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«Mindfulness In Plain English By Ven. Henepola Gunaratana Preface In my experience I found that the most effective way to express something in order ...»

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There are three integral factors in Buddhist meditation --- morality, concentration and wisdom. These three factors grow together as your practice deepens. Each one influences the other, so you cultivate the three of them together, not one at a time. When you have the wisdom to truly understand a situation, compassion towards all the parties involved is automatic, and compassion means that you automatically restrain yourself from any thought, word or deed that might harm yourself or others. Thus your behavior is automatically moral. It is only when you don't understand things deeply that you create problems. If you fail to see the consequences of your own action, you will blunder. The fellow who waits to become totally moral before he begins to meditate is waiting for a 'but' that will never come. The ancient sages say that he is like a man waiting for the ocean to become calm so that he can go take a bath. To understand this relationship more fully, let us propose that there are levels of morality. The lowest level is adherence to a set of rules and regulations laid down by somebody else. It could be your favorite prophet. It could be the state, the head man of your tribe or your father. No matter who generates the rules, all you've got to do at this level is know the rules and follow them. A robot can do that. Even a trained chimpanzee could do it if the rules were simple enough and he was smacked with a stick every time he broke one. This level requires no meditation at all. All you need are the rules and somebody to swing the stick.

The next level of morality consists of obeying the same rules even in the absence of somebody who will smack you. You obey because you have internalized the rules. You smack yourself every time you break one. This level requires a bit of mind control. If your thought pattern is chaotic, your behavior will be chaotic, too. Mental culture reduces mental chaos.

There is a third level or morality, but it might be better termed ethics. This level is a whole quantum layer up the scale, a real paradigm shift in orientation. At the level of ethics, one does not follow hard and fast rules dictated by authority. One chooses his own behavior according to the needs of the situation. This level requires real intelligence and an ability to juggle all the factors in every situation and arrive at a unique, creative and appropriate response each time. Furthermore, the individual making these decisions needs to have dug himself out of his own limited personal viewpoint. He has to see the entire situation from an objective point of view, giving equal weight to his own needs and those of others. In other words, he has to be free from greed, hatred, envy and all the other selfish junk that ordinarily keeps us from seeing the other guy's side of the issue. Only then can he choose that precise set of actions which will be truly optimal for that situation. This level of morality absolutely demands meditation, unless you were born a saint. There is no other way to acquire the skill. Furthermore, the sorting process required at this level is exhausting. If you tried to juggle all those factors in every situation with your conscious mind, you'd wear yourself out. The intellect just can't keep that many balls in the air at once. It is an overload. Luckily, a deeper level of consciousness can do this sort of processing with ease. Meditation can accomplish the sorting process for you.

It is an eerie feeling.

One day you've got a problem--say to handle Uncle Herman's latest divorce. It looks absolutely unsolvable, an enormous muddle of 'maybes' that would give Solomon himself the willies. The next day you are washing the dishes, thinking about something else entirely, and suddenly the solution is there. It just pops out of the deep mind and you say, 'Ah ha!' and the whole thing is solved. This sort of intuition can only occur when you disengage the logic circuits from the problem and give the deep mind the opportunity to cook up the solution. The conscious mind just gets in the way. Meditation teaches you how to disentangle yourself from the thought process. It is the mental art of stepping out of your own way, and that's a pretty useful skill in everyday life. Meditation is certainly not some irrelevant practice strictly for ascetics and hermits. It is a practical skill that focuses on everyday events and has immediate application in everybody's life. Meditation is not other-worldly.

Unfortunately, this very fact constitutes a drawback for certain students. They enter the practice expecting instantaneous cosmic revelation, complete with angelic choirs. What they usually get is a more efficient way to take out the trash and better ways to deal with Uncle Herman. They are needlessly disappointed. The trash solution comes first. The voices of archangels take a bit longer.

Misconception #7Meditation is running away from reality

Incorrect. Meditation is running into reality. It does not insulate you from the pain of life.

It allows you to delve so deeply into life and all its aspects that you pierce the pain barrier and you go beyond suffering. Vipassana is a practice done with the specific intention of facing reality, to fully experience life just as it is and to cope with exactly what you find.

It allows you to blow aside the illusions and to free yourself from all those polite little lies you tell yourself all the time. What is there is there. You are who you are, and lying to yourself about your own weaknesses and motivations only binds you tighter to the wheel of illusion. Vipassana meditation is not an attempt to forget yourself or to cover up your troubles. It is learning to look at yourself exactly as you are. See what is there, accept it fully. Only then can you change it.

Misconception #8Meditation is a great way to get high

Well, yes and no. Meditation does produce lovely blissful feelings sometimes. But they are not the purpose, and they don't always occur. Furthermore, if you do meditation with that purpose in mind, they are less likely to occur than if you just meditate for the actual purpose of meditation, which is increased awareness. Bliss results from relaxation, and relaxation results from release of tension. Seeking bliss from meditation introduces tension into the process, which blows the whole chain of events. It is a Catch-22. You can only have bliss if you don't chase it. Besides, if euphoria and good feelings are what you are after, there are easier ways to get them. They are available in taverns and from shady characters on the street corners all across the nation. Euphoria is not the purpose of meditation. It will often arise, but it is to be regarded as a by- product. Still, it is a very pleasant side-effect, and it becomes more and more frequent the longer you meditate.

You won't hear any disagreement about this from advanced practitioners.

Misconception #9Meditation is selfish

It certainly looks that way. There sits the meditator parked on his little cushion. Is he out giving blood? No. Is he busy working with disaster victims? No. But let us examine his motivation. Why is he doing this? His intention is to purge his own mind of anger, prejudice and ill-will. He is actively engaged in the process of getting rid of greed, tension and insensitivity. Those are the very items which obstruct his compassion for others. Until they are gone, any good works that he does are likely to be just an extension of his own ego and of no real help in the long run. Harm in the name of help is one of the oldest games. The grand inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition spouts the loftiest of motives. The Salem witchcraft trials were conducted for the public good. Examine the personal lives of advanced meditators and you will often find them engaged in humanitarian service. You will seldom find them as crusading missionaries who are willing to sacrifice certain individuals for the sake of some pious idea. The fact is we are more selfish than we know. The ego has a way of turning the loftiest activities into trash if it is allowed free range. Through meditation we become aware of ourselves exactly as we are, by waking up to the numerous subtle ways that we manifest our own selfishness.

Then we truly begin to be genuinely selfless. Cleansing yourself of selfishness is not a selfish activity.

Misconception #10When you meditate, you sit around thinking lofty thoughts

Wrong again. There are certain systems of contemplation in which this sort of thing is done. But that is not Vipassana. Vipassana is the practice of awareness. Awareness of whatever is there, be it supreme truth or crummy trash. What is there is there. Of course, lofty aesthetic thoughts may arise during your practice. They are certainly not to be avoided. Neither are they to be sought. They are just pleasant side-effects. Vipassana is a simple practice. It consists of experiencing your own life events directly, without preference and without mental images pasted to them. Vipassana is seeing your life unfold from moment to moment without biases. What comes up comes up. It is very simple.

Misconception #11A couple of weeks of meditation and all my problems will go away

Sorry, meditation is not a quick cure-all. You will start seeing changes right away, but really profound effects are years down the line. That is just the way the universe is constructed. Nothing worthwhile is achieved overnight. Meditation is tough in some respects. It requires a long discipline and sometimes a painful process of practice. At each sitting you gain some results, but those results are often very subtle. They occur deep within the mind, only to manifest much later. and if you are sitting there constantly looking for some huge instantaneous changes, you will miss the subtle shifts altogether.

You will get discouraged, give up and swear that no such changes will ever occur.

Patience is the key. Patience. If you learn nothing else from meditation, you will learn patience. And that is the most valuable lesson available.

Chapter 3

What Meditation Is Meditation is a word, and words are used in different ways by different speakers. This may seem like a trivial point, but it is not. It is quite important to distinguish exactly what a particular speaker means by the words he uses. Every culture on earth, for example, has produced some sort of mental practice which might be termed meditation. It all depends on how loose a definition you give to that word. Everybody does it, from Africans to Eskimos. The techniques are enormously varied, and we will make no attempt to survey them. There are other books for that. For the purpose of this volume, we will restrict our discussion to those practices best known to Western audiences and most likely associated with the term meditation.

Within the Judeo-Christian tradition we find two overlapping practices called prayer and contemplation. Prayer is a direct address to some spiritual entity. Contemplation is a prolonged period of conscious thought about some specific topic, usually a religious ideal or scriptural passage. From the standpoint of mental culture, both of these activities are exercises in concentration. The normal deluge of conscious thought is restricted, and the mind is brought to one conscious area of operation. The results are those you find in any concentrative practice: deep calm, a physiological slowing of the metabolism and a sense of peace and well-being.

Out of the Hindu tradition comes Yogic meditation, which is also purely concentrative.

The traditional basic exercises consist of focusing the mind on a single object -- a stone, a candle flame, a syllable or whatever -- and not allowing it to wander. Having acquired this basic skill, the Yogi proceeds to expand his practice by taking on the more complex objects of meditation chants, colorful religious images, energy channels in the body and so forth. Still, no matter how complex the object of meditation, the meditation itself remains purely an exercise in concentration.

Within the Buddhist tradition, concentration is also highly valued. But a new element is added and more highly stressed. That element is awareness. All Buddhist meditation aims at the development of awareness, using concentration as a tool. The Buddhist tradition is very wide, however, and there are several diverse routes to this goal. Zen meditation uses two separate tacks. The first is the direct plunge into awareness by sheer force of will.

You sit down and you just sit, meaning that you toss out of your mind everything except pure awareness of sitting. This sounds very simple. It is not. A brief trial will demonstrate just how difficult it really is. The second Zen approach used in the Rinzai school is that of tricking the mind out of conscious thought and into pure awareness. This is done by giving the student an unsolvable riddle which he must solve anyway, and by placing him in a horrendous training situation. Since he cannot flee from the pain of the situation, he must flee into a pure experience of the moment. There is nowhere else to go. Zen is tough. It is effective for many people, but it is really tough.

Another stratagem, Tantric Buddhism, is nearly the reverse. Conscious thought, at least the way we usually do it, is the manifestation of ego, the you that you usually think that you are. Conscious thought is tightly connected with self-concept. The self-concept or ego is nothing more than a set of reactions and mental images which are artificially pasted to the flowing process of pure awareness. Tantra seeks to obtain pure awareness by destroying this ego image. This is accomplished by a process of visualization. The student is given a particular religious image to meditate upon -- for example, one of the deities from the Tantric pantheon. He does this in so thorough a fashion that he becomes that entity. He takes off his own identity and puts on another. This takes a while, as you might imagine, but it works. During the process, he is able to watch the way that the ego is constructed and put in place. He comes to recognize the arbitrary nature of all egos, including his own, and he escapes from bondage to the ego. He is left in a state where he may have an ego if he so chooses, either his own or whichever other he might wish, or he can do without one. Result: pure awareness. Tantra is not exactly a game of patty cake either.

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