This is the third in a series of articles on meditation based on breathing. Breathing is possibly the most basic method of meditation in Buddhism. Breathing is something we all do. Using breathing requires no special understanding or esoteric methodology and so is accessible to everyone with a firm intent. The breathing cycle is not just physical breathing but includes the mind, energy and daily practise of life. All these are being breathed.
The first article covered posture and breathing to practise to calming the mind. The second covered the activity of the mind as it becomes clear and stabilized. This article will cover meditation in our daily lives.
If we keep some awareness of breathing at all times then we keep touch / remain aware of what is happening moment by moment. When we get consumed and caught up by something, say a phone conversation, we literally stop breathing. An office work place for taking company orders where people worked both with computers and phones had small 'Breathe' signs stuck on the computers. The workers had to deal with customers on the phone, who were sometimes irate or confused, plus operate the computers at the same time in order to obtain information. It was quite a stressful environment. It was natural to tense up, become overwhelmed and stop breathing with the result the workers could not function well and the business suffered. By remembering to breathe the workers did not become so tense and could deal with one thing at a time. The little 'Breathe' stickers reminded the workers how to practise.
This principle of remembering to be aware of breathing somewhere in the background of our consciousness prevents us becoming attached, stuck, tense and overwhelmed. Being mindful of our changing surroundings and mind does the same thing. In fact, noticing a changing awareness is our mind being breathed. We do not become attached and caught up in one particular thing. We can flow with things, one thing at a time.
There is a Zen story of the great Master Chao Chou being asked by a monk for instruction. 'Have you eaten breakfast?' asked Master Chao Chou. 'Yes' replied the monk. 'Then wash out your bowl' answered Master Chao Chou.
This exchange likely occurred after breakfast one day at Master Chao Chou's temple. Master Chao Chou pointed out to the monk what he had just done, that is, have breakfast. Then he pointed out what to do next, namely to clean the bowls the monk had eaten with. The story sounds almost too simple. The lesson here is that although we all understand that we must be responsible and take care of things one step at a time, how many of us do this consistently time and time again. If we're honest we recognize we forget at times, become confused or tight at times, space out at times, and so miss this straightforward way of practising life.
Master Chao Chou was not chastising the monk but pointing out how to practise ones life. The lesson is very simple but to put it into practise requires us to try, try and try again. Little by little, one step at a time, we become better and better. We become clearer and more straightforward as we continue this method. We are better able to deal with life's situations in ways that are beneficial for both others and ourselves. However, if we just practise in responding to outer circumstances we will get only so far. This will be the practise of the famous Buddhist saying 'Do good, do not do evil'.
The clarity is not just what is on the outside but also what occurs within our mind. We must become clearer and more mindful of our thoughts and feelings. Our minds must become purified not just our actions. It is necessary to discover and practise our minds intent as it responds to events in our lives. The practise of awareness and breathing brings us to see the way the mind works. At first we just acknowledge what arises in our mind. It may be a wholesome thought, an unwholesome thought, a negative feeling, or a positive feeling. Whatever arises in our minds is simply acknowledged. Just doing this is of great help as it means we are not acting out or externalizing our minds actions. For example, if we have a feeling of anger it is not acted outwards by expressing anger to someone or as a response to a situation. Also the feeling of anger is not rationalized into an exterior story, a story about someone or something. It is simply felt and acknowledged, nothing more. In this way it passes or is let go of. Eventually we come to 'own' our minds. They are not lost in blind and irrational reactions to people and circumstances.
At this point we are calming the mind. This does not mean the mind becomes blank or inactive. It means the mind is not lost in blind un-centred reactions. The dualities of grasping / avoiding, love / hate, attaching / avoiding are not longer engaged in. These dualities are the cause of suffering as stated in Buddha's Second Noble Truth. Feelings and thoughts no longer trouble us. We return to our original mind. We can also say we have bought the mind home.
Here ourselves and what we do are the same thing. When we drink a cup of tea the drinker, the cup and the drinking are all just one thing. When walking the walker, walking and where we walk are all just one thing. There is a Buddhist image of a lake. When the water ripples settle - when our mind settles - then the depths of the lake are seen - we clearing recognize our situation.
Our thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions can become harmonized with our circumstances. This is now what we practice. The mind of compassion is practised. Our thoughts and feelings are a compassionate response to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Following our mental impulses actions and speech come forth as compassionate practise.