The practice of Samatha meditation is meant to bring about stillness and calm to the mind. Think of your mind as the ocean…sometimes intrinsically calm. Sometimes crashing down with omnipotent waves in a storm of utter defiance. Samatha meditation will help you tend and nurture the calm potential of your mind to allow it to flourish in a positive way.
Have you been curious about how to bring this way of being into your daily life? I had a friend once say “Calm is a superpower.” To be calm in a situation that naturally calls for you to be angry, to be upset…is a superpower. To be calm in the most chaotic of situations is a virtue that is not easily obtained.
Don’t worry. I’m going to show you how to get there!
What You May Desire to Acquire
It is nice with meditation because you can practice without any additional resources other than your mind, body, and spirit. However, there are always tools that can enhance and improve your practice in meditation. You can check out our Useful Meditation Gear to determine exactly how you want to build your meditation space. Here are the basics:
- A zafu meditation cushion – this helps you sit with proper posture and keeps your knees below your hips and resting on the floor
- A blanket or shawl – it is nice to wrap around you to keep from becoming chilly and shivering during your meditation.
- A calm and quiet environment
You may also want to review our Beginner’s Meditation Handbook if you are wanting to learn how to sit properly. This handbook will also help you review the basic breath techniques for beginners in meditation. Samatha meditation will also do work with the breath, as do many meditation practices. So, the breath is a good place to start.
“क्रोधित न होकर क्रोध पर विजय प्राप्त करो; अच्छाई द्वारा दुष्टों पर विजय प्राप्त करो; सच बोलकर उदारता, और झूठ से कंजूस को जीतें।”
“Conquer the angry one by not getting angry; conquer the wicked by goodness; conquer the stingy by generosity, and the liar by speaking the truth.”
― Siddhārtha Gautama, The Dhammapada
What is Samatha Meditation?
Samatha meditation, or Shamatha, is a form of meditation practice that brings about calmness and tranquility to the mind. The spelling (either Samatha or Shamatha) is different only based on the language that is spelling it, so do not be confused by this. Samatha meditation is the fundamental foundation that allows the student to delve deeper into their practice to achieve Panna (wisdom).
Practicing Samatha meditation is extremely important when beginning in meditation. The practice of Samatha is achieved through a myriad of different ways. I will be taking you through the most often taught practice. It is also the practice I personally engage in.
Be warned! It may be boring at first. In my 10-day Vipassana meditation class we sat for the first 3 days, [in complete silence, practicing samadhi (concentration)]. So, 30% of my entire meditation class was spent just specifically on this practice alone.
Also, if you are interested in doing a 10-day meditation class (it’s free!) you can go to dhamma.org and sign up for a class. And yea, room and board are free, plus breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And you will get put on a waitlist when you sign up but so many people drop out when it comes around you almost always get accepted!
If you do go please come back and tell me how your experience went! It is a life-changing experience, for sure and each individual perspective is so valuable to learn about.
Practicing Samatha Meditation
You can achieve Samatha (calmness) of the mind through different mindfulness practices. In the Buddhist tradition, it is important to practice through concentrating on your breath. You do this by focusing on the area above your upper lip and below your nostrils.
But first, let us review the prerequisites of Samatha meditation!
Step 1: The Five Precepts
These precepts, or rules, are designed to create a certain type of a person if you will. If the teachings are correct then that type of person will be an Enlightened One, or a Buddha. So, in teaching, these precepts are necessary for a student to willingly undertake and adopt as part of who they are in order to progress in the training of concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (panna).
These precepts are as follows:
- To abstain from killing any being
- To abstain from stealing
- To abstain from all sexual activity
- To abstain from telling lies
- To abstain from all intoxicants
Some of these precepts you may react to and say what? How could I ever? Others you may not think about, like abstinence from killing. Of course you wouldn’t kill any being! …until that mosquito lands on you and is sucking your blood. Right?
So, do not feel as if you must become a monk to practice in Samatha meditation or to obtain wisdom. This is not the case, entirely. You will simply be learning and understanding these precepts more and more as life goes on. And perhaps one day…you shall become a monk. One can never really say, for sure.
But for now, do not question these things. It is only important that you observe, understand, and apply these precepts as fully as you can in this current moment. Ok? Ok!
Step 2: The Seven-Point Posture
The seven-point posture simply involves seven different points in your body and positioning yourself into ergonomic alignment. Vairocana, “the Illuminator”, was one of the originally known buddhas that are said to have first presented the seven-point posture.
Aside from this, here are the seven points to the seven-point posture:
1.) Sit with your legs crossed. You may sit in a full-lotus pose or half-lotus depending on your physical capability. BE CAREFUL. Full lotus pose can seriously screw up your knees if you don’t know what you are doing. However, the half-lotus pose is fine to read about and then practice without prior knowledge. (Trust me, I tried full-lotus without prior knowledge and it took me 7 years to even start recovering.)
2.) Place your hands in your lap. Lay the hands upon each other with palms facing up.
3.) Keep your back straight. If this is difficult, just imagine a string that is coming down from the stars into the top of your head and goes straight down your spine and into the earth. Imagine the string is being pulled and pulling your head up into perfect alignment with your neck and spine. You may also use a wall, chair, or cushions as support.
4.) Widen your shoulders by pulling them backward. It can help to bring breath into your chest cavity to push your shoulder blades deeper into the cavities that create the broadness of your shoulders.
5.) Lower your chin into your chest.
6.) Allow your lower lip to rest just slightly separated from your upper lip. Allow your tongue to rest against the roof of your mouth.
7.) Allow your eyes to be open. Simply allow your eyes to be open and still but not focused on any particular point. This is an advanced part of the technique. It is perfectly ok to practice with your eyes closed. Many teachers even recommend it.
If you struggle with point 7 then I would advise you to simply keep your eyes shut for a time. As you advance you can practice candle gazing meditation or trataka meditation. Keeping your eyes open while practicing Samatha meditation is actually a controversial topic in Hindi and Buddhist cultures.
Many teachers advise to simply leave your eyes closed. Some gurus just think the eyes create too much activity and distraction whereas others say that overcoming this is the power.
So, it’s up to you! As it always will be.
Step 3: Anapana
Samatha meditation begins by working with your concentration and your breath. In Hindi, these are known as samadhi (concentration) and anapana (your breath). To practice, you will simply allow your breath to naturally flow in and fill your lungs.
Then allow the breath to leave your lungs. Do not force it.
Also, do not intentionally draw your breath in. Just allow this function to happen naturally while you observe the area above your upper lip and below your nostrils.
*Pro Tip: If you cannot feel the touch of the breath on the area above your upper lip and below your nostrils then you may apply the smallest amount of force and sharpness to your breath. Do this until you do recognize the touch of the breath above your upper lip and below your nostrils.
Step 4: Practice.
At this point, there is nothing more to do but to continue to practice. You are honing and fine-tuning your concentration and your focus here. It is normal here for the mind to wander. You will find yourself thinking of doing laundry, or an event from yesterday, or simply that you don’t want to be doing this practice anymore.
Ignore all of these things. Return your attention to the area above the upper lip and below the nostrils.
Focus on this area with determination. With diligence.
Practice. Practice. Practice. It is the only way.
We will only achieve greatness, I believe, if we work. On ourselves. And together. We have to work. If we are not working, then we must be broken. It is in the words. Redirect your consciousness, now and today. Point your compass’ cardinal direction towards the emanating light of Creation and find your Self.
Be whole. Meditate!
You now have the practice of Samatha meditation, or the “calm mind”, within you. As you continue to grow and evolve throughout your practice feel free to return here and share your experiences and progress with other students.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about meditation! Remember to at least get a good meditation cushion if you don’t have one already. And keep the cushion out somewhere! This will help your consistency in meditation because 1.) you will have a designated meditation space constantly reminding you to meditate. 2.) you will sit more comfortably. Always a plus!
Cheers, everybody and thank you for reading! Be safe and meditate well.