People are attracted to the idea of meditation for different reasons. They sometimes become involved because they feel a lack of fulfilment in their lives. Other people think, Life can be so difficult and upsetting, maybe meditation will help me to become calmer, or Maybe meditation will give me the stability to deal with whatever happens, no matter how frustrated or negative I might feel. Those might be valid reasons for wanting to get into meditation, but they aren’t the real purpose of Buddhist practice.
When people get into the practice of formless meditation and become better able to relate to their experiences, they may indeed become calmer and more stable. But from a Buddhist perspective that is just a spin-off. The purpose of this meditation is simply to connect with a feeling of spaciousness and vastness so that some kind of insight or vision associated with discovering the nature of your experience can arise through the development of awareness. When you discover something of the nature of your mind, you also see something of the nature of the world and the nature of others.
The mind is so much like an old friend we have been with all our life that we tend to take it for granted. It is as though we feel we already know everything about it. It is quite amazing how we don’t bother to look at our minds or allow ourselves to relate to our experience properly. In the beginning, part of the training is to realise that you really know very little about your mind or experience. At the same time you see that it is actually possible to know.
There are some awesome discoveries to be made about the nature of your experience, which can happen by relating to the world you have with you on the meditation cushion. You don’t have to go to Australia or outer space or anywhere else to make those discoveries. Buddhism is not really concerned with the idea of ‘foreign travel’. There is also the incredible challenge that nobody else can make those discoveries except you. A sense of empathy and connection with other people arises naturally, because what you discover about yourself applies equally to others.
Meditation in Buddhism
Meditation is the basis of Buddhism. People have sometimes said to me, “I am not really interested in meditation – just teach me the daily life practice”. Well, it is not as simple as that; you have to do the sitting meditation as well. You have to have a kind of test bed, a sense of created space to allow the complexities of your mind to exhibit themselves. Just practising in everyday life is too difficult and too pressured; you don’t have enough space to really relate to what is going on.
The historical Buddha Sakyamuni told one of his disciples that his Dharma (teaching) was “come and see”, meaning that it is an open invitation to everybody without any sense of, “You must believe in this”. In the Buddhist context, the Buddha is the principal example of someone who has woken up and become free from the oppressive conditions which arise from false ways of seeing ourselves and the world. The word Buddha is not actually the name of a person, it comes from the Sanskrit word bodhi meaning awakening, so Buddha literally means ‘The Awakened One’. The Buddha is the founder of an unbroken continuity or lineage of teachers who have brought the teaching of awakening through the practice of meditation all the way down to the present time.
The prime focus in Buddhist meditation is on awareness. There is an intrinsic quality of wakefulness, the Buddha Nature, which exists within everyone right from the start. It cannot be destroyed and it cannot be enhanced. However, there are things which cover it over and prevent us from seeing it. As you practise you are revealing this quality of awakening in yourself, and also beginning to see it in others. Initially you may be narrowly benefiting yourself, but more importantly in the long term, the benefit from what you are doing will extend beyond yourself to everyone.
This particular meditation comes from the Nyingma (Old School) tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It is not practised only within this school, but it is particularly important in this tradition. It is a kind of practice of the type known as samatha, which means abiding in peace. However, it is really a practice associated with the developmental process which moves from the basis of abiding in peace, into a state of expansive awareness or vipasyana (insight).