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Qualities of the Dharma
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
The True Nature of Existence
  The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta
  Dependent Arising
  Kamma, Nibbana and Rebirth


The Sangha
The Buddhist Sangha



We will now explore both serenity meditation and insight meditation.

Preliminaries to meditation — the three refuges

First I'd like to briefly introduce the preliminary to meditation.

These guiding ideals are the triple gem — the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha — upon which this course is organized.

These are also called the three refuges, because they make possible complete deliverance from all of the dangers and suffering of existence.

  • The Buddha is like a wise physician who diagnosis our condition and prescribes a remedy.
  • The Dharma is like the medicine he gives.
  • The sangha is like the attendants who help us to get well.

The most important of the three is the Dharma. The dharma is the medicine, the actual refuge.

The act of entrusting oneself to these three, relying on them for guidance is going for refuge. And the practice of meditation properly begins with the the attitude of taking refuge.

Taking the Precepts

Another preliminary to Buddhist practice is taking the precepts — pledging to observe morally pure conduct.

Before undertaking the practice of meditation, we make the firm resolution to observe the five precepts, the basic framework of moral discipline, abstaining from:

  • taking life, destroying life.
  • taking what is not give — .stealing
  • unwholesome form of sexual misconduct — for lay people this includes adultery, forced relations. promiscuous relations, meaningless relations that harm others.
  • false speech —lying.
  • taking intoxicants that cause unclarity of mind.

Serenity meditation

Serenity meditation aims specifically at developing concentration or samadhi, the unification of the mind upon a single object. When you set out to develop concentration you select a single object to be your primary meditation subject, your “field of work.”

The Buddhist texts mention a variety of meditation objects such as:

  • parts of the body.
  • the three refuge objects — the Buddha, the Dharma and the sangha,
  • the breath— in and out breathing
  • the divine abodes (brahma viharas) of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity

You may choose an object or you may an object may be chosen by your teacher. When you begin you try to focus the mind upon the single object, excluding all sensory impressions, all discursive thoughts, all the other countless mental distraction.  Whatever arises, whatever comes up just let it go and brings the mind again and again to the meditation object.  For example if meditating on the breathing, bring the mind back to the touch sensation of the breath as it moves in and out. Whatever thoughts come up just note them briefly and bring the mind back over and over to the same focal point.

The hindrances
As you concentrate on your field of work, various impediments inevitably arise, obstructing your effort, preventing you from reaching deep concentration.

The Buddha himself gained a thorough familiarity with these impediments and classified them into the five hindrances. (As well he offered a simile comparing each of the hindrance to a particular impurity of water which prevents a person from seeing his reflection in a pool of water.)

    Sensual desire
    The yearning and craving for the objects of the senses — for agreeable sights and delightful sounds, smells, tastes, and touches, as well as for the thoughts and images based on these.

    Sense pleasures are like water having many different colored paints on the surface. They seem beautiful and attractive, but when the surface water is colored with paints, you can’t see your reflection. In the same way, you can’t gain concentration and insight if the mind is obsessed by sense desires.

    Ill will
    Includes all negative mental states — hatred, anger, hostility, aversion discontent, depression — directed sometimes to people, sometimes to things, sometimes to situations.

    Ill will is like boiling water, water with bubbles rushing to the surface, making it impossible to see your reflection in the water. Similarly when the mind is boiling over with anger, ill will you can’t gain calm and concentration

    Dullness and drowsiness
    Mental inertia, rigidity and stiffness of mind. Often referred to as sloth or torpor, these include drowsiness, sleepiness, indolence, and lethargy.

    Sloth and torpor are like water grown over with moss, a symbol of stagnation and sliminess. Dullness and drowsiness indicate a stagnant state of mind incapable of allowing calm and insight.

    Restlessness and worry
    The excited and agitated state of mind. Worry is the nagging sense of remorse and regret over things we’ve done mistakenly in the past or problems lurking ahead in the future.

    Like the surface of water churned up by strong winds, which break it into waves and riplets, when restlessness and worry pass through the mind they prevent calm and insight.

    Not questions about the doctrine or discipline but rather persistent uncertainty about the teachings, the inability to make up one’s mind to follow the path and commit oneself to the practice.

    Doubt is like muddy water. Unclear, it is unable to give back one's reflection.

To attain concentration, the Buddha recommends a variety of methods, including:

  • Make a note of the hindrance when it arises and then to let it go without becoming disturbed by it. If you don't feed it with concern and bring the mind back to the object, the hindrance will lose its momentum and will subside.
  • Focus attention on the hindrance itself; observe it with mindfulness. Since the calm and  clarity of mindfulness are incompatible with the mental disturbances, this method shuts out the hindrance and often succeeds in making it subside.
  • If the hindrance does not subside, drop the primary subject and take up a special method to counteract the hindrance, an antidote.

Ashoka offers a course for meditators that teaches the hindrances and their antidotes. This course, taught by Joseph Goldstein, guiding teacher of Insight Meditation Society, can be found at >>>

The five factors of absorptions — the janas

As one continues practicing serenity meditation, concentration becomes stronger until it leads by stages to the deep states of absorption called the jhanas. There are four jhanas named simply after their numerical position in the series: the first, second, third, and fourth jhanas. In each successive jhana, the concentration is stronger, the mind more focused and peaceful. In the jhanas the defilements are suspended and suppressed, so that they do not manifest in the mind.

However, even when the defilements are completely suppressed, they are still lying dormant because the fundamental root is still lying dormant – ignorance. In order to get free from the latent tendencies, one has to eliminate ignorance, and to do this the one practices insight meditation.