Marmalade Meditations

Some buddhists are trained to bring a cloud of unknowing to their meditation each time they sit down to meditate. Some meditation systems teach them to trick or in some way to double back on their own mind so that a certain feeling arises fresh and unknowing, and within that cloud of unknowing they can potentially arise as an enlightened being. This technique is not used in our Tibetan system.

In Tibetan Buddhist system we are trained to affirm that indeed I am the practitioner and I am the one who creates a particular state of mind. I, by my own efforts will cause a particular state of mind to arise. In this way we are able to incrementally change the mind during each meditation session. We are training in logic, motivation, and yogic technique to follow the reproducible effect of enlightenment. The teachings of the Buddha affirm this and our system of bringing beings to the enlightened state is famous in efficacy.

Many people have a karmic spiritual nature that naturally effervesces in meditation. This will cause or allow them from time to time to experience something extraordinary where they feel light as a feather or heavy as a rock or feel like they are flying in the sky – all kinds of experiences that come to those with previous development. It is a sign of karmic accomplishment from the past.

However, this is not how we’re going to become enlightened. It’s not even a good substitute for a spiritual practice. Tibetan system trains the mind and energies to take form in powerfully beneficial states of mind. Authentic practice brings certain elements together that are needed to create even more beneficial states of mind, such as bodhchitta and others.

There is a beautiful orange tree outside in reach of my covered deck. The way the sun comes through the branches makes the oranges glow delightfully. Right now the branches are filled with oranges are hanging heavy. I looked at this tree the other day and thought, “What am I ever going to do with all of these oranges? So many of my students don’t even eat citrus.” I thought I’d like to do something creative, and decided to make orange marmalade. Even this thought was an effort because the warm sun on the ripe oranges almost made me dizzy with the scent. So, I’m standing there looking at these masses of oranges, and thought, “I have now an idea that I’m going to make orange marmalade, but unfortunately I don’t have a recipe. And until I have the recipe for it I’m not going to pull a single orange off that tree.”

Like that, when we sit down to meditate we must be sure that we know what we’re doing, that we have increasing understanding of what we are doing after practicing for a while and gain some proficiency. We must gradually understand what is the purpose of gathering states of mind, what are the elements that we need to bring together for our own recipe. We must have oranges and we must have sugar – this much I know. But there may be other elements to my orange marmalade that I’m not aware of.

So let’s look at the energy of practice. We need powerful motivation to continue and grow. We need joyous enthusiastic effort, a desire to learn and a desire to draw this together. We also bring to the recipe our own realizations. I’m going to call them realizations – I don’t mean enlightened Buddhas. I don’t mean high, high level. There are certain authentic realizations that we possess; this is a part of our individual process. I am so happy to say we are individuals and can say, “Yes, I have this or that quality.”

These realizations that we are bringing to meditation are the realizations that we have gained from doing previous careful practice. We acknowledge that our practice is becoming part of us. In the same way, I don’t have a recipe yet for orange marmalade, but once I get it and make my own orange marmalade, I will continue to know how to make orange marmalade after that. So, we gather very carefully various components for correct meditation. What we sit down with at the beginning of our meditation is what someone else might struggle to experience at the very end of a powerful meditation. Even before sitting down we begin with that kind of spiritual energy! We are already a winner even before we’ve begun doing any meditation.

In our tradition we talk about a particular aspect so carefully that we don’t have a single qualm. This learning come slowly over time as we grow in ability to meditate properly. To the extent that we learn to sit with confidence and reliance on the objects of refuge, the training will cause us to spontaneously draw together the remembered recipe of gathered states from own mind. When we do this we are beginning to practice in a very powerful manner.


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