How to Meditate:
An introductory course to Buddhist meditation
It is suitable for people encountering both meditation and Buddhism for the first time, as well as for people who have done some meditation in other traditions but would like to know more about how meditation is practiced in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It provides an overview of meditation and basic meditation techniques, including breathing meditation, mindfulness meditation, visualization meditation, and analytical meditation, in the context of the Tibetan Mahayana tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa (Gelug). It includes an explanation of what kinds of skills are developed in meditation and how to apply them in daily life.
How to Meditate can be done either before or after the introductory course Buddhism in a Nutshell, in which Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and principles are explored more extensively. However, if you are new to both Buddhism and meditation it is recommended to begin with How to Meditate and then do Buddhism in a Nutshell.
Session 1: Meditation in Buddhism
- A brief introduction to the course
- The importance of generating an altruistic motivation
- Buddhist Meditation is a means of familiarizing the mind with positive states
- Meditation is a tool for becoming familiar with the mind
- Meditation is different from simple relaxation
- The purpose of meditation is to actualize our full potential
- The seven-point meditation posture
How to Meditate
- The difference between mindfulness and concentration
- How to do a meditation on counting the breaths
- How to do a meditation on bare attention
- How to deal with distractions that arise during meditation
- Meditation 1: Counting the Breaths
Points of Reflection
These questions are provided for the purpose of helping you reflect on the concepts covered, based on your own experience and analysis.
- What was your understanding of meditation prior to studying this session of teachings? Has your understanding of what it means to meditate changed? Was your previous understanding of meditation influenced by any of the common misunderstandings about meditation present in your society or culture?
- What was your understanding of the purpose of meditation prior to this session of teachings? Has your understanding changed? If so, what is your new understanding? Are you more or less inspired to want to practice meditation on a regular basis?
- Are there some particular thoughts and emotions that you would you like to work on reducing with the help of meditation? Similarly, are there some particular thoughts and emotions that you would you like to work on strengthening with the help of meditation?
- What is concentration? What is mindfulness? How are they different? How do they work together in different kinds of meditations?
- When you meditate are their particular thoughts (worries, fantasies, memories, etc.) that arise to distract you? Are you able to let them go and continue your meditation? Are there some that are particularly difference to let go of?
Session 2: Mind in Buddhism
Mind is Clarity and Awareness
- How to cultivate an altruistic motivation to listen to or read the teaching
- Meditation serves to develop our mind so as to achieve our ultimate potential – the state of a Buddha
- The Buddhist definition of mind is clarity and awareness, or that which is clear and knowing
Mind is a Continuity
- The mind is a stream of constantly changing moments
- The mind is not physical and each moment comes from a previous moment of nonphysical consciousness
- Each moment is an individual discrete moment of consciousness
- Two opposite states of mind cannot exist at the same time
- Moments of mind leave imprints that contribute to emotional and attitudinal habits
- Meditation is the method for eliminating harmful inner habits and developing positive ones
Mind is Like the Sky and the Ocean
- The mind can be likened to the sky and to the ocean
- The fundamental clear and knowing quality of the mind is unaffected by our thoughts and emotions
- The mind can observe what is happening within itself and make better choices about which thoughts and emotions to follow and which ones to let go
Mind is the Source of Everything
- Meditation enables us to choose between the thoughts and emotions that bring us happiness and well-being and the thoughts and emotions that bring us problems and suffering
- The mind is the source of all our suffering and all our happiness
- The nine-round breathing meditation helps to clear up the energy channels in the body and make the mind more serviceable for meditation
- Meditation 3: Mind Like the Sky
- Meditation 4: Mind Like the Ocean
- Meditation 5: Nine-Round Breathing
Points of Reflection
- What is a Buddha? Do you think that change is possible to the degree indicated by the meaning of the word “Buddha”? Do you think that it is possible for you to achieve this amount of change? Why or why not?
- What is your understanding of the meaning of “mind”? Does it or does it not accord with the Buddhist definition of mind?
- According to Buddhism the mind is not physical, and therefore not the brain, but is a beginningless and endless stream of moments of consciousness, which include thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and feelings. Does that make sense to you? Why or why not?
- What are some habitual attitudes and emotions, good and bad, that you have? Is it the case that you have generally been developing and strengthening them by following them?
- Are there certain emotions and feelings that are difficult for you to dis-identify with?
- Can you think of some examples from your own life that show that your mind is the creator of your happiness and your suffering?
- Can you think of some examples of things (people, situations, places, etc.) that you initially thought were satisfying and fulfilling but in the end did not live up to your expectations?
Session 3: Types of Meditation and Obstacles to Meditation
Types of Meditation
- How to cultivate an altruistic motivation with a broad perspective
- The two types of meditation: stabilizing/ concentration and analytical
- Using mindfulness and concentration in the two types of meditation
- Different objects of meditation need to be meditated on in different ways
- Analytical meditation serves to correct misconceptions and develop more beneficial ways of thinking
The Five Obstacles to Meditation
- How to identify the five obstacles to meditation: (1) laziness, (2) forgetfulness, (3) laxity and excitement, (4) non-application of an antidote, (5) over-application of an antidote
- The general antidote to laxity and excitement
- The specific antidotes to mental excitement
- The specific antidotes to mental laxity
The Five Negative States of Mind
- Positive and negative states of mind are those that respectively bring happiness and suffering
- The five negative states of (1) attachment, (2) anger, (3) pride, (4) jealousy, (5) ignorance
- These delusions are habitual patterns of thought and therefore will inevitably arise
Meditation Transforms the Mind
- Negative experiences can be transformed into constructive ones by changing our thinking and our behavior
- Meditation 6: Transforming Negative Experiences
Points of Reflection
- What is your understanding of stabilizing meditation and analytical meditation? What are their different purposes and benefits?
- Other than impermanence, what are some other examples of things that we can meditate on in order to understand them more deeply? Other than compassion, what are some other examples of things that we can meditate on in order to transform our mind into them?
- What are the five obstacles to meditation? Have you encountered any of them in your meditation? If you have, what have you done to counter them and did it work?
- What are some examples of people and things you are attached to? Why are you attached to them? Does your attachment to them bring you happiness? Would your life be better off if you had less attachment and a more balanced relationship with them? Do you think this is possible to achieve?
- What are some examples of people and things that make you angry? Why do you get angry with them? Does your anger with them bring you happiness? Would your life be better off if you had less anger and a more balanced relationship with them? Do you think this is possible to achieve?
- Can you think of an example of difficult situation to which you reacted in a less than perfect way? How could you approach that situation differently if it were to occur again?
Session 4: The Meditation Session, Meditation Place, and Visualization Meditation
Setting Up a Meditation Session and a Meditation Place
What kind of place is good for meditation.
The four parts of a meditation session:
- actual meditation
- Visualization in daily life strengthens our positive and negative states of mind
- What kind of place is good for meditation
- Buddhist visualization involves visualizing buddhas because they symbolize the perfection of all positive qualities and the complete lack of all faults
- Visualization involves both stabilizing and analytical meditation
- The visualization meditation of purifying and pushing out negative elements in the form of black smoke with white light
- Nine-round breathing meditation combined with white light
- Meditation 7: Purification with Light
Points of Reflection
- What are the different parts of a meditation session? What is the purpose of each part?
- Do you agree that the things (including people and situations) that we visualize, or imagine, can have a powerful effect on us both in positive and negative ways? What are some examples of visualizations that had a beneficial impact on you? What are some examples of visualizations that had a harmful impact on you?
Session 5: Meditation Stops the Roller Coaster of Emotions
Recognizing our Biased Attitude
- How to generate an altruistic motivation – cultivating Equanimity and all the Four Immeasurables in meditation
- How analytical meditation can be used to gradually eliminate habitually harmful emotional responses and develop positive emotional responses
- How we are constantly making distinctions and judgements as we interact with other people
- Attachment and aversion color our view and make our mind go up and down, like a yo-yo
- All our delusions come from self-cherishing, or self-centeredness, which is our root problem
- To the extent to which we can control our self-cherishing, to that extent we can develop altruism
Remedying our Biased Attitude
- How our experiences would be completely different if we could turn down the strength of our three poisonous minds while turning up the strength of our equanimity and openness
Meditating in Daily Life
- The different kinds of meditation provide us with a whole toolkit of possibilities to use according to what’s appropriate in different situations
- How to establish a daily – and maybe a long-term meditation practice by making meditation a priority in our lives, maintaining our enthusiasm for meditation by rejoicing in our achievements, and contemplating the benefits of a meditation practice
- Meditation 8: Body of Light
- Meditation 9: Generating an Altruistic Motivation
- Meditation 10: Cultivating Equanimity
Points of Reflection
- Is it true that you are constantly making distinctions and developing judgments as you look at and encounter other people? Can you think of times when your opinion about people was proven wrong? If so, what does this show you?
- What is the source of your own and others’ biased attitudes? Would it be worthwhile to strive to free yourself from these biased attitudes?
- Would you like to be free from the roller coaster of emotions, such as aversion and attachment, and have a more balanced attitude or do you think this would make your life boring? What would be some possible benefits of cultivating equanimity and what would be some disadvantages?
- Do you think it is realistically possible to train yourself to react differently by imagining an alternative reaction in meditation? If you did this meditation over and over, would it gradually have an impact on your life? Can you see yourself gradually developing a more healthy way of reacting to a particular difficult situation in your life?
- What are your plans concerning keeping up a meditation practice? If you are interested in doing so, what kind of schedule would realistically work for you?
- What is your overall experience with the meditations in this course? Are there some meditations that were particularly useful to you?