Lama Yeshe meditating in the botanical gardens, Berkeley, California, 1974. Photo courtesy of Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.
It’s no surprise that meditation continues to draw the media’s attention. More and more, its positive effects on the mind and body are being documented by scientists and its techniques are being taught in clinical settings. A 2007 national survey in the United States found that “9.4 percent of respondents (representing more than 20 million people) had used meditation in the past 12 months – compared with 7.6 percent of respondents (representing more than 15 million people) in a similar survey conducted in 2002.” In fact, U.S. National Institute of Health has a dedicated webpage on meditation’s health benefits, which include helping with anxiety, pain, depression, stress, insomnia and coping with chronic illness. All signs indicate this interest will only continue to grow. The inaugural International Symposia for Contemplative Studies recently brought together more than 700 neuroscientists, educators, and contemplative scholars from around the world to share cutting-edge research on the nature and workings of the human mind. We can sincerely rejoice in the benefits that people throughout the world may experience from this increased interest in and use of meditative techniques.
But for students of Mahayana Buddhism, a meditation practice has benefits beyond improved health (which is still important). Developing the ability to calm the mind facilitates one’s ability to progress towards enlightenment, when one can be of most benefit. Fortunately, FPMT offers many resources online to support the development of this kind of meditation practice. Discovering Buddhism’s Module 2 “How to Meditate” is available free of charge on the Online Learning Center as well as instruction on shiné or calm abiding meditation. In addition, Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive offers many teachings from Lama Yeshe, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and other qualified teachers on meditation. These resources are freely available to you to deepen your Mahayana meditation practice and to share with others who might want to take the altruistic path of Dharma.
With 160 centers, projects, and services around the globe, there is always news on FPMT activities, teachers and events. Mandala hopes to share as many of these timely stories as possible. If you have news you would like to share, please let us know.
There’s the story of the fisherman hanging on to his capsized boat and asking God for help. He turns away a surfer on his board, a jet ski, another boat and even a helicopter saying, “No, God will save me!” After many hours, the fisherman, feeling destitute, pleads to God, “Where are you?” Eventually God looks down from the clouds and says, “I sent you a surfer, a jet skier, a boat and even a helicopter. What else do you expect me to do?” Continue reading →
Riley, a Tara Redwood School student, counting breaths
There are countless meditation possibilities to do with children. However, one needs to consider the child’s age and interest. These meditation practices below have been practiced at Tara Redwood School, but can be adapted to various settings and for all age groups.
In more recent years, mindfulness practices have become very popular and have now entered into mainstream society in the fields of health care, business, and more recently, schools. Research validates what practitioners for hundreds of years have found, that is, meditation benefits the body and mind.
Tara Redwood School teaches several different levels and types of meditation. In general, they can be divided into three main categories:
Centering (i.e., focus on the breath)
Reflection (i.e., analytical thinking)
This article will focus on the first kind of meditation, the category we call Centering. The sound of the gong signals that it is time to center. We at Tara Redwood School begin classes each day by gathering in a circle. At the beginning of the day, a child whose turn it is that day, chooses a Morning Intention. The child makes up her own intention or may choose the intention from helpful emotion cards or stones with words written on them. The intention card is placed on the altar or it may be written on a sentence strip and hung on the wall as a reminder throughout the day.
Alternatively, the class uses a sand mandala that is the symbolic representation of the classroom and the intention can be written down and placed in a bowl in the mandala’s center. Each of the children in the class may then take a colored stone and state what way they can make that wish come true throughout the day and then place it in the bowl. When everyone has placed their “wishing stone” in the bowl, it is placed in a prominent place as a reminder of what everyone is creating together.
The teacher rings the gong periodically throughout the day. Every time the gong sounds, the children stop what they are doing, stretch their hands up above their heads as they breath in and bring their hands back down to their heart level as they breath out. They then focus on their breath coming and going for three cycles and remember their morning intention. The gong used in this way regulates the energy and sets the rhythm for the day. The children are naturally practicing the art of centering and regulating their energy. It takes time to accustom the children to the practice and it is an excellent training for the teacher as well: the class and the teacher are all practicing self-regulation together.
A practice we have done with children ages 5 to 10 is an adaptation from a Thich Nhat Hahn practice. Each child is given a blue square of felt and a white square of felt. They are given 3 to 10 white beans or stones. (It is important to consider the simplicity of materials so as not to draw the focus away from the breath.)
These are placed on the white felt in front of them. When the gong is rung, children close their eyes and focus on their inhalation and exhalation. At the completion of one cycle, they move one bean from the white square to the blue square. White beans begin on the white felt because, just as is with our breath, we don’t really take notice it is there until we focus on it. However, it becomes very noticeable with attention, just like the white beans on the blue square.
Once the children are able to focus their attention for 3 to 10 breaths, depending on how many they started using, they can continue to add a bean a day. This becomes a wonderful way for the children to practice and continue to extend their concentration. Children can make little purses or containers for keeping their beans and felt together. This adds a special element of care and respect to the materials and practice.
We recommend helping your child create a little shrine or altar. At Tara Redwood School, we call this the Peace Place. The bean purse can be kept there as well as a little gong and various other items that symbolize peace for the child. The child can use this space as their own precious place to have some time alone, center, contemplate, resolve conflicts, regulate their emotions or simply find solace in silence.
Pam Cayton has worked since 1989 to create, implement and research strategies for awakening compassion, wisdom and social responsibility in the minds and hearts of children. Her projects include Tara Redwood School, a school for young children in California, and Creating Compassionate Cultures, an organization dedicated to providing trainings and materials to support holistic education for children based off of Essential Education principles.
Lama Yeshe at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, 1982. A newly discovered photo from Harry Sutton’s personal collection.
Mantra has the power to set your body, speech and mind apart from ordinary, mundane thought. The vibration of a mantra can automatically unify the split, scattered mind into single-pointedness. Reciting a mantra can focus your mind into the here and now rather than having it run all over the place as it usually does. So that’s very useful and is one of the reasons we recite mantras.
The mantra of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is ta ya tha om muné muné maha munaye soha. Om means magnificent knowledge-wisdom and power and muné muné maha munaye contains three meanings: control, great control, greatest control, or conquest, great conquest, greatest conquest. We all need to control or conquer our uncontrolled mind, don’t we? We don’t need to conquer other sentient beings; we need to conquer our own uncontrolled mind. The connotation of the mantra is along those lines. So it’s very useful.
[Lama and the students recite the mantra three times.]
If all negative actions and unhappy feelings come from false conceptions, then the only way to overcome these actions and feelings is to purify and release the false conceptions by perceiving the right view. Perceiving the right view is not something that can just be done instinctively. It takes time to develop right conceptions and perceive the right view.
In order to awaken, or become conscious, we need to practice meditation. We tend to think we’re conscious most of the time but actually we’re not; we’re unconscious. Check up; really check up. But by gradually developing our meditation practice we slowly, slowly integrate our mind with the object of reality.
Also, when we meditate we often encounter obstacles to our practice and experience much trouble and frustration. The fundamental character or absolute nature of our mind is clean clear – we call this nature clear light – but relatively it is obscured by misconceptions and other hindrances that prevent us from seeing reality. It’s like the sky obscured by clouds – when a strong gust of wind comes and blows away the clouds, the underlying clear blue sky is revealed. It’s the same thing with our mind. Therefore, when we try to meditate, we encounter hindrances and lack of clarity and find it very difficult to concentrate single-pointedly on an object. When this happens, instead of getting disappointed we should employ the methods contained in Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism to purify our mind.
When our meditation is not going smoothly we should not push. The mind is like a baby; babies don’t like to be pushed – we have to treat them differently. Instead of pushing them we have to play with them in a psychologically skillful way. Then they’re OK.
Similarly, we have to play a little with our mind. When it becomes impossible to meditate, we shouldn’t push. Instead, we should just leave our mind where it is and do some purification practice. This will decrease obstacles and make our mind more powerful.
Unfortunately, many people do try to force it. This just makes them aggressive and frustrated and angry with their friends: “I don’t like you this morning; I didn’t have a good meditation. Instead of making me calm and clear it made me uptight.” Such people don’t have skillful wisdom; they don’t know how to integrate their practice.
Also, every time you meditate, cultivate bodhichitta and totally dedicate your practice to others: “It doesn’t matter whether my meditation is good or bad, I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it solely for the benefit of other sentient beings.” If you have that kind of dedicated mind, even if your meditation is not that good, you’re not disappointed; you’re secure in the knowledge that whatever you did was for the benefit of others. Then, even if you’re not successful, you’re still relaxed. You know that you tried your best and that your attitude – concern for others rather than the selfish “I’m miserable, I want to be happy, therefore I’m going to meditate” – is the most important thing. If you meditate with self-cherishing and it doesn’t work, you get really disappointed.
Therefore, before you meditate or do any action, actually, it’s incredibly important to dedicate it to others by cultivating bodhichitta. Take going to work, for instance. Most people in this country work for a boss, so before you go to work you should dedicate, “May my life today be beneficial for others.” That’s the way to avoid frustration. If your motivation is selfish, concern for only your own pleasure, your work is always troublesome; your mind is sick, not happy. You get uptight with your supervisors.
These are important points. Don’t think that only sitting in meditative concentration is important. It is important but it’s not everything. All the time, no matter what you’re doing – meditating, working, walking down the street, cooking, making soup – always try to have good motivation. If your motivation is pure you can take all those actions into the path to liberation. It’s possible.
Otherwise, even if you do meditate, if your motivation is wrong, the action too becomes wrong. Even if you go to church or the temple, if you go with a negative mind, it’s a waste of time; it’s not even a religious action; it’s purely samsaric.
Perhaps you don’t know what samsara means. It’s a Sanskrit word, but that doesn’t matter; don’t worry about the word. It refers to worldly, mundane things. In Tibetan, it’s khorwa, which means circle, or cyclic. However, I don’t have time here to explain Buddhist philosophical terms. If you want to learn that sort of thing you’ll have to go to university. Since our time together here is so short, I just want to talk on the practical level.
Try this simple experiment for yourself. Next time somebody asks you for a cup of tea or coffee, check to see how you feel within. Often you’ll find that at your heart there’s a background buzz of irritation, so even though you say, “Yes, OK,” you don’t mean it; selfish motivation makes you insincere. Since you don’t have a mind dedicated to others, even though you bring the person their tea, you’re unhappy about having to do it; you do it begrudgingly.
If your mind were dedicated, you’d be happy to serve others. You wouldn’t be psychologically bothered. You’d bring the tea or coffee joyfully, seeing even this small act as worthwhile, as a step on the path to liberation. It’s not that the tea or coffee is so good; it’s your sincere motivation, wanting to help others, that gives you much pleasure to serve them and makes you happy.
This is simple human psychology, not something religious or fabricated. It’s the psychological effect of dedication to others.
Actually, we know all this from our own life experiences. Trouble between wife and husband, husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend and girlfriend and boyfriend … all these things come from the selfish mind. You know – if you’re selfish you have trouble in your relationships.
And it’s not a question of intelligence: “Oh, I’m intelligent, I have to get angry.” If you check more deeply you’ll see it’s totally self-cherishing and attachment that are involved.
If the mind is dedicated, a wife is totally dedicated to helping her husband and a husband is totally dedicated to helping his wife. If you have the attitude, “I want to help you” rather than “I want you to help me,” you’ll have no trouble.
Look at the unconditional loving kindness a mother has for her only son. Even if he does stupid things, she still thinks he’s good. You don’t agree? I can’t tell – you’re not responding. A good mother has a good son, holds him very dear, but he does stupid things. Still, she thinks, “He’s so cute – look at what he does.” Actually, what he does is stupid, but the reason it gives his mother pleasure is because she sees him in such a positive light and has so much love for him that she wants everything he does to be good and projects good onto even the stupid things he does. If somebody else were to do the same things she wouldn’t like them at all. It’s all to do with her motivation. You check up – I’m sure my example is apt.
You can see how different mental attitudes affect people’s behavior and the way they interpret things. If you actualize bodhichitta meditation – train your mind in totally dedicating yourself to other sentient beings – nobody will trouble you. It’s true; I’m not joking. Nobody will make trouble for you. And you will see others as beautiful; nothing will appear ugly or make you uptight. The reason you get uptight at the moment is because your schizophrenic, neurotic mind projects negativity onto objects.
You’ll see that both Buddhism and Christianity talk about heaven and hell, but the connotations are quite different. Buddhism holds that there is no such heavenly place externally existent, but when an individual’s mind has developed and completely released all ordinary conceptualizations of the I, the ego, then whatever that person perceives – the whole earth, all human beings – becomes transcendentally beautiful; for that person, that view is heaven.
You can understand that, can’t you? I’m talking in psychological terms. You don’t have to necessarily believe that heaven or hell are out there waiting for you, but you can easily understand how the polluted projections of ordinary mundane thought make you miserable and through releasing such conceptualizations you can develop a healthy mind and perceive a perfect view. It’s so logical; I’m talking about this in the logical sense, not in some higher metaphysical way.
It’s incredible, really: if you put the things you learn into action, if you put your meditation into practice, everything you perceive in your entire life enhances your wisdom; everything that appears to you increases your understanding. If you don’t put what you learn into action, even if Jesus or Lord Buddha were to manifest before you right now and give you teachings, it wouldn’t help that much. Just because Jesus and Lord Buddha are high beings doesn’t mean your mind would automatically open in their presence. No – you have to develop it yourself. That’s why Lord Buddha said that it’s your own positive actions that lead you to enlightenment and your own negative actions that bring you down.
Because of their scientific education and understanding of progressive evolution, Westerners often find it difficult to accept that a human being can become an animal. They think such regression to be impossible. Actually, it’s possible. As I said before, the sick mind can manifest at the physical level; this is the same thing. It doesn’t matter that you look like a human being – your mind can degenerate such that you behave worse than an animal. The mental energy generated in that way can later transform at the physical level and come to occupy an animal body. That’s possible.
But don’t think that this means your human body somehow changes into an animal body. I’m not saying that. When your consciousness separates from your present human body, since it contains the energy of the animal mind, that mental energy transforms into an animal body.
However, right action and wrong action are determined by right thought and wrong thought: right wisdom leads to right actions; wrong conceptions lead to wrong actions.
If we put the energy of the human body, speech and mind in the right direction, it is so powerful. The problem is that our life has no direction and that’s why our energy is fragmented. Check up on how your life is right now – does it have direction? If not, you’re wasting all the energy of your body, speech and mind.
Therefore you need the discriminating knowledge-wisdom to distinguish between right and wrong. In order to develop that, you have to understand your mind and know how positive and negative minds arise. Since all actions arise from the mind, without checking your mind, how can you determine the nature of your actions?
Anyway, it is very useful to seek the right view, the ultimate reality of your nature, through meditation. And you also need to understand your relative nature, which is extremely uncontrolled, ignorant of reality, full of wrong conceptions, and the source of all frustration and suffering. Once you do, you should then extend that understanding to all universal living beings, even the insects around you now. Meditate, right now, understanding that all living beings in the universe, not just the beings in your immediate vicinity, are in the same situation as you are – their relative nature intoxicated by attachment – and generate much love and compassion for them all.
Seeing that you and all other universal living beings are in exactly the same situation, ask yourself, “How can I best help others?” Check: is giving them bread, candy or chocolate the best way to help? That’s ridiculous, isn’t it? That’s an insufficient way of helping because living beings’ problems with their uncontrolled mind do not come from a lack of bread; their problems derive from a lack of knowledge-wisdom – not understanding what they are or how they exist, relatively or absolutely.
It doesn’t matter whether one person is wealthy, another is poor, one is beautiful, another ugly or one is dancing, another is not – in fact, all beings are equal in experiencing suffering caused by false conceptions. They’re equally the same in this: king, queen and pauper. As long as misconceptions and the polluted conceptualization of I, ego, rule their mind, they’re equally the same. Eastern or Western, there’s no difference; it doesn’t matter. They’re all equally the same: they all want happiness and don’t want suffering. But because their actions are driven by misconception, even though all they want is happiness, all they get is suffering. So it’s misconceptions that are the biggest obstacle to freedom and inner joy.
Also think: these misconceptions are just temporary obstacles – momentary, transient. It’s possible for all beings to totally transcend these obstacles and reach the everlasting peaceful inner freedom of liberation.
Now visualize Lord Buddha. Actually, what is Buddha? Buddha is universal compassion and omniscient knowledge-wisdom, which is in the nature of everlasting peace and joy. So visualize that that wisdom mind manifests in front of you as the radiant light body of Lord Buddha. If you can’t visualize Lord Buddha you can just see me here in front of you. From the crown of the head of Lord Buddha (or Lama Yeshe), a powerful stream of radiant white light emanates, enters the crown of your head and passes down your central channel like an extremely strong waterfall into your heart. This purifies all the impurities of your body’s nervous system.
Then, from Lord Buddha’s (or Lama Yeshe’s) throat, a powerful beam of radiant red light emanates and enters your throat, purifying all your impurities of speech, such as telling lies and creating disunity between people.
Then, from Lord Buddha’s (or Lama Yeshe’s) heart, a powerful beam of radiant blue light emanates and enters your heart, filling it with blissful, joyful energy and purifying all your false conceptions. Your entire bodily nervous system and mind are completely filled with blissful radiant light.
Concentrate on feeling the unity of you and these lights that have entered you.
Thank you very much. Now dedicate the merit of having done this meditation. What does that mean? Whatever we do, there’s some kind of mental energy generated. Even though we don’t see this at the physical level, it’s there. Merit is the kind of energy generated by positive actions, such as the meditation we just did. So instead of thinking, “Oh, I just meditated; how good I am,” and building our ego, we should direct our positive energy to the benefit of others. That is greatly useful.
We can’t be certain of how we’re going to be – sometimes we’re up, sometimes we’re down. And sometimes we get angry and anger destroys our positive energy, our merit. That’s like spending time cleaning a room and when you’re finished throwing dirt all over it. We meditate, making our mind clean, clean, clean, and then we get angry and foul it all up again.
So dedicating our merit protects it from destruction by anger and in that way we don’t waste our energy. Dedication is also useful in that our meditation becomes not for pleasing our ego but for benefiting others and bringing us to enlightenment, or inner freedom. Actually, that should be our only purpose for meditating; we should not be doing it for pride: “I’m that, this, this, this.” Being somebody is not important.
[Lama chants the dedication prayer: Ge-wa di-yi….1]
Actually, it’s not necessary to chant a prayer; a prayer is not the words. You have to know that. We use words when we pray but the actual prayer is not the words. In fact, prayer is in the mind.
Dedication is a form of psychological treatment. Many times, after we have done something religious or meditated – or even after some mundane activity – we feel proud: “I did this, I did that.” We’re so proud of what we did.
There’s no reason to be proud. Pride is a symptom of the sick mind. Therefore, instead of feeling proud, we should dedicate everything we do to the benefit of other sentient beings, to bring them into everlasting peaceful enlightenment. If we do that, then psychologically, we won’t feel proud; there won’t be that strong feeling of “I did something.”
For example, say a husband works and his wife stays home. When he comes home he can feel resentful: “I’m so tired. I worked hard all day; all you did was stay home and do nothing.” He puts on a big show that he did this tremendous job but actually, there’s no reason for him to show off. Going to work and doing his job is his duty.
It’s the same thing when we meditate; there’s no reason to show off to others: “Oh, I just did this great thing.” Just totally dedicate your actions to others as much as possible. Then there’s no sick reaction of pride. Otherwise, we do these things and all we get is more mental illness.
So dedication is something practical we can do for others; it’s not just some empty Tibetan custom.
Excerpted from the fourth chapter, “How to Meditate,” from Freedom Through Understanding, a new book by Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive offered freely to the public.
1 Due to the merits of these virtuous actions May I quickly attain the state of a guru-buddha And lead all living beings without exception Into that enlightened state.
Using meditation to gain knowledge of mental reality
Scholar and chief translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thupten Jinpa urges scientists who are studying Buddhist meditation to give respect to the voice of the tradition itself. He argues that, at least in the case of Buddhism, without taking seriously the tradition’s own self-understanding of the role of meditation, this encounter between Buddhist meditation and science will not have the significant mutual enrichment it could otherwise potentially have.
We tend to forget that “meditation” is actually an English term and that, when applying it to convey a core element of Eastern spiritual practice, such as that of Buddhism, there might involve an unrecognized conflation of meanings. In the classical Buddhist context, however, the term meditation is used to translate the Sanskrit term bhvana and its Tibetan equivalent gom (spelled sgoms). Etymologically, the Sanskrit term connotes the notion of “cultivation,” while its Tibetan equivalent gom carries the idea of developing “familiarity,” together implying the idea of some kind of repetitive process of cultivating a familiarity, whether it is with respect to a habit, a way of seeing, or a way of being. In its actual usage, however, the term gom is applied not only to the process of “cultivation” or “development of familiarity,” it is also applied to the resultant states achieved through such processes. So, in this sense, meditation can refer both to the practice of disciplined cultivation as well as the cultivated result of such a discipline.
Given this broad definition of meditation, we find mentions of different types of meditations in the classical Buddhist texts.
For example, there is the classic mindfulness meditation, wherein the individual learns to pay deep attention to the minute processes within the flow of his or her breath or mental processes, while remaining undistracted by other sensory or discursive thought processes.
Then there is the meditation in the form of taking something as an object, such as when the person takes the fundamental truths of one’s condition like the utterly transient nature of one’s life, for instance, as the object of deep contemplation.
Then there is the meditation in the form of cultivation of positive mental qualities, such as compassion and loving kindness. Here compassion and loving kindness are not so much the objects of meditation; rather, the person seeks to cultivate these qualities within his or her heart.
There is also the practice of meditation as visualization or simulation, such as where the person visualizes himself or herself as going through the various stages of the experience of dying.
In addition, there is the meditation in the form of prayer where, for example, the meditator aspires to attain the enlightened attributes of the Buddha for the sake of bringing about the welfare of countless sentient beings.