Meditation Basics

There are seven points to the proper posture when meditating.

1. Legs. If possible, sit in the lotus position. If not, try the
half-lotus or sit cross-legged.

2. Spine. The spine should be as straight as possible.

3. Shoulders. The shoulders should be even.

4. Hands. The right hand should rest atop the left hand, palms up. Your
thumbs lightly touch. If possible, your hands rest about four inches
below the navel. Your arms are relaxed; they do not touch the sides of
your body. About an egg’s width should remain between arm and torso.
The shape your hands make symbolizes the dharmakaya or "truth body." If
it’s hard to hold your hands below your navel, it’s okay to rest them on
your lap or on a pillow in your lap.

5. Eyes. Your eyes are slightly open, but not focused, their aim
following your nose, looking a little downward. If your eyes were
focused, you would be gazing at the tip of your nose.

6. Mouth. Your lips are relaxed, almost smiling.

7. Tongue. Your tongue touches your upper palate; this prevents thirst
and drooling.

Most important of all is keeping your spine straight. You will be more
comfortable and energy will flow freely. A straight spine also allows
your chest to be open. This helps to ensure clarity of mind.
Your body has psychic energy channels. The proper posture for
meditation allows energy to move throughout your body. These energies
are influenced by the activities of the mind. If your energy flow is
smooth and uninterrupted, your mind can remain calm.
Simply sitting in this posture does not mean you are meditating.
In meditation, your mind does not do three things.

1. Your mind does not engage in responding to external activities. For
example, when a sound is heard, you leave it alone; you don’t start
wondering about it or respond to it.

2. Your mind is not entertaining thoughts. You are not remembering or
fantasizing.

3. You are not engaging in inner dialogue or inner chattering.
Thus your mind is not wandering; it’s not roaming like a mad dog with
no specific destination.

Your mind’s focus is inward, but your mind is not numb, nor is it
sluggish or dull. Your mind is fully alert, awake, fresh with awareness,
ready to detect, but not detecting.
Meditation is not a means to blocking or numbing the mind. And it’s not
easy.

If someone says meditation is easy, that person is not meditating. You
need lots of training, years and years. But in a few weeks or months, if
you spend 20 minutes a day practicing, you can realize benefits. That’s
because meditation is mind training, and you can improve the quality of
your awareness through practice, through training your mind to focus.
Ordinarily, we learn through applying concepts. We have a concept of
what a glass is and apply that to every glass we see. Through
meditation, we improve the quality of our mind and its awareness and
become able "to know" beyond our concepts, to know something as it is,
without adding value or subtracting value.

We know our world through the conceptual process. We impose on objects
our expected match of object and concept of that object. We "see" an
object in the way we think of it. This is a fundamental cause of our
emotional problems, and meditation can help us stop this.
Our mind is always imposing on reality, never exposed to reality.
Meditation can train us so that we can be exposed to reality.

Question: When I start to meditate, all my anxieties rise up. Would
saying a mantra help?

Answer: Saying a mantra that protects the mind would be good initially.
Reciting it would help the mind slow down. But ultimately, you need to
learn to meditate without a mantra.

Question: What is the difference between shamata meditation and
vipassana meditation?

Answer: Shamata is single-pointed meditation. Vipassana is meditation
with a 360-degree awareness.

Question: I have problems with thoughts, thoughts, thoughts.

Answer: The very purpose of shamata meditation is single-point focus.
That means unusual concentration. When your concentration becomes strong
or stable, you no longer need to make a conscious effort.
In order to reach that stage, you need to cultivate a single-point
focus. To do that, we use objects of meditation. Objects of meditation
direct the single-point focus of mind. We cultivate an object of
meditation so we can stay focused for longer and longer periods of time.

Your thoughts keep coming because you don’t know the purpose of the
focal point.

Anything can be the object of meditation. In general there are four
kinds.

1. An object you can feel or touch. Buddhists often use the image of
Buddha for two reasons: They have taken refuge in the Buddha, dharma and
sangha and see Buddha as the source of refuge.

2. Light. A one-pointed light can be used. Imagine a tiny,
fingernail-size light, very intense, like the hot, white light from a
spark, at the level of your forehead and four inches away from you.

3. Sound. This is not an external, physical sound, but a mental,
internal sound, never-changing in pitch. The sound shouldn’t have a
specific meaning to you because you don’t want to generate thoughts.

4. Mantric seed syllables. Om is the universal sound. Ah is also good to
use.

Using a focal object gives you confidence, familiarity with a method to
attaining single-point focus, lessens thoughts, and offers better
concentration.

Without a focal object, there isn’t any way to cultivate a strong, sure
focus. Without a focal object, you could have a mental state without
thoughts, what we call a thoughtless state of mind or a blank state of
mind. But you wouldn’t have any possibility of cultivating single-point
focus or improving the quality of your mind.

And that’s the goal of meditation, improving the quality of your mind to
improve the quality of your daily life.

Just achieving a blank mind in meditation might help you to feel calm
and good for a little while after meditation, but won’t help you deal
with reality.

The main goal of meditation is to transform your whole way of living, to
transform daily life, to be more productive every day of your life.

If you don’t use a focal object, your mind will not be occupied with one
specific object. Consequently, two things will be missing.

1. Mental clarity will be absent. With mental clarity, your mind is
lucid.

2. Mental stability will be absent. This refers to more than not
thinking or not wandering in your thoughts. When your mind is stable,
you aren’t chasing after every sensory input. Instead, your mind is at
rest, staying with one purposefully chosen object.

Many of us, when we begin meditating, don’t understand the purpose of
the object of meditation. We fail to use it in a proper way, and many
thoughts come to interrupt us.

However, it’s good to be aware of how many thoughts we have rushing
around our mind when we first try to sit in meditation. The workings of
your mind are revealed, and you understand why it’s important to bring
your own mind under control.

At some point, you will realize your meditation is being interrupted
less often by intrusive thoughts. It’s a good sign when you realize you
are not letting your mind do whatever it wants to do, when you can,
instead, use your mind for a spiritual purpose.