What is meditation?
The final step in our Guide to Buddhism is meditation.
This concept of mediation is also commonly called concentration or tranquility, but they all refer to the same thing.
First, let’s dispel some common myths or misconceptions about meditation. Meditation does not involve any sort semi-conscious or transient state of mind.
Meditation simply means to concentrate the mind solely on a single mental or physical object.
By focusing our minds on a single object (either a physical object or an object that we imagine), we put our minds at rest exclude all other thoughts and distractions. See Are You Ready to Meditate for the First Time? for instructions on how to starting a simple and easy meditation program.
During those moments of concentration, our minds aren’t wandering or craving. Instead the mind is completely absorbed and focused on that single object. Without meditation, our minds run 24/7 and never get a break.
If you want an idea of the bliss that meditation can provide, just thinking about the peaceful, euphoric feeling that you get when you are gazing at the ocean or sky or listening to the sounds of birds.
It’s a sad truth but most of take take better care of our cars and homes than our bodies. A
nd most of us take better care of our bodies than our minds Think about how much time we all spend on our body.
We take time to eat, dress ourselves, bathe, groom and to relax it, but how much time do we spend on our mind for the same purposes?
As we discussed in Step 9: Practicing Mindfulness, our mind is our greatest asset and we must constantly protect it.
You must train yourself, drill yourself
To make the mind strong means to make it peaceful, not to go thinking of this and that.
For most of us, the mind has never been peaceful. Normally the mind isn’t still, it’s moving all the time.
To calm the mind means to find the right balance. If you try to force your mind too much it goes too far; if you don’t try enough it doesn’t get there. We must aim for balance.
While meditation is essential for our mental health and well-being, it is not an instant cure for all problems.
Therefore, if you suffer from a problem like depression, irrational fears or schizophrenia, then you should seek professional help.
Then, after you are better, you can take up meditation.
If you don’t practice, then all your knowledge is just superficial knowledge, just the outer shell of it. Daily medication is key to training and exercising your mind to overcome its many defilements, including greed and anger.
Don’t concern yourself with whether other people are exercising their minds. Simply do your own practice consistently. We must not forget our practice. E
ven when we do our regular daily activities, our practice should never be far from our thoughts.
What is the goal of meditation?
The purpose of Buddhist meditation is to bring the mind back into the present by clearing all obstacles. Through meditation you can learn how to relax the body, calm the mind, and how to be happy within.
Instead of praying, Buddhists practice meditation for mental training and spiritual development. Put yet another way, meditation is a gentle way of conquering the defilements which pollute the mind.
Meritorious deeds and good Karma (see The Law of Karma and True Charity) are not enough to find lasting inner peace – you must also meditate to purify the mind. If you know how to practice meditation, then you will be able to control the mind when misled by your senses and feelings.
As we discuss in more detail below, meditation trains our minds to be peaceful in order to let wisdom arise.
he ultimate objective of Buddhist meditation is to eliminate all defilements from the mind and to attain complete inner peace.
Buddhist Enlightenment Requires More than Just Meditation
To find enlightenment is a two-step process.
First you must use meditation to train and concentrate the mind. You must make your mind sharp by meditating.
When Buddha renounced his life as a prince and went to seek the ultimate truth, one of the first disciplines that he mastered was meditation. While studying under two renowned meditation teachers, Buddha mastered the ability to concentrate his mind.
Yet Buddha eventually left the two meditation masters because he realized that meditation alone could not permanently end his suffering. Although he realized that it could provide some temporary relief.
Although meditation is critical to the practice of Buddhism, meditation by itself is not enough to find lasting inner peace.
This point can be illustrated by comparing Buddhist meditation to sharpening a pencil. You usually sharpen a pencil for a purpose – in order to write.
Similarly, in Buddhism, you sharpen the mind by meditating for a specific purpose – to find wisdom.
Another analogy that sheds some light (pun intended) on the relationship between meditation and wisdom is with the help of a flashlight or torch.
Suppose you want to see a picture handing on a wall in a dark room. To help illuminate the room, you use a flashlight or torch. However, if the flashlight is too dim or if the hand holding it is unsteady, then you can’t see the picture clearly.
The same is true if you want to see the real nature of existence by shedding light on our ignorance. If your mind is weak, distracted or unsteady, then you won’t be able to see the light or the truth.
Once your mind is made sharp through daily, focused meditation, then there is still a crucial next second-step in order to find wisdom or enlightenment. From this point, you must direct your sharpened mind to the understanding of the real nature of things.
These include impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self. (See Buddhism Basics: The Three Universal Truths of Existence). You will come to see that all things, including the body and mind, possess these universal attributes.
It is as this point that you will understand the true nature of existence.
With your new found wisdom, you will find inner peace by not clinging or grasping. You will realize that the true refuge in life is the well trained mind. When you receive anything (possessions, praise, money, etc.), you will do so mindfully.
This means that you will not allow yourself to become excessively happy or overjoyed. Likewise, when you break or lose something that has worldly value, you don’t become sad or angry.
You do not suffer any painful feelings because you are fully aware of the impermanence of all things. Similarly, when you experience physical illness or any type of pain, you will face it with mental calmness and composure because you have trained your mind well.
How can you benefit from meditating?
Most of our problems today are due to the untrained and undeveloped mind.
It has been well established by medical experts and psychologists all over the world that meditation is at least a partial remedy for numerous physical and mental sicknesses.
These illnesses include mental issues such depression, anxiety, frustration and fear as well as physical ailments such as stomach ulcers, gastritis and coronary diseases.
Many of these ailments and disorders could be avoided altogether or dramatically reduced if people could spend a few minutes a day to calm their minds through meditation.
Yet many people do not believe in the power of meditation or are simply too lazy to practice it. Others think that meditation is only a waste of time.
Meditation is never a a waste of valuable time as it helps us to let go by giving us a much needed break from life’s daily pressures.
If you are a doubter or skeptical, what do you have to lose by trying?
You’ll either prove yourself right or you’ll find a way to become mentally and physically healthier.
Expect reprogramming your mind to take time
When we start to meditate, we are reprogramming our minds into a new way of thinking.
As a result, meditation requires strong determination, effort and patience. Our untrained minds are like water in a cup.
If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, then it is useless. The cup can only become useful after the old water is thrown out. Training the mind isn’t like training animals. The mind is truly hard to train.
You shouldn’t expect immediate results or be in a hurry to achieve too much too quickly.
Just as it takes a long time to become a doctor, lawyer or scientist, it will also take some time to become get good at meditating. Teaching yourself to control the mind and to calm the senses will not happen overnight.
It is like swimming in a river against the current – you must not lose patience since results will likely not be quick (see How Long Should Enlightenment Take?)
Too many people want and expect immediate results from meditation – just as they expect quick returns from everything do they in daily life. It’s not realistic.
Are you struggling to find time to meditate?
Some people complain that there is not enough time to meditate.
There’s plenty of time to meditate; we just don’t fully understand the practice of meditating. If you have enough time to breath, then you have enough time to meditate.
Wherever we are, we have time.
Don’t feel that you are practicing the path to inner peace only when sitting still, cross-legged.
Meditation can simply be mindfulness in whatever you do. There is a chance to practice the path to inner peace in everything you do in life. For example, when you do your chores, try to be mindful.
Don’t feel that you are practicing only when you are sitting still with your legs crossed in a meditation room. You can realize enlightenment in ordinary, everyday life.
Meditation is about giving rise to wisdom in the mind. You don’t need a special place to meditation. You can accomplish this anywhere, any time and in any one of the four postures.
Buddhist scriptures refer to four postures that we live in: sitting, standing, walking and lying down. Buddha taught that we must make all four postures even. T
his means that we must have mindful awareness and wisdom present in our minds in all postures.
Whether we are sitting, standing, walking or lying down, we should know that all of our mental states are impermanent, unsatisfactory and not self (See Step 4: The Three Universal Truths of Existence)
Don’t become “intoxicated with meditation”
Become intoxicated with meditation means one that incorrectly believes that formal meditation practice is the only way to practice.
It also means that you disregard your normal life situation. While formal meditation is recommended, you don’t want to overdue it. Remember that Buddha taught us to follow the Middle Way, which means moderation in all things.
You should not meditation for extremely long periods or time or in extreme isolation. If you do this, then it will have a negative impact on your mental health.
Ready to start meditating?
If you don’t have any severe mental problems, then sensibly practicing meditation is one of the best things you can do for yourself. See our blog post Are You Ready to Meditate for the First Time? for step-by-step instructions on how beginners can start meditating.