"If there is something you truly want to know, then you truly want to listen to your own wisdom.
You know, meditation is learning how to listen with your own wisdom, so that you can see.
I think why meditation is amazingly important,
is that somehow our unconscious world is much bigger.
It is huge, universal, and we don't understand that one.
Meditation allows this world to be light and knowable, understandable.
That is why it is important.
Normally we are totally robbed by the egotistic, conventional mind,
not allowing the fundamental mind to be functioning.
That is why one should have confidence, truly... through experience,
one has confidence in one's spiritual journey."
By Lama Thubten Yeshe
HOW TO MEDITATE?
"The most important thing is practice in daily life; then you can know gradually the true value of religion. Doctrine is not meant for mere knowledge, but for the improvement of our minds. In order to do that, it must be part of our life. If you put religious doctrine in a building and when you leave the building depart from the practices, you cannot gain its value."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from 'The Dalai Lama, A Policy of Kindness'
I would strongly advise everyone to start with a serious course in meditation in a centre, preferably at least with a few days in silence. This will give you a genuine feeling of the effect that meditation can have on the mind. Many people try to teach themselves meditation by reading books etc., but I think I have never met an enthusiastic self-taught meditator. So a proper course, if possible with a qualified teacher is invaluable. Furthermore, one should realise that continuity in meditation is considered essential: better five minutes a day, every day, than two hours once a week. For example, five minutes in the morning are likely to become longer over time, and becomes part of your everyday life. Many people discover it quickly becomes a more essential and helpful thing than a good breakfast of 'the first cup of coffee' in the morning. In the evening, it is a very good way to stop the worries of the day and go to sleep in a comfortable state of mind. Ultimately, meditation can become a continuous state of mind.
Before starting meditation, we need to take care of a few things:
- a quiet place (using music is nicely relaxing, but not really meditation), switching off the telephone may help.
- make sure you are not too tired, early morning is generally said to be the best time.
- sit comfortable; most people like a cushion under their behind, the room not too warm or cold
- wear loose, comfortable clothing, .
- try to create continuity in time and place to become habituated to the circumstances of meditation.
- keeping the back straight, in whichever posture you meditate is most essential.
- try to be comfortable and physically relaxed, but avoid moving too much.
- keep the head straight, slightly bent forward, keep the teeth slightly apart, the tip of the tongue against the upper pallet.
- the eyes are best kept half-open (without really looking), but many beginners find that too distracting and close them.
- the shoulders should be relaxed and the hands can be put in one's lap
- the legs can be in the full lotus (which not may Westerners manage), but also simply crossed. In fact, other positions like sitting on one's knees or on a bench are good as well. If these are too difficult, you can also use a chair. When using a chair, try to use only the front half of the seat, not leaning against the back rest to avoid a bent back, and keep the feet flat on the floor. Keeping the knees warm may help to avoid numbness of the legs.
- try belly-breathing; not breathing with the chest, but from the navel.
- always remember that the posture should enhance meditation, not be an obstacle!
- be relaxed but at the same time awake and attentive: find your balance!
- be a careful observer of your own mind and thoughts; sometimes called the 'little spy inside':
"As we begin to develop awareness of the mind, the mind itself appears to divide into two. A new aspect of the mind arises. This is referred to variously as the witness, the seer, the knower, or the
observer. It witnesses without judgment and without comment. Along with the arrival of the witness, a space appears within the mind. This enables us to see thoughts and emotions as mere thoughts and emotions, rather than as 'me' and 'mine.' When the thoughts and emotions are no longer seen as 'me' or 'mine', we begin to have choices. Certain thoughts and emotions are helpful, so we encourage them. Others are not so helpful, so we just let them go. All the thoughts and emotions are recognized and accepted. Nothing is suppressed. But now we have a choice about how to react. We can give energy to the ones, which are useful and skillful and withdraw energy from those which are not."
Ani Tenzin Palmo, 'Reflections on a Mountain Lake: Teachings on Practical Buddhism'
1. Try and set yourself a minimum time that you want to meditate and try to stick to that as a minimum.
2. Motivation - to know what you are doing, most Buddhists will start with a refuge prayer, generating bodhicitta (for example using the prayer of the four immeasurables) and the seven-limb prayer (this contains the aspects of respectfulness towards the teachers, making (mental) offerings, admitting one's past mistakes, rejoicing in positive actions, asking the teachers to remain, requesting them to teach and dedicating the practice to full enlightenment).
3a. Calming and clearing the mind - often using a simple (but hard-to-do) breathing meditation - see below.
3b. Optional for an analytical meditation: take specific object or technique and stay with that - avoid excuses to change subject.
4. Conclusion and dedication - to make impression on the mind
In short: meditation is a method to transform ourselves into the person we would like to be; don't forget what you want to be like, therefore we need to set the motivation which gives perseverance in the practice. Keep relaxed, don't push yourself and don't expect great experiences. A dedication at the end directs positive energy towards results.
The Tibetans advise the '6 Preparatory Practices' prior to the first traditional meditation session of the day:
1. Sweep and clean the room and arrange the altar.
2. Make offerings on the altar, e.g. light, food, incense, water bowls, etc..
3. Sit in a comfortable position and examine your mind. If there is much distraction, do some breathing meditation to calm your mind. Then establish a good motivation. After that, take refuge and generate the altruistic intention by reciting the appropriate prayers.
4. Visualise the merit field with the Gurus, Buddhas, bodhisattvas, etc. If this is too difficult, visualise Shakyamuni Buddha alone and consider him the embodiment of all Buddhas, Dharma and Sangha.
5. Offer the seven limb prayer (sent previously) and the mandala, by reciting those prayers.
6. Make requests to the lineage gurus for inspiration by reciting the requesting prayers. It is also good to review the entire graduated path to enlightenment by reciting for example, "Foundation of All Good Qualities". This helps you to understand the purpose of the particular meditation that you will do in the overall scheme of training the mind in the gradual path. It also plants the seed for you to obtain each realisation of the path.
COMMON PROBLEMS DURING MEDITATION
"Just as a writer only learns the spontaneous freedom of expression after years of often gruelling study, and just as the simple grace of a dancer is achieved only with enormous, patient effort, so when you begin to understand where meditation will lead you, you will approach it as the greatest endeavor of your life, one that demands of you the deepest perseverance, enthusiasm, intelligence, and discipline."
Physical pain is a common experience, especially when you are not yet used to the position. Instead of immediately moving at the first note of discomfort, remain seated, do not move and study yourself and the pain. How does pain really feel? Give yourself time to discover and explore the feeling. You can visualise your body as completely empty, or feel remote from the body, as if you are observing yourself from outside. When the pain is very strong and comes every session again, check your posture; experiment if you like to sit on a higher cushion or without, try different positions etc. Also yoga exercises can help a lot. Take a physical brief break by standing up, but try to keep in the meditative state of mind.
A note on numbness and 'falling asleep' of the legs
When Westerners first try to sit crossed legged for extended periods, usually we feel a prickling and later numbness in the legs. When unfolding your legs after some time, you may feel considerable discomfort - maybe your legs don't even want to support you for a few seconds. Don't worry about this: contrary to popular belief, this is not caused by a limited blood supply to the legs, which could be very harmful. Instead, this is a sign that nerves have been squashed a while; that is the reason for the prickling sensation; the nerve signals are coming through again. So numbness and 'sleeping' legs are no problem. I have heard occasionally of people damaging their knees while pushing themselves too hard (like can happen in intense Zen retreats) for much too long. If you really feel serious returning pains in the knees during sitting, you may want to go for a different sitting position (if need be a chair) as it is possible to damage your knees if you ignore body signals too much.
Sensual desire, attachment
A common disturbance is being drawn to someone or something; it is often not easy to forget about your lover or a piece of chocolate once the thought has come up. But you can try some of the following: realising that these things are so brief and come with problems attached. Fulfilling one desires is never enough, the next one will come. Looking at the reality of the object: a body is really not much more than a bag of skin filled with bones, meat, blood etc.
Distraction, restlessness, worry
The best way is not to give it attention, notice it and don't get involved. If it persists, usually it helps to do a short period of breathing meditation as described above. Check with yourself if you are maybe pushing too hard, if so, relax a bit. You can remember that past and future don't exist, there is only the here and now. Restlessness from the past and worry for the future are illusions. Sometimes it helps to get the energy down from the head and to remember belly-breathing. You can also focus on an imagined black spot between the eyebrows. Persistent matters can be given a very short attention and the promise to deal with it later. It may even help to have a pen and paper at hand to make a very short note. However, make sure you don't start to write an essay - then it just becomes an escape from meditation. If everything else fails, try an analytical meditation on the problem or situation that distracts.
"When you are practicing Zazen meditation do not try to stop your thinking. Let it stop by itself. If something comes into your mind, let it come in and go out, it will not stay long. When you try to stop your thinking, it means you are bothered by it. Do not be bothered by anything. It appears that the something comes from outside your mind, but actually it is only the waves of your mind and if you are not bothered by waves, gradually they will become calmer and calmer...Many sensations come, many thoughts or images arise but they are just waves from your own mind, Nothing comes from outside your own mind...If you leave your mind as it is,
it will become calm. This mind is called big mind."
Suzuki Roshi in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
Lethargy, drowsiness, sleepiness
Remember that death is certain, and this chance for meditation should not be missed. There is only the here and now, past and future are imaginations. Check your motivation for meditating. You can concentrate on a visualised white light between the eyebrows. Take a couple of deep breaths. If you are really tired, take a rest and continue later.
Despite of all these problems, do not let yourself get discouraged to easily; meditation is about habituation, so it may take a while to get used to. Don't condemn yourself when a session did not go well, try to find the cause and avoid it next time.
"Cultivating the mind is very much like cultivating a crop. A farmer must know the proper way to prepare the soil, sow the seed, tend to the growth of the crop, and finally harvest it. If all these tasks are done properly, the farmer will reap the best harvest that natures allows. If they're done improperly, an inferior harvest will be produced, regardless of the farmer's hopes and anxieties.
Similarly, in terms of meditation it is crucial to be thoroughly versed in the proper method of our chosen technique. While engaged in the practice, we must frequently check up to see whether we are implementing the instructions we have heard and conceptually understood. Like a good crop, good meditation cannot be forced, and requires cultivation over time."
B. Alan Wallace from Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up
Remember that we cannot avoid problems, but we can change our reaction to them. Be kind to yourself!
"After meditation, do not allow the feeling of resting evenly to dissipate, no matter what form of activity you engage in.
Continually foster the feeling of knowing that all appearances, yourself, others, inanimate or animate, appear though they seem to be nothing
- be like a child of illusion."
From: 'The Great Path of Awakening' by Jamgon Kongtrul
"Be on guard against thinking of Enlightenment as a thing to be grasped at,
lest it, too, should become an obstruction."