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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.)
"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
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".
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
suggestions will be appreciated. email