Week 5

IMB Course Week 5: Meditation

Revisit homework 5 mins

Did folk do the homework – one precept for one day?

  • What did they do?
  • What were the effects?
  • What did it feel like?

Introduction: The Threefold Path 2 mins

This course is based on what is called the threefold path, the simplest formulation of the Buddhist path, dividing it into ethics, meditation, and wisdom. This isn’t a path we follow one aspect after another, we don’t practice ethics, then meditation, then wisdom, we work on all three together. But the later stages of the path cannot develop faster than the earlier ones allow. In particular, if we want to meditate more effectively we often need to look at how we live our life, the sorts of mental states we cultivate in our daily life, whether we overload ourselves with inputs, whether we are always distracted, unfocussed, hurried, anxious etc.

This Week

So far we have mainly been looking at ethics in the early parts of each evening, then meditation after the break. This week we’re moving on to meditation in the threefold path, so we’re going to devote the whole evening to meditation, exploring some things we can do to improve our meditation in an experiential way, rather than talking about it. Then next week we’ll move on to wisdom, so come if you want to know the ultimate meaning of life, the universe, and everything!

Positive counterparts of the hindrances. 5mins

Importance of conditions, lifestyle, and how we feel at the beginning of a meditation. Ideally we need to bring 5 positive qualities to our meditation, or else we need to use the meditation to develop them. These are:

Contentment. We need to be here in our body, in the present, content with our experience, enjoying what is actually happening; not always wishing for something better.

Warm goodwill. To meditate effectively we need to be on good terms with ourself, with other people, and with the world; otherwise our ill-will, resentment, or bad feelings about ourselves will well up when all external stimuli are removed.

Commitment and wholeheartedness. To meditate effectively we need to commit wholeheartedly to doing the practice; not just drift in indecision.

Calm – To meditate effectively we need to feel peaceful and calm, not agitiated and restless.

Energy and alertness. Being calm doesn’t mean being in a dream – the aim is also to have a bright mind, a clear awareness.

Balanced effort 3mins

Tonight we’re going to focus especially on these last two, calm and alertness. In meditation we are not aiming for a compromise between these two, we are aiming to be both more calm and more alert!

  • Like a native american hunter stalking prey, watchful and poised
  • Like a climber totally focused on their moves on the rock
  • Like a master jeweler cutting a priceless diamond

So the aim is to have more of both, but to start with we need to learn to balance calm and alertness. This is related to the idea of balanced effort. If we make no effort in meditation, we will drift, daydream, and maybe go to sleep. But if we make a forced, willful effort, our mind will be tense and agitated. So we need balanced effort, and a balance between calm and alertness.

Story of Sona.

  • A musician, played the lute.
  • Sona is very willful, trying to force himself, and getting nowhere with the spiritual life. He is talking about giving up and going home, so the Buddha asks him to come talk to him.
  • The Buddha asks him, Sona, if you string your lute too loose, what does is sound like? Does it produce a beautiful sound?
  • No , it goes ‘thwock’.
  • If you string your lute too tight, what does it sound like? Does it make a beautiful sound?
  • No, it goes ‘plink’.
  • Sona, meditation is just the same, you mustn’t string your mind too loose or too tight, you must find the balance that makes beautiful music.

Analogy of holding a bird. 1min

Meditation is likened to holding a small bird in the hands. If you hold it too loose, it will fly away. But if you hold it too tight, it will get panicky and agitated, and you will hurt it. We need to find just the right amount of effort, to stop ourselves just drifting off, while at the same time not making the mind tight and agitated.

A lot of the art of meditation is about balancing effort, balancing energy, balancing calm and alertness. Tonight we are going to do a sort of workshop to look at some practical things you can do to balance our energy in meditation.