Thursday, August 27, 2015

What is Buddhist "meditation" really?

Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Teri Mei, Crystal Quintero, Ashley Wells, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly
Meditation mudra (hand pose or gesture) with mala (bead necklace) (
Thai Dhammakaya (
The meditation instructor said, "Let's pay more attention to this" pointing all around. "Instead of spacing out and going away, stay."

That was the instruction, "Stay"? Does he know how uncomfortable it is here? It seems he does. He's meditated much more than we have and more successfully. "Stay"? He assures us there are many valuable things for us to learn in this dimension, in this illusory reality, in this here-nowness of time and space.

We are certainly here for one or more reasons. And somehow, by our previous karma, we choose to be here.
Am I in trance yet? Whiskey & Yoga
It's hard to know for sure. But does it not sometimes seem that it is a punishment to be on Earth now under this government? Even then, of course, it is certainly a "learning" experience. At times it is even a flower-filled paradise. Many, many living beings wish to come here -- devas from sagga, hungry spirits from the Realm of Ghosts, narakas (hellions in worlds of misery unutterable), titans from space, nagas (reptilians) from their underworld and sea.

Well, we are here. So let's be here now. To "BE HERE NOW" (Dr. Timothy Leary/Ram Dass) is the best American-English definition of Buddhist mindfulness and basic meditation.
Yesterday when we visited Lu Mountain in preparation for the world's largest Buddhist Relics Exhibition (coming to Los Angeles September 2015) our teacher wanted to tell us that the Chinese word chan is very interesting.

What is chan as in Chan Buddhism or Chan Meditation? Ch'an can be defined Rosetta Stone style in three other languages: Japanese zen, Sanskrit dhyana, English "meditative absorption" and somewhat misleadingly "trance," Tibetan bsam gtan, Korean seon, Vietnamese thiền.

Chan by way of the Four Supreme Abodes
It is one of my favorite words because in Pali (the only exclusively Buddhist language) it is jhana. It is so important that everyone uses it but so important that no one seems to know what it means. Therefore, it is translated as "meditation," more technically as "serenity or tranquility meditation" (samatha bhavana).

It is the basis of the Buddha's teaching, but the Buddha did not stop there: On top of a solid foundation of serenity (itself based on the Four Divine Abidings or Brahma Viharas -- loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, and unbiased equanimity) the Teachings say to set up fourfold mindfulness (on body, feelings, mind [conscious states], and mental phenomena). Then this will be fruitful to produce/reveal enlightenment.

It doesn't matter who you used to be. What matters is who you become [now].
In any language, it refers to "meditative absorption," varying states of effortless-concentration (in the sense of not trying, not straining, not stressing but just allowing, see when the mind/heart coheres and is restored to its original purity and luminosity.

This may be the momentary clarity of consciousness people get glimpses of via entheogens (chemicals like DMT that release or "elicit the divine within") and NDEs (near death experiences). That is to say, that's what it sounds like when people who do not meditate well talk about their trips and visions, which they are not ready for and usually do not benefit much from because they do not have control by virtue of a solid foundation in serenity meditation/samadhi, peace of mind, joy (pīti) and happiness (sukha), which all come from virtue (sila), Tibetan Buddhist "basic goodness," ethical-morality, the Five Precepts.
But how, HOW?
So it starts with virtue in life, then one goes to the mat, sits comfortably, then what? This is where an answer gets tricky: There are many ways to say it, to explain it, but none will make sense until one does it. Does what? Starts with virtue, moves to the mat, sits comfortably, and cultivates serenity, that's what. One way is to breathe because by being attentive to (mindful of, nonjudgmentally aware of) the breath that is happening by itself without trying to change it, one is immediately pulled into present time. Then one will be in present space. One will be here now.

And because of virtue, the mind/heart will settle. And with gentle persistence it will absorb (enter what the Buddha called jhana and dhyana). And to say anything more sets one up for frustration and failure because of expectations. Let go. Let go of expectations. Let go of everything. Just remain attentive to what is without judgment or involvement but just observation). What is? Whatever is. When is? NOW.

Now is all there is, and all that is could only be now. Just ask Eckhart Tolle or Byron Katie or better yet a literally enlightened being, a noble person (arya), like Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw or Ajahn Jumnien or Ajahn Brahm or Sayalay Susila or Ven. Dipankara Theri...or that person in the mirror waiting to shine.

Wisdom Quarterly returns from summer vacation with new team spirit and more help.

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