Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Lesson 10 - Meditation

Today's lesson is on Meditation. I could write a book on this subject but for purposes of this blog I will keep it simple and concise. Meditation can take many forms, walking meditation where practitioners walk in a defined manner while focusing concentration often done in Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism. There is Vipassana meditation, a Sanskrit word meaning insight. Samatha which is a calming pacifying meditation popular in many Yoga classes. There are guided meditations with the practitioner focusing on mental visualizations. All good forms of meditation. The meditation I have found most useful in my own life is called Kalibasa in the Shum language of India. It is a technique that I believe with practice anyone can use. I will make the point here that meditation is a skill that must be honed. Many people have commented to me "I can't meditate..my mind just will not slow down!" This is the case for everyone. Meditation at first is not an easy task. So be patient with yourself and grow into your practice. It will become easier with time. In Buddhism we call this racing of the mental faculties the "monkey mind", I think this term gives an adequate description. The mind is wild and out of control in its state as we normally view it. When you sit down and see how frantic your mind is this is good! You can understand why you might be stressed with all of those thoughts bouncing around uncontrollably in there. The goal of meditation is to witness this and then work to make the mind a calm and peaceful state. You do this by first being aware. When thoughts arise in your meditations look at them like passing clouds. Just notice them and then let them drift away. The mind can be peaceful but the "monkey mind" needs to be trained. Keep at it and the rewards will be great.

What will follow is a structured outline of Kalibasa meditation.

We now come to the practical aspects of meditation. In the beginning, it is best to find a suitable room that is dedicated solely to meditation. If you were a carpenter, you would get a shop for that purpose. You have a room for eating, a room for sleeping. It is best to have a separate room just for the purpose of meditation. If you are fortunate to have this, wash the walls and ceiling, wash the windows. Prepare a small altar if you like, bringing together the elements of earth, air, fire and water or place on your altar those representations of faith that are aligned with you. If it is not possible to dedicate a room to meditation then I would suggest a special area of a room, free from clutter and only used for this purpose. Establish a time for your meditations and meet those times strictly. This is VERY important. There will be days when you just don't feel like meditating. Good. Those are often the best days, the times when we make strong inner strides. The finest times to meditate are six in the morning, twelve noon, six in the evening, and twelve midnight. All four of these times could be used, or just choose one. The period of meditation should be from ten minutes to one-half hour to begin with. Posture is important as well in meditation. By sitting up straight, with the spine erect, we transmute the energies of the physical body. Posture is important, especially as meditation deepens and lengthens. With the spine erect and the head balanced at the top of the spine, the life force is quickened and intensified as energies flood freely through the nerve system. It is best to keep the tongue touching the inside of the front teeth lightly and breathing through your nose. In a position such as this, we cannot become worried, fretful, depressed or sleepy during our meditation. But if we slump the shoulders forward, we short-circuit the life energies. In a position such as this, it is easy to become depressed, to have mental arguments with oneself or another, or to experience unhappiness as the energy flow is restricted. So, learn to sit dynamically, relaxed and yet poised. The full-lotus position, with the right foot resting on the left thigh and the left foot above, resting on the right thigh, is the most stable posture to assume, hands resting in the lap, right hand on top, with both thumbs touching.

The first observation you may have when thus seated for meditation is that thoughts are racing through the mind substance. You may become aware of many, many thoughts. Also the breath may be irregular. Therefore, the next step is to transmute the energies from the intellectual area of the mind through proper breathing, in just the same way that proper attitude, preparation and posture transmuted the physical-instinctive energies. Through regulation of the breath,thoughts are stilled and awareness moves into an area of the mind which does not think, but conceives and intuits.

There are vast and powerful systems of breathing that can stimulate the mind, sometimes to excess. Deep meditation requires only that the breath be systematically slowed or lengthened. This happens naturally as we go within, but can be encouraged by a method of breathing called kalibasa in Shum. During kalibasa, the breath is counted, nine counts as we inhale, hold one count, nine counts as we exhale, hold one count. The length of the beats, or the rhythm of the breath,will slow as the meditation is sustained, until we are counting to the beat of the heart, hridaya spanda pranayama. This exercise allows awareness to flow into an area of the mind that is intensely alive, peaceful, blissful and conceives the totality of a concept rather than thinking out the various parts.

Remember as with any skill practice makes perfect. Give yourself the gift of having a wellspring to draw from and start meditating today. It is beneficial for the soul and as many researchers have noted on the body as well. Only with a calm mind can one practice the dharma. This is why meditation is a corner stone of Buddhist practice. When you start to meditate you will start to experience your TRUE self.


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