Introduction to Meditation

Reference: A Scientific Approach to Meditation

Twenty-six hundred years ago Buddha launched a grass-root movement of spiritual awakening, which was so successful that it civilized three-quarters of the world. The essence underlying his approach to meditation is the following two steps.

The first step is to stop interfering with the mind so that all the turmoil ultimately settles down into a quiet state. It is like stop stirring the water so that all the mud finally settles down at the bottom. This happens by itself. All you have to do is stop interfering.

The next step is to start cleaning up the confusions in a systematic manner so there is no turmoil. It is like carefully removing the settled mud, so that it does not get stirred up again. It is a very precise operation.

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Misconceptions

Wikipedia1 describes meditation as “a practice where an individual uses a technique, such as focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity, to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state.” The problem here is that any such technique would definitely interfere with the mind and not let it settle down on its own.

Furthermore, when you look up meditation in a dictionary, it provides synonyms, such as, concentration, contemplation and reflection. The problem is these actions cannot be accomplished until the mind has settled down.

On the website Qura.com2 the following popular explanation is provided:

Mindfulness meditation is a period of time allocated purely to being mindful and still. You practice what you want to do daily in every moment – having focused attention, being aware of thoughts and feelings tugging at you, and train yourself to bring yourself back to your meditation over and over again.

This explanation is almost correct except for this part at the end: “and train yourself to bring yourself back to your meditation over and over again.” Do you force your attention away from these thoughts that are tugging at you, back to your “meditation”? How would you resolve those thoughts then?

It appears that the sequence of steps in meditation is muddled up in most people’s understanding.

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Mindfulness

The essence of the first step in meditation is mindfulness. Buddha describes mindfulness in Bahiya3 sutra as follows:

In what is seen there must be just the seen; in what is heard there must be just the heard; in what is sensed (as smell, taste or touch) there must be just what is sensed; in what is thought there must be just the thought.

We may express this description scientifically as follows.

Mindfulness is being there and seeing things as they are.

Practice of mindfulness means that you are simply looking without interfering with the mind. As you sit down in meditation various reactions occur, such as, tiredness, drowsiness, boredom, etc. What do you do when the body starts to fall asleep? Do you interfere?

The answer is, “No, you do not interfere.” If the body falls asleep, it would eventually wake up. You simply experience the whole cycle of falling asleep and waking up. Maybe the reaction of sleepiness simply needs to be run out. Once it is out of system, you will be more alert than before. It is just the mud settling down. You may practice mindfulness even between the meditation sessions to help it all settle down.

“Removing the mud” in the second step means resolving the confusions, doubts and perplexities. These anomalies come up by themselves after the turmoil has settled down. You continue with your practice of mindfulness as before. Only now you need a deeper understanding of non-interference. It means that you do not avoid, resist, deny or suppress the confused thoughts and emotions that are coming up. You look at them with full alertness and experience them fully.

The mind then starts to relax and unwind. Past experiences that have long been suppressed start to release. You may be surprised at the memories that come up. It is this past suppression that was not letting the mental turmoil resolve. As the suppression comes off, the thoughts crowding the mind start to resolve. A lot of emotion may also accompany this resolution, but it will all clear up once and for all.

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Summary

The path to enlightenment starts with establishing the discipline of mindfulness. We may define meditation as follows:

Meditation is the dedicated application of mindfulness to resolve the unsettling thoughts, feelings and sensations crowding one’s mind.

The whole idea in meditation is to BE there and not do anything else but BE there. This means that you do not focus your attention on some object, thought, or activity. You do not concentrate, contemplate or reflect. You are required only to be there and perceive. Let the mind do what it may. This is a subtle point, but understanding it makes all the difference in the world.

As you meditate, you start to see through the mind’s obfuscation. You begin to recognize the things that have been causing the confusion. You start to get realizations. This is how the fundamental discoveries by scientists and philosophers are made.

It is these realizations that ultimately lead you to enlightenment.

The next chapter explains what enlightenment is.

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See the Wikipedia article on Meditation.
See the question “What is mindfulness meditation? On Quora.com.
Udāna 1.10; Bāhiyasuttaṃ 10

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