Serenity, Insight, Mindfulness Meditation
or to Put It Another Way,
Relax Your Way to Enlightenment
Meditation as the Buddha taught it, is not a religion, but a practical method of bringing about joy and freeing you from life’s dissatisfactions.
It is difficult to put this into the proper words, there are hundreds of books that are more eloquent, but I am willing to try since some sources make this needlessly complex, or are outright incorrect.
This topic is the most important insight I have learned in this lifetime - bar none. Next to this, all else pales into insignificance.
If you gather all the wisdom of the world, all the wisdom of the great philosophers, the wisdom of all the religions, the wisdom of the sages, it can all be condensed into one word – kindness brings happiness.
Practice kindness towards others and towards yourself. Practice it daily in full awareness - in mindfulness rather than mindlessness.
Every being wants happiness, yet life is a mixture of joy and suffering and true happiness eludes most everyone. In our basic nature we are happy and kind; however, unskillful mental states cause suffering to ourselves and others.
Life is constant change, nothing is permanent, there is nothing you can cling to and find lasting happiness. Most people find this out the hard way.
However, there is a profoundness to life that escapes most people, not because it is beyond their grasp but because they do not look, instead they are busily caught on the surface in the spider’s web of delusion/dissatisfaction.
Ultimately Meditation is a unified process that grants you freedom, joy and profound insight into existence.
In life, pain, change, sickness, and death are unavoidable, but meditation is a way towards freedom from delusion and dissatisfaction.
There is a mistaken view that this requires extraordinary effort. That is a false view.
What it takes is relaxation and letting go. The “effort” required is - you must put aside all the excuses and sit yourself down and do it morning and evening for 5 minutes or more. After you start, all effort must cease and you relax. The “effort” is in sitting yourself down. Once you sit down, you relax. In fact, on the days you least “feel” like meditating, you can benefit the most because meditation will release those “off” feelings and after meditation your day will be more productive.
In meditation, you focus on an “object of meditation” (the breath or a feeling of happiness) while relaxing and gently smiling. The difference between meditating and day dreaming is when you find your mind has wandered off the object of meditation (and it will, many times), recognize this, release the distraction into the background, relax any tension you feel from that distraction, re-simile, return to the object of meditation, and gently repeat this cycle as necessary. Buddhist monk Bante Vamarlaramsi calls this the “6Rs” - recognize, release, relax, re-smile, return, repeat.
In the beginning your mind will wander incessantly – do not get discouraged – this is normal and do not fight it. This is called the “monkey mind” that is constantly distracted, restless, running here and there constantly. It is a necessary part of the process as there is a lot that needs to be resolved and released in your life. After practicing for several months, the mind will gradually become more settled and content. Then a subtler process of release continues. Each time your mind wanders, think of it as putting a quarter in your piggy bank towards Enlightenment. Over time the quarters add up.
What could this ridiculously easy technique possibly do? Isn’t it going to get boring? Over time your will be amazed, in awe, in rapture on how it benefits your life.
On the days you meditate, your daily life will “flow” better, you will reach your goals more easily. On days you “can’t find the time” to meditate, your day will have distractions, false starts, and misdirection. Gradually you realize skipping meditation is counterproductive and less fulfilling.
What is “enlightenment”? Ultimately, enlightenment is joy and freedom from suffering. It is freedom from the three poisons (see below). It is freedom from needing anything in this world to “make you happy”. It is a happiness and satisfaction not dependent on outside circumstances. It is freedom from samsara (the cycle of birth, death, rebirth in the earthly and heavenly realms.)
There are two interrelated parts to this:
· Living a moral life – practicing kindness, releasing yourself from delusion, greed, hatred, and laziness.
· Purifying your mind so it is released from the surface spider’s web of illusion and fully realize your essential nature is joyful - independent of external circumstances.
All these aspects are what meditation is about.
Why a moral life? Because the “three poisons” ruin your life.
The “three poisons” are delusion, greed, hatred. They tangle you in a web of pain and deprive you of peace of mind.
Delusion is mistaking the false self as the real self, it is realizing there is more to life than the ultimately unfulfilling ephemeral surface glitter.
Greed’s aspects are clinging/grasping/stealing/lying.
Hatred’s aspects are ill will/resentment/revenge/violence.
These three poisons will ruin your life but these three poisons have antidotes.
Insight is the antidote to delusion.
Generosity and letting go of craving/obsessions is the antidote to greed.
Compassion and loving-friendliness is the antidote to hatred. Hatred does not stop by hating. Hatred stops by not hating.
Meditation is the daily homework and your life is the practical workshop in releasing the three poisons and releasing yourself from delusion/suffering/dissatisfaction.
By alternating between your daily life and meditation, the two reinforce each other and you can release the hold of delusion, clinging/grasping, and ill will/resentment and learn how to let go of suffering/dissatisfaction, and uncover the profoundness that lies beyond this foolishness.
What if some of your past actions are “unforgivable”? The reality is yesterday is gone – you cannot change it. Yesterday ended last night – today is a new day.
In life, there are no guarantees. You only have today and possibly tomorrow. If you can make some amends – do so. Otherwise, focus on bringing joy into your present. Over time, all will be released and your life will become fulfilled.
Will power will not do the job. You cannot will and discipline yourself to rid yourself of delusion, greed/hatred, to let go of suffering/dissatisfaction and realize your birthright of profound joy. Why? Because will power and discipline cannot reach the depths of mind where feelings, thoughts, and the subconscious reside. It is like trying to use a hand shovel to move a mountain.
To reach these levels and release these you need a powerful tool and that tool is meditation. This tool is your lightsaber in the battle of life. It is your cool rain the scorching desert. It is your hot bath in the depths of winter.
In essence meditation is simple, but thousands of books have been written about it and its efficacy. It is simple to do, but not so simple to make the effort to sit yourself down and do it consistently each day. Consistency is the key. When you are consistent, each day builds on the previous, otherwise you backslide.
No one is going to hand you freedom and liberation, you have to earn it by doing the work.
Release from delusion/suffering/dissatisfaction is what the sages call “enlightenment”. It sounds profound and it is, but don’t let that intimidate you – it is your birthright as a human, no matter what your history. You do not have to settle for less. To quote Joseph Goldstein, “enlightenment is “freeing the mind from those mental states that cause suffering to oneself and others.”
Below are some books that will expand on the principles I have outlined.
This is the cream of the crop of books that I have found useful that give you a solid foundation to build on.
These books cover the basics:
“Life is Meditation; Meditation is Life”, by Bhante Vimalaramsi. This one book says it all. It clears up the mysteries and controversies. It shows where some of the commentators on Buddha’s teaching have got it wrong. In simple language, he outlines the essence of Buddha’s teaching. Even if you have read 1,000 books on meditation, you need to read this one. Bhante Vimalaramsi also speaks via YouTube videos, https://www.youtube.com/user/begintosee
“Buddha’s Map – His Original Teachings on Awakening, Ease, and Insight in the Heart of Meditation”, by Doug Kraft. Doug, a student of Vimalaramsi, takes you through his own experience of meditation through the 8 jhanas to the doorstep of Enlightenment offering "rare and intimate insight to the meditative states Buddhist monks are not allowed to discuss."
However, if you read any of these books but do not practice the technique, you have wasted your time.
Just reading gets you nowhere. It is like looking at a photo of a wonderful meal but not sitting down to eat it. You actually have to sit down and do the technique (also known as “meditation”, “practice” or “sitting”).
Practice is of the essence and practice is your homework.
Start with 5 minutes morning and 5 minutes evening. After a few months, increase to 10 or 20 or 30 minutes. After a few more months, increase to an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. After a year or two, do a 10-day retreat each year. A retreat allows you to reach depths you never imagined possible. A ten-day retreat reinforces and accelerates your practice. Even a weekend retreat will give you a relaxed clear mind and a fresh start on the weeks ahead.
One hand washes the other. Practicing joy in daily life accelerates joy in meditation. Joy in meditation accelerates joy in daily life.
The technique is simple. Sit there, relax and gently put your attention on the object of meditation. When the mind wanders off, be grateful that you awoke and realized the mind was adrift and gently do the 6Rs. Over time, this simple technique will work wonders beyond your expectations and profoundly improve your life. The most important part is – sit down and meditate every day.
In the Buddha’s time (500 BCE), meditation practices of many types were already well developed. Before his “Awakening” (Enlightenment), the Buddha tried them all but found all of them lacking – each would only take you so far, then plateau, without bringing about Enlightenment. Finally, he unlocked the secrets and discovered the method outlined above and he “Awoke”. Then he spent the next 45 years teaching others, awakening hundreds.
If you are doing this the way the Buddha outlined, you will feel immediate benefits – the Buddha said this practice is good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end. So, start today.
In our busy, hectic lives, remember - “Don’t just do something - sit there!”. It makes all the difference.
May your life be blessed.