Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book: Chapter Two

Just a note that these chapters have not been edited yet... anyone out there feeling editorial?

Chapter Two: Sitting Meditation

In this chapter, I will explain how we put into practice some of the concepts which I talked about in the first chapter, using the practice of meditation in the sitting position as an example. Sitting meditation is something which is done as a basic meditation practice. It's something that anyone can do; if you are able, you can sit cross-legged, but you can also practice on a chair or even apply the same technique to a lying position if you are not able to sit up straight.

In any case, the practice of sitting meditation is based on watching the movements of the body while sitting still. When sitting still, the whole body is tranquil and there's no movement in the body. The only exception should be when the breath comes into the body and when the breath goes out of the body. At that time, there should be a movement in the stomach - if you put your hand on your stomach you should be able to feel this movement.

For people who have never practiced meditation, this might seem unfamiliar, and it might be difficult to find the movement. If you keep your hand on your stomach, though, you should be able to see for yourself that when the breath goes into the body, the stomach rises - maybe just slightly, but it does rise naturally. When the breath goes out of the body, the stomach will naturally fall.

If it's still hard to find, even with your hand there, you can try lying down on your back. The important thing is to observe the breath in its natural state, not forcing or controlling it in any way. Once you try this for some time you should be able to see for yourself that in a natural state, when the mind is not stressed, when the mind is not worried, and when the mind is not forcing the breath, that the stomach naturally rises and naturally falls.

So, we're going to use this rising and falling motion as our basic technique of meditation. Once one becomes more proficient at it it will become quite clear and will serve quite well as a basic meditation object. So when the stomach rises, we're simply going to say to ourselves, "rising". When the stomach falls, we're simply going to say to ourselves, "falling". "Rising", "falling" "rising", "falling".

The method is as follows:

1.Sit with the legs crossed or in any position which is comfortable as necessary.

2.Traditionally, we sit with one hand on top of the other, palms up on our lap.

3.We sit with our backs straight, although it is not necessary to have the back perfectly straight if this is uncomfortable; just as long as one is not bending over to the point where one isn't able to experience the breath.

4.We practice with the eyes closed. Since we're focusing on the stomach we don't want to have our eyes open so anything might distract us away from our object.

5.Once we are in a suitable position, we simply say to ourselves, "rising", "falling", "rising", "falling".

Again we're not saying these words at the mouth. It's important to understand that we're creating this clear thought in the mind, and the mind should be with the stomach. So, in a way, it's like we're speaking into our stomach. We're creating this clear thought in the stomach where the mind is at that moment. The basic practice is simply this: saying to ourselves in our mind, "rising", "falling" "rising", "falling".

This practice can be carried out for many minutes; five minutes, ten minutes, and so on. This is the basic practice; the next step is to incorporate into the practice the rest of the four foundations I mentioned in the last chapter: the body, the feelings, the mind, and the mental states.

As to the body, here we are already aware of the body in watching the rising and the falling; that's clear enough. As to the feelings, this is when we're sitting, watching the rising and falling, and a sensation arises in the body, carrying our mind away from the stomach. For instance, a feeling of pain may arise. When we're sitting in this position for long periods of time without moving, it can create states of pain, physical pain. So, instead of getting upset or letting the pain become something that is going to create suffering for us, we take the pain itself as our meditation object.

Always remember, we can use any of these four because all four are part of reality. We don't have to stay with the rising and falling of the stomach. Instead, now we can observe this new object, the pain. We can look at that and try to see it clearly. And so we focus on the pain and say to ourselves, "pain, pain, pain, pain," until it goes away. We do this to avoid getting upset about the pain; instead, we simply see it for what it is and let it go.

If we feel happy, we can say to ourselves, "happy." Or, sometimes when we sit in meditation we might feel very peaceful. We can say to ourselves, "peaceful," or "calm" until that feeling goes away. We do this, again, to avoid clinging to the feeling as positive, so that we don't need pleasant sensations to be happy, and when they are gone, we are not dissatisfied. When the sensation disappears, we come back again to the rising and falling of the stomach.

As to the third foundation, the thoughts, while watching the rising and falling and our mind starts to wander, thinking about the past, thinking about the future, thinking about this or that event or topic; good thoughts or bad thoughts, any kind of thought, instead of letting our minds wander and drift away and lose track of reality, we bring our minds back to the reality of the thought and say to ourselves, "thinking", as I explained in the first video. We can say to ourselves, "thinking, thinking," and it will go away by itself. Then we can come back to the rising and falling and continue our practice.

As for mental states, when our minds give rise to liking, when we like this or that experience, we can say to ourselves, “liking, liking”. When we don't like something, are angry or frustrated, we can say to ourselves "angry, angry", "frustrated, frustrated". When we feel lazy or tired or drowsy, we can say to ourselves, "tired, tired" or "drowsy, drowsy". When we feel distracted or worried, we can say, "distracted, distracted" or "worried, worried". When doubt or confusion arises in the mind, we can say to ourselves "doubting, doubting" or "confused, confused" and so on. These mind states are particularly things which can create difficulty in the meditation. Actually, our meditation should go quite smoothly; we should be able to watch the rising and falling or the pain, or so on, without break, but because of these mental states, states of liking or disliking, drowsiness, distraction, or doubt, we find ourselves getting sidetracked again and again, and our meditation is unable to progress. So these are especially important to bear in mind and see clearly as they arise. When any one of these states arise, we have to quickly catch it, see it clearly for what it is, and bring the mind back again to the present moment.

As to the benefits of the meditation practice,1 the first benefit we we should see is that our mind starts to calm down and it does actually become more peaceful. We can see that as we persevere in our clear awareness of reality, our mind does become calmer, it does become happier, it does become lighter and it does become freer from the things that bind it to the endless cycle of suffering.

The second benefit is that we begin to realize things about ourselves and the world around us that we didn't see before. We come to understand that inside ourselves we have many things that we would better do without. We come to see why suffering arises in our minds and in our hearts; why we fall into suffering, even though we wish only for happiness. We also come to understand things about other people; when people would become angry at us before, we thought they were evil, and we would hate them for their actions and speech. Once we practice meditation, we can understand that other people have the same emotions that we have inside of ourselves, and so we come to understand why people do and say and think the things that they do. We come to see that it's because they're just like us and we are just like them.

The third benefit of the practice that we should be able to see is that we're more aware. We're more aware of the world around us, more aware of the people around us, more aware of the bodily and mental states inside of us that are arising and ceasing at all times. So when difficult situations arise, instead of being caught off guard, falling prey to fear, anxiety, confusion, stress, and so on, we're able to respond to the situation much better and take things as they come. For example, we're able to take sickness much better; we're able to take difficulty much better, even death we're able to take much better, through the practice of meditation.

The fourth benefit, what we're really aiming for, is that we can rid ourselves of the evils in our mind, the unwholesome states that exist and in our hearts and cause suffering for ourselves and for other people again and again; states of anger, greed, delusion, anxiety, worry, stress, fear, arrogance, conceit, all sorts of things which are useless to us, are of no benefit to us or to other people and in fact create unhappiness and stress for us and for the people around us.

So, this is an explanation of a basic meditation practice. Now I would like to invite you to practice this method for yourself, say, five minutes or ten minutes or however many minutes are comfortable for you; practice sitting meditation for the first time, right now. And I hope for all of you that this meditation will bring to you peace, happiness and freedom from suffering in your lives.