image, statue, or the like of the Teacher’s body, look at it repeatedly, capture the features, and familiarize yourself with its appearance as an object of the mind. Or else reflect on the meaning of a description by a guru that you have heard, make it appear to your mind, and pursue this as your object of attention. However, rather than making the object of attention appear like a painted image, [192] statue, or something like that, train for it to appear in the aspect of the actual Buddha.

It makes perfect sense that Master Yeshe De refutes the practice of some people who set up an image in front of them, look at it with their eyes, and meditate by staring at it. This is because concentration is not accomplished with a sensory consciousness but rather with a mental consciousness; the actual object of concentration is a direct object of the mental consciousness, so you must focus on that. Also, in accordance with what was explained above, it is taught that you must focus on the idea of the meditation object or the image of it that appears to your mind.

Elsewhere it says that although the image has both rough features and finer details, you should first focus on the rough features and afterward, when your meditation on that has stabilized, observe the details. Based on experience, the rough features should appear very easily, so attend to the focal object starting from the rough outline of its image. In particular, when you practice, as long as you have not accomplished fully qualified concentration, it is inappropriate to move among many different objects. If you practice concentration while moving among many dissimilar objects, it will become a great obstacle to your accomplishment of samatha. Aryasura says [in Compendium of the Perfections 5.12):

Stabilize the thoughts of the mind
by settling is on one object.
Cycling through a lot of objects
disturbs the mind with mental afflictions.

And Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (v. 40) also says it with the specification “on any one”:

Place the mind on something virtuous,
on any one suitable object.

That being so, the measure of first rendering the object of attention that the mind focuses on is as follows. When you visualize the head, two arms, torso, and two legs successively a couple of times and then attend to the whole body at the end of that, if merely half the limbs and features appear to the mind, be satisfied with that and focus on it, even if there is no brilliant clarity. If you are not satisfied with that alone and do not focus on it but rather seek more clarity [193] and repeatedly visualize, the object will become clearer, but not only will you fail to acquire stable concentration, this will become an obstacle to its acquisition. So even though the object is not precise, you will acquire concentration more quickly if you focus on just that mere partial object. Then, owing to its benefit for clarity, the clarity aspect will also be accomplished easily. This appears in Master Yeshe De’s advice and is essential.

You should focus on the whole body to the best of your abilities, and if some parts of the body appear clearly, focus on those. If they become unclear again, focus on the whole once more.
At that time, a color, shape, number, or size might appear that was not ascertained earlier; for example, you want to meditate on something yellow and something red appears, you want to meditate on a sitting figure and a standing one appears, you want to meditate on one and two appear, or you want to meditate on something big and something small appears. If this happens, it is inappropriate to pursue them; just make your original object, whatever it is, the object of your attention.

In practicing the deity yoga of secret mantra, you need to achieve a clear appearance of the deity, and so until that appears, you need to try to generate it by various means. However, if it is difficult and the deity’s aspect does not appear, you may also accomplish concentration by placing the mind and focusing on any one of the objects presented above that is suitable or within the view ascertaining suchness, for the main purpose is to accomplish samatha.  


This has three points: the faultless approach, eliminating faulty approaches, and determining the length of sessions.


The concentration to be accomplished here has two features: the factor of vibrant clarity of an extremely clear mind and the factor of nonconceptual stability of a mind abiding single-pointedly on its object. Here some add bliss and make it three features, while others add limpidity and make it four. However, the limpidity has two aspects: the limpidity of one’s awareness feels more limpid than even an immaculate crystal bowl full of immaculate water being hit by sunlight on a cloudless day. And when objects such as pillars appear, a limpidity arises that feels as if one could count even their finest particles. [194] These two aspects nevertheless arise from the vibrant clarity that is generated and maintained once subtle laxity has been eliminated. Therefore it is unnecessary to mention them separately in the beginning. And although joy and bliss in the form of pleasurable sensations arise as an effect of the concentration accomplished here, they do not arise in association with all the concentrations included in the preliminary stage of the first dhyana and therefore are not counted here.

The emergence of such vibrancy of the clarity is impeded by laxity, and single-pointed conceptuality is impeded by excitement. Precisely that is the reason why laxity and excitement are the main obstacles to the accomplishment of pure concentration. That is why, if you do not know how to identify subtle and coarse laxity and excitement, and if you do not know an impeccable method for maintaining concentration that stops both of them, even samatha cannot arise, to say nothing of special insight. Therefore the intelligent who strive for concentration should become skilled in this way. That is to say, laxity and excitement are adverse conditions to the accomplishment of samatha. The identification of adverse conditions and the methods for stopping them are taught below. Here I will describe how to generate concentration in a manner that is conducive to samatha.

Concentration (samadhi) is the factor of the mind single-pointedly abiding on its object; it stays on the object continuously. There are two requirements for that: a method for not letting the mind get distracted from its original object and a precise awareness of whether it is actually distracted. The first is mindfulness (smrti), and the second is vigilance (samprajanya). The Commentary on Ornament for Mahayana Sutras (Mahayanasutralamkarabhasya) says:

Mindfulness and vigilance focus it, for one prevents
the mind from scattering away from its object,
and the second is fully aware of the mind
scattering away.

When mindfulness deteriorates and you forget the object, there is distraction, and you lose the object immediately. Therefore mindfulness that does not forget the object is the root.

This is how to direct the mind toward its object. As explained above, visualize the focal object. Then, once it appears at least minimally, generate a forcefully apprehension of the object with your consciousness. Having placed the mind firmly, [195] keep it there without newly analyzing anything.

The Compendium of Abidharma says that mindfulness has three features:

What is mindfulness? A mind that is not forgetful,
that has a familiar object, and that functions
without distraction.

The objective aspect is that it “has a familiar object,” since mindfulness does not arise with respect to a hitherto unfamiliar object. In this context, it is the appearance of an object of attention that was previously ascertained.

The subjective aspect, its apprehension, is “a mind that is not forgetful,” a mind that does not forget the object; in this context, it does not forget the focal object. The way the mind does not forget is not the mere ability to remember, when others inquire and you are made to think about it, that your guru taught “The object of attention is like this…” Rather, it is the way the mind is tied to the object is directly mindful of it and is not distracted even in the slightest. When there is distraction, mindfulness is lost through its mere occurrence. Hence, after you have placed the mind on the basis of observation, you generate the thought “In this way, it is tied to the object”. Then, without renewing conceptual thought, you sustain the force of this very mind continuously, without interruption. That is the real point of the instruction on how to practice mindfulness.

The functional aspect is to not let the mind get distracted from its object.   Tying the mind to an object so as to tame it is taught through the analogy of taming an elephant. In this analogy, a wild elephant is tied to a firm tree trunk or pillar with many thick ropes, and if it follows the instructions of the elephant tamer, all is well. If it does not, it is repeatedly prodded into submission with a sharp hook and thus tamed. Likewise the mind, which resembles an untamed elephant, is tied to a firm pillar, the focal object explained above, with the rope of mindfulness. If it cannot stay there, it is pricked with the hook of vigilance and gradually brought under control. Essence of the Middle Way says:

The errant elephant of the mind
is firmly tied with the rope of mindfulness
to a stable pillar, the focal point, and [196]
gradually ruled with hook of wisdom.

And the second Stages of Meditation says:

With the ropes of mindfulness and vigilance, tie
the elephant of the mind to that very tree trunk of
the focal object.

It is said that concentration is accomplished in reliance upon mindfulness and that, like a rope, mindfulness continuously ties the mind to the object. Therefore the principal method for fostering the accomplishment of concentration is that of maintaining mindfulness. Yet mindfulness apprehends its objects with an aspect of certainty. So if you maintain concentration and place the mind without a firm mind of certainty, you may gain the clarity of mental limpidity, but the clarity associated with the vibrancy of the mind of certainty does not emerge. As a result, powerful mindfulness does not arise, and since subtle laxity is not stopped either, the concentration becomes faulty.

Even someone who maintains mere nonconceptuality of the mind, without placing it on any other object of attention such as a deity’s body, should remind himself “I will place the mind without conceiving of any object whatsoever” and then prevent the mind from scattering and being distracted. Since this nondistraction is also synonymous with mindfulness that does not forget the object, he does not deviate from the above method of maintaining mindfulness. Therefore someone who meditates in this manner applies a mindfulness powerful enough to produce ascertaining consciousness.


One encounters the following type of misconception. Some say, “When the mind is roused as explained above, held firmly, and placed on the object nonconceptually, there is not laxity, but there is a tendency toward excitement. I can see that I will not be able to gain continuous stability as a result. However, with my aroused mind relaxed by loosening my tight grip on it, I see the stability factor rise quickly. This is an excellent method”. A lot of people think so and expound it as “the best meditation during the best relaxation”.

However, this position fails to distinguish laxity from meditation. As explained above, faultless concentration requires two features; stability of the nonconceptual mind is not in itself sufficient. If you think, “When the mind has become confused and there is darkness, this is laxity, [197] but otherwise it is faultless concentration, because the clarity of mental limpidity is present,” you clearly fail to distinguish lethargy from laxity. These will be elaborated below.

Therefore, whenever your mind is held overly tight and made vibrant, clarity is present but excitement predominates so that it is difficult for stability to arise. On the other hand, whenever you relax it a lot whilst maintaining your meditation, stability is present but laxity predominates so that vibrant clarity is absent. It is difficult to maintain just the right amount of tightness and relaxation, and therefore it is difficult for concentration free from laxity and excitement to arise. Thinking of that, Candragomin says [in his Praise of Confession]When I apply exertion, excitement arises;
sinking occurs when I abandon it.
By this it is hard to get balanced engagement,
so what should I do with my agitated mind?


When I focus with effort, excitement arises;
however, when I relax it, sinking occurs.
It is hard to find a practice midway between these,
so what should I do with my agitated mind?

He is saying that when you try hard to hold your mind tight, thus making an effort, there is excitement. On the other hand, when you notice this, relax your mind that is trying hard to get involved in its object, and abandon the exertion, the laxity of sinking arises within the mind. Therefore it is hard to find the middle ground free from the two extremes of laxity and excitement, a balanced engagement in which the mind abides evenly. If he were presenting relaxation as best, there would be no reason for any difficulties. Yet since he is saying that it produces laxity, it is incorrect to practice concentration that way.

As for the point where tightness and relaxation are balanced, investigate this for yourself. You should be more relaxed than the mind state where you think, “If I tighten it this much, excitement will surely arise,” and you should also place it above that mind state where you think, “If I place it only here, laxity will easily arise”. In the context of the first and second mental states, the noble Asanga also says, “That is to say, when placement and continuous placement are performed, there is a mental attention that holds the object tight as it engages in it”. The first Stages of Meditation also instructs, “Eliminate laxity and hold the object tight”. [198] If you maintain your meditation without knowing the above method for applying mindfulness, then however much you meditate, you will acquire only a host of faults: great forgetfulness, a dulling of your wisdom that distinguishes among phenomena, and so forth.

Someone might wonder, “Well then, while mindfulness ties the mind to the object, is it appropriate to generate conceptual thought that observes whether the object is being held well?” The second Stages of Meditation says that this is indeed what needs to be done. Specifically, it is not that you first release your concentration and then observe in this way. Rather, from within your placement in concentration, you merely observe whether the mind is still on the original focal object like before, and if not, whether it has become excited or lax. Once your mind is placed in concentration, you should observe it now and then, at intervals neither too short nor too long. If you do this before the force of the previous mind has been exhausted, it has the value that the mind will become vibrant again, that its vibrancy will last for a long time, and that laxity and excitement will be recognized quickly.

Maintaining the meditation like that, periodically recalling the original focal object, is also necessary as a cause for powerful continuous mindfulness. That is why this method for maintaining mindfulness is set forth in Sravaka Levels and why it says the following in Explanation of Distinguishing the Middle from the Extremes (Madhyantavibhagatika):

The statement “Mindfulness is not forgetting the
object” means for the mind to exhibit the instructions
on placing the mind.

One applies mindfulness in order to stop being distracted from the object and forgetting it. Therefore not forgetting the object is to mentally exhibit the object and mentally attend to it again and again. It is like when you are afraid that you might forget something you know, you recall it again and again, making it hard to forget.


Someone might ask, “Now, is there an established length of meditation sessions, specified in terms of ‘Tie the mind to the object and place it for just this long’?” Major texts such as Sravaka Levels do not seem to clearly uphold an established length. However, the third Stages of Meditation says:

Doing these practices in this order, [199] sit for
twenty-four minutes, an hour and a half, three
hours, or as long as you can.

This appears to have been set forth in the context of establishing the length of meditation sessions for cultivating special insight after samatha has already been accomplished, but it is evidently similar in the context of initially practicing samatha.

If you recollect the object and observe your practice periodically, the method for maintaining mindfulness and vigilance explained above is indeed faultless even for long sessions. However, for most beginners, forgetfulness arises if the sessions are long. They become distracted and mentally wander off, and although laxity and excitement occur in the process, they do not identify them quickly but recognize them only after much time has elapsed. Alternatively, even if they do not lose their mindfulness, they easily fall under the power of laxity and excitement and do not identify them quickly. It is difficult to cut through laxity and excitement, because the former of these two impedes the arising of strong mindfulness whereas the latter impedes the arising of strong vigilance. Specifically, it is a lot worse to forget the meditation object, become distracted, and then fail to notice laxity and excitement than it is to not identify laxity and excitement quickly but still remember the meditation object. Therefore the method of maintaining mindfulness explained above is very important as the antidote the counteracts distraction and the deterioration of mindfulness.

Short sessions are needed in the event of great forgetfulness, or the mind getting distracted and wandering off a lot, when the vigilance that quickly identifies laxity and excitement is weak. On the other hand, if forgetfulness rarely arises and it seems that laxity and excitement are being recognized quickly, there is nothing wrong with slightly longer sessions either. It is with an awareness of this that the duration is not specified as twenty-four minutes and so on. In brief, it says “as long as you can,” because the length must accord with one’s mental abilities.

Apart from that, you should rest in meditative equipoise unless you suffer some temporary physical or mental harm. If that happens, do not continue meditating but rather eliminate the obstacles to your physical and mental constitution first and then meditate. That is the opinion of experts, so you should know that doing that factors into the length of sessions.


This has two points: what to do when excitement or laxity occur, and what to do while free from laxity and excitement.


This has two points: applying the antidote for failure to notice laxity and excitement, and applying the antidote for not trying to eliminate them even though they have been noticed. [200]


This has two points: defining laxity and excitement, and the method for generating vigilance that recognizes laxity and excitement during meditation.


Excitement is just as stated in the Compendium of Abidharma: “What is excitement? It is a very unpeaceful mind, a form of attachment that pursues pleasant signs. It has the function of disrupting samatha”. It has three features. Its object is something attractive and pleasant. Its aspect is the mind being unpeaceful and scattered outward, and because it is a form of attachment, it engages its object through craving. Its function is to disrupt the mind placed on its object.

While tied to an inner object, the mind is drawn without control through the excitement of attachment to forms such as sounds and becomes distracted. It is just as stated in Praise of Confession:

Right when you are focused on samatha,
directing your mind at an object again and again,
your attention is drawn away by the noose of the mental
without control, by the rope of attachment to objects.

In many translations laxity is also rendered as sinking. Some people claim that laxity is when the mind does not scatter to other objects but is lethargic and lacks clarity and limpidity. However, that is incorrect, because the second Stages of Meditation and the Unraveling the Intent Sutra say that laxity arises from lethargy. In the Compendium of Abidharma laxity is indeed explained in the context of the secondary afflictions of distraction. However, when there is distraction as explained there, virtue may also arise, so it is not necessarily afflicted.

Consequently, in the Compendium of Abidharma and in the Treasury of Abidharma Autocommentary, lethargy is said to be a heaviness, an unserviceability of the body and the mind that forms part of ignorance. With laxity, the way the mind holds its object is slack, and the object is not held clearly or tightly. Therefore, even if limpidity is present, when the way the object is held lacks clarity, there is laxity. The second Stages of Meditation says, “You should know that at times when [201] the mind does not see the object clearly, like someone blind of someone entering darkness or someone closing his eyes, there is laxity”. I have not seen a clear definition of laxity in the other great texts. Laxity is either virtuous or neutral, whereas lethargy is only a non-virtuous or neutral obstruction and part of ignorance.

The great texts say that in order to eliminate laxity, you should uplift the mind by meditating on a joyful object such as a Buddha image or light. You thereby prevent lack of clarity in the object, which is like darkness having fallen on the mind, and prevent decline in the way the mind holds it. Then you need to both clarify the object and tighten how you hold it.

Excitement is easy to recognize, but laxity is difficult to understand because it is not clearly identified in the great texts. Yet such an understanding is essential because this is a major ground for mistaking one’s concentration to be faultless. Therefore you should investigate and identify it well with mental subtlety based on your experience and in accordance with the statements in Stages of Meditation.

(to be continued…)