The main aim of Buddhist Meditation is how to purify the mind of all negative tendencies—such as greed, anger, and delusion, through mind control. When all negative tendencies are removed, the mind will be freed from suffering.
The actual aim is very exalted, as it aims at the complete eradication of suffering. This process does not only happen in or covers one existence, but it also spans over limitless existence.
TRANQUILLITY AND INSIGHT MEDITATION
Generally, there are two types of meditation—tranquillity meditation and insight meditation. Whichever one you practice, the main factor in mental development is mindfulness.
Tranquillity meditation is the concentration of the tranquil and peaceful mind. It involves the very controlled or mindful action of holding the mind to an object and does not allow the mind to wander. The mind remains completely still, like a stilled candle, neither flickering nor fluttering.
This is the nature of tranquillity meditation. When this happens, the mind becomes very peaceful and powerful, because it is a concentration of pure states of mind.
Insight meditation is different. It does not just involve holding the mind still. It also involves a penetrative observation.
This kind of penetrative observation, without any thinking, without any conceptualization, allows the mind to realize the true nature of things as they really are, things like the nature of our mind and body processes, the nature of the person and the nature of the world.
With the realization of the nature of existence, the mind no longer has conflicts with nature, the mind becomes together with nature, and the mind realizes the true nature of things.
Consequently, the mind becomes purified. In the process, the mind transcends everything—it transcends conceptual reality, it transcends conditioned reality and finally it goes into an absolute reality. Which is the unchanging state? After much practice, it is this that is experienced by the mind.
At the start of our practice, we have to recognize the nature of mindfulness, which we have to develop for as long as we are alive. The presence of mindfulness is what really makes the difference between true happiness and false happiness. It can also make the difference between life and death.
TRUE HAPPINESS AND FALSE HAPPINESS
True happiness is when we really have peace of mind. False happiness is when greed and excitement overcome the mind—the mind is agitated. This can become a matter of life and death because sometimes when we are not mindful, we can meet with an accident.
Mindfulness can also make the difference between heaven and hell. Because, in Buddha’s teaching, Kamma resultant depends on good and evil actions. This kamma resultant will bring us to heaven, earth, or hell respectively. Finally, mindfulness makes the difference between Nibbana and Samsara—eternal happiness and eternal suffering.
Therefore, no matter how we live, where we live, who we are—this mindfulness when practiced will make a significant difference. Since what we are trying to develop is mindfulness, it will be necessary to have a clear idea of the nature of mindfulness.
THE NATURE OF MIND
1. Clarity of the mind
It is a mind that is clear and pure—clear from all greed, anger, dullness, delusion, and hallucination.
When there is greed or craving, anger or hatred, delusion, or dullness, the mind is not clear. For example, when a person is intoxicated with alcohol, would you say that his mind is clear?
His mind is not clear, but muddled. All he wants is to drink more alcohol and drown his sorrows. Another example is when a person is angry, loses his temper, is very sad or depressed.
Would you think his mind is clear? No, his mind is not clear. His mind is heavy, dark, agitated, dull, and stupid. So, mindfulness is a state of mind when you are very alert, then the mind is clear and undisturbed—this is called the clarity of mind—it is like clear water; it is like the clear sky.
2. Stability, Calmness, and Peace
Let us compare the opposites; when a person’s mind is experiencing anger—it is agitated, not calm, not stable. It is disturbed like agitated or boiling water.
When the mind is experiencing a craving, it is excited and disturbed, not calm and steady. When the mind is not calm, peaceful, and steady, it is in a confused state, it is dull.
The mind which is calm, peaceful, and steady, is just like when we first come out from a good meditation or a good sleep— we have no worries.
It is just like when we are strolling by the beach or when we sit at home with a good book. Our mind then is calm and steady although it is not to the level that we would get in meditation.
When we are already in a state of calmness, steadiness, and peacefulness, should someone scold us, we remain calm and not disturbed. When this happens, the state of mindfulness is peaceful, happy, and stress-free.
It is the nature of mindfulness that when clarity of mind, stability, calmness, and peace have been achieved, a third factor may come into play.
3. The Alertness of the mind
The mind becomes sensitive, not in a bad way, but sensitive in a good way. Being sensitive in a bad way is when somebody says something that is annoying and we become disturbed. Being sensitive is a good way is like a person who is very calm, alert, and stable but very perceptive about what is going on.
One knows exactly in detail and in great clarity what is actually happening. Please bear in mind this quality of mindfulness. Think about how the state of mindfulness is like when you are having it. When we are able to know that this quality is in the mind, we can safely say that we are mindful.
During actual meditation, when all our energy and aim is directed to the realization of what is happening within us, within our mind and body processes, that is the time when we get the most benefit.
In a retreat, our life is simplified to a minimum number of activities. It can be divided into three types of activities: walking meditation, sitting meditation, and other daily activities. Whether it is walking meditation, sitting meditation or other daily activities, the purpose of the practice is:
- Keep the mind in the present moment.
- Keep mindfulness clear, calm, and in the present moment.
- See what is happening to our meditation object.
In walking meditation, the object of mindfulness is the walking process. In sitting meditation, the object is the “rising” and “falling” process of the abdomen; and in other daily activities, the object is to know what we are doing.
The walking process can be generally divided into three types:
- Brisk walking
- Moderate walking
- Slow walking
Brisk walking is a walk that is faster than our normal walk. It can be extended to almost a run. When we perform brisk walking, we just keep our minds on the footstep.
To keep our mind on the footstep, we may say mentally “right, left, right, left…” or “stepping, stepping…” Usually walking is done in a straight line, covering a not too long distance. At the end of the walking path, we turn.
In long retreats, brisk walking is sometimes used as an exercise because of the long hours of sitting. Sometimes, if we feel sleepy, brisk walking is used. After doing brisk walking for five or ten minutes, we can then change to the moderate walk.
During a short retreat, most of the walking is done at a moderate pace. First, we must be aware of our standing posture. The standing posture is a good grounding to bring our mindfulness down at our feet.
When we are standing, take a deep breath and relax. Relaxation is one of the first steps to arousing mindfulness. When we are tense, we cannot relax and be mindful.
When we know that our body is relaxed, let our minds be clear, without any thinking. Just keep the mind calm, clear, and mentally relaxed.
During walking meditation, our eyes are downcast but not looking down. Our eyelids are half-closed when we are relaxed. Only when we really want to look at something, do we look straight ahead. Otherwise, when we are relaxed, our eyes are downcast.
Thinking during walking meditation
There are two types of “thinking:”
We know that we are thinking. Once we know that we are thinking, the thinking goes away. In this case, we do not have to stop walking.
We know that we are thinking but we are unable to stop thinking. In this case, we have to stop and say in our mind “thinking, thinking…” When we are aware of the thinking, it will go off. When the thinking goes off, we are aware again. Then we can bring our mind to the sole of the feet and start once again.
Sometimes during a stretch of walking, the thinking can arise many times and you may have to stop many times. Another thing that can happen is boredom. As we walk, we may start looking around.