Introduction to Meditation

Transcribed and edited from a teaching given by Ven. Geshe Doga at Tara Institute, Melbourne.

Happiness does not occur without a cause. Any joy we experience arises as a result of the meeting of many factors. It is worthwhile to investigate what these are and make an effort to create them in our own lives.
We often experience happiness and enjoyment without knowing its actual cause. Nevertheless, without the cause we could not experience the result. Of course, we are aware that good feelings arise from something because all of our actions, whether we take a rest or go for a walk, are undertaken with the hope of improving our situation in life.
From when we were very young until now we have undergone many hardships in the pursuit of some form of happiness. If we consider all the time and energy we have expended, by now we ought to be completely satisfied. However, despite our best efforts we have not achieved much in terms of happiness. The number of people who, through effort, have found complete satisfaction in life is very small indeed. For most of us even great endeavour has not brought the joy and contentment we seek.
The experience of satisfaction is all to do with the mind. Some people are always contented in life. Others, no matter how much comfort and enjoyment they have, never feel happy. The reason for these two different experiences is the way of thinking, the way the mind works.
There is no contentment if the mind desires more and more material objects. Material things do not bring lasting satisfaction in life. This does not mean that material objects have no value at all. They can be useful and they can improve the quality of our life but whether we become satisfied or contented with that happiness is totally dependent on our mind.
Through reasoning we can see that without imposing some control over our mind, it is impossible to find any peace let alone achieve ultimate happiness. When we lack control of the mind, many disturbing thoughts arise such as those which cause desire and anger. Because of these we feel uneasy and discontented. Even if all the physical conditions of life are excellent, we feel disturbed and unhappy when the mind is uncontrolled.
However, with discipline the mind becomes a servant which can help improve our life. This is only possible if we gain victory over the unruly mind. Otherwise the mind becomes our master who makes demands without mercy. In this way we can understand the benefits of undertaking meditation practice to discipline and subdue the unruly habits of the mind.
All religious practices place emphasis on disciplining the mind as the means of creating the cause of happiness. Observing the mind shows how it is the cause of either happiness or suffering. Particular mental states lead us to either harm or benefit others, which ultimately results in either a miserable or happy future for ourselves.
When we observe the mind we not only come to know the true nature of our own mind, but also to understand that of others. For instance, it is not uncommon that a normally calm person, under difficult circumstances can become very aggressive or depressed about something, and in desperation even commit suicide. Through the influence of a negative thought we act in a way that is very unlike us. If we are not careful about disciplining the mind, even a single unruly thought could destroy our life. However, if we are mindful and aware of the correct antidotes, when afflicted thoughts arise we can watch them, know that they are detrimental and make an effort to challenge and overcome them. This is true Dharma practice. By practising in this way we eventually overcome the afflicted mind which is the cause of all suffering.
The problems we confront in life all occur because of the uncontrolled mind. For example there are times when we leave for work in the morning in a good mood but return home feeling upset. We can be so distressed that we are unable to sleep and even if we manage to sleep when we wake up again we are still disturbed. Clearly our thoughts are troubling us. Total control of the mind is the solution to all our problems. If we generate thoughts which are destructive we will speak and act in ways which lead to unhappiness and unending misery. If we are more familiar with wholesome mental attitudes then likewise we will come to experience happiness.
The cause of happiness or unhappiness is not always concrete. It can be a mere thought. The best means to eliminate disturbing thoughts lies in the practice of meditation. Through meditation we can become familiar with resting the mind and freeing it from the influence of afflicted thoughts. The beauty of meditation is that eventually, no matter what object we focus on, there will be no arousal of hatred or any other disturbing thought. Meditation helps the mind dwell on an object very peacefully.
Meditation is a method to reach a state of mental stabilisation whereby the mind single-pointedly engages on one object and is free from disturbing influences. This is only possible if we become very familiar with the given object. In the Tibetan language meditation means "to become familiar with". Once we have become accustomed to the object we can effortlessly concentrate on it without any interference or interruption.
With deluded states of mind such as strong attachment no effort is required for the mind to remain focussed. But with a neutral or unfamiliar object it is very easy for the mind to get distracted. However, as Shantideva said, "There is no object with which we cannot become familiar if enough effort is made". In the light of this instruction, right from the beginning of our meditation training we need to make an effort to place our mind on wholesome objects. When we have the strength of mind to do this, unruly thoughts which bother us can be replaced by wholesome ones without any effort.
So we can see that meditation is a unique method to discipline the mind. We should not think that the mind is completely deluded and full of faults. Its flexible nature enables it to adapt to any situation or object. There is no fault which cannot be removed and no good quality which cannot be developed to an infinite degree. Making an effort to train the mind in this way is what is meant by spiritual practice.