Watching a Candle

This morning during the Full Moon Retreat at Khadiravana Center in Hua Hin, I had some time to do meditation by myself. While the others were having their “Chi Gong” exercises, I sat in front of the alter and silently watched a candle that was burning in front of the Buddhas.

This is a very good way of doing the “calm abiding” meditation. For those of you who are rather serious practitioners, calm abiding is a precursor, and I would say a necessary condition, to insight meditation. In Pali the former is called “Samatha” and the latter “Vipassana” (In Sanskrit these are “Shamatha” and “Vipasyana”.)

Calm abiding is important because without having a very keenly focused mind, no real insight is possible. And without the insight, no liberation is possible. When I watched the candle, I kept repeating to myself “candle, candle, candle” (in fact I said to myself in Thai, but that’s not too important). The idea is to keep the mind focused on the candle without actually thinking anything. Whenever a thought arises, I just let it pass away without bothering too much. This takes some practice. But I am telling you what I am actually doing.

So I sat cross legged around 1.5 or 2 meters away from the burning candle, and the line of sight was quite parallel to the ground, so I did not have to look down or up much. The idea is to look straight ahead at your focus object, so the object should be about the same height from the ground as your eyes are. Then watch the candle without blinking. The idea is not to bother about blinking. The idea of having to blink does not enter your mind. But of course people blink, so when you blink just let it blink and then carry on the focusing.

During the meditation I thought of a teaching by Pakchok Rinpoche who was teaching about this topic last year. When you meditation, be like an eagle who is keeping a very intense, watchful eye over the terrain looking for preys. My metaphor is a cat who is intensely watching its prey and carefully, very silently, stalking it. The cat (or the eagle) does not think about whether it will blink or not. In fact if it blinks, chances are that the potential prey might fly away. So the cat keeps very silent, very still, moving very, very carefully. The mind is deeply single-pointed. Not one moment of scattering. This is what we should aim for in meditation.

At first it might not be practicable to maintain this single pointedness for a long time. It would be good if you can maintain this state for a few minutes. Then with more skill you can prolong this state and move on to insight meditation.

One thought on “Watching a Candle

  1. Bruce June 2, 2009 / 12:34 pm

    Even after reading about meditation, and in particular Vipassana meditation for a couple of years (granted, mostly via websites, not books), this is the first time I’ve come across the term “calm abiding” meditation. I think that Samatha was otherwise translated something like concentration. This is also the first recommendation I’ve read for doing one prior to the other. It’s good to know.

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