Meditation > The Nine Levels of Concentration in Meditation
By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
December 1, 2013

The nine levels of concentration in meditation
(gaining Tranquil Abiding)
By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

To attain tranquil abiding we need to gain in succession nine levels of concentration on one subject.
These are called:

1                    Placing the mind-finding our object we place our mind on it

2                    Continual placement-holding our object for at least five minutes

3                    Replacement-holding the object longer & re-finding quickly

4                    Close placement-Not forgetting our object during our session

5                    Controlling-asserting alertness to control mental sinking

6                    Pacifying-relaxing our over-control/over application

7                    Completely pacifying-overcomingall mental sinking & excitement

8                    Single-pointedness-slight effort still required

9                    Placement in equipose-effortless concentration 

As a child grows up he or she becomes stronger and more mature each year. Similarly, our concentration grows stronger and more powerful with each level until we attain Tranquil Abiding. There now follows an explanation of what characterises each level and how they are attained in succession.  

1 Placing the mind

At this stage of training, our goal is to find our object and focus or place, our mind on it. When we attain placing the mind we are not yet able to hold the object continuously for any length of time. We can just focus our mind on it. We find the object by examining it in detail. For example, if our object is the visualized form of Buddha we find it by remembering the various aspects of its appearance. To begin with we visualise the object about thumb-size, but as our training progresses we visualise our object as small as possible. If we have many distractions we can visualise at the level of our navel because this helps reduce mental excitement and other distractions. Visualising the object higher will reduce mental sinking. We need to experiment to find out which is the best position for us, although in general the best position is level with our eyebrows.

Before doing our meditation and during our meditation break we can examine images of Buddha. By recollecting these in our meditation session we try to perceive a clear generic image. We try to establish this image in our mind’s eye by remembering its various aspects, from head to foot, thinking ‘The hair is like this, the face like this…...’, and so on. Then we check in reverse, from the feet to the crown of the head. This process of checking is called ‘seeking’ the object. After a while we shall be able to establish a rough generic image of the whole form. Then we take this rough generic image as our object and try to place our mind on it without attempting to make it any clearer. If we can perceive the whole image clearly at this stage we are very fortunate, but if we can establish only a vague image that is sufficient for the time being. We are still ready to practice placing the mind. When we have found or established the object well, and are able to focus our mind on it and hold it single-pointedly, we have attained the first mental abiding. It may take a few months to reach this level.

On the level of placing the mind we still have more distractions than concentration during our meditation session. We may feel that we have more distractions than usual. In fact this is not the case. It seems that way only because our mind has become slightly clearer and more inwardly gathered. In our daily life we have more distractions than when we are meditating, but since we are mostly unaware of these distractions it can seem to us that they are fewer than those we experience when we sit down to meditate.

2 Continual Placement

After attaining placing the mind we continue to meditate on the same object over and over again until we can hold our object single-pointedly for about five minutes. When we can do this we have reached the second level, continual placement. On this level we still have many conceptual thoughts and other distractions, but they are fewer than on the first level. The distractions are less busy and it is as if they are ready to retire. Our concentration is stronger. There are times when our mind is free from conceptual thoughts and there are times when it is not.

3 Replacement

After attaining continual placement, if we continue to meditate over and over again we shall eventually reach the third level, replacement. On the second level we can hold our object for about five minutes before we lose it, and when we lose it we cannot immediately regain it. We need to return to analytical meditation each time we lose the object. However, on the third level, whenever we lose the object we can immediately retrieve it without having to begin our search all over again. On the second level we are like a child who has dropped the ball and cannot easily pick it up again. On the third level we are like an adult who can immediately retrieve the ball whenever it is dropped. When we attain replacement our mindfulness becomes much stronger and we can meditate for an hour without ever completely losing our object. During that time we drop our object many times, but we are always able to regain it immediately.

4 Close placement

After attaining replacement, if we continue to meditate over and over again we shall reach the fourth level, close placement. On this level the power of mindfulness is complete and so we do not forget our object of meditation at any time during the session. This level is called ‘close placement’ because the object is always close to us.

5 Controlling (by alertness)

After attaining close placement we continue to meditate over and over again, and our concentration improves until we reach the fifth level, controlling. On this level there is no danger of mental excitement or gross mental sinking, but due to the power of stable concentration our mind may become too inwardly gathered and so there is a great danger of developing subtle mental sinking. With alertness we can control subtle mental sinking and, by applying the appropriate opponent, eliminate it immediately. At this stage alertness is applied principally to overcome this obstacle.

6 Pacifying (by relaxing)

After attaining controlling, if we continue to improve our concentration we shall reach the sixth level, pacifying. On this level there is no danger of any mental sinking or gross mental excitement, but due to applying the remedy to mental sinking on the level of controlling we run the risk of slight over-application, which induces subtle mental excitement. We identify this obstacle through the force of alertness, and overcome it by applying the appropriate opponent.

7 Completely pacifying

After attaining pacifying, if we continue to improve our concentration we shall reach the seventh level, completely pacifying. On this level, because we have perfected the powers of mindfulness and alertness, there is no great danger of either subtle mental excitement or subtle mental sinking. In the case of either obstacle arising it can immediately be eliminated through the power of effort.

8 Single-pointedness

By continuing our practice of concentration we reach the eighth level, single-pointedness. On this level it is impossible for any mental sinking or mental excitement to develop during our meditation. However, although we are able to focus and remain single-pointedly on our object for as long as we like, we still need to exert effort to maintain concentration.

9 Placement in equipoise

By continuing our practice of concentration we reach the ninth level, placement in equipoise. On this level, as soon as we have engaged in concentration it is effortless to sustain. Initially, when we decide to engage in concentration we have to make some slight effort to move the mind to its object, but once we have done this no further effort is needed to maintain our concentration. Just as we effortlessly fall asleep once we have gone to bed and lain down, so on this level, once we have decided to practice concentration and remembered our object, concentration comes naturally and spontaneously. Any living being needs to apply at least a minimum effort to perform any action because only Buddhas have completed the perfection of effort and can accomplish all tasks effortlessly.

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