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A System of Meditation

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture given on March 29th 1978 on the Order Convention held at Vinehall School, Robertsbridge, Sussex, UK, by Sangharakshita. Lecture 135:

A SYSTEM OF MEDITATION Upasakas and Upasikas: We start with a question, and the question is: Where did Buddhism come from? Don't say India! [Laughter] Where, more correctly, did the Dharma, the truth as communicated by the Buddha, come from? The short and very simple answer to that question, we can say, is that Buddhism, that the Dharma, grew out of meditation, that it grew out of the Buddha's meditation under the Bodhi tree, two thousand and five hundred years ago; grew, that is to say, out of meditation in the deepest as well as in the highest sense - not simply out of meditation in the sense of concentration; not even out of meditation in the somewhat higher sense of the experience of higher states of consciousness, but out of meditation in the sense rather of what we call nowadays in English `contemplation' Out of meditation in the sense of a direct, total, comprehensive, in fact, all-comprehending, vision and experience of Ultimate Reality. It's out of that that Buddhism grew, that the Dharma grew. And it is by renewed contact with that, that Buddhism or the Dharma continually refreshes itself down through the ages.

We can say that the FWBO and the WBO grew also out of meditation, even if not in that exalted sense.

And I personally remember very well the days when the FWBO and the WBO were just growing; or even, I may say, just beginning to grow - when they just passed the virtually embryonic stage. I remember how we used to meet just once a week, on a Thursday, I think it was - Thursday evening at seven o'clock, subsequently changed to half past six - used to meet once a week in a tiny twelve by twelve (or was it ten by twelve?) basement beneath a shop in Monmouth Street, in central London not very far from - in fact, a stone's throw from - Trafalgar Square. And there used to be in those days, the very early days, just seven or eight of us, just meeting every week, Thursday, seven o'clock, six thirty, just meeting and just meditating. As far as I remember we didn't even have any chanting in those days; or, even if we did, not very much. We just met there, we meditated for an hour or so, we had a cup of tea afterwards and a biscuit, [Laughter] and that weekly evening meeting was, in those days, the FWBO. Even the WBO had not yet come on the scene.

And gradually a few others joined us. We didn't advertise; we seemed to become known - a little known - by word of mouth. There was a poster up - a hand-written poster - in the window of the little shop, beneath which we used to meet. People passing by used to see it, used to venture into the shop on the pretext of buying incense; used to be inveigled sometimes downstairs into the basement to practise meditation, and a few of them stayed. So in this way, the little Movement; or the little class, I should say, grew. And after a while we started holding lectures - in fact series of public lectures - in hired halls in London. And then, greatly daring, we embarked upon our first retreats; and very, very pleased and satisfied with our success we were if some eighteen or twenty people turned up for a retreat; we thought that we were doing very well indeed.

And we went on that way for some year or two years or so, and in that way the whole Movement arose.

But inasmuch as it all started with a meditation class held just once a week, we could say that the whole Movement arose out of meditation - arose as a result of those seven or eight, ten or twelve, then fifteen or twenty, people, meeting and meditating in that basement of a shop in Monmouth Street in Central London. I remember the scene very well indeed. I wonder how many of you do? Perhaps one or two or three at the very most. But I remember it very well indeed. I can see it in my mind's eye; I can even hear it. I can hear the traffic rumbling past upstairs! I can hear, also, people's footsteps passing to and fro above the grating almost immediately above my head. Little tripping footsteps of ladies, presumably, and the heavier, more solemn footsteps [Laughter] of men! But inside, inside that tiny, dimly-lit basement shrine - The Triratna Shrine and Meditation Centre [Laughter], as we called it - it was very quiet and very peaceful, especially when we were all meditating, And, you know, when I look back, when I think back, it's really quite surprising it is really quite astonishing, that we should have, you know, done so well in such a small space and with such very limited facilities and so few people.

1 But we did have some really good meditations there. I remember that too. There was sometimes a really good feeling, a really good, as it were, vibration or even absence of vibration, in the air. And sometimes when I opened my eyes after a session and just sort of glanced around and saw the people sitting there - in those days, they nearly all sat on stools. Only the odd person who perhaps had gone to a Zen class at some time or other actually sat cross-legged on the floor; but be that as it may, whether they were on chairs or stools or whether they were on the floor sometimes, as I looked around, it seemed as though as they were sitting there with their half-closed eyes and the little smiles on their faces, it was as though there was a little bed of lotus blossoms growing in that underground basement, growing, as it were, in some wonderful subterranean pool. And the other day when I was thinking over this evening's lecture, looking through some of my old papers, I found a poem which I'd written after one such session. I must confess in advance it's not a very good poem [Laughter], and so it hasn't been published before, but this being a rather special occasion, and perhaps you might be in a rather forgiving mood, I thought I'd share this not- very-good poem with you just to give you some idea of what it felt like to be there, at `Sakura' in that little basement in that meditation class in those days, at least sometimes. Perhaps it wasn't always quite as good as that. And the poem is dated: 28.11.67. In other words, it is half-way between the founding of the FWBO, which was founded about six or seven months before, and the founding of the WBO, which came into existence some five or six months later. And perhaps this little poem, inadequate though it is, shows to some extent what it was that we grew out of. Not, surely, out of meditation in the highest sense, but certainly out of some experience of meditation. We certainly were on our way. So here is the poem. It didn't have a title originally but the other day I gave it the title of `White Lotuses'.

As the last gong-stroke dies away, Shiver after shiver, Into the deep silence, Opening my eyes I find myself, In a green-mossed underground cave, Over-arching still waters. Whereon White lotuses, half-open, Are peacefully smiling. So that's the poem; and that was the experience which we had there ten, eleven, years ago, at least sometimes.

And since then, since those early days, meditation in various forms, has always been an integral part of our activities; an integral part of the activities of the FWBO and the WBO, even as it is and always has been an integral part of Buddhism itself. I need hardly tell you that all Order Members meditate regularly.

So do many Mitras and Friends. And there is a very notable example of this, I may say, in Holland, There is a group of people there, in a place called, I believe, Nijmegen, where a group of people who came into contact with the FWBO quite a few years ago now, through a retreat held in Holland, meet together for meditation and meditate quite regularly on their own at all, without the regular assistance or inspiration, if you like, of any Order Member. They just keep on meditating almost, I might say, year after year, And all those who meditate, whether Order Members or Mitras or Friends, whoever they may be, wherever they may be, they all experience, from time to time at least, some state, some stage, of higher consciousness above and beyond what they normally experience, either during the waking state or during the state of sleep. One and all, we may say, they have found, in meditation one of the most effective means of self-transformation. Through meditation or with the help of meditation, we dissolve the old self, and we create, as it were, the new. And especially do we find that meditation in the sense of contemplation in the sense of insight into Ultimate Reality, especially do we find that that is the most effective means of permanent self-transformation.

As well as attending to the practice of meditation we have attended, to some extent, to the theory. We've even had lectures on meditation, and these have dealt, more often than not, with the different methods of meditation as well as with the different stages, the different levels of meditative experience, And in particular we have tried to go into, we have tried to make clear, the nature of the Four Dhyanas, the four superconscious states: that is to say, the four lower Dhyanas, the four lower superconscious States. And we have tried, in lectures, to cut through, as it were, the tangle of the traditional explanations and traditional terminology; tried to find out and to communicate something of what the Dhyanas really mean, what they really are, what one is really experiencing when one contacts, when one enters into, these four 2 so-called lower Dhyanas; which, I may say, are within the reach of everybody who meditates systematically and regularly.

Some of you may remember that we have devised fresh English names perhaps more truly communicative, perhaps more meaningful and significant for these Dhyana states ...

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