Gautama did not envisage himself as establishing a religion. Buddhists have no belief in higher deities, but propose a path towards freedom from suffering, or individual enlightenment, through deep reflection on the nature of existence. This focus on self-redemption makes it qualitatively quite different from other belief systems which base themselves around concepts of divine mercy or grace.

Learning Articles
Buddhist Meditation
Buddhist Meditation
By Dhamma Master Ven. Punnaji

Buddhist meditation, as we teach it, is not a mystical practice; we are not teaching people to become mystics. This technique of meditation is for people who are living a secular life as householders, doing jobs, having responsibilities, and involved in various relationships. What such people need is freedom from stress, peace of mind, healthy relationships, self-confidence, success in life, and efficiency at work. This means, learning to gain control over the emotions that prevent one from thinking rationally or acting intelligently. These problematic emotional excitements come in the form of anger, lust, worries, fears, and anxieties. The form of Buddhist meditation we teach helps one free the mind of emotional disturbances and help one to think clearly and act rationally.

This technique of meditation does not involve chanting mantras, exercises in concentration, or entering trance states. It involves efforts to consciously purify and tranquilize the mind. When the mind is purified, one experiences an inner happiness, a physical comfort, a kindness and compassion, that one has never experienced before. The happiness that we refer to is not a state of emotional excitement. Nor is the kindness and compassion we teach based on an attachment. The happiness we speak of is a tranquil state of the mind, and the kindness is a state of selflessness. As we understand, emotional excitement is not true happiness, and attachment is not true love. Happiness and kindness are attributes of the tranquil mind. Therefore this method of meditation is aimed at cultivating a relaxed body, and a calm mind, resulting in the experience of happiness and kindness of heart.

You may have heard of the two terms -- samatha and vipassana. Samatha is the cultivation of tranquillity, and vipassana is what is normally translated as insight.
Most people when they speak of samatha meditation, they think it is practicing concentration, but true samatha is not concentration. Concentration only leads to the hypnotic state. Samatha is not the practice self-hypnosis. Properly understood, samatha is purifying and calming the mind.

The term vipassana is also commonly misunderstood because it is usually translated as insight. The term vipassana is commonly confused with the psychological meaning of the term insight. In psychology, insight is understood as a sudden understanding of the solution to a problem. In psychotherapy it is understood as bringing to consciousness the unconscious motive of a conscious action. Vipassana, on the other hand means, the direct analytical awareness of the totality of experience at a given moment. Experience is the subjective aspect of the reaction of an organism to environmental stimulation. This reaction can be broadly analyzed into the parts: sensory perception, thinking, feeling, and acting. Vipassana, therefore, is to see this experience in its parts, as an impersonal process of activity.

There is also a philosophical meaning of the term vipassana. Experience is normally seen as the interaction between a subject and an object. The Buddha taught that the existence of a subject and an object is only an experience. Therefore experience precedes existence. Experience is the basis of existence. Experience is the ground on which existence lies. Normally, we not only experience existence but we are also involved in it. We get involved by forming relationships between the subjects and the objects experienced. This involvement is a suffering. The way to end this suffering is to stop the involvement by stopping the relationships and focusing attention on the experience. This is NIRVANA the sumum bonum of Buddhism. Vipassana therefore is the cultivation of the awareness of experience instead of the awareness of existence. This definition of vipassana might be confusing at the beginning, but it will become clearer as one progress in meditation. The first step in meditation is to learn to purify the mind.

Very often people refer to meditation as sitting. It needs to be emphasized here that as we see it, meditation is not sitting. Meditation is a mental process, not a physical one. Of course when you see a statue of the Buddha you often see the statue in a sitting position, but that doesn't mean that you have to become like a statue. That is not the aim of Buddhism. We are not trying to become like statues. Meditation has to be seen in a different way. Meditation is a way of living. The main thing in Buddhist meditation is to practice what is called the Super-normal Eight-fold Way. You may have read about it in books as the Noble Eight-fold Path.

We find the former translation more meaningful. It is the term "ayria" which is usually translated as "noble." The Buddha used the term "ariya" to refer to a higher level of consciousness which could be developed through a proper practice. It is a level beyond the normal. It is more meaningful to translate it as "supernormal," rather than "noble." The aim of Buddhist meditation is to raise the human consciousness to a higher level of experience, beyond the normal. Just as the aim of modern psychotherapy is to raise an abnormal person to a normal level of living, the aim of the Buddha was to bring the normal person to a super normal level. It is very important to understand this distinction between "noble" and "supernormal." This is why we like to call Buddhist meditation a growth technique, rather than the practice of rules of conduct or the rituals of sitting or walking meditation. Therefore, the purpose of the practice of Buddhist meditation is to grow to a higher level of emotional maturity, beyond the normal, and to experience a degree of happiness and kindness beyond the normal. Buddhist meditation is a method of gaining emotional maturity through purification of the mind.

This process is of growth takes place according to natural law and following a human technique. It doesn't happen automatically or through supernatural power. We are not depending on any external aid, not even a teacher or guru. This practice is based on self-reliance. We must to do it by ourselves. This is a do it yourself technique. In a sense, it is the development of will power, to control one’s irrational emotions.

Will power is not a special kind of mysterious power. It is a natural human potentiality we are born with, but one that has to be developed. Biologically speaking, the human being is a higher animal who has a more evolved brain, specially the fore brain called the cerebrum. The difference between the human being and all the other animals is that all other animals are passively reacting to their environment. The human being has the capacity to delay the reaction to get sufficient time to think and decide which response to make in a given situation and respond rationally instead of emotionally. It is this power to choose the response that is called will power.

If we look upon ourselves as organisms born with senses: the eyes, the ears, nose, tongue, and the body. These senses, when stimulated, a reaction occurs in the organism as a whole. For example, when light falls on the eye, seeing occurs. It is not only seeing, but once an object is seen, it is interpreted. This interpretation is followed by an emotional reaction to what is seen, in the form of a desire, hatred, or fear. This emotional reaction is but an emotional excitement accompanied by tension in the body. This tension is experienced as discomfort and it seeks release in action. The action is to obtain what is desired, to get rid of what is hated, or to run away from what is feared. That is the completion of the reaction, which has three stages: the cognitive, affective and active. The cognitive is just the seeing and the thinking part. The affective is the emotional excitement, or the feeling part. The release of tension in action is the active or behavioral part. Normally, all animals below the human level are passively reacting to their environment in this way, where as the human being has the capacity to delay this reaction and decide which response to make in a given situation, by thinking rationally, and the human being is able to make this response by acting rationally.

This ability to decide the response and act rationally is what is called "will power." The freedom to choose our actions rationally, and to behave as we want is what is called "free will." Do we really have this ability to make a choice and to act rationally? Unfortunately, this ability to choose and act rationally is not a capacity that is fully developed in the normal human being. This is why we do so many stupid things for which we repent later. Often we want to do something in the right way, but we find ourselves doing just the opposite. That is because this capacity has not been fully developed. Buddhist meditation, when properly done, is the way to develop this capacity.
That is what you will be learning to do during our retreats. It is learning how to act rationally instead of impulsively. You will be provided with the tools to work on yourself. Working on your self is your job, not mine. My job is just to give you the tools. I hope you will be able to work on yourself to grow, evolve and transform. The degree of transformation and quality of life experience is the sign of progress. What we hope for is growth and transformation not mere insight. That is why I do not like to call this method of meditation insight meditation. We also do not expect visions or hallucinations of any kind. If you only find that you have more will power after you have gone through a retreat, then you have achieved something.

The important thing is to understand that this technique of meditation as a method of transforming oneself from a self-centered personality state into a selfless one, by following the Supernormal Eight-fold Way. That means there are eight steps to be followed. They are as follows:

Harmonious Perspective
Harmonious goal visualization
Harmonious speech
Harmonious action
Harmonious life style
Harmonious practice
Harmonious attentiveness
Harmonious equilibrium

The first step is to acquire the harmonious perspective. The harmonious perspective is the perspective that brings about harmony internally and externally. This a perspective, not mere a right view or right understanding. This is a different way of looking at life, yourself, the world, and your relationship to the world. It is seeing things in a different way, which does not create conflict internally or externally.

First is to understand that our emotions come in conflict with the reality of instability, pain, and impersonality. Our emotions seek pleasure and avoid pain. This means, they are seeking permanent pleasure. This is not possible because pleasure is impermanent and pain cannot be avoided altogether. Emotions are also possessive and self-centered. We do not really possess anything in the world because all relationships are impermanent. Our self-centeredness is futile because we can never really preserve a permanent identity or self, because we change constantly, both physically and mentally and we cannot avoid death. This pursuit of eternal pleasure and self preservation is maintained through blind emotions and not through clear reason. Therefore it is important to understand that emotions are coming in conflict with reality, and therefore we should not to be carried away by emotions but by reason.

It is also importet that [...?...]. That is, because he thinks that social position is greater than wealth. Another person might think no, popularity is better than riches or even social position so that person might sacrifice wealth, sacrifice high social position to get to become popular to get a good name. Another person might think what is the use of popularity, what is the use of social recognition, what is the use of wealth; what I need is sensual pleasure and keep on enjoying sensual pleasure, that is the greatest thing. So different people have different ideas of what is good or great or superior. And according to each person's feeling of superiority each person will feel inferior. If a person thinks that wealth is the superior thing the moment that he or she meets a wealthy person and in comparison you don't have that much you begin to feel inferior. Or if a person thinks that high social position is superior that person will feel inferior in the presence of any person who is superior in social position. Or if a person thinks that popularity is the greatest thing; that person begins to feel inferior when that person meets a person who is very popular, more popular than himself or herself. Or if a person thinks that enjoying sensual pleasure is the greatest thing again; that person will feel inferior in the presence of some one that is enjoying more sensual pleasures. So this is how people feel inferior or superior. Now this sense of values was shown by the Buddha as something that only brings unhappiness, disappointment. frustration, sorrow, pain, anxieties, worries . . . other than that it is not bad . . . . So the Buddha pointed out that happiness is to be sought not outside in these things wealth, status, popularity or sensual pleasures but it has to be inside, within, and that is simply tranquility of mind, inner peace, calm. If you can see that inner calm is the greatest thing in the world then we will be feeling inferior only when we meet a calm person. And if we are really convinced that calmness is the greatest thing, we don't need tranquilizers because tranquilizers are needed only when you are not convinced that calmness is the greatest thing. You think maybe becoming rich is greater but still I need calm in order to reach that so I will take a tranquilizer. So it is our sense of values that makes us calm or not calm. You have heard this word Nirvana or Nibbana which is regarded as the greatest good of the Buddhist. Some think that Nirvana is some kind of heaven but that is not what Nirvana is. Nirvana simply means calmess, tranquility. Vana means shaking; nir is the negative prefix like non so nirvana is something like non-shaking which means the mind that is unshaken. The tranquility of mind which can never be disturbed. That is what Nirvana is. So if we think that Nirvana is the greatest thing in the world then we become Buddhist as a result. But we don't think that Nirvana is the greatest thing and that calmness is not the greatest thing in the world then we will not be trying to achieve that. So our goal in life changes when our perspective changes. When our perspective changes our sense of values change and when our sense of values change our goal in life changes. When our goal in life changes our thoughts, speech, actions will fall in line with this goal. You don't have to push yourself to meditate. Meditation will automatically happen to you because that is where you are trying to go. Your life is going in that direction see you don't have to make any effort you don't have to make any resolution you don't need to have will power to meditate. You don't have to force yourself to meditate. You don't have to say, I don't have any time; I have to make time. You don't have to say any of those. You will automatically have time because that is what you want to do. If you really want to do something you will have time. You don't have time only when you are not really interested in doing it.