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Intro to Buddhism: What is Meditation?

August 9, 2023

We asked Professor Doug Powers about meditation. His response:

Why practice meditation? Is meditation helpful? 

The first step to these questions is a shared definition of “what is.” Without a shared account of our experience, we cannot discuss it. The Buddha always asks, “Are you restless?” Have you suffered? Any gaps? Any unease? Do you feel uneasy? 

“No, I’m settled, everything’s cool.” 

Fine, then! Power to you! Really cool. I wish I were more like you.

“Well yeah, I’m restless.” 

If someone says this, start there. What causes your unease? Would you wish to settle? Would you prefer greater happiness? Still more? More serenity? Do you like the constant activity? There’s not much to say until you’re weary of it, but if you are or want a different state, start there. 

It is a prescription, not an ideology or religion. Nothing is being forced on anyone. 

What does meditation do?

Actually, there are two types of consciousness. The first sort of awareness is habitual consciousness. We’re flowing down the karmic conditions of our personal and communal consciousness like a river. Next, the cultivator.

Cultivation implies turning back against the river to change completely and find the freedom of mind to directly perceive consciousness.

A cultivator tries to be attentive so they can see their mind’s freedom moment-to-moment. They notice their mind’s independence and how it selects what to focus on. Most people define “freedom” as mind-movement. That’s not freedom since it’s constantly conditional and habitual. The cultivator learns ultimate freedom is mind not moving. The cultivator continuously observes awareness before content to discover how they are the same. Instead of being moved by habituation, they let the thought pass without responding. The mind can let what arises pass without addressing it. 

The Buddhist definition of meditation How to stay motivated to practice? 

We’re talking about your mind. After practicing, you go from avoiding awareness to having some sensation of it and eventually growing comfortable with it. You then reach a point where not being in that awareness is not something you would select intentionally since the confusion is less vibrant and thrilling.

Awareness is highly lively. Not dead. Totally aware.

You can sustain constant awareness if you don’t lose energy to whatever you get hooked to. You can be open and excited all day. After getting a little, you may not trade it. Not that you’re not doing things, but that you’re not so caught up with your identity. You can be social as you wish. This kind of awareness allows you to be more social than usual because you’re open to everyone and pay attention to them. So, you don’t have to be unaware; just approach things differently. If you don’t have anything important to focus on right now, the fallback position is fine. Thus, sitting with nothing to do is as acceptable as doing something fascinating. How you’re involved matters more than not being involved.

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Read More: The Buddha’s Life: Siddhartha Gautama

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