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Library: Member Essays

What Is Meditation?

We may define "meditation" as the art of consciousness becoming aware of it's own nature. This awareness is the discovery that intelligence itself is infinite, wondrous and without limit in the universe.

Why Meditate?

Meditation brings a sense of fullness and peace. It guides us gently to wisdom and gradually, step by step, to the Luminous Clarity that is our own true inner nature. Meditation leads to the only permanent source of happiness and wisdom available to human beings. All other forms of relaxation, tranquility and knowledge are only temporary and pass away over time. The experience acquired from meditation is truly your own, because it comes from the depths of your being. The play of the mind in its own inner nature is clear and luminous, without boundary and infinitely profound. The ecstatic bliss of deep meditation is similar to the exhilaration, wholesome fulfillment and wellbeing that we can get from love, so beautiful and mystical.

The True Aim of Meditation

The aim of meditation is eventual complete self-realization. This is the experience of knowing the mind for what it is, in the ultimate sense—the real nature of the mind—in itself: pure, luminous, and unconditioned. This is the knowledge of mind and being. Only through meditation can we come to experience this realization.

As the Tibetan teacher Tai Situpa says, "One must understand that the true aim of Buddhist practice is to achieve Enlightenment."

Meditation is an adventure of self-discovery. How can one live without knowing who or what one is? To know who one is, means to know the true intrinsic nature of mind. What is mind? We know a lot about how mind functions. Such a study is called psychology. But to know mind directly, what it is in and of itself, in its true and ultimate nature—this goes far beyond psychology. This takes real meditation.  

Basic Sitting Meditation

Basic sitting meditation is practiced in Tibet, India, Burma, Japan, China, Thailand, Ceylon, and now is becoming very popular in the West. This sitting should be encouraged as a gentle, pleasant experience. Never forced, never endured longer than is comfortable, sitting meditation can lead us inward, into the depth of our being. It's there, and no where else, that we can find peace and realization. It's there too, that we can awaken our own innate wisdom and psychic faculties.

Sitting meditationBegin by finding a relatively quiet place to meditate where you will not be disturbed. You can sit crosslegged Asian style on a meditation cushion on the floor, or sit in a chair. The idea is to relax and go inwards. Watching the natural movement of the breath can help. The breath will guide you into the meditation experience. What is important is to not daydream—there is no point in just sitting there allowing the mind to wander. The development and deepening of the meditation experience is gained by non-distraction, therefore keeping the mind still.

Meditation does not mean trying to have a blank mind. There is a difference between not being distracted and having a blank mind. Not being distracted means not getting caught up in thinking, not internally daydreaming to oneself. Keep the intention on the purpose of the meditation, which is to go deeper and deeper into calm-abiding. Let the inner light of the mind shine.

When you begin to sit quietly in meditation, your brain interprets this situation as a signal to start the process for sleep. Sleep inducing hormones such as melatonin are released and at the same time, your circulation and heart rate slow down. You may feel swept away on a sea of quiet relaxation. Meditation means that you become relaxed as if falling asleep, but your consciousness should remain fully awake and alert. If you are too alert, you will not be absorbed into the quietness of the meditative state. If on the other hand you loosen your alertness too much, you will drift into a sleepy, daydreaming state. It's necessary to find just the right equilibrium between these two. Then you will gradually, over many sessions, slowly acquire a deeper and deeper entrance into the true meditative condition.

What is the Practice of Mahamudra?

"The state of Buddha [is] inseparable from our being, from our mind. As soon as we have recognized this presence, there is an end to confusion. We then have no further need to seek Enlightenment outside." – Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

The practice of Mahamudra seeks the direct experience of one's own true nature—the unborn, undying self-existent Awareness that is the unique essence of Mind. To recognize the primordial state that is, and has been each individual's own intrinsic nature from the very beginning, is to glimpse the Ultimate Reality of oneself and the universe.

To understand and enter this primordial state one does not need intellectual knowledge in the sense of further conceptualization or philosophical speculation, nor is such an understanding dependant on a particular cultural or ethnic background. In fact such features, in many ways, may be actual hindrances. The primordial state is beyond any one culture or religion, just as it is beyond verbal, intellectual or philosophical grasp. The function of the transmission of the teachings of Mahamudra is to communicate the essence of mind's true nature directly from one who has realized it, to those who remain caught up in the dualistic condition.

Few are the teachers who can directly point out the nature of mind for the student. "Pointing out instruction" refers to a unique Kagyu method of directly introducing someone to the primordial state, in such a way that the seeker suddenly recognizes it for him or herself. This kind of instruction, obviously, cannot be given casually or informally. If the teaching is only grasped intellectually, as an idea or concept, the individual may become jaded, which makes the actual direct experience of realization much harder to attain.

Mahamudra is the core meditation method that is taught and practiced at the Hermitage. It is an advanced course of personal spiritual development, taught according to ancient traditional methods. It is generally not taught until some definite experience in Calm-abiding (shamatha) and Insight-practice (vipasyana) has been acquired first. A unique Kagyu practice, Mahamudra is the ultimate way of realizing the Enlightened state of one's mind in a single lifetime.

Further Instruction

For further guidance you can read the Dharma Fellowship Meditation Manual. However, although this manual describes calm-abiding (samatha) and insight-practice (vipasyana) in detail, it's not really possible to learn meditation from written instructions. You also really need a teacher. A meditation teacher is experienced and able to talk to you directly as your meditation matures. To quote the Shamar Rinpoche:

"The most recommended course of action that I offer to Buddhists in this present age is to gain a firm basis of theoretical understanding of the Buddhist path, and then to proceed onward by focusing as much as possible on actual meditation practice under a competent guide. Competence, in this case, is not measured by abilities to read Sanskrit or Tibetan, nor the possession of a Khenpo or Geshe degree; it is measured solely by meditation experience and realization."

The advice here is excellent. It all comes down to learning the basics, and then sitting and doing the practice. You cannot experience meditation by reading about it in a book or manual. Make meditation part of your life. Learn from direct experience. As our teacher Namgyal Rinpoche said, the only question is: "Are you prepared to try?" If so, then there is no time like now to begin! If you are ready, take a look at what courses in meditation the Hermitage has to offer.


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