Meditation photo by RelaxingMusic/Wikipedia

Ask A Buddhist: Meditation techniques

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By Ven. Tenzin Tsepal

Can you teach me meditation techniques to practice to live a meaningful life?

Meditation in the Buddhist tradition means to familiarize or habituate our mind with beneficial and realistic attitudes and emotions. Gaining familiarity through repetition of various meditations, our minds gradually transform, becoming more calm, peaceful, positive and realistic.

Often people like to jump right into meditation, but it’s much more effective to engage with Buddha’s teachings in a three-step sequence: hearing, thinking and then meditating. First, it’s helpful to listen to teachings, which can include attending live teachings, reading Dharma books, listening to mp3s and studying. This first step allows us to understand the role of meditation, correct objects of meditation, and the correct way to meditate. Secondly, we reflect on those teachings, applying them to our own life experiences, discussing them with others and clarifying any doubts we may have. Third, we then integrate them with our mind by meditating on them. That said, we can begin doing some easy meditations now.

The Buddha taught many ways to meditate, each with its own purpose and intended outcome. But there are two main types of meditation: stabilizing meditation and checking meditation.

Stabilizing meditation helps us to increase our mindfulness and concentration on a chosen object. Generally, it includes various kinds of breathing meditation, walking meditation, body scan meditations and visualizing objects such as the Buddha, and reciting mantras.

Checking or analytic meditation makes use of our own thought processes and reasoning to bring about desired inner changes. We might think over the disadvantages of a particular disturbing emotion, attitude, or thought pattern—anger, for example—to understand how it does not bring the outcome we want. We reflect what happens physically, emotional and verbally when anger is active in our mind to become aware of how damaging it really is to ourselves and those around us. Or conversely, we might focus on the benefits of a positive emotion or attitude that we’d like to increase, such as love or compassion, again noticing what changes in our body and mind when we intentionally wish for others to have happiness and its causes. We can also use checking meditation to train our mind to use reasoning to investigating how things exist. For example, coming to know the impermanent nature of ourselves and everything around us is a good reflection for reducing clinging attachment.

It’s important to begin our meditation with a proper motivation; the motivation determines whether our meditation becomes beneficial or not. For example, “May I do this short meditation on the breath to calm and focus my mind so that my actions will be more peaceful and kind and less harmful today.”

Now we’re ready to meditate. Here is one stabilizing and one checking meditation so that you can get an idea of how they work.

Breathing meditation is a widely known and practiced stabilizing meditation. It is nonsectarian and everyone can benefit from doing it. Find a quiet place, sit in a comfortable cross-legged position on the floor or in a chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. You may want to do a brief body scan, consciously releasing any tension or tightness you discover. Then begin by taking three slow, deep breaths, and then let your breath be natural and at ease. Gently shift your focus to the rise and fall of the abdomen or to the sensation of the breath between the nostrils and the upper lip. Simply be aware of what it feels like to breathe in and aware of what it feels like when you breathe out. Notice the natural pause between the exhalation and the next inhalation. Continue to observe the sensations of each new in and out breath, and let yourself be content to just be in the present moment. There’s nothing to do and nowhere to go. Of course, thoughts will continue to arise in the mind while breathing, but don’t give them your attention; just let them pass by and cease and return your attention to the breath. Continue for 10 – 15 minutes. As you conclude, notice how your body and mind have changed due to your meditation.

Here’s a simple yet powerful checking meditation created by my teacher, Venerable Thubten Chodron [“Guided Meditations on the Stages of the Path] It’s called Mind Is the Source of Happiness and Pain and it has four steps:

  1. Remember a disturbing situation in your life. Recall what you were thinking and feeling (not what the other person was saying and doing.) How did the way you describe the situation to yourself influence how you experienced it?
  2. Examine how your attitude affected what you said and did in the situation. How did your words and actions affect the situation? How did the other person respond to what you said and did?
  3. Was your view of the situation realistic? Were you seeing all sides of the situation or were you seeing things through the eyes of “I, me and mine?”
  4. Think how you could have viewed the situation differently if you had had a broad mind and been free from self-centeredness. How would that have changed your experience of it?

Finally, aspire to be aware of how you interpret events and to cultivate beneficial and realistic ways of looking at them.

There are so many wonderful meditations in the Buddhist tradition that can truly teach us how to have a happier, more meaningful life. You can find a series of guided meditations on the thubtenchodron.org website. If you live in the Spokane area, join us for meditation at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane on Monday nights. Or come up to Newport for Sravasti Abbey’s Sharing the Dharma Day.


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