Meditative concentration

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Meditative concentration (Skt. dhyāna; Tib. བསམ་གཏན་, samten; Wyl. bsam gtan), the fifth of the six paramitas, is defined as the capacity to remain undistracted. It is the topic of the eighth chapter of the Bodhicharyavatara.


Patrul Rinpoche explains that there are two preliminaries to developing meditative concentration.[1]

1. Giving up Mundane Concerns

As regards renouncing mundane concerns, our mind will never settle into a state of one-pointed absorption as long as it is under the sway of attachment to parents, relatives and friends or attendants. So we must give up all our habitual preoccupations and busyness, and remain alone in an isolated place suitable for meditation.

Being attached to rewards and honours, praise or good reputation, or trifling necessities and then pursuing them will only obstruct the authentic path, so we must cut through any expectations and anxieties about such things, and train in being content with whatever comes our way.

2. Letting Go of Discursive Thought

Even though we may be in an isolated place, not seeking possessions and such like to any great extent, if our mind falls under the power of desire, a genuine state of meditative concentration will not arise in our being, and our mind will be unable to rest in a state of absorption. Therefore thoughts of desire must be given up. To turn our thoughts away from attachment to desirable things is particularly important for gaining the special higher levels of concentration, so we should certainly turn the mind away from craving after members of the opposite sex by reflecting on the cause, the fact that they are not easy to obtain; their nature, which is impure; and the result, which involves a lot of harm, and so on.

Moreover, we must understand that the eight worldly concerns and all thoughts of the present life are our real enemies. We must reflect, therefore, at some length on the problems caused by negative thoughts of desire, and, generating a sense of inner dignity, make heartfelt efforts to abandon them, no matter how many may arise.


The Two Types of Dhyana

There are two types of dhyana:

  • the causal meditative dhyanas (Tib. རྒྱུ་སྙོམས་འཇུག་གི་བསམ་གཏན, gyu nyom juk gi samten, Wyl. rgyu snyoms 'jug gi bsam gtan) and
  • the resultant dhyana levels in which one is reborn (Tib. འབྲས་བུ་སྐྱེ་བའི་བསམ་གཏན་, drebu kyewé samten, Wyl. 'bras bu skye ba'i bsam gtan).

The causal meditative dhyanas are the states of meditation that are realized while still here in this world of Jambudvipa. For example, we might reach the meditation of the first or second dhyana. If we can maintain that state of meditation, then when we die we will be reborn in the corresponding first or second dhyana level of the form realm.

The Three Types of Meditative Concentration

Chökyi Drakpa says:

"Meditative concentration includes the childish concentration of those who practise in isolation away from distractions and busyness, but are attached to the experiences of bliss, clarity and absence of thought. There is also the clearly discerning concentration in which emptiness is clung to as an antidote; and the concept-free samadhi of intrinsic reality, which is known as 'the concentration delighting the Tathagatas'. These should be practised successively, in stages."

The Four Dhyanas

Khenpo Pema Vajra says:

  • The first dhyana level which is accomplished in this way has five features: conception, discernment, joy, physical wellbeing and samadhi.
  • The second dhyana, which is even more peaceful, has four features: the perfect clarity in which conception and discernment have been relinquished, joy, physical wellbeing and samadhi.
  • The third dhyana, which is more peaceful still, has five features: equanimity in which the concept of joy has been abandoned, mindfulness, watchful awareness, physical wellbeing and samadhi.
  • The fourth dhyana, which is called the ultimate dhyana because it is yet more peaceful, has four features: the neutral sensation in which the sensation of physical wellbeing has been abandoned, mindfulness, the mental formation of equanimity, and samadhi.


  1. Patrul Rinpoche, The Brightly Shining Sun.

Further Reading

  • Khenpo Kunzang Palden, The Nectar of Manjushri's Speech: A Detailed Commentry on Shantideva's Way of the Bodhisattva (Boston: Shambhala, 2007), pages 258-312.