How can we gain the full healing benefit of time spent in Nature?
What does religious tradition say about meditation exercises?
What does religious tradition say about meditation exercises?
for Meditation Instruction.
I provide meditation instructions that you can read during your meditation session. So I cannot use a lot of technical detail in these instructions, for it would sabotage the meditation.
Nevertheless, Buddhism does use traditional terminology to describe these meditational exercises. This terminology was originally written into these 8 pages of instructions for meditation. But I had to remove them, and now they are published here separately, on their own webpage.
After you have completed your meditation session, then you can refer to this webpage, for more information. You can also revisit the meditation instructions out of meditation sessions, for another viewpoint.
Please do not be driven nor tempted to read this webpage from start to finish. It is better just to read the terminology relevant to the meditation lesson you have just completed.
Lesson 1. All Attention on Sensation.
Let’s look at the traditional terminology. It is traditional to teach breath meditation in Buddhism, and the Pali term for “breath meditation” is - ānā-pāna sati. ānā just means “in-out”, and pāna or prāna means “breath”; the breath of life. (Thus prāna can also mean vitality).
Sati is usually translated as “mindfulness”. This is a useful choice when translating : ānā-pāna sati. “mindfulness of the in and out breath”. This translation suggests filling the mind with the breath. Making the mind full with the breath. So there is no more room for superfluous thought.
More precisely, filling the mind with the sensation of the breath. Just the gentle sensation, usually at nostrils or at the belly. Just that touch. Not thinking about the breath.
Another traditional terminology is kāyānupassanā. Kāya means “body”. Passanā = passiti means “look at” or “pay attention to”, anu means emphasis, or with. So anupassanā means “Observe!” with emphasis on the need to observe. Or anupassanā means “observe and be with”, ie “put all attention on”.
So kāyānupassanā means “look at the body closely”, or “pay close attention to the body”. Direct all of our attention to the body, and away from thinking.
More precisely, to pay attention to the sensation of the body. Pay attention to touch at feet and seat, for these are prominent when sitting. Instead of getting distracted by the thin-king.
Lesson 2. Return and Stay With.
The Pali term is vitakka vichāra. Vitakka can mean “return to”, vichāra can mean “stay with.” Vitakka is likened to the striking of the bell, and vichāra is like the sustained ring of the bell (Visuddhi Magga 4). One follows the other.
This indicates that both vitakka and vichāra do not last for long. They are something that we need to patiently return to, again and again, in meditation. They are somewhat like a pair of footsteps. Only one left and one right step will not get us far. But when we repeat the cycle over and over again, in smooth balanced walking, then we can walk for miles.
Both vitakka and vichāra can mean “apply”. Applying our mind to the meditation object.
This is somewhat like applying glue to the glue joint. We need to smear the glue evenly over the mating surfaces. Because some glues dry quickly, we might need to apply it without delay, and yet without rush. Balance is called for.
In addition, the two surfaces need to match each other properly. They also need to be clean and dry, and free of dirt and grease. To achieve the full bonding strength of the glue.
Similarly, the mind needs to be properly prepared, and the meditation object properly chosen, for mind and meditation to come together, and to stay together. Their mating surfaces also need proper attention. Otherwise, the connection will soon be broken, and our meditation will be disjointed and disrupted.
Lesson 3. Letting Go.
Buddhism has a doctrine called “Dependent Origination” paticcha samuppāda in Pali. A foundational doctrine of the religion.
This outlines a chain or sequence of events in life that cause suffering to recur and perpetuate in our experience. The traditional expression is being “bound to the wheel of suffering”. Interesting choice of words. It describes how this wheel or cycle keeps recurring, bringing back the same old problems over and over again, back into our lives.
Twelve steps or events are listed, one being attachment to suffering, and attachment to defilements. The Pali is upadāna. The Buddha declared that this attachment or upadāna is the weak link in the chain. When we have the strength to break this link, then the whole process falls apart, and the suffering will dissolve. It will not return until the attachment to pain and problems starts up again.
Because this ‘breaking of attachment’ to the ‘wheel of suffering’ is so important, the historical Buddha discussed it in his First Sermon, which is famous in the religion, for setting the foundation for our spiritual practice. He did not use the word upadāna, but instead he used six other words to describe this ‘breaking of attachment.’ These are as follows -
virāga nirodho cāgo paṭinissaggo mutti anālayo.
Thanissaro is a prominent Western translator of Buddhist scriptures. He translates these six words like this –
dissolution, cessation, letting go, renouncing, free from, unattached to.
Lesson 4. Cultivating and Developing.
Loving kindness meditation is quite popular in Buddhism, almost as popular as breath meditation. The Pali term is metta bhāvana. bhāvana means “to cultivate” or “to practise.” So all that I have talked about today could be called bhāvana.
Bhāvana comes from the word bhava = exist, existence. Thus bhāvana also means ‘bring into existence’ something that is lacking in this moment. To do this, we need to first recognise that something is indeed missing, and also to recognise the need to do something about it.
Therefore, the first step in bhāvana is a recognition of what is lacking, which might include the will to do something about it. When we can awaken to these two things, then we establish ourselves on the Path to recovery and healing.
Thus bhāvana means consciously and purposefully cultivating our spiritual essence, nurturing our meditation, and making effort to do so. Which leads us to the next topic …
Lesson 5. Making Effort.
Buddhism talks of “four great efforts.”
- The effort to let go of disturbance
- The effort to avoid disturbance
- The effort to cultivate the Qualities, and return to them
- The effort to protect the Qualities
In the first sermon the Buddha gave after his enlightenment experience, he talked about the Way to be Free, or the Way of Being Free, in daily life. Eight factors or principles were listed, including effort or vāyāma.
But the Buddha emphasised the difference between helpful and unhelpful effort. The actual expression used in the First Sermon is sammā vāyāma, or perfecting our efforts.
When our minds are caught up in unnecessary and unhelpful thought, we are actually spending energy. We are making effort to complain, worry, imagine difficulties, revisit old traumas, or be planning when we should be resting our poor tired out mind.
Thus the Buddha advises “perfection in our efforts”, or sammā vāyāma. Why not spend all that energy letting go of thought, and approaching rest? Instead of just wasting it?
Lesson 6. Beauty.
When Westerners really get hold of Buddhism, they often focus a lot on suffering. “Everything is suffering (dukkha) and unreliable (anicca).” Even pleasure is suffering because it has to end, and that is suffering. And we don’t even exist (anattā). The austerity of monastic rule and life gets emphasis, and music is shunned. Beauty is easily overlooked.
So Ajahn Brahm, the Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastry near Perth WA, often talked about “the Beautiful”. He tried to get us to see the beauty in ordinary everyday things and tasks. Like a tree, or the bowl washing area, or the sweeping of the monastery paths. A section of the perimeter fire break was concreted for vehicle access, and this was hard and stark. So Ajahn Brahm would say; “Not the ugly concrete path, but the beautiful path,” in his own light hearted way.
Lesson 7. Beauty of the Spiritual Qualities.
The spiritual Qualities are called bodhyaṅga in Sanskrit. This word is made of two others –
- bodhi = awakening or enlightenment, and
- aṅga = a suffix meaning “factors of”.
Thus bodhyaṅga means “factors of enlightenment.” They are active in the enlightened state, and essential to it. We could say that : when these bodhyaṅga are strong, and the defilements are weak, then we are in the enlightened state. Or approaching it.
bodhyaṅga does not seem to have much prominence in the religions. The traditional doctrine is quite limited, and of little relevance outside scholasticism. What I offer has been considerably adapted, to make it useful and relevant to daily life.
Lesson 8. Defilements.
Buddhism usually refers to defilement or kilesa as a trio of lobha, moha and dosa, commonly translated as : “greed, hatred and delusion”.
However, this is very limiting, and gives a misleading impression of what defilements or kilesa actually are. To solve this problem, we can simply list every thought, feeling, attitude, and conduct that has the flavour of suffering. Include nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Then group them to aid our understanding.
This will give us our list of defilements or kilesa. It is something to give definition to our experience. It also transcends the restrictions and limitations of old religion. And this website is all about transcendence …