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Buddhist tools of meditation By Loden Jinpa on Apr 17, 2008

Learning to meditate is a creative process of persistent enthusiastic effort in becoming familiar with functional minds such as the minds of compassion and the wisdom the knows emptiness. Being able to meditate deeply is not something that will naturally happen over night. Would you expect to become an artist or musician after just one lesson?

Artists and musician's have their tools of the trade, as do meditators. What are these tools? Below is a list along with short explanations of each. However the list is by no means an exhaustive list.

There are external Buddhist tools for meditation such as

A dedicated room or place within a room.
Table for books and meditation manuals.

and there are internal Buddhist tools for meditation such as

An appreciation of the benefits of meditation.
Awareness of attention.
So lets now expand on each of these a little.

A dedicated room or place within a room for meditation
It is useful to have a dedicated place for your meditation practice. By having a dedicated place for meditation you are saying to yourself:

I believe meditation is an important and worthwhile activity. I see the advantages it can bring to my life, my family and everyone I engage with throughout my life. For this reason I believe it is important enough to have it's own dedicated space.

You will also be reminded every time you walk by the room. There are other benefits also besides these for instance; When I was young my grandfather, who we called"green pa" because he had a green car, had a shed in his backyard. My grandmother knew that when he was in his shed he could not be disturbed. My grandfather use to build things for people out of wood. It was like a meditation for him. So similarly, we need our own shed - a meditation shed. A place where we can build things like the minds of compassion, wisdom, equanimity and develop the skills to really help others.

Meditation Cushion
You don't need to sit on the floor or in a crossed legged position to meditate. Meditation is a mental activity not a physical one but, you do need to be comfortable. If you are not comfortable it will be difficult to develop a deep and stable practice. So when you are first starting out, pay attention to how your body feels. If pain arises, try and fix it by adjusting your position slightly. However don't fuss over this process. Don't spend too much time worrying about the pain or discomfort. Otherwise this checking could itself become an obstacle to meditation.

Also, sitting in a chair is permissible. However sitting as the great meditators of the past did is best if you can. Why? Because adopting a cross legged position is a powerful signal to yourself that it is now time to meditate. However if you are sitting in a chair make sure it is not the same chair you use to have afternoon naps, as your meditation will probably just turn into more sleeping.

Also the cushion is to keep you comfortable. It is not a fashion item, or a decorative piece. Don't turn your meditation practice into another worldly activity.

Meditation Blanket
There are two types of meditation blankets. One to keep you warm and one for keeping your hands comfortable. If you are too warm by having too many blankets wrapped around your body this can induce sleep. So make certain you are comfortable and warm while leaving some space for the air to flow around your body. Remember your meditating not sleeping!

The second type is for your hands. Place a soft piece of fabric or a fold of your blanket under your hands, this will help your mind relax. The sooner you relax the quicker your meditation will develop. However meditation is not just about deep relaxation, so don't allow yourself to fall into the abyss of sleepiness. It is very much like tuning your mind. Too tight and conceptualization will occur, too loose and you will end up wasting time in the fogginess of laxity. In this regard meditation is a creative ongoing process of adjusting between too tight and too loose. So have fun learning to meditate!

If you live in a noisy area try using ear plugs.

Meditation Table
This tool is simply to allow you to read guided meditation manuals or writing notes without having to get up from your meditation seat. Not all meditation is about only focusing the mind. You can meditate on subjects that are quite subtle and difficult to understand. So you might need a couple of books handy in order to consult.

An appreciation of the benefits of meditation
This tool cannot be overemphasized. However an appreciation of the benefits of meditation can only develop over time as you see first hand the benefits. So given this some what difficult premise, that is, an appreciation of the benefits of meditation can only come after you see the benefits of meditation, try and research articles or stories of the benefits of meditation in order to inspire. If you like biographies, read the biographies of great yogis like Milarepa. If you are a science type, find articles on the science of meditation or to inspire you. The point is, many have said there is benefits in learning to meditate. However the only way you can verify these benefits is to learn to meditate yourself.

Reading inspiring stories will help develop an aspiration to engage in meditation. Aspiration is the key to a successful practice. Without an aspiration to engage in meditation, even if you have all the external tools of the trade, the best cushions, a dedicated room, a beautiful meditation table made of fine antique timber, you will still find yourself watching television or finding some excuse to not meditate. It's amazing just how sophisticated some excuses can be. Don't get fooled by them.

Awareness of attention
Are you aware of your thoughts right now? Probably not. As you are reading this your mind is engaged in the process of reading. But, there are other things going on that you may not be aware of. I'm not just talking about being mindful per se but, rather a broader class of attention. It might even be classified as intention. I think it is more like being attentive of your intentions. What does that mean? If your intention is to sit down to meditate, be certain that is what you end up doing. Don't spend your time worrying about money, or your job, or your children or your broken finger nail or whether your football team is going to win on the weekend. If you come up with some cool new idea for a project that will help get you a great new job. Jot down the idea while remaining seated, then continue meditating until you finish. Then start thinking about the idea after that. Actually this can be an issue. Because as your meditation deepens you will find that creativity can increase. So watch out for this one. Don't let yourself go off day-dreaming or speculating about the future. Be attentive of your intention to meditate.

Through this, stability will develop. Stability is a lack of being here, there and everywhere! Stability will arise at the same time as conceptualization decreases. But conceptualization can only decrease if you do not engage it. It is a little like ignoring someone who is standing near you asking the same questions over and over again. If you ignore them long enough they will eventually go away.

For this reason it is also good to meditate at the same time of day, each day. This will allow you to develop the habit of meditating rather than spending this time stressing over things that can, in the end, be dealt with later.

This tool is the meditators engine. It is the one thing that will get you out of bed early every morning to meditate. It is closely linked with appreciation. So when you feel your enthusiasm waning, go back to internal tool # 1 and read something inspiring.

The more you appreciate the results of meditation, the more your enthusiasm will increase. But, be careful because too much meditation can be a large factor in destroying enthusiasm for meditation. So be smart with how much meditation you do. If you are new to meditation aim to meditate everyday for at least 20 minutes and, build from there. The goal would be 3-4 hours a day everyday. When you get to this point. The problem won't be trying to meditate it will be stopping.

Patience is a necessary ingredient to a successful meditation practice. It is not only a willingness to practice. It is a steadfastness in the face of difficulties. When meditation gets boring, patience will be that voice in your head encouraging you to keep trying. It can be your best friend in meditation. Always there with kind words to help and encourage you along. When you have patience you can except difficulties without resistance. And if you have no resistance you will become irresistible! Just joking.

The point is be patient, with the right motivation, meditation can be the best thing you can do with your life. Wisdom, compassion and knowledge of how to help others will develop naturally. Then you can be of use to both yourself and others. Does that sound like something worth campaigning for? Geshe Loden my teacher often says, most people only campaign for this life. Thinking about having more money, a better car or a better looking body. Not so many campaign for better future lives! Which one do you want to be?

The topic of Buddhist wisdom used as both a method for the use within meditation and as the result of meditation, will be covered in an upcoming post entitled Buddhism as Philosophy.

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