Buddhist Meditation in Plain English

User Friendly Instructions for the Practice of Buddhist Meditation

Our state of mind is changing from one moment to the the next. With the thought of something attractive we become excited. When we encounter something less than desirable we become angry or depressed. Regardless of whether the thought is pleasant or unpleasant they always change our state of mind. States of mind are like weather conditions constantly in flux. This instability gives rise to a sense of paranoia. We feel like we have to monitor the environment for changing conditions. So, we invest a great deal of time and energy trying to avoid unpleasant situations, and seeking out more desirable ones.

This paranoia breeds aggression; it puts us at odds with our environment. We find ourselves in conflict with those who do not meet our expectations, and clinging to those relationships that meet or exceed our demands. Our tendency to grasp at our thoughts as solid or real is the cause for this. We have misunderstood the nature of thought. We relate to thought as if it were some solid-objective reality; rather than a subjective commentary on the environment. So the problem lies not in thought itself, but in the way that we relate to thought- this is known as dualistic thinking. The term dualistic thinking implies one thought attaching to another thought, as if the two were somehow distinct and separate entities.

In shamatha meditation (shine tib.), we are not looking to stop our thought processes. We are not really looking for anything. We are simply looking. As Thich Naht Hahn says "It is a practice of looking deeply." We just watch. In simple observation two developments take place. First, we change the way we relate to thought. We do this by loosening our grip on them. When we catch ourselves getting caught up in thought we simply return to the breath. Overtime we will find that we have altered our relationship to thought. We are disengaging the tendency to cling to thought with thought, and as a result we are no longer working toward pre-ordained conclusions, which means that we begin to discover new depth.

No longer working toward preconceived conclusions opens the door to new discoveries. We now have the opportunity to see thought as it is, instead of what we thought it was! As we divest in dualistic thinking the apparent solidity of thought dissolves. This development takes place as the speed of mental activity diminishes. Ordinarily one thought grabs a hold of the next thought at such an incredible pace that it creates the illusion of permanence or solidity. This permanence is the sense of self most of us identify with, the ego. As this cognitive inbreeding is disengaged the pace lessens. This dynamic could be compared to an airplane propeller. If the propeller is spinning at top speed it appears to be a solid disk, but when the engine is relaxed the apparent disk is revealed to be several propellers. When thought ceases to cling to itself the chaos is minimized, and the gap between each thought is discovered- the solidity of the separate self that pitted us against life is unraveled. Resting in this gap is the practice of meditation. We learn to touch the ground of being by unlearning our habitual tendency to associate with impermanent phenomena.

The path of meditation co-emerges with the path that gives rise to suffering. The practice of meditation is nothing more than an "un-doing" of the steps taken that gave rise to discontentment. In this case, discontentment refers to the gulf between us and content. We feel separate or apart from life and therefore lifeless or dis-eased. This sense of division was the ego's first words, "I am." Shama means "to pacify" or "peace". Tha means "to abide". So shamatha meditation is the practice of peaceful abiding. Through this meditation we find the peaceful mind, by transcending the causes that gave rise to mental turbulence. We are simply retracing the footsteps of the ego on a return journey to the garden!

Below are the instructions for aligning the body in the correct meditation posture. This should be done first, and then we should place our mind by following the instructions for placing the mind. If the physical posture is something you are not capable of a comfortably accomplishing a chair will be just fine.

Placing the Body 

(Click Here to read more about placing the body)

1) Sit the crossed legged position

2) Place your hands, palms down on your thighs.

3) Roll your hips forward, in order to straighten the back, and center the weight on the hips.

4) Pull shoulders back slightly.

5) Look straight forward. (forming a 90 degree angle w/ the neck & chin)

6) Gaze your eyes at 45 degrees toward the ground, and set them about 2 ft. in front of you focusing on the space in front of you.

7) Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind our two front teeth.

Placing the Mind 

(Click here to read more about placing the mind)

1) Allow your awareness to gently fall upon the breath as you breathe in and out.

2) Do not analyze the breath- simply notice it. Do not try to control the breath or breathe any certain way, just pay undivided attention to the sensation of your breath as you inhale and exhale.

3) If you notice yourself thinking do not become frustrated. Simply return to your breath. If you catch yourself in thought and return to the breath a 1000 times that is a great practice... Do not bother yourself with thinking about not thinking!

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