Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Going Okay?

People often ask me, ‘Which is the best meditation technique?’ and ‘How do I know whether or not I am doing it correctly?’ There are four criteria that can be used to assess what the Buddha called ‘progress, growth and furtherance’ (vuddham, virulham, vepullam) in meditation. I am not the world’s greatest meditation teacher but I have found these guidelines to be helpful. If (1) you are generally happier than before you started meditating; (2) if you notice an increase in positive and a decrease in negative qualities within yourself; (3) if you are more relaxed and open and (4) if you are able to be more objective about yourself; these are good indicators that your meditation is going the way it should.
Some approaches to meditation and certain attitudes some people bring to meditation, can cause practitioners to become tense, glum and overly serious. King Pasenadi noticed a marked difference between the followers of other sects and the Buddha’s disciples. The former were so gaunt and miserable-looking ‘that you would not want to see them again’ while the latter were ‘smiling, cheerful, exultant and joyful, with radiant complexions, relaxed, without anxiety, content with what they receive and with minds like a forest deer’ (M.II,121). Time and again the Buddha linked balanced mature meditation and happiness. ‘The mind that is happy becomes concentrated’ (sukhino cittam samadhiyati), ‘The mindful person becomes happier’ (satima sukham edhati), ‘Now you might think, “Perhaps these defiling mental states might disappear…and one might still be unhappy.” But this is not how it should be regarded. If defiling states disappear…only delight and joy, serenity, mindfulness and clarity remain, and that is a happy state’ (D.I,73; S.I,208; D.I,196).
Rather than trying to see themselves as they actually are, some meditators have an image of how they ‘should’ be and then use suppression and contrivance to make themselves fit into that image. The result is often bodily rigidity; a strained unsmiling expression, constrained movements and a stiff body. Other meditators develop a form of psychological rigidity, becoming puritanical and unbending in their attitude to even the most minor rules and dogmatic about interpretations of Dhamma and meditation techniques. One frequently hears such people comment that the way they are meditating is ‘absolutely correct’ and that other ways, even those only slightly different, are ‘absolutely wrong.’ Such physical and psychological rigidity is a very bad sign. By contrast, the successful meditator has the confidence to ‘relax and let their hair down’ (appossukka, pannaloma) without becoming slack, and the ability to see Dhammic concepts and meditation techniques as useful stepping stones rather than absolutes that must be clung too.
Successful meditation should gradually diminish the ego so that one’s self-image becomes less important and detachment increases, including detachment towards one’s negativities. Consequently, meditators should be able to have an increasingly realistic and insightful self-assessment and be frank and honest about their inner life. They should become more amenable to advice from spiritual friends and teachers, more ready to acknowledge mistakes, more able to accept praise without blushing and criticism without getting defensive. The mature meditator will, the Buddha said, be willing ‘to reveal his defilements to the Teacher or to an experienced monk as they really are’ (A.IV,189-90).
To the question ‘Which is the best meditation technique?’ the answer should be, ‘If the qualities mentioned above become more apparent as a result of the meditation you are practising then that is the most suitable technique for you.’


Singapore Dividend Collector said...

Indeed when one has the ability to feel more alive and content with what one has, then one is on the right path. I suppose its like having a realisation that everything on the external does not really matter and its onnly the mind that is paramount to a happy existance.


JD said...

I have asked this question before but never got as thorough an answer as what you have just said. I think this is a nice post and I will be attending to the criteria that you have mentioned. I wish you well Venerable Shravasti Dhammika.

shande said...

That's great, please post more and have more information to help the many people who are struggling.
30 years ago, I did ask a Ven. who teach meditation - why at times tears just rolls off ? One don't feel sad or happy but just a kind of compassion that's that, for a short while. He walks away and talk to others, that it. This are good indicators, and there are also indicators along the process while meditating. "Don't mistake a light nap as total concentration." One must know how to strike a balance and don't get carried away. Read more with wisdom. Intelligent and smartness can derail one in split second. Anyone interested can read this books (free distribution) - Three Teachings - Tenzin Palmo. Or Living Dharma - Teachings of Twelve Buddhist Masters - Jack Kornfield. There many old books written by practitioners.

Still struggling.

dyannne said...

Venerable Shravasti Dhammika: Thank you for your blog and especially "Going Okay?" I am a lay-learning-to-be-a-meditation teacher. Sometimes all the prerequisites for meditation in the Therevadan tradition can be overwhelming. I often go back to U Tanzania's refreshing emphasis on Just Relax and Observe. Your four criteria is a great way to observe the meditation process. Thanks so much.