“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.