Meditation. Meditation is this great phenomenon that has blown up in popularity, scholarship, and practice in the past several decades. You can go into any book store and find dozens of books on meditation or mindfulness. It is often overwhelming in trying to find the “perfect” book on meditation and mindfulness. In reality, there is no perfect book, because a perfect “way” of meditating doesn’t exist. Most world religions and spiritual paths have some form of meditation, whether it’s sitting in silence somewhere holy, praying, reading, or any other activity that calls for your attention to something specific. In Buddhism, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of methods and techniques for meditation. The most common and traditional forms are called Samatha and Vipassana. Samatha, concentration or calming meditation, is the type of meditation where we focus on just one thing during our entire meditation session, most often the breath. Vispassana, contemplation or insight meditation, is the method of self-evaluation and observing our moment-to-moment activities. Regardless of how you meditate or what you meditate on, nothing is going to be the most perfect or the one-true way, because we all learn, observe, react, and practice differently. Your motivations for meditating may be different than mine, so one method might work better for your goals, but an entirely different method may be the preferred for me.
This book intends to do two things: first, to help anyone, regardless of experience or practice, to learn alternate ways of calming their mind for meditation and everyday life; and two, provide simple and relatable aspirations to reflect on with topics on compassion, generosity, mindfulness, death, forgiveness, and more.
Part 1 gives a brief overview on meditation and how to practice it. It will go over the basics, like posture, location, and training. It will also discuss a few methods of meditation to help concentrate and calm our mind to prepare it to contemplate whichever statement you’ve chosen in Part 2.
Part 2 provides over 60 gathas, poem-like statements, on topics like loving-kindness, impermanence, life, and more. These gathas are meant to be a type of mantra or object of meditation you use while in a meditation session or doing any other activity. They are meant to help you contemplate your chosen gatha and how it affects your life or how you can apply it in your life. Everyone should be able to relate to the majority of these gathas and aspirations as they discuss everyday topics and situations.
It can be helpful that if any of these gathas resonate with you that you should write them down somewhere or on a sticky note and place it somewhere that you will always see. Meditation, like playing a musical instrument, is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. Unlike playing a musical instrument, however, meditation cannot be a hobby. If you truly wish to practice true meditation and be able to benefit from its fruit, then meditation must be practiced with discipline and diligence. It won’t be easy, but if you meditate correctly, regularly, and sincerely, you will see many benefits and changes in yourself and the world around you.
Don’t think meditation is just about sitting cross-legged, hands on knees, and chanting om om om. Meditation is the medicine to the poisons and defilements of our mind. Through proper meditation we will see many noticeable differences in our own life. You become calmer, more at ease, not overthinking, have better sleep and concentration, and a desire to do more. Meditation helps us open our eyes and mind to the true reality of things, most importantly, our own true nature. Most people meditate to ease stress, anxiety, depression, etc., but true meditation goes beyond trying to eliminate things.
Meditation helps us recognize and become aware of our mind and its inner workings. More importantly, we will (hopefully) discover some hidden aspects of ourselves that we might not be aware of, or if we are aware of, we often ignore. Things like ignorance, bias, discrimination, intolerance, etc., are things no one wants to admit they have, but they are unfortunately seeds that are growing within us that are sometimes watered and flourish and can manifest into major character flaws. No one wants to admit that they are biased or racist, whether they believe they are or not. Our minds are groomed according to our upbringing, location, environment, society, and other circumstances. So even if we can admit that we might sometimes be biased or discriminate, it will take months or years of meditation practice to reprogram our mind to become more open and understanding. This is where mindfulness and meditation practices come in and can change that for us. Practices like Metta Meditation (meditation on loving-kindness) can help us focus our meditation session on developing love and compassion toward different types of people in our lives and the relationships we have with them, whether we know them or not. By developing these powerful characteristics of love and compassion for all, it will help us eliminate judgement and bias toward people that we might have previously looked down on or disliked. Even if a simple thought like, “This homeless man is outside my work everyday begging for money. If he would spend that much time looking for a job, he wouldn’t have to beg,” can turn into a deeply rooted mindset that all homeless people are undeserving of compassion and generosity. We have a habit of creating false mental stories for people without even knowing them or knowing their actual life situations. We see seemingly young and healthy people parked in a handicap parking spot and we assume they are faking it, abusing the system, or cheating. We might witness a family in a grocery store buying a cart full of groceries using food stamps and think they are lazy, unwilling to get a job, and abusing the system. Regardless of whatever it is, we make up stories in our heads to make ourselves feel better or bring down others. Whether our assumptions are true or false, these are still negative thoughts, that if constantly created, will manifest negative thinking habits that will cloud our outlook on life and on others.
It is my hope that the aspirations and reflections in Part 2 of this book can help you discover, develop, and embody positive and helpful characteristics for the benefit of all beings. Even though some of the gathas in Part 2 might seem simple and short, can have a big impact in the way we recognize and respond to certain situations in our life. Some of the statements aren’t meant to give you mind-blowing realizations, but simply to help you reflect on some topics that are often difficult for many people to think about like pain, death, and impermanence. Other gathas act as reminders to be open to the difficulties and challenges of life, to be mindful of the beauty that exists among the chaos of the world, and to be a beacon of love, hope, and compassion.
Many of these gathas were inspired by Buddhist poems, ancient philosophers, modern thinkers, and situations of our everyday life. Whether you write some of them down, memorize your favorite ones, or skim through the gathas, use them as opportunities to get to know your mind, your thinking, and your reactions to the topic or issue of the gatha.
You will not suffer for your anger; you will suffer by your anger.
Don’t let happiness depend on external things, but on your own mind.
The happiness of others is my own happiness. When others smile, I smile.