Bhikkhu T. Seelananda
Meditation, in the Buddhist context is mental development. Unlike all other beings, we humans are exceptionally blessed to have a mind, which is developed and can be further developed.
When developed, the mind has a great potential to achieve a state of calmness and insight. This is why we need to practice and develop the mind. This exercise is called ‘bhāvanā’ (meditation).
When we practice bhāvanā, what should we do? There are volumes of books written about how to practice bhāvanā and there are many talks available in different forms and by different teachers, easily found on the Internet. Many varied instructions and practices are described and advocated.
By the same token, we see that there are different methods of bhāvanā. People practice these different methods and may get the benefits. Yet these different methods are, as we see, touching upon only limited aspects of bhāvanā. In other words, these are still insufficient because all these teachers are unenlightened ones compared to the teacher that was the Buddha. That is why we always trust the Buddha and follow his original teachings.
The Buddha has taught us a method to practice bhāvanā. That is the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. This is a method to observe our existence objectively. Observe what? Observe the nature of the body-mind, the five aggregates, the twelve bases, and the eighteen kinds of elements. This is the way to the development of the 37 Factors of Enlightenment.
This is the way to the experience of bliss. Whoever wants to practice bhāvanā or meditation should read the Four Establishments of Mindfulness and practice accordingly. This is the way to be developed and cultivated by the wise to gain both serenity and insight. The Buddha has given the necessary instructions clearly many times, in many of his teachings, such as The Great Discourse on the Establishments of Mindfulness, the Great Discourse to Rāhula (His son); ‘Two Kinds of Thought’ and the ‘Removal of Distracting Thoughts.’
However, the quintessence of all his instructions can be seen in one striking stanza in the chapter called ‘The Mind” in The Dhammapada. The Buddha says, “Knowing this body like a fragile clay pot, and establishing this mind like a fortress, conquer Māra with the sword of wisdom. Then protect what has been won, but cling to nothing.”
This is how bhāvanā (meditation) is to be practiced.
Here the instruction of the Buddha is very clear. When we practice, we first choose a suitable, congenial place and then sit. Cross-legged is the best, if you can sit in that fashion. Otherwise, you may find the posture that works best or you can sit in a chair. What is more important is that the upper part of the body should be erect. You can keep your eyes gently closed, resting your tongue against the upper teeth so that you do not need to swallow saliva all the time.
Now you are ready to practice. The Buddha’s instruction is to consider the body as if it were a fragile clay pot. Imagine such a pot. It is impermanent. You have to handle it carefully. You cannot shake it or move it here and there all the time.
Once it is kept somewhere, it remains there, in place, safe and sound. When it is kept in such a way, it remains calm and steady. The second admonition is to keep the mind as a fortress and do not let enemies such as sensual desire, ill-will, restlessness, sleepiness or doubt pop up. Then what is next? That is to fight Māra with the weapon of wisdom.
Wisdom arises only in a quiet mind. So for this purpose you need a calm and settled mind. Be more and more mindful; be in the present. Return time after time to this moment–to-moment observation. Give your full attention to your breath; observe this natural and peaceful breath.
I wish you good luck!
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