A Teaching on Meditation for the Beginners

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A human life passes very quickly; sickness and old age will advance upon us swiftly. The practice of dharma can help you to better understanding what life is about and how to deal with the fear of death. Therefore, it is crucial to make full use of your time to practice it.

At Yachen, our primary practice is meditation. The preliminaries for meditation consist of three points. These are the seven-point sitting posture, the nine rounds of exhaling the Buddha wind and the generation of the Bodhichitta motivation. Following this, there is the supplication of the lama and receiving of the four initiations.

At the basic level of meditation, one focuses on a Buddha image, or some other external support in order to train in concentration, to train in non-discriminating mind. What is meant by non-discriminating mind is that the mind is free from discursiveness or distractions. During meditation, dullness and agitation are the most frequently encountered obstacles. Generally, beginners are prone to be lost in dullness or agitation.

So what is agitation? What happens when the mind is turned outwardly in distraction? This results in the mind being unable to experience stability or calmness. That ,which obstructs the mind from being able to remain on the object of meditation, is agitation.

What is dullness? Dullness is caused partly by ignorance. Its function is to cause the body and mind to become gross and heavy, without any pliancy, which will cause your body to feel somewhat heavy while mind will feel a kind of stable, secure and comfortable feeling, as if having a very good rest with a lazy kind of feeling. Dullness is the cause of sinking; it has different degrees of grossness and subtlety. Sinking can be classified as gross sinking, subtle sinking and very subtle sinking. Gross sinking is when one is completely unable to see the external environment clearly. There is the sense of sleeping. In subtle sinking, one sees clearly the external environment but there is a feeling of having no wakefulness or one feels lethargic. The very subtle sinking seemingly has wakefulness or alertness, and there is some awareness but it is not entirely clear or pure. This kind of situation is considered very subtle sinking.

To deal with dullness or agitation, the fastest method is to adjust one’s mind. That is to say, when practicing meditation, one should adjust according to the upheavals or changes in the inner mind.

gn-medi-11When mind is too lax or dull, it is easy for it to sink, at this time, utilize contemplation as a means to drive the mind, think of a way to elevate or energize the mind, so that awareness is increased. Use methods that let oneself be more joyful or happy, like contemplating on the qualities and benefits of Bodhichitta, or contemplating on the various qualities of the body, speech and mind of the Tathagatas. By utilizing this joy or bliss, one can make the inner mind more energetic and thus, the mind will not be overly dull.

If the mind is too energized and high, then it is easy to be agitated and distracted. When observing that one’s mind is too distracted, in order to prevent it from going too high, one should think of ways to make it more calm or relaxed. At this time, one can contemplate on the suffering of suffering, suffering of change and the all-pervasive suffering and such. One can also think of the drawbacks of being under the control of the mental afflictions. In this way, the mind will become more subdued and withdraw inwardly. However, when the mind is withdrawn, one needs to be careful of a particular type of situation. One must pay attention to, especially for meditators. For example, if one sees the external environment clearly, but without any alertness, with a kind of lazy feeling, this is subtle sinking within the meditation. Some people mistake this feeling to be true meditation and regard this type of subtle sinking to be an ultimate meditative state to be dwelled upon and practiced. If one practiced meditation in this way for a long time, the person will become more and more stupid and sluggish. If one continues to dwell in such a state for a long time, one can reach a point where breathing is stopped. Such a state may seemingly be free of all discursiveness or thinking but because it is a type of subtle sinking, it will lead us to increasingly lose our ability to judge and evaluate. Thus, when we are meditating, we must maintain the alertness and awareness in our mind.

In the meditation, one must be aware of the presence of dullness or agitation. In general, there are two situations: first, is discovering the fault only after it has happened. The other, is if one maintains a very good alertness and awareness, one can detect the dullness or agitation before it has even arrived or when it is just about to happen. We should strive to achieve the second situation. To be able to do this, one has to give rise to mindfulness and the method to produce mindfulness is to frequently observe (the mind).

gn-medi-7How should a beginner meditate? One should meditate in a greater number of sessions but in sessions of shorter durations. This can help to avoid dullness or agitation. If one feels that dullness or agitation no longer affects one’s meditation, then one can increase the time of each meditation sitting in each session. In order to prevent the flaws of dullness or agitation from disturbing our meditation, one can try to meditate in a high place. As for the timing, it is best to meditate early in the morning. If one has heavy dullness or sinking, then it is best to sit in a very high place with a vast view with no limits, where one is able to see a very far-off place. This is very helpful for maintaining a good alertness in our meditation. If one is experiencing very heavy dullness, such that one wishes very much to sleep, and one can barely withstand the sleepiness, then it would be good to go out and take a walk or sight-see. It should be emphasized that one should not sleep during meditation. In short, one should adapt to the practical situation, repeatedly watching the mind to check if it is too loose or too tight, and using all kinds of skillful methods to counteract agitation or dullness.

Once one is familiarized with the correct type of meditation over a long period of time, when one will notices that one is no longer assaulted of lesser affected by the defects of dullness or agitation, then one does not need to consciously use mindfulness to observe, because by this time, one is free from such faults. If one continued to make efforts to observe at such a point, then this will shake and disturb one’s focus in the meditation and become an obstacle to the meditation instead.

During the meditation, when one’s dullness and agitation has been reduced, one will gradually obtain a kind of mental serenity or lightness. This is the result of the removal of some of the grosser afflictions of mind and having obtained some mental pliancy. After this, one will have physical serenity or lightness and be free of the body’s heavy grossness, attaining physical pliancy. Then one will generate mental joy and bliss, followed by physical joy and bliss… these will be slowly experienced in one’s meditation.

Some people feel that such bliss and joy in the body and mind, which they have never experienced before, is akin to having attained realisation. So is this really accomplishment? Or is it a level within the five paths and ten bhumis? Actually, it is still too early (to say so), this experience is just the beginning of the meditative states belonging to the path that is common to both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. This is still a worldly meditative state. This experience is not an uncommon characteristic within the five paths and ten bhumis. The solitary hearers and pratyekabuddha vehicles (hinayana) utilize this meditative state as a foundation upon which their view of emptiness is developed. Similarly, the Bodhisattvas need this kind of meditation as a foundation for further development of their view of emptiness.

gn-mediThe methods for destroying mental afflictions can be classified into two categories, namely the temporary suppression of mental afflictions and the uprooting of the seeds of mental afflictions. By relying on the worldly meditations, one can suppress the mental afflictions but only by relying on the supramundane meditations (meditations unique to the Buddhist path), which one can uproot the seeds of mental afflictions.

What we have just discussed is mainly the gradual steps for practice. You have come from a very far place to seek the dharma, and this is not easy. So I wanted to tell you all these in a clear manner. When you return, you can practice some of the basic practices that where discussed earlier. When you have established a good foundation, then we can discuss further the other practices.

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