In the Buddhist Sutras, no matter whether they be Hinayana or Mahayana texts, the entry into nirvana by an arhat or the attainment of Buddhahood by a bodhisattva requires the practice of Dhyana (meditation or intent contemplation), that is, mind training. Therefore, both the Eightfold Path and the Six Paramitas are not complete without Right Concentration and Dhyana, and this points to the importance of meditation practice in the entire process.
The present text is based on "The Chapter on Discriminating Yoga in the Sandhinirmocana Sutra" and the "Sastra on the Six Stages in the teaching of Meditation Practice" by Bodhisattva Asanga. Reference is also made to "a Brief Treatise on the Progressive Stages of Bodhi" by Master Tson-Kha-Pa.
We now describe how to practice meditation under twelve headings:
1. THE INTENTION TO PRACTICE MEDITATION
Generally speaking, people practice meditation hoping to strengthen their body and extend their life span or to seek extraordinary powers, but these are only the benefits obtainable on the temporal level.
For Buddhists learning to practice meditation, the goals are twofold:
From time immemorial, many of the habitual delusions inherent in humankind such as greed, anger and ignorance, are stored in the Alaya (Store-Consciousness) and are with us the day we were born. They manifest themselves throughout our lives in our behavioral patterns of love and hate which in turn leave imprints in our minds and sow the seeds for fruition later on when conditions are ripe, if not in this lifetime then in future lifetimes. Hence the unceasing continuation of the life-and-death cycle.
By practicing meditation, we can control our wayward minds from wandering in diverse and confused thoughts, mainly of love and hate, stop the flow of our thoughts, and observe the state of reality, such as the five-fold procedures for quieting the mind, the four-fold stages of mindfulness or the sixteen mental activities of the Four Noble Truths (to be described in the following text). The delusions of greed and anger must be exterminated and bad habits must be overcome. Then we can be happy in this lifetime without any afflictions. As we recognize the impermanence of worldly things as well as life itself, we sow no seeds of evil, and we are assured of freedom from transmigration in the future. In this way, we will reach our first goal by freeing us from the clutches of afflictions, the so-called obstruction of delusion as mentioned in the Buddhist Sutras.
Furthermore, we must understand the cognitive functions of our sense organs by continuously observing that what we know through seeing, hearing and feeling are all but images created by the sixth consciousness. When the mind is in a happy state, whatever we see, hear and feel are likable. When the mind is in an unhappy frame, whatever we see, hear and feel are disagreeable. The same external circumstance can be recognized very differently depending on each person's different intelligence level, state of mind, character, likes and dislikes etc.
By the practice of meditation, we observe that all phenomena are a manifestation of our own mind. We will stop from pursuing after the external circumstance and instead look inward into ourselves. The wise will attain the truth while the foolish will still hold on to attachment. When the mind is pure, you are in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. When the mind is stained, you are in the Saha world of the Five Turbidities. When the mind is pure, all persons are your good teachers and friends. When the mind is stained, they become your opponents and enemies. If you can understand that everything arises only by your own consciousness, then you can reach the second goal by correcting wrongful views, the so-called obstruction of knowledge as stated in the Buddhist Sutras.
Although practicing meditation is a way to train the mind, it must be
preceded by the acquisition of a broad base of knowledge and the right
thinking process before one is assured of not going astray. The practice
of meditation includes being engaged in the "stopping" and "observing" of
one's own thoughts. As thoughts follow one after the other continuously
without break, all one could do is to "stop" its flow. How then do we
practice "observing" to open up our wisdom depends on how much we know to
make the right choice. Therefore, it is very important to hear more and
think more, and in this respect, we must pay attention to three points:-
To practice meditation is to fix the mind on one object or phenomenon.
Therefore, for beginners, a quiet place away from noisy surrounding is
of paramount importance to shield your mind from outside disturbance.
While sitting, the following eight rules must be observed:-
Note: There are two forms of sitting cross-legged fashion, the full version and semi-version. The full cross-legged version is further divided into the demon-conquering posture and the auspicious posture.
Demon-conquering posture - First place the right leg on the left thigh and pulled it to the side of the body. Then place the left leg on the right thigh and pull it towards the body. Place the left hand in the palm of the right hand.
Auspicious posture - First place the left leg on the right thigh and pull it towards the body. Then place the right leg on the left thigh and also pull it towards the body. Place the right hand in the palm of the left hand.
(to be continued...)