About 2500 years ago the Buddha taught that all beings want to be happy and that nobody wants to suffer, an observation that was as true then as it is today. The times and culture have changed, but our emotions have not and can still cause us problems as we get caught up in negative thought patterns that disturb our peace of mind.
Meditation shows us that true happiness is found within. Happiness being a sense of deep contentment and wholeness, free from disturbing emotions and confusion, which from the Buddhist point of view manifests naturally when we are in touch with and abiding in our true nature. Yet despite this we have become so habituated to seeking outside ourselves for satisfaction that we often do not see that we are sitting on the treasure chest of our own happiness. The Buddha taught that everyone has the same potential to discover this and find a deep and lasting happiness in life.
Practical methods to uncover this true nature of ours have been passed down through the lineage of realised masters from the time of the Buddha until today and they are still as relevant, fresh and transformative now as they were then. Through cultivating mindfulness, awareness and kindness we can learn to work with challenging situations like chronic pain, destructive thought patterns, and difficult emotions as well as awakening to the natural ease and joy of the present moment. We do not need to turn away from our lives, but instead we can turn towards them while applying these transformative methods. Such a change in view can make our lives more meaningful and a source of continuous inspiration. Becoming intimately aware of our own mind and its habitual tendencies is an empowering experience, because nobody else has as much power over our mind than ourselves – understanding this is the first step on the path to freedom.
What is meditation?
Meditation methods help focus and calm the mind and develop insight into how life is, without confusion and projection. It is not about making the mind blank, spacing out, going into a trance or having extraordinary experiences. Rather they are designed to train the mind to calm down and settle into its natural state, leading to a relaxed and aware openness imbued with the warmth of compassion. In general, Buddhist meditation methods can be categorised into two types: Shiney (skr. Shamatha) – Calm Abiding, and Lhagtong (skr. Vipassana) – Clear Insight. Shiney provides the space to recognise the confused habitual mind by allowing, letting be and letting go of the tendency to grasp at or avoid our experience, so that a natural settling can occur and the innate qualities of calmness and clarity can arise. Lhagtong uproots the confusion which gives rise to conflicting thoughts and emotions, by directly seeing their insubstantial and transient nature and ultimately insight is developed into the nature of the mind (awareness) itself.
There are many expressions of these meditation methods in Buddhism that have been passed down from master to student since the time of the Buddha for the development of compassion and wisdom, some are simple, others more complicated, but all are there to empower the individual to transform their mind by reducing the disturbing emotions, develop the positive ones and connect to a state of being beyond confusion, free from suffering.
When starting our meditation practice it is good to receive authentic instructions on how to meditate, since if we don’t understand the essence of meditation, we might sit for decades without much transformation occurring other than developing strong sitting muscles. Reading about meditation and using apps is very useful and encouraged, however having a teacher introduce us to meditation in a more direct and dynamic way is better still and can help correct misunderstandings that could develop along the way as we progress on the path of meditation.
Maintaining a connection with a teacher to check in with from time to time and coming together as a community to practice, can both help support and strengthen our own meditation practice by providing the guidance and inspiration necessary to carry the practice on and integrate it into our daily life, for our benefit and the benefit of others.
For information about our meditation and reflection evenings, please see here.
The True Test Of Meditation
“How many obscurations and how many afflictions have been subdued or cleared away? This is the true test of meditation, not what wonderful or special experiences we might have.”
~ HH 17th Karmapa
Adapted from Palpung Changchub Dargyeling