We all agree that we would like to end suffering. Each person has weaknesses and faults unique to his/her own set of circumstances. However, there is something good inherent in all of us; we all possess the nature of Buddha mind. We need to remove the veils so that our true Buddha nature may reveal itself. The reality we experience inevitably generates suffering. We need to be aware and gain understanding of our situation. We will then be able to apply the appropriate remedy for our maladies. First, we need to be aware of how and who we really are. Only then can we be successful in finding a way to recognize our true nature that is neither superficial, nor emotional. We should therefore put into practice the following:
- Recognize our own situation,
- Modify our ways to lessen the suffering, and
- Purify our minds thereby increasing our awareness of the true nature of mind.
Whether we are on a spiritual path or not we still have to live our lives. Though the situations on the outside may remain the same, we can start to change our reactions to them. Because our minds are now very much under the force of habit, any attempt to change the familiar tracks quickly will likely fail. Change can only come about slowly, little by little. We must work on modifying our habits now and gradually our perception of things will change. Big changes hardly ever take place. Only little changes may occur from day to day, which often go unnoticed. Patience and perseverance are therefore important if we are to succeed.
Our minds are unclear at the moment. We develop stress and frustration invariably as we carry on everyday. We should try to minimize the stress in every aspect of our life. We are all different individuals so the results of our practice will be different for each of us.
Our goal is Enlightenment, awakened mind, or Bodhicitta1. If we look at the achievement of near perfect Bodhicitta on the level of the great Bodhisattvas, it might seem almost unattainable, too far removed from our present situation. Hopelessness might set in. Nevertheless, we have to start by taking the first step now.
Bodhicitta is the complete opening towards what is not oneself. We have to accept that things are not the way we want them to be. Acceptance will naturally reduce stress and enhance greater understanding. This will in turn give way to a clearer mind which will facilitate deeper insight into mind. And so the process continues.
In the Bodhicitta of application we should adopt equanimity. At the moment, we are constantly developing hope and fear whereby our actions are tainted. We are afraid of failure on the one hand, and on the other, we have desires:
- 'The success is mine.'
- 'The goal is mine.'
- 'I have failed.'
We put our hopes everywhere and that conceals the true condition of things and spoils our vision of the world. Consequently, we are lost in trying to orient or adapt ourselves correctly in our lives. Equanimity means to see things as they really are. First we must see clearly, then we can adapt our actions appropriately without being unduly emotional. To reach equanimity we need mind training to develop good habits. Whether we are seeing things as good or bad, helpful or annoying, we must take the time to examine the situation as it is. Bodhicitta, mind training, equanimity, and clear mind are all interrelated. The progress and development of any one will have positive effects on the others.
Whenever we do something, it is usually in response to a personal need. Otherwise, our efforts in the 'something' will not last long and it won't work. Likewise, to end suffering we must raise a sense of urgency to be rid of it. Suffering comes from others and our milieu. When we are at work, people generate unpleasant situations which could be improved. One possibility for positive change is to observe the relationship we have with other people. Often, where there is a conflict we should observe it like this:
- 'The poison is my own self-preoccupation.
- The conflict is created because they don't act as I would like them to act.
- But, is my method or my way of seeing things good or not?'
The mistake is our general refusal to take other people into account or to 'share the cake.' In our relationship with others we should always consider them first. We should not regard them as obstacles. We should acknowledge that they also have aspirations. They have the same aspirations as we do only from a different perspective. Understanding their point of view will render any interaction easier, more open, and with less conflict. Dysfunction usually comes from negative attitude. Altruism is the preoccupation with other peoples' welfare.
Whenever we do not see results from our efforts, we immediately dismiss them as bad. This is a mistake. Our expectations might have been too high. It is important to see our egos at work. We should be patient and be modest in our expectations.
Sometimes, we decide to wait for an ideal situation before we act and as a result we never get started. The resolve to do what is right was good but lacking in application. The smallest examples are usually the best to start with. Take an everyday event that has gone wrong, determine what happened. Recognize your own reactions before any further undertakings. You might find your reasons for reacting are often: 'I don't like it!' or 'That's just the way I am!' Yet, you never ask: 'Why am I like that?' Or, 'Why am I always saying, 'I don't want ... and so forth.' It is precisely these tendencies which develop aversions. You have created them by yourself. You carry your bias into all your relationships. Ask yourself why. This is where you can affect the big changes. By 'yourself,' the method doesn't work; you need the 'other' to provide the opportunity.
Contentment is key to openness. Avarice is natural in all of us:
'I want things to be like this for me!' This type of thinking gives rise to frustration. There is no longer contentment. Contentment is not pining always 'for better,' or 'for more,' etc. Instead, be reasonable and set realistic and effective goals. Bodhicitta requires us to look at other people's viewpoints. This principle should always be our prevailing interest. But we neglect our efforts to develop contentment. We should examine for ourselves what is really unpleasant in a given situation. Contentment is a state where things are deemed satisfactory. It is a matter of reasonable balance.
Bodhicitta which includes benevolence is often absent from our mind stream. Most situations are fluid. We should try to be flexible. We are not computers, and profit and efficiency should not be our only concerns. We should act out of benevolence even though this is not yet spontaneous for us at the moment. We cannot be only charming and nice to people whom we like. We should be vigilant lest we quickly give up after a few attempts. Natural benevolence does not stay for long. The law of cause and effect functions well and without exception, benevolence leads to better resolution of conflicts. Always engender benevolence when facing aversion. There is a danger in taking the teachings too intellectually. Peace of mind is not measurable unlike a stethoscope probe is. The result of positive action is assured though it might not be evident.
Benevolence always leads to positive mental states. Feeling grateful is generally considered a positive state. For example, if you bought some rice at the market, then went home and cooked it for supper, reflect on the people who grew the rice and give them credit. In this way benevolence will increase. Because of benevolence we forge recognition. Each time you recognize a link, it makes you feel much better. The opposite of benevolence is tension. Contrary to the natural tendency of deluded mind, which is usually not even aware of thoughts, try to see if your thoughts make any sense. When we are more centered and focused, a deeper understanding is then possible. Always examine the meaning of what you are doing. Be aware and develop mindfulness. A non-distracted mind is present in meditation. When our mind is less preoccupied, we will see more of the present moment. The same attitude that we adopt in our formal meditation should be applicable likewise in our active life. Reflect and keep check of your thoughts and actions. A deeper understanding of the teachings will develop. Usually, we think that once we have heard something, we understand it all. The same applies to people; we see them and we think we now know them. Remain open. Always make allowance for other possibilities rather than being closed-minded, or too definite about your own views.
On the subject of meditation, the object of training is to allow for a clearer mind. Mind has the capacity to find its original clarity. Meditation is not to add something to, or to change the nature of mind, but to remove the veils that obstruct the mind from manifesting itself properly. When the mind is disturbed, it is not focused. It is wandering or following various chains of ideas. Through meditation, we can bring it back to the 'here and now.' Stability of mind will enhance a deeper awareness of mind itself. Stability, clarity, and lucidity are original qualities of the mind.
To attain mind's original qualities we need to practice equanimity. We have to accept that which occurs without changing anything. We are prejudiced about what mind is and here are some misconceptions: 'mind is empty,' 'we have to stop the emotions and thoughts.' Our idea is we have to do something, but this runs contrary to meditation.
Meditation is not doing anything. It is being in the presence of mind where there is equanimity. Whatever happens, inside or outside us, we do not stop or block it. It has no importance and we just leave it. The disposition of mind during meditation is such that there is no expectation or any idea of consequences. For meditation to be effectual there has to be no expectation. Humility about who we are or what we do is important. We constantly have hopes and fears thereby giving rise to tensions, even when we are supposed to be calm. For example, during meditation, when you don't know how to meditate, after a few seconds you'll be looking both internally and externally: 'Am I meditating well? Is the room quiet? When will that noise stop?' The real obstacle is at that point when you expect or fear something. Lighten up ... whatever happens just let it go. There is really no 'good' or 'bad' meditation. You should not worry about whether or not you are contemplating.
Be aware of how you function. Meditation is making room for this awareness. Just be there, not doing or adding anything. Meditation is like any activity. There is first the theory; then it has to be put into practice. We have to leave behind our habitual tendencies as described earlier. Effort is necessary in meditation with the knowledge that it is a clear state without any expectations. We have a tendency to always judge what we did in the past, denying our actions if they were deemed negative. It is more effective if we reflect and consider whether an experience is useful for whatever reason. We should look upon it not as a source of conflict with the self, but for a better understanding of self.
All the 'wrong' meditations are in fact 'good' support for contemplation. Terms for the contemplation are: no fabrication, no production. The consciousness is present and exposed to the multitudes of phenomena. Even the checking to ensure that there is no fabrication is fabrication again. Naturally, meditation is not a state which can be described in its usual sense. We should dispense with words and the descriptive terms for they are not 'the state.'
A good technique to apply is 'to allow to settle,' that is, let the body and mind to calm. An analogy is like agitated water - leave it for a while, then, whatever particles are there will sink to the bottom and the water will become clear again. The body must be in a calm state. Walking is all right but running might make it difficult. There should be no talking. Reduce the production of thoughts, which means to let go and be in the present. Don't try to do anything. As with water, if you try to take anything out it will not stay clear anymore, so don't interfere. This state of calm and lucidity of the mind is perfect presence like a tape recorder taking in everything that is happening without selection or judgment. The point is not to cover up the eyes or ears with our fingers. For example, during meditation, a change in light may be construed as: 'It is becoming more cloudy and then, later, it might rain.' You are no longer meditating if you think like that. Or if you hear people talking, and you think, 'what are they saying,' there is no meditation again. One should come back to the meditation and not follow the thoughts. Like someone watching a show, you look at everything.
More favorable condition for meditation is a calm place with no rock music band playing. Complete silence is not necessary all of the time. You will gradually learn to integrate all external events in the meditation such as people talking outside. It is just like that - not good or bad. Initially, you will fall again and again into the trap - not serious contemplating. The only obstacles to your meditation are your reactions to thoughts and judging whether something is good or bad. Slowly integrate all the events into the meditation session. If you are sometimes distracted and you realize it, you are no longer disturbed. A common stumbling block is that we practice meditation to achieve some improvement or result. There is always the tendency to check if it is good or bad, better or worse. These are really the only real obstacles to meditation. Even if your meditation was calm and then afterwards you judge it to be good, then it means that the previous session or the one to follow will not be as good.
Recognition is important - when you see something wrong it also means that you were able to see it. The ability to see means there is recognition. This understanding will reduce tension. Whatever happens, it is good because mind is there and it is aware.
Meditation and daily life are not the same. The value of what happens during meditation session has no importance. The point is to see and let go. We can carry the same training in contemplation into our daily lives. Always being present in the moment, progressively we will form the habit of being able to accept any given situation.
How do we settle the mind? How do we establish 'new tracks' and habits? We do it through training. Choose an appropriate period of time, a few minutes in the beginning, as long as it is pleasant without tension. You ought to feel relaxed and comfortable while doing nothing. When you start to feel restless and not so pleasant anymore, stop the session. But your meditation does not end there. In the same way, you carry on the meditation in daily life as mentioned before. Venture deeper into life's situations, become closer to other people, be more open, and develop your understanding. If you hold Bodhicitta in theory only with no application, it is useless.
We should clearly recall at any one moment that our ultimate goal is to reach Buddhahood. In the meantime, until the goal is reached, the veils which are blocking us have to be removed. How we live and experience our lives now is important to help us reach the goal. Look at all the events of any given day. You will find that some events are easy to remember while others very difficult. That means during the day you had presence of mind only sometimes. You were totally absent in some parts of the day. If we look carefully enough, we will realize that very often we are actually somewhere else. During these periods, emotions come on stage. The process of training leads to more presence of mind both in meditation and also in daily life. When we are present and focused, we can build a whole lifetime in one sitting, if not 100%, at least 10%. The greater the presence of mind, the more suffering will be removed. Gradually we can build up this presence of mind. The process takes time but our condition will start to change for the better and the improvement will continue.
You can practice meditation at any time, however, some moments are deemed better than other times. The early morning is a good time. We begin with a non-fabricated state when there is not a tendency to fall asleep again. Mind is relatively clearer and more aware than at other times. We should take refuge and develop Bodhicitta. We start the day in a state or attitude of benevolence. During the day we make real effort to benefit everyone whom we might meet. Then, slowly and gradually, day by day, things will improve. At the end of the day, we finish in a similar way. It is recommended that we focus the mind and dedicate our actions to all beings, wishing that all beings may reach enlightenment. We should recall again this state of mind before going to sleep. This could be reinforced during the day at any time, but more importantly, we should begin and end the day in this frame of mind.
There is however a common difficulty to overcome and that is: 'I have no time.' A few minutes in the morning and at night are all it takes. It depends on how our minds are attuned. It is really all relative. Look at the time wasted during the day. Every evening, reflect upon what we have done during the day. If the events and activities are easy to recall it shows that you have presence of mind - this could be construed as positive. Probably you would have some days which are not so good. This is normal. You should examine yourself and try to reach some balance. Try to gain understanding and to see clearly in this way. Hopefully, you will not repeat the mistakes because you are not stupid and will not persist in doing wrong. Generally, wrong deeds become 'refuse' for the basement. If you forget about it, after a few years, it will smell! This is not good. It makes sense then to look at ourselves every evening and start again tomorrow with modifications. Otherwise, with every tomorrow we carry the garbage of yesterday.
We apply the same technique when we feel overwhelmed. Look at that state of mind. Meditation enables us to relate to our experiences and learn to accept what is not so good. Look at guilt, another experience from our repertoire of experiences. Take advantage of 'guilt' by being aware of it so that you could do something positive to counteract it and develop a habit of doing so. This is possible due to the free time during meditation when you are doing nothing.
1 Bodhicitta: translated from the Sanskrit, it means 'enlightened mind,' or 'thought of enlightenment.' It is the wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. There are two kinds of bodhicitta: relative and absolute. Relative Bodhicitta is the aspiration and determination to be enlightened in order to liberate all sentient beings from sufferings. Absolute Bodhicitta is enlightened mind, the inseparability of the emptiness and compassion, which recognizes the true nature of all phenomena.