What is Meditation?

What is Meditation?

What is meditation?  It is a mind that concentrates on a virtuous object, and that is the main cause of mental peace.  The practice of meditation is a method for acquainting our mind with virtue; the more familiar our mind is with virtue, the calmer and more peaceful it becomes.  When our mind is peaceful, we are free from worries and mental discomfort, and we experience true happiness.  If we train our mind to become peaceful we shall be happy all the time, even in the most adverse conditions; but if our mind is not peaceful, then even if we have the most pleasant external conditions we shall not be happy.  Therefore, it is important to train our mind through meditation.

Every class at Kadampa Meditation Centre Singapore and its branches offers an opportunity for learning to train our mind through meditation.  Some classes are designed for beginners, some for people with more experience, and some for those wishing to systematically train in an authentic spiritual path.  Therefore, there are classes available for everyone who is interested in finding happiness from a different source – the practice of meditation – everyone is invited to come and enjoy!

Training in Concentration (From Meaningful to Behold)

Shantideva summarizes the third concluding activity after bodhichitta has been fully accepted as follows:

Today, in the presence of the protectors, I invite all sentient beings to a banquet of unsurpassable delight. Let all those who appreciate dharma, you gods, demi-gods, nagas and humans – rejoice and be happy!

So far Shantideva has given extensive explanations of various Dharma methods, but how do we actually put them into practice? This is done by means of analytical and placement meditation upon the teachings we have received.

First, we must take a critical look at each subject, trying to understand its meaning and relevance for our lives. Judging, testing and trying to understand the teachings in this way is called analytical meditation. Once we have done this and have come to some conclusion concerning the object of meditation we should place our mind upon it single-pointedly. This is what is known as placement, or formal, meditation. If we think that meditation is sitting with an empty mind we shall receive no benefit no matter how long we meditate.

The object of meditation can be a particular aspect of the teaching – such as the benefits of bodhichitta – or the form of a personal deity or even our breath. Whatever object we choose, we should examine it fully to gain a clear idea of it. For example, in order to develop single-pointed concentration we could meditate upon the visualized figure of a buddha, choosing such a figure because it represents all the wisdoms and methods of the path.

We can begin by selecting a painting or a statue that represents such a figure clearly. We should examine this image minutely, scrutinizing it from the crown of its head to its feet and back to the crown again. By doing this well we shall gain a rough concept of a buddha’s body. This then becomes our object to visualize in meditation. When we sit quietly and try to see this image in our mind’s eye, holding onto the object with mindfulness and checking with alertness, we shall be engaged in placement meditation.

This entire process can be likened to setting out on a journey. If we wish to go to London we must first gain an accurate understanding of which road to take, otherwise we might arrive in Manchester! In a similar fashion, if we want to engage in placement meditation and dwell upon an object single-pointedly, we must first gain a thorough understanding of that object by means of analytical meditation. Otherwise our efforts will be wasted and many faults will arise.

This point cannot be overstated: it is a big mistake to try and meditate on nothing. If we have a proper object of meditation, there is the possibility that we can progress along the nine stages of mental development and achieve the single-pointed concentration of tranquil abiding (Skt. shamatha). Without a proper object of meditation, there will be little to show from even a thousand years of sitting.

Everything that has been explained so far in this commentary, and everything that will come hereafter are all objects for meditation. There is not a single teaching in Shantideva’s text which is not meant to be meditated upon. Thus it is very important to learn the art of meditation correctly and to be able to apply it in our everyday life.

© Geshe Kelsang Gyatso & New Kadampa Tradition

Further information on meditation and Kadampa Buddhism can be found in the links in the Learning Zone presented here.