Looking back on this year, we went on an inspiring journey by exploring the Eightfold Path month by month. At the same time, Corona entered our lives and so many things changed. This gives us a beautiful entry point to explore the deeper meaning of right samadhi. I will conclude this month’s theme with a simple practice that gives us a felt sense of right absorption. So that this final step of the path is not just theory or mental understanding, but something we really begin to bring into our experience.
Right samadhi is a tricky topic with many different interpretations that have led to even more discussions. As I took this teaching with me the last couple of weeks, I read The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. In one chapter, Trungpa explores the eightfold path. This text opened something in me. It guided me to the experience of these teachings beyond the static meaning of the words. Therefore I choose this chapter as the foundation for today’s exploration.
Right Samadhi is often translated as ‘right concentration’. However, after having explored this teaching, I find this a narrow and limited translation. Therefore, I will follow Trungpa and Dr Vasant Lad in translating right samadhi as complete or total absorption into the ultimate reality.
What was this year all about?
At the beginning of this year, we started exploring the Buddha’s teachings. The starting point of the Buddhist path is suffering. We all experience suffering in one way or another, especially this year, as the coronavirus entered our world. Sometimes we were afraid or angry. The lockdown made us lonely and isolated. We have been sick and felt pain. And some of us had to say goodbye to loved ones. Suffering and discontent are more evident than ever. Which raises the question: how do we deal with suffering?
The Buddha’s teaching was very simple, very direct. He invited us to be exactly where we are. To refrain from fooling ourselves and the world around us. Trungpa Rinpoche writes, “Buddha saw the world as it is and that was his enlightenment. ‘Buddha’ means awake, being awake, completely awake-that seems to be his message to us.”
So to what do we awaken? We awaken to how it is, to the nature of reality. “[Buddha] offered us a path to being awake, a path with eight points, and he called it ‘the eightfold path’.” The teachings are tailored to our human condition and show us how we can live in harmony with ourselves, with each other, and with nature.
What is right?
We have explored the eightfold path and elaborated on right view, right mindfulness and many more. But what did the Buddha mean by ‘right’? Often the prefix ‘right’ gets interpreted as the opposite of wrong. But every time we position ourselves as right then we immediately create another position that is wrong. This interpretation of ‘right’ could never lead to true freedom since we are always bound to the dualistic rules of right and wrong. This is not what the Buddha is pointing to.
In order to see the Buddha’s teachings, we must first understand what he meant by right. Trungpa explains that ‘right’ translates the Sanskrit samyak, which means ‘complete’. Right samadhi would translate as complete samadhi or complete absorption.
Complete relates to a sense of wholeness that goes beyond relative comparison. It is a completeness of itself: it is self-sufficient. Samyak means to see life very straightforward, not mixed or altered. Trungpa says it’s like ordering a straight drink in a bar. Not diluted with club soda or water; you just have it straight. This completeness invites us to open ourselves. We are invited to live with a simple very direct openness to all life experiences.
Are we willing to meet the suffering inside ourselves?
Inviting ourselves to experience all situations fully is not as easy as it seems. I myself noticed that an interesting illusion exists in me these last couple of months. For example, during the lockdown, I would sometimes experience intense anger towards my partner. Right at the moment when hardly anything happened in my life, when she was just sitting or talking, these intense emotions came up. I noticed that my first response was to blame her for causing this anger in me.
But this is the illusion: that I believe that she is causing this anger. The Buddha would say that this is a lack of right view. When I started to feel into the suffering and started to work with it, I found that the suffering was already in me. Most of the time when I get stuck in anger, sadness, loneliness, or grief, I am actually re-experiencing emotional load from past experience that is ingrained in my consciousness.
My partner might have been a trigger for my suffering, but I cannot blame the messenger. This made me realize how important it is for us to learn how to work with ourselves, especially in a time where so much in us gets triggered. Do we have the willingness, the bravery to meet ourselves exactly where we are? Can we get completely involved in our lives without distance, without dualistic constructs to protect our vulnerability or our sense of individuality?
It might sound like an impossible task. As if we are asked to climb Mount Everest with no training. But the good news is; we are all equipped to be completely present in whatever occurs. We have a natural capacity to give space to everything that arises. Somehow this natural ability got concealed, like the blue sky gets concealed by a group of clouds. But the blue sky and the radiant sun are always there.
Likewise, our natural capacity, our awakened being, is already present. And we can practice keeping this realisation present and alive in our day-to-day awareness.
The complete absorption into our natural capacity of presence is what we could call Right Samadhi. This is the fruition of our practice and what the Buddha pointed out as the eighth aspect of the eightfold path.