Why would one meditate? What do we want out of meditation? The English word “meditate” is to reflect or to contemplate. There are many meditation techniques developed through the ages with one common aim and that is to subdue our raging thoughts. My master once asked me, between our body, speech and mind, which one is the most important amongst them? Naturally, our mind is the most important because it is through our mind that controls our body and speech. Have you wondered how much control you have over your mind? If you believe that you have control over your mind then why is it that there are thoughts that would prop into your mind without you even trying to think of them. When we try to concentrate single pointedly on a subject, unwanted and uninvited thoughts would inevitably creep in to disturb our concentration. Can we really control our mind?
My master told me that our true self is in the region before the first thought arises. To practice meditation is in fact training to get to the point before thought occurs.
Meditation requires us to be aware of every thing that is happening to us and to watch ourselves at all times. This act of watching oneself is called mindfulness; it is as though we are out of our body and watching our every action and thought with the purpose of keeping ourselves in line. Mindfulness is very useful not only during meditation sessions but also during our daily activities. One would ask, “What are we mindful of?” This question would bring us back to the ultimate purpose of meditation. Why should we achieve tranquility of the mind? Normally, when we are happy and content with our situation, we would not be thinking about meditation. Afterall, we would not have the time to think about it because we would be busily engaged in our daily activities. It is only when we feel disturbed and worried about things that we cannot solve that we would search for a remedy or escape. This brings us to the subject of the state of our mind just before our meditation session. If we are disturbed and worried, we should not meditate, we should solve our problems first before meditating. Afterall there is really nothing to be worried about. The things that we can solve we should solve immediately and be done with it. As for the things that are beyond our power or influence to solve, we should not be worried about it because it is out of our hands and no amount of worry would change it for the better. Similarly, if we are sleepy and tired, we should rest and allow our body to recuperate before starting the meditation session. Otherwise we would be sitting down
at our meditation seat and fall asleep or suffer through the session without quieting our mind.
In Vajrayana Buddhism it is extremely important to be aware of our motivation of our thoughts and actions. There are three levels of motivation to practice; the first is to be like a king. That is to say to achieve final enlightenment for our own benefit. The second level is like that of a boatman. That is to engage in learning ourselves and then to bring others into the path. The third is like that of a shepherd and that is to care for your flock as the primary objective. The third level is the highest level of motivation, which is called Bodhicitta, or the awakening mind, and that is to attain full enlightenment for the benefit of others. Try to cultivate and develop Bodhicitta as the motivation of everything we do. You would find new meaning for being alive and joys that are beyond word.
Assuming that we are now at a point of having a relatively settled mind, our body is fully rested and we have adopted the wish to benefit all others by our practice; that is to say we have built a strong foundation for our practice. What is our next step? We now must have PATIENCE. Even at the beginning stages we might become impatient, thinking, “I really want to get this done quickly.” We might think that by exerting more effort, by adding more and more stuff, by changing things this way or that way the process can be made to go faster. Just like a good gardener knows that too much water or fertilizer is harmful, not helpful. First, pay great heed to getting the proper causes and conditions together. Next, engage in the practice without agitation and without anxiety. Then, with the mind at ease, carry on to the end.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL OBSTACLES
During meditation session’s physical or mental distress may arise or a strong obstacle will come up. When they do, do not try to ignore them. Do not try to bulldoze your way through them with sheer perseverance. The proper response is to stop the session, to deal with the obstacle and dispel it.
We are bound to hear noises from our neighbours and from the outside world. When this kind of sound occurs, do not identify with it. Do not become conceptually involved with it. If you identify with noise it can get to be a habit and will really damage your practice. So when you hear noise let lit pass. Do not become engrossed in it. Do not conceptually elaborate on it. Do not identify with it, simply hear it, release it, and immediately go back to your practice and the object of meditation. If you follow this route, you will find that in the course of time you will not hear most noises at all. Noise will cease to be an issue. Attitudes can be harmful too. There are two that are especially dangerous and detriment to the practice. One is getting excited and thinking, “Oh, what a wonderful person I will be when I attain enlightenment.” The other is, “I bet I am better than other meditators. I am going faster than they are. I am going to get it and they are not.” These are easy traps to fall into and be diligent and guard against them.
It is virtually certain that as we progress in our meditation practice, certain types of visions or images will appear to the mind. When they do arise, whether they appear to be helpful or harmful, do not identify with them. Do not elaborate on them. If they appear to be good vision, do not think, “Oh! This is tremendously auspicious.” If they appear to be negative images, do not be depressed. Simply let them be, and maintain the object of your awareness. Accept what seem to be good and bad sessions as a natural and inevitable aspect of the practice and maintain equanimity. No one is keeping scores, so you should not worry about it.
Let’s assume that we have decided to practice meditation. We now need to consider the following points:
Posture and other Physical Aspects
Find a cushion of that is exactly level, not tilted to either side and of a thickness that is comfortable to you and sit on it. In general, it is said that the supreme posture for meditation is the full lotus posture, but it is a difficult posture to maintain. The half lotus will do, as will the ordinary cross-legged position, which is called the bodhisattva posture. Use the one you find most comfortable. We should not rest our back on any object, such as a wall, back of a chair etc. while meditating, as this would obstruct the flow of your “chi” during meditation. If your “chi” were blocked, you would feel very uncomfortable for some time and would require someone who is knowledgeable to clear the blockage.
Place the hands in the lap, the left hand beneath the right and the thumbs touching lightly. When the meditation is going well, you might find the thumbs will start pressing together with force, and this can cause some pain in the joints. If such pain arises the mind is disturbed. In general, the hands should be very relaxed.
The spine should be perfectly straight and upright. Normally, there is a slight curve in the upper back. In meditation we try to straighten that curve out. The proper position for the head is slightly tilted or inclined to the front with the chin tucked back toward the neck. The eyes can be slightly open or close. If slightly opened and the head position is correct, the eyes will then focus gently and unforced on the floor about three feet in front of you. If the eyes are closed, be especially mindful of your meditation and refrain from falling asleep. Closing your eyes seems easier in the beginning because there is no visual distraction. In the long run, however, it is a disadvantage. It makes it harder to develop clarity, real vividness of mind. Keeping the eyes open also helps counteract lethargy.
Keep the jaw and the lips soft. Let the tongue rest gently against the palate just behind your teeth. Relax your shoulders and let them drop down. Let your body be very relaxed, very natural. If you get tight in certain areas, take a deep breath and then exhale the tension with the next out-breath.
Sitting erect with a straight back creates the least stressed on the body and one is able to sit for long periods of time without feelings of pain or exhaustion. Another advantage of the erect posture is that the channels within the body are not scrunched up. They are nice and straight, they are free and the “chi” (prana) within them is free to flow more easily. Because of the very close relationship between the mind, the states of consciousness and the “chi”, a smooth, uninterrupted flow of chi enhances both the clarity as well as the stability of the mind. The erect posture gives rise to vitality and enhances awareness.
Erect posture is highly conducive to the arising of two forms of pliancy. Physical pliancy is a supple sensation one feels in the body, a very pleasurable tactile sensation associated with the movement of energies of chi within the body. Mental pliancy is an actual mental event, which render the body and mind “fit for action” or “serviceable”. The function of pliancy is the eradication of obscurations. Both mental and physical pliancy act as antidote for the feeling of heaviness and lethargy in body and mind.
Trying to subdue unwanted thoughts from arising is an exercise in futility. The more we try, the worse it will get. Why not just watch the thoughts come and go as though we are a by-stander without attachment to any one particular thought. If we can do this comfortably, we would be on our first step of achieving some level of tranquility. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking of something. We would then sit there day dreaming and daydreaming is not meditation.
One method of meditation is the counting of our breathing by counting only the intake breath and concentrate on visualizing the flow of air as vital energy into our body. Visualize a morning sun with its warm orange gentle radiance, full of vital energy. Visualize this energy as light rays entering our body through every breath that we take. The energy is then absorbed by every cell of our body. Purifying them, dispelling all waste products and filling every cell with vital life force. Practice this meditation with full confidence of its benefits and success. In a very short time you would feel the difference. Every one knows that our solar system depends upon the sun and it is easy to remember what the morning sun looks like. Without the sun we would be dead. So we use the sun’s energy to purify every cell of our body. If our cells are healthy, we naturally become healthy and strong. This is a simple meditation technique but is very powerful and beneficial.
Other methods include visualizing deities and recite mantra. We should search for our master and receive empowerment and teaching from him prior to the actual practice. Our master is our spiritual mentor and we should rely on him to give us the transmission of blessings from our lineage masters. It is vitally important to find the right master, as he would be the one who would lead you to liberation.