Search This Blog

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Path of Meditation (ninth and last in series)

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

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Path of Meditation (part eight)

An amazing factor of the human realm is the perception that private thought is normal. This illusion regarding private thought has interesting ramifications. For example, if people really knew what you thought, if you could not hide your thoughts from them, would you change the way you think?

It is likely that we would make more effort to control dysfunctional thinking and increase quality thoughts in order to keep friends and dear ones as dear and friendly. If we were forced to wear our thoughts like a moving banner across the forehead, we would probably try much harder. So, let us practice working on motivation as though other people could tell what we were thinking.

I suppose we would start by trying not to have funny thoughts about other people, however, if they are behaving badly, then I personally do not believe that I have an obligation to pretend. This is a damaging kind of practice, knowing that someone is doing something incorrectly or harmful, and yet pretend to yourself that they are not. Some people confuse themselves inside and refuse to believe that others (who might still have many good qualities) are really doing bad things when they are. It is possible to confuse a sense of careful discrimination by thinking, 'Oh, I should not think that about people! I should only think well of everyone.‘

So, we want to be careful not to damage our ability to make careful judgments when that is needed, such as in daily interactions where we have responsibilities. Sometimes it is hard to tell people they did wrong, because you are afraid of their reaction. Communication becomes strained and uncomfortable. We then might need to blame ourselves, because we have been the cause of the other persons feeling bad. On the other hand, if they could read your thoughts, communication would be more direct and honest, although it would be like amateur thinkers in a public place! They could read your forehead banner without your saying even one word aloud, that states, "You ding dong! You did not do what you promised and now others are having to do your work for you.” Perhaps they need to know that, because you have a certain responsibility, not because you do not like them or other living beings.

At the same time, we should be careful about making wild discriminations or displaying dysfunctional chaotic thinking until we are more capable and clearer. Therefore, we use our best judgment and try not to get into trouble. We all know there are harmful people in this world and sometimes even good meditators are exposed to them by circumstance and not by karma (for example, people killed in terrorist attacks).

On the other hand, it might be sometimes handy that others cannot know exactly what we think. You do not want to enrage the boss by saying or displaying your actual thought on your forehead, "You know, you are really not very nice, and I must always tell the truth because I am a Buddhist!" They might say, "Well, you do not have to work here anymore." Well, thank you very much! Now I just lost my job! Since you have to earn a living, you will need to interact as skillfully as possible with others. It is also good practice to use compassion for others who suffer from anger, or other delusions without damaging our own discrimination. Meanwhile, we pray that in the future you will perhaps become a full time meditator, if that is what you desire, and not have to deal with people and situations that are stressful.

Even in my activities, working for the dissemination of the Buddha Dharma, as well as others with similar lifework, we do not give up and go hide in our houses just because someone behaves badly or observe that others who profess to be practitioners cannot get along together. I am never going to give up my dharma activities! We do not give up, because it is important. You do not give up your employment because it is important, however, when the drawbacks outweigh the benefits, then you quit your ordinary job and find another. To be continued……

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Path of Meditation (part seven)

Buddhism has some wonderful meditation techniques and is very open to sharing them with anyone who is interested in learning. Along the way, information about the wonderful state of enlightenment is also shared and many people read books and get teachings online or by recordings to hear more. Eventually, you might even want to become enlightened and have confidence that meditation is the way to get there!

However, so many good and kind people begin a meditation practice with high motivation but soon give it up in disgust. For a number of reasons, they are unable to overcome the obstacles to maintaining a steady daily practice that brings the many benefits described in books or by friends who meditate. By examining meditation and its inner process, which is the Vast Path to the perfected state, the exploration and many levels of self-assessment will cause us to recognize problems.

One of the problems that many find to haunt them in meditation is not any terrible delusion, but just their poor habits. For example, you may decide to get up a certain time in the morning but instead, as usual; you turn off the alarm, so no meditation that morning. Perhaps you are ready to sit on your cushion, and a certain special someone calls on the telephone, so you spend two or three hours on the phone, even though you know this time is scheduled for regular meditation. Later, after the call, you probably are too tired or just do not feel like meditating any more. This is not necessarily just about meditation, but in general, you might lack discipline. Meditation is not meant to be a struggle or demanding, because you do not want to stifle that wonderful emerging being of light that you are inside, that is genuine. You want that true inner you to feel good.

However, perhaps you have lousy habits regarding making time for meditation. Since you already have many good habits, there is no need to work on those, however, we cannot use them as an excuse for not working on our bad habits either. In general, no one actually wants to look at unskillful behavior, so we usually have many excuses for why we do not try harder. We should become even more skillful in self-honesty so that many more years do not pass before we can tolerate periods during the day or evening, being by our self, working on transformation seriously.

On the other hand, sometimes a good habit can become excessive, for example, too rigidly controlling, perhaps by guilt or shame. Also, sometimes even our good habits such as a balanced view of compassion motivation while in meditation can degenerate, while we still think it is present, but it is not. A trick of the mind can make us feel as though we are correct even after it has degenerated, because we have not monitored our self correctly.

Another issue that causes meditation to suffer is disruptions. Everyone needs a quiet and private place for meditation, where pets are not going to jump on them or feel that the telephone sitting right next to them or the cell phone in the pocket, is about to ring. It would be better to turn the phone off before sitting to meditate, and to the best of your ability, eliminate any other distractions or disruptions. Some people hang a note on the door, "Meditating. Do not disturb." To the best of your ability, eliminate the possibility of disruptions by planning ahead what to do if disruptions arrive. If someone knocks on the door, perhaps you do not answer it. If the phone does ring, usually meditators will let it go to voice mail instead of jumping up.

To our delight, as we practice meditation, our capacity for compassion for others definitely increases. We begin to notice injustice around us, by personal experience, reading on the Internet or newspaper, for example, about people who abuse helpless animals. Although it is natural to become upset, it is also noted that some will take sides with the weak and be very angry with all humans because of their capacity to harm others who should be caring for the less able instead. The great altruistic view of the Mahayana, wishing to save all living beings can become distorted by righteous anger, "I have bodhicitta. I just do not happen to like people, but animals I like a lot. It is people that I have a problem with.” Another variation could be "I do not like people, and I do not like most animals, but horses, now horses, I like," or "Hate dogs. Love cats."

The motivation to become enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings probably would mean that eventually, you would no longer even be afraid of spiders or other dread living beings. What do you particularly hate? Motivation to be of benefit to all living beings means that at some point, you might even have to deal with arachnophobia. To be continued……

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Path of Meditation (part six)

Formal sitting meditation is not a good time to reflect on the day’s events or who was right or wrong about something that happened earlier. If we enter into another kind of inner dialogue when we should be learning concentration or other states of mind, we are doing it wrong. That is because it arouses negative states of mind when we should be cultivating positive states.

For example: Let us say that, unfortunately, you have a big woodchuck asleep on your lap while trying to meditate. You know, alert and awake woodchucks will bite you, as they can be fairly vicious creatures if they are aroused, but right now, luckily it is asleep. This is like your primary delusion, for example, anger, which is not activated while meditating correctly. Now all you have to do is meditate without waking the woodchuck causing it to start biting you all over! Meditate carefully, especially while the woodchuck remains with you. Meanwhile, work on that problem such as anger, at other times to reduce its presence, because you really should not have to meditate with the woodchuck.

However, do not wait to be free of all obstacles and delusions before beginning a meditation practice because life is short. Living beings are waiting for you to become competent so that you can help them because, for one reason, you are karmically connected to them. Therefore, the woodchuck must remain asleep; not come alert and rush about causing havoc! Further, do not stimulate delusions while you meditate by blaming others or yourself or create mentally constructed situations where you need to make judgments about ordinary life issues.

Student: I think I missed something. Why am I vulnerable while meditating to this woodchuck on my lap?

Rinpoche: You have a habit. You thought that meditation was another kind of ordinary activity when it is not.

Student: So it is because of my view of what meditation is?

Rinpoche: Many people feel that meditation is a good time to sit quietly and think about things. That is not the time.

Another student: All these mental task files are mixed together, and so while you are meditating, for example, doing mantra, all the files are together so everything else also gets stimulated. We have been taught this in order to access information quickly, so neurologically, we get things done quickly. We are also teaching children to do that, to stimulate all at the same time, and now we are trying to unglue that and say to our self when we become distracted, "I know you are stimulated, but we are not going to do that right now," so it is an unlearning of your nervous system literally.

Another student: Yes, we are taught to multitask, so when we go into school studies or business, that is a very strong and favorable skill.

Rinpoche: While meditating, you need to develop the skill to practice carefully without stimulating other mental factors by relaxing more inside while remaining alert to the inner dynamics indicated in the specific meditation. It is also by design that I say that your woodchuck is asleep on your lap because your root chakra is where many of the delusions like to live or hibernate.

Once your root chakra becomes over stimulated, there are other remedies to deal with that such as lifting the mind with altruistic ideas or thinking about space. Once things have become more clear and comfortable, there will still be appropriate root chakra activity. We should try not stimulating that while the delusions are strong, like still having that woodchuck right there, because it is just going to bite others as well as us! Yuck! To be continued….

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Path of Meditation (part five)

This is a well-crafted question…. Student: We take vows before sitting for meditation to practice the six perfections of a Bodhisattva. The sixth of those is called wisdom. In meditation, in the context of karma or cause and effect, an effect of meditation would be the attainment of wisdom, is that correct? If it is, how do we differentiate between true wisdom and, to use your analogy, spam wisdom?

Rinpoche: Because all untransformed beings are working with an unreliable operating system, you have a challenge to remain as objective as possible with higher motivation while meditating. That means a certain part of the mind monitors what you are doing so that you can apply remedies as you find the problem. The problem with this is that many people have this observer already alive in them, but it is being employed for other functions. This is the one that chatters to them about trivial matters, blames them for every little error, or can even make meditation unbearable by discontent for the activity of meditation. In other words, an unskillful beginning meditator can prematurely identify with the critical observer who is already habituated to harsh methods rather than paying attention to the object of observation.

By meditating second-hand, through the observer, the energy to be trained or the needed transformations cannot happen because they are not present correctly. Some will avoid this suffering by escaping to what feels like a very interesting place, where there are reduction of stimuli from the mind that is pleasant, but no transformations of energy are possible. Many traditions actually encourage this kind of distancing one's self from the actual act of meditation, but tantric meditation is different and higher quality. Still, wisdom is far away, hidden behind veils of obstacles, and the substitutes by ordinary wisdom of judgment, and subjective decisions are non-nutritious “spam” by comparison. So, in a way we can say that true wisdom is what arises when the obstacles are destroyed.

A fault in meditation is called over-application of the remedy. Without knowing that objective observation was a remedy, perhaps you are already using a form of the observer as a way to punish yourself. For many, there is already an over- application of this natural and organic mental remedy in their ordinary life by inflicting self-criticism. Over- application means that the meditator ceases meditating in order to observe what they are doing, and does not actually get the benefit of meditation rather than a careful balance. This habit was developed before they began meditation and carries over into spiritual life.

Student: In that sense, would that be trying to control everything that is happening?

Rinpoche: You might be consciously thinking,
'How am I doing?' This is an indication of over-application of the observer. You have to leave your meditation in order to monitor yourself. Intelligent people easily fall into this fault of meditation. In fact, the application of this happens in everyday life also; people not only inflict it on themselves, but they are often harshly judgmental of others. This is a sign of the intellectualizing intelligent mind behaving badly.

There are all kinds of rules for clumsy and stupid people, but there are not as many rules for intelligent people who abuse their own intelligence! I am not advocating that you should try to be dumber! One position is not the opposite of the other. In fact, if you resonate with this criticism, you need to treat yourself, as well as others, with more respect and not be quite so rigidly judgmental and controlling. The delightful being that you are inside, a being of light, is emerging into a very delicate relationship with you by inner development and outer balance. It needs to be cared for, so please do not harm it, but act gently and appropriately when the mind is wandering. You might tell yourself,
"Now calm down," gather the mind back in a little bit, and then again, you are a meditator. This requires experience and skill.

Have you ever had an experience where creativity blossoms suddenly in your mind during meditation? A steady mind understands that this is going nowhere and has ceased to be meditation. Some people want to be lost in a fantasy place, seeing pretty colors, fascinated away from meditation, like in a daydream, and will struggle to remain there against their own good judgment. This is when the observer, the one who holds the remedies and is also an aspect of your own mind, needs to step in. "
Now we come back to the object of our meditation.” Then you go back to your sadhana practice, keeping focused.

For those familiar with the way programs and computers work, using the analogy of the unawakened mind like a faulty operating system, shows us that we might not have just one problem, but a variety of distinctive and unique delusions. For example, someone might suffer from anger, and probably jealousy as well. When anger interacts with jealousy or becomes mixed with jealousy, we do not have a name for that delusion. However, multiple poor strategies are not only talking to and influencing you, but they are talking to each other. That is very scary. We need to be very careful with our minds until we are enlightened or awakened.

Further, delusions mixing together can actually create a kind of separate super-ego that can gain the power to control the primary person, assuring them that the delusions are right and others are wrong. This can damage and twist the observer into the “shadow” ego that is described in psychology. We learn to gain control again by stabilizing, "Well, where is my sadhana? All living beings are waiting for me to finish this preparation and enter the awakened state so that I can help them! This is not about me!" You go back to meditation, after having become distracted by delusions or fantasies and having fed them your awareness. This time, they almost had you convinced that the delusional viewpoint was correct. To be continued…..

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Path of Meditation (part four)

There are interesting transformative analogies found in the relationship between a cocoon and the butterfly. If we think about it, ordinary mind is held tight in an almost impenetrable web, like a cocoon. In order to get out of this web, once nurturing, but now unendurable cocoon, the mind, like the butterfly is going to need a lot of strength. It must be another kind of strength because in human terms, how much strength does a delicate butterfly actually possess? It could not punch its way out of a paper bag, as they say, and yet I have seen photos of the tremendous exertion the butterfly expends in order to free itself. This is like the tremendous energetic effort that you will need to make at the time of your enlightenment.

There is continuous inner effort begun at the time of initiation or inner activation of spiritual connection with the Buddha. I suppose we actually do not need to worry about making too much effort at this stage because people are usually not capable of making the correct effort at the beginning. Lamas will say, "Try hard" because we are not afraid that you are going to break yourself, but if it looks like you are doing it inappropriately, then we say, "Try this, or try that."

My main point here, is that the path to transformation has been activated in you and is not activated "out there" somewhere; it is activated in your heart center, the real location of your mind. The Path is comprised of methods that strengthen connections to higher level being, enlightened being, or inner mentor. Some might wish to call that the higher you in the future, which is a little harder for me to understand from my more traditional Tibetan education. This special process coming from your interior, carefully structured for you as an individual, is according to your karma and characteristics rather than a group. If it is not disturbed, it will continue for a very long time and is considered to be a life treasure of a meditator.

There are other inner transmissions reserved for someone who may be in retreat for five or ten years or almost ready to make a breakthrough. There are still other transmissions associated with retaining a meditational inner lineage in a high clarity way that is rare, and requires special commitments. These are not part of this discussion but perhaps interesting to understand that they exist.

We feel that the path was spoken by and introduced into this world system by Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. Although it did exist before Lord Buddha Shakyamuni, those teachings from previous awakened ones or Buddhas who taught in this world had undergone great losses, so much so they became unrecognizable or unusable for transformation. Buddha Shakyamuni created a fresh transmission but did not invent Buddhism, as he is the fourth of the one thousand world teachers to arrive. He never said he was devising a new religious system. He just said, "This is how I became awakened, if you follow these steps, you will become awakened as well." Although his teaching style changed dramatically during his lifetime, according to the needs of the people, he was never separated from the Path. The three turnings of the wheel of dharma reveal special teachings for different levels of people as well as revealing a historical progression of teaching methods Buddha bestowed of the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana paths.

Buddha Shakyamuni was continuously connected to the Great Path to Ultimate Perfection. By gesture, example and direct inner and outer guidance he showed people the way to grow and what would help. His path, as he generously shared with others, continues to be disseminated mainly by living transmissions but also through translations into many different languages. However, the main purpose is still very clearly to connect people to the path of transformation. Whether we speak Tibetan, Chinese, or English does not matter; the path is the same path. It existed as very real to Buddha Shakyamuni, and He is the shining light of the path for those of us in the human realm. He is a beacon on the path, fully recognizable to those who seriously study and meditate on Buddhism. At some point, you will come face-to-face with Lord Buddha Shakyamuni, and he is going to tell you, "Well done. You made it this far." Even that does not mean that you are just like Buddha Shakyamuni, but there is a strong connection.

These are authentic connections created in careful initiation and activation of the inner process, if we make effort to enter, and remain steady. There are certain steps that need to be taken by the practitioner, because it is as an individual that one becomes enlightened. However, inner mentor guidance will present challenges, issues, ideas, and teachings specific to the needs of the individuals’ development.

Even for those who are still quite young, there is not a huge amount of time to accomplish everything that could be done in the human realm. We will be challenged, from not only meditation; but even our everyday life will arise as big teachings. Will we listen, or turn away saying, "Oh, this is too difficult, I think I will wait until my next life to figure it out," or, "I do not want to know."

Now is a good time to begin because no one is expecting you to be perfect, which works out well, since the human realm is not perfect. Beyond that position of less expectation, however it is good to develop true sincerity. In that way, we are happy to be challenged in our perceptions, and we would like to gain deep understanding of our true nature. Regarding honest self-assessment, it is often hard for a practitioner to recognize that they have a problem. Often, when difficulties arise, it becomes a challenge to meditate regularly and keep steady schedule of meditation.

Our biggest challenge is understanding that this entire operating organization of mental functions, emotions and memories takes place within the very mind that needs to use the operating system, but also needs to monitor it while it is working. Here we learn that escapist thinking, avoiding dealing with problems in life as well as the stretching toward transformation, will not resolve issues for correct closure. A problem in recognizing that there is a problem is that you are already working with a defective operating system. The living computer program, in other words your nature, strategies, and personality are your personal operating system, and perhaps it does not run as smoothly as it could. To be continued……