Vows, commitments and modern life: Living a meditative life

We continue our discussion of be released by two, investigation and analysis.  Meditation is when we allow our mind to settle and hold with an understanding or realization we have gained.  Through our investigation and contemplation of the Dharma, clear understandings will occasionally arise within our mind.  Venerable Tharchin calls these “ah ha” moments.  Suddenly the light turns on, the penny drops, the stars align, things become clear.  When this happens, we should stop our contemplation and allow our mind to “soak in” this new understanding.  We try to “maintain the continuum of not forgetting” what we have just understood.  We try pay attention to this particular understanding within our mind and prevent our mind from wandering somewhere else.  Sometimes people misunderstand the term “hold our object of meditation” as if we need to hold on tight to something.  In fact, it is the opposite.  The tighter we try hold our objects, the more swiftly they slip away, like a bar of wet soap we try to squeeze.  Instead, hold means hold up gently within our mind.  It is like creating a little cup with our hand within which the wet bar of soap rests gently.  It is more like allowing a candle flame to remain undisturbed within our mind, and we keep the flame alive by “paying attention to trying to remember” it.  This is “placement meditation,” or simply meditation.

There are many many different levels of what is called “meditative equipoise.”  I tend to think of it as meditative balance.  The object is there, it is present within our mind.  We just need to not lose it.  If we can keep our mind calm, still and above all balanced, the object will simply remain undisturbed.  In fact, the more balanced our mind is, the more intensely the light of the realization will shine into the corners of our mind.  At first we can keep the object present and illuminated within our mind for a few moments, then for a minute, then for five minutes, then for our entire meditation session and finally for the rest of our life.

There are two aspects to proper meditation.  These are like the two axes upon which the surface of our mind can tilt.  If the mind loses balance, the marble of the meditation object will quickly roll off.  The two aspects are:  not forgetting the object, and not allowing its vibrancy to fade.  In technical terms, forgetting the object is called “mental excitement” and losing the vibrancy of the object is called “mental sinking.”

Mental excitement basically means our mind wanders off to some other object, usually some object of attachment.  This happens because we think it is more interesting, more enjoyable or more beneficial to think about this other object.  To prevent mental excitement, we need to train in what is technically called “mindfulness.”  Mindfulness is just a fancy way of saying, “not forgetting.”  For example, we are told that if we want to remember somebody’s name when we meet them, then after they introduce themselves to us we should make a point of “trying to remember” their name.  We try remember their name continuously without forgetting it for as long as we can.  If we do this, then we remember.  If we don’t do this, we will forget the person’s name almost as soon as they tell it to us.

If we find that our mind has already wandered off to some other object, when we become aware of the fact that we have lost our object of meditation we should ask ourselves, “what is more beneficial, thinking about this object of attachment or remembering my object of meditation?”  We then recall the benefits of the given object of meditation, and this inspires us to refind it.  We then go through the contemplation again until once again the candle lights and an understanding of the object reemerges within our mind.

We oppose losing the vibrancy of our objects of meditation through the mental factor called “alertness.”  Altertness is just a fancy way of saying “paying full attention.”  When we are driving and not sure where we are, we “pay full attention” to our surroundings to try figure out where we are.  If we are in some danger, we “pay full attention” to the situation to be on the lookout for things that could potentially harm us.  When we are sick with some disease and our doctor is explaining to us what we need to do to get better, we “pay full attention” to what he is saying.  In the same way, when a Dharma understanding dawns within our mind, we should “pay full attention” to it.  The more we pay attention to it, the brighter it becomes in our mind.  But it is important to note that “paying full attention” to something does not mean “straining.”  These two are, in fact, opposites.  Sometimes you will see people meditating with their brow fully crunched together as they strain to stay focused.  Concentrating on our object of meditation is not like holding back the onslaught of distractions through brute force, rather it is more allowing our mind to “rest within the object.”  It is light, relaxed, at peace.  It is open, spacious, confident, undisturbed.  If there is no wind blowing, even the lightest feather will remain at rest.  It is the same with our objects of meditation.

In summary, Venerable Tharchin explains the three levels at which we mix our mind with the Dharma in the following way.  He says listening to or reading the Dharma (investigation) is gaining an intellectual understanding of somebody else’s point of view or wisdom.  We understand what the teachings say.  Contemplation functions to transform what was an intellectual understanding of somebody else’s point of view into our own point of view or wisdom.  Not only do we understand how the Dharma sees things, we fully agree with it ourself.  Meditation functions to transform this point of view into “an acquisition of our personality.”  For example, we can listen to Dharma teachings to gain an understanding of what compassion means to Buddhists.  Then, through our contemplation, we develop compassion within our own mind, we cause authentic compassion to arise within our own mind.  Through meditation on this compassion, we ourselves become a “compassionate person.”  Venerable Tharchin said, “we become whatever we mix our mind with.”  If we mix our mind with violence, we will become a violent person.  If we mix our mind with love, we will become a loving person.  Some people mistakenly think Buddhism is just a philosophy.  Buddhism is actually a method for radical and complete transformation of who we are, not just transforming ourself from an angry into a patient person, but transforming ourself from a suffering sentient being into a fully enlightened Buddha.

This precept, be released by two, investigation and analysis, explains the actual method by which we practice the Dharma.  It is the “how,” and the rest of the teachings are the “what.”

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