Martine & Stephen


In the “Numerical Discourses”, the anthology translated by Bikkhu Bodhi, there is a sutra called “The Refinement of the Mind (II)”.  In it the Buddha says that we have to be careful when we practise meditation “not to give exclusive attention to concentration as it could lead us into a state of indolence, not to give exclusive attention to energetic effort in case it creates restlessness and not to give exclusive attention to equanimity in case it stops us from concentrating on dissolving defilements”.

This struck me because we are generally told: “Concentrate!”, “Put more effort!”, “Be equanimous!’ on the Buddhist path.  But the Buddha is telling us that our practice needs to be balanced. That putting too much emphasis on effort will make us restlessness is quite obvious.  When we try too hard, it can become an obstacle, makes us tense, raise our energy level but in an uncontrolled way.  We need to try hard but not too hard, what makes sense for our whole organism -- body, mind and heart.  In Korean and Tibetan practice, there is a well-known phenomenon called ‘sangee’ (K) or ‘lung’ (T).  This is over-exertion in the practice of meditation, which is said to create a terrible headache in Korean Zen, and stress with breathing in Tibetan Buddhism.  So the Buddha seems to be saying: ‘watch out, be enthusiastic but at the same time careful in your effort’.

As to concentration leading to indolence, this is more mystifying though it could explain in certain schools of Buddhism the recommendation to ally concentration (samatha) with experiential investigation (vipassana) and not to fall into dullness through concentrating too much.  A meditator friend recently was telling me how too much concentration leads her at times to feel quite vegetative.  Maybe this is what the Buddha was referring to, that if we put too much emphasis on concentration we bypass a vital and energetic aspect of the practice.

As to too much emphasis on equanimity, this is an interesting point.  It could explain why people who are equanimous are not necessarily ethical or compassionate.  It could be that too much equanimity makes one feel above it all, unconcerned by one’s own negative behaviours and its effect on other people.

What do you think?  What is your experience?

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