Gautama Buddha

How S.N. Goenka Changed My Life—And the Lives of Millions More

How S.N. Goenka Changed My Life—And the Lives of Millions More

by  Oct 2, 2013 1:11 PM EDT

S.N. Goenka, who died on Saturday, embodied the teachings of the Buddha, yet insisted on a completely inclusive approach. We could use a man like him right now, writes Sharon Salzberg.

S.N. Goenka, who died September 29, was my very first meditation teacher. I went to India in 1970, when only 18, specifically to study meditation. Goenka-ji had been living in Burma, raising a family and building a successful business, and for many years also deepening his meditation practice. Shortly before I arrived in India, he himself arrived in India in order to visit his mother, who had been ill. Our paths converged in Bodhgaya, the town that surrounds the tree the Buddha is said to have been sitting under when he became enlightened.

S.N. Goenka
Former president of India Pratibha Patil, takes blessings from S.N. Goenka during a ceremony in Mumbai on February 8, 2009. (EPA/Newscom)

I was moved to travel there by an Asian philosophy course I had taken that laid out two pillars of the Buddha’s teaching: first, an unashamed, unafraid acknowledgment of the suffering in life; and second, a conviction that we can do something about our unhappiness. Like many, I had already suffered mightily even by the age of 18—my parents divorced when I was 4, my mother died when I was 9, my father had a severe mental illness—and, like many, I viewed my pain as shameful and isolating, rather than as a source of compassion and connection to others. Not a single person I knew openly admitted that suffering was a part of life, but apparently the Buddha had had no such compunctions.

And there was the revolutionary idea that we can affect our pain—not the pain of circumstance, which might always occur—but we can transform the ways we relate to our own and others’ difficulty to transform our lives. The breathtaking part of the Buddha’s vision was that no one was left out of this possibility—you didn’t have to be a special person or lucky person or have really great parents who didn’t die young or drink too much or struggle with terrible demons. You just had to find the tools (also known as meditation) to change the habits of your mind, and apply them. I left for India the first chance I got.

I met Goenka-ji in January 1971, when I entered a 10-day intensive meditation retreat he guided. I hadn’t meditated before for one single second. Goenka-ji himself fascinated me. He seemed so … whole. It didn’t look like he was shaped by the expectations of others. He talked freely about pain and suffering, yet seemed so happy. He posited a world where we grow closer to one another through our shared vulnerability to change and loss. He so much embodied the ancient teachings of the Buddha, yet insisted on a completely inclusive, secular, contemporary approach. The first night of the retreat he said, “The Buddha did not teach Buddhism, he taught a way of life.”

Goenka-ji was a jolly-looking man with a sonorous voice and fluent but somewhat simplistic English (“Clean up your dirty minds,” was one of his sayings, pointing to the incredibly nuanced purification process that accompanies meditation). He was kind of ordinary yet not ordinary at all. A friend said to me, “It’s like you can see the compassion shining out of his skin.” I had never experienced anyone like him.

He talked freely about pain and suffering, yet seemed so happy.

Though I went on to study with many other teachers and explore several methods of meditation, that first 10-day retreat remains the singular turning point of my life—I’ve never turned back.

Now, more than 40 years later, we live in a world where the United States government has shut down, where we have incredible ways to communicate with one another yet so rarely truly communicate, where the earth itself is nearly overcome by our greed, hatred, and delusion. I think of those timeless truths Goenka-ji spent his life counseling. We have the potential to be whole, without an endless need to acquire more and more. We can acknowledge pain and suffering and still be happy, because we learn to hold life with compassion instead of bitterness. We are all vulnerable and can live as “we” rather than “us and them.” We can participate in spiritual teachings without being insular and separate. We can learn to clean up our dirty minds, so to speak, and not be driven by what we’re simply used to.

Today an estimated 1 million Americans learn meditation each year. There are many styles and lineages represented in that number, but Goenka-ji’s role in that statistic is extraordinary, both through his direct instruction and through the work of those whom he influenced. Even now that he has died, in this very shaky time where we need both inner strength and one another, I would bet that his influence will grow and grow.

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Sharon Salzberg is cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. She has been a student of meditation since 1971, guiding meditation retreats worldwide since 1974.  Sharon’s latest book is Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit & Be a Whole Lot Happier, co-authored with Robert Thurman. She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and is also the author of several other books including the New York Times Best Seller,Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program (2011), The Force of Kindness (2005), Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience (2002), andLovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness (1995). For more information about Sharon, please visit: http://www.SharonSalzberg.com.

 

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The Morality of Meditation [Research]- NYTimes.com

The Morality of Meditation

Olimpia Zagnoli
Published: July 5, 2013

MEDITATION is fast becoming a fashionable tool for improving your mind. With mounting scientific evidence that the practice can enhance creativity, memory and scores on standardized intelligence tests, interest in its practical benefits is growing. A number of “mindfulness” training programs, like that developed by the engineer Chade-Meng Tan at Google, and conferences like Wisdom 2.0 for business and tech leaders, promise attendees insight into how meditation can be used to augment individual performance, leadership and productivity.

This is all well and good, but if you stop to think about it, there’s a bit of a disconnect between the (perfectly commendable) pursuit of these benefits and the purpose for which meditation was originally intended. Gaining competitive advantage on exams and increasing creativity in business weren’t of the utmost concern to Buddha and other early meditation teachers. As Buddha himself said, “I teach one thing and one only: that is, suffering and the end of suffering.” For Buddha, as for many modern spiritual leaders, the goal of meditation was as simple as that. The heightened control of the mind that meditation offers was supposed to help its practitioners see the world in a new and more compassionate way, allowing them to break free from the categorizations (us/them, self/other) that commonly divide people from one another.

But does meditation work as promised? Is its originally intended effect — the reduction of suffering — empirically demonstrable?

To put the question to the test, my lab, led in this work by the psychologist Paul Condon, joined with the neuroscientist Gaëlle Desbordes and the Buddhist lama Willa Miller to conduct an experiment whose publication is forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science. We recruited 39 people from the Boston area who were willing to take part in an eight-week course on meditation (and who had never taken any such course before). We then randomly assigned 20 of them to take part in weekly meditation classes, which also required them to practice at home using guided recordings. The remaining 19 were told that they had been placed on a waiting list for a future course.

After the eight-week period of instruction, we invited the participants to the lab for an experiment that purported to examine their memory, attention and related cognitive abilities. But as you might anticipate, what actually interested us was whether those who had been meditating would exhibit greater compassion in the face of suffering. To find out, we staged a situation designed to test the participants’ behavior before they were aware that the experiment had begun.

WHEN a participant entered the waiting area for our lab, he (or she) found three chairs, two of which were already occupied. Naturally, he sat in the remaining chair. As he waited, a fourth person, using crutches and wearing a boot for a broken foot, entered the room and audibly sighed in pain as she leaned uncomfortably against a wall. The other two people in the room — who, like the woman on crutches, secretly worked for us — ignored the woman, thus confronting the participant with a moral quandary. Would he act compassionately, giving up his chair for her, or selfishly ignore her plight?

The results were striking. Although only 16 percent of the nonmeditators gave up their seats — an admittedly disheartening fact — the proportion rose to 50 percent among those who had meditated. This increase is impressive not solely because it occurred after only eight weeks of meditation, but also because it did so within the context of a situation known to inhibit considerate behavior: witnessing others ignoring a person in distress — what psychologists call the bystander effect — reduces the odds that any single individual will help. Nonetheless, the meditation increased the compassionate response threefold.

Although we don’t yet know why meditation has this effect, one of two explanations seems likely. The first rests on meditation’s documented ability to enhance attention, which might in turn increase the odds of noticing someone in pain (as opposed to being lost in one’s own thoughts). My favored explanation, though, derives from a different aspect of meditation: its ability to foster a view that all beings are interconnected. The psychologist Piercarlo Valdesolo and I have found that any marker of affiliation between two people, even something as subtle as tapping their hands together in synchrony, causes them to feel more compassion for each other when distressed. The increased compassion of meditators, then, might stem directly from meditation’s ability to dissolve the artificial social distinctions — ethnicity, religion, ideology and the like — that divide us.

Supporting this view, recent findings by the neuroscientists Helen Weng, Richard Davidson and colleagues confirm that even relatively brief training in meditative techniques can alter neural functioning in brain areas associated with empathic understanding of others’ distress — areas whose responsiveness is also modulated by a person’s degree of felt associations with others.

So take heart. The next time you meditate, know that you’re not just benefiting yourself, you’re also benefiting your neighbors, community members and as-yet-unknown strangers by increasing the odds that you’ll feel their pain when the time comes, and act to lessen it as well.

David DeSteno is a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, where he directs the Social Emotions Group. He is the author of the forthcoming book “The Truth About Trust: How It Determines Success in Life, Love, Learning, and More.”

The Morality of Meditation – NYTimes.com.

College Prep: Meditation 30-Day Challenge

This first time meditation experience is common to many who try meditation without finding the right technique for them. After teaching meditation to college students the last 5 years, I have found that all techniques work equally well, so long as you find the one that is easiest to fit into your life.  See my comments at the bottom.

-Karah Pino

Meditation 30-Day Challenge

So my office is really obsessed with 30 and 100 day challenges. The 100 day challenges are definitely more on a more personal level, but we tend to group up for 30 day challenges.

The curl challenge was super fun and definitely an eye-opener. It also felt good to actually stick with it. I didn’t even use our one “It’s Okay to Straighten for New Year’s Eve” cheat day.

I was really looking forward to our latest 30 day challenge. Maxie and I planned to meditate every day for 30 days. We were inspired when a career coach gave us a quick and easy 10-minute guided meditation. I’ve done mediations from time to time in the past, especially during extreme periods of stress.

I thought that committing to spending a month getting in the habit of meditating that I would be much happier, more relaxed, and generally feel better.

via

We both failed.

I tried to carve out the ten minutes every day to meditate, but it ultimately started to feel like a chore. And I simply began dreading it. It was a chore and I was absolutely horrible at it. I would sit down in a comfortable position, close my eyes, and follow the meditation guide.

Then the thoughts would start…. and they were loud, clear, and oh-so-annoying. I would ask myself how long had I been meditating. When was the ten minutes up? What should I wear in the morning. The tape tells you that it’s okay to have wandering thoughts, but to try to pull them back in to be centered. And instead, I would start thinking how dumb I felt sitting in my room with my eyes closed.

Meditation certainly works for some people. I’m not going to write it off completely, but this 30 day challenge definitely didn’t work for me. Three weeks in, I sent a text message to Maxie asking when this whole ordeal would be over… even admitting that I’d skipped a few days. I felt so guilty to let her down, but it turns out that she was similarly struggling as well.

What I did learn though was that it’s important to figure out the best way to sit down and think or let go or be present.

For me, I find that true-zen-tuned-into-myself mode when I’m showering and when I’m working out. (SoulCycle was the best meditation I did this month, but even just walking through the park alone is wonderful.)

Have you ever meditated? What’s your method or trick? Do you have any great apps or podcasts to recommend?

xoxo

via College Prep: Meditation 30-Day Challenge.

Here’s My comment:

karahapinohoponoJuly 8, 2013 at 3:27 AM

I took my first meditation class in college for headaches. It worked so I kept at it until I forgot, then the headaches would return. Years later, I studied meditation as part of my masters degree in acupuncture. We learned four branches of meditation: Moving meditation (i.e.yoga/QiGong/dance), Visualization techniques (i.e.color/guided imagery/progressive relaxation), Sound techniques (i.e.chanting/clapping/singing) and Mindfulness (i.e.Zen/Dogchen/Vipassana) After teaching meditation to college students the last 5 years, I have found that all techniques work equally well, so long as you find the one that is easiest to fit into your life. For instance, I love Vipassana mindfulness technique when I have time to sit, but after having a baby, I needed something I could do quickly with child in arms, such as breathing techniques or chanting.

Vocabulary refresher course in the language of mindfulness meditation – latimes.com

The vocabulary of meditation can be a barrier for people who feel that they’re entering a strange world, experts say. Here are some common words.

Buddha: meaning one who is awake, in Sanskrit. The Buddha was a person, not a god, who lived more than 2,000 years ago; from a privileged family, he became a seeker of truth and eventually became enlightened.

Dharma: often used to mean the teachings of Buddhism and meditation.

Mantra: a word — “om” being perhaps the most famous — repeated as a way to keep the mind focused on one spot during meditation.

Metta: loving kindness. In metta meditation, a person seeks to evoke such feelings for oneself or others independent of self-interest. Phrases such as, “May I be safe, may I be peaceful and happy,” can be repeated in the meditation.

Mindfulness: “a receptive attention to present-moment experience or attention to present-moment experience with a stance of open curiosity” (from Diana Winston of UCLA).

Transcendental meditation: a form of meditation using a mantra, introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and popularized these days by such people as filmmaker David Lynch.

Vipassana: another name for insight meditation to cultivate mindfulness.

Zafu: a round cushion used for sitting during meditation.

— Mary MacVean

via Vocabulary refresher course in the language of mindfulness meditation – latimes.com.

 

Mindfulness meditation: It may be essential, but, boy, it isn’t easy – latimes.com

By Mary MacVean

March 30, 2013

On the third day of silence and meditation, I said just 14 words, all of them in the course of chopping vegetables for dinner.

Days two, four and five were not much different.

I’m not the quiet type. But this was my idea. So earlier this year, I drove most of a day to reach Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County to immerse myself in the practice of mindful meditation. To be still, clear of worry over career, my teenage sons’ futures, the renovations of our old house. To see whether I could stop — just stop — for five days and perhaps for a little bit each day afterward.

Not talking turned out to be easy.

Meditation, however, is hard work.

Defining ‘mindfulness’

In the last decade or so, meditation has gone mainstream — practiced by buttoned-down professionals, prison inmates, public school students, Hollywood celebrities, even the military and, reportedly, Bill Clinton. It’s being studied by scientists for its effects on blood pressure, depression, pain and attention problems. In our racing-forward lives, we are reaching back thousands of years for wisdom about living.

There are hundreds of forms of meditation, but among the best known in the U.S. is mindfulness meditation, and that’s what I embraced at Spirit Rock.

Diana Winston, who lived for a time as a Buddhist nun and now is director of education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, defines it: “Paying attention to present moment experiences with open, curious attention and a willingness to be with what is.”

It’s spiritual but not religious – the way many people view their place in the universe these days. The idea is to gain clarity, wisdom and freedom, to end up feeling compelled to behave with integrity and compassion.

There were nearly 100 of us, who paid $460 to $885 (on a sliding scale) for the retreat called “Essential Dharma Meditation.” Our days were scheduled from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. with sitting meditation, walking meditation, eating meditation, working meditation (chopping vegetables was my daily chore). No reading, no writing, no cellphones.

Getting started

Mark Coleman, one of my teachers at the retreat, says people typically arrive at Spirit Rock “exhausted [and] burned out.” After a couple of days, “this gets exaggerated, because we start feeling how completely exhausted we are. But “people usually leave feeling buoyant, grounded, more clear. Brightness in their eyes. Body more upright.”

When I checked in, I was assigned to a room with a twin bed, folding chair, bedside table and the smallest sink I’ve ever seen. I zeroed in on the only electronic item in the room and instantly thought to turn on NPR. But then I remembered: silence. It was just a clock, not a radio.

I felt apprehensive. I missed my husband. But I didn’t miss my BlackBerry.

Walking outside, a few minutes before dinner, my worries were calmed by the rolling, grassy hills and the wide-open sky. At least the setting was beautiful.

Meals were vegetarian, buffet style, simple but fresh and delicious. We bused our dishes, lining up two at a time to scrape every last bit for compost. One of the few sounds at meals was that particular clink of utensils hitting Corelle dinnerware. I especially appreciated the silence at this time: no pressure to chat about hometowns, jobs, families.

After dinner, we heard from the teachers at “dharma talks,” lectures on the practice of meditation, the Buddha and the retreat itself. (While we yogis, as the teachers call us, were silent most of the time, the teachers were less so.)

We started our first sitting meditation with the direction to attend only to our breathing. If you lose track, teacher Howard Cohn said, just return to it, without judgment — one of many easier-said-than-done instructions I heard during my five days of silence.

I breathed in, expanding my chest. Suddenly, I was sorting out details of a dinner I was giving when I got back to L.A. Oops. Back to the breath. One breath, maybe two, and my mind was off again, wondering about my son who was on a trip to Israel.

via Mindfulness meditation: It may be essential, but, boy, it isn’t easy – latimes.com.

Do it yourself: Meditation does not have to be like boot camp – The Nation

In our hi-tech, switched-on world, many people question the value of certain practices that have come down to us through the traditional religions. One of these is meditation, a practice of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and other ancient faiths.

Here in Thailand, some temples offer meditation retreats. People who attend them sometimes fail to get anything out of them. They complain that they have to get up at 4am, have to endure tasteless vegetarian food, can’t eat after noon, aren’t allowed to talk, have to be in bed by 8pm, and – the ultimate horror for plugged-in netizens of the 21st century – they have no Internet access and have to leave their iPads, iPods, smartphones, Blackberries and mobile phones at home.

Meditation retreats in Thailand make the mistake of trying to impose the lifestyle of arahats (saints) on people who are only arahat wannabes. Many lay people do not adapt readily to a regimen designed for monks. This is like trying to force every foot into the same shoe, or teaching calculus to people who haven’t yet learned basic arithmetic. It expects too much of them, is counterproductive, and will drive them away. A meditation retreat should not be a boot camp.

The good news is that you don’t have to attend a meditation retreat to meditate. Once you know the method, you can do it on your own, although it’s always helpful to have a qualified teacher to steer you right in case you start to go off the rails.

Meditation can be practiced by anyone, any place, any time. But it works best if you’re open to new ideas and curious about the ultimate metaphysical underpinnings of the universe. It’s not a social activity, and is best practiced alone. A quiet, secluded place is desirable. Only an advanced meditator trying to test his skills – or a masochist – would try to meditate in a discotheque with flashing strobe lights, a yelling, dancing mob, and a sound system blasting at top volume.

You have to be awake and reasonably conscious, so early-morning meditation isn’t right for everybody. A full meal makes you sleepy, so after-dinner meditating is a bad idea. Sleep as long as you like, then wake up, wash up, and meditate alone in a quiet place.

Both intensity and duration are important. You’re not going to get much benefit if you’re always daydreaming, or drifting off into memories and fantasies. That also applies to five quick minutes of meditation before rushing off to work in the morning. If you lead an active life or think a lot, it may take a full hour of meditation just to get your mind calmed down. After two hours, you should start to feel something, and certainly after three. Anybody who dismisses meditation as baloney without sticking with it for at least three hours isn’t giving it a chance.

There are many methods of meditation, usually advocated by specific schools or religions. You can get the details from books. Basically it involves turning your thoughts inward and paying attention to whatever you may regard as ultimate. The goal is to evoke that “ultimate” and experience it in whatever way it may manifest itself. Often visualisation, mental chanting and prayer are involved. That covers a lot of territory, so an example may help.

Here’s a method that may work for Buddhists. You turn your attention inward and visualise your heart as a lotus. Then you mentally project an image of the Buddha seated on the lotus, radiating light and compassion. Keep your attention fixed on the image. It may change shape or assume different forms. Never mind. Keep bringing your attention back to the image and continue to visualise it. A different image may arise that still represents the Buddha, but it may be clearer or more pleasing. If that happens, and especially if the new image persists, let go of the old one and pay attention to the new one. The idea is to be continually conscious of the presence of the Buddha within you.

To strengthen this consciousness, mentally chant a mantra. Many people like the standard Theravada invocation, “Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa.” (“Homage to Him, the Exalted, the Worthy, the Fully Enlightened One.”) If that seems a little long. you might prefer a shorter one: “Namo Buddhaya.” (“Homage to the Buddha.”) Ajahn Chah used to teach his disciples to chant simply “Buddho, Buddho” with every inbreath and outbreath.

Some people like to use a rosary to keep track of the number of repetitions. That can become a distraction. The emphasis should be on the chanting. Don’t worry about the number of repetitions. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu once tried using a rosary, but he gave up because it reminded him of a Chinese shopkeeper totting up sales on his abacus. If a rosary works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Meditation is not a marathon; nobody is going to give you a gold medal for the number of times you chant. Even so, duration does tell, so the longer you can meditate and the more repetitions you can chant, the better.

Practitioners of other religions can follow the same method – visualisation of an ideal combined with mental chanting of a mantra. But obviously they would focus on their own ideal of what is ultimate and chant a mantra drawn from their own tradition. Hindus can meditate on Rama, Krishna, Shiva or any of the Hindu deities. Christians can meditate on Jesus. Taoists can meditate on the yin-yang symbol. Jews might meditate on the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter Name of God in the Hebrew alphabet. Muslims might meditate on the Arabic phrase, “There is no God but Allah.”

People may wonder what the benefits of meditation are. To some, it may sound like self-hypnotism. A cynic might define it as reinforcement of deeply held delusions. It can be considered a system of self-conditioning, and it does look like self-hypnotism in the beginning. But eventually it takes on a life of its own, continues effortlessly, and seems to draw on hidden wellsprings in the mind to generate new ideas and insights. Above all, it generates a sense of the presence of something pervasive and indefinable that gives great comfort. This has to be experienced to be understood, and even those who experience it rarely understand it fully. Everybody interprets it in terms of his own tradition. Apart from that, meditation relaxes the mind and conveys a feeling of wellbeing.

So you don’t have to get up at 4am, eat tasteless vegetarian food, starve after noon, or go to bed at 8pm. But you do have to put away your techno-toys and do it alone in a quiet place. You also have to give it at least three hours to produce some effect before dismissing it as baloney.

If you ever have three hours to spare, give it a shot.

Paramananda Pahari is a writer and student of religions.

Do it yourself: Meditation does not have to be like boot camp – The Nation.

 

Meditation: Stress Reduction or Induction? | North Coast Journal | Humboldt County

(Feb. 21, 2013) What [the Buddha] taught … the path that we think will lead us to happiness leads instead to sorrow.

Donald Lopez, Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies, U. of Michigan

Every week or so, I receive an email announcing the latest scientific finding about meditation or, as it’s usually termed, “Buddhist meditation.” Not only is the practice now a proven remedy for stress and anxiety, but meditation lowers cholesterol, decreases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, counters addiction and eases depression. All good, no doubt. I’ve seen it for myself. For instance, I lead meditation sessions in our local county jail, and I’ve seen both dramatic and more modest results, as the simple process of sitting quietly appears to help inmates to accept a fresh sense of ownership of their situation, rather than seeing themselves as victims of raw circumstance. Where before they knew only boredom and despair, they come to see opportunities such as reading, education, discussion, growth. And in my own life, time and again, personal grief has become lighter and sadness has turned, unexpectedly, into humor while sitting. So I don’t doubt the psychological and physiological benefits claimed for meditation.

What I do question is whether any of these payoffs have anything to do with Buddhist meditation. Of course, professing something to be “Buddhist” is about as useful as claiming, “The Buddha said such-and-such.” In the latter case, we’re asking a lot of oral tradition. The first Buddhist writings (the Gandharan Texts) date from the first century CE, which puts them between 300 and 800 years after the death of the historic Buddha, depending on which tradition you believe — if, indeed, there was a “historic Buddha” in the first place. Google that phrase, and you’ll see how flimsy the evidence is for an actual founding teacher of Buddhism, rather than a committee of sages.

And what is “Buddhism,” for that matter? A term invented by European missionaries and travelers 400 years ago, who noted the similarity between statues they saw in China, Japan, Ceylon, Siam and Tibet, and came up with the one handy umbrella term. (Ten thousand Indian beliefs and rites suffered the same fate when Westerners, coining the word “Hinduism,” proclaimed them all to be aspects of the same religion. Today’s scholars are a little more rigorous in their taxonomy.) I don’t know how Tibetan lamas, with their bells and incense, robes and rituals, feel about being lumped in with “sit-down-and-shut-up” Zen practitioners, for instance, but I suppose it works both ways. Easterners probably have no trouble seeing Mormons, Holy Rollers, Quakers and Egyptian Copts as slightly different manifestations of something called “Christianity.”

In any case, I doubt if any flavor of Buddhism would recognize what often passes for “Buddhist meditation” nowadays in the U.S., with its emphasis on stress-reduction and therapeutic healing. The goal of traditional Buddhism is quite the opposite, seeking (as Donald Lopez puts it) “to create stress and destroy complacency” in order to smash the mind — a far cry from healing it. So there’s your choice: Meditate on your path to serenity and low triglyceride levels; or meditate to realize there is no path, there’s nothing to “get” because, in the words of that fount of human wisdom, the Old Milwaukee beer commercial, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” The Big Guy couldn’t have put it more succinctly.

Barry Evans (barryevans9@yahoo.com) has been meditating since 1970. He still hasn’t a clue what it’s all about.

via Meditation: Stress Reduction or Induction? | North Coast Journal | Humboldt County.

 

Mack Paul: Meditation Is Medicine

I think my favorite Zen story is about an exchange between Hui Neng, the fifth Chinese patriarch who lived about 1,400 years ago, and Wo Lun, a monk who wants to demonstrate his spiritual attainment.

Wo Lun tells Hui Neng this:”Wo Lun has skillful meansEnabling him to cut off all thoughts.In the face of circumstanceshe is not aroused,and daily, monthly,wisdom grows.”

Hui Neng sees Wo Lun’s pride and his sense of spiritual superiority and offers a corrective, gently couched in the language of his own experience.

“Hui Neng has no skillful means.He does not cut off all thoughts.In the face of circumstances his mind is often aroused.  How can there be the growth of wisdom.”

Wo Lun expressed the misconception, apparently as common then as now, that meditation produces wisdom. Hui Neng tells him what he’s learned, that the human brain is a really sensitive and reactive organ that isn’t tamed. He doesn’t argue or try to impress Wo Lun with the righteousness of his own thinking. The contents of his mind are of little interest. Awareness has taught him that his mind makes him suffer, and he recognizes that thinking is, by its nature, delusional.

People begin meditating in the hope meditation will make them wise. The attentive learn how quickly clarity and ease dissolve into anger and stress under pressure. There’s a saying that a mindful act makes a Buddha of a common man as an unmindful one makes a common man of a Buddha. The awakened state is not necessarily steady or stable. We wake up, and then we fall back asleep. It is perfectly natural.

I’ve spent the last 30 years working with troubled kids in public schools. It has been instructive. If you want to observe the human mind in its purest, rawest form, kids are perfect. They just can’t hide the simplicity of their motives. A kid hurts, and when he hurts he has a tendency to hit somebody. The person he hits hurts and hits back, or he takes it out on somebody else. The consequence is an expanding cycle of psychic pain that is carried into adulthood. Those most affected don’t learn the cycle. They just delude themselves and others into thinking their mean attitudes are grand moral principles. We all experience this. When I pick up a newspaper or turn on the computer to catch the news, there is a high probability that I will see something that makes me mad. I read an opinion that threatens and hurts, and I want to hit back with my own opinion.

I began my meditation practice because I was overwhelmed with the constant conflict that is the nature of teaching in public school. Worn down and exhausted, I have awakened many an early morning with my mind on fire with upset. I get up and sit, because God knows I won’t be sleeping, and begin shifting my attention from my fevered thinking to my breath and my aching body.Sitting quietly is an invaluable practice in keeping the mouth shut. There is a river of mean thoughts and the hurt of wanting to hurt someone to make the hurt stop. There is the iron grip of angry, hurt thinking that just magically lets go. There is a relief that is like a fever breaking. I’ve been through this many times over the last two decades. It is kind of a miracle that makes it possible for me to go back to work with a clear mind and an open heart. One of the positives of working with kids is that the water flows quickly under the bridge.

With a kid, you can start each day with a clean slate. Every day, we try to do a bit better, and every day we do. The work has been very difficult, but it has also been a great joy.I’ve learned that thoughts are simply thoughts, and meditation is a medicine for infection that is crazy thinking. When you take your medicine, you don’t spread the infection any further. The act of turning attention to the breath to soothe the body is very simple. It is not easy. It is a basic human responsibility.For more by Mack Paul, click here.

For more on meditation, click here.

via Mack Paul: Meditation Is Medicine.