Beginning Objects of Shamata

Notes from “Essentials of Mahamudra” by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche.

In the previous post the traditions of Shamata were introduced.  The study continues.  When first attempting Shamata what object should a beginner start with?

I suppose this is a personal decision.  Perhaps it’s a decision between a teacher and student.  There is however some general guidelines.

There are two principal objects one can start with:

  • Deities
  • Breath


In the Mahamudra path of Vajrayana, deities can include:

  • Avalokiteshvara
  • Vajrasattva
  • Vajradhara

I suppose it could be any deity, or perhaps even a guru/teacher.


The deity focus is said to improve focus and stability of mind. But for some the breath might be more appropriate.

The warning here is that breath meditation is erratic.  We lose concentration, find our mind has wondered and gently bring it back to the breath.

Breath meditation can start with the counting of breath.  Outbreath (1), inbreath(2) and so forth.  There are different ways of counting.  Some may count an outbreath and inbreath as one count.  It doesn’t matter.

What you should remember, is to bring your mind back to the breath after you lose your focus.  In time, the mind will adhere to the breath and counting is not necessary.

Zen practice is heavily based on just breath meditation.


What part of you (or the mind) becomes aware that you have lost your focus?

It is your quality of alertness, or perhaps we could say, our quality of mindfulness.

9 Stages of Resting the Mind

Maitreya discusses the Nine stages of resting the mind in the work, “Ornament of the Sutras.”   This practice offers 9 stages of shamata meditation.

The 9 stages include:

  • PLACEMENT: Putting the mind’s attention on an object.
    • Power: The power here is “hearing.”  We hear the instructions for the practice.
    • Mental Application: “Forcibly Engaging” is the mental application for the first two stages.  Here we force our mind to engage the object.
  • CONTINUAL PLACEMENT: Realizing the distractions and returning concentration to the object.
    • Power: This power is Contemplating.  Through contemplation of instructions we reach continual placement.
    • Mental Application: “Forcibly Engaging”
  • PLACING AGAIN: At this point the mind is attached to thoughts (“I must think about this other thing because it’s very important.)  The only way through, is to immediately cut attachment to the thought (to let it go for the duration of the meditation.)
    • Power: Mindfulness is the power of this stage.  Being mindful is required to complete this stage.
    • Mental Application: “Interrupted Engaging” is the mind application that is used in the 3rd, 4th, 5th & 6th stages.
  • PLACING CLOSELY: The mind is detaching from body identity and becomes more vast and larger.  Now, thoughts will appear so small they go unnoticed.  Dealing with this stage, we focus more closely on the small moving things/thoughts.  The “thoughts” or feelings are coming “from below” (small identification) and must be stopped, otherwise they will attach and bring our awareness back down.  Observing and being mindful of these, will cause them to shrink back.
    • Power: Mindfulness is the power of this stage.
    • Mental Application: “Interrupted Engaging.”
  • TAMING: Thoughts are gone or controlled. Here is feeling. The feeling of joy, lightness, relaxation or enthusiasm. Often we want to share with others the process to how we got here. This is the stabilization of the mind.
    • Power: Here the power that drives this and the next stage is the power of “awareness.”  Awareness teachings us to appreciate the good and valuable qualities of stabilized meditation.
    • Mental Application: “Interrupted Engaging.”
  • PACIFYING: Tuning down to a finite layer, we further work to tame the mind from minute attachments and wondering flow.
    • Power: Awareness.
    • Mental Application: “Interrupted Engaging.”
  • THOROUGHLY PACIFIED: Our faults with the mind at this point keep us from a perfect clarity.  We try and recognize the distractions and faults of mind (attachment, pride, depression) and apply an antidote of spiritual practice.
    • Power: The power required here is “Effort.”  Effort shines the jewel of the mind in this and the next stage.
    • Mental Application: “Interrupted Engaging.”
  • ONE POINTEDNESS: All stages prior used mindfulness and alertness.  At this stage the mind is purified by effort alone.
    • Power: Effort
    • Mental Application: “Uninterrupted Engaging,” is the mental discipline that allows us to stay focused on the object.
  • PLACING EVENLY: In the final stage, the mind rests.  Using its own power it simply “is.”
    • Power: Familiarity is the final power that guides us into a self-stabilizing mind.
    • Mental Application: “Spontaneous Engaging,” is that application that causes the mind to rest and self-stabilize.



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