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Excerpted from Transforming the Mind by His Holiness The Dalai Lama. Copyright © 2000 by H.H. Dalai Lama. Excerpted by permission of Thorsons/HarperCollins.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Buddhist texts speak of four principal obstacles that one must overcome for meditation to be successful."

  His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Transforming the Mind, Part 3

It is therefore possible to integrate both types of meditation into a theistic religion. A Christian, for instance, might engage in contemplation by reflecting upon the mysteries of the world, or the power of God's grace, or on various reasons that he or she finds deeply inspiring and that enhance his belief in the divine Creator. Through such a process the individual might arrive at a deep-felt faith in God, and then could rest his mind in that state and remain single-pointedly focused. In this way, the practitioner arrives at a single-pointed meditation on God through an analytic process, so both aspects of meditation are present.

Obstacles to Meditation

Buddhist texts speak of four principal obstacles that one must overcome for meditation to be successful. The first is mental scattering or distraction, which arises at the coarse level of mind and refers to the tendency for our thoughts to be scattered. The second obstacle is dullness and drowsiness, or the tendency to fall asleep. The third is mental laxity, which means that our mind is unable to retain sharpness and clarity. Finally, at a more subtle level, there is mental excitement, or agitation which stems from the fluctuating, changeable nature of our mind.

When our mind is too alert it becomes excitable and easily agitated, and then our thoughts go chasing after different ideas or objects which make us feel either elated or depressed. Too much excitement leads to all kinds of moods and emotional states. By contrast, when laxity arises it brings a sense of respite, so it can feel quite pleasant because it is restful. Despite this, however, it is actually an obstacle to meditation. I have noticed that when birds and animals are well fed they are completely relaxed and contented, so when we hear a well-fed happy cat purring away, we could say that it is in a state of mental laxity.

Mental dullness occurs at a coarser level of the mind, whereas mental laxity, which is in a sense a result of dullness, is experienced on a much more subtle level. In fact, it is said that it is difficult for a meditator to distinguish between genuine meditation and mental laxity. This is because in mental laxity there is still a degree of clarity. You have not lost the focus of your attention in the meditation, but there is no alertness. So although you have a kind of clarity in your perception of the object, there is no vitality in that state of mind. For a serious meditator, it is very important to be able to distinguish between subtle laxity and genuine meditation. This is all the more critical because there are said to be different degrees of mental laxity.

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