Why We Need to Meditate
November 1997
Venerable Dhammasami

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This evening I would like to reflect upon the subject felt by many people but not usually taken seriously i.e.
Why We Need To Meditate

Last month in one of my meditation sessions at our Vihara during question-and-answer-time one lady told me that while meditating that evening she was thinking why on earth she was meditating there? what is the purpose of it? what good can it offer me? She was describing to me what was going on in her mind during meditation.

I believe she meant what she said. She was tempted to meditate without being convinced why she has to do so. She wasn't the only person not to under stand. Her husband told me the same thing that evening. I am surprised to see both husband and wife together with their daughter feel the need for meditation but do not really have any idea what meditation would mean for them.

Actually, this is a common problem we often come across. I remember some years ago asking my mother to meditate. She did not want to say, "No" to me but far from being convinced by my suggestion, she actually found it unattractive. Later she spoke to my sister about it. She said, "My girl, your brother seems to see me as a short tempered woman; that is why he is asking me to meditate''

But now I am glad that after a few attempts she has come to enjoy it although she hasn't taken it up as a way of life as my father did. It is quite funny to think about it. Meditation was not attractive to her at all until my father died about twelve years ago.

Many have heard about meditation but are not sure what meditation would mean and how practical it could be. A few months ago while I was on a flight back to London a lady passenger who was on the same flight explained me how she meditates. She said she sat quietly, closed her eyes and tried to think of only good things in her life. And that is meditation.

So before I touch upon my chosen topic let me say a few words as to what meditation is.

Generally in Buddhism meditation means developing the ability of your mind Bhavana the original Pali word used for meditation in Buddhism, really means this. Another word for meditation in early Buddhist scripture is Jhana, Dyana in Sanskrit, Cha'n in Chinese and Zen in Japanese

The mind has an immense capacity to think, to learn and to know. Leave it undeveloped and it can also make you unhappy and your life a misery. That is the negative ability of the mind. We discover during the course of meditation progress that we really knew very little about ourselves especially when it comes to how our mind works. The mind is the most valuable asset we possess as human beings. Neglecting its welfare is to neglect all the potentials in our life.

There are many types of meditation in Buddhism itself. Each requires an instructor to practice. It is not recommended to try it on your own even with help of the best text.

As far as Buddhism is concerned meditation does not involve imagination or any kind of superstitious object. It is not based on superstitious belief. It focuses on the object easiest and best known to each and every one of us like focusing on breathing in and out.

This evening I shall confine myself to Vipassana (Insight Meditation). This type of meditation emphasizes solely on how our mind functions and seeks to develop its ability.

The ultimate aim of the practice is to understand life as it is using the developed mind to reflect.

Meditation has three steps; first we learn how our mind works, how different objects are trying to win the attention of the mind and dominate it. In this primary stage we discover that our mind has many objects like thinking, wandering, worry, fear, agitation, anxiety and aversion etc. The way they come to our mind is surprising. We do not mean to think but thoughts just come to our mind and waste our time, for instance, about something we have done today or what we will have to do tomorrow. We waste a lot of our mental energy by unintentionally getting lost in such thought. These negative thoughts are like pollution. A plant can not grow healthy under polluted environment. Mind cannot grow to its full capacity under these polluted thoughts.

To our surprise we discover how such thoughts are succeeding one another endlessly. Imagine if a negative fear happens to be present in our mind endlessly the whole set up of mind can be dominated by fear and as a consequence we can experience a pessimistic attitude and low self-esteem.

Having learned how our mind works we start to tackle the problem by stopping ourselves being led away by those involuntary thoughts. In this way we save our mental energy. How do we save our mental energy?

To give an example to something incomparable, mind is to me like a natural lake with pure water and aquatic creatures and lotus flowers in it, and with a green environment around it. People living nearby find the lake very much a part of their life as they depend on it in many ways. When we are purposelessly lost in thought, it is like water from the lake is leaking. When I say leaking it means the water is going out unnecessarily and obviously without your knowledge. While the water continues to leak this way, the lake is bound to go dry. Many aquatic creatures will suffer. Lotus flowers will suffer. The environment around the lake will suffer.

The problem with most of us is that when it comes to our mind we take everything too much for granted. We assume we know almost everything about our life. Like fish who take water for granted and never learn about it although water is very much part and parcel of their life. The reality comes only when something starts going seriously wrong.

Someone whose mental energy leaks and leaks away is seeing himself becoming weak in thinking, learning and understanding. Sometimes we complain, 'I can not catch what the lecturer said, my mind was not composed". That is leaking. Not only can it make you weak but it also can easily make frustrated. Mind is polluted with so many unwanted thoughts. This can affect those around you.

So in the first phase one makes an effort to learn how the mind works, how it can be polluted and after all, how it can be purified. One does not try to control it in this stage but rather try to follow it by watching its function closely so that one understands it adequately. He just tries to know the mind and its function as it is.

In the second stage one sees one's mind becomes contemplative. One is mostly aware that one's mind is functioning. The mind will not necessarily engage in unintended thoughts and waste time. We say in this stage mine becomes stronger since one is able to save his mental power. He focuses on increasing mental energy by trying to build-up a developed concentration.

As the last task one can now start to free the mind from any kind of disturbing thoughts that can pollute it. This is the stage where we can use our mind to its full capacity to get rid off all unwholesome thoughts that ever seek to pollute it. Peace in our mind will last undisturbed only when the mind can no longer be polluted.

We everydays interact with the world in six ways: through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking. Actually, we live our life in these six worlds. I can not think of any other world other than these six. The first five are physical and the sixth is mental. Something that perceived in one of the first five could leave an impact on the sixth. If it continues to do so throughout our mind is bound to get polluted.

The aim of meditation is to learn about these worlds through our experience, to prevent any possible pollution coming through them, to prevent any mental energy leak through them, to increase mental energy through them and make the most use of them. First save it and increase its function positively. This is the very reason why we need to meditate. May you be happy!


Q: Why do you say our mind can be worn out? How?

A: If you reflect on yourself, you can see that sometime you do not intend to think, but thoughts just come and stay in your mind. They waste and waste your times — 30 minutes, one hour or more. At the end, you push a very deep breath out. You feel exhausted because your mental energy has been leaking. Leaking means something goes waste without your knowledge. In this way, if the kind of thought is serious like loss of property, life, divorce, fearful thought etc., one can be worn out very easily.

Q: Sir, can you explain about reflection, contemplation and concentration?

A: Reflection means you go through again something you already know. The word Re means to repeat again. Say, to reflect on the Buddha, I have to have known something about Him. The same is true in any issues. Contemplation, if used as technical term in Vipassana Meditation, means focusing the mind on more than one object. You start focusing on breathing or abdominal movement but when your mind goes out to classroom, you then focus on classroom. Classroom becomes another object. If pain comes up in your leg, you notice it. Pain is another object. In this way, you have more than one object to focus upon. It is called in Pali Sati (mindfulness). When you are able to keep your mind on one point (object) and you do so. This is concentration, which is in Pali Samadhi. The word 'Samadhi' has its synonym as one-pointedness (Ekaggata).

Q: Do you go back to the past to look at feelings such as fear and worry, etc.?

A: We do not go back We do not deliberately look for an object. We take any object that comes into our mind at that particular moment — maybe something we felt in the past or maybe an imagination about future. If you look for an object, you may end up creating the one you want. It then becomes artificial object. Vipassana is concerned only with an actual object that exists in reality in one of the six worlds — seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching and thinking . Object occurs at the present moment It is very much learning how to live at the present.

Q: When you walk on the street if your mind is analyzing a piece of philosophy, is it meditation?

A: Basically that kind of analysis is not Vipassana meditation. It is one of the functions of mind and should be mindfully watched. Analysis that comes when faculties are developed and balanced is, of course, closely associated with Vipassana.

Q: Venerable Sir, is there any possibility of full meditation life while working?

A: Yes, there is, if trained properly. It may take at least six to eight months. First you meditate for ten minutes and do it every other day. Do it regularly for a month. If you have never failed, you may increase the time with out increasing the date. Later you increase both the duration and the date. All these have to be done under a close guidance. It is normally expected that by the end of six or eight months you may come to have meditation included in your daily routine, and that will be one hour everyday.

If you do not build up systematically like this, it is difficult to adapt meditation as a way of life. You may meditate more than one hour when you are inclined to do so, and you do not when you do not feel like doing so. This shows that you have to develop determination and patience systematically.

Q: Are Arahat and Bodhisatta the same? Do they achieve the same?

A: They are not. An Arahat is an enlightened being who has liberated himself with the help of someone else. His meditation has reached final stage as far as arahathood is concerned. His mind is no longer pulluted nor can it be disturbed. He will not be reborn. He lives the last life.

A Bodhisatta is not yet enlightened. He still has some defilement though much less then an ordinary person. He is regarded for his compassion. I think that concerning compassion he may be even greater than some Arahats. Nevertheless, he still has many rebirths. He has the potential to get angry, be fearful, or do a mistake unlike Arahat who has eradicated all these. A Bodhisatta may be a married person but an Arahant cannot be. However, as a Bodhisatta his concern is down to earth

Q: Bhante, can you recommend about Samatha meditation?Would you say they, Samatha and Vipassana, can be practiced together?

A: There is hardly a clear-cut line between Samatha and Vipassana in practice, Of course, we can see the difference between them but that is more or less confined to academic explanation as far as Buddhism is concerned. There are many types of Samatha meditation, which seeks to develop concentration (Samadhi). In Burma many Vipassana meditation techniques employ at least one Samatha method to help build concentration. If any of the 40 types of Samatha meditation is used to develop Samadhi with out directing toward understanding of the (meditation) object in terms of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and soullessness, it remains purely Samatha

The advantage is that when concentration has been highly developed, one can easily investigate the nature of the (meditation) object and therefore understand its true nature — impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-soulness. Vipassana emphasizes in understanding the world (meditation object) in this way.

Other types of Samatha meditations like meditation on death, loving- kindness etc., are widely practiced along Vipassana. It helps develop and maintain each other.

Q: When you are criticized what you should do?

A: There are two steps to be taken. First, you should develop a realistic attitude towards criticism and your reaction to criticism.

Instead of viewing criticism as something terrible, you should look at it in a wider perspective that no one in the world is exempted from criticism — not even the Buddha and Jesus. It means criticism forms a part of human life — whether we like it or not. Therefore, you should see it as part of your life instead of trying deliberately to reject it. Then you should reflect upon your reaction — say, in a disappointed or angry manner. Before you are disappointed, you have already been suffered from (sometime unfair) criticism. If you become disappointed or angry, in addition to suffering from criticism, you suffer twice. Look at that in this way. On the other hand, try to see the danger of disappointment and angry. Physically and mentally, it harms you more than the other party. The Buddha said anger could never be justified due to this reason. Now you have had a realistic attitude towards criticism and your own reaction. But remember that you do not succeed at once in developing it. Nevertheless, you still have to go on trying if you love yourself.

Second step is to deal with criticism in meditative way. Say when you see somebody criticizing you; you should be mindful of the criticism being put forward. If your mind reacts, then notice that as well. This is how you should detect criticism and your reactions in a very early stage before it grows stronger. This can really help you.