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Buddha, Meditation and Mind
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Buddha, Meditation and Mind
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WHAT IS MEDITATION?
Meditation is at the core of all Buddhist practice. But what is meditation? It is not just thinking about something. Rather, it is something we do, not only with our minds, but also done with our body position and our breathing. In general, our normal condition in every day life is that of being distracted. The practice of meditation, by removing these distractions, enables us to focus on our immediate experience here and now.
What is the purpose of meditation? To put it simply, it is to discover who we really are. We do not know this at the moment because we are distracted and our minds are obscured like the sky filled with clouds. When this is the case, we do not see the face of the sun. This knowledge of who we really are is called gnosis. It is the knowledge that liberates us. It is the knowledge of who we really are, where we have come from and where we are going. Realizing this knowledge is the whole purpose of Buddhist practice. It is this self-knowledge that will set us free.
But to obtain this knowledge, we must discover it within ourselves. We will not find it written in books. Therefore, we begin with discovering our real situation and condition in our life here and now. We do not begin with some old story about the creation of the world long ago or with some notion of a transcendent God outside of ourselves. Such notions are only ideas in our minds, not experience. Rather, we begin with our immediate experience in this present life, where we find ourselves here and now at this very moment.

Meditation provides us with a method whereby we can access our immediate experience. Why do we need to do this? Because we are at present not really aware of our immediate experience. And we are not aware of it because we are distracted and not present in the moment. And being distracted, we are off-center and ungrounded. Normally, we live not in our immediate experience, but in our thought constructions about experience and reality. We continually impose our desires and preconceptions upon what we actually perceive. And these thoughts and thought constructions take time to form. Therefore, we live in the past and not in the present of our immediate experiences, whether external or internal. But through meditation we can discover and access the present moment. We can discover what is our immediate experience and discover what is the center of our being. We can access the base or the primary level of our conscious existence. Meditation thus represents a crucial part of the spiritual path and our personal development. However, in Buddhist terms, the ultimate goal of this path is not just happiness and fulfillment of our desires in this present life, but liberation and enlightenment.

But what does this mean? Liberation from what? Enlightenment in terms of what? Liberation means freedom from the suffering we experience within cyclical existence or Samsara that is brought about by our ignorance or lack of self-knowledge, which leads to our being under the sway of our negative selfish emotions. Enlightenment means discovering who we really are, our inherent Buddha-nature. It represents the full realization of our spiritual potential.

 


THE SPIRITUAL CAREER OF THE BUDDHA

Some 2500 years ago, in his own personal experience and meditation practice, the potential as human beings for our liberation and enlightenment was discovered by the Buddha. His realization of self-discovery is called Bodhi, or “enlightenment”, which literally means “awakening”. Because of his realization, he received the title of the Buddha, which means “the awakened one or he who has awakened”. And what he had awakened to was the true nature of existence and this is called Dharma. In the Buddhist context, Dharma means “existence”, but it also means the teaching about what actually exists. And this teaching includes here both theory and practice. Only through practice do we come to understand something experientially, as a living knowledge. Practicing the Dharma represents the spiritual path to liberation and enlightenment. And this path fundamentally represents a process of purifying and dissolving our obscurations, both emotional and intellectual, the obscurations that obscure our minds and distort our perceptions of reality and who we really are.

The path begins with an examination of our actual existential situation and condition in the world in this present life. It begins with the human predicament inherent in our conscious existence. It begins with the discovery of human suffering in terms of birth, sickness, old age, and death. The young Indian prince named Siddhartha, who eventually became the Buddha, discovered this for himself, although previously he had led a very sheltered life. Escaping from the palace of his father, on four successive days he saw for himself the four sights of a sick man, an old man, a dead man, and a yogi meditating beneath a tree. He realized that the fate of all human beings, no matter how financially secure and happy they may be at present, is sickness, old age, and death. No one, no matter how rich, powerful, or wise they may be, escapes this inevitable fate. However, the sight of the yogi in meditation beneath the tree inspired the young prince to seek a path leading beyond the suffering and death experienced in Samsara, the beginningless cycle of death and rebirth.

Samsara or cyclical existence means our human existence, our existential condition, in which we find ourselves in the world. It means our frailty before sickness and it means our mortality. But death is not the end of the story or the end of consciousness existence. Because of karma, we find ourselves propelled again and again into rebirth in different bodies and circumstances. In each lifetime we experiences the consequences of our karma, the deeds we have intentionally committed in our previously lives. In each lifetime we create the karma we will experience in our future lives. So, in this sense, we have the opportunity and the free will to create our own future.