Why, Why, Why?
Suppose that I was to take a clear container and scoop up some water, including a bit of muddy sediment, from a lake. The water is a bit murky because the sediment has been mixed with the water and it is still in motion. If someone was to ask me if there is anything inside the water, would I be able to tell? I suppose I might fire out a few educated guesses, aside from water and dirt. Maybe there is a piece of a tire somewhere in there, maybe a rock, a piece of metal, or maybe even a fish. In point of fact I would have to wait for the sediment and motion in the container to settle down before I could really see, and then know, what is inside.
Meditation is a colossal topic. There are many traditions that utilize meditation. Buddhism is one of them. His Holiness The Dalai Lama is frequently quoted for defining Buddhism as "the science of the mind". Anyone who does any research on Buddhism reads about a man named Siddhartha Gautama who realized something very profound. You read about a man whom realized who, what, and where he is; he realized himself, his intrinsic inner nature - often referred to as Dharma- and the situation of life in the universe. This did not happen because of reading something somewhere in a book, or hearing some wise-man in India talk about it. He discovered, uncovered, these universal facts of life because he meditated. He meditated using his body and mind, and through his own efforts discovered Dharma. What is more, He taught others how to do the same, as we all have the same nature - that same Dharma - within. So if meditating involves mind, whatever that may mean to you, let's talk about mind.
The Gautama Buddha taught that there are 5 khandhas or aggregates that compose the human organism. They include:
1. body / form - all that is composed with the 4 main elements in space - (rūpa)
2. sensations - of like, dislike, neutral - (vedanā)
3. perception / memory (sañña)
4. mental formations - thinking, emotions - (saṅkhāra)
5. consciousness / knowing (viññāna)
In laymen's terms, 1 - 5 = Body + Mind. The last four (2 - 5) refer to the functions of the mind and together they make up citta, mind. Easily put, wherever your attention is, is where your mind is. So samadhi - a refined and ecstatic state of concentration naturally produced when properly meditating - happens when all five of these aggregates return from being distracted and dispersed from one another and unite back together as one in a single location. Afterwards, one develops their view - understand, outlook of life - based on clearly seeing and then knowing (ñāṇa-dassana) the true nature of these phenomena.
Habits are repetitive actions of body, speech, and mind. Author Dame Agatha Christie affirmed, "Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them." Because our minds are used to, familiar with, activity and movement we don’t always see the deeper and more subtle parts of what is going on inside of “us”. We've developed the habit of mentally engaging in the waves of the mind, the pull and push here and there, while trying to get things done and or even organize it all at the same time. When we attach an identification to the mental activity, "this is 'me' thinking this thought", as well as losing ourselves and control within that wave or movement, we run the risk of developing stress, anxiety, pressure, loss of memory, confusion, fear, distractions, inability to concentrate for long periods of time, in-productivity, loss of self esteem or position, irritation, misunderstanding, etc. The plethora in the list of potential daily sufferings goes on and on. Perhaps this is a little disturbing when we first think about it. It goes deep into the rabbit hole. So how do we stop the troubles at the roots, instead of slapping bandaids - or popping pills - over the problems?
Well that’s just it; that is where disciplining the mind using meditation as 'weight-training' gives great benefit. By learning how to bring the mind to stillness, we grasp how to tame the mind and put it in a better working condition. That is how meditation develops efficiency and productivity. It is also how we subdue the mental and emotional tempests that disturb and influence our daily life. We give time to let the sediment - content - in our mind, in who we are, settle down. Then, we will see and know what’s going on therein. That is the purpose of Buddhist meditation. It is learning how to look within. Through repetitive practice, we learn about the process behind developing better habits. We learn about what is influencing us to choose what we do. And then we can make better, more conscious decisions. We can choose to build habits leading to a successful, informed, and fulfilling life. Or, we can choose not to. So you can then see why anyone from any religion can meditate while guiltlessly maintaining themselves to be upholders of their perspective faith.
Sometimes the biggest problems have the simplest solutions. For those who just want to truly relax, to let go and also do something productive in their own development as a human being with values, meditation provides that option. It has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, increase alertness, decision-making, organization, awareness, and energy. Many meditators have more energy than they know what to do with. All the previous energy used in trying to fight the stress, irritation, and the rest is now excess for use at their disposal.
For those on the spiritual journey, meditation gives access to the deepest parts of ourselves and our place in the universe around us. Meditation is how we really to get to know ourselves. We learn who we really are, of both the light and the shadows, and what we are doing here in this thing we call 'life'. Sometimes the 'good work' can appear as dirty work. Trekking through the dredges of the shadows within may take an attitude adjustment.
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse says in his book Not For Happiness that, "Buddhist practices are techniques we use to tackle our habitual self-cherishing. Each one is designed to attack individual habits until the compulsion to cling to 'self' is entirely eradicated....So if you are only concerned about feeling good, you are far better off having a full body massage or listening to some uplifting life-affirming music than receiving dharma teachings, which are definitely not designed to cheer you up." That may at first sound a tad pessimistic. He is straight-forwardly making a point. There are things we have to face about life, and it is best to get a grip on the reality of our situation, and where we are at in our lives, rather than remain living in an idealized fantasy. When we know more about ourselves and our situation, then confidence automatically manifests. Moreover, we come to have purpose. And when we meditate properly, we find a unique assurance along our life path. Paulo Coelho refers to it like this, "The warrior who trusts his path doesn't need to prove the other is wrong." Meditation leads way to complete understanding and the highest of happiness; what Gautama Buddha referred to as Nirvana. That being a place and state literally meaning 'blown out', or 'extinguished', and referring to a mode of being where the fires of desire, aversion, anger, and delusion have been doused and eradicated.
"Nibbanam paramam sukham", "Nirvana is the highest bliss".
- Dhammapada 203
No matter how delicious we can try to make meditation sound in order to tempt someone into meditating, it is a fruit that is meant to be eaten and not just described. In the end, it is not for anyone else but you yourself. Meditation removes the blindfold, the darkness that covers inner and absolute truth. It generates the inner light that provides vision to see just what is really happening both inside us, as well as the resulting world around us. And I think that, in itself, speaks enough for itself.