There can be a number of objectives of meditation from simple relief of stress, through improving the long-term peace of mind in this life, up to stabilising and clarifying the very subtle (root) mind that goes on to future lives. Meditation gives us an awareness of the deathless, non-physical nature of the mind and provides a path out of materialism. Ultimately it enables us to awaken our spiritual potential and find lasting joy and contentment.
There are many forms of meditation, but within the New Kadampa Tradition a typical procedure consists of the following stages:
(1) Preliminary calming.
For all meditators (both secular and Buddhist) various methods such as observation of the breath, visualisations or mental (silent) mantra recitations are used to empty the mind of its workaday distractions.
In addition, the Buddhist practitioner will perform various other activities to purify and empower the mind and create a connection with enlightened beings.
(2) Analytical meditation.
Intellectual analysis is used to generate a deep understanding of a particular virtuous object. For example, if we reflect on the vast aeons during which life has evolved to its present state, we come to the conclusion that we have been reborn in many forms and at some time or another had a parent-child relationship with all sentient beings. We then imagine all the suffering sentient beings in the world as being our own parents or children, and in this way generate an intuitive feeling (as well as the original intellectual reasoning) of great compassion and a wish to rescue them.
(3) Placement meditation.
Having generated an intuitive feeling of compassion we place our mind on this 'virtuous object' (returning to intellectual analysis if necessary to strengthen the intuitive feeling) and attempt to familiarize or mix our mind with the feeling of compassion. The secular meditator can think of this as an attempt to influence habitual and subconscious thought processes. To the practising Buddhist the purpose is also to influence and change the very subtle root mind away from the wanderings that lead to uncontrolled rebirth by increasing the mind's positive aspects. All placement stages have in common the generation of realisations which are then mixed and imprinted onto the deep aspects of the mind where intuitive understanding resides.
At the end of placement meditation all practitioners will slowly come out of meditation. At this stage the Buddhist practitioner will also dedicate the positive affects of meditation for the benefit of others, typically to the happiness and eventual enlightenment of all sentient beings. This has the effect of stabilising and strengthening the positive changes to the very subtle mind
(5) The meditation break.
This is the time not spent in meditation. It should not however be regarded as something entirely different from the meditative experience. Instead we should try to hold on to the virtuous object by putting it into practice in our everyday life.
For a practical introduction to Buddhist meditation read 'The New Meditation Handbook' by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
- Sean Robsville
Meditation on Compassion
'...What is the goal of meditation? Through analytical meditation we shall perceive our object clearly, then through placement meditation we shall gain deeper levels of experience or realization. The main purpose of all Lamrim meditations is to transform our mind into the path to enlightenment by bringing about the deepest levels of realization. The sign that we have gained perfect realization of any object is that none of our subsequent actions are incompatible with it and that all of them become more meaningful. For example, when we have gained a perfect realization of compassion we are never again capable of willingly inflicting harm upon any other living being and all our subsequent actions are influenced by compassion...'
Stress and ill health
'......With the hectic pace and demands of modern life, many people feel stressed and over-worked. It often feels like there is just not enough time in the day to get everything done. Our stress and tiredness make us unhappy, impatient and frustrated. It can even affect our health.....On this website you can learn the basics of Buddhist meditation. A few books are mentioned that will help you to deepen your understanding if you wish to explore further. Anyone can benefit from the meditations given here, Buddhist or not. We hope that you find this website useful and that you learn to enjoy the inner peace that comes from meditation....'
The very subtle mind
'...The mind is neither physical, nor a by-product of purely physical processes, but a formless continuum that is a separate entity from the body. When the body disintegrates at death, the mind does not cease. Although our superficial conscious mind ceases, it does so by dissolving into a deeper level of consciousness, called 'the very subtle mind'. The continuum of our very subtle mind has no beginning and no end....'
If we regard Buddhism as a combination of a philosophy, psychology and religion, then how much mileage can we get from the first two aspects before we have to start invoking religious faith?