“So you want to mediate, eh?…..Why do you want to meditate?” This was the first question I was asked by a mentor of mine. It slapped into focus that the biggest thing I needed to get clear on: Why, really, do I want to meditate? Why am I interested in meditation?
Buddhists and Yogis alike classically spend a good amount of time - especially initially - to focus on intention and motivation. Is my motivation to get more focused, to have better health, to become more successful, for clarity, for mental powers, for liberation? Is the motivation for my practice geared to increase my reputation, how people look at me, boost me sexuality, what people say about me, sense of self-worth or self-importance, etc.? These questions were and are essential to get really, very, clear about. They are mandatory to continually revisit and reestablish. Our intentions are based upon our life view (Pali diṭṭhi, Sanskrit dṛṣṭi). Take a moment to give an honest look at yourself and what motivates you.
In discussing a serious Dharma practice, one invariably runs into the Attha Loka Dhamma “Eight Saṃsāric Dharmas". It is found in the Lokavipatti Sutta, and was written by Nagarjuna in Verse 29, ‘Letters to a Friend’. They come in four pairs of opposites:
1. Hope for gain, fear of loss
2. Hope for fame, fear of insignificance
3. Hope for praise, fear of blame / rejection
4. Hope for happiness, fear of suffering / sorrow
In order for correct meditation, known in the sutras as Sammā-Samādhi, it is necessary to let go of these four pairs. A practitioner needs to let go of any attachment and aversion to any part of them; to any potential hook. This way, we won’t be corrupted or deluded by them. We won’t be controlled by them.
In taking a closer look at our life and life-goals we see that everyone is in this dilemma. We all at some point have been taken under the influence of the Eight Saṃsāric Dharmas. Seeing this commonality, the Brahmavihāras (aka Appamaññā ‘Four Immeasurables') naturally arise. We see that all the problems and issues that we deal with daily, are also around us in other peoples’ lives as well.
Once we take a step out of ourselves, our mind and heart opens. Loving-kindness is born. We wish other people to be happy. We want other people to be happy. That is mettā, the first Brahmavihāra. Next comes compassion ‘karunā’, the wish that the sufferings and problems of others will dissolve and that they will be free from them. Following this is empathetic joy ‘muditā’, where we rejoice in the goodness, accomplishments, and successes of others. Lastly comes equal equanimity ‘uppekhā’, where we accept and are unaffected by gain, loss, fame, ill-repute, praise, slander, happiness, and sorrow both for ourselves and for others. Here we regard all beings as equal, without distinctions or preferences to friends and family. All beings are included in our scope of well-wishing and regards.
This is the motivation, the base, that is traditionally engrained into practitioners from the get-go. The Brahmavihāras are the foundation. From this foundation, a good practitioner sees and is unaffected by the Eight Saṃsāric Dharmas. Once firmly established, they become the practice. Their experience of Sammā-Samādhi is tremendously reinforced and their insight penetrates easily to the Dharma without delusion; whatever vehicle of Buddhism you practice. The idea is that all the streams of the vehicles in Buddhism flow to the same ocean of full enlightenment.
It took a while until I started to touch upon the depth of this seriously awesome long-run meditation advice here. I didn’t give this answer when I was asked, I'll tell you that. I hope it helps you here to heed Socrates' words of “perfect practice makes perfect”. Getting a good foundation first, developing good habits from the start, saves so much heartache and pain. Developing unhealthy non-beneficial patterns only to then have to go back and start over again sucks. It’s one way to learn, yes, and I speak from experience. But it sucks. Focusing on the Brahmavihāras, taking equanimity and warning of the Atta Loka Dhammas as a basis for motivation in practice keeps you grounded, real, and genuine. It also just feels better. You aren’t being a dick, and you open your mind to getting out of yourself. By putting yourself into your fellow human or being’s shoes, there is extremely sturdy communal ground and vibes to get along and make the world a better place. Plus you benefit by having a badass life practice. It’s just logical in the end.
In the vast domains of the internet, the process of how we receive information is undergoing a never-before-seen revolution. Anybody can post anything. Anybody can Google, Bing, Yahoo! Search, or Wikipedia anything. When I was growing up, if I was watching Knight Rider or Dukes of Hazard and I didn’t understand a reference, I just didn’t know what they were talking about. I was in the dark. Now on my iPhone, while watching that same show again, I can look up any reference at any time. I don’t need to physically get out and open an Encyclopedia, or to make time to ask someone whom I believe might know what they are talking about.
In May, m’lady and I’s first born is due. She’s a well known yoga teacher, and I’m reflecting on the life I want to be able to present to this child - gender yet unknown to us. As a former Theravāda Bhikkhu, the practice of meditation and BuddhaDharma has been an integral part of my adult life. One of my teachers, and spiritual fathers, PhraRājāBhāvanāchārya (Luang Por Dattajeevo), once told me that there are three critical resources every child has in the formation of their character and behavior: Parents, Teachers, and Spiritual Leaders.
He went on to say that this trinity must work in unity within any community, in order for the community to fully prosper and successfully continue to usher in new generations which benefit their society. Moreover, in order for it to work, the people in this trinity need to take responsibility and be proactive; understanding that they hold a position of such great influence. Preparing to be a father, I take heed of this advice and look out to my communities to find the best resources and teachers available to expose my child to. That is, until they venture out to find their own.
Today, we live in a society where actors, actresses, professional athletes, musicians, and pop-culture icons hold incredible sway and influence over children, teens, and adults. Meditation is growing rapidly. That said, I can’t help but state that I am concerned at how meditation and BuddhaDharma is becoming presented, marketed, and sold. Traditionally, a student would spend one-on-one time with their teacher, practicing and coming back to that teacher with experiential questions. They would develop a relationship, and connection; one that may last a lifetime.
I recently read a beautiful quote from Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche dedicated to the late Chatral Sangye Rinpoche:
“And yet if I may express one thing from the little I have known of this man it is this: The BuddhaDharma has so many challenges, including all the charlatans who do outright damage to the image of the Dharma. These may be overcome by those who seem to do the right thing, who appear serene, proper, and moral, and who never upset anyone. But that often leads us into another challenge that is harder to overcome. Because in doing things correctly, properly and morally, and in bearing the burden of not upsetting people, one ends up being the victim of political correctness and becoming hypocritical.
In my limited life I have seen very few anti-hypocritical beings, and he was one of them. He meant business, there was no negotiation, and of course he never traded one single word of the dharma for money. Time and again, he refused to bow down to the mighty.
He made a lot of us hypocritical beings shudder. Just knowing he was alive and breathing…made our hearts quake…His mere presence on this earth shattered hypocrisy.”
Receiving Dharma instruction directly in the presence of such a being as Chatral Sangye Rinpoche cannot be described in words. I believe that how we receive information with such essential life topics as Dharma and meditation instruction in today’s mainstream world should be revisited.
How? I think a major contributing factor to problem is convenience. It is not convenient to leave one’s internet device, magazine, or book even to actually travel to go listen, receive, reflect, discuss, and wisely practice these subjects under the tutelage of qualified masters.
Then again, perhaps that was the whole point. BuddhaDharma was never taught for convenience. These teachings, are meant to shake up our personal paradigm in Saṃsāra. Proper practice creates an earthquake inside, showing the full-fledged, full-monty reality of the practitioner’s life and life-situation. Dharma and meditation is meant to remove ego and all the mental junk we all have inside our minds. It does this by empowering the individual with the tools and wisdom to take their lives in their own hands and realize the Truth.
Not long ago, I asked Luang Por Dattajeevo, “What is really needed to taste the fruit of Dharma within?” He replied, “ทำถูกวิธี และบำเพ็ญวิริยะ”. This means: Practice properly with consistent, continuous enthusiastic effort. By proper practice, he is referring to using the correct method received from proper instruction by someone who has fully realized Dharma themselves.
As I look out in to the global and commercial Buddhist communities, there is so much to see. So much to tap into. It can be overwhelming for people starting, or restarting, out. Taking the significance of Parents, Teachers, and Spiritual Guides into account, I find myself having to use a fair amount of honest and compassionate discernment. I hope to continue to see the importance of the human-to-human connection emphasized. I hope and want to see a my child’s teacher take extra moments with their students, to ensure they understand the material. I pray to see the parents of my child’s peers make quality, wholesome, loving time with their children and be concerned in their behavioral and character development.
There is a reason why our old school ancestors decided on a teacher-disciple model of study and practice. I believe that the principle of the model and the reason behind it, moreso than the culture and rituals around it, should be revisited. Now more than ever. Otherwise, teachings and teachers will surely be watered down and out. One of the greatest benefits to having a true teacher - an accomplished life role-model - is that they are essential for our accountability and continued development.
Making time and seeking out a true teacher, and then practicing, milking, what it is that they taught you is incredibly profound and immensely fulfilling. They become like a second Father or Mother; that close to you, that important to you. You can’t compare it to books, articles online, or articles in a magazine. It is alive. You are living it, in that moment, with all of your senses. Moments like those are precious. And those are the moments I wish my child has, when -hopefully- they come into the world and begin to make footsteps of their own in the big journey of life.