Saturday, January 9, 2016

Buddhist Meditation Basics

Francis Story/Anagarika Sugatananda ("Buddhist Meditation,"; Seth Auberon, Amber Larson, Crystal Quintero (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly; Ven. Walpola Rahula
Meditation rebuilds neurons and recovers the "mind" that knows in the heart.
The breath leads to absorption.
The mental exercise known as "meditation" is found in all spiritual systems.

Prayer can be a form of discursive meditation, and in Hinduism the reciting of slokas and mantras is employed to tranquilize the mind to a state of receptivity.

In most of these systems the goal is identified with the particular psychic results that ensue, sometimes very quickly. The visions that come in the semi-trance state or the sounds that are heard are considered to be the end-result of the exercise. This is not the case in the forms of meditation practiced in Buddhism. (These things can happen but are not the goal).
There is still comparatively little known about the mind, its functions and its powers, and it is difficult for most people to distinguish between self-hypnosis, the development of mediumistic states, and the real process of mental clarification and direct perception, which is the object of Buddhist mental concentration.

FREE VERSION: What the Buddha Taught
The fact that mystics of every tradition have induced on themselves states wherein they see visions and hear voices that are in accordance with their own religious beliefs indicates that their meditation has resulted only in bringing to the surface of the mind and objectifying the concepts already embedded in the deepest strata of their subconscious.
The Christian sees and converses with Christian saints, the Hindu visualizes the gods of the Vedic pantheon, and so on. When Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the Bengali mystic, began to turn his thoughts towards Christianity, he saw visions of Jesus in his meditations, in place of his former eidetic images of the Hindu avatars (physical incarnations of the gods).
The practiced hypnotic subject becomes more and more readily able to surrender to the suggestions made by the hypnotizer, and anyone who has studied this subject is bound to see a connection between the mental state of compliance reached and the facility with which the mystic can induce whatever kind of experiences he or she wills to undergo.

There is still another possibility latent in the practice of meditation: the development of mediumistic faculties by which the subject can actually see and hear beings on different planes of existence, the delightful deva planes and the subhuman niraya lokas like the realm of the unhappy ghosts, for example. These worlds being nearest to our own are the more readily accessible, and this is the true explanation of the psychic phenomena of Western spiritualism.

The object of Buddhist meditation, however, is none of these things. They may arise as side-products, but not only are they not the goal, they often become hindrances which have to be overcome.

The Christian who has seen Christ, or the Hindu who has conversed with Krishna may be quite satisfied that the goal has been fulfilled along with the purpose of religious life. But the Buddhist who sees a vision of the Buddha knows by that very fact that meditation has only succeeded in objectifying a concept in the mind, for the Buddha after his final passing into nirvana (parinibbana) is, in his own words, no longer visible to humans or devas [except in terms of the Dharma and Dependent Origination].

Buddhist meditation
Shakyamuni Buddha, Sukhothai, Thailand (Korawee Ratchapakdee/
There is an essential difference, then, between Buddhist meditation (on intensive retreat or in daily life) and concentration and that practiced in other systems. The Buddhist embarking on a course of meditation does well to recognize this difference and to establish in the conscious mind a clear idea of what it is meditation is trying to do.
The root-cause of rebirth and disappointment or suffering is ignorance (avijja) conjoined with and reacting upon craving (tanha). These two causes form a vicious circle -- on the one hand, concepts -- the result of ignorance -- and on the other hand, desire arising from concepts.

The world of phenomena has no meaning beyond the meaning given to it by our own interpretation. When that interpretation is conditioned by ignorance, we are subject to the state known as hallucination or perversion or distortion (vipallasa).

True nature of existence
Self is a deep, deep illusion.
Hallucination of perception (sañña-vipallasa), hallucination of consciousness (citta-vipallasa), and hallucination of views (ditthi-vipallasa) cause us to regard what is impermanent (anicca) as permanent, what is disappointing (dukkha) as a source of actual pleasure, and what is unreal, illusory, or literally without self-existence (anatta) as being a real, self-existing entity.

Consequently, we place a false interpretation on all of the sensory experiences we gain through the six channels of cognition, the sense bases that bring in information, that is, the eye, ear, nose, tongue, tactile sense, and mind (ayatana).

By showing that the realm of phenomena we know through these channels of cognition does not really correspond to the physical world known to science, physics has confirmed this Buddhist truth: We are deluded and misled by our own senses or at least our untrained interpretation of sense stimuli.

Pursuing what we imagine to be desirable, an object of pleasure, we are in reality only following a shadow, grasping at a mirage. It is in flux, unpleasant, and unreal (Three Characteristics: anicca, dukkha, anatta) -- impermanent, associated with suffering, and insubstantial.

Being so, it can only be the cause of impermanence, disappointment, and insubstantiality because like begets like. And we ourselves, who chase the illusion, are also impermanent, subject to disappointment and suffering and devoid of any persistent ego-principle. It is a case of a shadow pursuing a shadow. 

Purpose of Buddhist Meditation
The best book on the "basics" of Buddhism is What the Buddha Taught
The purpose of Buddhist meditation, therefore, is to gain more than an intellectual understanding of this truth.

It is to liberate ourselves from the delusion and thereby put an end to both ignorance and craving and, as a direct result, make an end of all suffering.

If the meditation does not produce results tending to this consummation -- results which are observable in the character and the whole attitude to life -- it is clear that there is something wrong either with the system or with the method of employing it.
It is not enough to see lights, have visions, or experience ecstasy. These phenomena are too common to be impressive to the Buddhist who really understands the purpose of Buddhist meditation. There are actual dangers in them, which are apparent to one who is also a student of psychopathology.
In the Buddha's great discourse on the practice of mindfulness, the Greater Establishing of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness Discourse (Maha-Satipatthana Sutra), both the object and the means of attaining it are clearly set forth:

Metta and wisdom = liberation.
Attentiveness to the disposition of the body and to the ever-changing states of the mind are cultivated in order that their real nature should become known.

Instead of identifying these physical and mental phenomena with the false concept of "self," we see them as they really are: movements of a physical body, an aggregate of the Four Elements subject to physical laws of causality on the one hand, and on the other, a flux of successive phases of consciousness arising and passing away in response to external stimuli.

Viewed objectively, they are processes. They are not concrete things associated with ourselves but belong to yet another order of phenomena.

From what can selfishness and egotism proceed if not from the concept of "self"? If the practice of any form of meditation leaves selfishness or egotism unabated, it has not been successful. A tree is judged by its fruits and a person by actions; there is no other criterion. This is particularly true in Buddhist psychology, because a person in a sense is her or his actions (karma).

In the truest sense actions, or the continuity of karma and vipaka (action and its resultants and fruits) which they represent, are the only claim one can make to any persisting identity, not only through the different phases of this life but also from one life to another and another.

Attentiveness with regard to body and mind serves to break down the illusion of self. And not only that, it also cuts off craving and attachment to external objects, so that ultimately there is neither the "self" that craves nor any object of craving. It can be a long and arduous discipline, one that be undertaken quickly by temporarily retiring from the world and its cares.
The Buddha, Longmen Grottoes Luoyang, China (Henan Tourism/
For even by a temporary retirement, a temporary course of this liberating discipline, can bear good results in that it establishes an attitude of mind which can be applied to some degree in the ordinary situations of life.

Detachment gives rise to objectivity, an invaluable aid to clear thinking. It enables a person to sum up a given situation without bias, personal or otherwise, and to act in that situation with courage and discretion.

Another gift it bestows is that of concentration -- the ability to focus the mind and keep it steadily fixed on a single point (ekaggata), and this is the great secret to success in any undertaking.

The mind is hard to tame: it roams here and there as restlessly as the wind. It is like an untamed horse, but when it is fully under control, it is the most powerful instrument in the universe. One who has mastered one's own mind/heart is indeed master of the Three Worlds (sensual, fine material, and immaterial).
In the first place, one is without fear. Fear arises because we associate mind and body (nama-rupa) with "self"; consequently any harm to either is considered to be harm to oneself. But one who has broken down this illusion by realizing that the Five Group (khandha) process is merely the manifestation of cause and effect, does not fear death or misfortune.

One remains equable alike in success and failure, is unaffected by praise or blame. The only thing one fears is demeritorious action (bad karma that brings harm and suffering), because one knows that no thing or person in the world can harm us except ourselves.

And as detachment increases, one becomes less and less liable to demeritorious deeds. Unwholesome action comes of an unwholesome mind/heart, so as the mind becomes purified, healed of its disorders, bad karma ceases to accumulate. One comes to harbor a kind of horror of doing wrong, of engaging in harmful actions.

One instead takes greater and greater delight in those deeds that are rooted in nongreed, nonhatred, and nondelusion -- generosity, benevolence, and wisdom. TO BE CONTINUED

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