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I am wondering how concentration meditation (i.e. shamatha) compares with other techniques or remedies for awareness and alertness. Does anyone know whether meditation increases alertness more than exercise, or nutrition? Or perhaps, I mean to ask how efficient -- if this is a measurable aspect -- focused meditation is at sustaining alertness?

Thank you.

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According to AN 11.2 below, it says that skillful virtue (sila) leads to freedom from remorse, which leads to joy, which leads to rapture, which leads to pleasure, which leads to concentration of mind.

It says that there is no need to will for this - it arises out of the very nature of being endowed with virtue and consummate with virtue. This to me is a statement of the efficiency of the use of virtue to lead one towards concentration. Furthermore, I think it is far more efficient to start with the cultivation of skillful virtue and skillful thinking, rather than struggling directly with the five hindrances in meditation.

"For a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue, there is no need for an act of will, 'May freedom from remorse arise in me.' It is in the nature of things that freedom from remorse arises in a person endowed with virtue, consummate in virtue.

"For a person free from remorse, there is no need for an act of will, 'May joy arise in me.' It is in the nature of things that joy arises in a person free from remorse.

"For a joyful person, there is no need for an act of will, 'May rapture arise in me.' It is in the nature of things that rapture arises in a joyful person.

"For a rapturous person, there is no need for an act of will, 'May my body be serene.' It is in the nature of things that a rapturous person grows serene in body.

"For a person serene in body, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I experience pleasure.' It is in the nature of things that a person serene in body experiences pleasure.

"For a person experiencing pleasure, there is no need for an act of will, 'May my mind grow concentrated.' It is in the nature of things that the mind of a person experiencing pleasure grows concentrated.

"For a person whose mind is concentrated, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I know & see things as they actually are.' It is in the nature of things that a person whose mind is concentrated knows & sees things as they actually are.

"For a person who knows & sees things as they actually are, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I feel disenchantment.' It is in the nature of things that a person who knows & sees things as they actually are feels disenchantment.

"For a person who feels disenchantment, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I grow dispassionate.' It is in the nature of things that a person who feels disenchantment grows dispassionate.

"For a dispassionate person, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I realize the knowledge & vision of release.' It is in the nature of things that a dispassionate person realizes the knowledge & vision of release.

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Namaste

This is a common misconception that meditation is a form of concentration.
Have you ever witnessed a scene of natural beauty, such as an amazing sunset, and for a moment felt one with the universe, only to lose that state as soon as your mind tried to analyze what was going on?
That experience is called a spontaneous enlightenment, the best-known of them being the "near death" experience.
That would be the easiest way to understand what enlightenment and meditation are.

Enlightenment is a state of mind where we are shading off the Ego and reunite the self, the "I" the soul, spirit or whatever you want to call it with the infinite wisdom of the universe.
Meditation then would be the process of removing the "Ego", of escaping the prison of reason.
There are many forms of meditation but at the base of every form of meditation there is one principle:
The "reason" can only process one thing at the time. If you think that you can do more than one, try to do any mental activity while counting backward from 5000 to 1 - (Automatic reflexes that do not use reasoning, like driving a stickshift car do not constitute a mental activity.)

So whether you are "focusing" on your breathing, a candle flame a chant or a mantra you are basically keeping your mind from the usual continuous chatter "rumination"common to an unenlightened state.
The reason meditations do not work is because the practitioner doesn't understand the purpose of meditation and believes that "Focusing" is the desired result.
A good meditation is the one that gives you enlightenment not focus

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Does anyone know whether meditation increases alertness more than exercise, or nutrition?

In the path of purification concentration preparation chapter, the concentration practitioner must has well enough self managements, such as exercise, nutrition, friend, etc, before to make the meditation growing up.

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When you cultivate samatha, you cultivate the three factors:

  1. Concentration
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Alertness

And you establish the two aspects of (1) clarity and (2) stability which oppose (1) laxity and (2) excitement respectively. The cultivation of samatha is not merely the cultivation of the concentration mental factor.

We usually compare the mental factor of 'alertness' (or introspection) to a spy that checks the state of one's mind and what the mind is doing. At the beginning of each meditation session, it is suitable to ask oneself "Is my mind heavy or light? Is it excited or calm? Is it bright or dark? Is it sleepy or awake? and so forth" because that will enable you to cultivate alertness. Then, in the context of meditation, every time you lose your object, do not run after the object that distracted you, but identify the consciousness to which it appeared. If you lost your object of concentration because of a sound, identify "ear-consciousness", etc. This also helps you to cultivate alertness.

Cultivating samatha is helpful in that, by trying to stay with an object, your learn how your mind reacts in relation to it. However, with cultivating samatha, there is the risk of bringing attachment into meditation, clinging into your object of meditation, taking a lack of concentration as a failure. This is the reason why vipassana might be more suitable. In the context of Vipassana, you can tell yourself "Concentration is not my purpose... my purpose is to understand how and why I lose my object. So my object of concentration is just an anchor". A fully qualified samatha is a union of calm abiding and special insight. Therefore you must practice both alternately.

Ethical discipline is the root of mindfulness and alertness. When you are about to break a vow or when you just broke one, the spy of alertness knows you have erred. The vows are thus a very good way of cultivating mindfulness (keeping virtue in mind) and introspection (checking where you find yourself). Non-introspection leads you to break your vows. In 'A Necklace for Those of Clear Awareness Clearly Revealing the Modes of Minds and Mental Factors' a texts on minds and mental factors by Yeshe Gyeltsen, it says:

QUESTION: What is non-introspection? RESPONSE: A wisdom that is concomitant with afflictions and engages unknowingly in activities of body, speech, and mind. It has the function of acting as a support for infractions.

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