Leading a Meditative Life
While the ultimate aim of a Buddhist practitioner is the attainment of an enlightened or Buddha mind, one without suffering, there are more basic goals that must be achieved first.
In Buddhism, meditation has to do with ‘familiarisation’. Through meditation, you can familiarise your mind with beneficial states and thoughts. Thoughts such as assisting others, compassion, treating others equally and morality. You begin to realise that non-virtuous thoughts such as hatred, anger, greed and jealousy are not destructive to the people you direct them at, but also to yourself.
This can be a confronting experience for some. It need not be. The idea is not to give yourself a hard time when contemplating the less favourable aspects of your nature but to use the
awareness to begin change and improvement. It can be a source of positive change and a happier life.
What is Buddhism?
A religion, a philosophy, discipline of the mind, a way of life. The Buddhist Path is a personal experience of achieving deep and long-lasting happiness by gaining wisdom and a mind free of negative emotions. This can only happen if we cultivate positive practices and realise the benefits of doing so. Meditation is an essential means of accomplishing this.
Following is a simple breathing meditation taught by the Buddha. By placing your thought on the breath, it is
possible to quieten the ‘monkey mind’ and improve concentration.
The aim is to become aware of the breath as it enters and leaves your body by concentration on the rise and fall of the abdomen or the sensation of the breath passing through your nostrils.
With the exhalation of each breath, count one, two, three etc. Set yourself an achievable target of say seven to begin with. When sensations of quietness, stillness and peace eventually occur, hold them as best you can and experience them as fully as possible. When you are distracted or lose that sensation return to the breath.
How to handle distractions
Distractions come in many forms. Sounds, visions, physical sensations such as pain in the knees or an itch, happy or unhappy memories, memories of people and events that you have not thought about for ages.
If you find that you are distracted easily, do not get angry or frustrated. This is the nature of the ‘monkey mind’ and an awareness of this nature is actually a sign of progress.
The best way to handle these distractions is to not indulge them or attempt to repel them. As they arise in your mind, they will also disappear of their own accord. Simply acknowledge them and return the thought to the breath and resume counting.
As a patient mother will gently bring a curious, crawling baby back on to the blanket, we should be the same with our mind when it wanders. Patiently and gently bring it back to the breath, understanding that wandering or distraction is part of its current nature.
Don’t try too hard
While effort is important, it is possible to try too hard to meditate. Meditation should be an enjoyable, inspiring experience. Ideally, you should be looking forward to the next meditation session and not feeling that it is a chore, finding reasons to avoid it. If you find yourself becoming frustrated at an apparent lack of success, it may be best to take a break. Got for a walk. Get some fresh air. Try again later in the day.
Teachings of the Buddha
1. Suffering Exists
Suffering exists in many forms. Some forms of suffering are plainly obvious and easily observed; others exist in very subtle ways and are not generally recognised.
If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognise that even at our happiest times a basic anxiety exists.
2. There is a cause of Suffering
Unless we address our basic unawareness of the true nature of life and our own existence, we will continue in a cycle of suffering. Once we have acknowledged a problem then determined its cause, we are able to take steps to eliminate it.
3. Suffering can be Stopped
If we understand the cause of suffering or unhappiness, then we can take steps to remove that cause. We will then no longer experience the negative results. Unhappiness is not permanent, it comes and goes depending on conditions. For example, if we are expecting something pleasant to happen and it doesn’t, we feel let
down. This disappointment is dependent on our expectations, the conditions we created due to our desire. If suffering were independent, then it would always remain unchanged.
4. The Path
The Buddhist Path contains methods for identifying the causes of unhappiness and removing them. The basic cause is fundamental ignorance or unawareness of the ultimate nature of reality.
Wisdom is an antidote to this ignorance.
To develop this wisdom, we need a better understanding of our mind and to put Buddha’s teachings into practice. The path of developing this wisdom leads to peace and freedom from both suffering and unhappiness. Meditation is an essential part of this development.
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