What exactly is meditation? Why would anyone want to practice meditation? And why would anyone want to do so?
Those very questions lie at the heart of the Buddhist philosophy, and because of that, meditation is probably one of the most misunderstood elements of Buddhist practice. Yes, Buddhist meditation is considered meditation, but what is it? Is it a method of self-control, or is it something more primal – a release from the egoic mind?
In his book The Mind of the Buddha, Dr. Dharma singh explores some of those questions for us, and gives a much more concrete standpoint as to what meditation is than that of most authors. He defines meditation as a process of exploring the potentials of the conscious mind. He explores the idea that the ego must be transcended, and that the true “self” underlies much of our activity – our motives for kindness, our gratitude, compassion, passion, and so much more.
Dharma also believes that meditation is potentially the most effective spiritual practice we have to offer. Through the practice of insight, he teaches, we can learn to see how the many perceptions and concepts of the world are connected, and that when we view the world through such simple and direct insights, we can open ourselves to seeing other areas of the world in a more balanced, integrated way.
I like what Dharma Singh has to say, and I’ve experienced a lot of the success in my own life personally as a result of his teachings. But despite the validity of his perspective, I was still skeptical of whether meditation, with its single-minded focus on expanding awareness, could actually do any of that. How could it? Well, I had been a meditation beginner for a while, and I certainly wasn’t predisposed to see any results with regular practice. What to Romantize? Well, he firmly believes meditation is a life-long discipline, and that it’s possible to combine the benefits of many different religions’ teachings into a single spiritual practice. And he points out that the top three spiritual practices are meditation, yoga, and bliss (what spacecraft scientists Call the altered state of consciousness). So I thought, ‘this sounds good, but what does it accomplish?’
Well, to use a sports example, let’s say you decided to learn baseball, but you have no previous experience at the sport. On your own, you could get a bunch of lessons at a local instruction hall, and be out on the field tomorrow. But do you really want to be out there tomorrow? If that ball player comes along and hits a thousand ground balls, you’re not going to make him take up 1/4 of your life. Similarly, the top three spiritual practices are not about getting better at anything, but rather, about expanding into the essence of what you are. It requires a huge amount of commitment over a long period of time, and it seems that most of us aren’t cut out for the long haul. Instead, we like the short-term gratification, and because of our generally immature egos, it doesn’t feel right to stick with a spiritual practice that requires that kind of investment. What would it really accomplish?
In my opinion, the best spiritual teachings are those that directly confront the issue of desire. It sends us straight to the heart of the matter, and helps us transcend the ego. Anything that forces us to confront our personal desires seems to make them less nebulous and instead become something that is relentlessly accountable. Under spiritual guidance, we would find that the right balance of our outer circumstances and our inner state is the path to ultimate freedom. And this freedom emanates not just from some spiritual realm, but rather from the ever-present Now itself.
I encourage you to reflect on your own life to see what spiritual guidance can do if your desire involves learning about the true nature of how things work. You’ll be enlightened along the way, won’t you agree?