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The Essence of Meditation

Contemplative Journal


Tuesday, 14 January 2014 17:43
The Essence of Meditation
Written by  Lewis Richmond

Part I: Turning the Light of Awareness Inward

".....This means focusing the attention not on what is happening in the outside world, but on what is happening in the inner landscape of the mind, body, and emotions. While the ultimate goal for some meditation may be to directly experience the non-separate unity of inside and outside, usually before that can happen the inside needs to be revealed and explored.....


"....That said, turning awareness inward is only the first step. For spiritual transformation and wisdom, more needs to happen. Such work requires good teaching, mental focus, sustained attention, and the ability to ask questions and inquire deeply into the nature of experience and of reality itself. Over countless generations spiritual seekers have devoted their lives to such a discipline, and their collective wisdom is one of the precious achievements of humankind......

"...You may be familiar with the Zen concept of “beginner’s mind,” which was developed by Suzuki Roshi. He coined the phrase not so much to describe the mind of someone who is a beginner, but rather one who has the ability to set aside all previous assumptions and accept a given experience as though for the first time. Suzuki Roshi often said that “beginner’s mind” can be an advanced practice. So, whether you are new to meditation or you’ve been meditating for decades, in the deepest sense we are all beginners.

This is the art of meditation—paying close attention to what is actually going on.

At the root of meditative work is the conviction that the ordinary visible world that we see and hear is not the whole of reality. In fact, it is a kind of veil or smokescreen that can lead us away from what is wholesome and real. To truly understand how things actually are, we have to penetrate the veil of outer appearance and look closely at what is beneath it. This is the art of meditation—paying close attention to what is actually going on....

" “Attention, attention, attention!”  Pay attention!—this is indeed the essence and source of all wisdom. ...

"...(T)he Chinese character for “attention” is a combination of two other ideograms—one for “mind” and one for “now.” Now-mind: meditation in a nutshell,..."


Part II: Why Meditate? The Purposes of Meditation

"...Achieve Ease and Calm.....Calm can be seen as a gateway motivation. People have an intuition that a calm mind is the entryway to deeper understanding, and they are right. Calm leads to insight.

"Ease Suffering of Oneself or Others. ....Love is the deepest reality, written into the fabric of the universe, and meditation leads there naturally.

"Cultivate Compassion....

"Altered States..... are temporary, and they tend to become addictive over time. Altered states have their place, and every experienced meditator has encountered them, but they are a way-station, not a goal, for authentic spiritual life....

"Enlightenment... insight, awakening, and realization, but the underlying question remains: realization of what? The ultimate truth or reality of the universe? Direct apprehension of the divine or of God? These are open questions for the aspiring meditator.

In the Buddhist tradition it is taught that realization is innate. In other words, it is already a part of who you most deeply are, and the spiritual practice opens you up to that. There is a well-known Zen dialogue that illustrates this point.

Joshu, a student, came to his Zen teacher and asked, “What is the Tao?” (By “Tao” he meant ultimate truth or enlightenment).

Nansen, his teacher, replied, “Everyday awareness is the Tao.” (In other words, you already have it right now.)

Joshu asked again, “How do I realize it?”

Nansen replied, “The more you seek it, the farther you are from it.”

This teaching story offers a profound insight into what we are actually doing when we meditate. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the type of meditation that leads to realization pointed out by Nansen is called “resting in true nature.” In other words, you don’t seek awakening by doing anything special; instead, you let go of all ideas about what you are doing, and simply rest in Being itself. You don’t seek something you don’t have, but rather let go of what you don’t need. This is what the teacher meant when he said, “The more you seek it, the farther you are from it.”

All meditation, of whatever variety, includes some quality of resting in true nature. Eventually, all roads lead there. But the path is not simple. The student in the story was by no means a beginner, yet he still had the question in his heart, “How do I find it?” This student stands in for all of us. There are no shortcuts, only perseverance.

Part III: Types and Methods of Meditation

"While the essential direction of all meditation is to turn the attention inward, there are myriad methods for how to do that. These methods fall broadly into three categories: focusing the attention on a single object, letting the attention follow a succession of objects (also known as “mindfulness”), and not focusing on anything in particular....."



The Essence of Meditation

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