As meditation trains the mind to be calm and clear,
perfected meditation leads
to a perfectly calm and clear mind – Enlightenment.
So the answer to the question, ‘Am I going to get jhana [a state of meditative absorption or concentration]’ is the same as the answer to the question of attainment [of insight] with vipassana [meditation]: there is no way of knowing what will happen with your practice. Therefore, the most useful and appropriate approach is to undertake the practice as an end in itself. In the case of samatha practice, this purpose is purification of the mind. Like the vipassana mindfulness practice, the samatha concentration practice is well worth doing in and of itself. Purification of mind is its own reward.
A useful metaphor here is of lottery versus the Olympics. Many meditators come to concentration practice with a lottery mentality. They believe that if they ‘get jhana,’ they have won the lottery, and if they don’t, they walk away empty-handed and defeated. This causes a tremendous amount of striving, self-judgment, and suffering. We encourage yogis [meditators] to come to practice with an Olympics mentality. In using this metaphor, we are not emphasising the competitive aspect of the Olympics but rather the sense of excellence that can be experienced just by participating. In the Olympics, many athletes feel they have already attained something tremendous simply by being in the game. Although most will not win a medal, they all walk away as winners, because they truly participated.
This is the case with everyone who undertakes samatha practice. Simply by bringing their awareness back to their object – time after time, day after day, year after year – they have built a capacity that can be applied to many other areas of life. The cultivation of serenity and concentration in our daily lives is very timely in our busy modern society, in which both are sorely lacking. Through the purification of the mind that develops when we encounter the hindrances and are able to let go, we reduce our suffering and ultimately contribute to reducing the collective suffering of the world.