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patanjali-1If shamatha is the foundation for all levels of meditation, then what is the foundation of shamatha? The great sage Patanjali states that it is “to still the patterning of the consciousness.” (Sutra 1 of Book I) He furthermore states: “Then, pure awareness can abide in its very nature. Otherwise, awareness takes itself to be the patterns of consciousness.”(Sutras 2 & 3 of Book 1) This abiding of awareness in its own nature is shamatha. It also is the more refined and exalted states of meditation and levels of Awareness.

How does one “still the patterning of consciousness?” Patanjali offers: “Both practice and non-reaction are required to still the patterning of consciousness.” I. 12
“Practice is the sustained effort to rest in that stillness.” I. 13 This, then, is the effort and instruction that leads one to establish and stabilize shamatha. It is necessary to practice this stilling of the patterning of consciousness on and off the cushion.

Off the cushion, one would try to pause briefly and hold a moment of neutrality frequently through the day. This needs to be done with thoughts, definitions, habits of mind, beliefs, habituated emotional responses, and even the idea that red is red and green is green. These are patterns that have been placed within or upon the consciousness but do not hold sway in the vast possibilities of Awareness itself.

We continue to practice a simple pranayama that will, with practice and effort, produce a shamatha – the ground of all states.


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