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Buddhist Meditation: Thoughts and Derivations


Crossposted, from another forum.

I had a rather....interesting experience last sunday. I was attending Madison's Shambala center for a session of mindfulness meditation. The first time I had gone, the week before, it was a wonderful session, three hours of sitting mindfullness meditation, interspaced with intervals of walking meditation. With that amount of time, one can really get down to the nitty gritty of meditation. You start getting those thoughts like "This is boring, I would rather be somewhere else". And then you smile, and gently push your mind back toward focus on your breathing. Thats where the real progress comes, when meditation is difficult. When meditation is blissful, theres nothing to work on, so no progress is made. Its like playing Chopsticks over and over, even though you don't ever make any mistakes. Its nice in its own way, but really, all you can play is chopsticks.

So, I went back again, thinking things would be the same. I was told upon arrival that they would be trying a new meditation practice that day. My thought was, Oh, this must be some form of guided mindfulness meditation, something to increase my awareness.

I was soon dissapointed. We were handed booklets of chant soon after sitting down. It must be said that I don't dislike mantra meditation. A short phrase repeated over and over out loud or in your mind is really no different than counting your breaths one to ten. They are both ways to initiate focus and cultivate awareness in a mindfull fashion. I like short chants like Om Mani Padhme Hum, or Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhisahva.

This was not the kind of chants they were doing. These chants were long, and had complicated imagery, and made supplications to all sorts of beings that I don't put faith in. This was all done in monotone speech, very quickly, and joined by a loud drum. As the session went on, I found myself growing quieter, and then I stopped speaking.

I payed attention to what was going on in my mind, and I found a tumult of thoughts, emotions, and absolutly no focus.

The fast chanting of manywords that were not understood paired with the loud drum was causing my mind to flit all over the place. Its hard enough to calm a mind and focus on breathing in a quiet room, feeling the sensations of ache in your legs and arms, hearing all the noises around you, and the changes in temperature. Purposefully making the room loud is like starting a long difficult journey but first shooting yourself in the foot!

Eventually the ritual was over, and everyone seemed to be happy, or exausted. But I felt angry! As I rode my bike home to my apartment, my anger grew as I went over the events in my head again and again, thinking that I had wasted a morning going to this place when I could have done mindfulness meditation in my bedroom. I felt angry that I had been "tricked" into believing this community was focused upon mindfulness meditation. I thought many things that I won't repeat.

Eventually, I calmed down. I was coming to conclusions about the real nature of meditation. Some of these things, which I am still not exactly sure of, are that meditation as the buddha taught is a way of initializing focus and cultivating awareness. Even if I am not completly sure of that, I AM sure of things that meditation is NOT:

-It is not a flashy ritual

-it is not a way to look good

-it is not supposed to be enjoyable

-it is not easy

-it is not a way to become blissful

-it is not speaking long unweildy statements with complex imagery because they are good poetry

-it is not prayer to beings for supplication

Now for what meditation IS:

-it is simple

-it is difficult

-it is often slightly painful bodily

-it is even more often painful psychologically

-it is a way to initialize focus and concentration, and cultivate awareness and mindfulness.

-it can lead to insight, but such insight is gained at great lengths

This is completly the opposite of what was occuring there that day. I don't know if I will go back. I was seeking a community to practice the Eightfold Path with. I don't think I have found that group of people yet.

Meditation in action is at its very base focus. One sits or walks or, really, you can meditate while doing any activity. The easiest to start with is sitting mindfullness meditation. One takes a seat in a comfortable position, prefferably sitting upright with the back straight, simply because it tends to keep you awake. The legs and hands are placed in relaxed positions; somepeople meditate while in chairs with their legs straight out in front of them, and others sit on a pillow or cushion with their legs crossed in front of them, both with their hands resting on their thighs. Whatever is confortable and doesn't cause you too much pain while sitting for long periods. The eyes are closed or opened, mouth opened or shut, breathing through the nose or mouth or both, whatever is best for you. I will say that keeping the eyes open but relaxed in a "sleepy" look keeps you awake, and keeping your tongue resting with the tip at the top front teeth causes less saliva to be made.

Then you focus on your breathing, in and out. There are many ways to do this, you can count from one to ten, you can think "in" and "out", you can chant a mantra for every breath. Whatever helps you focus on your breathing.

Now, very quickly you will find thoughts arising in your head, thoughs that take your focus away from breathing. Gently release them and return to the breathing. If you forget your place counting, go back to one. Do that over and over.

That part is the hard part of meditation, and it is the MOST IMPORTANT part. It is where progress is made. As time goes on, your focus builds. But you will also find more and more thoughts, including those that are very difficult to dismiss. When I feel those thoughts arise, I smile. Its then that I know that my meditation is working. Its when I let these thoughts fall away that I become more aware of myself, my breathing.

The eventual point of focusing onces awareness is that if you can focus on one thing and reject others, it makes it easier to focus on ANYTHING. If you can release thoughts of adversion, pleasure, and delusion during meditation, it becomes easier to release those thoughts elsewhere. And as your awareness increases in meditation, so will it increase in other areas of your life. Along with the rest of the eightfold path, these things lead to total and complete understanding, total and complete enlightenment. Or so the Buddha said.

And from what I have seen and learned, and experienced, what the Buddha said is good enough for me. These rituals, these cerimonies, they are not needed, they build more attatchment, they defeat the purpose of meditation. Strip it bare, and you are left with the essential.

Was it the Soka Gakkai you were doing this flashy ritual with?


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