At the outset of Buddhist practice it is essential that we develop a clear understanding of the path presented by the Buddha. If we do not address this there is a danger that we will relate to the path as nothing more than another method or technique we can manipulate in order to get what we want. So hopefully tonight we can paint a picture of this path, or at least develop some understanding of how to enter this path using our first four topics of discussion.
There are many different reasons one might find themselves involved with Buddhism or any religion for that matter. It maybe that our family is Buddhist or maybe we found the philosophy to be interesting, but this isn’t really the type of involvement we are speaking of here. That type of interest is rather superficial. The type of involvement we are talking about is actually realizing the teachings. There is only one factor that brings us to this sort of openness, and that is pain or dissatisfaction. Most of us go through life like it is some complex problem that requires an equally complex solution. Something seems to always be wrong, just a little off. We are uneasy, discontented, just plain antsy. There seems to be a constant struggle with life. We spend most of our energy trying to arrange some solid ground for ourselves, trying to drain some sense of security or satisfaction from everything we come into contact with. Our attempts to manipulate the world in our favor leads only to more disappointment, which in turn reinforces the idea that we must wrestle the world in order to get what we want. So we kind of bounce around from one moment to the next fighting with everything.This is what is referred to in Sanskrit as Samsara, or cyclic existence, and this is the type of discontentment that we need to recognize in our lives. All of this insanity arises as a result of our confusion. This confusion is nothing more than misunderstood energy which is actually connected with our true nature. Our true nature is fully awake: it is open, clear, & consistent. This is a key point to understand, because Buddhism doesn’t make a better you, enlighten you, save you, it doesn’t produce anything. The Sutras are not self-help books. The Buddhist path is one of realizing you are just fine, that the feeling we were describing earlier of everything not being quite right is fancied. By fancied I mean it is distorted yet we cling to it, we cling to it because we derive some sense of validation from it. Eventually we will see that in reality everything is just fine. This is magnificent discovery for us, because we see life as a problem, and we spend most of our time looking for the right equation to solve it. Now we learn there is no problem which means we are no longer in need of a solution. Discursive thoughts, afflictive emotions, and concepts which arise as a result of our confusion just distract us from seeing things as they are. Meditation practice is the means by which this confusion is undone, and in this process we discover our true nature.
Most of us come to meditation practice kind of half-assedly. We want to meditate when everything is going good, when there is absolutely nothing else to do or no where to go. However it is essential to be consistent with meditation. Currently we have no true commitment to our practice of meditation, so we need to strengthen our resolve. In order to do this we need to seriously consider our situation. If we take the time to contemplate our physical circumstances we will see that they are nothing short of remarkable. A lot of conditions had to materialize in order for us just to sit here tonight and have this discussion. We have all of our senses, the ability to intelligently discern. We are not deaf and dumb. There are a host of external circumstances that make it possible for us to engage in meditation practice as well. For example, we live in an age where teachers such as The Buddha, have come before us and expounded a complete method for realizing things as they are. On top of this, these teachings have survived as a result of the countless practitioners who realized these teachings, and passed on the methods of practice by taking on students. We also live in a country where we have the opportunity to investigate these different religious and philosophical systems freely and practice them if we choose. Not to mention, we are in an area of that country where there are other people who share a similar interest in meditation practice, and we gather here once or twice a week to encourage these interest. However another aspect of our situation is impermanence. It is certain that we are going to die, it is a side-effect of being born. There is nothing we can do to avoid this truth. The only uncertain feature of death is the time at which it will arrive. If we stop and think about it we have no idea when our time will come. It could be tonight, tomorrow, one year, or fifty years from now. When this time does come we need to see that the only thing that will be of any benefit to us or anyone else is our spiritual practice. Money, family, friends, social status, none of these things will be of any use to us. On a much subtler level this is true about all situations, not just physical death. The only thing that seems to be of any lasting importance is our ability to see things for what they are without any sort of selfish exaggeration. This sort of insight & tranquility does not fall out of the sky; it comes from practice, and that practice is meditation. So we see here that meditation is absolutely essential, and that it would be wise for us to commit ourselves to the practice of meditation right now since the future is uncertain.
Before we actually talk about practicing meditation it would be smart to consider how one would go about learning how to meditate. There are many mediums through which one could learn about meditation. Well maybe not many, but there are a few. One could read a book, magazine, or browse the internet. We could watch videos on YouTube, attend workshops or seminars. All of theses sources would benefit one’s practice, but only one method is entirely sufficient and that is the teacher. There is no substitute for a personal teacher. It is helpful here to look at meditation as a path, a confusing path. It is confusing because it is a path that has no goal. We need someone to guide us along this path, give us direction. The teacher has walked this path, and is quite familiar with it. When we talk about direction we do not mean answers, more like guidance. This person works with us at stripping away all the deceptive layers we use to sedate ourselves. He challenges the way we see and relate to the world. He doesn’t do the work for us, he simply points us in a direction. He pushes us long enough and hard enough that eventually there is a breakthrough, this breakthrough is Abhisheka. A hole is punched through all of our layers. At this point we discover space; we catch a glimpse of our true nature. From here the whole situation opens up. We begin to see the teacher quality as alive, eternal, present in all aspects of life. Our meditation practice begins grow, it starts to overflow into all aspects of life. The whole thing becomes somewhat entertaining, we begin to see the comic nature of our struggles with life, because we see that we are life.