Why Meditate?

by Jessica Mui

“Whatever an enemy might do to an enemy, or a foe to a foe, 

the ill-directed mind can do to you even worse.”

“Whatever a mother, father or other kinsman might do for you, 

the well-directed mind can do for you even better.” 

-    The Buddha

Dhammapada 42-43

The above sayings are from the Buddha, stating the importance of how our minds can either be our worst enemy bringing us much suffering, or the best friend bringing us much happiness. Meditation, is to train the mind to become our best friends by developing skillful, wholesome mental abilities. 

 

There are many different kinds of meditation techniques which lead to different effects and abilities of the mind. As the aim of the Buddhist practice is to end suffering by cultivating wisdom, the meditation practices taught by the Buddha in the early Buddhism period are all in support of this goal. One key meditation technique is known as Vipassana meditation in the Pali language, or Insight Meditation in English. It is based on the teachings recorded in the “Four Foundation of Mindfulness” discourse made by the Buddha. This meditation cultivates the wholesome mental faculties of Faith, Effort, Mindfulness, Concentration and Wisdom such that the practitioners can see the actual way the mind and body works. By this understanding of how the mind and body work in reality, one can rid oneself of mental distress from life events, hence, making the mind become a most helpful friend.

 

There are also other forms of meditation that one can practice in order to cultivate other wholesome mental faculties, such as; loving-kindness, compassion, gratitude, joy, equanimity, faith, calm and peacefulness of the mind. 

 

For anyone who is new and interested in finding out more about Buddhist meditation, we highly recommend that beginners take the necessary time to get familiar with the basic Buddhist teachings, as well as the meditation practices related to it, before one starts the practice with an eligible teacher. Studying Buddhism and practicing meditation is a life-long journey, and one should try to do so properly right from the beginning.

 

In the following sections, a brief overview of the Buddhist spiritual path towards ultimate happiness will be described.

Buddha’s Path Towards Ultimate Happiness 

 

The term “Buddha” means a fully enlightened and liberated person. He is enlightened with the wisdom of why there is existential suffering, and how to be liberated from it completely. This is known as the Four Noble Truths of all fully enlightened beings, which is the highest wisdom in Buddhism. 

 

  1. The Truth of Dukkha (unsatisfactory / suffering): apart from the suffering which is obvious and that everyone experiences in life, the Buddha points out that the nature of existence itself is unsatisfactory. Suffering here does not just mean unpleasant experience, but extends to all our experiences, including pleasant ones. This is because even pleasant experiences are dependent on impermanent conditions that one can not control. Another important factor for the existential suffering is the ever grasping of a self-identity, which does not exist.
     

  2. The Cause of Dukkha: Our self-centered desires and greed, which can never be fully gratified, are the causes of non-satisfaction in life.
     

  3. The End of Dukkha: The Dukkha together with its causes (greed, hatred and delusion) can be extinguished at Nibanna.
     

  4. There is a way to end suffering, which is the Noble Eightfold Path. It consists of the cultivation till complete maturation of the eight mental factors: Right View, Right Intention / Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Mindfulness, Right Effort, Right Concentration.

The practice of the Noble Eightfold path is the path of liberation. It starts from two important leading factors: Right View & Right Intention / Thought. Right view is the wisdom of the Buddha. In addition to the Four Noble Truths, Right View also includes the Dependent Origination: that is, all mind and body phenomena, our life experience from the most insignificant physical sensations to the pain of aging, sickness, and death, are a result of causes and conditions of ignorance and greed. The spiritual path is to reduce the ignorance and greed by cultivating wisdom. With this understanding, the aspiration of Right Intention and other path factors follows. 

 

With the Right View, the Right Intention / Thought directs the mind: to renounce self-centered desires and impulses via one’s own cultivating of the mind and realizing the wisdom of the Buddha; to be free from aversion; and to do no harm.

 

With the Right View and Right Intention, one performs right conducts of: Right Speech – non lying, right action – not commit killing, stealing, adultery, and taking intoxicants, and Right Livelihood – not to work in jobs that involve : “Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.” (Anguttara Nikaya 5.177

 

The other three path factors: Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are the works of meditation. Right Effort is to put in the necessary energy and direct the mind to cultivate wholesome mind states. Right Mindfulness means the cultivation of awareness with the presently arising body / mind phenomena, attentively, and wakefully. Right Concentration is the stable, calm mind that is free from any distractions. The well-developed mind with the three factors can observe the true nature of the mental and physical phenomena as impermanent, unsatisfactory, and the absence of a permanent self. The realization of the true nature of the body / mind is the Insight wisdom that the Vipassana meditation leads to, if practiced properly. 

How wisdom gets developed?

 

Wisdom of knowing the reality of existence is the most important thing in Buddhism. Therefore, the goal of Buddhist is to cultivate wisdom for oneself such that one can be free from the suffering caused by ignorance and greed. Hence, the Buddhist spiritual path starts with wisdom and ends with wisdom like an upward spiral revolving around how one sees the mind and body reality. 

 

The acquiring of wisdom basically involves the following steps:

  1. Wise investigation into what one gets into, and what the process / path leads to.

    • Learn from hearing, reading, studying about

      • basic teachings of the Buddha

      • right conducts and meditation techniques 

    • Reflect though reasoning, common sense, discussing, observing teachers and other practitioners to see if the teachings are conducive to one’s happiness.
       

  2. Once satisfied with step 1, one starts to practice right conducts and Vipassana meditations based mainly on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutta or the Mindfulness of the Breathing Sutta with an eligible teacher. If practiced properly over time, little by little one develops all the necessary mental abilities and realizes the wisdom of what body and mind truly are.
     

  3. The meditative experience / wisdom is quite different from any other experience because the mind may suspend thinking and analyzing during deep meditation. Hence, one may have a different perceptive experience during meditation. These meditative experiences / insights need to be understood / verified / integrated with respect to one’s own existing knowledge. This may require going back to step 1 to get more information to “digest” the new experience. If the insight is strong and mature, it will form new views or modify our existing beliefs conceptually and even at an unconscious level. This way, one integrates the experiential wisdom and grows the right views – wisdom, of ones own.
     

  4. Apply the wisdom in one’s normal daily work and family life, and see how it affects oneself and others. If practiced properly, the outcomes are beneficial to all such that it propels the upward spiral to continue its ascending course. At this stage, one implements the practice in daily life by following the right view / wisdom, perform right conducts and continue cultivating the wholesome mind for more wisdom / understanding of the reality to arise. Naturally, if one’s self-centered greed is reduced and there is less ignorant about how the mind and body works, one becomes happier and happier.

 

The Buddha’s teachings are characterized as “good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end”, referring to the benefits that one will receive along the way of practice. The way to measure whether the teachings and practice are worth undertaking or being done properly, is to examine if it increases non-greed, non-hatred and wisdom for the practitioner. Here, we wish anyone who decides to traverse this spiritual path, to be beneficial at the beginning, beneficial in the middle and beneficial at the end!

 

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