This is a very practical and simplified outline of an ancient and essential teaching on the development of meditative concentration, also called Shamatha.
This teaching outlines nine basic states of consciousness which equate to nine qualities of concentrated attention. Anyone can learn how to improve their own meditation practice by comparing their own experience with the states described here.
Moving from one state to a superior one is achieved by overcoming the obstacles present at each stage. This is precisely the value of this teaching: it allows us to immediately discover how our practice is developing and what we need to do to advance it.
Concentration practice (shamatha) is the basis from which we can retrieve information (insight). Therefore, concentration practice is the ground from which the flower of meditation emerges. However, concentration practice itself is not meditation. Meditation begins once concentration has been established. Actual meditation is defined as a state of consciousness within which we can retrieve information.
1. Placing or Setting the Mind: You are barely able to hold onto the meditation object or image before losing it. You can begin to set the mind on the object or image of meditation but cannot hold it there. You will have to seek and find the object again and again and take hold of it. Conceptuality or discursiveness is being identified so that it may appear that there is more conceptuality than usual. Other types of conceptualization appear more frequently than the object or image of meditation. At this stage you recognize and experience the many disturbing thoughts as they arise.
2. Continuous Placement: You are able to remain focused on an object or image for at least five minutes. Conceptuality is beginning to lessen and some of the mental disturbances are pacified and others appear to slow down a little and become exhausted.
3. Replacement or Resetting the Mind: You are familiar with the object of concentration to the point where you can re-establish your hold on the object immediately after losing it and you no longer need to seek it. You are still bothered by distractions, only you can quickly return to the meditation object.
4. Close Placement or Setting the Mind: The point is reached through the force of intense mindfulness where you can hold onto the meditation object or image to the end of the session without ever breaking the continuity of your concentration. The object of observation or image will not be lost at this level. At this state the mind may begin to be withdrawn through the power of mindfulness. The power of mindfulness is now complete. You can begin to apply the power of discriminating alertness. During both levels 3 and 4 you are easily moved by states of attachment and have difficulty remaining focused. You will not have very long meditation sessions at this level because gross sinking or inattentiveness and excitement will still occur.
5. Controlled or Disciplined Mind: At this level, it is necessary to revivify or heighten the mind to overcome subtle sinking or inattentiveness. You generate the power of introspection and through your own power know the good qualities of meditation. Here we never lose sight of the visualization, and our attention is sharp and focused. Distractions still arise but cannot take us away from the visualization. Yet now, excitement again poses a threat. The gross or more obvious laxity was conquered in the fourth state, so now we look for more subtle forms of laziness of attention, and more subtle forms of excitement.
6. Pacified Mind: Meditation is improved through knowledge of the faults of various obstacles. Due to the heightened awareness there is danger of subtle excitement and laxity. To advance, we simply need to more quickly address them by means of vigilance.
7. Complete Pacification: Powers of mindfulness and discriminating alertness are now complete and your balance cannot be upset by subtle sinking or inattentiveness or by subtle excitement. Attained by the power of effort.
8. Single Pointedness: Very little effort is required to remain focused upon the meditation object for the entire session without experiencing even the slightest interruption to concentration. Yet, effort to concentrate is still required. Attained by the power of effort.
9. Balanced Placement: Ability to place the mind on the object of concentration with equanimity. Without effort you are able to maintain faultless concentration. The mind is tame. This does not mean that the ego is eliminated; it only means that the mind has settled into it’s natural state. This is not enlightenment: it is merely a foundation from which insight into the truth can be acquired.