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The Correct Way of BUDDHIST MEDITATION

Dr. Khenpo Ngawang Jorden

In Buddhist usage, the word “meditation” is used to translate the meaning of the Skt word, “bhavana”, which Tibetans translate as “sgom”, a term which means: to become familiar with, get accustomed to, or become acquainted with.

Meditation, as a process of familiarization, is an indispensable part of practice in all the Buddhist traditions. Buddhist meditation is always preceded by: listening to teachings and contemplating on their meaning.

The practitioner first learns a subject through listening to the teachings of qualified masters. Next, the practitioner contemplates the topic of study through the intelligence of their mental consciousness. Then, with the proper meditation posture, known as the Seven Postures of Vairochana, one settles the mind upon the resolved point and familiarizes the mind with it. (There are many texts with extensive explanations and descriptions of these aspects of correct meditational posture.) This is what Buddhists call the practice of meditation.

Buddhist-1The practitioner first reflects upon the obstacles to effective meditation and their antidotes. An initial obstacle is laziness, which prevents one from engaging in meditation in the first place, and obliterates one’s motivation. The antidote for this laziness is to reflect on the impermanence of one’s life, and to develop enthusiasm for meditative practice. Forgetfulness is another obstacle to meditation. This obstacle is experienced by those who have already received instructions and engaged themselves in meditation, but do not remember all the instructions at the time of practice. To overcome this, one needs to receive more teachings and to seek clarification from one’s teacher.

The next obstacles are the two extreme states of “mental sinking” and “mental excitement.” These obstacles only occur when one has already entered into the habit of doing meditative practice, and has already overcome physical discomfort. By now, one will already have become familiarized with the object of meditation and faced the obstacle of “gross mental sinking”: a depression in the intensity of the mind’s clarity, a form of internal distraction which is often mistaken for meditation. The meditator will notice a sense of stability, thinking it is the development of meditation, when in fact it is “gross mental sinking.” With this obstacle, the mind will not have much clarity, nor will it any longer be distracted by any external object: there is mental stability, but without any clarity. In other words, it is a mental stagnation.

“Subtle mental sinking” takes place when one has mental stability with clarity, but no intensity. This, most common obstacle is mistaken for true “calm-abiding” meditation. Here one must “tighten” one’s awareness, in order to avoid the problem of “looseness”, which has caused the lack of intensity.

“Mental excitement” is the agitated mind which involuntarily pursues external objects.

Whether one’s mind is pursuing virtuous thoughts or not, this pursuit should be stopped, because the mind is “derailing” from the object on which the mind should be placed.

Then there is the obstacle of not applying the antidotes when necessary. If one does not recognize the obstacles with mindful awareness, one will not use the antidotes. Therefore, one must be fully familiarized with the potential obstacles that may occur in one’s meditation, and know the exact antidotes to use in each case. The remaining obstacle is that of over-applying the antidotes, or applying them when it is not necessary.

In the first part of the meditation practice, the practitioner engages in an investigation, called “analytical meditation”. After one has reached an analytical conclusion concerning any topic, one practices to place the mind one-pointedly on that conclusion, until the mind becomes inseparable from it. The actual meditative practice of one-pointed concentration is known as “meditation of placement.”

Buddhist-3There are nine stages in the development of “placement of the mind” These are:

1) placement: placing one’s mind on an appropriate, unmoving support, such as an image or painting of the Buddha

2) continual placement: since it is not possible for a beginner to meditate for a long time, one should place the mind upon the object for a short period of time, and refresh that placement continually

3) correction and placement: if one’s mind is distracted from the object of meditation, one should recognize the distraction and re-direct the mind back to the object of meditation

4) perfect placement: in order not to let the mind wander, one gathers the mind together upon the object of meditation, through mindfulness

5) placement in a subdued mental state: through fondness for the good qualities of meditative absorption, if “mental sinking” or excitement arise, one should subdue the mind by applying the antidotes

6) calmness: if one’s mind becomes unhappy due to distraction, one makes the mind calm, by directing it towards the object of meditation

7) perfect calmness: if the mental forces antagonistic to meditation, such as covetousness, arise, one should make the mind calm down, by bringing the mind back to the object of meditation

8) one-pointedness: though one has applied the methods which discard both sluggishness and unruliness, if one’s mind does not proceed into one-pointedness then, one should place the mind upon that non-proceeding, itself

9) placement in a state of equanimity: by the power of familiarization one will be able to enter into a state of meditative absorption without the need of effort

With attentiveness, we repeatedly check on our state of body and mind, and through attentiveness, we notice the mind wandering. When we notice our mind wandering, we purposefully bring our attention back, through mindfulness. Mindfulness is a mental factor of un-forgetfulness, regarding a subject on which one has focussed, having previously become familiarized with that subject.

Through placing the mind in this way, in many short periods, with short intervals in between, one will experience tranquility and will be free from the danger of deviating from the correct way of meditation.

Dr. Khenpo Ngawang Jorden is the Principal of the International Buddhist Academy, in Tinchuli , Boudha. His wide educational experience includes the comprehensive study of monastic ritual arts, (Ngor Monastery, Sikkim) post-graduate monastic college philosophy studies, ( Sakya College) and an M.T.S. and Ph.D (Harvard) He has taught at universities around the world, and received his current post from His Holiness the Sakya Trizin, and the late Most Venerable Khenchen Appey Rinpoche, Khenpo Jorden’s revered teacher.

Last modified on Wednesday, 03 July 2013 04:24

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