HOW TO MEDITATE?
"If there is something you truly want to
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 ' A
Policy of Kindness'
I would strongly advise everyone to start with
a serious course in meditation in a centre or group under the guidance
of an experienced teacher, preferably at least with a few days in
silence. This should 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 can't remember ever meeting
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 can easily become part of your everyday life.
Many people discover it quickly becomes more essential
and helpful than a good breakfast or 'the first cup of coffee' in
the morning. In the evening, it can be a good way to stop the worries
of the day and go to sleep in a comfortable state of mind. People
who have problems getting to sleep may discover that with an evening
meditation just before going to bed, the mind becomes much calmer
and getting to sleep is no problem anymore. Ultimately, meditation
can become a continuous state of mind, but that obviously takes
a lot of training/habituation.
Before starting meditation, ideally we need to take care of a few
- a quiet place (using music is nice for relaxing, but not really
meditation), switching off the phone will 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 is best 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
- try to be comfortable and physically relaxed, and avoid moving
- 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
- the legs can be in the full lotus (which not many 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 all of these are
too difficult, you can also use a chair, but remember to sit only
on 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
- always remember that the posture should enhance meditation, not
be an obstacle! The Buddha even taught one of his disciples who
had many problems with his posture to lie down with his back on
a bed, and then he quickly made progress; however, most people tend
to fall asleep - so it will not be suitable for everyone...
- be relaxed but at the same time awake and attentive: finding your
balance here is not easy!
- be a careful observer of your own mind and thoughts; sometimes
called the 'little spy inside':
From Ani Tenzin Palmo, Reflections
on a Mountain Lake: Teachings on Practical Buddhism:
"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."
1. Try and set yourself a minimum time that you want to meditate
and try to stick to that as a minimum, but also stop before you
get completely tired.
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). See the example
meditations for a set of these prayers.
3a. Calming and clearing the mind - often using a simple (but often
not easy) breathing meditation - see below.
3b. Optional for an analytical meditation: take specific object
or technique and stay with that - avoid excuses to change the 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 traditionally 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
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' in front of you with your Teachers,
Buddhas, bodhisattvas, etc. If this is too difficult, visualise
Shakyamuni Buddha alone and consider him the embodiment of all Buddhas,
Dharma (teachings) and Sangha (community).
5. Offer the seven limb prayer and do the mandala offering by reciting
6. Make requests to the lineage teachers 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.
Who better to teach meditation than His
Holiness the Dalai Lama?
A number of meditations are collected in the List
of Sample Meditations.
^Top of Page
SETTING OUR MOTIVATION
Beyond Death by Dzogchen Ponlop:
"We should think about how we can make the best use of our
practice so that we get the most out of it in the short time we
have in this life. We do not have the leisure of wasting our time
here by delaying the benefits of our practice. We have to use
these situations as effectively as we can.
Before you begin any practice, first think very carefully about
your motivation. When we are engaged in the threefold process
of study, contemplation and meditation, we should be very specific,
very clear about why we are doing it. We should remind ourselves,
"I am doing this to transcend my negative emotions and my
ego-clinging." This is a general example of a specific intention.
However, to be more precise, we need to consider the unique make-up
of our own individual kleshas [intense states of suffering, and
ignorance]. Once we have identified our strongest emotion, then
we can focus on the practices that will alleviate it. We begin
with whichever emotion is strongest for us and then we move on
to the next strongest, followed by the next, and so on.
It is important for us to prioritize our practice in this way.
We have to keep our intention very clear in all three phases--in
our study, in our contemplation and in our meditation. During
shamatha or other practices, when thoughts come up, we recall
that our purpose is to overcome our disturbing emotions and kleshas.
We have to have a sense of willpower or determination in our minds.
In order for the remedy to work, we must tell ourselves, "Yes,
I am going to transcend this anger. I am going to work with it."
Otherwise, if we do not have a clear idea, if we simply sit there
with an indefinite or vague intention, then the effect also will
be vague. We may have sat for one hour and although that time
will not have been wasted, because it was not directed in an intentional
way, the experience will not be so sharp, to the point or effective."
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.
Just die over and over.
Nothing can save you now because you have only this moment.
Not even enlightenment will help you now because there are no
With no future, be true to yourself and express yourself fully.
A note on numbness and 'falling asleep' of the
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 soon. 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., chocolate makes you fat and unhealthy.
Distraction, restlessness, worry
The best way is not to give it attention, notice it but don't get
involved. If it persists, usually it helps to add in 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 or focus on a spot just below the navel. 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
When we let go of wanting something else to happen
in this moment, we are taking a profound step toward being able
to encounter what is here now. If we hope to go anywhere or develop
ourselves in any way, we can only step from where we are standing.
If we don't really know where we are standing - a knowing that
directly comes from the cultivation of mindfulness - we may only
go in circles, for our efforts and expectations. So, in meditation
practice, the best way to get somewhere is to let go of trying
to get anywhere at all.
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
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, rather try to find the cause and avoid it next
"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
Depression caused by meditation on suffering
"In discursive (analytical) meditations
it is imperative that one's growing disenchantment with mundane
existence is complemented with growing confidence in the real
possibility of true freedom and lasting joy that transcends the
vicissitudes of conditioned existence. Without this faith and
the yearning for such liberation, the meditations may easily result
in profound depression, in which everything seems hollow, unreal,
and futile. Thus instead of polarizing one's desires towards the
single-pointed pursuit of nirvana, one is reduced to a debilitating
kind of spiritual sloth."
the Mind: A Tibetan Buddhist Approach to Refining Attention
by B. Alan Wallace
Having mentioned this, I don't think this actually
happens very often. Strange enough, dealing with our problems in
life and giving them full attention in meditation will often provide
a bit more space and clarity, away from worries and leading towards
ways of dealing with them. I find that usually the not-dealing with
our problems causes long-term frustrating and depressing situations.
Remember that we cannot avoid problems, but
we can change our reaction to them.
Be kind to yourself!
"So don't be in a hurry and try to push
or rush your practice.
Do your meditation gently and gradually step by step.
In regard to peacefulness, if you become peaceful, then accept
if you don't become peaceful, then accept that also.
That's the nature of the mind.
We must find our our own practice and persistently keep at it."
Ajahn Chah, 'Bodhinyana'
Not too tight, not too lose.
The monk Sona came to the Buddha with a question
on why he was not having success in his practice, the Buddha answered
(adapted from Anguttara Nikaya by Nyanaponika Thera):
"Tell me, Sona, in earlier days were you
not skilled in playing stringed music on a lute?"
"And, tell me, Sona, when the strings of that lute were too
taut, was then your lute tuneful and easily playable?"
"Certainly not, O Lord."
"And when the strings of your lute were too loose, was then
your lute tuneful and easily playable?"
"Certainly not, O Lord."
"But when, Sona, the strings of your lute were neither too
taut nor too loose, but adjusted to an even pitch, did your lute
then have a wonderful sound and was it easily playable?"
"Certainly, O Lord."
"Similarly, Sona, if energy is applied too strongly, it will
lead to restlessness, and if energy is too lax, it will lead to
lassitude. Therefore, Sona, keep your energy in balance and balance
the Spiritual Faculties and in this way focus your intention."
I can't meditate.
Beginners with meditation often get the feeling
that they can't meditate; "I meditate for a week now, and still
see no change", "I can't control my mind", "My
mind is only getting crazier, I cannot get rid of my problems and
To briefly comment on these in order:
- Meditation requires patience - a few sessions will not undo
a lifetime of opposite habits of excitement and confusion.
- None of us can control our mind unless we train ourselves to
do it - have you ever seen anyone playing the violin nicely without
- If it seems that our mind is getting worse, it usually means
we just see our 'madness' better than before - the first step
A story by Master Shen-Yen (from Ch'an Newsletter
"The purpose of cultivation is not to seek
anything, but to discover the faults in our character and behavior.
By opening ourselves to self-investigation, we hope to find out
where our problems lie, and if, after searching within ourselves,
we can see these faults and problems, this in itself is the fruit
of the practice.
A woman on the last retreat said that the more she tries to get
away from her faults, the stronger they seem to become. And the
more she thinks about it, and wonders why she can't get rid of
them, the more she gets disgusted with herself. She said, "Probably
I just don't have the ability to practice meditation. A good practitioner
is able to throw out their problems while practicing, and I'm
not." At that time, I was standing up, and the light above
cast a shadow of my body on the wall. I asked: "When I am
standing still, is the shadow moving?" She said, "No."
Then I walked slowly away, and the shadow followed me along. I
walked quickly and the shadow kept pace with me. No matter how
I tried, I could not get rid of it. Only if you turn the light
out, or make your body disappear, will your shadow go away. Just
like the shadow, our problems stick to our "self." Wherever
there is a self, there must also be problems. But if you were
to say, then, "I want to throw away my 'self'," that
"I" who wants to get rid of the self indicates that
the self is still there. This would amount to the self trying
to throw away the self, which is impossible to accomplish. It
would be just like trying to get rid of the shadow if your body
is still there. If there is a subject, there is definitely an
object. This being the case, is cultivation of any use? Of course
it is, since we cultivate to discover our problems. Recognizing
your problems shows you have made progress. Desiring to rid yourself
of these problems may he a good sign, but actually that is not
how we should approach it. The method of practice does not consist
in throwing them out, but rather in decreasing the sense of self
until it becomes so light that the problems will naturally disappear."
A mini-poem that catches a lot of the essence (unknown
"Too young to meditate...
Too bad to meditate...
Too in love to meditate...
Too busy to meditate...
Too worried to meditate...
Too sick to meditate...
Too excited to meditate...
Too tired to meditate...
Too late to meditate!"
If you have a few minutes, do have a look at this nice video on meditation by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche.
^Top of Page
"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."
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."
"Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back
to ourselves and see what is going on. Once there is seeing, there
must be acting. With mindfulness, we know what to do and what
not to do to help."
Thich Nhat Hanh
On the List of Meditations page,
you can find over 50 sample meditations.
For the complete text of "Mindfulness In Plain English",
a well-loved meditation how-to book on Vipassana by Venerable
Gunaratana online, click on this
page of realization.org.
His Holiness the
Dalai Lama's advice on meditation
Good resources on meditation at Wildmind.org.
Do have a look at this quite informative Frequently
Asked Question page of the Kargyu.org page.
Advice for Meditators from the Access to Insight website
Five Mental Hindrances and Their Conquest from the Access to
good article on the value of retreats
brief meditation FAQ-sheet
to Meditate - Kathleen McDonald
Spiritual Friends - Meditations by Monks and Nuns of the International
Don't just do something, sit!
Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are
Does the noise in my head bother you?
Two men are talking on the street.
'And how's your son? Is he still unemployed?'
'Yes, he is. But he is meditating now.'
'Meditating? What's that?'
'I don't know, but it's better than sitting around doing nothing!'
updated: May 11, 2015