Meditation Manual

    Purpose of Meditation: Relative Purpose and Absolute Purpose

    Meditation may be described as having two broad focuses. Initially meditation focuses on
    how to get along in the world and later how to leave it. Everyone wants to be happy in this
    world because this is the one we are familiar with. Finding peace and happiness in this world
    is the de facto starting point of meditation. Most of us are frightened by the second focus of
    meditation: leaving the world.  We are familiar with the world of sight,taste,touch, mental
    formations, smells and all that makes up the world we live in. However, the world we now
    live in is not where we came from, or where we will go upon death. Thus, the second phase
    of meditation focuses on the mind that is not conditioned by sight, smell, taste, and so on. In
    short the second phase of meditation teaches us how to experience our mind unconditioned
    by the familiar world of sense data and thoughts and thereby attain freedom from rebirth in
    the lower realms---earth being one of them.

    Before leaving the world, however, we have to first become very good at living in it. That is
    why we are here. It is also why meditation begins by developing a foundation of basic human
    values, including, but not limited to, ethics, morality, virtue, patience, generosity,
    compassion, loving kindness,  absence of greed, anger, and folly. One can ignore developing
    these basic human qualities, but that would be like building a tall building without laying a
    deep foundation. Eventually such a building will fall. In similar manner, it is possible, even
    for hateful, angry, greedy people to enter meditative states; but because these states lack a
    basis, they have no lasting benefit and may even increase negativity. It is useless to toil on the
    meditation cushion just to enter blissful states of mind. This is because blissful states of
    mind do not lead to liberation unless they are accompanied by insight. Insight cannot be
    developed without merging ones everyday activities into the Path. This means that the
    qualities mentioned above must be developed simultaneously with our meditation practice
    and must act as support, or foundation for it.

    Meditation makes us more self aware, both on and off the meditation cushion. This helps us
    to recognize negative emotions as they  arise, before they catch hold. This has the obvious
    advantage of not having to spend a lot of energy doing damage control after an outburst of
    anger, for example, and countless other instances where greed, cunningness, lying,
    deceptiveness, harsh speech, lust, etc., might have taken control over our actions. If we can
    go though the day without negativity, we will not be fighting off disturbing thoughts when
    we go to sit in meditation. Eventually, when negativity is well under control, genuine
    compassion, generosity, honesty, and other qualities will shine in our actions and this will
    support a deeper meditation practice.

    Just as anger, lust, and other strong negative emotions increase in proportion to the thought
    given them, so also is their demise brought about by withdrawing our energy from them. In
    the beginning this is very difficult because these emotions slip in undetected; but after
    beginning a meditation practice, we will find we are increasingly able to recognize these
    negative thoughts as they arise, and simply let them dissolve without any further attention. It
    is important that we do not fight off negativity, for that is the wrong attitude. Often when
    you fight off something it becomes stronger and we will find ourselves in a battle. The
    correct method is to simply release negativity by paying no attention to it. If a beautiful form
    walks your way and you find yourself attracted, simply let it go and pay it no mind. In the
    same manner, if you see someone that you dislike intensely, perhaps someone who has
    wronged you, simply let it go, pay it no mind. This is how you can conserve your energy for
    deeper meditation. If on the other hand you allow your mind to fantasize about the beautiful
    form or  dwell in anger when seeing the person of your contempt, then these are the
    thoughts that will follow you to the meditation cushion.

    We have been talking for the most part here about learning to get along in the world.
    Whatever high minded ambitions we may entertain in our practice of meditation, these will
    not be achieved without a firm foundation. This is not unlike many things in the world,
    mathematics for instance, where one cannot learn algebra without a foundation in basic math.


    Mind Training: Substitution of Opposites

    There are many ways to deal with unprofitable modes of thinking. But before we get into
    how to deal with them let us examine briefly why they can be so powerful. Every action we
    do, indeed every thought we have, leaves an imprint in the mind. These imprints can be very
    deep or shallow, or indeed barely a trace. It all depends on how strong the habit of thinking a
    certain way is. Think of each thought as an elephant and the herd divided up into groups.
    Each group represents thought patterns such as lust, anger, jealousy etc. And, let us not
    forget the good qualities such as generosity, compassion, honesty, etc. The herd of elephants
    begins its journey across a vast plane, all the groups separate and all single file. Naturally the
    group with the most elephants is going to leave the deepest imprints in the soil, while the
    group with the fewest will leave the shallowest imprints. In similar manner,  if we have been
    angry much of our lives, these imprints will be deepest in our mind and dominate many of
    the other thought patterns. For example, if we are angry and generous, but the anger is
    stronger, it will be the anger rather than thoughts of generosity that will dominate our mind.
    We will still have thoughts of generosity, but  anger will carry more weight. It is the same
    with all other mental qualities. Sometimes we will wonder why certain thoughts are so hard
    to push aside (or better yet, let go,) well, the reason is because the imprints are so deep.
    When the imprints are deep, it is like a freight train with allot of momentum behind it. It is
    not easily given to a change of direction.

    The Buddha taught many ways to rid oneself of negative emotions. One method entails
    substituting a negative pattern of thought with its opposite. For example, if thought of
    hatred arises, think about someone you love. Now to think about something in this context
    does not simply mean to bring a momentary thought of someone or something you love to
    mind and then let it go and return to angry thoughts. It means to go deeper into the thought
    of someone you love, reflecting upon the positive feelings that we are becoming aware of
    physically and mentally. Indeed it is uplifting to think about a family member or spouse or
    guru. Once we feel secure in the positive emotional state we have developed though the
    power of our thought, we should extend this feeling outward to include other people we are
    close to and have love for, reflecting on their qualities, as well. Next we continue on to
    include people we have neutral thoughts about. This will require more effort, but with
    practice we can easily extend thoughts of love even to people we do not know. This can be
    done in many ways, for example, by reflecting on the fact that all beings are facing the same
    challenges and pitfalls of life as those closest to you, as this is the human condition we all
    share. This will lead us to extending our love even to our enemies or those we dislike. If we
    can treat anger when it arises in this way, we will find it slowly becoming a stranger to us.

    Above we talked about anger; the same principle applies to all negative emotions. We may
    find it difficult at first to change the direction of a mind caught up in negativity; but what is
    worthwhile is seldom easy. While it may seem difficult, as we become more familiar with the
    technique it will become a matter of habit. How long this will take depends on how deeply
    embedded unprofitable thought patterns are. The deeper the root the more difficult its
    uprooting.  Patience is very important, because real change is a process that takes years. That
    is why it is important to learn to love the path itself. As the old saying goes: "half the fun is
    getting there." Learn to love being on the Path and forget about results. Pulling grass does
    not make it grow any faster; so learn to enjoy the ride.

Extending Positive Thoughts

    A mind that is lax is always a target for good and bad thoughts to arise. Basically, a lax mind
    is undesirable, but it is a reality of life for those of us who are still struggling on the Path.
    Just as negativity arises in a lax mind; so do good and wholesome thoughts. While in the
    above section we substituted the opposite when dealing with negative emotions, this method
    is of course unsuitable for wholesome thoughts that arise. All of us have good moments,
    reflect on them, analyze them, scrutinize them, expand them; this is all helpful to developing
    a mind conducive to meditation.

    Turn the Light Inward

    One of the most difficult habits to break is the outward turning mind. As human beings we
    are constantly turning our attention outward. If you doubt this just watch a group of
    meditators complete a day of meditation only to go across the street to chat up the opposite
    sex, smoke pot, and drink wine---as I have observed at a "meditation center" I stayed for a
    few days after a return from India. The mind likes to be entertained, and it does this by
    turning outward; entire industries are built on this reality. That the mind favors being
    distracted by small talk, movies, gossip, and any bone thrown its way is something we
    observe in ourselves and others everyday. It is our society. But, society is in itself a
    distraction that we should walk about carefully, learning to discriminate between what is
    meaningful from what is unprofitable. It is not necessary to withdraw from the world and
    become a hermit; withdraw while in it, engaged as a member of society---like the lotus
    unsullied in the mud. It is the mind that needs to be inward turning; not the body. Indeed
    many yogis and hermits who are in lone retreat have minds as busy as the common person
    and are simply wasting their time. If withdrawal from the world were a solution, then the
    jails of the world should be regarded as monasteries for the enlightened ones. The truth is,
    physical withdrawal from the world is for the most part unnecessary and accomplishes
    nothing whatever. It is a common cause of delusion. There are exceptions. Some great
    masters of meditation, my teacher for example could sit two weeks in meditation. For worthy
    ones such as him, withdrawal can be a kind of necessity to practice without inconveniencing
    others.

    Throughout our busy day we talk far more than is necessary. People of few words say more.
    We can get by our day talking far less than we do; think about it. How much of our talk is
    necessary; how much is on topic? If we just keep our conversation to the topic at hand we
    can save a lot of energy. Speech should be minimized as much as possible. Not only will this
    emphasize what we do say more (because it is not buried in chatter); but we will conserve
    our energy. The same goes with our eyes, looking about here and there, checking out this and
    that, reading nonsense, window shopping, opposite sex shopping, all drains energy. What
    does not go outside stays inside where it should be. Now, why don't we do this? The obvious
    answer is that we don't like what we see; or are just plane bored. But, it does not have to be
    this way. It may take some work, but after a time, we will find a much more intriguing world
    emerge from the inward turning mind than we may have ever imagined (if we hadn't tried.)

    Inquiry

    "Who am I?" to many may sound like a rather ridiculous question. But, who are we? Before
    we were born were we something or nothing? If we were nothing, what was born? If we
    something, what was it and where is it now? When we die, what dies? Does the body die? Is
    that who we are?  But, if the body is born and dies it must have existed in some form before
    birth because to say otherwise is to say that nothing is born, or just the body is born, and if
    that is the case then there is no need for birth, which makes no sense. Am I my mind that is
    aware of the body? If this is the case, what am I aware of before my body is born and after its
    death? If I am that mind that is aware of my body and world, does this mind take on another
    object when it no longer has eyes, ears, nose, tongue, feeling and intelligence to perceive the
    world?

    Who gets angry? Who is full of desire? Who is greedy for wealth? Who loves? Who hates? If
    you are the one who does all these things, and much, much, more, who are you apart from
    these mental events? Can you separate yourself from your mental states? Is it the body that
    experiences these states or the mind? Or, if it is the mind, then what use is the body? Could
    you experience these states without the body? If the answer is no, then the body and mind
    must be connected, but how are they connected? If you cannot separate them,  what becomes
    of your mind when the body dies and disintegrates? If you can separate them, can your mind
    go on functioning without the body after it is buried and dissolves into the soil.?

    Where does the sense of "I" arise? The "I" is the nexus of all experience; and yet what is this
    sense of "I"? Did this sense of "I" exist before birth; will it endure after death?  If we strip
    off all sense experience and mental objects, will a sense of "I" still persist? Or, is the "I" sense
    dependent on perception of some kind? Who am I? Where did I come from when I entered
    this world? Where will I go when I die? Who comes and goes? Who am I?

    This kind of inquiry is called "insight" meditation, Vipasana in Sanskrit. Most of us are
    familiar with Samatha/Vipasana as two limbs of meditation. Samatha is calming meditation,
    such as watching the breath, listening to the sound of a river flow, passively contemplating
    the rise and fall of thoughts, to name a few. Vipasana is the complement to this kind of
    meditation and often, though not always, is introduced after familiarization with Samatha.
    Vipasana has many techniques and is often regarded as analytical meditation. We may for
    example examine desire, looking to see how it arises, how it conditions our thought, etc.
    Form and how we perceive form may be a topic of analytical insight meditation. There are
    thousand of meditation topics like these that we can use as our meditation topic.  But, no
    matter where we start our inquiry, ultimately it will lead to the mysterious "I".

    Insight meditation is more difficult than quiescent contemplation. It is more rigorous and
    demanding; especially if we start with the meditation on the nature of "I". So be prepared.
    You may want to practice a less direct inquiry to begin with, such as analyzing the nature of
    sound, objects of sight, birth, death, and many other meditations outlined in Sutra texts such
    as the  VISUDDHIMAGGA.  In this and other Mahayana and Theravada works one can
    find a suitable topic of mediation.

    If one chooses to practice the method of inquiry into the nature of "I", be sure to read the
    works of the Hindu saint Ramana Maharshi, for he practiced this method his entire life. It it
    troubles you to read a Hindu text simply because you are Buddhist; imagine Ramana as a
    Buddhist too. Once one realizes the nature of "I" who is Buddhist and who is Hindu?

Guru

    Before we discuss whether a Guru is necessary; let us define its meaning. The word guru is
    Sanskrit and means teacher. There are as many false gurus as degenerate Catholic priests; so
    beware! Many are very well educated and therefore can accurately lecture sutra texts; but have
    the same passions and lowly desires as a common person. It is most important to examine
    the Guru's personal life. If he is unmarried, he should be celibate. He should not take any
    drugs or alcohol. He should have few material wants (though disciples may shower him with
    gifts.) He should be a capable meditator, but not necessarily perfect. There are many more
    qualities that could be mentioned, but in general he should have spotless ethical and moral
    behavior and have few desires. He is at peace, desire is extinguished, and his mind needs no
    discipline. In fact,  it is his absence of desires that enables him to truly benefit those still
    ensnared by them. If the guru has desires like a common person, then no matter how sweet
    the words or enlightened the appearance, you are probably better off with a good book.
          
    The importance of lineage cannot be overestimated.. There are many "New Age" teachers
    today who have no lineage or certification from an Enlightened master. These " Self
    Proclaimed Enlightened Ones", as I call them, write books on being in the "Now" (whatever
    that is supposed to mean) and publish magazines on "Enlightenment."  Their interpretations
    are often a banana spit of poorly understood bits and pieces from all religions. They set out
    to describe color coded aura systems, and other such nonsense, to determine the level of
    those clustered about them. Of course, these "Teachers" are always at the highest level in
    whatever system they create, having built the university and printed their own diplomas.

    When setting about to find a Teacher inquire about who their Teacher was. Learn about
    where they are coming from, who that Teacher's Teacher was, about what the lineage teaches,
    and under what broad category of teaching it belongs. When reading a book on "Dharma"
    do the same thing. Take a good look at the forward and back cover. See if it is endorsed by a
    reputable Teacher. Most reputable authors writing on the subject of practice ask to have
    their work looked over by someone of superior understanding to confirm that it expresses
    the right sentiments of the Teaching. Works that are not original, but translations of original
    texts, should be reviewed by several editors to certify that the translation is correct.
    Therefore, whenever possible seek out the works done by translation groups like the
    Padmakara Foundation or the Buddhist Text Translation Society or similar organization.   

    Equally important when looking for a Teacher, is to contemplate your own mind to see if the
    particular teacher is teaching a path that suits your disposition and Karmic propensities. In
    other words, once the teacher is found, look and see if the teaching is right for you. A good
    Teacher will often send a would be disciple to another Teacher whom he feels better suited
    to the needs of that particular student.       

    Think of the Teacher as a helpful guide directing others ensnared by their desires and
    endlessly spinning on the Wheel of Birth and Death. A Teacher who has attained freedom
    from personal desire sees clearly how to help others because he is not obstructed by selfish
    motives---name, fame, wealth, etc   If you see any desire for wealth in a teacher it is a clear
    warning sign to stay away.

    A Teacher who  through extraordinary sacrifice has disentangled himself from all personal
    wants, loves his disciples more than a mother loves her child. To feel this depth of love
    coming from another human being brings such strength and sense of inner wellbeing that no
    task is impossible. This does not mean that everything becomes easier when one commits to
    a great teacher; indeed it does not. What it does mean, however, is that by the Guru's grace
    you will tackle tasks that previously seemed unapproachable. Only under a Teacher's
    guidance can the goal of ending birth and death become a reality (in fact without a Guru's
    guidance it is unlikely that this would even be understood properly.)

    A good Teacher knows just how far a disciple can be pushed; and he keeps pushing those
    limits; but never beyond. In fact, this is why it is so difficult to be around a great Teacher.  
    There is never a moments rest; the carpet is always being swept from beneath one's feet. As
    soon as one is secure in one mode of discipline; that mode is swept away and replaced with
    another. Wherever comfort is found; it will not remain for long. One of the great skills of a
    Teacher is to continually keep a disciple off balance --- and do it in a way that is beneficial.














































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