Rinpoche: After meditating and sitting daily for some time, the body might begin to complain of new aches and pains from sitting. Beginning meditators often see meditation as a struggle with the body to hold a posture that seems more like a pretzel than a human should endure. Other meditators try one cushion after another to find comfort, while still others might look for sacred symbols on a Tibetan carpet to help them, perhaps magically, overcome the sense of having a body at all!
Maybe the problem is poor posture, so it is good to review the traditional advice for meditation position, adapted to a Western body. Of course, there are flexible and athletic people everywhere, but in general, Western people are raised sitting in chairs with their legs hanging over rather that cross-legged as it is done in the Orient. That means that young bones are formed and feel comfortable in very different styles. Eastern meditation posture is based on what is most comfortable and is not considered an athletic endurance contest!
So, from a viewpoint of comfort, there are elements of correct posture that will probably relieve much of the strain that you might be experiencing. When you begin in meditation, you make sure, if you are physically capable, that your back is straight. Maybe someone will describe the seven point seated posture of Vairochana, the meditation Buddha that models correct posture. Please skip the full lotus description for now.
Student: You are firmly seated cross-legged on your cushion with your legs in a comfortable position. You could also be seated on a harder Japanese style zafu cushion kneeling and sitting back on the cushion. Another method is to sit in a chair without leaning back for support with feet on the floor spread about the width of the shoulders. Your spine arises in a straight posture so that you are neither too far forward nor too far back.
Rinpoche: I like to say a stack of golden coins, so you do not want them to fall over because they are valuable, so you find the correct position where the coins will not tip. Also, for people who cannot sit straight for physical reasons, can sit in their favorite easy chair or even a recliner, as long as falling asleep is not an issue by being too comfortable!
Student: Place your right hand resting in your left hand and the tips of the thumbs lightly touching in a soft oval. Your hands rest in your lap naturally or are held just below the navel. We have been taught to hold a little space in between the elbows and the body in order for the shoulders to fall gently. At the top of the golden coin stack is the head, held and balanced lightly on the shoulders.
Rinpoche: We say actually that it is lifted. The top of your head is lifted as though there was a string pulling from the crown, and the chin is tipped slightly down like the crook of an umbrella handle, or the crook of a swan's neck. Go on.
Student: The eyes are closed or slightly looking forward to a point on the floor.
Rinpoche: Slightly crossed, if it is comfortable.
Student: Just gazing, gently.
Student: The eyes are crossed? So, do you have the eyes slightly open?
Rinpoche: It is for a reason, so the eyes are generally slightly crossed, gazing down and about three feet ahead but not looking strongly. Try it. They are almost closed and are slightly crossed. It actually does something nice to the mind.
Student: The tongue is slightly touching the roof of the mouth behind the palate. This helps to prevent saliva from flowing in deeper meditation.
Rinpoche: Relax the outside body and outside mind and become alert on the inside. This is good to review the correct way to meditate from time to time to correct any errors that might creep in over time. Like that, there will often be issues that you face and overcome in meditation practice, everyone who is a successful practitioner has overcome problems.
Now we have discussed in this series of articles what is meditation, and what is not meditation. What is not meditation is when you are involved in battling ongoing problems when they could be resolved. To permit yourself to stop meditating because there is some problem is not the strategy that should be used. You need to recognize the problem or obstacle, and deal with it, and then go forward. That only makes sense.
In a larger sphere, over a lifetime or many lifetimes, if we do not deal with the problems that are encountered, from disruptions, to poor posture or poor motivation, it is not as if the problem will go away. In fact, not only do we continue to have the problem, but now we might also develop poor strategies toward dealing with problems, which means giving up.
It would be terrible if, after having taken vows of bodhicitta to attain enlightenment, we think, 'Oh, this seems like an awful lot of work.' Well, what about the vow taken to save all sentient beings? How good is the promise to save all sentient beings? "Well, that was just at the moment, and it seemed like a good thing to do, and everybody else was doing it, so….” From a higher valuation, or from the lama's viewpoint that is helping you, this makes you untrustworthy for higher development. Be as good as your word.
If you cannot meditate twice a day, then meditate once a day. If you miss meditation, do not give up your vow because you think, ‘Oh now I have broken the continuity. Now it is better to stop and to give up than to pretend as if I was doing it. What if Rinpoche asked me if I meditated, and then I have to say that I did not meditate! I missed fourteen times! I do not want to tell. I do not want Rinpoche to know I did not meditate, so I think I will avoid seeing Rinpoche again! Ah, there is the plan!’ People do that. I have heard second-hand that people have said, "I could not admit to Rinpoche that I was not doing my practice carefully, and so I gave it up." To me, that is crazy!
If you look at it from the viewpoint of suffering sentient beings, it is giving up on the vow and the promise to save those who are so much in need! It is much better to think, ’What a delightful pastime for the next thousand years or ten million years or forever, to be saving sentient beings! How marvelous that will be! How happy every one of them will be when they are safe in perfection’ The End