xxWhy and How to Meditate

February 08, 2011, 08:02:31 am by TashiNyima
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Why Meditate?
“Thus have I heard (evam maya shrutam)…”
The explanations that follow are neither personal opinions nor ‘original’ presentations. On the contrary, although committed to conveying these teachings in the context of place, time, and a particular audience, it is the aspiration of all Dharma lineage holders to be faithful to the authentic tradition, and to present it without deviation or unwarranted innovation.
Here you will find information to supplement oral instruction on meditation. It is not meant as a replacement or substitute for personal instruction. It is my sincere hope that it will be useful in developing your regular meditation practice.
The essence of the path, the teaching of all Dharma lineages, is the commitment to practice. The desire to be enlightened will not, by itself, generate enlightenment. Knowledge of the path, no matter how extensive, will not bring about enlightenment. For enlightenment to manifest, we must practice.
The reason we practice Meditation is to attain happiness, both in the short and long terms. With regard to short-term happiness, we usually mean either or both of two things: physical pleasure and mental pleasure. However, if you examine either of these two pleasant experiences, their root can only be a mind that is at peace, a mind free of suffering. As long as the mind is unhappy and agitated, however much physical pleasure we might experience, it will not take the form of happiness. On the other hand, even if we lack the utmost ideal physical circumstances, if the mind is at peace, we will be happy.
We practice meditation, therefore, in part to obtain the short-term benefit of a state of mental happiness and peace. The reason why meditation helps with this is that, normally, we experience many different kinds of thoughts, some pleasant, and some unpleasant, agitating, and worrisome. If we examine the thoughts that are present in our minds from time to time, we will see that the pleasant thoughts are comparatively few, and the unpleasant thoughts are many. Thus, as long as the mind is under the sway of habitual thought patterns, we will be unhappy. In order to gain control over the thinking process, we practice meditation, which produces a basic state of contentment and peace.
The short-term benefits of meditation are more than merely peace of mind, because our physical health as well depends, to a great extent, upon our state of mind. If we cultivate a state of mental contentment and peace, we will tend not to become ill, and we will also tend to heal easily if and when we do become ill.
One of the primary conditions that bring about states of illness is mental agitation, which produces a corresponding agitation or disturbance of the pathways (nadis) and life force (prana). These generate illness and prevent healing. The agitation of the pathways and the energies within the body also obstructs the benefit which could be derived from other healing modalities, including medical treatment. If we practice meditation, then as our mind settles down, the pathways and energies recover their correct functions, as a result of which we preserve health and are able to heal any illnesses.
However, the ultimate or long-term benefit of the practice of meditation is to become free of all suffering, which means no longer having to experience birth, disease, decay, and death. The attainment of freedom is called, in the common language of all Dharma traditions, nirvana, and in the terminology of the Great Middle Way, the manifestation of Natural Perfection.
The root or basic cause of the attainment of peace and clarity is the practice of meditation. While some thoughts passing through our minds are beneficial –thoughts of love, compassion, rejoicing in the happiness of others, and so on, many are negative –thoughts of indifference, attachment, and aversion. There are comparatively few of the former type of thought and comparatively many of the latter type, because we have such strong habits that have been accumulating within us over a period of time without beginning. It is only by removing these habits of negativity that we can free ourselves from suffering.
We cannot simply remove these mental afflictions (kleshas) by an act of will, or through wishful thinking. We do not have the necessary freedom of mind or control over the kleshas to do so. In order to relinquish these, we need to actually attain this freedom, which begins with the gradual and progressive cultivation of peace and clarity.
As we begin to practice Meditation, we may find that our minds don't remain still for a single moment. In fact, one can identify various stages of practice, starting with that in which thoughts appear like a raging waterfall, and finally as the calm depths of the ocean.
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