meditation we are continuously discovering who and what we are. That
could be quite frightening or quite boring, but after a while, all that
slips away. We get into some kind of natural rhythm and begin to
discover our basic mind and heart.
Often we think about
meditation as some kind of unusual, holy or spiritual activity. As we
practice that is one of the basic beliefs we try to overcome. The point
is that meditation is completely normal; it is the mindful quality
present in everything we do.
The main thing the Buddha discovered
was that he could be himself—one hundred percent, completely. He did
not invent meditation; there was nothing particularly to invent. The
Buddha, "the awakened one," woke up and realized that he did not have to
try to be something other than what he was. So the complete teaching of
Buddhism is how to re-discover who we are.
That is a
straightforward principle, but we are continuously distracted from
coming to our natural state, our natural being. Throughout our day
everything pulls us away from natural mindfulness, from being on the
spot. We're either too scared or too embarrassed or too proud, or just
too crazy, to be who we are.
This is what we call the journey or
the path: continuously trying to recognize that we can actually relax
and be who we are. So practicing meditation begins by simplifying
everything. We sit on the cushion, follow our breath and watch our
thoughts. We simplify our whole situation.
meditation, sitting meditation, is the foundation of this particular
journey. Unless we are able to deal with our mind and body in a very
simple way, it is impossible to think about doing high-level practices.
How the Buddha himself, having done all kinds of practices, became the
Buddha, was simply to sit. He sat under a tree and he did not move. He
practiced exactly as we are practicing.
What we're doing is
taming our mind. We're trying to overcome all sorts of anxieties and
agitation, all sorts of habitual thought patterns, so we are able to sit
with ourselves. Life is difficult, we may have tremendous
responsibilities, but the odd thing, the twisted logic, is that the way
we relate to the basic flow of our life is to sit completely still. It
might seem more logical to speed up, but here we are reducing everything
to a very basic level.
How we tame the mind is by using the
technique of mindfulness. Quite simply, mindfulness is compete attention
to detail. We are completely absorbed in the fabric of life, the fabric
of the moment. We realize that our life is made of these moments and
that we cannot deal with more than one moment at a time. Even though we
have memories of the past and ideas about the future, it is the present
situation that we are experiencing.
Thus we are able to
experience our life fully. We might feel that thinking about the past or
the future makes our life richer, but by not paying attention to the
immediate situation we are actually missing our life. There's nothing we
can do about the past, we can only go over it again and again, and the
future is completely unknown.
So the practice of mindfulness is
the practice of being alive. When we talk about the techniques of
meditation, we're talking about techniques of life. We're not talking
about something that is separate from us. When we're talking about being
mindful and living in a mindful way, we're talking about the practice
It's important to understand that we're not
talking about trying to get into some kind of higher level or higher
state of mind. We are not saying that our immediate situation is
unworthy. What we're saying is that the present situation is completely
available and unbiased, and that we can see it that way through the
practice of mindfulness.
At this point we can go through the
actual form of the practice. First, it is important how we relate with
the room and the cushion where we will practice. One should relate with
where one is sitting as the center of the world, the center of the
universe. It is where we are proclaiming our sanity, and when we sit
down the cushion should be like a throne.
When we sit, we sit
with some kind of pride and dignity. Our legs are crossed, shoulders
relaxed. We have a sense of what is above, a sense that something is
pulling us up the same time we have a sense of ground. The arms should
rest comfortably on the thighs. Those who cannot sit down on a cushion
can sit in a chair. The main point is to be somewhat comfortable.
chin is tucked slightly in, the gaze is softly focusing downward about
four to six feet in front, and the mouth should be open a little. The
basic feeling is one of comfort, dignity and confidence. If you feel you
need to move, you should just move, just change your posture a little
bit. So that is how we relate with the body.
And then the next
part—actually the simple part—is relating with the mind. The basic
technique is that we begin to notice our breath, we have a sense of our
breath. The breath is what we're using as the basis of our mindfulness
technique; it brings us back to the moment, back to the present
situation. The breath is something that is constant—otherwise it's too
We put the emphasis on the outbreath. We don't accentuate
or alter the breath at all, just notice it. So we notice our breath
going out, and when we breathe in there is just a momentary gap, a
space. There are all kinds of meditation techniques and this is actually
a more advanced one. We're learning how to focus on our breath, while
at the same time giving some kind of space to the technique.
we realize that, even though what we're doing is quite simple, we have a
tremendous number of ideas, thoughts and concepts—about life and about
the practice itself. And the way we deal with all these thoughts is
simply by labeling them. We just note to ourselves that we're thinking,
and return to following the breath.
So if we wonder what we're
going to do for the rest of our life, we simply label it thinking. If we
wonder what we're going to have for lunch, simply label it thinking.
Anything that comes up, we gently acknowledge it and let it go.
are no exceptions to this technique; there are no good thoughts and no
bad thoughts. If you're thinking how wonderful meditation is, then that
is still thinking. How great the Buddha was, that's still thinking. If
you feel like killing the person next to you, just label it thinking. No
matter what extreme you go to, it's just thinking, and come back to the
In the face of all these thoughts it is difficult to be
in the moment and not be swayed. Our life has created a barrage of
different storms, elements and emotions that are trying to unseat us,
destabilize us. All sorts of things come up, but they are labeled
thoughts, and we are not drawn away. That is known as holding our seat,
just dealing with ourselves.
The idea of holding our seat
continues when we leave the meditation room and go about our lives. We
maintain our dignity and humor and the same lightness of touch we use in
dealing with our thoughts. Holding our seat doesn't mean we are stiff
and trying to become like rocks; the whole idea is learning how to be
flexible. The way that we deal with ourselves and our thoughts is the
same way that we deal with the world.
When we begin to meditate,
the first thing we realize is how wild things are—how wild our mind is,
how wild our life is. But once we begin to have the quality of being
tamed, when we can sit with ourselves, we realize there's a vast wealth
of possibility that lies in front of us. Meditation is looking at our
own back yard, you could say, looking at what we really have and
discovering the richness that already exists. Discovering that richness
is a moment to moment process, and as we continue to practice our
awareness becomes sharper and sharper.
This mindfulness actually
envelops our whole life. It is the best way to appreciate our world, to
appreciate the sacredness of everything. We add mindfulness and all of a
sudden the whole situation becomes alive. This practice soaks into
everything that we do; there's nothing left out. Mindfulness pervades
sound and space. It is a complete experience.
How to Meditate, by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche,
Source; Shambhala Sun, July 1994.