by Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
Before you meditate it is necessary to know how to meditate and to have the correct motivation and the correct position. You must not have too many expectations.
One should begin meditation with the pure motivation of the Bodhisattva. You wish to practice for the benefit of yourself and all sentient beings. In order to help other sentient beings you must first have realizations; you must have compassion, wisdom and power. You should decide for the sake of all sentient beings that you want to become an enlightened Buddha, and for this reason you are going to meditate.
Before you meditate it is necessary to know the seven positions of Vairochana. These are as follows:
1) One should sit on a comfortable cushion with the back slightly higher that than the front.
2) One should sit with the legs folded in the full lotus position if possible or the half lotus position or just cross your legs. This is called sitting in the meditation position. This way of sitting is ancient and is a position used to develop meditation. It is good for meditation because you can not topple over as you can when sitting on a chair or couch. The spine should be straight. When your back is straight your breathing and your circulation will be smooth and even. Do not sit leaning forward, as it is incorrect.
3) The hands should be in your lap with the left hand cupping your right hand the thumbs touching each other at the level of your navel. The hands describe a circle. The touching thumbs symbolize the union of wisdom and method and thus form the mudra for sunyata or emptiness. In the Tantric practice joining the thumbs at the level of the navel helps to generate heat which arises from the navel sunyata
4) Holding the arms close to the body can result in their getting warm, especially in summer and can lead to dull or sleepy mind. Therefore, your arms should be held out to the side.
5) The head should be bent slightly forward.
6) The eyes can be kept open or closed. If your mind becomes dull or sleepy you should open your eyes and look around or look at a window or wherever there is bright light. Then when you are no longer sleepy you should half-close your eyes. Closing your eyes completely may result in your becoming sleepy again.
7) The lips and jaw should be held in their natural position and the tongue should gently touch the gum behind the upper front teeth. This helps keep the mouth moist while preventing excessive saliva production during long periods of meditation.
Sitting Meditation Instruction
Now it is time to meditate. According to tradition you should first clean up your room, make offerings, such as flowers, candles, incense or water filled offering bowls on your alter and then do a minimum of three prostrations to your Gurus, to Buddha, to the Dharma and the Sangha before you actually sit and meditate.
To meditate one must have a clear mind without either doubts or expectations regarding your meditation. You should then regard your breath. Observe with your mind the breath coming in and the breath going out. This is called "following the breath" and is the first stage of mindfulness of breathing.
While following the breath one should stop excessive thinking about where the breath is going to or coming from. Just follow the breath. The manner of your breathing is dependant on your mind and on your mood. If your mood changes to one of anger, or if you become agitated then your breathing becomes short and rapid. If your mood is good, if you are at peace inside then your breathing pattern is slow and even. This is the first stage of mindfulness of breathing.
The second stage is to watch your breath. This means that you concentrate on a point of contact between your breath and your nostrils. The most appropriate point is inside your nostrils. Try to develop a sensitivity for the point of contact. Watching the contact of your breath with your nostrils is many times more difficult than following the breath coming in and going out. The mind can easily wander from the contact point.
If your mind wanders from its object you should breath more heavily while concentrating on the breath as it touches the nostrils or tip of the nose. Continue to watch this point until your mind stops wandering. Then just focus on the contact between the breath and nostrils.
If your mind becomes dull and you feel sleepy then you should look at a bright window or wherever is light or just look around you. Another method is to gently rub the muscles of the sides and back of your neck. This will help you to wake up. If you are sleepy take a break or do walking meditation for five to ten minutes. Walking meditation is very helpful if you are doing a long sitting meditation.
Walking Meditation Instruction
The method of walking meditation is as follows: First you should stand. Just stand and observe with your mind and your breath. Then begin to focus your mind on the soles of your feet. Think that you wish to walk, then lift up your right foot. Move it slowly and let is slowly touch the ground in front of you. As you lift up your foot be aware of the sensation of movement of the foot, particularly of the sole of the foot as it moves and touches the ground. Then lift up your left foot, move it and touch the ground ahead of your. Then again with your right foot - lift up, move, and touch - slowly and gently. Not too slowly and of course not too quickly. Walk straight to the end of the room, or wherever your are walking then turn around slowly and come back.
You can walk around your room or in your hose, wherever you choose to practice walking meditation. It is better not to wear shoes during walking meditation, unless you are doing it outside.
After walking meditation you should sit down and continue to meditate. If your mind wanders or too many thoughts arise you should try to follow your breath. You can also count your breath as it comes in and goes out of the nostrils. Count each breath in from one up to ten and then again count from ten down to one. Repeat this counting five to seven times. Now stop counting the breath and watch it. See if your mind still wanders or not. If your mind no longer wanders keep concentrating on the point of contact of the breath with your nostrils.
If your mind continues to wander after counting your breath, if doubts, fears or delusions arise such that you feel that you cannot meditate or concentrate then you should stop sitting. If your mind constantly wanders while you are sitting it is not one pointedness meditation. Instead study and read Dharma books, especially Lam Rim books on impermanence, death, dying and the value of a precious human rebirth. This will help stop a wandering mind. You should also read biographies and accounts of great yogis, meditators, Bodhisattvas, and Lamas such as Milarepa.
It is very important to have complete and proper instructions before one starts any type of meditation. A lack of such instruction is regarded to be one of the hindrances of meditation . Without instruction from qualified and experienced teachers it is difficult to progress in ones own meditation. It is like being a blind man walking though the city streets without a guide. Such people do not know where they are going. They can spend hours walking in the wrong direction or even in a circle, ending in the same place from which they started. Such persons cannot find their way. Meditation without proper instruction has also been compared to a one-armed man trying to climb a mountain.
For this reason Lama Tsong Khapa said that every practitioner must study the three pitika's - the Sutrapitika, the Abidharmapitika, and the Vinayapitika - in order to practice Bodhicitta [method], Sunyata [wisdom], and Vinaya [discipline].
When you practice Dharma it is very important to meditate in the right environment. There are many conditions necessary for samadhi [one pointed concentration], and also for meditation in general. In the Sutras it says that you should choose the best place to meditate. If you can find a calm quiet place in a forest, stay there and meditate. If that is not possible stay at home and select a comparatively calm and quiet room or corner and be satisfied with it. If you cannot find a quiet room or corner you should practice or sit wherever you stay. Maybe your room or place is not always noisy or busy and at certain times it is quieter or more peaceful than at others. So whenever there is comparative calm and quiet try to arrange your schedule to meditate at that time. If that is not possible you should sit and meditate in your room regardless of how busy or noisy it is.
It is very important for you to learn how to meditate and practice in all environments. If you feel that you will not meditate until you have a lot of time and find a calm and peaceful place you may never find either the time or the place to meditate. This means that you may never meditate or practice. So it is very necessary to decide to meditate wherever you are and to learn how to meditate in all places.
I think that the problem of finding the right place can be solved by being indifferent. Do not think "this place is terrible, I cannot meditate". Do not complain that a calm or quiet place is not available. If on the other hand you can find a place to suit your needs, in a jungle or cave or somewhere else, that is good. A good place, however, does not guarantee good meditation. Sometimes you may find, as it says in Sutras, a "perfect place"; that is not too hot or too cold, a place with no distractions and where there are all the necessities, even a good spiritual companion such as your teacher living at the same place. In spite of this though you may not have a good meditation due to your own mind. Due to desire, ignorance and discontent your mind keeps wandering or becomes muddy so that your meditation cannot be very good.
Generally it is good to meditate in the morning. In the morning the mind is fresher and there are fewer distracting thoughts. Meditation at the beginning of the day helps to generate energy and inner peace so that your day will be peaceful and productive. After you awaken; wash or bathe and the perhaps have a cup of tea, prepare your room and altar as mentioned earlier, make your prostrations and then meditate. For some individuals the evening is a better time to meditate if they are not too tired or full from a large dinner. It depends on the person and their lifestyle. In general it is not good to meditate right after you eat. Of course you could try and watch your own mind after you eat to see if you can meditate or not. That itself can be meditation.
There are numerous benefits that mindfulness of breathing meditation can have. The ultimate benefit is enlightenment and perfect samadhi. There are also many temporary benefits. You will have proper breathing patterns, better health and you will begin to be more mindful, have more energy and inner peace.