What is Meditation?
Meditation is a conscious effort to change how the mind
works. The Pali word for meditation is 'bhavana' which means 'to
make grow' or 'to develop'.
Is meditation important?
Yes, it is. No matter how much we may wish to be good,
if we cannot change the desires that make us act the way we do,
change will be difficult. For example, a person may realize that
he is impatient with his wife and he may promise himself: "From
now on I am not going to be so impatient." But an hour later
he may be shouting at his wife simply because, not being aware
of himself, impatience has arisen without him knowing. Meditation
helps to develop the awareness and the energy needed to transform
ingrained mental habit patterns.
I have heard that meditation can be dangerous. Is this
To live, we need salt. But if you were to eat a kilogram
of salt it would kill you. To live in the modern world you need
a car but if you don't follow the traffic rules or if you drive
while you are drunk, a car becomes a dangerous machine. Meditation
is like this, it is essential for our mental health and well-being
but if you practice in a stupid way, it could cause problems.
Some people have problems like depression, irrational fears or
schizophrenia, they think meditation is an instant cure for their
problem, they start meditating and sometimes their problem gets
worse. If you have such a problem, you should seek professional
help and after you are better then take up meditation. Other people
over reach themselves, they take up meditation and instead of
going gradually, step by step, they meditate with too much energy
for too long and soon they are exhausted. But perhaps most problems
in meditation are caused by ''kangaroo meditation'. Some people
go to one teacher and do his meditation technique for a while,
then they read something in a book and decide to try that technique,
then a week later a famous meditation teacher visits town and
so they decide to incorporate some of his ideas into their practice
and before long they are hopelessly confused. Jumping like a kangaroo
from one teacher to another or from one meditation technique to
another is a mistake. But if you don't have any severe mental
problem and you take up meditation and practice sensibly it is
one of the best things you can do for yourself.
How many types of meditation are there?
The Buddha taught many different types of meditation,
each designed to overcome a particular problem or to develop a
particular psychological state. But the two most common and useful
types of meditation are Mindfulness of Breathing (anapana sati)
and Loving Kindness Meditation (metta bhavana).
If I wanted to practice Mindfulness of Breathing, how
would I do it?
You would follows these easy steps: the four Ps place,
posture, practice and problems. First, find a suitable place,
perhaps a room that is not too noisy and where you are not likely
to do disturbed. Second, sit in a comfortable posture. A good
posture is to sit with your legs folded, a pillow under your buttocks,
your back straight, the hands nestled in the lap and the eyes
closed. Alternatively, you can sit in a chair as long as you keep
your back straight. Next comes the actual practice itself. As
you sit quietly with your eyes closed you focus your attention
on the in and out movement of the breath. This can be done by
counting the breaths or watching the rise and fall of the abdomen.
When this is done, certain problems and difficulties will arise.
You might experience irritating itches on the body or discomfort
in the knees. If this happens, try to keep the body relaxed without
moving and keep focusing on the breath. You will probably have
many intruding thoughts coming into your mind and distracting
your attention from the breath. The only way you can deal with
this problem is to patiently keep returning your attention to
the breath. If you keep doing this, eventually thoughts will weaken,
your concentration will become stronger and you will have moments
of deep mental calm and inner peace.
How long should I meditate for?
It is good to do meditation for 15 minutes every day
for a week and then extend the time by 5 minutes each week until
you are meditating for 45 minutes. After a few weeks of regular
daily meditation you will start to notice that your concentration
gets better, there are less thoughts, and you have moments of
real peace and stillness.
What about Loving Kindness Meditation? How is that
Once you are familiar with Mindfulness of Breathing and
are practicing it regularly you can start practicing Loving Kindness
Meditation. It should be done two or three times each week after
you have done Mindfulness of Breathing. First, you turn your attention
to yourself and say to yourself words like "May I be well
and happy. May I be peaceful and calm. May I be protected from
dangers. May my mind be free from hatred. May my heart be filled
with love. May I be well and happy." Then one by one you
think of a loved person, a neutral person, that is, someone you
neither like nor dislike, and finally a disliked person, wishing
each of them well as you do so.
What is the benefit of doing this type of meditation?
If you do Loving Kindness Meditation regularly and with
the right attitude, you will find very positive changes taking
place within yourself. You will find that you are able to be more
accepting and forgiving towards yourself. You will find that the
feelings you have towards your loved ones will increase. You will
find yourself making friends with people you used to be indifferent
and uncaring towards, and you will find the ill-will or resentment
you have towards some people will lessen and eventually be dissolved.
Sometimes if you know of someone who is sick, unhappy or encountering
difficulties you can include them in your meditation and very
often you will find their situation improving.
How is that possible?
The mind, when properly developed, is a very powerful
instrument. If we can learn to focus our mental energy and project
it towards others, it can have an effect upon them. You may have
had an experience like this. Perhaps you are in a crowded room
and you get this feeling that someone is watching you. You turn
around and, sure enough, someone is staring at you. What has happened
is that you have picked up that other person's mental energy.
Loving Kindness Meditation is like this. We project positive mental
energy towards others and it gradually transforms them.
Do I need a teacher to teach me meditation?
A teacher is not absolutely necessary but personal guidance
from someone who is familiar with meditation is certainly helpful.
Unfortunately, some monks and laymen set themselves up as meditation
teachers when they simply don't know what they are doing. Try
to pick a teacher who has a good reputation, a balanced personality
and who adheres closely to the Buddha's teachings.
I have heard that meditation is widely used today by
psychiatrists and psychologists. Is this true?
Yes, it is. Meditation is now accepted as having a highly therapeutic
effect upon the mind and is used by many professional mental health
workers to help induce relaxation, overcome phobias and bring
about self-awareness. The Buddha's insights into the human mind
are helping people as much today as they did in ancient times.