Essential Advice on Meditation

 
 
In meditation, there is an open simplicity and ordinariness which is almost magical; it is sane, clear, awake, full of humor, joy and wisdom… extremely powerful, compassionate and uplifiting.

- Sogyal Rinpoche
 

London 1978

All our problems come from grasping. Meditation is the means by which we unlearn our tendency to grasp. When we let go, a natural feeling of space arises; this is meditation. Letting go and grasping are both in the mind, this mind which when not mindful is so entertainingly, cleverly, sophisticatedly deceptive. Meditation is the path of simplicity, unfolding, adjustment, coming face to face with mind; using mind to tame mind.
The basis of the practice of meditation is relaxation. It is firstly important to be comfortable and allow thoughts and feelings to calm down. There is nothing to attain or achieve, so let go. Let go of any solemnity, and even of the idea that you are meditating. Let your body remain as it is, and breathe as you find it naturally. As for mind, the point is not to suppress thoughts or tail them, but just let them be without being seduced or distracted by them. Do not try to manipulate them. If you are dreaming or thinking....just dream or think.... If you do not add fuel, thoughts will just play themselves out.
Gradually things will settle and naturally fall into place. Like pouring a handful of rice onto a flat surface - each grain will settle of its own accord.
Once a certain peace of mind is arrived at, straighten your back and alert yourself. Then just let be, and continue in relaxation.
If you find it difficult to simply let go and remain so, and you need something to do or to follow, then be mindful of your breath. If you can not give up activity altogether, then this is skillfully using your activity - to be in tune with yourself.
Each breath is life; simple, powerful, ordinary and free. If you breathe out and don't breathe in again, you are dead.
Simply be aware of breath as it comes and goes. One should be lightly mindful and attentive. Be compassionate towards your breath, don't grasp at it or concentrate on it too heavily.
Be with breath, flow with breath. It is as if you are clouds moving across the sky or grasses swayed by the wind. One is simply happening.
After you become mindful of breathing for a while the breath, the breather, and the breathing are one.
When you are no longer conscious of your breath there is a danger of getting stuck in the nowness of breath, becoming unaware. Alert yourself and let go. It is with each breath that we create neuroses, inhibitions and karma. So free yourself with each breath, symbolically, auspiciously and actually. Be the out-breath; boycott the in-breath. Each breath dissolves into space, suchness, Buddha nature, or Truth. Then in the space of that spaciousness, almost awestruck, just be.
We start with practice, not perfection; if we were perfect we would not need to practice - "practice makes perfect". We would all like to find the perfect teacher and the perfect practice, rather than make the effort ourselves.
So this is a practice and a simple one: breathe out - dissolve - space, breathe out - dissolve - space. But don't turn it into a mental game or mechanical exercise and impose a rhythm on it - then there is no space.
For some people, breathing meditation is too close to them, like mind looking at mind naked, so an alternative practice is that of concentration meditation.
Rest your mind lightly on an object or image, preferably one which holds positively inspiring and opening associations for you. A flower, a flame -anything that has a feeling of warmth - a sacred image, like one of Buddha or Christ is ideal.
Soon you become aware of the suchness of the object, beyond the solid external form. Awareness is no longer differentiating or grasping.

At first practice may be exciting, then boring or even painful. Sit through all these experiences - and even if you can't practice don't get angry with yourself. Don't think about the practice - just get on with it. Persevere but with a sense of humour. After a while you will discover a personal style and rhythm. Then you are ready to see a teacher who can advise and guide you in your practice, since there is a shared space of experience. At this point your practice is no longer moody or changeable like the British weather - it becomes more spacious. You no longer need technique. You can just be there in that meditative state of mind.
Before attempting to apply meditation in everyday life situations, you should gradually acclimatize to this state of mind. Do not be too adventurous in experimenting with your spiritual strength. Go step by step. Then you can afford to apply it in comfortable, neutral situations, then in unfamiliar situations, then even those of aggression or passion.
With experience of meditation practice, you will develop a skill born of this spaciousness and know when and what to do.
Spirituality is not separate from everyday life: the path from practice to enlightenment is through everyday life.
Meditation is neither an instant cure-all that will solve all your problems nor a specific cure for headaches, insomnia etc. It is a gradual process of growth and healing. From it arises the confidence to cope with all life situations.


BASIC INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE PRACTICE OF MEDITATION
Amsterdam 1982
Firstly, when you begin a meditation session it is important to check your posture. By posture we mean physical posture and mental posture.
The mental posture is a frame of mind; an attitude; a gesture; a prayer; a homage; an offering; an opening. This gesture of the mind is like the blossoming of a flower. It is the smile of your enlightened mind or heart, the discovery of your sun-like inner compassion, and joy.
There is a Tibetan saying: "If you create an auspicious condition in your body and in your environment, then meditation or realisation will naturally arise".
To assume the physical posture, cross your legs in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the Tibetan tradition, a loose half-lotus is more usual. The full-lotus is only emphasized for advanced yoga practice. The oneness of the two legs coming together expresses the humour of non-duality, the unity of life and death, this and that, good and bad, Samsara and Nirvana; the humour of contradictions.
The most important point about the physical posture is to keep a straight back. From the point of view of yoga, when we sit straight the central most important channel of the body and all the different energy levels are aligned. As a result, the inner energy or prana flows more easily, and our mind is more at ease. The lower part of the spine, however, has a natural curve and you should not hurt yourself by forcing it too straight. It should be relaxed and still.
The strength of the posture should be in the upper part of the body, particularly in the shoulders. You should be like 'a tiger about to pounce'.
There are different positions for the hands. Generally, to begin with, it is best to lightly cover your knees. This is called the 'mind itself at ease' posture.
Your head should balance comfortably on your neck. Posture should not mean a 'pain in the neck1! Your head should also tilt slightly down, just so that you feel your Adam's apple.
Your eyes should gaze down at an angle of 45 degrees. The traditional measure of this distance is a 'plough's length', which is about one metre. Your gaze should be soft and gentle, rather than hard and grasping. In Dzogchen, it is very important to have your eyes open. It is said that the wisdom channel is connected from the eyes to the heart, and that when the eyes are shut, this connection is cut. One practice of Dzogchen meditation is to put your awareness into your eyes, and the gaze of your eyes into the sky. To begin with, however, it may help you to feel quieter if you shut your eyes as there are less distractions. Then, as you become more confident in your meditation practice, you can gradually open them. Or, you may prefer to begin the meditation session with your eyes closed, and to then slowly open them. If you feel yourself getting stuck or sleepy in your meditation, breath out deeply and bring the gaze of your eyes up.
Your mouth should be slightly open, as if you were about to say 'AH'. Traditionally it is said that you should be able to put a grain of rice between your teeth.
The humour of the posture is the understanding that Buddha-nature is within oneself; one's own true nature is Buddha-nature. This is the main message of the teaching of Buddha and of all the great masters.
Our Buddha-nature is as good as Buddha's Buddha-nature. Even though we have not fully awakened our Buddha-nature, at least we can trust in it. This trust is the very ground of meditation, the reason why we sit.
So when you assume the posture, trustingly 'pretend' to be a Buddha. You should feel the dignity, the 'pride' of a Buddha. The pride of a Buddha is humility with dignity and strength. If you simply have this, and nothing else, that is enough. Meditation will happen.
What do we do with our mind? We simply leave it as it is. Real meditation is a 'mind suspended in space nowhere'; content and ambitionless. It is as though you make your mind levitate and leave it in the air, in the space before you. In Dzogchen texts, meditation is described as a 'pure and complete awareness without clinging'. If you are able to remain in that state of presence of mind, you do not need a meditation method.
For most of us, however, this is difficult to do straight away and we need a meditation method such as watching the breath. Even this may be too difficult for some people to begin with, in which case it might be better to use an image such as the 'Looks Like Me' image of Guru Rinpoche. Place this picture at your eye-level and lightly put your attention on his face, especially on the gaze of his eyes. There is a Taoist saying: "The greatest revelation is in stillness". Stillness is revealed in the 'nowness' of his gaze which shows awareness without clinging. Sit quietly and be at peace with Guru Rinpoche. Leave your mind quietly and at rest - that is meditation.
It is important that neither meditation nor the method are done too seriously, but rather lightly as a practice. You should have a playful, humorous attitude together with discipline. For instance, the great Brazilian soccer player Pele became so good because as a child he constantly played with a football. You should play with your meditation practice, as though you are Pele and every thought is a ball. Just like a child playing ball. If you do this, meditation will happen.

Actually, to 'do' meditation is impossible. The only thing you can do is practise. There is a Tibetan saying: "Meditation is not, getting used to is." If you practise the method, meditation will come - "Practice makes perfect". That perfection that comes through the humour of the practice is the Dzogchen approach to meditation.
Sometimes people put so much importance on meditation, that when they come to practise, they become uptight. They are almost waiting for something to happen, to suddenly land on them. When it doesn't they become disappointed. You should not wait for something to happen, rather there should be a contentment in the simplicity of nowness. You are the Buddha, it is not that you will be. To 'be' is very important.
If you are using the method of watching the breath, simply be at peace with your breath. Just quietly be aware of your breath. Don't put all of your attention on the breath, just very slightly about 25%, with the remaining 75% relaxed in the environment or space.
Suzuki Roshi says: "To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him". The same applies to your mind. Real inner strength is in watching. When you watch and watch, without getting involved in the temptations of arising thoughts, you develop true insight.

FINDING THE HEART’S REST
London 1987
When you read books about meditation, or often when meditation is presented by different groups, much of the emphasis is placed on the technique. In the West, people tend to be very interested in the 'technology ' of meditation. However, by far the most important feature of meditation is not the technique, but the way of being, the spirit, which is called the posture', a posture which is not so much physical, but more to do with humour and attitude.
It is as well to recognize that when you start on meditation practice, you are entering a totally different dimension of reality. Normally we put a great deal of effort into achieving things, and there is a struggle involved, whereas in meditation it is just the opposite; it is a complete break from how we normally operate, for it is an ambitionless state where there is neither acceptance nor rejection, neither hope nor fear.
Meditation is simply a question of being, of melting, like a piece of butter left in the sun. It has nothing to do with whether or not you 'know' anything about it; in fact, each time you practise meditation it should be fresh, as if it were happening for the very first time. You just quietly sit, your body still, your speech silent, your mind at ease, and allow thoughts to come and go, without allowing attachment or clinging to grow. It is a simple process of watching the breath, that is, if you need something to focus on as an aid. When you are breathing out, know that you are breathing out; when you breathe in, know that you are breathing in, without supplying any kind of extra commentary, analysing or internalized mental gossip. This very simple mindfulness filters your thoughts and emotions, and then, like an old skin being shed, something is peeled off and freed.
Usually people tend to relax the body by concentrating on different parts. However, real relaxation comes when you relax deeply from within, for then everything else will ease itself out quite naturally of its own accord.
Therefore meditation is just being very simple and quite natural, relaxing the mind without imposing anything on it, or even trying to be calm. There should be no deliberate effort to control and no attempt to be peaceful. However, the whole point of assuming the posture is to create a more conducive environment for meditation, to help the mind towards a more awakened state. There is a famous saying: "if you create an auspicious condition in your body and your environment, then meditation and realization will automatically arise". If your posture and attitude are right, then meditation will naturally happen.
The first thing to learn in meditation is how to 'shed away' your old neurotic self and instead just quietly 'be', to find the heart's rest, a peace and contentment. Here, at the beginning, nature can be a great help. For people who are not used to meditation, or who have difficulty with it, it can be very beneficial to make use of nature, for example: to gaze into the sky, or listen to the sound of a waterfall, - even in the city to just walk in the park watching the birds, or the trees to see how the leaves move in the wind. Distract yourself from your preoccupation with your worrisome mind. Many all-too-serious spiritual practitioners do not know how to distract themselves into meditation. A good meditator knows how to take meditation humorously, because if you do not know how to do that, then it could end up being more of a problem than a help.
When you are new to meditation, you can feel a kind of impatience: you want to get results quickly. There is a very wise saying that goes: "Make haste - slowly". Don't allow too many expectations too quickly. Instead continue to persevere in your practice with humour.
At the beginning when you meditate, thoughts start running riot, even wilder than before. Yet this is a good sign, for finally you have become aware of how wild the state of your mind is (the 'Wild West'!). It is not that your thoughts have become wilder, but as you become quieter, you are aware just how wild your thoughts in fact are. It is then that you need to have humour serious humour! Don't give up. Whatever arises, just keep being present, watching the breath, even amidst all the confusions. Something will settle after a while and slowly a feeling of peace will dawn.
In meditation we are reminded to be mindful and aware. This means that whatever rises, you allow it to flow naturally, like an old wise man watching a child at play. If you are thinking, you just let that thought rise and settle, without any constraint. Thoughts are like the wind; they come and go. If you do not think of them, they do not pose too much of a problem. The fundamental attitude in meditation is to allow the natural flow of thoughts, whilst keeping your mind "free of after-thoughts".
We tend to think that when you are meditating, there should be no thoughts, and when thoughts arise in our meditation, we assume that we are failing to do it properly. Actually, that is not the case. You must realise that when you are meditating, thoughts are very much part of it. Instead, it is all a question of what your attitude towards them is. When you reach to the state of meditation then thoughts no longer bother you; they become like soft, pleasant background music. If you are easier, then things are less difficult.
To begin with, you centre yourself and get in touch with your 'soft spot'; if you remain there, gradually meditation will blossom. Just be spacious, and allow all your thoughts and emotions to settle. If you do so, then later, when you start to use a method such as watching the breath, your attention will be more easily in focus. Try to actually identify with the breath, rather than watching it. You may also choose an object, like a flower, an image of Buddha, or the sound of a mantra, to focus upon. But at the beginning it is best to simply be spacious, allowing the sky-like nature to dawn. Think of yourself as the sky, holding the whole universe.
When you sit, let things settle and allow all your discordant self with its ungenuineness and unnaturalness to dissolve, then out of that rises your real being. You experience an aspect of yourself which is more genuine and more authentic - the 'real' you. As you go deeper, you begin to discover and connect with your fundamental goodness. The whole point of meditation is to get used to that aspect which you have forgotten. Therefore, it is said, "meditation is not, getting used to is". Getting used to what? To your true nature, your Buddha nature.
This is why in Dzogchen, the final and ultimate teaching of the Buddha, we are encouraged to 'rest in the unaltered state of the nature of the mind'. Just quietly sit and let all your thoughts and concepts dissolve into the purity of the inherent nature of your mind. It is like when the clouds dissolve or the mist evaporates, to reveal the clear sky and the sun shining through -joyously. When everything dissolves like this, you begin to experience your true nature, "live". Then you know it, and in that moment you feel really good. It is unlike any other feeling of well-being you might have experienced previously. This is a real and genuine goodness, in which you feel a deep sense of peace, contentment and confidence about your true nature.
We often talk about being ‘good’, and refraining from harm, and different religions too speak of morals and ethics. Yet the trouble is that when you yourself are not connected with your fundamental source of goodness, then to be good is extremely difficult, for your heart is not completely in it. On the other hand, when you are in touch with your enlightened essence, the heart of bodhicitta, then whatever rises is naturally good. So meditation is the fundamental key to ethics.
Therefore the first act in meditation is to discover this self-generosity, the kindness towards yourself. In this life, we seek for meaning, asking questions like: "Who am I?". But the real answer lies in the realization of your true nature. When you realize it inherently, all the answers are already there. Until then, however much you might search, you will not find complete satisfaction.
In meditation practice, when we can pacify, settle and just be, then something unravels - goodness or the nature of mind. The point of a technique, like watching the breath, is to help you to unravel it. Suppose you successfully arrive at the level of 'resting in the nature of mind', then the technique becomes almost unnecessary. Rather than meditating on it, breathing becomes the meditation. Then there is not so much 'meditation' to do, but just simply being in the non-dual state. You abide by the continual flow of your pure awareness of the nature of mind, and, as you do so, you develop your inner character and confidence.
It is good to meditate when you feel inspired. Early mornings can bring that inspiration, as the best moments of the mind are early in the day, when the mind is calmer and fresher. (The time traditionally recommended is before dawn, but evenings will also do). It is more appropriate to sit when you are inspired, for not only is it easier then as you are in a better frame of mind for meditation, but you will also be more encouraged by the very practice that you do. This in turn will bring you more confidence in the practice, and later on you will even be able to practise when you are not so inspired.
There is no need to meditate for a long time; just remain quietly till you are a little open, and able to connect with your heart essence. That is the main point.
After that comes integration, or meditation in action. Once your mindfulness has been awakened by your meditation, your mind is calm and your perception a little bit more pure and coherent, then whatever you do, you are present, there. As in the famous Zen master's saying: "When I eat, I eat; when I sleep, I sleep ". Whatever you do, you are fully present in the act. Even washing dishes, if it is done one-pointedly, can be very energizing, freeing or cleansing. You are more peaceful, so you are more 'you'.
Whenever you do something, you are more in tune. As your preoccupation with yourself has dissolved, you find yourself more in tune with the compassionate aspect of 'you'. You continue that feeling and flow with it in life, doing whatever you do with appropriate skill and understanding.
One of the fundamental points of the spiritual journey is to persevere whilst on the path. Though one's meditation may be good one day and not so good the next, like changes of scenery, essentially it is not the experiences, good or bad, which count so much, but rather that when you do persevere, the real practice rubs off on you, and comes through both good and bad experiences (practices). For they are simply experiences, just as there may be good and bad weather, but the sky itself is always unchanging. If you persevere and have that sky-like attitude of spaciousness, without being perturbed by emotions and experiences, you will develop stability, and the real profoundness of meditation will take effect. You will find that, gradually and almost unnoticed, your attitude begins to change. You do not hold onto things so solidly as before, or grasp at them so strongly, and though crises will still happen, you can handle them a bit better, with more humour and ease. You will even be able to laugh at your difficulties a little, since there is more space between you and them; you are freer of yourself. Things become less solid, slightly ridiculous, and you become more light-hearted.

INTO THE MINDSTREAM
An Introduction to Meditation as a Way of Life
Santa Rosa, California 1988
How many people nowadays must be familiar with meditation? In some parts of the world in particular, meditation has become a very common phenomenon, even a household word. It has met with widespread acceptance, because it is recognized as a practice which cuts through many cultural as well as religious barriers, and as one which focuses on a very personal spiritual development. For in many ways meditation itself is a practice which transcends religion.
If we were to present meditation from a Buddhist perspective, first it should be noted that meditation practice is directed towards working with the mind or heart, and with energy. Sometimes we can do the practice of meditation very simply. We leave our mind quietly, in a natural state: in stillness, in silence and in peace. Quietly.
Some people may know a method they can use, like following their breath. But there are also others who, when we say "Let's sit", do not know what to do at all. They just wait for the silence to be over as quickly as possible. Because it is something that we are not used to. However idyllic our surroundings may be, even there the twentieth century has caught up. Just remaining silent and quietly being is something with which we are extremely unfamiliar. Stillness and silence make us nervous and insecure, almost as if it were rather frightening to be faced with ourselves, without activity — all alone with ourselves. And more often than not, when we do sit quietly, what happens is that thoughts start racing in at 200 miles an hour or more. Much of the time the problem when we sit is one of energy.
Sometimes, however, it is made easier because of a certain environment; it could be a natural environment or the environment created by friends or practitioners sitting silently together. Then, even though you are not familiar with meditation, simply to be in that environment itself inspires peace of mind.
At the beginning then, meditation is calming, pacifying and settling the mind. In fact the word for meditation in Sanskrit is Dhyana, in Tibetan Samten, in Chinese Ch'an and in Japanese Zen. What does the Tibetan word Samten mean? Sam is the thinking mind. Ten is to solidify, to calm or settle. It also means 'reliable' or 'stable'. So our first step is to calm and settle the thinking mind. If the mind is able to settle of its own accord without any object or method, then that is fine. Otherwise if we are not used to it, or if it is uncomfortable, or if we just do not know how to do it, then sometimes we make use of a technique, like watching the breathing, looking at an object, or using a mantra, in order to help the mind to focus, calm and settle. What is always very important to bear in mind is that the method or the practice is only a means; in other words, is not the meditation. It is through practice that you reach perfection: the pure state of total presence, which is meditation.
When we are really ourselves when we manifest when all our unnatural self has dissolved when there is no longer any duality…….when we are able to arrive at the non-dual state of egolessness that state is called meditation, in an ultimate sense. Then there is no longer any conflict, because duality is naturally dissolved and freed.
So what we are really trying to do when we practise meditation is to calm and to settle, so as to forget our confused mind or 'ego self. Ego is a substitute, fake self, which always keeps changing. It is nothing but ideas, concepts and conditioning, based not on truth but on sheer fallacy and beliefs which, upon examination, are discovered to be not well founded at all. It is important to remember that the principle of egolessness in Buddhism does not mean that there was an ego, but then the Buddhists did away with it! On the contrary, it means that there is no ego at all to begin with, and to realize that is called egolessness.
Sometimes when we practise, we are able to find ourselves in the state of meditation. Then we find there is no longer any duality, conflict or confusion. And if we look into ourselves when we are in that state, we discover that ego is non-existent. We manifest as our really natural self or buddha self, the 'selfless self which is always within us, and which is our inherent nature. This is what is spoken of time and again in all religions as the principle of goodness or godliness. Man is made in the image of God, as it says in Christianity; in Buddhism we say the Buddha nature exists in all.
And where is this goodness, this Buddha nature? In the depth of the Nature of Mind. It is like the sky which at the moment is obscured by clouds. Once the clouds have dissolved, the sky is revealed, clear and free, with a tremendous sun of compassion shining forth. We call this sunlight the 'Bodhicitta', the 'heart of our enlightened essence'.
This fundamental goodness needs to be brought out into our reality. Even though it is our nature, and we are all Buddhas, we are rather confused or clouded ones, who have forgotten and lost touch with who we really are. When we say we have the Buddha nature, we are speaking in terms of the Ground, and not the final state of purification. So although Buddha is our nature, we do not realize it, as we are defiled by two obscurations: emotional and intellectual. We parted company — the Buddha took one road and we took another. So in the teachings we call this: 'One Ground, two Paths'. We have gone slightly wayward, and this is what is known as 'Samsara.' Particularly in the West, to be in samsara is very easy because its mechanism dominates our being so powerfully, and the pace at which it works is so fast. We do not have to go out of our way to look for it, or even wait for it to happen; it just gathers like dust. You clean today, and tomorrow everything is dusty again. Since there is such a strong natural influence of samsara, it perpetuates itself, without any help from you.
The point of meditation is to maintain the purity of our inherent nature, and even though we might not be able to remain in that state for very long, yet every day we inject at least a drop of that pure awareness into our mind stream, and effect its fabric very slightly.
Our basic, fundamental character is nothing but a stream of mind or energy. We are just a mind stream. If we look at ourselves, and ask ourselves the question— who are we really?— maybe we will find that our identity is all these different things: the past, our parents, our home, our job, our dog, our partner, plus whatever we are going through. Today we might be feeling good because things are going well today. Tomorrow if we ask ourselves ho w we are, we find that we no longer feel the same. Where has that 'feeling good' gone? It has completely vanished because new influences have taken us over. We just keep on constantly changing as the circumstances change, just like a stream. Although it seems to always be the same, in fact is continuously changing…….
So we have to make an effect on this mind stream, with the purity of our inherent nature. For the point of meditation is not only to have a real glimpse of the view of our nature and gain insight into it, but also to bring that out into our everyday life, so as to bless our ordinary being and the way we view our ordinary circumstances with that view and flavour. Even to practise for a short time does a world of good. But if you want the practice to actually have a durable and lasting effect, what you need to do is practise not as an occasional medicine or therapy, but as if it were your daily sustenance or food.
Only then will the real effect of meditation hit home. For look at the extent that we have swung the other way, and actually created a habit which dominates our being. If we look a t our dreams, for example, we see they are just pictures and images of habits, and as the saying goes: "Old habits die hard". It does take a while, because even though the meditative state is a very powerful weapon that cuts through confusion, however as yet it is not part of our everyday experience and has not itself become a habit. So we are unable to sustain its good influence in our very strong habit-world. But here again, it is important not to introduce too much of a duality, of a struggle between good and bad. It is more like a light; when it shines, darkness can no longer be found.
So we need to brighten up our lives, bring out our true nature and let it shine forth. If you look at some of the great masters, or good practitioners, or even just good people, they radiate a warmth and a presence, which is so inspiring, and which you can feel when you find yourself in their company. Interestingly, the Tibetan people, when they speak amongst themselves, do not call their leader 'the Dalai Lama' they call him 'Kun Dun', which means 'the presence'.
Someone who is really present is a Buddha, and this Buddha presence is what we need to cultivate. At the beginning it is called 'mindfulness', and when it is fully realized, it becomes 'presence'. The discipline of the real practice of meditation is to maintain that presence in our everyday life. In Buddhism, you often hear the word 'discipline'. Discipline is not some rigid penance or humourless, militaristic routine, but a continual awareness and presence of mind. It is said to be 'like a perfume that permeates'.
In my conversations with healers, many of them have mentioned how, in their experience, one of the most powerful methods of healing is deep sitting meditation. Sometimes they ask their clients to sit, at the minimum, for three hours. Another phenomenon they have observed is that even though some people can relate very strongly to meditation or some other healing practice, and feel very at home with it, nevertheless it docs not produce the desired effect. The symptoms show no change. They found that this was because these particular clients were only practising when they were formally practising. They were not continuing effectively, by bringing their practice into their everyday life and making it something real. When they did so, then it was much more successful. In the very same way, we need to approach the practice of meditation as a way of life.
Whenever you practise meditation, whether it be early in the morning or whatever the time of day, you will find that it opens a door to your inherent being. After this initial opening, the most important thing is not the practice itself, but the state of mind which the practice brings about within you. Eating food is fun, but it is more important to feel satisfied and well fed. So that state of mind which meditation brings you is of greater significance than the meditating itself.
Far too often people go into meditation for some kind of extraordinary result, like visions, lights or some supernatural miracle. When they do not occur, they feel rather disappointed. But the miracle which really takes place is more ordinary, and more useful. It is a subtle transformation, not only in your mind and your emotion, but even in your body. It is very healing. As scientists and doctors have discovered, when you are in a good state of mind, then even the cells in your body are more cheery. Can't you just imagine the cells all raising their little glasses of champagne and saying "Chin Chin"! But when your mind is in a more negative state then even your cells become malignant. Our whole state of health has quite a lot to do with our state of mind, and our way of being.
Particularly in this day and age when we are plagued by so many illnesses, this realization can not but awaken us to the possibility of seeing life in a different way. In a sense there is no choice; that is really the way to survive. To live mindfully is the greatest protection, even for our health.
So the state of mind in which you find yourself after meditation is what you need to continue. Then you will do whatever you do with that presence of mind. There is a very famous story of a conversation between a Zen master and his student. The disciple asked his master-
" Master, how do you put enlightenment into action? How do you practice it in everyday life?"
" By eating and by sleeping", replied the master.
" But Master, everybody sleeps and everybody eats."
" But not everybody eats when they eat, and not everybody sleeps when they sleep."
Hence comes that famous Zen saying:
" When I eat, I eat.
When I sleep, I sleep."
That means you are 100% in the action; you are no longer your ordinary self. Your action has become a universal action, and a compassionate one. Without any duality, you become the action. For example, it has been discovered that when you do the washing-up, if you keep your mind pure and actually just wash the dishes, then that is very energizing. If on the other hand, you are thinking many thoughts all the while, it becomes very irksome. This is like a pointer towards the continual application of mindfulness and presence. When you really want your practice to be of real benefit to you and your life, and thereby of benefit to others too, it is not something that you do only occasionally.
Often people ask: "7s it better to practise twenty minutes in the morning or in the evening, or is it better to do several short practices? ". Yes, it is good to do twenty minutes, though that is not to say that twenty minutes is the limit. It does not say twenty minutes anywhere in the scriptures. Twenty minutes' is a notion that has been contrived in the West; you could call it 'Meditation Standard Time'. Sometimes people worry that if they do not sit for twenty minutes, they are doing something wrong, like not continuing with a course of antibiotics. The point is not the time factor. The point is whether the practice actually brings you to a certain state of presence. If so, you can sit for just five minutes, you can sit for three minutes, you can sit there for one minute, you can sit for thirty seconds……….even five seconds……….but that might not be quite long enough!
The main point is not the sitting, particularly for sleepy meditators who sit there for twenty minutes and just doze off! For them in particular, twenty minutes of sleepy meditation is not advisable; they should practise five minutes of more wakeful sitting practice. Perhaps they might be rather happy to hear that news!
My master, Dudjom Rinpoche, used to say that a beginner should practise in short sessions. You practise for five or three minutes, and then you take a short break, of just one minute. When you take a break, what you are doing is simply letting go of the method of meditation. Particularly if you have perhaps been struggling through your practice, at the moment when you take a break, letting go but maintaining your presence, often the meditation happens then. That is why the break is just as important a part of meditation as the sitting. You sit for a short time and then you take a break, mindful and naturally relaxed. Then you sit again. So you do many short sessions: five minutes' practice, and then one minute break, and so on. If you do that, your break refreshes your meditation and your meditation makes your break a natural expression of your practice.
If you continue that kind of interplay of practice and relaxation, interwoven by the thread of mindfulness, then slowly, slowly, between meditation and post meditation there will be less of a difference or boundary. As one great master said: "I never ever meditated, but then nor was I ever distracted, even for a second". Such a practitioner need not necessarily practise, because he or she is always in that state; yet they are not distracted, even for a split second.
Of course, the whole point is to actually do this for twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year. When you do a meditation retreat, for example, the main aim is to cut yourself off from your busy activity, and retire into the natural and conducive environment of meditation. Retreat means to put a limit to unnecessary activity. In such a situation you maintain the practice almost twenty four hours a day, while sleeping, eating and relaxing as well. If your practice is intensive, deep and relaxed in this way, then it begins to have a very fundamental effect on your basic being, and on your mind stream.
However, it is not only through practising in a retreat environment that the benefits of meditation can permeate into your mind stream. After such a retreat, even whilst living your ordinary life in the city, you can practise a little in the morning and then apply that presence throughout your everyday life. Then whenever you find yourself lost, confused or distracted, you come back to your meditation, or your breath, maintain that state of presence again, and rest in it for as long as you can.
It is the continual application of that presence that really brings about a deep change. If sometimes you find it is not so easy to practise alone or in your room, then try going outside to practise. Some people, who find sitting difficult, derive great benefit from practising silently whilst they are walking, particularly when they live in a natural or beautiful environment.
You can sit by the river and see how it all keeps changing as it rushes by. It will inspire introspection, and you quietly leave your mind and let the energy flow. Or you can look at the ocean, or lie down on the ground and just gaze into the sky, quietly leaving your mind, and letting the outer sky inspire an inner spaciousness. That is one way you can practise.
Another is to use the breath, which is the most common method found in Buddhism. Breath is the vital medium of energy; it is like the spirit, which brings the body and the mind together. Breath is often said to be the vehicle of the mind. So if you want to calm or tame the mind, you tame the breath, and then the mind is skilfully tamed at the same time.
When you use the breath, you keep the mouth slightly open as if you were about to say "aaaah". There is no special breathing; you breathe as you find it, quietly. Sometimes just to breathe and be present is sufficient, but if you need to focus because your mind is very distracted and going wild, then you just centre yourself on your breath and identify with the outbreath. This is an interesting practice, because whilst at the beginning it may be just a simple practice of just watching the outbreath, later on, if one is introduced to the more advanced forms of meditation, one finds that it opens many, many doors. It serves almost as a preparation for the meditation practice of Mahamudra or Dzogchen.
You watch the breathing, focusing on your outbreath and identifying with it. When you breathe out, it just dissolves into space; the in-breath happens naturally when your lungs empty anyway, so you do not have to particularly think about it. Do not concentrate too much; give it about 25% of your attention, with the rest quietly relaxed, one with your breath.
Use this for as long as you need. It will bring more focus. Then once you find yourself more centred in the nature of your mind, and when you find yourself one with the breath, you do not particularly have to focus on it any longer. You just simply rest in the peace of your mind.
Quietly, awake, alert and relaxed.
Then, if you begin to find yourself being distracted again, return to the breath once more.
That is the practice. Then it is just a matter of doing it.