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.
A master once asked, between our body, speech and mind, which one is the most important among them? Naturally, our mind is the most important because it is 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 pop into your mind without you even trying to think of them?
When we try to concentrate single-mindedly on a subject, unwanted and uninvited thoughts inevitably creep in to disturb our concentration. Can we really control our mind? A master said 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.
With the exodus of Tibetan Lamas including the Dalai Lama from Tibet, the Tibetan Buddhism known as Vajrayana has attracted increasing Interest worldwide. In Vajrayana Buddhist meditation, it is extremely important to be aware of what motivates certain thoughts. This begins with mindfulness.
Meditation requires us to be aware of everything 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 our and thought with the purpose of keeping ourselves in line.
Mindfulness is very useful not only not only during meditation sessions but also during our daily activities.
One would ask “what are we mindful of?” and 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. After all, 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. After all, there is really nothing to be worried about. The things that we can solve we should solve immediately and be done with. As for the things that are beyond our power or influence to solve, we should not be worried about because they out of our hands and no amount of worry would change them 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 keeping our mind quiet.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, it is extremely important to be aware of the 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 like that of a shepherd and that is to care for your flock as the primary objective. The 3rd 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 for everything you do. You would find new meaning for being alive and joy that is beyond words. Assuming that you are now at a point of having a relatively settled mind, your body is fully rested and you have adopted the wish to benefit or others by your practice.
Now that you have built a strong foundation for your practice what is the next step?
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. However, just like a good Gardener knows that too much water or fertilizer is harmful, not helpful, one practicing meditation learns to be patient and realizes that too much too soon brings harm, not help.
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 sessions, physical or mental distress may arise or strong obstacles 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, deal with the obstacle and dispel it.
We are bound to hear noises from our neighbors 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 it 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 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 detrimental 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, so be diligent and guard against them.
Posture and other physical aspects
Find a cushion which is exactly leveled, not tilted to either side and of a thickness that is comfortable to you to sit on. 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 leg 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 the chair while meditating as this will obstruct the flow of your Chi during meditation. If your Chi is blocked, you will 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 hand and 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 towards the neck.
The eyes can be slightly open or closed. If slightly opened and the head position is correct, the eyes will then focus gently and unforced on the floor about 3 ft 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 to counteract lethargy. Keep the jaw and the lips soft. Let the tongue rest gently on the pallet 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 expel the tension with the next out breath. Sitting erect with a straight back creates the least stress on the body and one is able to sit for long periods of time without feelings of pain or exertions. Another advantage of the erect posture is that the channels within the body are not scrunched up.
When the body is straight, the channels within the body are nice and straight. They are free and the chi within them are free to flow more easily. Because of the very close relationship between the mind and the states of Consciousness within the chi, 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.
An 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 the energy of chi within the body. Mental pliancy is an actual mental event which renders the body and mind fit for action or “serviceable.” The function of pliancy is the revocation of obscurations. Both mental and physical pliancy act as an antidote for the feeling of heaviness and lethargy in the body and mind.
Trying to subdue unwanted thoughts from rising 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 you are a bystander without attachment to any one particular thought? If you can do this comfortably you will be on your first step to achieving some level of Tranquility.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking of something. We would then sit there dreaming, and daydreaming is not meditation. One method of meditation is the counting of breathing by counting only the intake breath and concentrating 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 your body to every breath that you take. The energy is there and absorbed by every cell of your 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 will feel the difference.
Everyone 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.