Meditation: General Introduction
Lecture No. 21, 20th May 2000

Author: Venerable Dhammasami,
Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre, London.

Why Meditate?

        Meditation practice especially that of Buddhist began to get its more momentum in the east in 1950s and in the west in 1970s. However, meditation has been a part of Buddhist practices since the time of the Buddha Himself in the 6th BC. Without meditation, the Middle Path known as the Noble Eightfold Path is not complete. Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration and Right Effort are best developed in meditation.

         The word "meditation" is so general and means different types of practices to different religions because they have different aim and focus. In Buddhism, meditation means developing the mind. The original Pali word for meditation is Bhavana.

        A person's life can be analysed in three words: body, words and mind. Mind leads body and words. Whatever being acted or spoken comes from the mind. Mind is therefore the source of all our actions and words.

         In the mind, there are thoughts, feelings and emotions. They can be harmful or beneficial ones. The good ones will lead to peace and happiness while the harmful ones create miseries here and hereafter. To have good thoughts, good attitude means to have a happy life. For this, we need to know what is happening in our mind. More than that, we also need to be in control of what arises in the mind. Or we are in danger of not achieving our goal - a happy life.

        Such whole thoughts, words and actions lead to eradication of all harmful and defiling thoughts from the mind; thus establishing constant peace undisturbed by any conditions in daily life. This is Nibbana, and the ultimate aim of Buddhist meditation practice.

        In Buddhist meditation, outside forces such as mystical figures do not play a part. It is not to unite with any such a figure, Brahma or God or any divine being nor to produce a miracle. Simply, it is to study our own mind through mindful observation without creating any idea or opinion. Observation of the mind through awareness leads to discovery of what is actually in the mind, and the cause of miseries in the mind. Seeing them as they are will help us let go of the cause of miseries from our mind.

How To Meditate?

        Usually people sit still without speech to meditate. They observe the function of their mind. This is difficult in the beginning because the mind is so fast. So, we need to calm the mind. For this, we focus on a neutral and slow object like breathing. Breathing is not the mind nor is it everything about meditation.

         Whether or not we meditate, we are already breathing. Awareness of breathing is what makes a difference here. Without awareness, breathing is not meditation. To develop awareness, we tie our mind to breathing in and out. We go on like this for a while. This is the beginning stage. But, remember this is not all about meditation. And not only breathing that can be your focusing point.

        When awareness is there, we should learn how make use of it as well. This is where we have two different methods of meditation in Buddhism: Samatha (with developing one-pointedness as its primary concern) and Vipassana (with developing awareness and understanding as its main task).

         It is important to sit still with minimum or no physical moment during meditation session. Bodily movements and words are easier than the mind to see and control. We have to do that first.

        You may start with just ten minutes and increase it later. It is essential to have a guidance from a living teacher. Books are not sufficient and they cannot substitute a living meditation master who has experienced the practice himself.

        Well, meditation is very important for anyone who wants to be calm and happy. You can start now. Do not delay till you get old or retire. It is not for the Buddha nor Buddhism but for the one who practises it. .

Related articles for further reading selected by the Course Organizer:

        1. Why We Need to Meditate ; Ven. Dhammasami, 1999

        2. Intruduction to a Course of Vipassana Meditation; Dr. A. Kell, 1956.

        3. Vipassana Meditation; Chanmyay Sayadaw, 1992.

        4. Mindfulness Meditation Made Easy; Ven. Dhammasami, 1999.

(Next Week: "Meditation: Talk 2")

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