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Tibetan Buddhist Meditation

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 61: Tibetan Buddhist Meditation

Sangharakshita Mr Chairman and Friends, Time is passing, as time always does pass, and it seems that we are now craw inq to tte end of our course on an Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, and this is in fact this evening the last lecture but one. Let me just remind you, before we begin, That the first half of the series, the lectures comprising the first half of the series, were more historical and as it were even institutional in character, but the second half of the series, The second group of four lectures, ses to be rather more practical, rather more, if you like, religious or spiri tual, The week before last, therefore, beginning this second group within the series, we dealt with Symbols of Tibetan Buddhist Art, and last week, as you may recollect, we dealt with the Four Foundation Yogas of the Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, Now today we come, in our seventh lecture, to the most practical, we might also say the most religious, the most spiritual, aspect of all: we come to something which constitutes the heart in many ways of the spiritual life, that is we come to Tibetan Buddhist Meditation, Now we may say, in a general way, that meditation, or dhyana, is an important aspect not only of Tibetan Buddhism but of all schools, of all Buddhist traditions whatsoever. Whether one examines the Theravada teachings or those of the general Mahayana, whether Indian or Far Eastern, whether one looks at the Tendai school or whether one looks at even the Shin school one finds that meditation in one form or another is an ortant aspect, an integral part of each and every one of them And this isn*t surprising, because from the very beginnings of Buddhism, if we go right back- to the Buddha*s own teaching, so tar as we can make thaf out, so far as we can decipher it, it does seem that an emphasis, a very great emphasis often, was placed upon what we call meditation, If we let our thoughts go back to the Buddha*s Noble Eightfold Path. about which we spoke last winter, if we go back to that path; then we find that the last three steps or stages or aspects, that of the Perfect Effort, the Perfect Awareness, and the Perfect Samadhi, These are all concerned in one way or another with what we call meditation And then if we go to that other great formulation of the Path the Path of the Bdhisattva, the path of the six or the ten perfections or transcending virtues, then we find that the fifth of these, the fifth paramita, the fifth perfection, the fifth transcending virtue, is the same dhyana, or samadhi, or meditation. And if we look among the schools of Buddhism we see that. some are concentrating more upon, others are concentrating more upon metaphysics, but some - and among them one of the most famous of all Buddhist school, the Ch*an school, the Zen school - specializes as it were in meditation, in dhyana; even though it isn*t perhaps quite meditation in the ordinary, in the conventional, sense.

So from all these facts, from all these considerations, we can understand that meditation is important, occupies an important place, an integral place, we may say, not only in Tibetan Buddhism but in the whole Buddhist tradition as exemplified by all schools, Now most of you, I know, have got some idea of what meditation is all about, Many of you, I know as I look around, many of you do attend one or another of the meditation classes which we hold in the course of the week at Saku.rra in our shrine and meditation centre there, And some of you, I know again, have attended one or another of our retreats, when, amongst other things, we meditate sometimes for three or four or five, or even more, hours a day for seven days or ten days, as the case may be. But just as it were to refresh your memories, and also perhaps to provide a little guidance for those who haven*t practised meditation, or who may be a little in the dark as to what it is all about, let me just briefly, by way of introduction to Tibetan Buddhist meditation, let me briefly recapitulate the main stages of the meditation experience.

We know that when one is speaking of matters of this sort, which are matters of experience and which also differ very much, very greatly, from one person to another, according to ternperament and line of practice and so on, it isn*t very easy to generalize, and we have to be very cautious, very careful, about generalizing. But even bearing these thtngs in rn ind, I think we can say that broadly speaking there are some five main stages of meditation or in what we may call the meditation experience. These are not sharply marked off one from another; they are not rigidly demarcated, Just like the colours of the rainbow, just one fades into another by imperceptible degrees. But broadly sneaking nevertheless we can distinguish, we can point to five broadly main successive stages in our meditation experience, regardless of the method we pursue, regardless of the specific meditative path which we follow.

Now the first of these stages is the stage of what we may describe as withdrawal of the mind from the senses. This is the first step, this is the first stage, This is one of the reasons why when we meditate we choose, we select, a quiet, a secluded, place in which there will be a minimun of interference from the external world. We shut out as far as possible all external stimuli. Very often, as you know, we sit cross-legged, we fold our hands in our lap, Not only that, we close our eyes, and we close the eyes so that we shall shut out sights, so that we shall shut out visual objects. We just withdraw the mind, withdraw the consciousness, from those things; and not just from the visual objects - we try to ignore sounds, we try to ignore tangibles, tastes, sensations com ing from or through the senses of every kind, We try in this first stage to shut out for a while the external world, We withdraw within. We withdraw the senses from the sense organs, We withdraw consciousness itself from the senses, So this is the first stage of all meditation practice: a withdrawal within, a turning away of the mind from the external world and from the senses. I should, of course, point out, in case anybody is liable to misunderstand, that this is the first step, this is the first stage, but it does not mean by any means that withdrawal or turning away from the world is the last word of or in meditation, So this is the first stage of our meditation experience, a stage in which the mind or the consciousness is withdrawn from the physical senses and poised as it were in itself.

Sometimes it so happens that if we are practising regularly, or if we are practising intensively, the external world does as it were disappear, or even quite literally just disappears; we don*t perceive it any more, we don*t see anything, we don*t hear anything, we don*t smell, we don*t taste, we don*t. touch anything, We are just fully absorbed and concentrated within. So this is the first step or the first stage in the meditation experience.

And the second stage is what we call traditionally the suppression of the five hindrances, The five hindrances represent five unhealthy, negative psychological states, especially emotional states. The first of these is what we call desire or thirst. or craving for sensuous experience.

You may for a while shut out the external world; you may not be looking at anything or listening to anything, but as you sit There, concentrated as you are, a little sort of tremor may arise in the mind, based on a recollection of a previous experience, and That will lead the mind as it were insensibly back towards The original sense object, and there will be along with that a desire for the experience of, the enjoyment of, that sense object. So This is what we call the hindrance of the desire or craving for sensuous experience, and this is very difficult to qet rid of, very difficult to eliminate, because it goes right deep down into the unconscious mind, right down to the roots of the mind as it were. In this second stage of meditation experience, there*s no possibility of eradicating the hindrances, but they have to be temporarily suppressed, temporarily held down, if further progress is to be made. So this is the first hindrance to be suppressed or held down or held in abeyance as it were - the desire for sensuous experience.

And then ill will: anger or hatred or antagonism, in any of its forms. If while you*re sitting there, if while you*re trying to concentrate, trying to meditate, there*s any residue in your conscious mind of antagonism towards anybody, if you*re irritated or upset, you will not be able to make any further progress in your meditation, so the hindrance of ill will also has to be suppressed, has to be held in abeyance as it were, at that particular time.

And then the third hindrance is what we call sloth and torpor. This is a very terrible hindrance indeed; it probably holds people back much more than either the desire for sensuous experience or ill will, because as you sit there trying to meditate you may find That your mind is quite free from desire for any particular Thing, you don*t particularly want a cup of tea or you don*t particularly want to be more warm and more cosy, and you may not be conscious of any ill will towards anybody, you may not be feeling at least positively murderous towards anybody, you*ll be feeling moderately affectionate; but sloth and torpor, that*s quite a different proposition. Sloth and torpor may overwhelm you nevertheless. In Pali these are called tina nidha(?), and The distinction is a quite interesting one. Tina or sloth represents a sort of physical sluggishness, and the nidha, The torpor, psychological and stagnation. So it represents a sort of psychological inertia and stagnation. So sort of stagnation of both body and mind, a sort of dullness, a sort of deadness, a stiffness, a lack of resilience, a sort of - ...

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