Among westerners, Buddhism is often considered to be simply meditation. This is a mistake, as what Gotama taught goes well beyond this particular practice.
Meditation is, however, vital to dharma practice. One might say that it is centrally embedded into its practice as it provides an ideal platform from which to tackle the eightfold path.
It gives us the chance to look directly into how we experience our lives, including the habitual ways in which we unreflectively react to situations and to others – ways that are unhelpful, repetitive and, let’s be honest, need to be changed.
Get started with these guided meditation practices:
And here’s the briefest of meditation instructions:
However, meditation is like any other complex skill which demands initial guidance, dedication and intelligence. Its greatest challenge, once a meditator has established her or his practice, is to take full responsibility for that practice.
The practice itself braces our intuition, which in turn allows us to make informed choices about which meditation practice(s) to pursue, which groups to join, which teachers to listen to and which books to read.
As we cultivate our meditation practice, and the eightfold path in general, something marvellous happens – the practice subtly but profoundly begins to transform us.
It’s not just hard slog either. If we meditate intelligently, the mind will lead us into some wonderful places.
Mindfulness in Plain English
Henepola Gunaratana’s wonderful book Mindfulness in Plain English was offered for free distribution in December 1990, then smartened up and put on bookstore shelves by Wisdom Publications.
Here’s an excerpt:
‘The purpose of meditation is personal transformation. The ‘you’ that goes in one side of the meditation experience is not the same ‘you’ that comes out the other side. Meditation changes your character by a process of sensitization, by making you deeply aware of your own thoughts, words and deeds. Your arrogance evaporates and your antagonism dries up. Your mind becomes still and calm. And your life smoothes out.
Thus, meditation, properly performed, prepares you to meet the ups and downs of existence. It reduces your tension, fear and worry. Restlessness recedes and passion moderates. Things begin to fall into place, and your life becomes a glide instead of a struggle. All of this happens through understanding.’