Nov 2, 2015

Posted in Featured

Guide to Meditation

What is Meditation?

Meditation has many definitions and meanings. In the West, it often refers to thinking something over or reflection. For Buddhists, meditation is a spiritual discipline that utilizes the power of attention to help us along the path of awakening. In the time of the Buddha the word used was bhāvanā which translates as contemplation, progression, development, cultivation, mental culture, etc.

Before We Start

If you have already been taught a meditation style, you are encouraged to continue with your current practice. For those of you that have never meditated before or have not been taught to meditate here are a few simple steps that will help in getting your practice started. If you have any questions we encourage you to seek advice either one-on-one or at one of the open discussion periods after the Monday and Thursday evening meditation periods.

The First Step: Posture

Although some traditions place more emphasis on posture than others, it is important to find as comfortable a pose as possible before beginning your meditation. Balance and relaxation are fundamental, if you need to clench your muscles to hold a particular posture, it is bound to cause pain and discomfort during your meditation, but if you are balanced and relaxed you are free to focus on the meditation itself. The classic texts recommend the lotus or half lotus position, but this cross-legged posture is often difficult for Westerners who grew up sitting in chairs. So keep in mind that meditating in a chair is perfectly acceptable.

The most common sitting position for Westerners is ‘Burmese,’ in which the legs are crossed, with both feet down. As illustrated above, the front surface of the shins rests on the ground. One calf is in front, and the other tucks between the calf and thigh of the opposite leg, so that neither leg crosses on top of the other. Ideally the knees are firmly on the ground, if they do not stretch that far, support them with a cushion or folded blanket. For all cross-legged postures, it is advisable to switch legs regularly, so that the leg that is on top or in front alternates during different sitting periods. An upright posture that avoids slouching and balances all the different parts of the body helps avoid drowsiness and encourages better focus.

Sit straight, don’t be rigid. Relax your shoulders and let your arms hang. Place your hands in any position that is symmetrical, balanced and still. A common hand position or mudra is seen in the illustration above. Once you have found a comfortable position, transition into a meditative state with three deep, slow breaths.

The Second Step: A Simple Meditation Technique

Buddhism employs a wide range of meditation approaches, and different lineages within the Buddhist tradition emphasize different techniques. Here at An Lac you are encouraged to follow whatever technique you have been trained in.

Perhaps the most commonly recommended technique for beginners involves focusing attention on the flow of breath that gives us life and sustains our being. The instruction given to all interested is to count their in-breaths or out-breaths from one to ten, then from ten to one and again from one to ten. When you have finished these three counting cycles you can continue to count your breaths as long as you like or you may prefer to sit and observe the arising and passing away of your sensory perceptions and thoughts. The sound of yours’ or another’s breath, your heartbeat, the ticking of a clock the smell of incense, the changing light in the room, the movement of air from an open window. Thoughts, emotions, fantasies and ruminations will come and go. Whatever sensory perceptions and thoughts arise, don’t be discouraged if you are constantly distracted. The key for even advanced meditators is to recognize when ones attention has drifted away and gently return to the meditation. You are encouraged to “just sit” and, without judgement observe whatever presents itself – arising and passing “through” your awareness without attempting to focus on anything in particular.

Finally, it is helpful to periodically check back into your body. Gravity has a way of acting on us even when we are not aware there has been any physical movement. Check on your posture, adjust your position or cushion if necessary (perhaps even move to a chair). Notice and relax any tight spots like your shoulder muscles, your jaw, and your legs. If your legs are going to sleep feel free to change position – just pay attention to your movements as you make these changes and try to keep them connected to your breathing (you can make it a kind of awareness exercise). The key is to find as comfortable a position as possible, one that will sustain you through the entire meditation period.

Your Participation Benefits Us All

Whether you are a novice or meditation master the act of meditation actively contributes not only to your own merit but some of that merit transfers to those around you and even to all that exist. Your participation in this act of meditation furthers all of us in our journey and is humbly accepted by the other members of this group.

By this merit may all beings be liberated.

Thank you,
The Ventura Buddhist Study Center @ An Lac Mission