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    Modern version of the Eternal Knot by Charles Huttner
A View on Buddhism
Teksty w jezyku polskim     Deutsche Seiten

HOW TO MEDITATE?

PAGE CONTENTS

How to Meditate
Setting Our Motivation
Common Problems during Meditation
Post Meditation

"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 ' A Policy of Kindness'

Mudra of Meditation 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 things:
- 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.

The Body:
- keeping the back straight, in whichever posture you meditate is most essential.
- try to be comfortable and physically relaxed, and 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 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 navel.
- 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...

The Mind:
- 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."

The Session:
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 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' 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 the prayers.
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

From Mind 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."
Sogyal Rinpoche

Pain
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.

"Don't move.
Just die over and over.

Don't anticipate.
Nothing can save you now because you have only this moment.
Not even enlightenment will help you now because there are no other moments.

With no future, be true to yourself and express yourself fully.
Don't move."

Shunryu Suzuki

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 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.
Jon Kabat-Zinn

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, rather 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

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."
From Balancing 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 it;
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?"
"Yes, Lord."
"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 thoughts".
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 practice?
  • If it seems that our mind is getting worse, it usually means we just see our 'madness' better than before - the first step towards success!

A story by Master Shen-Yen (from Ch'an Newsletter July 1982):

"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 source):

"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

POST MEDITATION

"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."
The Buddha

"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

LINKS

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.
Practical Advice for Meditators from the Access to Insight website
The Five Mental Hindrances and Their Conquest from the Access to Insight website
A good article on the value of retreats
A brief meditation FAQ-sheet

BOOKS

How to Meditate - Kathleen McDonald
Spiritual Friends
- Meditations by Monks and Nuns of the International Mahayana Institute

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Just for fun:

Don't just do something, sit!

Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving.

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!'

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Last updated: October 24, 2011