This morning, in one of the first open group meditations in our Spring meditation program, a group of about 35 students and a few monastics, meditated and had a thoughtful exchange about what the Buddha meant by the word “samadhi”…..a word usually translated as “concentration.” Often, people dread the word and the state that they “think” goes with it. They associate concentration with the kind of grim mental effort made in college, usually the night before a test or a paper was due and fueled by lots of coffee and fear. In a meditation practice, it’s often easier to strongly prefer mindfulness, a sky-like state of awareness that shines a light on things like a butterfly, a blade of grass, the smell of a flower….and then moves on. Indeed, those beautiful moments of settling on a sensation or a sound are indeed moments of samadhi.
Samadhi happens when we are free from stress and strain. In his classic teaching on meditation, The Satipatthana Sutra, the Buddha describes concentration as being “free from desires and discontent with regard to the world.” It’s the blossoming of attention and joy that can appear when we are fully present. Once, in lesssns with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he talked about the Pali term samadhi….He described samadhi as the joy that comes when we let go of all the tensions and thoughts that keep us from being fully present. “Receiving joy is another way to say enjoyment, and samadhi is the act of refined enjoyment. It is based in skillfulness. It is the careful collection of oneself into the joy of the present moment. Joyfulness means there’s no fear, no tension, no ‘ought to.’ There isn’t anything we have to do about it. It’s just this.”