Meditation

Meditation in Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism has many different schools and lineages, with a variety of practices and goals. All schools of Tibetan Buddhism agree, however, that the final goal of Mahayana practice is the attainment of Buddhahood for the benefit of all other sentient beings. A Buddha, as we saw in previous sections, is someone who has awakened from the sleep of ignorance in which others live, who has broken through the cognitive barriers that impede understanding and become omniscient through a long process of mental training. The key factor in this process is meditation, a general term that encompasses a wide range of practices and goals.

Generally speaking, Buddhist meditation is of two types – analytical and concentrative. In analytical meditation, we use our powers of logical reasoning to examine the teachings to determine for ourselves whether or not they are true, to eradicate doubt, and to come to a clear and unshakable conclusion about the way in which things exist. In concentrative meditation, we learn to focus our mind single-pointedly on a mental object until our mind can rest effortlessly on that object for hours or even days at a time. Although they are quite different in nature, these two types of meditation assist and support each other. The better we can analyze, the greater our conviction for practicing concentration and trying to overcome the obstacles to success; the better our concentration, the stronger our powers of logical deduction and the clearer the conclusions we reach.

Some Tibetan Buddhist great scholars describe that “meditation is a familiarization of the object of meditation” Sentient beings have lived since beginningless time, and in every lifetime, we have accustomed ourselves to wrong ideas, which has led to suffering, death, and rebirth. Since this preconditioning is deeply ingrained, the meditational process used to break its poser requires a great deal of effort and repeated familiarization of the mind with meditational objects.

Most meditative practices aim at some form of cognitive restructuring. Since dissatisfaction arises from wrong ideas, the solution to the problem of suffering lies in changing these ideas, and this is accomplished through meditation. Suffering arises from actions based on afflictive mental states such a desire, ignorance, hatred and many of the techniques of Tibetan meditation are designed to serve as counteragents to afflictions. For example, a meditator teacher to cultivate feelings of love and compassion. Love and compassion are incompatible with anger, and so the more on trains in the former attitudes, the more one’s tendency toward anger diminishes.

Some of the mediational methods practiced in Tibetan Buddhism

Calm Abiding Meditation: This practice usually involves watching our breath as our object of meditation. This meditation is specifically designed to calm and focus our mind, so we can develop our powers of concentration. We can also add a technique of counting our breaths to help increase our concentration and reduce the general distractibility of our mind.

Walking Meditation: Generally, walking meditation is designed to complement our sitting meditations so that we maintain our concentration between our seated sessions. This meditation pays close attention to the movement of our feet as we walk slowly, back and forth, in a small, defined area.

Loving-Kindness Meditation: This meditation aims at increasing our feeling of loving-kindness to everyone. We first practice generating Metta (wishing others happiness) by meditating on objects that are easiest to arouse loving-kindness for. Then we progressively move to more difficult objects of Metta, like our enemies. This practice is an effective technique for eliminating our hatred and anger towards others.

Tonglen Meditation: Tonglen means ‘giving and receiving’. Here we imagine that we’re taking on the suffering of others and giving them all the things, they need to alleviate their suffering. This practice is sometimes known as ‘the secret’ and is powerful in increasing our compassion and reducing our selfishness and self-grasping.

Meditation on the Faults of Samsara: This meditation looks at the multitude of sufferings that sentient beings can experience in the world. Most importantly, it focuses on the various sufferings that human beings can experience. Although this meditation helps to develop compassion for others, its primary aim is to highlight that external worldly aims (like having money, fame and nice possessions) do not bring ever-lasting happiness. It reminds us that happiness is to be found within, not from external phenomena. This meditation is particularly helpful to strengthen our renunciation and to help us stay committed to our meditation practice, lest we get lost in pursing the ephemeral, unsatisfactory pleasures of the world.

Meditation on our Precious Human Life: According to the Buddha, gaining a human rebirth is extremely rare. Moreover, gaining a human life that has the necessary conditions for being able to practice his teachings is rarer still! This meditation focuses on how difficult it is to obtain this human life so we can appreciate the opportunity we have now to practice.

Meditation on Impermanence: This meditation closely ties in with the previous one. When we truly realize how short our time on Earth is, it will inspire us to practice NOW and not procrastinate. Also, when we really feel this law of impermanence in our bones, we will accept the changing aspects of our life more readily, so we can let go of things (and people) more easily, as everything is destined to change.

Meditation on Equanimity: Often we easily define people in our life into categories: those we love, hate or feel indifferent towards. According to the Buddha, these are all delusions; we shouldn’t fix permanent labels to ever-changing phenomena. This meditation helps us to break down the labels we’ve given people in our lives, so we can develop loving-kindness and compassion equally to all.

Meditation on Remembering the Kindness of Mother Sentient Beings: The aim of this meditation is to remind us of the kindness of our mothers, so we can develop a heart of gratitude. It also helps us develop a sense of responsibility to repay their kindness, not just to them but to all sentient beings that have presumably been our mothers in a past life. This practice is extremely powerful in combating any aversion we might have to our present-life mother.

Meditation on the Impurities of our Bodies: This meditation is specifically designed to combat our lust and craving for sexual encounters. Traditionally, the Buddha taught this technique to celibate monks to try and help curb their sexual impulses and keep their mind on the task of one-pointed meditation and reaching nirvana. This meditation goes through all the parts of the body in all its wonderful gross detail, so we can really acknowledge what the human body is made up of (e.g. blood, skin, pus, and hair). By doing this we won’t be so quick to exaggerate physical beauty and can see the human form in a more balanced way.

Deity (Yidam) Meditations: Reciting mantras and meditating on the spiritual qualities of the Yidam possess (immeasurable compassion and wisdom), the great yogis visualize the deity and identify their own form for the purpose of transformation. Through the power of imagining yourself as the ‘end result’ – as a being that’s already enlightened – we can help those qualities to germinate and come to fruition faster. These meditations also help break us free of clinging to self, as we’re no longer identifying with our ordinary, egoistic self, but rather one who is endowed with enlightened qualities.

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