Meditation: Why? When? Where? – Practical Instructions

Talk by Lama Norbu Repa – Ipoh 2008


Good evening. First of all, I wish to thank you for being here tonight regardless of your busy schedule and the fact that this is the end of the day, a moment where most of people feel the need to relax from the burden of their daily life. In some way, I wish that you will be able to achieve exactly that and take the present venue as a relaxation time.

Secondly, I am most honoured to be here tonight and able to talk to you some words of wisdom. Not that I see myself as a wise person but because I am given the opportunity to communicate with you sharing some of the words of wisdom I received from the masters and teachers who I consider to be the wisest of all.

Thus, I wish to start this evening talk by paying homage to His Holiness the XVIIth Karmapa, who is the source of inspiration of my steady intention to benefit others.

By others, I mean you... here, tonight and also all those who have to a lesser degree connected with me so far as well as to the teachings of the Buddha. Having stated clearly my intention, I invite you to define individually your own personal intention, remembering the hopelessness of the majority of beings caught up in the ocean of suffering which does characterize cyclic existence.

It is, has always been and always will be a fact that, no matter how we try to be good people and conform to the superior idea we might have forged of ourselves, we come to frustration as we come to witness the endless suffering resulting from so-called good intentions.

The capacity to achieve efficiency in this respect comes from the capacity we develop to counter our wrong doings - the actions of body, speech and mind that we accomplish through our lack of clarity - and obscuration which is at the origin of our general failure: emotional obscuration and cognitional obscuration.

One can progress towards awakening through various different methods. In fact all religions, philosophies and self-enhancement techniques aim invariably to the same goal, that, which is common to all beings, the pursuit of happiness. While the goal is unique and corresponds to the One Taste of Ultimate Truth, the methods are many and correspond to the variety of beings, adapting this ultimate goal to their relative cultures and capacity.

Regardless to the variety of relative truths, the underlying principles of these various methods are based on common ground: the knowledge of the working of the mind and how to reprogram the mind in such a way that it stops relating to the enduring condition of suffering.

Whether we access this knowledge through the contemplation of the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha such as 'The Four Noble Truths' or through current on-going investigations of the Science of Mind in modern labs research programs, the conclusion is the same:

“We must intercept the neuronal gossip that is going on between our main consciousness and the All-Basis Consciousness which keeps recalling the previous records of our failure to achieve happiness and inexorably dictates our recurrent behaviour.”

The trouble with us comes from the fact that we experience a definite sense of discontentment with reality as-it-is. We seem to be always on the verge to grasp or reject the reality that is experienced by our senses without any consideration to the fact that this reality is mostly imputed by interdependent factors of which our consciousnesses play a most predominant role. In other words the reality we apprehend is seen outside of ourselves and grasped at or rejected as existing independently to ourselves.

To change this habitual way to process reality we must undergo transformation of our consciousness through applying skilful method. This is what defines meditation. There are many methods of meditation and nowadays, various religious and non-religious traditions offer some method for training oneself.

However, Tibetan Buddhism has an extraordinary unequaled record of such methods. It also offers many live lineage of transmission by prominent masters who have fully revealed their efficiency. Being a yogi trained in the Karma Kamtsang Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, I will present you here the basic instructions on how to succeed in the practice of meditation.

Meditation: Why?

Meditation means to rest in mindfulness. Obviously, this is the most suitable activity in a world of stress and distraction.

The habitual tendencies we have developed over countless experiences of grasping, rejecting have been recorded in the All-Basis Consciousness. This Alaya Consciousness keeps track of the way we operate in a given situation. It also brings about that experience and dictates our behaviour, anytime we are about to re-experience similar environmental conditions.

With that level of consciousness we cannot interfere. However, what we can do is to change the way the process reality as this happens so that further recording in the Alaya consciousness will be altered. This is what is happening as we practice what is called meditation.

We learn to keep focused on the object of meditation and deny personal lousy reactions to it, namely the plays of excitement and the plays of drowsiness which are the ground for developing grasping and rejecting tendencies. In this way we will learn to remain focused regardless to the thoughts that our grasping mind manifest and the subsequent play of our emotions.

Meditation: When?

The ultimate answer is anytime. Of course it will require training to reach that! In the beginning, it requires some basic training and in this case, we have to set aside some time to practice formal meditation. Because we had n experience in meditation, it is easier to establish a new habit momentarily: That of becoming mindful.

Following the teachings of Gampopa, it is best to meditate in the first and last part of the night. These are moments when we naturally are quieter. Quiet from the prospect to relax from the day's burden and quiet from having had a resting night.

As we gradually progress and become proficient, then we can meditate whenever we like to.

Further, we might slowly develop to meditate at all time.

Meditation: Where?

Here too, the answer can vary. As a beginner, our mind being untrained, we might easily be disturbed by outside stimuli and therefore, meditating in a quiet environment can be helpful. However as soon as we gain some proficiency it is helpful to learn to meditate in any given environment.

Meditation: How?

How to meditate is very simple. Since it is about to rest the mind on its object while keeping the mindfulness of it, one should start by relaxing.

Adopting a meditation posture is excellent but not absolutely necessary. However it will provide the ability to remain focused and mindful. The meditation posture:

The Body: Hold the body sitting comfortably in an up straight position.

The legs should be crossed comfortably and the back held straight with both shoulders leveled and the head slightly bent; the arms kept

away from the body; the hands in the meditation posture and the lips and teeth slightly untied. The gaze should rest gently in front of you at about 12 fingers downward, in the prolongation of the nose.

The Speech: In some meditation one keeps silent and breathes gently just as usual. In Mantrayana practices, one recites the mantra gently with a humming sound as well as silently according to the type of practice done.

The Mind: There basically two types of meditation.

The first is non-analytical. Like meditation on calm abiding is about resting the mind on the object of meditation and remain mindful of not loosing it. The training in this is progressive and should be done following proper instructions form a qualified master.

The second is analytical meditation like the meditation of kyed-rim in the 'Yidam' practices done in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism.

Tonight I will explain a bit further the practice of meditation. One does not need to be a Buddhist to practice this type of meditation. However it does help to follow the guidance of a qualified master to ensure correct practice and result. 

At first, relax. Then as you feel relaxed, rest the mind gently on the object of meditation and remain mindful of it. There are various kind of objects that can be practiced for this. The basic understanding here is to start with a gross material object on which the gaze is being focused.

Amongst the various outer objects used for developing concentration, one uses the pleasurable objects being perceived by the senses. Such as a visible form, a sound, a scent, a savor, a tactile object.

There is also the possibility to choose focusing on one's breath. The object that is chosen for one's meditation, is not important at this stage and it is preferable to opt for the object that you are more familiar with.

There are two main obstacles to developing calm-abiding:

  • ‘Sinking’: The mind loses its strength of knowing provoking the knowing quality to become unclear; the clarity of mind fades and onestarts to sink into unknowing darkness. In meditation, sinking usually results in a slight dullness at first which can deepen intodrowsiness and finally sleep. 
  • ‘Agitation’: The opposite of sinking and the other main obstacle to calm-abiding is that the mind becomes agitated.

Whether there is sinking or agitation, in either case the mind loses its object. To avoid this one needs to develop Samadhi - or Concentration. Samadhi is used as a general, non-technical term indicating concentration of the mind onto some subject. It is also specifically used as a precisely-defined technical term of meditation which is concerned with how mind is concentrated on an object.

In relation to this Lord Buddha taught that there are six forms of obscuration to samadhi, which will obscure and prevent the development of concentration would they not be taken care of consciously. 

They are:

  • Laziness: This is the laziness of not accomplishinganything because of feeling that the task at hand is too big for one's abilities that one is not up to the task. Because of thinking that one's abilities are not sufficient, one discourages oneself, and hence shies away from doing the work. Laziness also relates to procrastination and thegeneral laziness of not being interested in something and hence not doing it or not doing it with vigour. It refers specifically to having a mind which, being enamoured of worldly activity takes no enjoyment in virtuous dharmas and, relaxing with that, is not in accord with perseverance. It is regarded as the main factor opposing perserverance.
  • Pride: Other words that fit here are arrogance and conceit.
  • Craftiness: This mind is one which will use any method to deceive others. It is the "crooked" mind who cheats and deceives. Going back andforth with the implication that the mind of a crook is "devious" rather than honest and straight.
  • Excitement: In fact, wild, untamed, unruly.
  • Without effort: Specifically this means mental effort; it specifically refers to the ‘mentated’ effort of rationalAs we progress along the path of meditation, a distinction is made between two kinds of mindfulness: In the former, "mindfulness with effort", the type of mindfulness involved is produced by the rational mind; in the latter "mindfulness free of effort", the mindfulness involved has no effort of rational mind involved with it.
  • With effort: This is self-defined by what has been said just above.

The point for samadhi is to develop mindfulness which is unforced by the control of intellectual grasping but rather the fruit of steady practice without mental effort.

This is done by practicing the eight formatives which abandon these obscuring factors are:

  • Faith: Faith is defined as that which has trust and interest in something which is authentic and thus serves as a basis for the aris ing of virtue in the mind.The kind of faith, which Buddhists rely on, is said to have three aspects to it:
    • Longing or inspired faith is the positive inspiration you receive when you visit places of worship where there are many sacred objects, or when you meet great masters or attend inspiring sangha gatherings. It develops longing for Dharma; for that which was previously not obvious or apparent to be clearly viewable by eyes or mind;
    • Lucidity or inspirational faith is that whereby you wish to get rid of suffering and attain the peace of higher states of existence; you wish to practise good deeds and abandon negative deeds for that purpose, and have confidence in the possibility of achieving that goal. It develops lucidity;
    • Trust or faith of full confidence is to understand that the Three Jewels are your only and ultimate Refuge. It develops heartfelt understanding and trust in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
  • Intellect: This is the rational mind doing its discriminating work of analyzing and juxtaposing various concepts, seeing how things fit together. One needs to develop intellectual capacity through learning. Learning itself must be initiated through earring the teaching given by a qualified master.
  • Effort: To have mental drive towards achieving something. Right effort implies the practice of joyfulness in exerting to achieve one’s goal.
  • Pliancy: is an alert aptitude of mind and body that precludes rigidity and opens the way to good and beneficial objectives. Because the mind and body have been thoroughly processed this mental event arises. It results in mind and body following it, to engage only in virtue and not be overcome by going into bad circumstances. Thus it is defined as the workability of mind and body that has been produced and t hat makes it possible for the mind to observe its object.
  • Mindfulness: is defined as the aspect of mind that functions to hold the mind to its object, not letting the mind forget or get away from its object. It is one of the eight factors of the eightfold noble path, the basic path which all Buddhists, monks or lay people, meditators and nonmeditators alike, travel.
  • Alertness: functions as a vigilance or watchfulness so that the mind knows what the mind is doing. This particular mental event is required in the practice of calm-abiding. In the context of calm-abiding, mindfulness holds the mind in place and alertness keeps watch over the situation to ensure that the mindfulness is operative. When mindfulness, the force holding the mind in place, weakens or is lost and the mind wanders, alertness knows of this and informs the mind to re-assert the mindfulness. In this way, alertness is a necessary co-partner of mindfulness in any practice which attempts to calm the mind.
  • Volition: operates to take the mind towards its object and fix it to it. There is no specific term for this in the English language but it has been variously translated as "will", "motivation", "volition", "mental drive", "directionality". It is the drive in mind which results in either mental action or mentally motivated action of body or speech.
  • Equanimity: is a virtuous mental event that results in mind neither wanting to be separated from anything or one which harms the body / mind nor wanting to be come closer to anything or one which assists the body /mind.

Following the development of concentration (ting-nge-dzin), one must learn to develop mindfulness (dran-pa) and then alertness (shey-zhin). This should serve as a practical introduction to engaging properly in successful meditation practice.

More than that, it is advisable to rely on a genuine master and look for advice and personal guidance.

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