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The idea of this particular seminar is to establish a fundamental understanding of the Buddhist approach toward the practice of meditation. Some of you are experienced, some of you are new. In any case, I would like to reteach the whole thing. It is very important to develop a basic understanding of meditation, and it is extremely important for you to understand the fundamentals of the Buddhist way of thinking about meditation. This is extremely important for the work that I am doing and we are doing to establish a firm ground of Buddhism in this country. A firm ground would mean people having no misunderstanding whatsoever concerning basic meditation practice and the Buddhist attitude toward enlightenment.
tradition that developed in Tibet, my country, and other Buddhist countries in medieval times is understanding Buddhism in terms of a three-
process. You begin with the hinayana discipline, then you open yourself to the mahayana level, and then finally you evolve into the vajrayana discipline. So the work we are doing is part of this three-yana approach. I want you to understand the main aspects of this very basic and fundamental process before beginning on the path.
Those who have already begun to tread the path need to reexamine their journey. It is highly important to begin at the beginning rather than starting halfway through without the beginning. That would be like building your castle on an ice block or setting up your apartment in an airplane.
The topic we will be dealing with in this seminar is mindfulness and awareness,
which is the basic heart of the Buddhist approach. According to the Buddha, no one can attain basic sanity and basic enlightenment without practicing meditation. You might be highly confused or you might be highly awakened and completely ready for the path. You might be emotionally disturbed and experiencing a sense of claustrophobia in relation to your world. Perhaps you are inspired by works of art you have done or the visual and audial aspects of works of art in general. You might be fat, thin, big, small, intelligent,
stupid—whatever you are, there is only one way, unconditionally, and that is to begin with the practice of meditation. The practice of meditation is
Without that, there is no way out and no way in.
The practice of meditation is a way of unmasking ourselves, our deceptions of all kinds, and also the practice of meditation is a way of bringing out the subtleties of intelligence that exist within us. The experience of meditation sometimes plays the role of playmate; sometimes it plays the role of devil's advocate, fundamental depression. Sometimes it acts as an encouragement for birth, sometimes as an encouragement for death. Its moods might be entirely different in different levels and states of being and emotion, as well as in the experience of different individuals—but fundamentally, according to the
Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, there is no doubt, none whatsoever, that meditation is the only way for us to begin on the spiritual path. That is the only way.
Meditation is a way of realizing the fundamental truth, the basic truth, that we can discover ourselves, we can work on ourselves. The goal is the path and the path is the goal. There is no other way of attaining basic sanity than the practice of meditation. Absolutely none. The evidence for that is that for two thousand five hundred years since the time of the Buddha, down through the lineage of enlightened teachers from generation to generation, people have gained liberation through the practice of meditation. This is not a myth. It's reality. It actually did exist, it does exist; it did work, it did happen, it does work, it does happen. But without the practice of meditation, there is no way.
Let us discuss the term
at this point. When we talk about the practice of meditation, we are talking about a way of being. Unfortunately, the term meditation is not quite an adequate translation of the Sanskrit term dhyana or samadhi. Whenever we use a verbal form like "to meditate" or "meditating," that automatically invites the question, "What are you meditating upon?" or "What are you meditating in?" That is a common question that always comes up.
But according to the Buddha's philosophy, there is no verb "to meditate." There is just a noun, "meditation." There's no meditating. You don't meditate, but you be in a state of meditation. You might find it very hard to swallow this distinction. We have a linguistic, a grammatical problem here, Meditating is not part of the Buddhist vocabulary,
but meditation is.
is a noun that denotes that you are being in a state of meditation
gives the idea of an activity that's taking place all the time, that you're meditating on this or that, concentrating on flickering candlelight, watching an incense stick burning, listening to your pulse, your heartbeat, listening to the inner tunes of your mantric utterance going on in your head—whatever. But according to the buddhadharma, meditation is a simple factor. You don't meditate, you just be in the meditation.
is a noun rather than a verb. It refers to being in a state of dhyana, rather than "dhyana-ing." Meditation in this case has no object, no purpose,
no reference point. It is simply individuals willing to take a discipline on themselves, not to please God or the Buddha or their teacher or themselves.
Rather, one just sits, one holds oneself together. One sits a certain length of time. One just simply sits without aim, object, purpose, without anything at all. Nothing whatsoever. One just
You might ask, "Then what does one do if one sits? Shouldn't one be doing something? Or is one just sitting there hanging out?" Well, there's a difference between sitting and "hanging out" in the American idiom.
means something like "grooving on your scene." And sitting is just being there like a piece of rock or a disused coffee cup sitting on the table.
So meditation is not regarded as hanging out but just sitting and being, simply.
Questions often come up like, "Why the hell am I doing this, behaving like an idiot,
just sitting?" And people also experience a lot of resentment. They think:
"I've been told to sit like this. Somebody's making fun of me, taking advantage of my gullibility. Somebody has made me just sit like that, just sit. I'm not even allowed to hang out. I have to just sit on my meditation cushion." But the instruction to do that is actually an extremely important, powerful message. If we learn to sit properly, thoroughly, and fully, that is the best thing we could do at this point.
If we look back on the history of our life since we were born, since we first went to school, we never sat. We never sat. We might have hung out occasionally and experienced utter boredom and felt sorry for ourselves. Feeling bored and preoccupied, we might have hung out occasionally on street corners or in our living rooms watching television, chewing our chewing gum, and so forth, But we never sat. We never sat like a rock. We never did, How about that?
this is the first experience in our life of sitting—not hanging out or perching—but actually sitting on the ground on a meditation cushion. Just that to begin with, to say nothing for the moment about techniques for how you sit.
Before we discuss techniques, let us point out the merit—
in Sanskrit— the very merit and sanity and wakefulness you are going to get out of this, out of just simply being willing to sit like a piece of rock. It's fantastically powerful. It overrides the atom bomb. It's extraordinarily powerful that we decide just to sit, not hang out or perch, but just sit on a meditation cushion. Such a brave attitude, such a wonderful commitment, is magnificent. It is very sane, extraordinarily sane.
We usually don't sit on the ground. We sit on chairs. The closest we get to just sitting is when we sit still for ten or twenty hours as passengers or drivers in our cars. But then we are entertained by the road, by the traveling, by the speed. We think we are sitting, but still we are getting somewhere. We are still traveling. Apart from that, we have never known actually sitting on the ground properly and thoroughly and fully like a rock, like a sitting buddha. We have never done that. That is an extraordinary experience. This is an important point. This is what we actually miss in this world. When we sit, it is always for a purpose. If we are sitting in a car, we are thinking, "How long is it going to take me to get to my destination, so I can begin to rush?" We count mileage, note the speed of our car, watch the speedometer. We sit for a purpose. It is a very interesting point that nobody has experienced that we can actually sit on a cushion without any purpose, none whatsoever. It is outrageous. Nobody would actually ever do that. We can't even think about it.
It's unthinkable. It's terrible—we would be wasting our time.
Now there's the point—wasting our time. Maybe that's a good one, wasting our time.
Give time a rest. Let it be wasted. Create virgin time, uncontaminated time,
time that hasn't been hassled by aggression, passion, and speed. Let us create pure time. Sit and create pure time.
That is a very important thing. It might sound crazy to you, impractical, but it is very important to think in those terms. Sitting practice is a revolutionary idea for Westerners, but not as far as Buddhists are concerned. Buddha did it.
Buddha did it two thousand five hundred years ago. He sat and wasted his time.
And he transmitted the knowledge to us that it is the best thing we can do for ourselves—waste our time by sitting. The very idea of aggression and passion could be tamed by sitting practice. Just sitting like a piece of rock is a very important point.
We can discuss the techniques later, but right now I don't want to overcrowd your mind. I want you to think about the importance of wasting time sitting, slowing down, becoming like a piece of rock. It's the first message of the Buddha.
My particular lineage is the Kagyü lineage.
"follower of the sacred word." And this lineage is also known as the
"the practicing lineage." We have been known for this emphasis on practice. We understand that the emphasis on practice is very important. And my lineage has produced millions of sane people in the past. And it is doing so in the present as well. We have evidence of that.
Sitting practice is the basic point, before we embark on any spiritual disciplines at all, especially in Buddhism. The teachings of Buddha are presented in a threefold way, as we mentioned. And on the hinayana level alone, we have
meditation, and intellect. And before we begin with shila—discipline—of any kind, we have to learn to slow down. That is the basic discipline of how to be.
So the basic way to learn to behave in a buddhalike way is sitting practice.
Then, after that, we develop meditation, samadhi, and knowledge, prajna. Before we learn to spell words, we have to learn our ABCs. We have to be actually willing to accept the boredom of sitting, willing to relate with that particular sanity, which is unconditional sanity. This sanity has nothing to do with fighting against insanity or trying to exorcise it. It is just fundamentally, basically, trying to be simple as what we are. That is the basic point according to Buddha.