Inspiration

Martine Batchelor

Meditation for Life
Martine Batchelor
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Meditation for Life shows that Buddhist meditation is not just for Buddhists, but for everyone with a desire to live life more fully. No matter who you are or what your goal-whether you want to start meditating, to revitalize your practice, or to find the perfect gift to share the joys of meditation with others—this splendid book is right for you. Each chapter contains a time-honored guided meditation on such themes as loving-kindness, equanimity, death—and even cooking

Why meditate

'Why do you meditate?' 'What inspires you?' 'Why should I meditate?' I have been asked these questions many times. Early on, I realized that the best answer to all of them is: 'To meditate is enough in itself.' As it is not an intellectual exercise, the meaning of meditation is revealed simply by practicing it. Indeed, what we think about meditation is often quite different from the experience. And so, the inspiration for meditation is meditation itself.

Inspiration to begin

Everyone who meditates will have a different story about what inspired them to begin. My own teacher, Master Kusan, was born into a Buddhist family but had no particular interest in meditation until he became very ill. Then, at the suggestion of a Buddhist friend, he went to a hermitage, hoping to be cured by reciting the mantra associated with compassion and healing, om mani padme hum. He had to recite the mantra every day for a hundred days and, though he had not initially been entirely convinced by his friend's advice, by the end of the period he was cured. This experience inspired him to begin practicing meditation and become a monk.

When he began his first retreat, Master Kusan made a vow that for the sake of all beings he would become awakened by the end of three months. During this retreat he meditated day and night, but no matter how hard he tried he could not achieve awakening. Stilt plagued by thoughts and dreams, still agitated and confused, he became despondent and asked himself whether life would be worth living if he were not awakened. At that moment, he had a vision of the Himalayas, and realized that it was presumptuous of him to think he could attain awakening in three months when it had taken the Buddha six years. He told me that, thereafter, his faith and inspiration were unshakeable.

The story of Master Kusan's teacher is even more remarkable. Master Hyobong was a Korean High Court judge who during the Japanese occupation was faced with having to pass the death sentence on a Korean freedom fighter. Unable to accept what he had to do, he vanished overnight, leaving everything behind to wander the countryside in search of an honest way of life. Visiting a Buddhist temple, he was inspired to become
a monk. He was already thirty-nine years old when he began to meditate. For him, it was a matter of great urgency to awaken and he became famous for his hard practice, even getting the nickname 'leathery buttocks'.

Changing motivation

When I reflect on what inspires me to meditate, I see that my motivation has changed over time. It all started when I read a passage in the Dhammapada. The passage pointed out that before you could change others you had to change yourself:

If he makes himself as good as he tells others to be, then in truth he can teach others. Difficult indeed is self-control.

Until then, I had been very active politically, full of ideas about changing the world into a more peaceful and egalitarian place. When I read that passage, it occurred to me that I could not hope to change the world if I could not even change my own negative thoughts and painful feelings. Yet in the Dhammapada, the Buddha implies that through meditation it is possible to transform one's state of mind and oneself.

Reading this passage spurred me on to look for a teacher and a method, so I traveled East. As soon as I arrived at his monastery in Korea, Master Kusan suggested that I become a nun. I hesitated for a few days, finally convincing myself that maybe this would be a good opportunity, for a year or two, to learn exotic Eastern arts like tai chi and calligraphy, and to try out some meditation too. In the end, I stayed for ten years, did not do any tai chi or calligraphy, and the only thing I learnt about was meditation. After a while, I began to meditate for its own sake, without aiming at any particular goal

Meditation is its own inspiration because it is food for the spirit. You have to eat every day to sustain your body and, in the same way, you need meditation to nurture your spirit. What impels you to meditation is your inner being, who needs quietness and clarity, being instead of doing. Meditation gives you the opportunity to live a full human life; one where you express and act on all your goodness and wisdom. When you meditate you feel at home, you return to your original being.

Faith to be free

I believe that an act of meditation is actually an act of faith – of faith in your spirit, in your own potential. Faith is the basis of meditation. Not faith in something outside you – a metaphysical buddha, or an unattainable ideal, or someone else's words. The faith is in yourself, in your own 'buddha-nature'. You too can be a buddha, an awakened being that lives and responds in a wise, creative and compassionate way.

When you begin to meditate, you might feet separate from your faith, which is more like a belief. You might think it is a good idea to meditate without being sure why. At this stage, your faith is somewhat intellectual, you have to convince yourself. But persevere with that initial calling; you will see for yourself that meditation really works, not only in developing calm and clarity, but also in dissolving your grasping and negative reactions and allowing yourself to let go.

As part of my daily duties during one three month retreat, I had to clean the communal bathroom. Every day I would go to the bathroom and find another nun there, washing~ herself. It was no use explaining to her that it would be easier for me if she washed at another time; she insisted that she had to wash there and then before a certain ceremony - no other time would do. This went on for more than two weeks: I would forget all about her till our moment of contact in the bathroom, and then I would become angry and resentful on seeing her there. One day, I opened the door; she was there, I was there and everything was fine. I saw then one of the effects of meditation. It dissolves the mind's subconscious hold on negative emotions and circumstances until suddenly the grasping is released. Then you can respond to life with ease and lightness. You realize that you can be free. Faith is no longer a matter of intellectual belief but grows organically with your experience.

Faith is the bedrock of practice. When you encounter difficulty and your vision is clouded, faith keeps you going. I once spent a month in a chalet in Switzerland. Every morning, I would open the window and look out at thick white fog. The chalet overlooked a lake just below the fog-line; I had only to walk uphill for two minutes for the fog to dear and the sky to be blue. In the light, the sun was obvious; it was warm, it illuminated everything. In the fog, I could not see a thing - but I knew the sun was real and nearby. This is faith. It inspires you to know that awakening is close, to trust in the potential of awakening when the clouds finally dissolve.

Courage to continue

Faith directs you to the path; courage will give you the energy to continue. During my time in Korea, I heard many stories about respected monks and nuns, and how hard they practiced. I was always inspired by these tales. There was a story of a monk who worked all day and meditated all night, for months on end. Many tried to join him but very few could follow his example. Master Kusan himself told us of a time when he felt he had to practice very hard in order to help a dying friend. He had promised his friend that in his stead he would become awakened within forty-five days. For the final two weeks, he meditated on tiptoe because he was afraid he would fall asleep and not attain awakening. On another occasion, I visited some nuns who were doing a three-year silent retreat. I was so impressed by their dedication and lightness; they managed to joke and make me laugh in the midst of their deep silence.

All these meditators were inspired by their own great courage. Nobody had forced them to do what they were doing. They were just so determined, so convinced of the merits of meditation, and with such faith in their own buddha-nature, that they gave the practice all they had. But for you who live in the West, in a busy modern world, what does it mean to have courage in meditation? You require courage to face your mental and emotional habits. It is easy to say that you do not have the time to meditate, that maybe you will do it tomorrow when you are less busy or at the weekend when you are less tired. You need the courage to meditate now, in this unrepeatable moment, whether tired or busy, sad or happy.

When you meditate, it is essential to have the courage to concentrate and enquire. As you sit quietly, doing nothing, you will very quickly be caught up in daydreams, fantasies or worries. Courage bolsters your determination, reminds you to straighten your back and reaffirms your intention to be aware, to be awake, to be present. It enables you to break out of a dull or lazy state of mind and to resist tempting thoughts. Going beyond your habits and patterns - the way of living that is easiest for you - requires a great deal of courage. When meditation is difficult, courage gives you the motivation to persevere. Master Kusan used to say that sometimes meditation is as easy as pushing a boat on ice, but at other times as difficult as dragging to a well a cow who does not want to drink. You need the courage to enquire, to question your habits, to step into the unknown. One of the paradoxes of meditation is that faith and enquiry are equally important. Faith alone can make you narrow-minded; enquiry alone can make you agitated. The practice of one helps and supports the practice of the other.

Trust your experience

The Buddha put great emphasis on enquiry, on looking deeply into one's own experience. He was once asked by some villagers about the teachers who regularly passed through their village, advising them to follow this practice and that teaching. The Buddha told them to listen carefully and consider the meaning of what they heard. Did the teachings make sense? Could the villagers apply them? Would the practices help them? If applying a certain method made the villagers more ski[fu[ and wise, they should continue to practice it. If the results of a method were negative, they should discontinue it. The most important thin8 was to measure any teaching against the experience of their own lives. And this is what enquiry is about: considering one's own experience.

You should check out thoroughly any teacher or teaching - and also the way you practice. Is meditation helping you to become quieter and clearer? Is it helping you to be wiser and more compassionate? I once met a meditation teacher who told me a revealing tale about himself. An architect with a large office, he became interested in meditation and set aside a special corner of the building for that purpose. From time to time, he would announce that he was going to meditate and retire to this place. Then everybody would groan and dread his return because he would always be irritable and they had to put up with it, as he was the boss. When he realized that meditation seemed only to make him more angry, he started to observe how he meditated and saw that he was doin8 it all wron8. After that, he started to meditate properly and it finally did help him to become calmer and dearer.

I would like to 8ire two more examples. One concerns a Western monk in Korea who needed to do four hours of meditation every day. Like a fix, he had to have his four hours - but not only that, when he sat in meditation, he required total silence. If someone in-the room .next door clinked a teaspoon in a cup, he would complain that !t was too noisy to meditate. You must be careful not to become attached to meditation itself, or to its silence and stillness. Another Western monk came to our monastery in Korea to learn to meditate within a community. In Thailand, he used to go to an island and meditate on his own, with just a dog for company. There he could achieve a great state of stillness, but as soon as he came back to his large monastery he would get into difficulties. It is relatively easy to meditate on your own in a quiet place but you must be able to meditate under any circumstances, and brin8 creative awareness to your daily life and ordinary relationships.

Practice

Working with thought

Thoughts are very useful! They are the natural activity of the mind. However, they also have a tendency to proliferate, and to influence and dominate your character. Thoughts can become fixed mental habits that inhibit your natural wisdom and compassion. They can be as light as wispy clouds in a blue sky or as heavy as dark clouds before a storm. Meditation is a great opportunity to observe your thoughts. I have noticed three types of thoughts: intense, habitual and occupying.

intense thoughts

Intense thoughts generally arise because you have been shocked, because something painful has caught you unprepared. Thoughts that arise under the influence of shock and pain are often obsessive and repetitive. It is very difficult to deal with these thoughts because they are powerful and disturbing, and you can become lost in them. When you meditate, notice what is happening. Try to create space in your mind by telling yourself that repeating these thoughts is not helpful, that you are making the situation more intense. Just let them go. For a few minutes, relax in the meditation, in the silence, in the discipline of concentration and enquiry.

habitual thoughts

Mental habits are a groove in the mind into which you are inclined to fall over and over again.

day-dreaming

You might have a tendency to day-dream. Daydreaming is characterized by a seductive, sticky feet. Like glue on your fingers, the more you try to get rid of it, the more it sticks everywhere. Day-dreaming often starts with 'if I had' and 'if I was' and then turns into a film where you are actor, director, producer and scriptwriter. In this film, life is wonderful. Everything goes according to your own plan without anybody's interference. You enjoy tweaking the dream here' and there, rearranging this bit or that bit.

When I was in Korea, I used to spend days sitting in meditation day-dreaming that I was going to a hermitage to practice very hard, become awakened and save everybody. Then I realized I was not meditating.but fantasizing about it. It was a total waste of time. You might have a tendency to day-dream about the perfect partner, house, child or job. Doing this too much reads to frustration because muttidimensiona reality will never fit into your one-dimensional dream. Concentrate on the breath and come back to reality, to the potential in this muttifaceted moment.

going over the past

You might have a tendency to be obsessed by certain events in your past. Mulling over what has happened, you remember something somebody once to|d you or did that was painful. You repeat the story to yourself over and over again, feeling worse and worse. Then you move to the future and plot revenge, playing with various scenarios for maximum effect: 'She'll say this and I'll say that and then I'll get her...' But plotting revenge is not very compassionate! The past has gone. Can you learn from it? Can you let go of it instead of dragging it into the present and recreating pain?

fabricating stories

Another mental habit is to fabricate a story out of very little. This habit is often caused by fear and insecurity. A good example is the way people sometimes think when they are waiting for someone who is late. At nine o'clock your friend has not turned up: 'Well, I'll wait a little longer'. Ten past nine: 'He does not love me'. Twenty past nine: 'Nobody loves me'. Half-past nine: '1 hate the world!' When he does finally arrive, with a good reason for being late, you could be so upset by your fabrications that you are beyond reasoning. With enquiry, question whether it is really true that this person does not love you.

speculating

Another thought pattern is to speculate, to create elaborate intellectual constructions. You read this, hear that, you put this idea and that philosophy together, and bingo! you have developed the greatest idea of the century. Then you sit there, refining and repeating the speculation to yourself because you do not want to lose your fantastic idea. But is it experiential wisdom? Is it something that you can apply and live? You have to be careful not to get lost in enticing constructions. Come back to the breath, to the experience of life in this moment as you sit in meditation. If you have truly had a great insight, it is there within you - you do not have to elaborate it ad infinitum.

planning

You might have a tendency to plan. Planning is very useful but has it become a habit? It is certainly a habit when you find yourself going over your plans for the hundredth time. By planning, we separate ourselves from the present and jump ahead in order to prevent any nasty surprises from happening. But life is unpredictable: a little planning is useful, too much is restrictive. Planning stops you from trusting in life and yourself. With awareness, returning to the object of concentration, come back to life in this moment. There is no need to plan anything for the next ten, twenty minutes - just be.

judging

You may have developed a habit of judging. Do you judge yourself, others, everything as good or bad, right or wrong? By judging, you set yourself a little above and apart from reality. You are constantly commenting instead of participating fully in whatever happens. You need discrimination to know if something is hot or cold, salty or sweet. But when discrimination becomes a habit of judging it will weigh on you and your relationships. A judging mind is a heavy burden. How can you lighten it without judging the judging, which would be even more burdensome? Come back to the breath, the authenticity of this moment which is as it is: cold, hot, possibly pleasant, possibly unpleasant. Can you feel without attaching yourself to the sensation or to its quality?

calculating

Do you make a habit of counting and measuring? As you sit in meditation, you might be calculating how much money you have in the bank, or the size of your mortgage. You might be trying to count the breaths you have breathed since you were born. I know someone who would estimate how many miles he had covered during walking meditation. Calculation passes the time but is this really what you want to do in meditation? There is a time for counting and a time for letting it go.

procrastinating

Do you make a habit of complaining and procrastinating? You might tell yourself that you could meditate if only the room were more silent, that you could become a great meditator if only the instructions were better. You can cause yourself so much suffering with 'if only'. Now is the only moment, this is the only breath.

It is easier to notice and enquire into mental habits in meditation if you do not focus on them directly. Take another object of concentration, like the breath or a sensation within your body, and when you are distracted, gently notice the thought, naming it: 'daydreaming' or 'planning' or 'calculating'. Do not spend a long time describing the thought or explaining it to yourself. Just name it swiftly and come back to the object of concentration. In this way, the meditation wiLL allow you to see your habits of mind without feeding them and increasing their hold on you. Do not be upset by your habits, just recognize them and, turning back to the meditation, rest again and again on the object of concentration. This will allow your mind to relax, to smooth out the groove of old habits and create a new groove of awareness, attention and gentleness.

occupying thoughts

The third type of thoughts are the light ones: the mechanical trains of thought where you start with Aunt Helga and ten minutes Later find yourseLf thinking of New York, without being able to remember how you got from one to the other. You might spend your time making lists: what to take on hoLiday, what to cook for dinner, the clothes in your wardrobe, and so on. These are what I wouLd call occupying thoughts.

Occupying thoughts do not have a great puLL on your feelings or emotions. They just occupy the mind and provide something to think about. They are what the mind produces if it is Left to roam at will. However, meditation requires a certain amount of discipline; you are cultivating concentration and enquiry. The aim is not just to sit there quietly without awareness. You are training the mind to become more alert in a soft but determined way. By noticing these light, occupying thoughts with enquiry, and returning to concentration, they become Less sticky. If you want to think you can; if not, not. Thoughts become as light as bubbles and the mind is free and clear.

guided meditation: thoughts

  • Find a comfortable posture, sitting on the floor or on a chair.

  • Take as your object of concentration the breath as it passes through the nostrils.

  • Observe the coolness of the air as you inhale and the warmth of the air as
    you exhale. Pay close attention to the sensation at the nostrils as the air passes through.
    Now notice carefully what takes you away from your object of concentration.

  • Do you have a tendency to day-dream? Feel the enticing quality of these
    fantasies, note 'day-dream' and have the courage to come back to the breath.

  • Do you make a habit of going obsessively over the past? Let it go, let it
    be. Noticing 'mulling over', return to the breath and the present.

  • Are you fabricating a story out of fear or insecurity? Name it: 'fabricating' and
    come back to the breath. There is nothing to fear in this moment.

  • Do you have a tendency to speculate? Note 'speculations'. Come back to the
    experience of the breath at the nostrils.

  • Are you planning repeatedly? Name it: 'planning'. Do not jump ahead to the
    future, rest fully in the breath.

  • If you are judging yourself or others, note 'judging'. Have faith in yourself in this
    moment, you are doing the best you can.

  • Are you constantly calculating? Notice 'calculating'. Come back to the breath
    swiftly. You do not need to measure life. Appreciate it as it is.

  • Watch out for trains of thought or lists. Let the mind rest on the breath,
    on life itself.

  • Let the thoughts be as light as bubbles, gently coming and going.

  • Come back to the breath, to awareness, to the world.

  • Now open your eyes fully, stretch your back, relax your shoulders, and stand up with a different groove in your mind.

 

 

 

sPrevious installments of Wisdom of the Week

Drinking the Mountain Stream: Songs of Tibet’s Beloved Saint, Milarepa – Brian Cutillo (translator) s
Duaghters of Emptiness: Poems of Chinese Buddhist Nuns – Beta Grant (editor) s
The Art of Just Sitting –  John Daido Loori (editor) s
Only a Great Rain: A Guide to Chinese Buddhist Meditation Master Hsing Yun – s
Mindful Politics: A Buddhist Guide to Making the World a Better Place Melvin McLeod (editor) – s
Keep Me in Your Heart A While: The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri Dojo Mike Port s
The Essence of Zen – Sekkei Harada s
The Attention Revolution – B. Alan Wallace s
Food for the Heart – Ajahn Chah s
Never Turn Away – Rigdzin Shikpo s
sThe State of Mind Called Beautiful – Sayadaw U Pandita s
Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha's Path – Bhante Henepola Gunaratana s
Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Pandita’s Treasury of Good Advice – Sakya Pandita (John Davenport, translator) s
Mud & Water: The Collected Teachings of Zen Master Bassui – translated by Arthur Braverman s