Beginning Insight Meditation
For the beginning meditator
I believe it would be helpful to establish an order in the various
steps taken in meditation. First, then, it would be wise to establish
a place of quiet to which one may retire daily and not be interrupted
in his endeavors. Then wash carefully face, hands and feet. Better
yet, if time permits, take a cleansing shower and put on loose,
comfortable clothes. It is wise to meditate at the same time daily to
establish a habit. I do it at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. when the birds begin
to retire in the evening. Then when you begin to meditate consider
your posture. With spine erect and a spirit of awareness be mindful of
sitting without strain but with complete alertness. Now you are ready
to begin. But, first, some introductory thoughts.
As Sujata states in his
little book Beginning to See, "Meditation is the best thing you can do
for yourself." However, it is far from the simple thing it may seem to
beginners. It takes a strong urge to peer deeply within oneself and
beyond it. It takes discipline and willingness to go farther than
merely trying to escape or sidestep personal problems one may have.
Why meditate? There are
many reasons. But those that stand out most strongly are learning to
think clearly, and to dispel ignorance, illusion, greed, hatred and
craving. This is the road to Nirvana or Nibbana through which one must
lose all clinging to "self." The feeling of having a self is highly
resistant to extinguishing. It is persistent and devious. Often one
may feel it has vanished only to have it crop up again. Only by
diligence and persistence -- and the road for many may be long -- can
victory over it be achieved.
You are seated now,
cross-legged on the floor, in a quiet chamber. In lotus position, if
you can, or in half-lotus, or even on a chair if disability precludes
otherwise. Keep your head erect and balanced lightly on your
shoulders. Still, do not strain; be comfortable, relaxed and
The first stages of
meditation should be simply observation of breath. Concentrate on the
nostrils where the breath flows in... out... in... out. Be aware of
the touch of air as it strikes the passage through the nostrils. In
fact be aware of everything and nothing. This sounds contradictory.
Yet it is really not. For this is no time to daydream, to entertain
vagrant and migratory thoughts. You are aware of your physical
posture. Then you forget that also. You are aware that the past is
dead, that it is gone. Yet specific consciousness of your whole
preceding life is absent. The future does not yet exist. All you have
is "right now"... the in... out... in... out rhythm of the breath of
The idea is to "empty the
mind," to get rid of all "garbage," all fleeting and intruding
thoughts. Simply to breathe -- in out -- in out, never forcing the
breath. You are not even the breather, but the breathing breathing
you, the you, which as time goes on, will grow more and more vague as
it begins to dissipate, disappear.
Just allow the mind to feel
the "touch" of breath as it flows in and flows out. In your first
sessions think of nothing more. You will find the breath thinning out
as it becomes more subtle and finer until in time you begin to feel
you are not breathing at all. This is the calming of the breath flow.
It becomes very pleasant and satisfying.
I keep a candle burning in
the meditation chamber. It serves two purposes, maybe three. At first,
if the mind wanders, it serves as a point of focus. The eyes, at first
observing the candle, soon close, lightly, easily, by themselves. But
even through closed lids one feels the presence of the light. One can
see it in one's mind's eye. It restores the mind's wandering back to
the present. The second purpose is symbolic: to me it signifies the
Light of the Dhamma, the doctrine on which the meditation is based.
And finally, it makes for a pleasant, lovely atmosphere. Incense,
flowers, Buddha sculpture are nice but really not necessary. One can,
in truth, meditate anywhere, any quiet place where there can be no
interruption. Wherever you meditate, if it is at home and you have a
telephone, it is wise to remove the receiver to avoid incoming calls.
Bear in mind that the place
of meditation is not of key importance, but it is wise to return to
the same place at the same time daily so that the habit of meditating
becomes established. The Buddha meditated under a Bodhi tree where he
achieved enlightenment. An advanced meditator can choose almost any
place and it will serve his purpose -- a crowded market place, a
burial ground, a cave, a park or a refuse dump. In his inward turning
he becomes totally oblivious of his surroundings; or, contrariwise,
makes the very surroundings, as he advances deeper and deeper into
meditating, the subject of his thoughts. The important thing to
remember is that these thoughts must be schooled and channeled. They
must be kept "on center."
But you, now, are still in
your beginning stages. Untoward thoughts will persist in entering your
mind. This is only natural. You will be amazed at how many and how
trivial these intrusions can be. You must learn, however, to treat
these intruders with courtesy. Do not shove them away in anger. Be
gentle, kindly. Label each one -- past -- present -- future? Worthy?
Unworthy? Animosity? Vanity? Desire? Egotism? Your very act of
branding them will assist in their cessation. As they begin to
disappear, your mind will gently return to your nostrils, your
breathing. It will grow quieter and quieter.
Other hindrances will
obtrude themselves. Noises will penetrate your consciousness --
children playing and shouting, buses or airplanes passing. Label them
as you do other passing thoughts. Keep centering on the breathing, the
slowing inflow, outflow. In time the noises, too, will vanish.
Whenever you find yourself "out there," bring yourself gently back to
"here" and to "right now." When you have been able to accomplish this
"no thought" for at least a half hour, your breathing will have slowed
to a point of almost indistinguishable rhythm, to "it" breathing "you"
and not the other way around.
I find it helps in all of
this to keep a semi-smile on my face such as that of the Buddha. It
aids in brightening the mind, makes it happier.
At this point in your
beginning meditation, if you have been at it a half hour or longer,
you may terminate it if you wish or continue as before. Or you can go
on to extend metta or loving-kindness. This meditation subject is good
because it eliminates hatred, envy, anger and self-pity. It
accomplishes love for all, destruction of self, sympathetic joy, and a
good feeling for every being or non-being that lives or has left this
life. Your extension of loving-kindness should reach out to encompass
the earth, the universe. You will find it difficult in time, to snuff
out the life of even the smallest insect.
loving-kindness it is of great importance that you first love
yourself. In the right way, of course. You accomplish this by ridding
your thoughts of all "impurities." Think to yourself "I will rid my
mind of every defilement: anger, hatred, ignorance, fear, greed,
craving. I will make my mind clear, fresh and pure. Like a transparent
window is my mind. Then with my stain-free mind, I pour out thoughts
of loving-kindness, of love and of kindness."
Try to get a mental image
of each one you are extending this loving-kindness to. Get into that
person. Feel his or her personality enter your own being and direct
your feeling straight into the mind and heart of that individual. You
will find in time, that there is a sort of mental telepathy emerging.
You will feel the warmth of response. Do not dwell on this. Go on to
the next person and the next and next. Bring forth all the warmth and
kindness of your spirit and instill this into the being or non-being
it is directed toward. If you do this once or twice daily, your
horizon will widen. You will find yourself directing these vibrations
to all beings and non-beings who have entered your consciousness,
without exceptions. This will include brand-new acquaintances you
hardly know. People you do not even know but see pass by regularly or
irregularly down the street. All who live. All who have died. Known
and unknown. All animals, insects, trees. Everything organic and
inorganic. And in this outflowing there will ride your self, vanishing
into the all-inclusive.
When you have completed
this meditation sitting, later try a walking meditation, and, in this,
think of the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha; that all beings are born
to suffer, etc. Then go on to find the "way out"; the way out and the
"end" of suffering. Find this secure path and incorporate it into your
daily life, and, this accomplished, find Nibbana right here on earth!