Practical Meditation

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Practical Meditation

by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche

There is a great deal of emphasis placed on the need for meditation within the context of Buddhist study and practice. But often this practice of meditation may seem unrelated to the cares and concerns of everyday life. This need not be the case. In fact, meditation and our daily activities can be mutually beneficial if we are aware of how to integrate the two.

During the summer of 1980, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche gave a series of talks in Rabten Choeling concerning the way in which we can develop a practice utilizing both formal meditation sittings and everyday activities to evolve a balanced, practical and satisfying lifestyle. Geshe presents in a clear and easily understandable way some of the essential factors involved in this transformation.

It was with the intention of preserving the quality of an oral teaching, that the translator has retained that format in preparing the text.

Brian Grabia, (Gelong Jhampa Yeshe) Hamburg 1981

FIRST SUNDAY

One of the most significant questions we can ask ourselves is what is really essential in our lives. The answer is that our lives must be meaningful. Meaningful in the sense that we must eliminate suffering and ensure our future happiness. This applies equally to others and should be the focal point of our practice. Our efforts should be concentrated on benefiting ourselves and others by eliminating suffering and ensuring happiness.

In developing the capacity to benefit ourselves and others, the key factor is the mind. But this mind must be able; lacking ability we will fall short of our goal. This mental capacity must be developed through meditation. Furthermore, it is important that the meditation itself is done properly. By means of correct meditation, the ability and strength of the mind will develop and increase.

In order to be able to meditate we must begin by studying; it is not as if study and meditation are unrelated. Study aids in developing a strong and effective practice. Meditation usually refers to the act of repeatedly concentrating the mind on a virtuous object to gain familiarity with it. Hence, we can speak of meditation as a process of becoming accustomed to a virtuous object or attitude. In the Tibetan language meditation and becoming familiar with an object have the same connotation.

At present, we listen to dharma teachings and make an effort to put them into practice, but we do not really have a very powerful or effective practice. The reason for this lack of effect is related to the fact that as human beings we have an uncontrolled mind. Yet in order to use this mind as we desire, we must first gain control of it. At present, rather than being in control of our minds, our minds control us. They, in turn, are under the influence of mental distortions and, as a result, all of our actions are conditioned by these distortions. Thus, the actual cause of our problem is the fact that we are controlled by distorted minds. As a result, we are never able to fulfil our desires. The point of meditation is to bring our mind under control. There are two types of meditation used to develop mental control: analytical and concentrative meditation. I will now speak of how we should meditate and what is necessary for effective meditation. This may be familiar to those of you who have previously begun meditating.

It is first important to clearly understand, through study, what is involved in meditation. There are many aspects of Buddhist teaching and practice, but when we begin to meditate, we should concentrate on one particular aspect. If we jump from practice to practice we will never progress. Instead, we should choose a particular meditation practice and concentrate on that, doing our other commitments rather quickly and spending most of our time on the principal practice. If we constantly change our practice after becoming dissatisfied this will become habitual, we will never accomplish our aim and in the process will waste considerable time. Having chosen a practice and begun meditation, difficulties will arise, but at that time we must make additional effort and not simply abandon our practice. If we persevere, we will become accustomed to the practice and it will become easier. It is also possible that occasionally we may become confused about our object of meditation. Having initially made some progress, interferences set in and it all begins to seem fruitless. Here again, we must apply additional effort and carry on.

Another important factor in meditation is that we set ourselves a practice schedule which we can follow regularly each day. If we can meditate every day at the same time or times, we will grow accustomed to this period as our meditation session and this too will facilitate our practice. It is also advisable to begin meditating with short sessions. We should stop each session while we are feeling positive about it, and not wait until we are bored or tired. If we do this, we will find ourselves looking forward to our next session and our desire to meditate will continue. In addition, if we can pass from one satisfying session to another, our practice will naturally become more effective. On the other hard, if we meditate too long, our minds may become tired, unclear and confused. If we continue to sit in such a state, we will not be able to develop stability or control. If we meditate until we are bored, we will have little or no desire to meditate at the time of our next session. Just to see our cushion will cause aversion. We must be very skilful in leading ourselves into meditation practice, well aware of both what should and should not be done. The result will be effective and satisfying sessions. As we gradually become accustomed to the practice our sessions can easily be lengthened.

In developing the practice of meditation it is very important that we make proper preparations. If, for example, we want to build a house, we must first gather the necessary materials. Without this initial preparation any actual construction is impossible. Yet if these preparations are complete, the building can progress smoothly.

When we actually begin to meditate, it is important that we are able to recognize the various obstacles and interferences which may arise. If we are familiar with these, we can then take the necessary steps to prevent and eliminate them. One source of difficulty in meditation, in other types of dharma practice and even in everyday activity arises in dependence on the six sensory consciousnesses or "doors", i.e. the visual, audial, olfactory, gustatory, tactile and mental consciousnesses. To avoid the obstacles which may arise from these, we must practice "guarding the six doors of the senses". This is done by utilizing the mental factors of mindfulness and alertness. In a general sense, these are the two most important factors used in the practice of meditation. When we work we use our hands, when we meditate we use mindfulness and alertness. The mental factor of alertness checks or analyses our particular state of mind at any given moment. Its absence would severely diminish the effectiveness of our actions. Mindfulness or recollection is, in fact, the principal agent used in guarding the sense doors. It can easily be recognized, for example, as that aspect of our mind which enables us to recollect, while sitting here, the furniture in our house. All of us have this mental factor as an aspect of our minds.

In our practice mindfulness enables us to remember our object of concentration and its various characteristics. Meditation would be impossible without mindfulness because we would loose the object. Even our daily activities would suffer without mindfulness because we would simply forget what it was we were doing. Therefore, for any successful meditation practice, mindfulness is indispensable in order to grasp the object of meditation. Furthermore, brief moments of mindfulness will not be sufficient. We must develop the ability to maintain continuous awareness of the object of meditation. By recognizing the advantages of mindfulness, how indispensable it is to successful meditation and the way in which it functions and aids our practice, we must develop a desire to actively cultivate this positive mental factor.

In practice, the way mindfulness is used to guard the doors of the senses is that each of the six senses are protected from their respective sensory objects. For example, we must control the eyes from random wandering towards any pleasing visual object which strikes our fancy. This process is not only applied to actual meditation sessions, but must also be carried over into all our daily activities.

In general, we can speak of three types of sensory objects: those which are attractive, unattractive and neutral. When we perceive an attractive sensory object, this causes pleasure to arise in our minds. In most cases, in dependence on this pleasurable experience, attachment arises. In guarding the doors of the senses, when we experience an attractive object with any of the six sensory perceptions, after the arising of the recognition of the attractiveness of the object, we must prevent the arising of attachment towards it. This is one of the functions of mindfulness. We do so, by holding the mind in an alert state as we perceive an attractive object and by recollecting how easily attachment can arise. Aware of this danger, we can prevent attachment from actually arising. This way of stopping attachment is equally applicable to any of the six senses.

Usually, encountering unattractive or unpleasant objects causes dissatisfaction or pain to arise in the mind. In dependence on this unpleasant experience, aversion arises. When, for example, we meet a person we dislike this process can easily begin. Here too, we must apply mindfulness in guarding the senses. These practices are generally easier for a person with a relaxed and open-minded attitude. For someone who is very frustrated or "uptight" it will be more difficult. But there is also the necessity of balance as too relaxed an attitude can result in the neglect of studies and practice and over-indulgence in sleep. When we experience an unpleasant object, we must quickly recall that if we are inattentive we can easily become meaninglessly angry. Between the appearance of the object and before anger has an opportunity to arise, we must remain mindful.

This practice should be applied when we meet with agreeable and disagreeable objects. It is best if we can thus prevent the arising of attachment or aversion and maintain a wholesome state of mind. At the least, we should try to keep the mind in a neutral state and not allow any non-virtuous actions to arise. By remaining mindful in all our actions, we will be able to gain control over attachment, aversion and other negative mental factors. If we make no effort to develop mindfulness in our daily actions, attachment and aversion will arise before we are able to stop them. If we cultivate mindfulness daily, it will be at our disposal when we need it rather than when it is too late. This concludes an explanation of one method of guarding and preventing our mind from attachment and aversion to pleasant and unpleasant objects.

Another method of dealing with these mental distortions is practised before actually coming into contact with various objects. We do so by considering the faults or harm that can arise from allowing these mental distortions to affect our mind. If, for example, we know that a particular object will give rise to attachment or aversion and avoid contact with it, then these negative aspects of the mind will not arise. If we do not avoid contact, not only can the object give rise to attachment or aversion at the time we experience it, but also afterwards even the memory of it is sufficient to cause mental distortions to arise.

In both of these methods of guarding the mind the principal agent is mindfulness. If we are able to use it in this way, we can prevent the arising of mental distortions. Also, after repeated application, the strength of mindfulness will naturally increase. If we are able to develop mindfulness in our daily actions, outside our meditation sessions, we will find that when we are actually engaged in meditation our mindfulness will be much stronger and more stable than if we had not been exercising it. In this way by using mindfulness for controlling the senses when meditating and also in our daily activities, we will find that the two periods are mutually beneficial in aiding in the growth and development of mindfulness. When a person practices to develop mental quiescence, he passes through nine developmental stages. It is on the fifth stage that the force of mindfulness achieves actual stability. Because these methods of guarding or binding the doors of the senses are primarily related to meditation practice I have explained them here, but in fact, for anyone who is interested in developing a wholesome lifestyle and practising virtuous conduct these methods are very important.

The second factor we must develop is alertness. Alertness, as I mentioned before, is that aspect of the mind which checks or investigates the mind for faults or conceptual distortions. It determines whether our mind is in a positive or negative, wholesome or unwholesome, correct or distorted state. It checks on all of our actions, for example, our moving about, the actions of the various senses and even such things as eating and drinking.

Some may wonder, as this is supposed to be a teaching on meditation, why we are mentioning such things as eating and drinking. But this can all be related to meditation. If we spend time meditating and make a little progress, but then afterwards behave indiscriminately, this will eliminate whatever development we might have made. If we then again meditate, progress a little and once again behave mindlessly, this will again destroy any progress we have made. Therefore, if we can utilize the post-meditational period, it will automatically benefit our meditation sessions. If we can apply mindfulness and alertness to the problems and distractions we encounter in everyday life, we will become accustomed to these two mental factors and their strength will increase. When we then subsequently use them in meditation, we can be sure of their effectiveness.

To develop alertness we should consider, before beginning an action, what is the need of this action, is there anything improper in it, is it beneficial or not, can any difficulties arise from it, and so on, in this way checking the various factors which are involved. Having thus determined the quality of an action, if it is wrong or harmful, we can avoid it. If it is good and of benefit, we can do it. Then while we are actually engaged in the action, we should remain mindful of the positive or negative consequences or of any danger which might arise. In this way both alertness and mindfulness are working together.

In one of the sutras, Buddha speaks of when walking being mindful of walking, when sitting being mindful of sitting. In whatever actions we do we should remain aware and mindful, first check the action with alertness, then proceed with mindfulness. Our moving from place to place is an everyday necessity. Therefore, if at all times we can cultivate alertness and mindfulness, we will be doubling their effectiveness, for both when meditating and between our sessions. We will be nurturing their development.

When we travel in eastern countries, such as India and Sri Lanka, where Buddhism is widely practised, we may see monks walking very slowly along a path. This is not because they are trying to appear impressive or attractive. If they are actually practising, they are following this advice to cultivate mindfulness and alertness when walking. In meditation texts it says that the post-meditation period should benefit the meditation session and that the meditation session should benefit the post-meditational period. Both should be used to provide mutual support. On the other hand, if we have ineffective meditation and also mindlessly pass our time between sessions, no progress can possibly ensue. This is why it is so beneficial for a person who sincerely desires to meditate or to lead a wholesome lifestyle to develop these two mental factors.

In addition, not only when we are going somewhere, but also when we are working or talking or just relaxing we should precede our actions with the thought of whether or not they are positive, harmful or beneficial. If we feel an action is not good, we should simply refrain from it. If it is positive, engage in it, but with a continuing sense of alertness and mindfulness. We should also make use of these factors to determine if the place and the time of our going are safe and free of any danger. In brief, we must take care and remain aware in all situations. Most of our difficulties arise when we are outside of a meditation session and this is why it is so important to maintain alertness and mindfulness at all times. Doing so can only make us more effective and efficient in our everyday activities and at the same time aid our dharma practice. But please do not be over zealous in your efforts and find yourself the cause of an accident by practising mindfulness as you walk very slowly across a busy street. The explanation of these two mental factors is, in fact, very extensive, but to say it simply, mindfulness remembers and remains aware of its object and alertness determines its positive or negative qualities.

In summary, we should make an effort to develop mindfulness and alertness. As I mentioned, choose one object and do many short meditation sessions. Especially work to guard the doors of the senses. If we sincerely wish to meditate, having heard the teachings, we should not simply forget about them, but rather, make an effort to practice each day.

SECOND SUNDAY

Last week we spoke of the need to meditate, to develop the mind and gain mental control. We spoke of two ways we could work with our minds: one during the time we are meditating and the second between our meditation sessions, when we are engaged in our daily activities. Both periods are important to our practice. It is easy to recognize that when we are meditating we must control the mind and keep it in a wholesome state. But we must also realize that this, in itself, is insufficient. If we allow our mind to run uninhibited at other times, our meditation sessions will be of little use. Our progress made through meditation will be negated by our other activities. As we spend so much more time out of meditation, each little bit of progress will be counteracted by a great deal of backsliding and it will be impossible to move ahead. This was one of the main points of last week's talk. If we are able to utilize the time we spend outside of meditation for our practice, it will greatly aid in our meditation and also make it much easier. The effect will be reciprocal and we will find our meditation sessions benefiting our other activities as well. The net result will be a definite improvement in the state of our minds.

The advice I am giving is based on teachings of the Buddha contained in the sutras. I am using a commentary to these by Je Tsong Khapa entitled The Great Exposition of the Stages on the Path. What we are concerned with here are the workings of two aspects of our minds; specifically mindfulness and mental alertness. Whether we are seriously interested in meditation or not we can use these two mental factors to our advantage.

By now, it should be clear to all of you what is meant by mindfulness. It is that mental factor which recollects and does not forget its object. Alertness determines, through analysis, the quality of the mind, for example, good or bad. If we are mindful, we will not forget what it is we are dealing with and the object will appear clearly to our mind. Stable mindfulness is necessary from both a dharma practice point of view and also from a worldly point of view. Lacking mindfulness, a meditator forgets his object of concentration and in daily activities a person forgets what he is supposed to be doing. Alertness aids in preventing mistakes in both these activities. If we find that we often forget what it is we should be doing or make many mistakes, it indicates a lack of mindfulness and alertness.

I spoke last week of the way in which we use mindfulness, but for any newcomers here today I will briefly reiterate. Our six senses are like six doors. If we have a calf, which easily strays and put it in a building having six doors and yet fail to close the doors, we will be unable to keep the animal inside. Our six sense doors are also usually left wide open and our wandering mind, like this calf, is free to go and do whatever it pleases. The result of this lack of control is a host of problems and difficulties. When we speak of guarding the doors of the senses, it is in order to prevent this aimless wandering. In a building we can close doors, with the six senses we must use mindfulness to close or guard the doors. The senses are guarded from their corresponding sensory objects. For each sense there is an attractive, unattractive or neutral object. For the sense of sight there are forms; for the sense of hearing, sounds; for the sense of smell, odours; for the sense of taste, flavours; for the sense of touch, tactile objects; for the mind all phenomena are included. For each of the six senses contact with an attractive object usually leads to an experience of pleasure which then gives rise to attachment. In a similar fashion, contact with an unpleasant object leads to an experience of displeasure which then gives rise to aversion.

This is our normal reaction, but with the presence of mindfulness, when we come into contact with an attractive object and experience pleasure, we must recall that we should avoid attachment and activate a method to prevent its arising. Likewise when we come into contact with a disagreeable object, we must be aware of the possibility of developing aversion and take steps to prevent it. It may be enough to simply remain aware of the object to prevent attachment or aversion from arising. It is during the time between our contact with an object and the arising of attachment or aversion that we must apply the force of mindfulness.

In the course of our everyday lives, we are often moving about and meeting with a number of different people and events. During that time our senses will come into contact with a wide variety or objects. Even though we experience these contacts, if we remain mindful and aware and can prevent the arising of attachment and aversion this will greatly aid in our mental development. Although in the beginning it will be quite difficult, as we repeatedly make effort the force of our mindfulness will increase. As we grow accustomed to its use it will become easier to apply - and more effective.

This process is not something we do in the actual meditation session, but rather during everyday activity. Nevertheless, because we have been exercising our mindfulness, its increased strength and effectiveness will be evident at the time of meditation. When we meditate, whatever our object of concentration may be, we must hold that object with the force of mindfulness. Therefore, if we exercise mindfulness outside the meditation session this will increase its ability to function effectively during meditation. Naturally, using mindfulness during meditation will also increase its strength, which, again, makes it easier to use it outside the sessions. We often say we have little or no time to meditate, we are simply too busy, yet if we guard the doors of the senses using mindfulness, this too is a meditation practice.

Now I again want to speak about alertness. Bear in mind that mindfulness and alertness work together, but here I will speak particularly about the latter. Alertness is crucial to any meditation practice, but we can also utilize this mental factor outside formal meditation sessions when engaged in everyday activities.

For a person that wishes to develop alertness it is first necessary to engage in activities with a relaxed, natural attitude. We can see the lack of this attitude reflected in people who speak extremely fast. Such forced, accelerated speech is not good. We should speak slowly and thoughtfully. If we do, our speaking can become a means to develop alertness. If we speak and reply slowly and thoughtfully, we will have time to consider what we are saying. This will tend to improve the quality of our speech. If instead, we speak very quickly we will often not be aware of what we have said until we have finished saying it. But I am not suggesting we speak slowly and pompously to appear very impressive. Such a motivation would be based on pride and this would create unwholesome actions and not be of benefit to our practice.

It is also important that our physical activities such as walking, sitting, eating, drinking and so forth are done in a relaxed natural way. This will facilitate our practice of alertness. This is general advice; secretaries and others who do similar work cannot always be slow and relaxed. The results of speaking and acting in such a way will, on the one hand, be conducive to allowing us time to practice alertness and in addition, if we accustom ourselves to such a pace, we will naturally become more relaxed and easy going and less tense as individuals.

When we move and speak in this natural manner, we can begin to develop alertness. It can be applied to both our bodily actions and our speech. For example, when we speak, someone is usually there to hear us. Likewise, our physical actions are directed towards persons or objects. In some cases, these recipients of our actions will be appealing persons, in other cases they will not. Therefore, we must cultivate alertness to judge the responses we make in the various situations we encounter. We must consider what we are about to say or do, of what benefit it will be, can it cause any harm, would it be best left unsaid or undone and if I do or say this, how can it be done in the best possible way. Like this, we must be discriminating in our actions of body and speech. The factor responsible for this is alertness. Having checked to see that what we are about to say or do is beneficial, we can go ahead. If we sense it is negative or unnecessary we need not act or speak. Alertness acts to discriminate whether or not our actions are good. Mindfulness then acts to either restrain us from a negative action or thoughtfully carry out a positive one. The above was in reference to an object. When we relate to other people, some actions are permissible, beneficial and should be done, others call for restraint. We have a tendency to speak about a wide variety of things. With little or no concern for what we are saying, we carry on endless dialogues of meaningless chatter containing both good and bad elements. It is by using mental alertness that we observe and regulate our speech. Coupled with mindfulness, we can develop meaningful and positive dialogue.

The above explanation dealt with our way of conversing. Now I want to speak about our moving about, our sitting and sleeping. Once again, we must cultivate natural and relaxed attitudes towards examining our actions. Then, using alertness, we must determine whether a particular physical action is good or bad. Having done so, we either restrain ourselves or allow ourselves to act using the power of mindfulness. To carry out our everyday actions in this way can be of real benefit to our dharma practice. In addition, it will improve the quality of our daily actions themselves.

In the text, this use of alertness to discriminate as to positive and negative actions and mindfulness when acting is related to the five "limbs" of the body, i.e. the two arms, two legs and the head. It further describes the practice as applied to parts of these limbs, such as the area from the wrist to the elbow. The practice is also applied to the five sense organs and especially the eyes. When we are looking at an object, just after having apprehended it, we must apply alertness and mindfulness. This is necessary at all times, even when simply looking around. It is important because in dependence on our visual contacts both positive and negative actions can arise.

Concerning our moving about, there is a division into places where we are free to go and others which we should avoid. We utilize the two mental factors to determine whether or not there is any danger. If not, we can feel free to go. In addition, there may be a certain time during which a place is safe and other times when it is not. We should take this into consideration as well. Thus, by using mindfulness and alertness whenever we have a task to do or place to go we can avoid many problems and difficulties which may arise. It is not necessary to deal with all possible situations, suffice to say that the two mental factors can be applied to all activities. By repeatedly making an effort to develop these mental capacities, we will find that eventually they will begin to function automatically and aid us in all our actions.

We should strive to bring these mental factors into play from our earliest waking moments, each day applying them to our work, our going from place to place, our speech; in short, to whatever we do. If we are extremely attentive, it is possible through utilizing these two factors, to avoid any unwholesome actions throughout the course of a day. If, on the other hard, we are completely careless and unaware, most of our daily actions will be negative. As I mentioned earlier, we can work to develop alertness and mindfulness in our meditation sessions. If we supplement that by using them in our daily activities, as a result of the two being mutually supportive, our efforts will be more effective and our progress quicker.

However much we make an effort, to that extent the power of mindfulness and alertness will grow. In addition, however much their strength increases, to that extent will they be able to prevent our falling under the influence of mental distortions. As long as we remain under the influence of mental distortions, we will continue to engage in unwholesome actions. Free of these influences we can create positive actions which will aid our progress in this and future lives. In this respect, the text says that gaining stability in mindfulness and alertness, a person will easily progress to the higher stages of the path, eliminating mental distortions and eventually attaining liberation and omniscience.

There now follows a discussion of actions associated with eating. If we are careful of our way of eating and of the amount of food we eat this will aid in our mental development. If we eat improperly, it can affect our progress. In general, it would be good if we first simply begin to lessen our desire for food. This is not to say we should not eat, but rather, cut down on our attachment to food. If we are overly attached to eating, we will be extremely fussy eaters; liking some foods and not even considering eating others. With such an attitude non-virtuous actions are easily accumulated. If, on the other hand, we can lessen our attachment, we will be more easily satisfied and hence, less likely to accumulate negative imprints. But it would be a mistake if, through desiring to lessen our attachment, we began eating poor quality food. This would weaken and eventually harm the body and as a result also the mind. Therefore, to ensure good health and to maintain a strong dharma practice, we should avoid a poor diet.

Another problem arising from too much attachment to food will be overeating. If we are very fond of good food we may eat until we are quite full and there is no empty space left in our stomach. This must be avoided. We know from our own experience that the result of overeating is a physical feeling of heaviness and a lack of mental clarity, leaving us in a sort of stupor, which can easily lead to sleep. To avoid this we should eat in moderation; leaving one-third of the stomach empty and two-thirds filled with food. This will leave our body and mind feeling comfortable and also aid in digestion.

Eating very little can also be the cause of problems. Firstly, we will obviously feel hungry very soon again. It also weakens the body and this will, in turn, cause mental fatigue, as our mind depends on our body. As a result of this fatigue, our mental capacity, strength and ability will diminish. Hence, we must take care not to eat too little.

If we can eat properly, neither too much nor too little, it will aid in increasing our power of mindfulness and alertness. The two extremes of overeating and eating too little will definitely have a debilitating effect on these mental factors. This, in turn, will diminish the benefit we might gain in meditation. In this way, proper eating habits have the immediate benefit of producing good health and the long term benefit of aiding in the development of mindfulness and alertness and our meditation practice. Therefore, the principal reason for proper eating habits is to develop good meditation.

If we are able, our meals can be used to gain merit by offering them before we begin to eat. We should offer our meal with the recognition that it is through the efforts of many other individuals that we have food. In dependence on this food they have provided for us and the relationship with them it thus establishes, we can offer a prayer for their benefit. By eating in this way, our meals can take on meaning from a dharma point of view. Those of you who are interested in these prayers of offering and dedication can obtain them from the monastery office. Although there are a number of points concerning our eating habits, I will stop here for now.

We must all sleep and the next section of the text deals with this aspect of our daily life. We can sleep in a way which will aid our meditation. The explanation given in the text concerns the sleeping habits of an individual involved in twenty-four hour dharma practices. As many of us must work each day to earn a living we may not be able to follow this schedule exactly.

In general, the day should be spent in dharma practice and the night-time hours used for sleep. The night itself should be divided into three parts. During the first part of the night, we should engage in dharma practice, during the second we should sleep and during the last we should arise, wash and resume our meditation. It is important that during the middle period we sleep well. This is related to our daily need for physical strength and well-being. The vital energy we need each day comes mainly from eating and sleeping, although well-developed meditation can also be productive in this respect. If we are able to sleep properly through this second period of the night, we will awaken feeling physically well-rested and mentally clear and alert. Without this rest the opposite will be true. People often become accustomed to remaining up late into the night and then sleeping late in the morning. But if we try to follow this advice, we should divide the night into three parts; spend the first and last engaged in our practice and sleep during the middle. If we do so, we will gradually become accustomed to this way of sleeping.

If we think about it, we will realize that most of our time is wasted in talking. Therefore, as I said earlier we should use alertness to determine if what we are saying is worthwhile. If we feel it is, then we should talk about it, if not, it is really best to remain silent. We should make an effort to gradually spend less time in idle conversation. However, we ought not pretend to be involved in some sort of strict practice and if someone speaks to us, refuse to answer or remain quiet when something needs to be said. This would be overdoing the practice.

To return to the discussion of sleep, before we actually fall asleep, we should review the events of the day. If during the day we have engaged in wholesome activities, we should feel a sense of joy and satisfaction in this. Then having set a time for waking, we should resolve to spend the next day similarly involved in wholesome, productive activity. Such preparatory thoughts should precede falling asleep.

It should be possible for most people to set a time for waking in the morning. Others, who sleep like corpses, may find this difficult, but we can usually wake up on time and as we grow accustomed to a particular time it will become easier. If we are able to spend the time before falling asleep thinking about our dharma practice, then even though the force of mindfulness is lost on falling asleep, the strength of these positive thoughts can affect our dream state and, for many, lead it in a wholesome direction. A similar effect, although not a virtuous one, will arise from thinking very much about an object of attachment or aversion. Having thought about it prior to falling asleep, the object may then appear in our dreams.

For people who suffer from insomnia or have difficulty in falling asleep, it may be helpful to think of darkness while lying in bed. This may aid in falling asleep. For people who fall asleep as soon as their head touches the pillow and tend to sleep very deeply, it may be good to think of brilliant white light or white space prior to falling asleep. This will cause sleep to become lighter. If we sleep more lightly, our dreams will be clearer and it will be easier to awaken in the morning.

In general, there are a wide variety of sleeping positions, but the best way to sleep is lying on our right side. This has certain unique benefits and also aids in counteracting interferences which may affect us while we sleep. Nevertheless, if a person finds it is uncomfortable to sleep on the right side, it is not necessary to do so.

The practices we have been speaking of can be related to all our usual daily activities. By developing these attitudes towards our work, our coming and going and our way of speaking, eating and sleeping, we can evolve a more satisfying and efficient lifestyle. In addition, they will aid in our development of mindfulness and alertness, and thus in our meditation practice.

In the following talks we will consider additional methods of improving our meditation practice and also of dealing with doubts and difficulties which may arise. During these talks you should pay attention and not merely take notes. Having heard this talk today, you should begin tomorrow to gradually incorporate these practices into your daily lives. In this way, as the mind slowly begins to be transformed, the quality of our actions will improve and develop. To listen to the teaching but to do nothing about putting it into practice would be like writing it all down and then carrying the books around on our back. This will be of no benefit.

THIRD SUNDAY

In the two preceding talks we spoke of both the meditation session and the time between our sessions. Although the meditation session is important, it is also crucial that we continue to be conscientious about our physical, verbal and mental activity between sessions.

We usually encounter two types of difficulties: those of the body and those of the mind. All of our mental problems arise in dependence on our conceptual distortions. There are a wide variety of conceptual distortions which correspond to the many mental problems we encounter. As this is the case, however much we are able to eliminate these conceptual distortions, to that extent can we develop stability and peace of mind. The more we suffer from these distortions the more we will suffer from mental disturbances.

Normally, upon hearing that all our mental problems arise in dependence on conceptual distortions, we think that to eliminate them we must meditate. But meditation is not the only method available to us. In the previous talks we spoke of the way to develop mindfulness in the post-meditation periods. By developing the strength of mindfulness in such a way it can become an effective instrument in dealing with conceptual distortions. Through the application of this increased strength of mindfulness to our daily activities, we will begin to experience signs of the lessening of our conceptual distortions. One such manifestation of this will be an increased interest and desire to engage in our dharma practice.

For example, after having developed a certain degree of mindfulness, we will be able to be aware of the moment during which we lift our foot to take the next step, then of the movement as we bring our leg forward and finally as we again place our foot on the ground. Repeating this process again and again as we walk will serve to develop the strength of our mindfulness.

As we develop and increase the power of mindfulness we will, at the same time, lessen the power of conceptual distortions. A sign of this will be that when we are practising such things as walking meditation, we will experience a sense of happiness and enjoyment. In addition, while actually walking in such a way we will feel free of mental unrest. This arising of happiness marks a lessening of conceptual distortions. The result of a sustained practice of mindfulness directed toward walking and other activities will be a development of a form of single-pointed concentration. Therefore, from this simple practice of mindfulness directed towards walking, we will not only strengthen the force of mindfulness but also aid in the development of single-pointedness and lessen the conceptual distortions. This all in addition to the positive effect it will have on our meditation practice.

I have explained this practice with respect to walking but it can be applied to any number of different daily activities. It is similar to the practices associated with developing alertness. When we are beginning these practices to develop mindfulness we should keep them simple. As we progress we can then go on to more difficult ones. If we reverse this process and try to begin with difficult disciplines, which we really do not understand and yet make much effort to develop, we will not achieve our desire, good meditation, but will get just what we wish to avoid, mental disturbances. If you are sincerely interested in transforming your mind, begin with this simple walking meditation and spend part of your weekend in a pleasant park engaging in the practice. By doing this often you will soon become accustomed to the practice and your progress will be satisfactory. This must be done continually, without breaking the continuity of the practice. Practising for one day and then letting it go for two or three will not lead anywhere. In addition, the practice should be done each day at the same time. It is best done in a quiet open place such as a secluded park. If you try to do it on a busy city street there is the obvious danger of being hit by a car. The practice itself is very easy. We simply concentrate on lifting our legs and placing our feet. There is nothing confusing or unclear; we just need to pay attention to walking.

When we are eating with a group of people, we should take part in the conversation, but if we have the opportunity to eat alone, we can do so slowly and mindfully. By paying attention to each mouthful of food, we can again aid in the development of mindfulness by increasing the strength of our concentration. Some of you may object that the real result will be cold food, but that is not the point. What is important is that if we do many of our daily activities attentively in this way, on the one hand, we still get things done and on the other, we can develop our mind. The value of the fact that we lessen the force of conceptional distortions inasmuch as we develop mindfulness is obvious. The practice of meditation is actually to weaken and eventually cut off the root of conceptual distortions. To do this there are special practices, however, we must first develop strong mindfulness. For that, these simple methods of training the awareness are very good.

Meditation teachers present many methods of practice. Some, for example, may use as the object of concentration to develop mindfulness, the rising and falling of the abdomen as one breathes in and out. This is a technique which is taught in the early stages of practice also because it is relatively easy to do. As we all know where our stomach is, there are no problems with an unclear or evasive object. In this way, using a simple object, concentration can easily be developed. As with walking, after regular practice, the mind will begin to relax and the force of concentration and mindfulness will develop. Also, as before, we will notice signs of the waning influence of conceptual distortions. The practice is easy, there are no dangers involved and simply by remaining mindful of this process of breathing, we can expand our mental abilities. Buddha skilfully taught that walking, speaking, eating and other everyday activities should be done mindfully because they then become simple and productive methods for developing concentration.

Individuals sometimes complain of a lack of progress in their attempts to transform the mind. But if they do these simple practices of mindfulness and find that they begin to enjoy the practice and look forward to doing it, this is a sign that, through the force of developing mindfulness, a transformation has already begun to take place. Each person should decide for himself which of these practices is most appealing and then direct their energies towards it.

Respiration can also be used in another way to develop concentration. After having made some progress in one of the more simple practices, a person can then add this to their meditation. As this practice is a bit more difficult than either walking meditation or concentrating on the rising and falling of the abdomen it is best to gain proficiency in one of those first.

In doing this meditation we should imagine our mind as being at the space between the nostrils. This aids in focusing the mind. There is a slight danger here which can arise from making too much effort in an incorrect attempt at focusing the mind. This can create a disturbance in the wind element of the body. Therefore, we should first develop a certain degree of mindfulness and an ability to concentrate using one of the more simple practices. Then, after gradually having attained some proficiency, effort can be made in this respiration practice. Having developed a reasonably strong force of mindfulness, then even if we concentrate on the respiration, the danger of wind disorders becomes less. These disorders arise in a troubled and frustrated mind. To develop mindfulness we must maintain an easy-going, peaceful state of mind. This is similar to the state of mind we experience doing something we enjoy. We should find that having developed a degree of mindfulness, a sense of anticipation and enjoyment will accompany our meditation. As a result of this, we will want to find time to practice in spite of our many responsibilities.

Another important consideration should be the place we meditate. Ideally, it should be a quiet, open place with clean air and water; a place the mind finds naturally appealing. Although this is best, it is not indispensable. Our environment can affect us very much, and if we live in a place which is pleasant and agreeable we will obviously be happier. No one likes living in an unpleasant place. If we try to meditate amid disagreeable conditions, unnecessary problems and interferences will arise. We must be skilful when dealing with meditation, trying to arrange things in such a way that our mind is encouraged and happy to engage in the practice. An unhappy aural is simply an obstacle to practice. If we can provide agreeable conditions, our minds will be at ease and our practice will develop accordingly. It is possible that someone may think it would be beneficial to meditate in a place they are very attached to, because they enjoy being there. This is a mistake. To nurture attachment by staying in such a place would be a misinterpretation of what I have said. A place with good air and water is beneficial because these factors contribute to physical well-being and because of the relationship between mind and body, physical well-being has a positive mental effect.

Having found a suitable environment to meditate, we must turn our attention to our mental attitude. Initially, it is important to cultivate an attitude of having few desires and being content. The constant desire to acquire things and incessantly worrying that we may not have enough of something are both signs of attachment. These attitudes must be changed and our desires curtailed. In addition, we must be content, thinking whatever we have is sufficient. Developing such attitudes will naturally improve our meditation, as one of the causes of poor meditation is not getting what we desire. Thinking about the source of our desire and whether we can get what we want or not only serves to distract the mind. In addition, dissatisfaction will arise if we constantly think this or that is not good enough or is insufficient. Our dissatisfaction will turn toward other objects seeking gratification. Once the mind is distracted in this way, the body soon follows becoming preoccupied with satisfying desires. This will block any possible meditational progress.

The desire to find a suitable environment is only to provide the circumstances for good meditation, it is not to locate a pleasant place to go to stop working and simply relax. We might think that it is necessary to completely isolate ourselves from any human contact while in retreat. This may be possible if the meditator is possessed of much inner strength and thoroughly acquainted with methods of turning back any internal interferences. But for anyone lacking these abilities it is best to have a helper when in retreat. This does not mean a person who lives together with the meditator, but someone who stays nearby, available to help with any needs or problems the meditator might have. It need not even be the same person all the time. If we try to remain alone in retreat, we face the possibility of problems arising from our mental distortions and misconceptions, and in addition, difficulties from external sources. Should we try to enter retreat unprepared and without any helper, it is quite possible, because of our distorted thinking, that in the end we will become more disturbed than before beginning the practice.

It is also important that our helper is someone who supports and encourages our practice. He or she should be a wholesome, easy-going, relaxed and open-minded individual. They must also have the ability to help us deal with any doubts which might arise while meditating. In short, a thoughtful, intelligent person who is patient and in harmony with the practitioner. The ability to help in dealing with doubts is important because if the meditator has no one to refer to in this respect, he or she may act on these mistaken ideas and by following an erroneous conclusion, develop a wide variety of physical or mental ills. In fact, before entering retreat, the practitioner should have a clear and accurate understanding of how he or she is to practice, the way of developing the practice and how to avoid mistakes. The text states that, "provisions are necessary to produce a satisfied meditator". This refers to the prerequisite understanding and clarity regarding the practice which is necessary before beginning to meditate. Lacking this, a meditator who goes off to live in the mountains will be unable to make much progress. This is like a crow who aimlessly flies up into the branches of a tree, sits there for a while and flies down.

The finest circumstantial cause for successful meditation is the guarding of moral discipline. A sound ethical base is indispensable, whether one is a layperson, a monk or a nun. Where this base is present, growth and maturation through meditation can develop. If a person goes off to meditate but, lacking mindfulness, is unable to guard the doors of the senses, as I explained earlier, this will also negate any possible progress. Alertness is also important. Lacking this, the meditator will remain unaware of his mistakes. The meditator must also apply what was said about eating and sleeping as this can affect the success of the practice. As I mentioned before, the night should be divided into three parts. During the second, a person sleeps to revitalize the body's energy. But when a certain degree of concentration has been attained, there will be less need for sleep. This is due to the revitalization of physical energy which is generated by the meditation itself. I also spoke of eating properly to avoid a feeling of heaviness and lack of mental clarity. Here again, the development of concentration will affect the body in such a way that conventional nourishment becomes less and less important. But these two possibilities are still far beyond our present state of development. At the moment, what is most crucial is that we develop mindfulness and alertness, and this should be done in relation to our everyday activities.

Last week, I mentioned that we must be aware of what we say. This is to counteract our present tendency to often speak of meaningless things which waste time and are seldom of any benefit. The result is simply a distracted mind. If we have something meaningful to say, fine, but otherwise we should remain quiet, using the time we gain for thoughtful reflection. This will help us avoid many of the problems associated with talking. Our usual conversations often begin with a meaningful subject, but soon we begin speaking about our problems, other's problems and a multitude of meaningless things. Each of you should check to see if this is true and whether or not this advice is valid. If you find it beneficial, practice it. In fact, it is something which applies to all of us.

Upon reflection, we should notice a distinct difference between someone who spends most of his time alone and someone who is often conversing with others. At the end of a day, the individual who spent his time with activity, but free of the opportunity to gossip about the faults of others and so forth, will, as a result, have very few disturbing thoughts. The individual who spent his day talking about his and everyone else's problems will find his mind overflowing with internal dialogue. This is something we can recognize from our own experience. In the former case, even though the person may lack effective opponent forces, such as mindfulness and alertness, because he has no one to talk to he has less disturbing thoughts and emotions at the end of the day.

This completes the third talk of this series. Please think carefully about what I have said. These are topics which should provide practical guidelines, both in the sphere of dharma and for our daily activities.

FOURTH SUNDAY

During the last few Sunday evenings, we have spoken about what we must do when meditating, how we can conduct ourselves outside our meditation sessions and how to relate these two periods. These topics were easy to understand and very practical. We should be aware that for whatever type of meditation either the development of concentration, the stages of the path or on a meditational deity, we must first complete certain preliminaries. When we hear of such practices as the six perfections, we may think these are not for us, but rather only for highly evolved practitioners on the Mahayana path. But if we aspire to develop a complete practice, then in addition to our principal meditations, we should include the six perfections as part of our practice. This should be possible if we consider these practices and how they relate to attitudes we are already familiar with.

For example, I have already spoken of the need for having few desires and being content. These two aspects of practice are related to the perfection of giving. Our cultivation of these attitudes is carried out in reference to our possessions and what we use each day. If we have much acquisitive desire and are never satisfied, this manifest attachment will block our progress. This should be evident from your own experience. A person with few desires, who is easily satisfied will have a natural willingness to give. Strong attachment is characterized by intense grasping, whereas freedom from attachment will manifest in an ease of sharing and giving. In this way, we can see a relationship between these two important attitudes and the perfection of giving. And as they are indispensable for successful meditation, whether simple concentration or the more difficult tantric practices, any complete practice will include them and hence be related to the perfection of giving.

I also spoke of moral discipline as a necessary prerequisite to meditation. This aspect of the practice is related to the perfection of morality. As this is such an important facet of the practice, we should maintain moral discipline as well as we are able. We should not attempt to do a practice which we find impossibly difficult, but what we are able to do, we should.

This can be made clearer by relating it to non-virtuous actions and obscurations. We are often exhorted to purify evil and obscurations. To do so, we must obviously recognize what is meant by these concepts and how they differ. All non-virtuous actions are considered to be obscurations. But obscurations are not always non-virtuous. The ten non-virtuous actions: the three of body, four of speech and three of mind - and also the imprints of non-virtue on the mind-stream are considered to be both non-virtue and obscurations. Such factors act in a two-fold way. On the one hand, they give rise to future physical and mental suffering and secondly, act as tremendously strong obstacles on our path to enlightenment. Therefore, however much a practitioner can weaken the strength of these distorting and obscuring factors, to that extent his practice will gain power and clarity.

Whether a person is of the laity or the sangha, without a sound ethical basis, concentration cannot be developed. All dharma practitioners should avoid the ten non-virtuous actions. But here again, I would caution against trying to practice what one is unable. Our practices should be based on a realistic evaluation of our capabilities. It is not skilful to try to force a practice. This applies equally well to the duration of our practice. If we can constantly be aware of all our actions and guard against negativity, this is best, but if not, then we should strive to remain aware as often as possible.

Maintaining awareness is an individual task; each of us must guard our own mind. If our mind is controlled by attentiveness to its many aspects, this will naturally result in physical and verbal control as well, as the body and speech are subservient to the mind. Our mind is like the central fuse box of an electrical system. If we turn on the power at the fuse box, we have power throughout the lines. If the power at the fuse box is cut, so too is the power in the lines. Our mind is like the fuse box and our body and speech are like the lines. All our waking hours we are under the primary control of our mind. Like an automobile responds to a driver, our body and speech respond to our mind. If our mind is distracted or confused, our physical and verbal actions will reflect this. Our body, in many ways, is like a lump of matter, like a stone for example, which left on its own simply lies in one place. Our body must be driven and controlled by our mind, hence our mind is the basis for all our activity. Mental control is something which each individual must develop with thoughtfulness and reflection. The mind cannot be controlled by external means or somehow bombed into submission like an enemy camp. Each individual must make a personal effort.

Patience is also indispensable for successful meditation practice. Lacking this mental factor, we will be unable to progress and develop. There are three types of patience: the patience of accepting and enduring your own suffering, the patience of not becoming upset by those who harm us and finally the patience of resolving to endure the hardships involved in dharma study. The first of these is the most important. If we lack forbearance in the face of difficulties, we will never succeed in our meditation practice. Conversely, where this patient acceptance is present, we can only succeed.

Our typical way of practising is to initially make great effort, but at the first sign of difficulty we abandon our practice. Then, later, when comfortable, we again begin to think and study until we encounter new difficulties, at which time we again give up. Such behaviour indicates our lack of patience with difficulties and will lead nowhere. In general, when we are forced to follow a strict system of rules and regulations, we encounter difficulties. We invariably find it easier to ignore rules and regulations and do as we like. Yet, nevertheless, the possibility exists, that if we adhere to the rules, even though they are difficult, if they are reasonable, the results can be positive and in the long run may even reduce our problems. When we meditate, we must use our minds. But if we try to control them when meditating and yet allow them free rein at other times, we will find ourselves acting in a random and undisciplined way. Any desire to develop mental control must rest on a disciplined basis. There will be certain actions which are permissible, others which are not. Here mindfulness and alertness play key roles in guarding the mind and maintaining a certain amount of self-discipline. We will inevitably experience some problems in maintaining a set of rules and regulations. This will be especially true in the beginning. For example, here in Switzerland, there is a very complicated set of laws which may be quite difficult for some to follow.

In the course of our practice, as a result of having to cope with these difficulties, we may experience frustration and fatigue. In the early stages of practice, there is an obvious tendency to feel extreme joy at the least sign of progress and much too much discouragement and frustration at the least sign of difficulty. To guard against this tendency, when we meditate and find we have made a little progress and with it attained a certain amount of satisfaction or peace of mind, we should not grasp at this very strongly and think it is especially meaningful. Likewise, when we experience difficulties, we should again not overreact, but instead think, "It's okay, naturally as dharma practice is not easy I am bound to encounter some difficulties." In both cases, we must develop equanimity, in the former, to avoid grasping at pleasant experiences in meditation, and in the latter, to avoid impatience, discouragement and frustration because of unpleasant experiences. We must cultivate a balanced attitude. If we can, our practice will become stable and long lasting. It is a little like balancing the load on a pack horse. If it is balanced, it will be comfortable and easy for the horse to carry. If not, it will cause unnecessary suffering.

These attitudes do not only apply to our dharma practice, but to all facets of our lives. We must reduce our attachment and learn to be patient with difficulties, develop balance and equanimity. Such qualities contribute to evolving a positive satisfying lifestyle. They will help an individual gain peace of mind and a happier outlook on-life. Without a balanced mind, we will see-saw between happy, optimistic days when we enjoy everything we do, and miserable, frustrated days when we feel downcast and at odds with the world. Such erratic behaviour indicates a lack of balance and equanimity.

If we are able to develop this first type of patience, then the second type, forbearance towards those who harm us, will naturally arise. We should develop these abilities before problems arise by repeatedly considering sound reasons for doing so. Such preparations are then the groundwork for our actually being patient when we encounter individuals or situations which tend to make us short-tempered and prone to anger. This may even include such simple things as unpleasant weather. First we must prepare ourselves and then actually apply the practice when a relevant situation arises.

Patience is something which we must cultivate over days, weeks, months, even years. If we do so, we will develop a natural sense of forbearance and will remain unperturbed by unpleasant and disagreeable events. In such cases, keeping our mind calm and collected will prevent many of the mental problems we often suffer from related to anxiety and frustration. Such mental disorders arise in dependence on the wind element in our body. The wind element becomes agitated and unbalanced by an unhappy mental outlook. Patience, on the other hand, will result in a relaxed and balanced mind, regardless of external circumstances. When the mind is happy, the causes for mental disturbances simply do not arise.

If we lack this patience in the face of adversity, even if we can control ourselves for a limited time by ignoring the source of discontent, eventually anger or frustration will arise. Once anger is present in our mind, we will be unable to meditate. Therefore, any desire to meditate must be accompanied by cultivating patience.

We have now dealt with the first three perfections, giving, morality and patience and their role in meditation practice. The fourth perfection of enthusiasm or joyful effort is also an important aid to developing a satisfying practice. Enthusiasm, in this context, refers to our appreciation of meditation and our enjoyment in doing it. It is present in a mind which enjoys meditating. It is manifest when, at the beginning and during our practice, we experience a happy, joyful state of mind. When it is present we do not encounter insurmountable difficulties, but rather, ease and peace of mind. Interferences vanish and the practice gradually develops. It is exemplified in a person who likes to study. Such a person finds his work satisfying, enjoyable and as a consequence produces good quality results.

For someone who is adverse to even hearing the word meditate, forcing a practice is no sign of enthusiasm. This type of attitude, whether applied to meditation or other activities, will only give rise to a sense of frustration, which will lead to an imbalance in the wind element and subsequently, mental disturbances. We can see this from our own experiences with study and work. Someone who forces himself to do something can only carry on for a limited period of time before he abandons the activity. This indicates a simple lack of desire or interest in what he was doing. This should make clear the importance of enthusiasm for any successful meditation practice.

In general, we speak of two types of meditation: analytical and concentrative. In both cases, we must develop the ability to concentrate single-pointedly on an object. Progress will be difficult without this ability. Some people have the misconception that concentration means only the ability to keep the mind stable and lacks the capacity for analysis. In fact, there are a number of different types of concentration. Single-pointed concentration denotes the ability to hold the mind one-pointedly on a given object, without any analytical activity. But this is just one type of concentration. Another is that mind which analyses a particular object or concept and is not disturbed by intruding thoughts. For example, our French interpreter must remain very concentrated as he simultaneously interprets. On the one hand, he must pay close attention to the English interpreter and at the same time, he must also attend to what he is saying in French. His ability to do this depends on his power of concentration. Another good example is an accountant. Working with numbers and figures in accounting necessitates that the mind remain concentrated if one is to avoid mistakes. This is yet another way we use the force of concentration. But it is not an innate ability, the potential is there and must be developed through repeated exercise. And as I said earlier, concentration is essential for whatever type of meditation we want to do. Without it, we cannot hope to progress. We know from our own experience, that for anyone who must do precise and exacting work, it is necessary to develop this skill through repeated study and practice until they are thoroughly familiar with the process. This is also equally true in the development of the skill of meditating. We must gradually become acquainted and accustomed to the process. This, then, is how and why concentration, the fifth of the perfections, is incorporated into successful meditation practice.

Our practice of meditation must be free of error, we must have no confusion about it and we must clearly recognize the object of our concentration. To do so, we must have intelligence and its ability to analyse. This is the sixth of the perfections. The above explanations should make it clear that it is a fallacy to think the six perfections apply only to the practice of the bodhisattvas and not to ourselves. We should now be able to see how they can form an integral part of anyone's practice. As all of us are interested in meditation, our studies should be directed to that end. All can and should be preparations for meditation.

FIFTH SUNDAY

I have spoken in the previous talks about how such daily activities as walking, resting and working can be integrated into our practice of meditation and what benefits can arise as a result. In contrast to the time we spend in daily activity, the time we spend meditating is very brief. Although we may be able to make some progress during these short meditation sessions, it is usually negated by the distractions of everyday life. Given this situation, substantial progress becomes impossible. But if we can constantly develop the powers of mindfulness and alertness, in whatever we are doing, the results will be obvious when we meditate. The point of these last few talks was to explain how a mutually beneficial relationship can be formed between everyday activities and meditation practice. In addition, I spoke about some of the positive contributory conditions for meditating, such as the place.

The aim of our meditation practice is twofold. We must develop mindfulness and also intelligence or wisdom. The growth of these two factors should be simultaneous. At the same time, we need alertness to guard against mistakes. Most of you are familiar with these mental factors from previous talks, but as there are some new people here this evening, I will briefly reiterate. Firstly, we must recognize these are factors of our own minds, not external forces. It is our mind which meditates, with our body acting as a supportive base. Because meditation is a personal undertaking, its growth and development take place within the sphere of individual minds. In order to understand the method, we must rely on the instructions of a qualified teacher and material gleaned from meditation manuals, but the principal factor in the process remains each individual's mind.

In addition to mindfulness, alertness and intelligence, we must also cultivate aspiration and faith. These factors aid the former three in their development. Mindfulness prevents us from forgetting our object of concentration. Without it, our mind will be inattentive and simply wander aimlessly. Lacking intelligence, we will be confused and unclear about the practice. To avoid these faults, we must cultivate these two mental factors.

In order for mindfulness and intelligence to arise, we must first have aspiration. Without it, we will have no interest in meditating. Lacking this interest, obviously there will be little progress. We know from experience that if we are not interested in something, we have very little enthusiasm for it. In addition, we must actually engage in the practice, mere interest will not bring any results. For example, if we dislike swimming, we will not go. Our decision to swim depends on our enjoying it. If the interest and desire is present, we will go. Aspiration contains these elements and our actually engaging in an activity depends on it. If we do not like an activity, we never really gain a sense of satisfaction from it nor do we like to commit ourselves to doing it. It is the same in meditating. We need aspiration to act as a stimulus to practice.

Aspiration and the related factor of appreciation can be classified in three ways. When aspiration and appreciation motivate unwholesome actions, they are considered as negative. When they are motivating factors in activities like jogging and swimming, they are considered neutral. When they act as contributory causes for wholesome actions, such as meditation, they are considered positive. With this in mind, we should strive to reduce the instances of negative manifestations of these two factors. Any attempt at developing and increasing their positive effects will definitely be of benefit to us and we must make an effort to do so.

We should remain aware of the fact that these classifications are all related to factors within our minds. In this way, we should integrate and augment positive factors, while making an effort to eliminate negative ones. These are solely mental transformations. It is the responsibility of each of us to change our mental attitudes.

Any discussion of the need for developing aspiration and appreciation in our dharma practice must be accompanied by emphasis on the need of also developing faith. Where there is faith, aspiration and appreciation easily lead to positive growth and evolution. Although it is possible to meditate without faith, such a practice will remain weak and unfulfilling. Conversely, to the extent we can develop faith, our practice will become satisfying and effective. If, for example, we spent the next half an hour meditating together, each of us would naturally tend to choose as our subject something in which we have faith. We know from experience how difficult it is to meditate on a subject in which we have no faith. If we try to force ourselves to do so, the mind will resist or simply wander elsewhere.

There are a number of different types of faith. Here I am speaking particularly of believing faith and aspiring faith. Believing faith is exemplified by our meditating on a subject which we feel is beneficial and will result in positive growth or mental peace and happiness. We believe in the benefit of the act. If we doubt the value of an action, it is a sign of our not believing in it. If we doubt the value of meditation, we will not progress. This is why believing faith is so important. Even so, by itself, believing faith is insufficient. We must also have aspiring faith. This is necessary because we must never rest content at any stage of our practice, but continually make effort to move ahead. Our effort to develop deeper realization hinges on our desire to do so. We should note that all forms of desire are not necessarily negative.

In general, we can speak of many different reasons for meditating, but these can all be included in three broad categories. First, there is the desire to meditate arising out of a yearning for peace of mind. This is fine, as we all enjoy being peaceful and relaxed. The second type is motivated by the need to eliminate mental problems or aberrations. It is possible to deal with these if we are able to reflect on them. Through contemplation, we can begin to recognize their actual nature and sense their insignificance. Both these realizations will tend to diminish their importance and with it their effect on us.

The third type of reason for meditating takes into consideration long-term goals. It is the attitude which seeks to eliminate both our own and also the suffering of others. In its comprehensiveness it is related to aspiring faith with its emphasis on ever greater development of our potential as human beings. We will all be naturally motivated by the first two reasons for meditating; no one likes to suffer. In addition, we can certainly appreciate the value of the third type of motivation which seeks to benefit both oneself and others. If we merely speak about the relationship of meditation to our dharma practice, without understanding the implications of real meditation, nothing will come of it. On the other hand, if we can develop an understanding of these three types of motivation and incorporate them into our practice, it will be possible to obtain the relative benefits of each.

To return to our discussion concerning faith, it is important to realize that faith must be cultivated using a method, it will not always grow of its own accord. Repeatedly considering the reasons why meditation is beneficial, desirable and productive provides the means of developing faith. Our experience will have taught us that both from a worldly point of view and when considering dharma practice, if we begin an activity feeling that it is reasonable and soundly based, we will be confident of its worth. Our confidence will even allow us to disregard anyone who may try to discourage us. Where this confidence is lacking, stability and a sense of commitment will never arise. Therefore, it is best to begin any activity with good reasons for doing so. If we can appreciate the benefit of meditation and are convinced of its effectiveness, then regardless of the opinions of others, we will carry out our practice. For example, if we are certain to make a profit on the sale of some merchandise, we will not hesitate to sell.

Not only must we have reasons, they must also be valid. If we doubt the validity of our reasons this will affect our motivation and no real change will take place. Development of this certainty arises through the force of hearing. This means that we must receive an explanation of the particular practices we are interested in. Requesting and receiving these explanations completes this important aspect of hearing.

The Tibetan master Sakya Pandita has said that to meditate without having heard (the teachings) is like trying to rock-climb with one's fists. This example is easy to understand; if we try to climb using only our fists we will surely fall. It illustrates that without listening to teachings we cannot develop sound reasons for practice. When we lack a reasonable basis, our normal tendency is to simple leave an action unfinished. Having good reasons is similar to using our hands to climb. If we move from rock to rock holding on, there is not such a danger of falling. If our meditation practice is based on sound reasons, we will follow through with it and make progress.

Having heard that listening to the teachings is so important, we may think it is necessary to live in a centre where we can make an intensive study of all that is taught. While this is beneficial, it is not indispensable. Instead, if we can attend week-long meditation courses several times a year or spend a few days with a teacher from time to time, this can enable us to develop the force of hearing without having to live full-time in a dharma centre.

Intelligence or wisdom is generally divided into three types: those which arise from hearing, contemplation and meditation. If we begin by developing the first, the second and third types will naturally follow. We can use our present situation to illustrate this. At the moment you are listening to this teaching. As you hear these ideas and concepts, you should be considering what is being said, for example, that here is something quite important, or this is something I must cultivate, while here is something I must eliminate and so forth. This is the intelligence which arises from hearing. Next, having returned home, for several days or more you should continue to reflect on what you have heard. This process can be augmented by listening to tapes of the talk again or by reading books related to the subject. As a result of repeated thinking and reflecting on the material you will develop the intelligence arising from contemplation. When we have thought about a subject in this way it gives rise to new or "fresh" understanding. Subsequently thinking about this subject again and again, until we are completely familiar with it and it is firmly and clearly established in our minds, is referred to as developing the intelligence acquired through meditation.

Our minds are obscured by the force of bewildered ignorance. To begin to eliminate this we need the force of hearing. This must be followed by the development of contemplation and meditation. It is in this way, utilizing these three types of intelligence, that we can reduce and eventually eliminate ignorance from our minds. Unless we develop this type of wisdom which can eliminate the darkness of ignorance from our minds, even if we were able to combine the force of all the world's electrical energy we would be unable to clear away the obscuring darkness of the force of bewildered ignorance from our minds.

As I said earlier, there are numerous types and stages of meditation. Whatever practice we do, we must keep in mind that it is extremely important to develop a stable and effective force of intelligence. This stability and effectiveness will arise only if we accompany our development of intelligence with that of mindfulness. Where these two factors are not equally at work, we can easily see the results. Someone who is intelligent but lacks mindfulness can understand what he is told but quickly forgets. Someone who is mindful but lacks intelligence can hold things firmly in mind, but cannot grasp a broad spectrum of information. Because we must comprehend and remember what is involved in dharma practice, we must have both.

Essentially, we need to develop and utilize certain aspects of our mind. Here, some of the methods which can be used have been explained. It is very good if you can understand these and best if you can put them into practice.

© 19.08.2018 Rabten Choeling • EditorialData protection