There are many instructions on meditation and meditation instruction books, good meditation teachers and various experienced meditators, there is also room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding of meditation such as, some people think that meditation is something we must do sitting on a cushion. In recent years various magazines published lists of meditation groups. They don’t even call themselves meditation groups; they call themselves sitting groups, assuming that meditation is something we must do only sitting on a cushion. That’s not a complete presentation of the total practice of meditation.
Sitting is a very small fraction of our life. If you read the Mahāsatipatthāna Sutta which is the manual of vipassanā and samatha meditation, at the very outset of the discourse the Buddha has mentioned the way how we should meditate. For instance, Kaye kayānupassi viharati, Viharati in Pāli means lives. Seeing the body as it is, one lives. When we say live, we don’t mean sitting. Live involves a lot of activities, sitting, standing, walking, lying down, eating, drinking, wearing clothes, using rest rooms, talking, etc. This shows that the practice of meditation involves all these activities in our life. Disregarding this very important instruction, most people ask perhaps at the end of our meditation sessions how can we incorporate this meditation experience into our daily life. Say for instance, they spent about a week or ten days on a retreat. At the end of the retreat they want to know how they can bring this experience to their daily life. So right there, you can see this misconception, the assumption that the meditation is limited to sitting, doing something sitting on a cushion, as if there is nothing else to do with meditation when they go out of meditation retreats. And this is why no matter how long one sits on a cushion, when they get off the cushion, go out into the world, try to live their regular lives, they will not be any different from any other person.
Their emotions, temperaments, their reactions to all kinds of psychic irritants are still there. Not one iota of them is reduced. Why? They think they are not meditating, they think that they cannot meditate, they have to do meditation in a certain, selected place. Of course, a place we select to do intensive practice is important as well. Occasionally, or daily, we have to set aside a period of time to do intensive practice. This is what calls our homework. When you do your homework, you have to present your homework in the class. If you do your homework and don’t show anything in the class, your homework is not going to be accepted by your teacher, nor does it help you do anything in the class. Sitting on a cushion and practicing meditation is exactly like that. That is our homework. We must bring this homework to the fieldwork.
The field is our daily life and daily activities. While talking, we must use our meditation experience. The Buddha said ‘manasikāra sambhavā sabbe dhammā’ , all the states of mind are present in us only when we pay attention. When we do not pay attention, we really do not know what is going on. Just imagine the amount of things going on in our mind and body at any given point in time and space. All living beings have basic attention, even animals have basic attention. We all know that predators can catch their prey when they pay attention. For instance, a cat has to watch the movement of a mouse, paying total attention to the movement of a mouse so that the cat can catch the mouse at the right moment. That is not the kind of attention we must train ourselves to develop. We must develop a special attention which is called mindful attention. What is mindful attention? Mindful attention is the attention without preconceived notions, presuppositions. When washing dishes, cutting vegetables, you have to pay attention. Who does not do that? If you don’t pay attention when you cut an onion, you may lose some of your fingers. But that is not the kind of attention we are talking about. Our attention has to be much deeper, more profound and pure attention. It is not paying attention to what is going on outside between the knife and the vegetable or onion, but attention to what is going on in our mind and body. While cutting onions, cutting vegetables, something can go on in our mind and that is where we have to pay attention.
If we very carefully study the teachings of the Buddha, not only the particular part on the subject of meditation, read any particular aspect of the Buddha’s teaching, this is the theme that you come across repeatedly. That is a way to train the mind. The meditation itself is called bhāvanā, which means cultivating, developing and training the mind in a certain way, in a very special way. During Buddha vandanā , we recite a part called ehi passiko, What does Ehi passiko mean? Ehi passiko means come and see. This is an invitation comes from the Dhamma, to go to the Dhamma and see the Dhamma. Where is this Dhamma, what is this Dhamma? For instance Dhamma is dukkha , suffering. Where is it? Is it hanging from a tree somewhere, in a library or in a temple, where is it? It is within us. Buddha said, Just like a tortoise brings all its limbs inside, when a fox approaches a tortoise, the tortoise is moving with all his limbs out; head, four legs and tail are out when he moves. When a fox approaches, he withdraws all of them in and keeps them in a secure place under his shell. Similarly we have to restrain all our senses, bring them all in and use our mind to see what is going on in our mind and body.
So in the practice of meditation this is what we should do, we must look at ourselves first. All our attention must be paid to what is happening in our mind and body, because all our suffering, cause of suffering, end of suffering, and the path leading to the end of suffering stem from the mind and body. Paying total, undivided, pure attention to what is going within our mind and body is called mindfulness.
TheBuddha said, Samāhitan cittan yathā bhūtan pajānāti, the concentrated mind can see things exactly as they are. Only when we see things exactly as they are can we be liberated from all kinds of psychic irritants and make ourselves totally free from this repetition of birth and death in samsāra. This is the thrust, the goal, and the aim of our meditation. So we can begin all of this with pure attention. With mindful attention we can accomplish purity of mind; we can accomplish success in associating with people, living in daily life in a more successful way.
May all beings be well & happy and attain the fruit of Nibbana.