Meditation is a mind that concentrates on a virtuous object, and which is the main cause of mental peace. The practice of meditation is a method for acquainting our mind with virtue. When our mind is peaceful, we are free from worries and mental discomfort, and we experience true happiness.
If we train our mind to become peaceful we shall be happy all the time, even in the most adverse conditions. But if our mind is not peaceful, then even if we have the most pleasant external conditions we shall not be happy. Therefore, it is important to train our mind through meditation.
There are two types of meditation: analytical meditation and placement meditation. Analytical meditation involves contemplating the meaning of a spiritual instruction that we have heard or read. By contemplating such instructions deeply, eventually we reach a definite conclusion or cause a specific virtuous state of mind to arise. This is the object of placement meditation.
We then concentrate single-pointedly on this conclusion or virtuous state of mind for as long as possible to become deeply acquainted with it. This single-pointed concentration is placement meditation. Often analytical meditation is called “contemplation” and placement meditation is called “meditation”.
Placement meditation depends upon analytical meditation, and analytical meditation depends upon listening to or reading spiritual instructions.
The goal of meditation
The goal of meditation is to develop types of minds that promote happiness and well-being, and to abandon minds that do not.
If we observe our lives, we will probably find that most of our time and energy is spent on worldly endeavors. We strive to attain material and emotional security, establish a good reputation, or pursue pleasure and fun.
Although these things impart of a feeling accomplishment or pleasure, they last only for a short time before we once again begin to feel dissatisfaction. External things and conditions can never give us the deep and abiding inner peace we yearn for.
Instead, worldly concerns directly or indirectly are the cause for mental and physical suffering, in that they amplify attachment, jealousy, and frustration. Often too, whilst pursuing the fulfillment of our own wishes, we end up in conflict with others.
If true inner peace can not be found amongst worldly possessions, where then? Happiness and suffering are states of mind, and so their main causes cannot be found outside the mind. The real source of happiness is the inner peace of our mind. If our mind is peaceful, we will be happy all the time, regardless of external conditions, but if it is disturbed or troubled in any way, we shall never be happy, no matter how good our external conditions may be.
The method by which we can train our mind to keep calm and peaceful is to practise meditation.
The benefits of meditation
If we train in meditation, our mind will gradually become more and more peaceful, and we shall experience a purer and purer form of happiness. Eventually we will be able to stay happy all the time, even in the most difficult circumstances.
Our mind will feel lucid and spacious and we shall feel refreshed. When the sea is rough, sediment is churned up and the water becomes murky, but when the wind dies down the mud gradually settles and the water becomes clear.
In a similar way, when the otherwise incessant flow of our distracting thoughts is calmed through concentrating on the breath, our mind becomes unusually lucid and clear. We should stay with this state of mental calm for a while.
When the turbulence of distracting thoughts subsides and our mind becomes still, a deep happiness and contentment naturally arises from within. This feeling of contentment and well-being helps us to cope with busyness and difficulties of daily life.
So much of the stress and tension we normally experience comes from our mind, and many of the problems we experience, including ill health, are caused or aggravated by this stress. Just by doing breathing meditation for ten or fifteen minutes each day, we shall be able to reduce this stress.
However, should we desire to be permanently free of problems and suffering and should we desire an abiding deep inner peace, we must go beyond the simple breathing meditation and perform more practical methods of meditating, such as those in the cycle of the twenty-one Lamrim meditations, described in “The New Meditation Handbook”.
When we do these meditations, we begin by calming the mind with the breathing meditation, and then we proceed to the stages of analytical and placement meditation according to the specific instructions for each meditation.
The object of meditation
In general any virtuous object can be the object of a meditation. If we discover that, through familiarity with a certain object, our mind becomes clearer and calmer, this is an indication that this object is virtuous for us. If instead our mind becomes increasingly disturbed, this object is a non-virtue. Many objects are neutral and have no particular positive or negative influence on our mind.
There are many different virtuous objects but the most meaningful are those of the twenty-one Lamrim meditations, beginning with “Relying upon a Spiritual Guide” and concluding with the meditation on emptiness, the ultimate nature of all phenomena. These twenty-one meditations are explained in greater detail in “The New Meditation Handbook”.
In order to develop a good heart and pure intention towards all living beings, we meditate on love, compassion, and Bodhichitta. With this “good heart” we then meditate on tranquil abiding and superior seeing. In this way we overcome our ignorance.
For more information see “The New Meditation Handbook”.