The Fifth Phase of Meditative Development by Master Sheng-Yen

5. Pure but Effortful Concentration on the Method In the fifth phase, there exists only pure counting of breaths. There are neither scattered distractions from the sensory environment nor internal fantasies of deluded thinking. Nonetheless, there is still a lucid sense of the act or process of meditation itself. There is an awareness of a self that is counting breaths, the breaths that are being counted, and the number that is counted and seized upon as the main object of concentration.

Concentration is pure and unified, but there is still an effortful and ongoing attention to the method. Though all other extraneous disturbances may have disappeared, the thread of this tripartite complex of thoughts remains and continues without interruption ~inhale- exhale-count, inhale-exhale-count. Thus, the single thread of concentration, when investigated more closely, is really a complex weaving of three basic threads... At this juncture, your mind is highly simplified and concentrated. In fact, you will likely be on the doorstep of samadhi, or ''unified mind.’’ ******************************************** Inhale-exhale-count, inhale-exhale-count...sounds pretty simple, uh? Maybe in theory but, in practice, it definitely is not. As with the subtle shift that happened between phases 3 and 4, another deep, subtle shift happens here as well. One moment you are noticing wandering thoughts as they arise from nothing and then go back to nothing and then, suddenly, there is just inhale-exhale-count, inhale-exhale-count. It may even come as such a shocking experience that you have to experience it a couple more times before you truly understand that it's really happening! That's OK, because by now you should also know how tricky the mind is and how easy we can play tricks on ourselves. So you want to personally verify the experience with the experience. Here I want to add a little something from my own practice with this phase. To really test the experience of this phase, find a spot full of noise. Then, close your eyes and inhale- exhale-count, inhale-exhale-count... What happen? This will tell how strong your concentration is. You see, we get so used to sitting on the cushion in a relatively quiet space that as soon as we are confronted with an issue within the hustle and bustle of everyday life we fall right back into the self-centered realms of the Three Poisons (greed, anger, and ignorance). What we experience in formal practice--meditational and ritualistic--is only half of the equation. IT HAS TO BE PUT INTO PRACTICE!!! This is where real change comes about. So you have to put what you learn to the test within your day to day, moment to moment activities. If you don't, the Winds of Change will constantly sweep the egoic rug from under your feet. Aren't you tired of that?

in humble gassho Horaku