Simple Truths About The Buddhist Practice of Meditation

Buddha, the Founder of Buddhism

by Jayaram V

In its ultimate essence, Buddhism aims to help you to end your suffering through awareness and conscientious intelligence. It helps you to understand how you become into what you are and what factors shape you and your life.

You learn it by paying close attention to yourself and the world in which you live. In the process you gain control over your own thoughts, actions and responses and find peace and stability in yourself. The teachings of the Buddha are the guidelines. But you are under no compulsion to follow him or the millions of monks and teachers who are venerated by various schools of Buddhism.

What you need is a head on your own shoulders that is truly yours, free from illusions, deceit and worldliness. The teachings of the Buddha are preserved in the Buddhist canon. But there are a thousand variations in which they are practiced. The differences are inevitable, because Buddhism aims to save you from the conditioning of your own mind and from the deceptions and the defenses you entertain ignorantly to distract yourself from the real suffering in your life. A Buddhist may disagree with his fellow Buddhists on finer aspects of practice and theory. But he generally accepts the dhamma-vinaya, consisting of the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path, as the core philosophy of his life.

In Buddhism there is no place for blind faith. Every principle has to be tested in real life situations and understood through personal experience. The Buddha himself advised his followers to guard themselves against religious authority and be lamps unto themselves. Centuries later a similar theme was echoed by J.Krishnamurthy, though not a Buddhist in the strict sense of the word, when he said that religion was a pathless land in which each one had to find one's own path.

Rinzai Roku, a Zen master, summed up the same approach beautifully when he said, "If you become the master of each circumstance, wherever you stand, whatever you do, is Truth itself." Scholars of various schools of Buddhism may spend time in putting forth arguments and subtle nuances of their respective schools of philosophy in defense of their beliefs and practices. But if you have studied Buddhism in some detail and understood its deepest essence or its core values, you will realize that Buddhism is all about knowing yourselves by being grounded in reality and living with right intentions, with a sense of ethical responsibility, to break through the conditioning to which you are susceptible and end your suffering which is the dominant aspect of your life. It is about being who you are and what you are, living consciously and righteously, in the present moment, with loving kindness and total body and mind awareness.

Buddhism does not concern itself with speculation about the nature and existence of soul and God. Its emphasis is on using our own experiences to know what causes our suffering so that we can end it. It asks you to focus on the present reality, in a state of relaxed awareness, using your own body and mind as the vehicles of truth. Most religions encourage meditation on God and soul. But Buddhism views them as distractions having no real value in ending human suffering.

A Buddhist practitioner, who is grounded in objective reality, will not concern himself whether they exist or not because in his opinion such a pursuit will not lead him to Nirvana or freedom from suffering. For him we cannot resolve our current illusions by means of newer illusions. If we want to break out of our illusions and the deceptions that we build around, we ought to learn to look at reality with pristine clarity. So he aims to cultivate mindfulness to make sense of his existence and the suffering that characterizes it. He tries to understand how his thoughts, intentions and actions are constantly shaping his reality and precipitating his reactions and responses. By doing it he comes to know the importance of righteous living according to the Eightfold Path to escape from the consequences of his own karma.

From a Buddhist perspective, life is not about having goals or reaching somewhere. It is not about striving and seeking or fulfilling our desires. It is about knowing who you are and live mindfully with a sense of responsibility, following the Dharma consciously, intelligently and ethically as the means to end your suffering. Ethical living is indispensable in Buddhism because it is the only way you can end the suffering caused by your own karma. Remember, in Buddhism there is no God who can drop whatever He has been doing to come and rescue you. In life you are your own savior.

You are the doer and your are the sufferer. What matters most is your own actions and intentions. When you realize how the inexorable law of karma works, you will understand the immense responsibility with which you should live in the world to escape from its awful consequences. You will realize how you have been constantly drawing yourself into the vortex of life through your own actions and responses. In Buddhism, the emphasis, therefore, is not on going somewhere, but staying where you are, being who you are, living responsibly and conscientiously, and discover the truth concerning yourself and the world in which you live.

Monastic life is one of the distinguishing features of Buddhism. The Buddha established monasteries in various parts of India, to encourage the monks to live together and benefit from their collective wisdom, learning from each other, so that the practice and promulgation of Dharma would continue simultaneously. However, strictly speaking, in Buddhism, monastic life is not indispensable for the practice of Dharma, although it is a recommended ideal. A lay Buddhist can live amidst the world and use his very house as a monastery and his very life as an opportunity to practice the Eightfold Path and realize the significance of the Four Noble Truths. The monastery provides an ideal setting for stabilizing the mind and overcoming the monkey nature. But it can be done in ordinary life also. One does not have to become a monk to experience mindfulness. What is important is constant practice for practice sake without expectation.

As an ancient Zen saying declares, "One monk has left home but is not on the way. The other has never left home, but is on the way." Monkhood is a state of mind rather than a religious observance. For a Buddhist, the world offers endless opportunities to practice mindfulness and experience life in its totality. Every moment of your life, everything you do in your wakeful state, is a good opportunity to know the underlying truths that drive you to action, the illusions that you use to avoid the real issues of your life and the suffering that arises from your ignorance as you play your role in the drama of your life.

The Buddhist meditation is the means where by one can test the truths taught by the Buddha. In the earlier stages, a Buddhist initiate may set aside a specific time and place to practice meditation. But as he progresses on the path, he is advised to bring meditation to his daily life and use it continuously throughout his waking hours. In Buddhism some meditation practices are simple and some very complex, but both aim to develop in you total awareness through mindfulness. Every object and every activity is an opportunity to practice meditation. You can do the practice, using your normal and routine activities such as breathing, walking, sitting, standing, cleaning, talking, bathing, eating, drinking, writing or any of the myriad activities that you do every day. It is in the observation of mundane life that you find extraordinary truths concerning yourself.

What you are expected to do is to pay attention to your thoughts, feelings or emotions in the present moment, as the world floats by, and use the awareness so gained to practice the virtues of the Buddha through righteous living. In subsequent stages you may consciously practice virtues by cultivating thoughts of non-injury, truthfulness, compassion, love, forgiveness and peace and extend them selflessly towards the rest of the creation for the welfare of all.

This is basically the structure and content of the Buddhist meditation. While it looks simple, its practice is not so, because it would require years of regular practice and right effort before you can reach anywhere near the ideal of total mindfulness and freedom from illusion. By declaring that there is no such thing as an absolute and immortal soul, Buddhism brings salvation closer to our lives and makes it an earthly concept, central to human life and its main purpose, which is ending suffering. If you are a non Buddhist and want to make the best use of its meditation practices, simply do this. Be mindful of whatever you do. Pay attention to everything that goes on in your life. Stay in the present. Live your life with full awareness. Breath consciously, eat consciously, walk consciously, read consciously and, in short, live consciously, as if there is nothing else in the world and nothing else matters at this very moment.

Also make sure that you live righteously and your actions are guided by right intentions, right thoughts, right effort and right views. Spread thoughts of love, compassion, peace and forgiveness towards everything that you find in your wakeful consciousness: the people, the trees, the plants, the creatures, the sky, the earth, the air, the water, the rivers, the stars, the houses and everything else. In short, be a lamp unto yourself.

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