Meditation according to a simple Gelugpa nun

- through Francois Leclercq

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Meditation, or how to trade old and bad habits for new good habits.

According to the terms once chosen in Tibetan by the great translators, to meditate is to accustom the mind. To what? To look at the object appropriately.

Meditation, which largely predates Buddhism, comes in many ways. Today, in the West, it is secularizing at high speed in hospitals, schools and businesses. Why not ? After all, she is a tool. Not a goal in itself. If it can prove to be useful and beneficial to new categories of users, we can only rejoice, but here too, we should be right! For millennia, exercise has been reputed to be effective, which means that it gives results and therefore implies that care must be taken to establish the appropriate causes to obtain the desired result. And not its opposite.

In addition to wasting time, embarking on the adventure of meditation blindly risks causing regrettable effects, ranging from a simple stupidity to furious madness.

In other words, meditation is good. Provided you know how to go about it. And therefore to learn from a qualified instructor. In addition to wasting time, embarking on the adventure blindly risks causing regrettable effects, more or less marked, ranging from simple stupidity to furious madness.

By referring to the sutras, that is to say the speeches of the Buddha, as well as to treatises such as those of the pandit Kamalashila (713-763), Jé Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), the founder of the school Tibetan gelugpa (1), explains that meditation comes in two forms: concentration and analytical meditation. Both are necessary, their different effects on the mind. Concentration improves one's stability and blossoms into mental calm (Samatha), while analytical meditation reinforces its clarity and acuity, hence the deep view, or if you prefer, the penetrating vision (vipassana).

Are you angry? Meditate on love towards all other beings

Je Tsongkhapa invites his disciples to combine the two, alternating analytical meditation and concentration. This is one of the specificities of his teaching. The object chosen must be an interior object, that is to say mental, and in no case an exterior object. For example, if we decide to focus the meditation on Buddha Shakyamuni, first of all, we must certainly look carefully at a representation – drawing or statue, it doesn't matter. We then move on to meditation, first analytical: we make the effort to remember the object we have just looked at so as to bring out a correct mental representation of it, without making the wrong color, posture, etc It's easier said than done. Therefore, in the beginning, he does not make himself too demanding. Once you have come to visualize the silhouette of the Buddha, it is time to move on to concentrating on this mental image. Soon parasitic ideas arise, and as soon as we notice them, we resume an analytical meditation, and so on.

For a Buddhist, training in meditation by choosing the Buddha as an object allows you to kill two birds with one stone, and even more, because it enriches other practices, starting with taking refuge, and prepares for meditations. more advanced, including tantric. Nevertheless, beginners are advised to meditate beforehand on the objects that can weaken their main flaw.

Are you angry? So meditate on love towards all other beings.

Does attachment bind you? Try to take a closer look at the disadvantages of objects of attachment, such as their impermanent nature: what's the point of clinging to a fleeting illusion?

Is ignorance veiling your gaze too much? Reflecting on the twelve links in the chain of cause and effect, from ignorance to birth and death in samsara, will dispel, or at least lessen the darkness.

Does pride make you full of yourself? Take a look at the (many!) classifications of phenomena. Nothing better to bring down the superb.

Are you a sweet dreamer, prone to an overflowing imagination? Use the easiest method, which is suitable for everyone, and focus on your breath, mentally following the double inspiration/expiration movement. Here too, it is doubly beneficial, because it prepares the ground for all kinds of very high meditations including “taking and giving”: breathing in, taking on the suffering of others, then breathing out offering to others all that we would have good and good.

Regardless of the position, meditate, that is the essential!

If you are able, the ideal is to sit with your legs crossed, both feet on opposite thighs. Failing that, the half-lotus position can do the trick. Failing that… Any position, as long as it is comfortable enough so that the pain does not monopolize the mind, without being released.

The main thing is to find the posture that suits us. A sutra relates that a disciple of the Buddha once devoted himself zealously to meditation, scrupulously following the instructions of the Guide. The ace ! No matter how much he meditated and meditated, he saw no realization dawning in his mind. Annoyed, he went to the Master and told him of his dismay. The Buddha suggested that he resume his meditations, no longer sitting cross-legged, but on all fours. Very astonished, but full of faith, the monk did so, and immediately the realizations appeared in him, one after the other! The Buddha, in his omniscience, had seen that in his previous life this venerable was a cow, and that he had retained some physiological traits! (Yes, the notion of passing from one life to another is accepted in most Indian, Hindu and Buddhist spiritualities. Hence the importance of freeing oneself from the cycle conditioned by ignorance.)

In short, posture is important, but it is not everything. The meditating aspirant has every interest in learning about the pitfalls of the journey and the remedies to overcome them. He will have to resort to eight attentions to overcome five main obstacles. The first pitfall, but not the least, laziness, requires nothing less than four of the eight antidotes: faith, aspiration, manageability (flexibility), and enthusiasm. Memory, alertness, tension and equanimity then counter forgetfulness of the object, softness and dispersion, relaxation and tension respectively.

According to the texts, if the practitioner prepares well and meets the favorable conditions enumerated by the Indian master Asanga who, in the sutralamkara, indicates where, how and with whom to meditate, he should be able to achieve mental calm fairly quickly, even within three months (Samatha). Putting some effort into achieving mental calm is worthwhile, as it is accompanied by feelings of comfort and happiness never experienced before. Any stiffness duly dissipated, body and mind have become supple and manageable, allowing concentration to remain for hours, days or even months. Suffice to say that it is very useful to progress quickly on the spiritual path. Alas! Left to itself, mental calm is an “ordinary” quality subject to regression. The only way to make it unalterable is to link it to a sincere aspiration for the liberation of samsara or, better, the Awakening of Buddha. But these aspirations can only be inspired by a complete disgust with the samsara. This springs from the awareness of the nature of suffering in this imperfect world, where only the wise are no longer subject to dissatisfaction and the unbridled quest for ever more.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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