Dharma Talk on Mediation
Good morning everyone. Today, I would like to touch on our monthly theme which is meditation. While this will likely surprise none of you. I tend to have a more orthodox view of Buddhism and this extents to meditation. So for today, I want to talk about what i believe mediation is, what it isn’t, and why the difference between the two is important for your individual practices.
First, let me outline what I believe meditation is. Meditation is when one is actively engaged in watching thoughts arise, letting them go, and returning back to an open acceptance of whatever happens to arise next. Thats it. Thats meditation. This can be done in any position, anywhere, and most importantly, by anyone. This, in essence, is what shikintaza is. It was taught by the Buddha, by Bohdidharma, and by Dogen. It has been practiced for thousands of years by countless people over that time.
And this i contend to be the only definition of meditation.
I know that may raise the hairs on some of your necks. Let me go further and distinguish what I think passes as meditation and shouldn’t. Tonglen. Not meditation. Loving-Kindness meditation. Not meditation. Body scans, visualization, chanting, contemplation, and guided meditations? Not meditation. Things i forgot to mention. Not meditation either. I want to be clear. I am not saying these things are not without merit, use, or practical application. In fact, I think, depending on what one needs to work through or cultivate in their lives, they can be invaluable tools to utilize on the path. Use them! But, i want to be clear, they are not meditation. I will call them practices from here on out.
So why are they different? First, I think the goal, or maybe lack there of, of mediation is markedly different from any of the other things listed before. For example, the goal of loving-kindness or meta practice is to cultivate compassion. The goal of body scan practice is to cultivate relaxation. Zazen mediation is altogether different. There is no goal per se, only to let things arise and let them go. The outcome is being present to what arises without expectation or aversion.
Second, the practices outlined before involve active thinking and engaged thought. They are mind directed and linear in nature. Zazen is not. The mind is allowed to bounce around but without direction or judgement. When engaged thought is noticed, it is let go until it arises again. For lack of a better way of saying it, the practices involve thinking. Meditation is about letting thinking go.
And why is the distinction important? First, I worry that it is too easy to substitute practices for meditation. The reason that i worry about this is that, in Buddhism, the goal is liberation, not just for ourselves but for everyone. The Buddha gave us the four noble truths as prescription to break the cycle of suffering and liberate ourselves and others. The prescription involves breaking the cycle of attachment and aversion that arises in our minds so that we can be present to outlives as it unfolds, and thus we are liberated from suffering in that we accept things as they are and as they arise. Meditation is how we see our attachment and aversion as they arise, learn to let them go, and engage the world as it is.
Meditation is the way we attain liberation, enlightenment, awareness, and awake-ness. It is the gift the Buddha gave us to break the cycle of samsara. I believe it is to important to be confused for practices that are mind directed and themselves are caught in there own quagmires of attachment, expectations, and goals.
Finally, as a Buddhist Priest, i believe that meditation, as i have described above, is to important to be confused or substituted with practices. Yes, use the practices as needed, but meditate, really meditate first.
First, my Buddhist practice centers on realizing the truth of the dharma as expressed in the four noble truths and eightfold path. As a refresher, the first noble truth is that of suffering, unsatisfactoriness, stress, dis-ease, etc. The second is that these are caused by attachment and aversion, or put a different way, from wanting things to be other than what they are. This is where i think the distinction made concerning meditation is important. Meditation is the practice of accepting things as they arise and letting them go. Suffering is caused by attaching and/or avoiding things as they arise. Meditation is the practice of letting go of attachment and aversion as it arises so one can accept and engage with things as they unfold.
I believe this understanding is grounded in several pivotal stories and sutras of Buddhism. First, in the Buddha’s experience of enlightenment. As he sat under the Bohdi, he reflected on all the other practices he had tried and had ultimately failed to bring him peace. As he reflected, he recalled being a child