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A rather vague word in English, meditation is used in the context of Buddhist teachings to indicate the controlling and directing of one's mind inward in the quest for enlightenment. Many different kinds of meditational methods have been taught by the Buddhas and Patriarchs, and meditational practices are found in almost all Buddhist schools. Although meditation can be done while walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, usually emphasis is placed on sitting meditation. The Chan School (Zen School) is most well-known for its single-minded emphasis on direct meditational inquiry. Preliminary meditational practices are usually concerned with the calming and purification of mind and body. Formal stages of meditation prior to enlightenment are discussed in the entries Four Dhyanas and Four Formless Realms.

Three Prerequisites for Sitting in Meditation

I. Patience

“What must you be patient with? You must learn to bear the pain in your back and the pain in your legs. When you first begin to sit in Chan meditation, you will experience pain in your back and legs because you are unaccustomed to sitting that way. In the beginning this pain may be hard to bear, so you will have to be patient.

II. No Greed

“Those who cultivate Chan inquiry should not hope for enlightenment. If you think about how you want to become enlightened, then even if you were meant to get enlightened, that single thought will cover over your enlightenment and prevent it from happening.

“Further, you should not, because of greed, seek speed in your practice. You cannot expect to sit today and get enlightened tomorrow. So many of today's young people are turned upside down, and although they want to do Chan inquiry and study the Buddhadharma, they take drugs, which they say is a way of bringing them enlightenment fast. That is a grave mistake. Not only will such people not get enlightened, the more they study in this way, the more crazy and depraved they become. . . .

“Therefore, I want to stress this: don't try to get off cheap. Don't try to do it fast. Don't think that without putting out any effort you can cash in on welfare. There is nothing of value obtained without doing some work for it.

III. Perseverance

“You must be constant in your practice of Chan. The best way is to sit in full-lotus. This posture is achieved by placing your left ankle onto your right thigh, and then lifting your right ankle onto your left thigh. This posture can quiet your mind. It is your foundation for sitting in Chan. You should train yourself to sit that way. Some of you protest, 'My legs are stiff and I can't sit that way.' Well, then try sitting in 'half-lotus', which is when your left ankle is on your right thigh. 'But I can't even do that,' some may say. Well, then you'll have to sit in a cross-legged position–in whatever way is possible for you. But you should be working to get into half-lotus and eventually into full-lotus. Full-lotus is the foundation for sitting in meditation. Since it is fundamental, you should work to master it. If you try to build a house on bare ground, the first big rain that comes along will wash it away. The first big wind will blow it down. The same is true for meditation without a foundation. Full lotus is the foundation of Buddhahood. If you want to become a Buddha, first master full-lotus.

“Once your legs are in full-lotus, you should hold your body erect. Sit up straight and do not lean forward or backward. Keep your spine absolutely straight. Curl your tongue back against the roof of your mouth. If you secrete saliva, , you can swallow it. Also people who cultivate Chan should not smoke cigarettes or take drugs; they make your saliva bitter. . . .

“Your eyes are not necessarily open and not necessarily closed. If you leave your eyes open while meditating, it is very easy to have false thinking about what you see. If you completely close your eyes while sitting, it is very easy to fall asleep. And so keeping your eyes half open and half closed is a good way to counteract both problems. . . .

“As to your mind–don't think of anything. Don't have any polluted thoughts. Don't think about what state you are experiencing or hope to experience, and don't think about how you want to get enlightened. The affairs of this world are not that simple. A thief who steals others' money ends up with wealth that is not his own. If you work and earn money, then the wealth you accumulate is your own. The same principle applies to meditation. Don't be greedy for speed, hoping to become enlightened fast. Don't be greedy to get a bargain. If in your cultivation you are greedy for small benefits, then you will never get the big ones.” (LY II 90-93)

“Meditation, like all cultivation, must be practiced daily without interruption.”

“When you sit in Chan (meditation) , you should not be greedy for the flavor of Chan. . . . What is the flavor of Chan? It refers to the bliss of the dhyanas (see Four Dhyanas). When you have been sitting just about long enough, you start to experience a feeling of comfort and freedom. When that happens, you may feel kind of indolent–like you don't want to move; you want to just sit there. You become greedy for that feeling of comfort and ease. That's the flavor of Chan. If you become greedy for a state, it is not easy for you to go on and make progress, because you will want to linger there and will get attached to that flavor of Chan. You will keep trying to get back into that state. You will think, 'When am I going to have that kind of state again? In that state there was no self, no others, no living beings, and no lifespan; no afflictions–no hassles. It was very blissful, very, very comfortable and free. I wonder when I will ever have that experience again.' And you will just sit there waiting for that flavorful experience to recur. And what happens while you wait? You forget all about applying effort–you are no longer able to do the work.

“But people who sit in meditation and want to make progress need to be free of any obstructions and be without any hangups. They can't be seeking anything or be greedy for anything. You can't get excessively happy, or depressed, and you shouldn't have any fear or terror. You should see your body as being the same as empty space and the Dharma Realm. You don't need to be attached to anything. You don't need to be greedily seeking for anything. Because as soon as you become greedy and seek, you fall into a secondary meaning…” (TT 104)

Source: Ron Epstein, Buddhism A to Z, 2003: pp. 139-141)

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1) Chinese Mandarin: dzwo chan , chan , 2) Sanskrit: dhyana, bhavana, 3) Pali: bhavana.

See also: passive choiceless awareness and relaxed focused awareness. See also Chan, Dhyana, Vipassana, Shamatha, calm abiding, Samadhi, Four Dhyanas, Dzogchen, Mahamudra and Chan or Zen, Chan School, Four Dhyanas, Four Formless Realms, Six Paramitasdhyana samadhi, cultivation

Buddhist Text Translation Society ( References: PDS, May, 1985, p. 2 “The Chan Practice…”, TT 104ff; LYII 74ff; VBS #205ff “Chan Talks” series.

See also:

meditation.txt · Last modified: 2018/02/26 18:12 (external edit)