To develop spiritual qualities such as love, compassion, and altruism to their fullest, meditation is needed. At present, our minds are too scattered, and once the mind is scattered, its force is limited. If we channel it, then, like water, it becomes forceful. Thus, one type of meditation is for developing a calm abiding of the mind, whereas the other type is for developing special insight in order to investigate the nature of reality. Let us begin with the first type.
If we do not have concentration in which the mind is unfluctuatingly stable and clear, the faculty of wisdom cannot know its object, just as it is, in all its subtleties. Therefore, it is necessary to have concentration. In the practice of concentration, the two main unfavorable factors preventing its development are laxity and excitement; as antidotes to these, we need to have mindfulness and introspection.
To describe briefly how these are achieved: When we meditate, first of all there is an object of observation that is either an external object or the mind itself. When the mind itself is taken as the object of observation, the practice is more profound.
In terms of posture, sit in either the full or half cross-legged posture. Use a cushion that is such that your rear is higher — the effect is that no matter how much meditation is cultivated you do not become tired. Your backbone is to be straightened like an arrow; your neck is to be bent just a little downward; aim your eyes over the nose to the front; touch your tongue to the roof of the mouth; leave your lips and teeth as usual, and leave your arms a little loose, not forcing them against the body. Put the hands in the position of meditative equipoise — the left hand below the right and the two thumbs touching, making a triangle the base of which is about four finger-widths below the navel.
If your mind is involved with desire or hatred, it is necessary to engage in a technique to loosen from this disturbance. Meditation on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath up to a count of twenty-one is the prime means for doing so. Since the mind cannot have two modes of apprehension simultaneously, this meditation causes the former disturbance to fade. Then, it is necessary to form a virtuous motivation — mainly compassion, altruism, wishing to help others.
To concentrate on the mind itself: Do not let your mind think on what has happened in the past or let it chase after things that might happen in the future; rather, leave the mind vivid, without any constructions, just as it is. When you remain this way, you understand that the mind, like a mirror, is such that any object, any conception, is capable of appearing under certain circumstances, like reflections, for the entity of the mind has a nature of mere luminosity and knowing, mere experience.
According to a basic Buddhist insight, the mind is essentially luminous and knowing. Therefore, emotional problems do not reside in the mind’s essence; counterproductive attitudes are temporary, superficial, and can be removed. If distressing emotions such as anger were in the very nature of the mind, then from its inception, the mind would always have to be angry. Obviously, this is not so. Only under certain circumstances do we become angry, and when those circumstances are not present, anger is not present either.
What are the circumstances that serve as a basis for generating anger, or hatred? When we get angry, the object of our anger appears more awful than what is actually there. We get angry because the person has harmed, is harming, or will harm us or our friend.
What is this “I” that is being harmed?
We feel that both the subject, “I,” and the object, the enemy, are solid and independent. Because we accept these appearances as inherently established, anger is generated. However, if at that first flash of rage, you make use of reason to examine
“Who am I? Who is this one who is being hurt?
What is the enemy? Is the enemy the body? Is the enemy mind?”
This solidly existing enemy who previously seemed to be inherently created as something to get angry at and this I who was inherently created to be hurt seem to disappear. And the anger breaks apart.
Think about it. We get angry at what foils our desires. Anger is fomented by the misconception that the object and yourself are established this way, as enemy and victim, in and of themselves. Hatred is not part of the minds foundation. It is an attitude without a valid foundation.
However, love is validly founded in truth. When, over a long period of time, an attitude that has a valid foundation competes with an attitude that does not, the one with the valid foundation will overwhelm the other. Therefore, qualities that depend on the mind can be increased limitlessly, and as you increase attitudes that counter distressing emotions, their unfavorable counterparts decrease, finally becoming extinguished altogether. Since the mind has an essential nature of luminosity and knowing, all of us have the fundamental equipment necessary to attain enlightenment.
About twenty years ago when I was in Ladakh, India, performing a series of meditations, I had a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha before me, as is still my custom. The gold leaf at the heart of the statue had worn away, and thus that area was brownish in color. Looking at the heart of the statue, which had no attractive color, watching my mind, eventually thought stopped, and for a short period I felt the luminous and knowing nature of the mind. Subsequently recollecting this, the experience would return.
It is very helpful in daily practice to identify the nature of the mind and concentrate on it. However, it is hard to catch hold of the mind because it is hidden beneath our own scattered thoughts. As a technique to identify the basic nature of the mind, first stop remembering what happened in the past, then stop thinking about what might happen in the future — let the mind flow of its own accord without the overlay of thought. Let the mind rest in its natural state and observe it for a while.
When, for instance, you hear a noise, between the time of hearing it and conceptualizing its source, you can sense a state of mind that is devoid of thought but not asleep, in which the object is a reflection of the mind’s luminosity and knowing. At such a point, the basic nature of the mind can be grasped. In the beginning, when you are not used to this practice, it is quite difficult, but in time the mind appears like clear water. Try to stay with this state of mind without being distracted by conceptual thoughts, and become accustomed to it.
Practice this meditation in the early morning, when your mind has awakened and is clear, but your senses are not yet fully operating. It helps not to have eaten too much the night before, or to have slept too much — your sleep will be lighter, and this makes the mind lighter and sharper the next morning. If you eat too much, your sleep can be thick and heavy, almost like a corpse. In my own daily routine, I eat my fill at breakfast and lunch but just a little bit at night — less than half a cup of crackers — then I go to bed early and rise at three-thirty in the morning to begin meditation.
See if paying attention to the nature of the mind early in the morning makes your mind more alert throughout the day. Your thoughts certainly will be more tranquil.
If you are able to practice a little meditation every day, withdrawing from this scattered mind, your memory will improve. The conceptual mind that runs on thinking of good things, bad things, and so forth, will get a rest. A little nonconceptuality can provide a much- needed vacation.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet and the temporal head of the Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and is well known for his worldwide advocacy for Tibetans inside and outside Tibet.
From The Heart of Meditation: Discovering Innermost Awareness by Tenzin Gayatso, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama. Edited and translated by Jeffrey Hopkins from oral teachings. Copyright © 2016 by The Dalai Lama Trust. Reprinted by permission of Shambhala Publications.