GENERAL OUTLINE OF MEDITATION
Tibetans explain meditation with a play on words: "There exists no meditation but only habit" (the Tibetan word Gom means meditation whereas Kom means habit, usage)
To achieve a good meditation doesn't derive from a spontaneous gift, but it is rather the result of an intensive training, like the good pianist who always needs to practise scales. Meditation is a mind training because the mind is forced to remain fixed on a certain object, without too much constraint but not too loosely either. The first goal of meditation is thus a perfect concentration. When it is well established, then it becomes possible to focus on contemplating the proper nature of all phenomena and of one's own mind. We can thus attain awakening which consists in comprehending the ultimate essence of emptiness that is within everything. Awakening is the liberation of a Buddha and it represents the goal of all the buddhist practices, whatever means are used to reach it. To reach that aim, it is necessary to go through a certain number of stages and people interested in knowing more about that are advised to visit the page named Introduction to Buddhism on this site.
Our intention here is to describe a simple form of meditation, in order for you to get a better understanding of the ordinary working of your mind. Buddhists can draw a great benefit from such a meditation because they are able to link it to other teachings received concerning emptiness or compassion. Other people will draw a more limited benefit but it may make them wish to go further.
It is advised to start the meditation by prostrating at least three times in the direction of one's shrine or to a Buddha image.
Then, one gets seated on a meditation cushion and in a good posture. Legs are crossed in the Vajra posture or in a more comfortable position, the two hands resting in meditation, with the back of the right one into the palm of the left one resting below the level of the navel. The spinal column must be perfectly erect like the head on the same line and the eyes half-closed with the tongue stuck against the palate.
It is necessary to breathe calmly and to keep his attention focussed.
People who, due to their age or their health, are having difficulties in sitting on the floor, can sit on a chair, provided they keep their body upright and they do not lean against the back of the chair.
A good body posture is essential during meditation; it is said that if you keep your body straight, then all body channels can be straight and let freely flow all energies and fluids.
Only when this flowing takes place freely can one experience the union of bliss and emptiness which is the mark of a good meditation.
You now repeat at least 21 times in English or in Tibetan, the following refuge prayer :
LAMA TAMPA NAMLA CHAP SU CHIWO
Into the glorious and holy Lamas, we take refuge.
SANJAY CHOMDEN DEY NAMLA CHAP SU CHIWO
Into the perfectly accomplished Buddhas, we take refuge.
CHO NAMLA CHAP SU CHIWO
Into the holy Dharma, we take refuge.
GEDUN NAMLA CHAP SU CHIWO
Into the supreme Community, we take refuge.
You should not forget that all sentient beings including your own parents, as well as yourself, all together are repeating this prayer and taking refuge from the bottom of your hearts.
GENERATING THE ENLIGHTENMENT THOUGHT
One should repeat :
"It is for the sake of all sentient beings that I must attain Buddhahood. To that end, I shall turn towards virtue all actions of my body, speech and mind."
THE FOUR LIMITLESS MEDITATIONS
"May all living beings be in possession of happiness and of its cause.
May they all never meet unhappiness and its cause.
May they never be separated from happiness devoid of suffering.
May they all always remain in equanimity free from bias towards their own side and hostility towards others."
This is a meditation meant to appease thoughts and generate great concentration. The real attainment is achieved through an attitude of detachment from all mundane objects. Therefore it is advised to train in a solitary and quiet place provided with all favourable conditions for practice.
Different techniques and objects of meditation may be used. We shall describe here a practice that may be used by non-buddhists.
Focussing one's attention on the breathing process
This meditation is meant to help gaining control and pacification over one's mind process, by focussing one's attention on the breathing process. You must try to keep your mind free of all disturbing thought during successive cycles of 21 breathing. Each cycle consists of a phase of breathing in, a phase of keeping air inside and a phase of breathing out.
The exercise described can also be alternated with the following variants :
During each breathing cycle of 21, you can count the number of thoughts arising and disturbing your concentration. You can for instance use a rosary to do it. The counting is to be started anew on each cycle and each time, you try to improve the quality of your concentration through a diminished number of thoughts.
You may also be willing to practice discriminating between positive and negative thinking, as a way to diminish the negative one. You can make use of a heap of black and white pebbles and start piling them up for each of your thoughts, black for negative ones and white for the positive. Generally speaking, negative thinking is all thinking motivated by desire, hatred and ignorance. If any such motivation doesn't appear very clearly, negative thinking can also be defined as everything that is harmful to others. The result of the counting must be checked after each cycle of 21 and started again.
The first result achieved by beginners with this type of meditation is to realise their total lack of control over their own mind. If this meditation is continued daily for some time, the mind is gradually brought under control and put to rest focussed on the object desired.
Buddhists make use of the control gained over the mental process, to examine the ultimate truth of emptiness of all existing things, including the mind itself. Such a practice should only be undertaken by experienced disciples who have already received this teaching from their own master. This second stage of meditation is called Deep Insight (tib. Lhathong), and it is the only one capable of completely uprooting the three negative poisons, i.e. desire, hatred and ignorance.
SHARING THE MERIT
As a conclusion to meditation, it is necessary to share the merit gained for the benefit of all living beings, in order to enable them to reach Buddhahood.
We have tried to give you a glimpse of meditation. The daily meditation of the followers of Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism, is rather the practice of a Saddhana or Method for realising. A Saddhana comprises the different stages outlined above with the meditation focussed on a specific deity, which empowerment must be first given to the disciple by a qualified Lama.