We are all familiar with the science of meditation. It is the art of engaging in self-contemplation by concentrating on the breath and/or mantra for realizing heightened spiritual awareness.
The entire process of bringing the mind to a tranquil state unfolds through 10 stages of meditative development. Each of the 10 stages represents unique features, challenges, specific techniques, and benefits. As you progress through the stages, you can successfully master the skills of meditation and achieve the highest possible goals. Within the 10 stages proposed, there are four major levels that serve as significant milestones in your practice which can give a whole dimension to the meditation practices.
The 10 stages of meditation development is a map to help figure out the level of meditation practices achieved, the best way to continue, the experiences felt, and finally transformed into an adept meditator.
Here, we have outlined the ten stages of meditation in a simple manner. Follow the path with attention and awareness to gain mastery and bliss.
Stage 1: Establishing the Practice
The first stage is characterized by establishing a regular meditative practice that most of us find hard to develop. The difficulty in sitting for a longer period of time, boredom, fatigue, or lack of motivation are some of the possible reasons for this procrastination. Overcome the challenge by doing a deliberate review of your purpose to practice meditation. This gives a sense of motivation and discipline to be a religious meditator. When you don’t miss a daily meditation practice except when it is totally unavoidable, you have gained mastery over the first stage.
Stage 2: Interrupted Attention and Overcoming Mind Fluctuations
As you sit in meditation regularly and you make an attempt to move the attention inwards away from the external world, you enter the second stage. Here, you practice to focus on the breath and directing the attention back to the breath when the mind wanders. Learn that distractions make you forget to pay attention to the breath. With an attention to the breath, the mind-wandering gets shorter.
Stage 3: Extended Attention and Overcoming Forgetting
By this stage, your mind-wandering periods get shorter. But you may face other obstacles like sleepiness. So, in this stage, you learn to recognize when sleepiness and forgetting occur in so that you can take action before it happens. To achieve extended attention, follow the breath and further develop your introspective awareness to catch distractions before they lead to forgetting. As you develop full minded awareness, you rarely lose attention to the meditation object.
Milestone One: Stages 4-6: Continuous Attention To Meditation Object
The first milestone in meditative development is the continuous attention that you have gained in stage three. Now, you are no longer a novice meditation practitioner, prone to mind-wandering and dozing. You have successfully acquired the basic skills.
Stage 4: Continuous Attention and Overcoming Gross Dullness
By this stage, you can stay focus on your breath for an extended time, but attention still shifts forth and back. When distraction becomes a primary focus, it moves you away from the meditation object, this is known as gross distraction. Strong dullness also develops when the mind is calm. Invoking introspective awareness and having a strong sense of intention allows you to make corrections to subtle distractions before they turn gross.
Stage 5: Sustaining Attention and Increasing Mindfulness
The prime focus of this stage is to deal with the subtle dullness that makes your breathless vivid and causes the awareness to fade. Subtle dullness can create an illusion of stable attention leading to a poor concentration in the next stage. When meditating, continue to monitor the sensations and develop strong intuition by focusing on the breath. This helps to increase mindfulness.
Stage 6: Subduing Subtle Distractions
This stage allows you to be fully attentive and adds depth to your focus that fades away all the subtle distractions. Experience the whole body with the breath to develop a single-pointed awareness where you are able to ignore sensations and thoughts completely.
Milestone Two: Sustained Focus of Attention
Through stage 4 to 6, you have developed the attention that no longer sways from breath to the distractions in the background. Dullness has completely vanished and you can concentrate on meditation object for longer.
Stage 7: Single-Pointed Attention and Peaceful Mind
Distractions and dullness can return if you stop your efforts. Practice until mindfulness becomes automatic. Practice meditation patiently and diligently helps one to the threshold of effortlessness. Perform Janana practices to magnify the effects of this stage.
Stage 8: Mental Flexibility and Calming the Sense
With mental pliancy comes exclusive mindfulness and attention. Physical pain and sensations still continue from stage 7 that may limit how long you sit. Practicing introspective awareness and Jnana techniques lead to the unification of mind and pacifying of the senses that give rise to meditative joy.
Stage 9: Pacification, Mental & Physical Pliancy
By the end of stage 8, you gain mental and physical pliancy that brings you in meditative joy–a state of inner happiness. Become familiar with the meditative joy through continuous practice and evoke tranquility.
Stage 10: Tranquility and Equanimity
Enter stage 10 with the qualities of mindfulness, stable attention, joy, and equanimity. As you continue to practice Samatha, you can experience tranquility even after your practice is over. You have mastered stage 10. Now, the mind is unsurpassable.
With these meditative stages, nourish your mind like a gardener and witness flower and fruit in due time.