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Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
In place of prayer, Buddhist practise meditation for mental culture and for spiritual development. No one can attain Nibbana or salvation without developing the mind through meditation. Any amount of meritorious deeds alone will not lead a person to attain the final goal without the corresponding mental purification. Naturally, the untrained mind is very elusive and persuades people to commit evil and become slaves of the senses. Imagination and emotions always mislead man if his mind is not properly trained. One who knows how to practise meditation will be able to control one's mind when it is misled by the senses.
Most of the troubles which we are confronting today are due to the untrained and uncultured mind. It is already established that meditation is the remedy for many physical and mental sickness. Medical authorities and great psychologists the world over say that mental frustration, worries, miseries, anxieties, tension and fear are the causes of many diseases, stomach ulcers, gastritis, nervous complaints and mental sickness. And even latent sickness will be aggravated through such mental conditions.
When the conscious 'I' frets too much, worries too much, or grieves too long and too intensely, then troubles develop in the body. Gastric ulcers, tuberculosis, coronary diseases and a host of functional disorders are the products of mental and emotional imbalance. In the case of children, the decay of the teeth and defective eye-sight are frequently related to emotional disorders.
Many of these sicknesses and disorders can be avoided if people could spend a few minutes a day to calm their senses through the practice of mediation. Many people do not believe this or are too lazy to practise meditation owing to lack of understanding. Some people say that mediation is only a waste of time. We must remember that every spiritual master in this world attained the highest point of his life through the practice of meditation. They are honored today by millions of people because they have done tremendous service to mankind with their supreme knowledge and patience which they obtained through the practice of meditation.
Meditation should not be a task to which we force ourselves 'with gritted teeth and clenched fists'; it should rather be something that draws us, because it fills us with joy and inspiration. So long as we have to force ourselves, we are not yet ready for meditation. Instead of meditating we are violating our true nature. Instead of relaxing and letting go, we are holding on to our ego, to our will power. In this way meditation becomes a game of ambition, of personal achievement and aggrandizement. Meditation is like love: a spontaneous experience -- not something that can be forced or acquired by strenuous effort.
Therefore Buddhist mediation has no other purpose than to bring the mind back into the present, into the state of fully awakened consciousness, by clearing it from all obstacles that have been created by habit or tradition.
The Buddha obtained His Enlightenment through the development of His mind. He did not seek divine power to help Him. He gained His wisdom through self-effort by practising meditation. To have a healthy body and mind and to have peace in life, one must learn how to practise meditation.
Nature of Modern Life
Today we are living in a world where people have to work very hard physically and mentally. Without hard work, there is no place for people in the modern society. Very often keen competition is going on everywhere. One is trying to beat the other in every sphere of life and man has no rest at all. Mind is the nucleus of life. When there is no real peace and rest in the mind, the whole life will collapse. People naturally try to overcome their miseries through pleasing the senses: they drink, gamble, sing and dance?all the time having the illusion that they are enjoying he real happiness of life. Sense stimulation is not the real way to have relaxation. The more we try to please the senses through sensual pleasures, the more will we become slaves to the senses. There will be no end to our craving for satisfaction. The real way to relax is to calm the senses by the control of mind. If we can control the mind, then we will be able to control everything. When the mind is free from mental disturbances it can see many things which others cannot see with their naked eyes. Ultimately, we will be able to attain our salvation and find peace and happiness.
To practise meditation, one must have strong determination, effort and patience. Immediate results cannot be expected. We must remember that it takes many years for a person to be qualified as a doctor, lawyer, mathematician, philosopher, historian or a scientist. Similarly to be a good meditator, it will take sometime for the person to control the elusive mind and to calm the senses. Practising meditation is like swimming in a river against the current. Therefore one must not lose patience for not being able to obtain rapid results. At the same time the meditator must also cultivate his morality. A congenial place for meditation is another important aspect. The meditator must have an object for his meditation, for without an object the jumping mind is not easy to trap. The object must not create lust, anger, delusion, and emotion in the meditator's mind.
When we start to meditate, we switch the mind from the old imaginative way of thinking, or habitual thought into a new unimpeded or unusual way of thinking. While meditating when we breathe in mindfully, we absorb cosmic energy. When we breathe out mindfully with Metta?loving kindness, we purify the atmosphere. Intellect is necessary for the overcoming of emotionality and spiritual confusion as intuition is necessary for overcoming intellectual limitation and conceptual abstraction.
We spend most of our time on our body: to feed it, to clothe it, to cleanse it, to wash it, to beautify it, to relax it, but how much time do we spend on our mind for the same purposes?
Some people take the Buddha Image as an object and concentrate on it. Some concentrate on inhaling and exhaling. Whatever may be the method, if anyone tries to practise meditation, he is sure to find relaxation. Meditation will help him a great deal to have physical and mental health and to control the mind when it is necessary.
Man can do the highest service to the society by simply abstaining from evils. The cultured mind that is developed through meditation performs a most useful service to others. Meditation is not simply a waste of man's valuable time. The advanced mind of a meditator can solve so many human problems and is very useful to enlighten others. Meditation is very useful to help a person live peacefully despite various disturbances that are so prevalent in this modern world. We cannot be expected to retire to a jungle or forest to live in ivory towers?'far from the madding crowd'. By practising right meditation we can have an abode for temporary oblivion. Meditation has the purpose of training a person to face, understand and conquer this very world in which we live. Meditation teaches us to adjust ourselves to bear with the numerous obstacles to life in the modern world.
Some people practise meditation in order to satisfy their material desires; they want to further their material gains. They want to use meditation to get better jobs. They want to earn more money or to operate their business more efficiently. Perhaps they fail to understand that the aim of meditation is not to increase but to decrease desires. Materialistic motives are hardly suitable for proper meditation, the goal of which lies beyond worldly affairs. One should meditate to try to attain something that even money cannot buy or bring.
If you practice meditation, you can learn to behave like a gentleman even though you are disturbed by others. Through meditation you can learn how to relax the body and to calm the mind; you can learn to be tranquil and happy within.
Just as an engine gets overheated and damaged when it is run for a prolonged period and requires cooling down to overcome this, so also the mind gets overtaxed when we subject it to a sustained degree of mental effort and it is only through meditation that relaxation or cooling can be achieved. Meditation strengthens the mind to control human emotion when it is disturbed by negative thoughts and feelings such as jealousy, anger, pride and envy.
If you practise meditation, you can learn to make the proper decision when you are at a cross-roads in life and are at a loss as to which way to turn. These qualities cannot be purchased from anywhere. No amount of money or property can buy these qualities, yet you attain them through meditation. And finally the ultimate object of Buddhist meditation is to eradicate all defilements from the mind and to attain the final goal -- Nibbana.
Nowadays, however, the practice of meditation has been abused by people. They want immediate and quick results, just as they expect quick returns for everything they do in daily life. In Buddhism, as is the case with other eastern cultures, patience is a most important quality. The mind must be brought under control in slow degrees and one should not try to reach for the higher states without proper training. We have heard of over-enthusiastic young men and women literally going out of their minds because they adopted the wrong attitudes towards meditation. Meditation is a gentle way of conquering the defilements which pollute the mind. If people want 'success' or 'achievement' to boast to others that they have attained this or that level of meditation, they are abusing the method of mental culture. One must be trained in morality and one must clearly understand that to be successful in the discipline of meditation worldly achievement must not be equated with spiritual development. Ideally, it is good to work under an experienced teacher who will help his student to develop along the right path. But above all one must never be in a hurry to achieve too much too quickly.
Source: Buddhist Study and Practice Group, http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/
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