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A System of Meditation

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by Sangharakshita

... than the original Pali and Sanskrit terms.

Some of you may know that we have learned to speak, in the first place, of a stage of integration, a stage when everything comes together. Usually everything is so scattered, so torn into bits, so fragmented, so split; but in this stage of integration everything starts coming together, everything starts flowing together very smoothly, very beautifully. All these scattered bits and pieces of ourselves, strewn, as it sometimes seems, all over the place, are brought together, are knit together, are woven together into something much more beautiful and harmonious than before. So there is this stage of integration when all our energies even, conscious energies, unconscious energies, even maybe a few supra-conscious energies - they all start flowing together; just like a great river fed by many streams flowing on to the ocean, and we ourselves feel much more harmonious, much more 'together' - there's a very good, expressive, popular word, much more together - in every sense and on almost every level. So we have learned to speak of this first Dhyana as a stage or level of integration. That is the foundation, that is the beginning.

And then we speak of the Second Dhyana as a stage of inspiration. In the midst of the integrated state, there springs up, there wells up, from some even higher level, or if you like, deeper level, some fresh source, some new element just bubbling up, bubbling up, and feeding us, feeding that integrated state, introducing something even higher, even better, ever purer, even nobler. And sometimes it comes bubbling up so strongly, so forcibly, comes out even like a great fountain that we feel inspired, as we say; we feel carried away, we feel uplifted, we feel elated in a good positive sense. We feel the divine breath, as it were - as, in the old days, poets sometimes used to express it - we feel ourselves inspired. And this is surely a very great and a very noble and a very important state: to feel inspired. Someone said to me some time ago; some months ago; in connection with classes that she was happening to take under the auspices of the FWBO; she said - it was an Order Member, I think - that the most important thing, she'd realised, in connection with classes was inspiration. You could even say, paraphrasing a well-known saying that there are three things necessary if you want to take a class: first, Inspiration, second, Inspiration [Laughter], third, Inspiration! If you haven't got inspiration, if you are not an inspired class-leader, an inspired meditator an inspired Order Member, you can know your Abhidharma backwards; you know, you can have all your Pali and Sanskrit terminology off the tips of your fingers like that, or the tip of your tongue. You can be a very good person, a very solid, worthy, person, but if you haven't got that touch of inspiration people won't come again, very likely. So inspiration, this stage of inspiration, to be inspired, to be in a state of inspiration at least sometimes, is very, very necessary. So this is the second Dhyana state: to be uplifted by something beyond our ordinary, conscious experience.

And then, even higher, third Dhyana: what we've learned to call, what we've learned to think of as the stage of permeation. Here, the inspiration has completely taken you over; you are just the mouth-piece, as it were the servant, of the inspiration. The inspiration is you; you are the inspiration. You are the living embodiment of that. You are thoroughly permeated by it. And because you are permeated by it, as you look around it is as though the whole world is permeated by it, too. So you see that inspiration, you see that higher state, inside and also outside. You are in it; it is in you. So this is the stage of permeation. It is as though you are - what shall we say? - you are a hollow, balloon-like figure filled with water and also you are floating in water. If I say, ,floating', it means 'on', but you are in water, immersed in water; all that is separating the water inside from the water outside is that thin integument of rubber or whatever it is. So this is the stage of permeation, and the water corresponds to the previous higher state of inspiration. Now it is in you and you are in it. The stage of permeation.

And above and beyond even that: the stage of what we have learned to think of and speak of as radiation.

You are so positive now that you become radiant. You know when somebody smiles, it can radiate. So your whole personality can, as it were, smile; your whole personality can, as it were, radiate. And I noticed this once or twice recently, when we have had a speakers class up in Norwich once a week. Some of the speakers, new though they were, giving, perhaps in some cases, their first talk, did radiate; it was very noticeable; something did come forth from them. So just imagine this raised to a higher and higher level, a higher and higher power, that you radiate, as it were, from this higher state of consciousness, from this Dhyana state. You as it were diffuse your positivity throughout your environment. This is a very much higher stage still.

So this is the sort of way in which we have been trying to as it were 'naturalise' Buddhism; not to speak of the Dhyanas in a very abstract, analytical, psychological sort-of way, not even so much, perhaps, nowadays, in terms of poetic metaphor, but in this very plain, straightforward way. Speaking of these 3 higher stages of consciousness as the Stage of Integration, the Stage of Inspiration, the Stage of Permeation, and the Stage of Radiation. So this is the sort of way in which, over the last couple of years, perhaps, we've been talking about meditation in lectures and in the course of study retreats.

But tonight I am going to do something rather different. I'm going to take up the different methods of meditation current in the Order, current in the Movement, and see in what way they link up into a series.

In fact, into what I have called - perhaps a trifle ambitiously - a system. That is to say, an organic system, a living system, not a dead, mechanical system put together in an artificial manner. And if we can see this, if we can see how the different methods of meditation current in the Order, current in the Movement, link up into an organic, a living, system, this will help us in our individual practice of meditation and it will help us also as and when we teach meditation in a class under the auspices of a Centre, or just to a few friends gathered around.

I don't propose to take up absolutely all the methods of meditation that are current amongst us, but certainly all the more important and widespread and well-known ones. And in this way I hope to be able to give an outline of the system of meditation. The details you should be able to fill in for yourselves from your own experience.

So what are these more important and well-known methods of meditation? Well, in the first place, as you all know very well, the Mindfulness of Breathing, which we did this morning. And then there's the Metta- bhavana, the development of universal loving kindness. We are surely covering here very familiar ground indeed, but we can't cover it too often, perhaps. The Metta-bhavana we are going to do tomorrow morning.

Then there is the Just Sitting, about which one can't say anything more than that when one Just sits, one just sits! And again, there is the visualisation practice, the visualisation of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva together with the recitation of the mantra of that Buddha or Bodhisattva. Then, the Recollection of the Six Elements; the Recollection of the Nidana Chain. These are the methods with which we are really concerned.

All of you have practised some of them, and some of you might have practised all of them. But you might not be very clear as to how, if at all, they are related, how they link up, how they are inter-connected.

There is, of course, the arrangement of the five basic methods, about which I think some of you - those of you who were studying the text `Dhyana for Beginners' have been going into in the morning. Arranged in this way, each of the five basic methods of meditation is the antidote to a particular mental poison.

Meditation on Impurity, for instance; the so-called Corpse Meditation; is the antidote to greed, craving.

Metta bhavana, the development of universal loving kindness, is the antidote to hate.

Mindfulness, whether of the breathing process or of any other physical or mental function, is the antidote to doubt and distraction of mind.

Recollection of the Nidana Chain is the antidote to ignorance.

Recollection of the Six Elements is the antidote to conceit.

And if you get rid of these five poisons, these five mental poisons; if you get rid of greed or craving, if you got rid of hate, if you get rid of doubt, and distraction and ignorance and conceit, then you are well on your way indeed. In fact, you are quite close to Enlightenment.

So here, in this arrangement; that of the five basic methods, the arrangement, the relationship is, as it were, spatial. It is not progressive; you don't as it were, progress from one method to another. They are all, as it were, on the same level, arranged like a sort of pentad.

But what we need is a progressive arrangement; an arrangement that takes us forward step by step and stage by stage, and it's this that we are concerned with now. We are concerned with the methods of meditation as a definite progressive sequence, a cumulative sequence. So if we concern ourselves with them in this way, well, which of the methods of meditation comes first? Well, you have probably guessed already. First comes Mindfulness of Breathing - our old friend, Mindfulness of Breathing - which constituted, I am sure, for many of you your first introduction to 4 meditation. This is ...

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