Right Samadhi and Wrong Samadhi – An Example

From the Autobiography of Ajahn Mun (1870 – 1949)

ForestIn his early years of practice, Ãcariya Mun often wandered dhutanga (ascetic monk) in the company of Ãcariya Sao, comforted in the knowledge that he had a good, experienced teacher to lend him support. But when he asked his teacher to advise him on specific problems arising in his meditation, Ãcariya Sao invariably replied: “My experiences in meditation are quite different from yours. Your citta (mind) is so adventurous, tending always toward extremes. One moment it soars into the sky, only to plunge deep into the earth the next. Then, after diving to the ocean floor, it again soars up to walk meditation high in the sky. Who could possibly keep up with your citta long enough to find a solution? I advise you to investigate these matters for yourself and find your own solutions.”

Ãcariya Mun wholeheartedly agreed with Ãcariya Sao’s comment about his citta being adventurous, and tending to go to extremes. His citta truly did have such mercurial characteristics. Dropping into samãdhi in the early stages of his practice, his citta tended to focus outward then, perceiving all manner of unusual phenomena – things he had never dreamed of seeing. For example, he saw a bloated corpse laid out before him. As I have mentioned before, when he concentrated his attention on this image, it soon changed into a translucent disc which in turn altered its form, creatingan endless series of images.

Even after discovering the correct method of practice, when his citta ‘converged’ into calm it was still inclined to focus outward, perceiving countless types of phenomena. Sometimes, he felt his body soaring high into the sky where he travelled around for many hours, looking at celestial mansions before coming back down. At other times, he burrowed deep beneath the earth to visit various regions in hell. There he felt profound pity for its unfortunate inhabitants, all experiencing the grievous consequences of their previous actions. Watching these events unfold, he often lost all perspective of the passage of time.

In those days, he was still uncertain whether these scenes were real or imaginary. He said that it was only later on, when his spiritual faculties were more mature, that he was able to investigate these matters and understand clearly the definite moral and psychological causes underlying them.

Any lapse in concentration as his citta ‘converged’ into calm created an opening through which it could again focus outward to perceive such phenomena. His newfound proficiency notwithstanding, if his attention turned outward, his citta would be off in a flash.

Ãcariya Mun told us that early on, due to inexperience with the mercurial nature of his own mind, when focusing his citta to examine the lower half of his body, instead of following the various parts down to the soles of his feet, it would shoot out through his lower torso and penetrate deep into the earth – just as Ãcariya Sao had so astutely remarked. No sooner had he hurriedly withdrawn the citta back into his body than it would fly through the top of his head, soaring high into the sky where it paced back and forth contentedly, showing no interest in returning to his body. Concentrating with intense mindfulness, he had to force the citta to re-enter the body and perform the work he wanted it to do.

In those early days his mind developed a tendency to drop so speedily into a state of calm – like falling from a cliff, or down a well – that his mindfulness couldn’t keep up with it. Resting only briefly in complete stillness before withdrawing slightly to the level of upacãra samãdhi[1], his citta tended to venture out so often, and experienced such a variety of strange things, that he became very frustrated. He tried to force it to remain inside the confines of his body, but often to no avail.

His citta was far too fleeting for mindfulness and wisdom to keep pace. Still too inexperienced to work out an effective solution, he felt uneasy about the direction of his meditation. Yet, being a strictly internal matter, he couldn’t mention his predicament to anyone else.

So, with an intense degree of mindfulness and wisdom to guide his efforts, he experimented with many different techniques, suffering considerable mental strain before finding a viable means of controlling his adventuresome citta. Once he clearly understood the correct method of taming his dynamic mind, he found that it was versatile, energetic, and extremely quick in all circumstance. Eventually working in unison, mindfulness and wisdom blended so well with the citta that they merged to become one with it. Thus strengthened, the citta functioned like a magic crystal ball; and he was fully capable of keeping pace with all the myriad phenomena arising within it.

Struggling desperately on his own to find ways to control his unruly mind, practicing without a dependable guide and enduring difficulties, Ãcariya Mun sometimes felt that he was beating his head against a mountain. Unlike so many others, he had to manage without the aid of a wise teacher’s proven meditation methods – a disadvantage he often warned others against later on. To his own students he always emphasized his readiness to clarify any problems they experienced in meditation, thus saving them the difficulty of having to waste time as he had in his early years.


[1] In access (upacãra) samãdhi the citta ‘converges’ into a prolonged state of calm and stillness which is at the same time a state of enhanced awareness concerning internal and external phenomena that make contact with the internal and external sense bases. At the access level, normal thought processes (the inner dialogue) are temporarily suspended, while powers of perception are heightened. This is the intermediate stage of samãdhi.

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