Imagine if the whole world practised meditation. If everybody in the world had the opportunity to get to know their mind. To clearly perceive the wholesome mental qualities that need to be adopted, nurtured and perfected, as well as the unwholesome mental afflictions that need to be relinquished and eradicated, and then implemented the invaluable meditation methods taught by the Buddha. I think that you may agree that all wars and conflicts would be pacified, and peace and understanding would pervade the world. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “If every eight year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation."
We all want peace and happiness, and want to avoid conflict and suffering. But we need to understand the causes of peace and happiness, and adopt and practice them. We also need to understand the causes of conflict and suffering, and abandon and eradicate them. This way we will achieve our goal.
Everything begins in the mind, all things are constructs of the mind. We are what we think. Thinking, acting and speaking with a pure mind leads to positive results. Thinking, acting and speaking with an impure mind leads to negative results. When a pebble is thrown into a pond, the ripples that are created cover all parts of the pond, likewise every thought, action and word effects everything.
Peace must firstly be developed internally, in our own mind and then expressed outwardly through our actions and words. We must live by example. Thinking, acting and speaking with the motivation to cause and maintain peace, harmony and understanding. Then peace can be caused and realised, and the lack of peace can be overcome.
The Buddha Dharma clearly teaches morality and a path to peace. Buddhist meditation is grounded in morality and leads to the realisation of genuine wisdom and compassion. But if we live contrary to these teachings then genuine peace based on true wisdom and compassion can never be individually or collectively realised.
To calm our mind, first we must live morally and therefore be free of regret and guilt. A mind free of regret and guilt is more conducive to and ripe for the practise of meditation, which enables us to develop genuine insight into the nature of our mind and the nature of reality.
When our mind is calm and clear, we will be less confused, worried and anxious, and therefore able to perceive things more clearly, and able to make better choices on what to do and what not to do in our lives. We will be able to deal much more clearly and efficiently with life’s changes and difficulties.
To bring about the awakening of students of all temperaments, the Buddha taught a wonderful variety of spiritual practises. There are foundation practises for the development of loving kindness, generosity and moral integrity, the universal ground of spiritual life. Then there is a vast array of meditation practises to train the mind and open the heart. These practises include awareness of the breath and body, mindfulness of feelings and thoughts, practises of mantra and devotion, visualisation and contemplative reflection, and practises leading to refined and profoundly expanded states of consciousness.
We sentient beings are all different in one way or another. All at different stages on our spiritual journey, our path to enlightenment. Therefore, we should seek to receive instructions on the particular methods, as taught by the Buddha, that are suitable to our current individual temperaments and needs, and wholeheartedly put them into practise.
Benefits of meditation are now widely known and the practice of meditation has become part of the mainstream in many places around the world. For instance, it has become common place for meditation to be practised at various educational facilities such as schools and universities. Also many medical practitioners encourage their patients to meditate to help the healing process. These are just a couple of examples how the practice of meditation has become part of mainstream culture.
As mentioned above, meditation helps us to get to know our minds, enabling us to be aware of the harmful mental states that we need to relinquish and eradicate, as well as the beneficial mental states that we need to adopt, nurture and perfect. It helps us to be more calm, clear, stable and content, and helps to improve our short and long term memory. It also helps to enable us to communicate with others and all of nature in a more clear, peaceful and understanding way. Therefore the practise of meditation not only benefits the individual practitioner, but also all of the living beings that we come into contact with.
Meditation is for the purpose of understanding the true nature of our mind. It reveals the inner psychological world. It penetrates the ordinary, superficial perception that obscures the nature of reality. With meditation you can understand the reality of self and other phenomena, for if you understand your own mind, you will understand everything.
Without meditation we cannot realise the truth, for the mind will remain clouded with disturbing thoughts and emotions, and will become more and more confused and deluded over time. So the whole purpose of meditation is to lessen the deluded afflictions of our mind and eventually eradicate them from the very roots.
Just as a professional tree-cutter would carefully cut back the branches of a tree, before being able to dig out the roots and eventually get rid of even the tiniest bits of the roots, so that the tree has absolutely no chance of growing again. We must chip away at our delusions and mental afflictions. So that we can get to and uproot their root cause, and totally eradicate even the propensity for them to arise again.
Meditation makes the mind sharper, stronger and clearer, enabling us to solve our own problems more skilfully, as well as being able to call on the power of our mind to make profound changes in our life. We will become healthier and happier, for it has been proven that there is a strong relationship between meditation, and physical and psychological well-being. It is only through engaging in the practise of meditation that we can transform our limited powers of concentration into extraordinary unlimited powers of concentration.
Generally, I think we should meditate as much as possible. Although, not too little and not too much. If it’s too little, our progress will be slow. If too much, then we might burn ourselves out a bit. Remember the Buddha’s path is known as the middle path.
We should meditate at least once a day. Although may I suggest that you do a short meditation in the morning, maybe 10-20 minutes, and then another 20 minute session in the evening. Of course you can meditate for as long as you want. If you have time during the day, you can have another session then too.
It’s important to stick to your plans to meditate, and not keep putting it off and doing other stuff instead. Be committed, be consistent, be brave, and enjoy getting to know yourself.
The following is some simple instruction on meditation. Firstly, practise recitation of taking refuge in the Triple Gem – Buddha (The supreme enlightened teacher), Dharma (The teaching that leads to enlightenment), and Sangha (The supportive, harmonious community that upholds and shares the teachings). Along with any other prayers, verses and teachings that you are familiar with.
Sit quietly in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Bring your mind to your body, and from the bottom to the top, release any physical tension.
Then bring your mind to your breathe. Breathing in and breathing out. Just simply follow your breath. Whenever thoughts arise or you become distracted, let go of the thoughts or distractions without force and gently place your mind back on the breath. If your mind becomes dull or sleepy, just refocus more brightly on your breath. This way re-placing your mind on your breath becomes the antidote for both the distracted and worried mind, as well as the dull mind.
Set yourself about 20 minutes to do this. Although, as mentioned, you can meditate for as long as you like. Be patient with yourself. It gets easier with practise. Remember that even if we plan to walk around the whole world, we can only ever take one step at a time.
At the end of the meditation session, dedicate all of your merits to all sentient beings, and the realisation of supreme enlightenment.
Another method of meditation that is recommended is 'Loving Kindness Meditation'. As in the previous instruction, begin by sitting quietly in a comfortable position and gently close your eyes. Take as much time on each aspect as you need to genuinely experience and radiate warm loving kindness.
Extend genuine warm loving kindness and compassion to yourself; to your family, loved ones and friends; to those you may regard as enemies; to those you may regard as strangers; to all sentient beings, without exception, throughout infinite space; wishing that we all have happiness and it’s causes, that we are all free from suffering and it’s causes, and that we all abide in genuine warm loving kindness and compassion.
Along with your regular meditation sessions, you could also do what I like to call, ‘meditation in a cup’ (like 2-3 minute noodles or soup, haha). Whenever you have a few minutes free time, whether you are standing, walking, sitting or lying down, just focus on your breath.
For those of you who drive, you could practise what I like to call, ‘traffic light meditation’. If you are out driving and stop at a traffic light, rather than wishing that the light turn green, calm your mind by focusing on your breath. (But don’t close your eyes, haha).
If we keep our mind upright without wavering, remaining without greed and desire, and we live consciously in the present moment, then whatever we do is practising the Dharma.
Our practise is not just about external form, it is about experiencing with our mind. When the mind is clear and stable, our behaviour will not go astray. Not only will we be happy, others will also feel safe and secure in our company. This is practise.
The mind must be clear and stable, and not follow the changing external environment. When a situation arises, our mind shouldn’t be swayed immediately by our surroundings. This is practise.
Have a great time getting to know your mind. Keep your mind calm, clear, flexible and wholesome, as much as possible. Let go of any unwholesome thoughts or attitudes. Be peaceful, loving and kind. That’s all, quite simple and uncomplicated.
Recently, in speaking before a luncheon audience, I mentioned that I try to meditate for about 10 minutes every morning and 10 minutes before bedtime.
"How do you meditate?'' a woman asked.
I felt so ill equipped to answer, because I'm new to it, too, as many Westerners are.
The following pages were originally intended as new sections to be added to the second edition of my introductory book on the Dhamma, What is Buddhism?. However, as many people are greatly interested in the practice of meditation, and as many are also separated from the sources of a living tradition, it is hoped that the following may be of value even apart from the sections of the book which they supplement.
There are lots of people who are ashamed to talk about their own defilements but who feel no shame at talking about the defilements of others. Those who are willing to report their own diseases -- their own defilements -- in a straightforward manner are few and far between. As a result, the disease of defilement is hushed up and kept secret, so that we don't realize how serious and widespread it is. We all suffer from it, and yet no one is open about it. No one is really interested in diagnosing his or her own defilements....
When you hear something about Buddhism in the daily news you usually think of it having a background of huge idols and yellow-robed monks, with a thick atmosphere of incense fumes. You never feel that there is anything in it for you, except, maybe, an exotic spectacle.
I want to talk in depth today about the nature of Buddhism. Very often I read in newspapers and books some strange things that are presented as Buddhism. So here, I will point out the heart of the real Buddhist teaching, not as a theory but as an experience.
At our meditation retreats, yogis practice mindfulness in four different postures. They practice mindfulness when walking, when standing, when sitting, and when lying down. They must sustain mindfulness at all times in whatever position they are in. The primary posture for mindfulness meditation is sitting with legs crossed, but because the human body cannot tolerate this position for many hours without changing, we alternate periods of sitting meditation with periods of walking meditation. Since walking meditation is very important, I would like to discuss its nature, its significance, and the benefits derived from its practice.
The object of Ch'an training is to realize the mind for the perception of (self-) nature, that is to wipe out the impurities which soil the mind so that the fundamental face of self-nature can really be perceived. Impurities are our false thinking and clinging (to things as real). Self-nature is the meritorious characteristic of the Tathagata wisdom which is the same in both Buddhas and living beings.
There are seven basic steps:
1. Start out with three or seven long in-&-out breaths, thinking bud- with the in-breath, and dho with the out. Keep the meditation syllable as long as the breath.
2. Be clearly aware of each in-&-out breath.
3. Observe the breath as it goes in & out, noticing whether it's comfortable or uncomfortable, broad or narrow, obstructed or free-flowing, fast or slow, short or long, warm or cool. If the breath doesn't feel comfortable, change it until it does. For instance, if breathing in long & out long is uncomfortable, try breathing in short & out short. As soon as you find that your breathing feels comfortable, let this comfortable breath sensation spread to the different parts of the body.