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Five Week Introduction to Meditation and Buddhist Ideas

DAY ONE:     WELCOME AND OVERVIEW

 

WHAT BUDDHISM IS NOT

 

We’ll spend the next few weeks discussing what Buddhism is, but I wanted to give you a little information about what Buddhism is not.

 

NOT the worship of demons or idols:  You do see statues in Buddhist temples, and people do bow to them. But the statues represent either Buddha, who was a human being like us, or various concepts like compassion. When we bow to them, we’re just reminding ourselves of the possibilities they offer. We don’t believe there’s any magic in the actual statues. We also don’t cast spells or curse people—in fact, we take a vow to stay away from magic (most of us don’t even believe magic exists).

 

NOT a magic cure for every problem: You don’t suddenly become peaceful and happy just because you decide to study Buddhism. As with Christianity, Islam, and even atheism,  there are good people and bad people who call themselves Buddhists. Buddhism is a world religion and gets mixed up with power and culture in many places,  so you’ll hear of Buddhists going to war and doing other things that are not a part of the practice. Just saying you’re a Buddhist doesn’t make  you one---you must study the teachings and learn about your own mind and heart, and then put the teachings into practice.

NOT nihilism: Buddhists have a concept called sunyata which has been translated as emptiness. That led some people in the West to think that Buddhists believe that nothing exists and the world is imaginary. That’s far from the truth. Buddhists think our view of reality is distorted, which leads to suffering, but we don’t believe that everything is nothing.

 

NOT all gloom and doom: Buddhists do face the facts of suffering and death, but not because we think the only way to feel is sad. We face those facts because Buddhism teaches the way to be free from suffering. Truly, most Buddhists expect and see a lot of joy in life!

 

MAYBE NOT a religion:  If “religion” means following a separate creator god with power to make people do things, Buddhism is more a like a science. The teachings help us to see what is really there, and to find out how to work with it.

What Buddhism is: THE MIND IS CENTRAL

 

Someone calls you a disrespectful name—you feel resentment. You take a bite of a brownie—you taste the sweet rich chocolate. The sun burns your face—you feel the heat.

 

What is really going on?  Are these outside things really causing you to feel pain and pleasure? Do they really have the power to control you?

 

Or is it your reaction to the things you encounter? Think about it for a minute—do we all react the same way to the taste of the brownie or the heat of the sun? The sun doesn’t change, so what accounts for the differences in the way that people respond to the sun?

 

At the core of Buddhist teachings is the concept that our minds are central. That’s not to say we imagine that the brownie exists—clearly it is really there. But the nature of our experience of the brownie, that comes from inside us. Someone who had never tasted chocolate might find it disgusting.

 

The same is true of the things that cause us pain. We create our own suffering. 

 

Buddha’s teachings show us how to recognize that we do this, and how to stop doing it. In the next few weeks, we’ll learn about the Buddha, his teachings (the Dharma), and the people who’ve already learned this (the Sangha). 

 

Buddhism is not just study and discussion, though. In order to change your mind, you must actually work with the mind. This process is called meditation, and in meditation, you’ll begin to see how your mind works.

 

The goal of meditation in our practice is not just to relax and be calm, though certainly that will happen. What we’ll learn first is how to practice focusing the mind on one thing. Later we’ll look at what you learn as you do this.

 

Some of you have probably already practiced meditation, and you may have done so for different reasons and used different techniques. Just for the duration of the classes, we’ll ask you to try out the method we discuss, so that you’ll have some background for the discussions.

 

VIDEO: Intro to Buddhism, The Mind (7 Minutes, 1500-22:15)

 

THE PATTERN OF EACH CLASS

 In each class, we’ll begin with the discussion of some main ideas in Buddhism,  we’ll go on to focus on an aspect of meditation, and then we’ll actually meditate for a short period..

We’ll also introduce the prayers and mantras that we say before and after meditation, and we’ll explain what the various prayers mean.

 

Elements of Buddhist Practice

 

Traditionally, there are the main elements in Buddhist Practice:

 

Meditation practice:  Active practice of meditation is necessary for learning to end ignorance and perceive the truth of existence.

a.     Shamata meditation leads to calming abiding. In shamata, we focus on one object (the breath, a visualization, a mantra, etc), and repeatedly return to the object when the mind wanders. The goal is to develop stability of mind that makes possible continued focus on the object.

b.     Vipassana meditation is usually practiced after one has made progress in shamata, and is the analytic observation of the object. Vipassana leads to an understanding of the true nature of existence.

c.     Prostrations, prayers, and mantras—A typical meditation session or teaching at a Dharma Center will begin with prostrations, which are bows meant to help us experience our respect for the Buddha, his teachings, and those who have followed them. We also say prayers and recite mantras to focus our minds and energy on what we are doing.

 

Teachings and study—An intellectual understanding of Buddhist concepts is best gained from a teacher who has studied extensively, because with a living teacher one has the opportunity to ask questions and correct one’s misconceptions.  Conceptual learning from books is also very valuable to supplement the teachings.

Contemplation—It’s not enough just to sit on the meditation cushion and then forget our experience when finished, and also not enough to listen to a teacher or read a book without thinking about how the concepts are related to what we have encountered in our lives. When we apply the teachings to our experience, we reach a deeper understanding of both.

 

Why We Meditate

 

Shamata Meditation: What It Is, Why We Do It:   Meditation is not just simply relaxing the mind or fantasizing, though those things can be good to do. The term “meditation” describes a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness, and it requires some effort.  Shamata meditation, as we practice it in the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, is translated as “calm-abiding,” a single-pointed focus of the mind. The goal of practicing Shamata is to give our minds the ability to be able to abide or rest or focus on a purposefully selected object for an extended period of time without analyzing and thinking conceptually about it, and that in turn will give us minds that think clearly and see reality without distortion.

 

The ultimate goal of this meditation practice is to bring that same state of mind toward the world outside the meditative state.

 

There are many other types of meditation, some similar to our practice and others very different. We ask for the duration of the class that you try not to mix methods, but give this one a chance to work so that you can see whether or not it’s appropriate for you. We're glad that you have come to us to learn more about our practice and beliefs. Our mediation is grounded in our Buddhist understanding of the world, so we will explain things from that perspective, but we don’t expect that everyone will want to adopt this path.

 

Ordinary mind and its problems:  Most of us turn to meditation because our customary state of mind, our ordinary mind, has left us frustrated. In our customary ways of thinking and living, we’re always chasing after satisfaction and never reaching it, looking to the past, which is gone; the future, which doesn’t yet exist, and even in the present for happiness and satisfaction to come to us from things and people outside of us. In mediation, we’ll learn to turn inside, and notice our own responses to the world.

 

 

 

 

DEVELOPING A PRACTICE

 

Meditating is like any other skill: you must do it often to make progress. That means you’ll need to find a time and place to meditate at home, and make a commitment to yourself to do it regularly, at least for the six weeks of this class.

 

The basics of meditation:  Sit comfortably with a straight spine (whether you choose to sit in a chair or on a cushion), place your open right hand in the palm of your open left hand with thumbs touching, and keep your eyes partly open. Unless we suggest a different approach, you’ll start by breathing normally and keeping your attention on your breath, counting each breath.

 

Time:  As you develop your ability to meditate, you should start with very short periods and gradually increase them. During the first week, even five minutes may seem like a long time, but later you may find that five minutes isn’t very long at all.

 

Some find that the best time to meditate is morning, but if you’re rushing to work, it may not be good for you. Find a time when you can be undisturbed by others and by your own concerns to get something done. Some people meditate more than once a day, especially at the beginning when they are meditating for short periods, but once a day is enough if that’s all you can do.

 

You should get a timer of some sort so you don’t have to keep checking your watch. You can set the alarm on watch or your cell phone or use a kitchen timer—whatever is most convenient. 

 

Place:  You should find a place where you can be comfortable and undisturbed by others, and also where you won’t be distracted by things around you. Meditating in an office is fine if the sight of the computer doesn’t make you start working.  You can sit on a cushion on the floor or on a straight chair, whichever suits your body.

 

Preparation:  It often helps you prepare to meditate if you have a regular pattern in the beginning. You might find a prayer from any religion or you might do some yoga or some controlled breathing. Some people like to have candles, incense, flowers, statues, or pictures that remind you of your purpose. Other people prefer a simpler atmosphere. The process of getting ready to meditate helps move your mind toward that state.

 

Music and pictures: We don’t use music or pictures during shamata meditation, because it would distract you from your focus. Instead, listen to music or look at pictures before or after if it helps you calm your mind or maintain the calmness.

 

Regularity: The most important thing is to meditate every day, even if it is for just a very short time. Regular repetition will gradually make focusing your mind easier and easier.

 

 

MEDITATION--5 MINUTES

 

DAY TWO:

BUDDHIST IDEAS: Who is Buddha?

I.              Historical person—Siddhartha Gautama was a human prince, born in around 563 BCE, in Lumbini, an  area of India near Nepal, to the King of the Shakya clan.  The Prince grew up in luxury, and the story is that he knew nothing of sorrow and pain until one day he left the palace and encountered the Four Sights: an old man, a sick person, a corpse, and a monk. When he realized that the human condition of frailty and mortality comes to all, he decided to follow the path of the monk to find a way to end suffering. He joined the ascetic practitioners and wandered for years as a beggar, seeking out many teachers, but found no freedom. Almost starved to death from extreme practices, he accepted a bowl of rice and milk from a village girl and decided that he needed to find a new path. He sat down in the shade of a papal tree (now called the Bodhi tree, or tree of enlightenment) and vowed not to move until he had gained enlightenment. His realization is known as the Four Noble Truths, and they show the way that all sentient beings can attain the state of Nirvana, or freedom from suffering. Shakyamuni (Sage of the Shakya clan), as he is sometimes called, spent the remainder of his life teaching these truths throughout India. He died around 483 BCE.

 

(VIDEO: Life of Buddha  4900-5700 (8 min)

 

II.             Awakened One—The word “Buddha” means “the Awakened One.” A Buddha is not a all-powerful external god, but a sentient being like us who has freed herself from ignorance, aversion, and attachment, and is free from suffering.  Siddhartha Gautama achieved this state, so he is seen as an example and a teacher, but many other Buddhas exist in many times, places, and dimensions.  Another term for enlightened beings is “Bodhisattva,” which refers to those who have transcended their own suffering but have chosen to return to help others achieve the same goal.

III.            Buddha Nature—All sentient beings are capable of becoming Buddhas.  Our innate ignorance must be overcome through study and practice, but our inmost essence, our true Buddha nature, always exists.

 

Body and Mind: Meditation Posture


Physical and mental stillness:
As our teacher Geshe Topgyal says, meditation is simple: “Sit still, stop thinking, start from there.” Simple, perhaps, but not easy! In shamata meditation, we try to still both the body and the mind, to achieve calm-abiding, a single-pointed focus. As we meditate, we come to understand not just our own dissatisfaction, but also the suffering of all creatures, and how that suffering is caused by our ignorance, our misperception of reality. Some of our mistaken ideas include:

 

  1. seeing things that are impermanent as permanent
  2. seeing things that are not real pleasure as pleasurable
  3. seeing things that are not inherently real as inherently real

 

With meditation we recognize what is wrong and where the mistake occurs. Meditation is a tool to help us understand ultimate reality. And we do this by working with the mind.  To work with the mind, however, we must first settle the body in a way that allows us to meditate well.

 

Why posture is important: Your body and your mind are interrelated. If we know how to sit in the seven-point posture, it allows prana and vital energy to flow smoothly. The correct sitting position has a calming affect on the mind; therefore it is essential to sit in a posture in which we are comfortable and peaceful.

 

Cushion or chair:  Meditation is customarily done on a cushion, but you can also sit well in a chair. If you choose a cushion, place it so that it is wedged under your hips, tilting your pelvis slightly forward. If you choose a chair, be sure that your thighs are parallel with your feet flat on the floor. If possible, sit in a straight chair, possibly with a small cushion, that lets your body follow the other pointers below.

 

 

 

SEVEN-POINTED POSTURE:

 

Traditionally we try to align our bodies with these seven guidelines, designed to let your body help your mind to be neither agitated nor sleepy, but calm and alert. 

 

Legs and Feet:  In a chair, your feet should be flat on the floor and your thighs parallel to the floor, with your knees at a 90 degree angle. On a cushion, sit cross-legged, but don’t put one leg on top of the other—put one heel in front of the other ankle. To lessen stress on knees, flex your toes, push your feet toward each other, and tense your inner thighs toward each other. If sitting cross-legged is really painful for any part of your body, sit in a chair, and consider taking some yoga classes. The traditional leg position for Tibetan meditation is the lotus or half-lotus position (padmasana): the legs are crossed with the back of each foot resting on the opposite leg. If this position doesn’t come easily to you, you should definitely take yoga class to increase your flexibility before trying to use it. “My legs go to sleep”: The numbness followed by tingling that some people may experience when sitting for longer periods is caused by pressure on a nerve, not blood supply being cut off. It’s distracting, so you should try to play with the position of your cushion and your legs until you find a way to sit that doesn’t press on the nerve.

 

Spine: Most important: sit with a straight back. Your goal is to make your spine as straight as you can, from the top of your head to your tailbone. There is a natural S in the spine, but it should be a long gentle curve, not cramped or bowed at the hips or shoulders. Positioning your pelvis well can help you with the alignment of the spine. Sit on your sitzbones (the bottom of the pelvis--you’ll feel them if you sit on your hands). To bring your pelvis into a neutral, balanced position, first arch your back to push your buttocks back, creating a deep inward curve in your lower back. Then use your abdominal muscles to pull your tailbone down, making the curve longer and gentler. If your back begins to ache while sitting, try pulling up with your abdomen again. The abdominal muscles need to help support the back, but shouldn’t be rigid and tense.

 

Shoulders: Your shoulders should be back and down. To do this, raise them toward your ears, then bring them back, then slide them down your back. And then soften—you’re not trying to be at military attention, but you do want an open chest. Your arms should fall loosely from your shoulders, not pressing tightly to your body. We use a traditional position for the hands: Support your right hand with your left hand and raise your thumbs to touch each other, forming a diamond shape. Relax your arms and hold your hands a four-finger width below your navel.

 

Neck and head: Your neck should be an extension of your spine. To straighten the neck, make a double chin, then lean your head down, slightly—and again, relax and soften.

 

Mouth: Relax the muscles of your face completely. This will allow your lips to part slightly.

 

Tongue:  Relax your jaw, creating a slight space between your teeth. Your tongue should press against your palate, just above your front teeth.

 

Eyes: If your eyes are wide open, you’ll be distracted by things you see, but if they’re entirely closed, you’ll be tempted to doze or daydream. Instead, your eyes should be slightly open, with your focus on empty space just beyond your nose (but don’t cross your eyes). Don’t try to force your eyes to stay exactly half-open, but close them completely and then open gradually until you find a point you can maintain. This will be come easy with a little practice.

 

Daily Meditation Prayers: Homage and Refuge

Homage and prostrations:  Since Buddha is not a god, but an awakened human, when we say prayers we are not asking a separate being to come and intervene from outside. Instead, we are trying to activate the Buddha within. At the beginning of our meditations, we do prostrations (a way of bowing) to show respect for the teacher and the teachings, and to remind ourselves that we are not so big and important and separate.  We say “Namo Manjushiri” which means “I pay honor to wisdom.”

 

Taking Refuge: Taking refuge means focusing on one thing and not trying to look at every other possibility. We take refuge in the teacher (Guru and Buddha), the teachings (Dharma), and the others who practice the teachings (Sangha), meaning that we will attempt to understand and work with those concepts and attitudes right now. When we take refuge for a meditation session, we mean that we will meditate in a Buddhist way just for that period.  When some people practice for many years, they decide that they want to commit to Buddhism for the rest of their lives, and then they take refuge in a ceremony with a teacher.

 

Of course, you never need to say any prayers that you are not comfortable saying. It’s always fine just to sit quietly and listen to others pray or say mantras.

 

Prayers of Homage and Refuge:

Homage: 

I Pay Homage To The Buddha
I Pay Homage To The Dharma
I Pay Homage To The Sangha

(repeat 3 times)

 

Refuge:

 

I Go For Refuge In The Guru
I Go For Refuge In The Buddha
I Go For Refuge In The Dharma
I Go For Refuge In The Sangha

  (Repeat 3 times)

 

MEDITATION—10 MINUTES

DAY THREE

Buddhist Ideas:  What is the Dharma?

The word dharma can have many meanings, but here we use it to refer to the teachings that originated with the Buddha:

 

a.       Four Noble Truths—The Dharma is the teaching, the understanding that is necessary to end delusion and suffering. At the heart of the Dharma are the Four Noble Truths that Shakyamuni Buddha realized and taught:

·         Suffering exists. Imperfections are an inevitable part of every life. Dukkha, the Sanskrit word translated here as suffering, means not only terrible agony but also little irritations and dissatisfactions.

·         Suffering has a cause.  Suffering arises from our desires for pleasure, security, and identity—desires that can’t ever be satisfied because they are based on false ideas about our minds, our selves, and the nature of existence.

·         Suffering can be ended.  Although all sentient beings encounter dissatisfaction and unhappiness, it is possible to end the suffering that we experience.

·         The end of suffering is reached by following the Eightfold Path. Buddha’s teachings on the way to end suffering are divided into eight aspects. The Eightfold Path includes wisdom (right view, right intention), ethical conduct (right speech, right action, right livelihood), and mental development (right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration). 

 

b.      The Noble Eight-fold Path:

·         Right view means understanding the nature of reality

·         Right intention means being aware of our intention and not intending to cause harm

·          Right speech means not lying, not using harsh language, not getting lost in idle chit-chat.

·         Right action means following the Five Precepts: 

1.       Do not harm any sentient being

2.       Do not take what is not freely offered

3.       Do not speak harmfully

4.       Do not use sex to harm other sentient beings physically or emotionally

5.       Do not confuse your mind with substance abuse

·         Right livelihood means not profiting from harm to any sentient being.

·         Right effort means working with joy, without attachment to results

·         Right mindfulness means focusing on our real experience in the present moment

·         Right concentration means focused attention.

VIDEO:

 

 

MEDITATION PRACTICE: CALMING THE MIND

 

The mind in meditation:  Our teacher, Geshe Dakpa Topgyal says:

 

 In our ordinary, non-meditating state of mind, we can only get rid of the symptoms of unhappiness, while the root cause is still intact.  Meditation helps us to realize that mind is the source of both happiness and unhappiness.

 

Can we really be happy against our will?  Our unhappiness arises when something goes against our wishes.  Happiness is subjective.  If it was objective, we would always be happy in the midst of positive circumstances. Therefore obtaining the objects of desire can not make us happy.  We lack two understandings:

1.       Objects, people, and events alone do not have the force to make us happy unless our perception is correct, clear, and healthy.

2.       The pleasure we are seeking is momentary and temporary.  Before our first experience of happiness ends another desire, another need for more has arisen.

 

What we perceive as making us happy ultimately is the opposite – unexpected unhappiness.

 

Meditation leads us to understand the intricate relationship between the mind and the world, between perception and the world around you: how the mind affects the physical world as opposed to how the world affect the mind, and how the mind is constantly creating something on the object so that it appears different from what it is in reality.  These are the imposition of the fabrications of the mind.

 

If mind is in a blank state where not sensing anything – this is not meditation.  Meditation is a state of mind or being where you are fully present in the intense awareness living from moment to moment without taking memory of first moment to the next moment.  The object of meditation is nowhere other than only in that moment.

 

 

Meditation is not a blank mind, not just relaxing and dreaming, but it does require a calm mind and body. If you set up a pattern of preparation for meditation, you’ll find that your mind begins to associate those actions with calmness. You can also use some practices that will help your mind move towards the stillness of meditation.

Techniques for Focusing the Mind:

Same time and place: If you can always meditate at the same time (perhaps soon after waking up, for example, or in the evening after supper), you establish a routine that will become habit, and your body and mind will recognize the time when it comes each day. If you choose a regular place to sit, that will also train your mind to become calm when you sit there.

 

The meditation environment:  If possible, choose a place to sit that is quiet, though perfect silence is probably difficult to find. The “white noise” of a heater or fan may be better than many small sounds, but you will learn gradually to cope with outside distractions. Do let other people know not to bother you for your meditation period. Pets will sometimes sit with you quietly, but if they demand attention, find a place where they can’t bother you. You don’t have to dim the lights, but avoid bright lights shining in your face.

 

Preparations for meditation:  The traditional preparations for meditation are cleaning the meditation space and making it pleasant. You may not need to physically clean each day, but when you do, make your cleaning symbolize clearing away the cares of everyday life and turning to the free space of meditation. If you set out flowers, candles, those actions too can represent bringing your open mind forward.

 

Prayers, mantras, readings: Reciting prayers or poems or mantras, or reading something aloud, is an additional way of reminding your mind and body to settle into meditation, especially if you use the same words each time.

 

Pranayama:  Try using deep diaphragm breathing, three-part breathing, or alternate-nostril breathing to calm the body and mind before meditation. Once you start meditating, let the breath just happen—don’t try to breath in any special way.

 

Counting the breath: When you actually sit down to meditate, at first you will use only this technique until you’ve established the habit of calming the mind. You will simply focus on your breath, noticing it as it goes in and out, feeling it from the time it enters your nose all the way down to the bottom of your lungs, and then back out. To make sure your mind doesn’t wander, you may count your breaths (up to 10, 21, or 49, as you choose) and then count backwards down to 1. Start by counting to 10 and then back to 1, and if you lose count or continue on past 1, start over. You should count each time you breathe in and out as one number.

 

Fixing and re-fixing the mind: Your goal at this point is to focus all your concentration on your mind—you try to empty your mind of all conceptual thoughts about anything, including whether you’re meditating well! But your mind will tend to stray. Don’t be frustrated or angry with yourself when your mind wanders; just notice that you’re no longer thinking about the breath and start over.

 

Patience and Determination:     Meditation is a skill, and a mental skill develops slowly with many repetitions (just like physical skill). You will start to cultivate patience with yourself, just peacefully starting over each time your mind wanders. You’ll need to use determination, so remind yourself of your reason for meditating and take yourself to your cushion each day, even when you’re tempted to skip it.

 

Time:  Use a timer such as your phone to set the time so you don’t think about the clock. Start with five minutes each day for a week, and then move up to ten. After you have done this for a couple of weeks, you’ll be ready for the next step.

 

Concluding the meditation: Sit still for a moment at the end of the period to let your mind gradually come back to the world. Closing with a dedicational prayer helps remind you that the meditation period is a special time, different from the rush and frenzy of ordinary life.

 

 

 

Daily Meditation Prayers of Offering, Regret, and Rejoicing

 

Some of the prayers we say are prayers of offering—we may actually make offerings of real things like water, or we may offer imagined things like flowers, jewels, even the whole world (represented by the mandala). We don’t make these offerings because the statue of the Buddha has any need for water or flowers.  We make the offering as a way of reminding ourselves of the value of the teachings, worth more than any jewels. We also make the offerings to remind us that true freedom comes by giving up our attachment to our possessions and the other things we cling to.

 

We also make prayers that help us think about the things we’ve done that we regret so that we can resolve never to do them again. Another part of the prayer reminds us to rejoice in what we’ve done well, and also to be happy for the goodness of other people. We are especially thankful to have these teachings, and we say that we hope that the teachings will never be lost. Giving the teachings is called “turning the wheel of Dharma.”

 

Mudra of offering: sometimes you’ll see practitioners holding their hands in a certain way to help them focus on the meaning of the offering prayer.  We can show you this, but you don’t have to do it.

 

Prayers of Homage, Refuge, Offering, Regret, and Rejoicing
Homage: 

I Pay Homage To The Buddha
I Pay Homage To The Dharma
I Pay Homage To The Sangha

(repeat 3 times)

 

Refuge:

 

I Go For Refuge In The Guru
I Go For Refuge In The Buddha
I Go For Refuge In The Dharma
I Go For Refuge In The Sangha

  (Repeat 3 times)

 

Offering, Regret, and Rejoicing:

 

(Seven-Limbed Prayer)


With my body, speech, and mind, humbly i prostrate,
and make offerings both set out and imagined.
I confess my wrong deeds from all time,
and rejoice in the virtues of all.
Please stay until entire samsara ceases.
And turn the wheel of Dharma for us.
I dedicate all virtues to great enlightenment.


(Mandala Offering )

Here is the great earth
filled with the smell of incense,
covered with a blanket of flowers,
   the great mountain,
   the four continents,
   wearing a jewel of the sun and moon.
In my mind, I make them the paradise of a buddha,
and offer it all to you.
   By this deed may
   every living being,
   experience the pure world.


MEDITATION-15 MINUTES

 

DAY FOUR

BUDDHIST IDEAS:  Emptiness, wisdom, enlightenment

 

Emptiness:  The Sanskrit word sunyata has customarily been translated as emptiness,  so we’ll use that word, but do let it be confusing.  To say that things are empty does not mean saying that they don’t exist. Instead, we mean that things don’t have a separate, permanent  existence. It’s the distortion caused by our ignorance that makes us believe that things do have this inherent and permanent way of existing, and that leads to our suffering, because then we go on to think that these separate and permanent things have the power to cause our happiness.  When we understand emptiness, we will see that all things are the result of causes and conditions,  and thus are always dependent on other things and always changing.

 

Wisdom: Wisdom is the understanding of emptiness. First we understand it in an intellectual way, by listening to teachings, talking about it, analyzing things in an intellectual way. Eventually we see the world as empty spontaneously and intuitively. Wisdom can also refer to understanding the Dharma in general.  It’s a little different from practical knowledge, which Buddhists usually call “skillful means.”

 

Enlightenment: Enlightenment comes as a result of wisdom, compassion, and practice. It is the ultimate realization of the truth of existence. Enlightenment can happen during life or in the Bardo (the existence between rebirths), and once a being is enlightened, it is freed from the cycle of death and rebirth.

 

(VIDEO: Life of Buddha  4900-5700 (8 min)

 

MEDITATION PRACTICE: MINDFULNESS IN DAILY LIFE

 


In addition to our concentrated practice of shamata, there’s another way of working with the mind that can reinforce the effects of our practice is mindfulness (Smriti in Sanskrit). Mindfulness is one of those things that appears to be simple but has profound effects. To practice mindfulness, simply be aware of what you are doing, without judging or analyzing. Focus on your perception of the present moment, not on memories of the past or plans and dreams of the future.

 

It’s clearest to start with mindfulness of the body, very much like the awareness of the breath in meditation. Just focus on what you can taste, smell, feel, hear, or see.  If you’re walking, feel your feet touch the ground. If you’re eating, notice the taste and texture of each bite. If you find yourself judging, analyzing, remembering, dreaming, just come back to the sensation of the moment.

 

Later you can move to mindfulness of the emotions. If you are happy, bored, irritated, confused, etc., don’t get caught up in the story of why you feel that way and  what you want to do about it. Just notice the feeling, the same way you notice your breath in meditation. Again, you’re not yourself judging, analyzing, remembering, dreaming—just being aware of the feeling

 

Eventually you can also be mindful of your thoughts, but wait until you feel comfortable with the body and the emotions. It’s a subtle process that develops gradually, and letting go of judgments and plans is not easy.

 

The opposite of mindfulness is conceptual thought, which is what you’re experiencing right now as you read this discussion. You’re putting things in categories, comparing them, considering the relations of cause and effect, etc.   This is not a bad thing to do! But you’ve done it all your life, so now try not doing it occasionally.

 

Brief mindfulness practice (5 minutes)

 

Daily Meditation Prayers:  Sanskrit Mantras of Purification, Offering, and Meditation

 

The language of  Buddha’s original teaching was Pali, but the language of priests and scholars in India was Sanskrit (neither is spoken any longer). Most of the teachings were taken to Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan in Sanskrit, and then translated into the local languages. Some  things were never translated.  In the Hindu culture, it was believed that that the Sanskrit words had spiritual power. Often these mantras can’t really be translated into English sentences that make sense, though some can.

 

Mantras are short sentences that contain special strength for focusing our mind. Some people us Malas (like rosaries) to count repetitions of mantras , so that repeating a mantra can be a form of meditation. In our daily prayers, we repeat them only a few times—usually three, seven, or twenty-one times.

 

Mantra of purification: OM VAJRA SATTO HUNG PHED

 

This mantra is mostly the repetito of the name of the Buddha of purification, Vajrasattva, and special syllables associated with him. It is used to focus the mind on actions that have caused harm, on our regret for doing those actions, and on our firm resolve never to do them again.

 

Mandala Offering Mantra:    IDAM GURU RATNA MANDALAKAM NIRYATAYAMI

 

This literally means “I offer this jeweled mandala to the Teacher,” and like other offerings, is used to focus on releasing our attachments.

 

Prajnaparamita (Great Perfection) Mantra : 
TAYATA GATÉ GATÉ PARAGATÉ PARASAMGATÉ BODHI SOHA

 

Literally, this means “Gone, Gone, Gone Beyond, Gone Completely Beyond” and focuses the mind on the awareness resulting from meditation.

 

Daily Meditation Prayers:

 


Homage: 

I Pay Homage To The Buddha
I Pay Homage To The Dharma
I Pay Homage To The Sangha

(repeat 3 times)

 

Refuge:

 

I Go For Refuge In The Guru
I Go For Refuge In The Buddha
I Go For Refuge In The Dharma
I Go For Refuge In The Sangha

  (Repeat 3 times)

 

 

(Seven-Limbed Prayer)


With my body, speech, and mind, humbly i prostrate,
and make offerings both set out and imagined.
I confess my wrong deeds from all time,
and rejoice in the virtues of all.
Please stay until entire samsara ceases.
And turn the wheel of Dharma for us.
I dedicate all virtues to great enlightenment.

Purification Mantra

OM VAJRA SATTO HUNG PHED
       (Repeat either 3, 7, 21, or 108 times)


(Mandala Prayer)

Here is the great earth
filled with the smell of incense,
covered with a blanket of flowers,
   the great mountain,
   the four continents,
   wearing a jewel of the sun and moon.
In my mind, I make them the paradise of a buddha,
and offer it all to you.
   By this deed may
   every living being,
   experience the pure world.


Mandala Offering Mantra

IDAM GURU RATNA MANDALAKAM NIRYATAYAMI
  

Shamata, the Calm Abiding Meditation (15 minutes)

 

Prajnaparamita (Great Perfection) Mantra

TAYATA GATÉ GATÉ PARAGATÉ PARASAMGATÉ BODHI SOHA
       (Repeat either 3, 7, 21, or 108 times)

 

DAY FIVE

 

BUDDHIST IDEAS:  COMPASSION AND BODHICITTA

 

The third jewel is the sangha, a Sanskrit term that can have several meanings:

 

·         Community of fellow students—Sangha also is used to refer to the community of practitioners, the fellow students who share the path with us and encourage us in our practice.

·         Ordained nuns and monks--Those who have taken monastic vows are also known as Sangha. Their teachings, prayers, and practice help all sentient beings.

·         Arya Sangha—The Arya Sangha are the beings who have had direct realization of the true nature of reality.  Some lived many years ago and some are reincarnated as living beings at this time--for example, Tibetans and many others believe that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion,  Avalokiteshvara (called Chenresig in Tibetan).


We can’t separate wisdom and compassion. Once we understand that we are not really separate, isolated beings, but exist in a state of interdependence, we realized that all sentient beings are like us, wishing to be happy. That leads us to feel great compassion for them, and leads to the understanding of the need for ethics and the nature of karma.

 

 

 Wisdom and compassion—Wisdom in Buddhist teachings usually means the wisdom of understanding the ultimately empty nature of  the existence of all things, including the impermanence of all things and their interdependence (understanding that everything exists as a result of causes and conditions that support existence). Compassion is not pity, but the recognition of our kinship and similarity to all sentient beings, and the overwhelming desire to help all who suffer, and the understanding that all beings have a natural birthright to happiness. “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”  Pema Chodron

Bodhicitta-- The powerful to become enlightened in order to help all beings end suffering is the highest form of compassion.

Karma and ethics—Karma is not fate, but the natural law of cause and effect, like the laws of physics: all intentional actions lead to inevitable consequences. Ethical conduct helps us live in a way that will lead to good consequences for all sentient beings, especially ourselves. Ethical precepts include not harming other sentient beings, not taking things that are not freely offered, not speaking falsely or harshly, not abusing others sexually, and not confusing the mind with abused substances.

Rebirth—Reincarnation, in Buddhist thought, occurs only when enlightened beings choose a rebirth to help others. For most other sentient beings, rebirth is a result of the karma of our past actions. Only a very subtle consciousness moves from one lifetime to the next, so memory of past lives is very rare.

 

MEDITATION: Problems and Antidotes

 

Clarity and Stability:  Meditation that will benefit us has these two characteristics.

 

Clarity is complete, lucid perception of the object of meditation.

 

Stability is maintenance of an unbroken focus on the object.

 

You won’t sit down for the first time and achieve perfect clarity and stability. It will take a period of trial and error, of recognizing problems and overcoming them.

 

The quality of your meditation is always more important than the quantity. If you are sitting and your body or mind is absolutely not cooperating, it’s better to wait and try again later. However, many problems can be overcome with the right antidotes.

 

Motivation and intention:

If you find yourself forgetting to meditate, or not making progress, it’s good to remember why you originally started out to meditate. Have the problems that made you long for peace and a focused mind vanished, or are they still there? Helpful also is setting the intention to meditate well, each time you sit.



Vigilance:

The part of you that notices that you’re distracted or sleepy is the vigilant part of your mind. With vigilance, you notice that you’re no longer focused on the object, or that you have just a vague idea that the object is somewhere in your mind. Vigilance allows you to make progress, by being aware of the quality of your meditation. It’s not the same thing as conceptual thinking about meditation, but just the awareness of where you are— right here, on the cushion, focused on the object, or off in some distorted vision of another place or time.

 

Obstacles as opportunities:

If only our practice could be perfect the first time! If only our minds didn’t wander and our knees didn’t ache, if only the phone never rang…if all these things were true, our practice wouldn’t grow strong. It is working against the distractions that develops our ability to concentrate.

 

Good days and bad days:

As with anything else, you’ll have good days in meditation when it’s easy to stay calm and focused, and you’ll have bad days when your mind is jumping around like a caged wild animal. Don’t despair when the bad days come—the next day will probably be much better. Just try again.

 

External distractions:

Lawn mowers, sirens, barking dogs, garbage trucks, the TV in the next room—there’s no end to the things that start to happen when we sit down to meditate. If you know you’re always in a noisy environment and you can’t change it, try earplugs—they work for many people. “White noise” is another option—go somewhere that has so much noise that it all blurs together into a dull roar. But also remember the times you’ve been so absorbed in what you were doing or reading (or even thinking!) that you didn’t hear what someone said to you. That shows you that you have the ability to ignore the outside stimuli, if you are concentrating hard enough. And that’s the goal.

 

 

Physical problems:

 

Though great yogis can meditate perfectly in any physical condition, for those of us not yet so adept it’s important to eliminate any physical problems that can make meditation difficult.

 

Posture and seat: As you sit for a longer time, you may find that your back aches or your legs go to sleep. If that’s happening to you, review the details of posture we discussed on the second night—things that didn’t matter when you sat for five minutes may become problems when you’re holding a posture for a longer time.  

 

Body and mind games: However, remember again that your mind is a wily beast that will use whatever it can to resist your efforts to tame it—including your body. Sometimes it helps just to notice a minor itch or twinge, and decide that you will sit anyway without moving. When you don’t let small discomforts become an excuse not to focus your mind, often they will go away.

 

The body you bring to the cushion: If you’re sleepy, exhausted, overheated, full of food—you’re probably not going to sit well. Your mind will be dull and fuzzy. Try to get enough sleep and plan your meditation time so it’s not a time when you’re dopy from eating or cold medications, for example. If you’re agitated from caffeine or sugar, your mind is going to be bouncing around, out of control. See if a little less of these will help you sit in a calm, alert frame of mind.

 

 

Mental Problems

 

Doubt and confusion: In western culture, we get used to quick fixes and things that work immediately. Taking the time to develop a meditation practice can make us doubtful that it works—to overcome that, we need to consider the long experience of meditators in other cultures and the vast amount of scientific research that’s been done, showing the real benefits. We can also trust that this particular method has been used for hundreds of years, so it’s not some gimmick someone just thought up. Other methods exist, but following one path is more likely to lead us to our destination than constantly changing when things grow difficult.

 

We can also doubt ourselves: we can feel that we’re too scattered, too impatient to learn to sit still and meditate. But everyone, even the Buddha himself, started with the same ordinary human mind. Remind yourself that you are working with the same material that every meditator works with, your own mind with all its problems, and having more problems just means you have more material to work with.

 

Conceptualizing: Meditation is not thinking about the object, but a still awareness of it. When you finding yourself analyzing, remembering, projecting, telling yourself stories, or in any other way thinking about the object rather than of it, you are getting away from the purpose of meditation.

 

Following the Story: There are forms of meditation that can be used to focus on feeling or even on thought itself, but even with these, we try to stay present in the moment, aware of what is happening in our mind. We try not to allow ourselves to “follow the story”—that means that we try not to focus on memories of the past or plans for the future, but instead try to stay with our present experience.

 

Being Excited: When your mind is excited, it’s hard to keep focused on the object of meditation. New ideas rush in despite your good intentions. Ironically, sometimes we even get excited when we notice we’re meditating well. If you’ve eliminated physical causes of agitation, and returned to your motivation, the best antidote for excitement is to keep returning to the object of meditation. Eventually you will become calmer. If something particularly wonderful or terrible has happened, it can be a struggle—and sometimes, that’s just not the best time to meditate.

 

Being Scattered: Being scattered is not so much an occasional thing as it is a way of thinking, but again, reminding yourself of your motivation for sitting is an important way of bringing your mind into focus.  Also, try to set as a goal that you’ll notice more quickly when you’re distracted, so you can continue to return to the object. Sitting for a long period of time in a scattered frame of mind isn’t a good practice—instead, try sitting for several short sessions, and then for one of the sessions, gradually increase the time (by a minute or so each day), until you have gained some ability to keep your mind on the object.

 

Being Lax: A lax mind is dull, foggy, sluggish, rather than alert and focused. Laxity is a characteristic of a mind entering a sleep stage, not the meditating mind.  It’s possible to use the rhythm of the breath to fall into a sort of trance, neither awake nor asleep. If you eliminate the physical causes, the best way to deal with laxity is to become mindful of the difference between an alert mind and a just-barely-awake mind, and to use vigilance to notice when our focus on the object loses its sharpness. Sometimes meditation can make you feel a little gloomy or sad—that’s another way that laxity manifests itself, and that little gloominess will eventually disappear if you continue to meditate.

 

Balance: The Middle Path

 

Achieving the calm, alert focus that will enable us to see through our delusions is often a balancing act. We notice that we don’t have clarity, and we work so hard that we become stressed and excited; we notice that we’re rigid and we relax so much that we become groggy. Vigilance will help us notice when we’ve overcorrected and gone too far in the other direction. Remember that developing a meditation practice takes time as well as patience and determination.

  

 

Prayers of Compassion

 

Generating Bodhicitta: Bodhicitta is the wish for enlightenment in order to free all sentient beings from suffering.

Four Immeasurables: The Four are Love, Compassion, Joy, and equanimity. We wish for all beings to have these, and their causes.

 

Dedication of Merit:  Merit is the spiritual energy that accumulates through good practices. It cannot be hoarded, so we dedicate it to all sentient beings. We wish for an end to conflict, suffering, and illness, and for enlightenment for all beings.

 

 

Complete Daily Meditation Prayers


Homage: 

 

I Pay Homage To The Buddha
I Pay Homage To The Dharma
I Pay Homage To The Sangha

(repeat 3 times)

 

Refuge:

 

I Go For Refuge In The Guru
I Go For Refuge In The Buddha
I Go For Refuge In The Dharma
I Go For Refuge In The Sangha

  (Repeat 3 times)

 

Generating Bodhicitta

I go for refuge until I am enlightened to the Buddhas, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
From the virtuous merit that I accumulate by practicing giving and other perfections,
May I attain the state of Buddha to be fully able to benefit all mother sentient beings.

   (Repeat 3 times)

 

 

The Four Immeasureables (Love, Compassion, Joy, Equanimity)


May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all sentient beings be free from sufferings and the causes of suffering.
May all sentient beings never be separated from the happiness that is free from suffering.
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free from attachment and anger that hold some close and others distant.
  (Repeat 3 times)

 

 

Seven-Limbed Prayer


With my body, speech, and mind, humbly i prostrate,
and make offerings both set out and imagined.
I confess my wrong deeds from all time,
and rejoice in the virtues of all.
Please stay until entire samsara ceases.
And turn the wheel of Dharma for us.
I dedicate all virtues to great enlightenment.


OM VAJRA SATTO HUNG PHED
       (Repeat either 3, 7, 21, or 108 times)

Mandala Prayer

Here is the great earth
filled with the smell of incense,
covered with a blanket of flowers,
   the great mountain,
   the four continents,
   wearing a jewel of the sun and moon.
In my mind, I make them the paradise of a buddha,
and offer it all to you.
   By this deed may
   every living being,
   experience the pure world.


Mandala Offering Mantra

 

IDAM GURU RATNA MANDALAKAM NIRYATAYAMI
  


Shamata, the Calm Abiding Meditation (20 minutes if possible)

 

Prajnaparamita (Great Perfection) Mantra

TAYATA GATÉ GATÉ PARAGATÉ PARASAMGATÉ BODHI SOHA
       (Repeat either 3, 7, 21, or 108 times)

Dedication Prayers

May there be no illness, dispute, or war
at all existing levels, from home to the universe.
May everyone experience joy, peace, and spiritual splendors,
May the glory and riches of goodness ever increase.

 

May all who are sick and ill quickly be freed from their ailments.
Whatever diseases there are in the world, may they never occur again.

By the goodness of what I have just done,
may all beings complete the accumulation
of merit and wisdom,
and thus gain the two ultimate bodies that merit and wisdom make

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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