Step 8: Meditation

What is meditation?

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Meditation means to make the mind peaceful in order to let wisdom arise. The ultimate objective of Buddhist meditation is to eliminate all defilements from the mind and to attain complete inner peace. This requires that we practice with body and mind in order to see and know the sense impressions of form, sound, taste, smell, touch and mental formations. You must train yourself, drill yourself.

To make the mind strong means to make it peaceful, not to go thinking of this and that. For most of us, the mind has never been peaceful. Normally the mind isn’t still, it’s moving all the time. To calm the mind means to find the right balance. If you try to force your mind too much it goes too far; if you don’t try enough it doesn’t get there. We must aim for balance.

While meditation is essential for our mental health and well-being, it is not an instant cure for all problems. Therefore, if you suffer from a problem like depression, irrational fears or schizophrenia, then you should seek professional help. Then, after you are better, you can take up meditation.

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As we discussed in Step 6: Effort and Buddhism: The DIY Religion,  it is of great important to practice the path to inner peace. If you don’t practice, then all your knowledge is just superficial knowledge, just the outer shell of it.

Daily medication is key to training and exercising your mind to overcome its many defilements, including greed and anger. Don’t concern yourself with whether other people are exercising their minds. Simply do your own practice consistently. We must not forget our practice. Even when we do our regular daily activities, our practice should never be far from our thoughts.

What is the goal of meditation?

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The purpose of Buddhist meditation is to bring the mind back into the present by clearing all obstacles. Through meditation you can learn how to relax the body, calm the mind, and how to be happy within.

Instead of praying, Buddhists practice meditation for mental training and spiritual development. Put yet another way, meditation is a gentle way of conquering the defilements which pollute the mind.

Meritorious deeds and good Karma (see The Law of Karma and True Charity) are not enough to find lasting inner peace – you must also meditate to purify the mind. If you know how to practice meditation, you will be able to control the mind when misled by your senses and feelings.

How can you benefit from meditating?

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Most of our problems today are due to the untrained and undeveloped mind. It has been well established by medical experts and psychologists all over the world that meditation is at least a partial remedy for numerous physical and mental sicknesses.

These illnesses include mental issues such depression, anxiety, frustration and fear as well as physical ailments such as stomach ulcers, gastritis and coronary diseases. Many of these ailments and disorders could be avoided altogether or dramatically reduced if people could spend a few minutes a day to calm their minds through meditation.

Yet many people do not believe in the power of meditation or are simply too lazy to practice it. Others think that meditation is only a waste of time. Meditation is certain not a waste of valuable time as it helps us to let go by giving us a much needed break from life’s daily pressures. If you are a doubter or skeptical, what do you have to lose by trying? You’ll either prove yourself right or  you’ll find a way to become mentally and physically healthier.

Expect reprogramming your mind to take time

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When we start to meditate, we are reprogramming our minds into a new way of thinking. As a result, meditation requires strong determination, effort and patience. Our untrained minds are like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, then it is useless. The cup can only become useful after the old water is thrown out. Training the mind isn’t like training animals. The mind is truly hard to train.

You shouldn’t expect immediate results or be in a hurry to achieve too much too quickly. Just as it takes a long time to become a doctor, lawyer or scientist, it will also take some time to become a good meditator.

Teaching yourself to control the mind and to calm the senses will not happen overnight. It is like swimming in a river against the current you must not lose patience since results will likely not be quick (see How Long Should Enlightenment Take?) Too many people want and expect immediate results from meditation –  just as they expect quick returns from everything do they in daily life. It’s not realistic.

Are you struggling to find time to meditate?

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Some people complain that there is not enough time to meditate. There’s plenty of time to meditate; we just don’t fully understand the practice of meditating. If you have enough time to breath, then you have enough time to meditate. Wherever we are, we have time.

Don’t feel that you are practicing the path to inner peace only when sitting still, cross-legged. Meditation can simply be mindfulness in whatever you do. There is a chance to practice the path to inner peace in everything you do in life. For example, when you do your chores, try to be mindful. Don’t feel that you are practicing only when you are sitting still with your legs crossed in a meditation room. You can realize  enlightenment in ordinary, everyday life.

Think about how much time we all spend on our body. We take time to eat, dress ourselves, bathe, groom and to relax it, but how much time do we spend on our mind for the same purposes? Most of take take better care of our cars than our bodies and better care of our bodies than our minds.

Ready to start meditating?

If you don’t have any severe mental problems, then sensibly practicing meditation is one of the best things you can do for yourself. See our blog post Are You Ready to Meditate for the First Time? for step-by-step instructions on how beginners can start meditating.