How and why to start meditation – The Mule

In my work as a meditation instructor, facilitator at Buddhism Gelug Peru and translator in Kagyu Tardgay Chöling Peru, I had the need to explain to people with diverse interests and approaches of what it is about buddhism and meditation and how it can benefit them.

I recently received a message from a person whom I admire for his work, that he told me that he was interested in meditation, but did not want to have anything to do with themes of “new age”, I was pretty skeptical, who likes the ways of reason and that he does not like the spiritual options that you “take I to any kind of transcendence”. Immediately I identified with his words, though I don’t know if I was successful, is the brief space of dialogue in a chat, and to pass on what I intend to imply in this text.

On another occasion, I received a question from one of the assistants to the group Gelug (tradition of the Dalai Lama). She had participated in a couple of sessions and wanted to know if it was appropriate to continue to attend, she being catholic.

I will try to show, as briefly as possible, what it is about buddhism and meditation in general and the Mahayana – Vajrayana of tibetan buddhism, which I practice and I know, in particular taking into account these two individuals as representatives of different types of engines.

What is buddhism and how it can help different people?

When asked by Buddha Sakyamuni (the founder of this tradition), what he taught, he answered that he taught suffering and the cessation of suffering, nothing more.

All the practices, tips and tenets of buddhism have as their purpose the overcoming of suffering. The term Dukkha, translated as suffering, actually expressed much more: from pure pain and hard physical or emotional, through the dissatisfaction and existential angst, to the suffering potential of losing what is precious and of the impermanence of situations happy.

How is that “buddhists” gain the knowledge to overcome the suffering? The tibetan term to refer to the practitioners of Dharma is Nangpa, which can be translated as “one who looks inward”, is someone who seeks the truth not in the external phenomena, but on the nature of your own mind. All the body of knowledge of this tradition, which includes meditation practices, psychology, medicine, and in some cases rituals, rests on the premise that you can know the truth (in relation to suffering and its cessation) inward-looking, and you can determine the veracity of an idea or effectiveness of a practice through direct experience and subjective.

Two thousand five hundred years ago, Siddhartha Gautama, was proposed to abandon his position as heir to the throne of a kingdom in India to find the final solution to the suffering. Having followed the teachings of various masters over the years, came to the conclusion that these were not sufficient. It was then that he decided to abandon the extremes of asceticism and indulgence, and sat down to practice introspection under the tree of Boddhi until you reach the compression or die in the attempt.

It was as well as attained the state of Buddha, that is to say, someone who has overcome the illusion and see the true nature of your mind and the phenomena in it are manifested and overcome by the suffering, extinguishing their cause. On this state you can say a lot more and at the same time any expression that one uses to describe it is always imperfect, because it goes beyond the concepts. What can be said is that the state of Buddha is not exclusive of Siddhartha, it is the basic nature of the mind devoid of the veils of speech and the instincts and that it is accessible to all sentient beings. However, the practice of meditation does not require that we accept the idea of Buddhahood, it can be left as a hypothesis to verify by yourself as you develop your own vision.

Since then, the teachers and yogis Nangpa have continued practicing and checking techniques that let the Buddha Sakyamuni and perfecting the ways of explaining them to diverse cultures over the years in one (or more) unbroken chains of teachers and disciples. These strings are referred to as lineages.

One of the things that initially puzzled the disciples of Buddha Sakyamuni was that it taught something in a village and in the next something different that seemed to contradict the above. The reason he gave for this was that he couldn’t teach the naked truth using concepts, could only point to different ways that each person should experiment and validate it for yourself. Given the difference of characters, it was necessary to prescribe different remedies. That is the reason why today, despite the existence of a large diversity of lineages, there is a discussion between them to establish one as valid and others as invalid. One can go through various traditions to find the one that will serve his particular character and situation in life.

This same can be applied to the practices and ideas proposed by a lineage for those who are not considered buddhists. There will be those who, like me, wish to know first-hand the full path in a tradition, engage with all its forms and methods and to develop complete trust in a teacher. But it is also perfectly valid to go to “the buddhists” to know their practices and practice those that we believe to be reasonable and to serve our purpose. In buddhism, you are not asked anyone to accept anything because you have told the teacher or the Buddha himself, the Dharma, in this case the teaching and the instructions, are like gold. When someone gives us a piece of gold, it will bite it, melt it and subject it to all kinds of tests to be certain that it is the precious metal.

What can you learn and take advantage of our friends from the paths of reason and of the catholic faith or any other? In my opinion one of the more valuable things that this tradition have to offer to those who approach her in search for happiness and personal development is meditation, Shinay or Shamatha.

The technique is so simple that it can be summed up in two lines. I will not do it here, because it is necessary to receive it directly, and to establish a link with a teacher, or at least someone who has the support of a teacher to interpret the experience of the meditator and know how to advise, what to fix and how to continue the practice.

The purpose of this technique is to calm the disturbing emotions, reducing their power to manipulate our actions, thoughts and moods. It trains the mind to develop the habit of always being aware, without any effort, of mental processes and the chains of internal events that lead us to unpleasant situations or detrimental to happiness.

As a complement to this technique, and if the meditator is willing, there is a form of meditation called Tonglen (taking and giving). It trains the mind to lose the fear that I was damaged, and exercise altruism. Carried out fully, the motivation of our actions is tipped completely to achieve the happiness and welfare of others, and overcomes the tendency to treat ourselves to ourselves. Of course, one can get as far as you want.

One of the features of buddhism is that it observes that the intellectual acceptance of ideas, whether they are the product of conclusions, own or adopted of the teachings, it is not enough to transform our habits. It is there where meditation and ritual come to carve. In buddhism there is no worship and no rituals in all traditions. However, in the Vajrayana tradition the ritual and even devotion can be used as a means to transform the mental habits, always using your own discernment. Of course, participation in a group (at least that I know of) does not require that all participate in rituals that do not understand or who do not share, the accompaniment in silence is perfectly acceptable.

Finally, and for those who have been trained in Shinay, is available the meditation Lhagtong: Inner Vision Higher. This practice invites us to look without concepts, the nature of our own mind and the mode of existence of the phenomena that we experience internally and externally. Once more, the meditator defines up to where he wants to go. However, if one has reached this point means that it has been found that the foregoing by buddhism on the structure of reality is at least acceptable.

Is there any proof or evidence is not subjective in the effectiveness of these techniques?

As we said before, in the buddhist tradition, the way to generate and validate the knowledge is introspective. The way to check if what it says the master is true, is to practice the method and observe the effects for yourself.

Fortunately, today, neuroscience provides us with an additional perspective. For western science, it is necessary to be able to measure and observe the phenomena and their causes to obtain a valid knowledge from its criteria of objectivity.

Since for buddhism the search for truth is more important than to cling to their tenets, the Dalai Lama and other great teachers held regular meetings with western scientists to study meditation and its effects from multiple perspectives.

Western science has begun to establish relationships between brain activity observable using sophisticated equipment, the report that the study subjects made about their experience and their behaviour, and the effects that different types of meditation have on the above.

An example of the result of these inquiries, is stated by Dr. Helen Weng of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. You can see his presentation in the following link:

What happens if one does not agree with some of the philosophical approaches of buddhism?

Nothing happens. Although different types of meditation are designed to achieve a state of profound and complete understanding of reality that frees us from suffering, that is to say the lighting (by the way, a company of very long-term); its side effects are also very desirable for those who simply want to improve your experience on the circumstances of your life.

Have been documented, under the paradigms of western science, various benefits of meditation, Shinay, and even more when it is combined with Tonglen (training in compassion). Improves the ability of concentration and attention, decreases anxiety, stress, fear, and anger. It greatly increases the ability to observe, understand, and modify mental processes .

To cultivate a mentality altruistic not only improves the climate of coexistence, but one learns to transform situations that before would cause anger and suffering, and opportunities to practice patience. This will discover a completely new way and constructive in interacting with others .

What deals there are in our midst to learn how to meditate?

I can identify at least three kinds of “offers”. In the first place, are the schools that have adapted to the west the practice of meditation. Usually these do not declare their affiliation and debt to the buddhist tradition. They can be beneficial, but some have been modified to be a product that can be sold easily and they promise well-being without effort. This promise is not only false, but that increases the desire selfish and therefore suffering. Of course, there are also offers of this type are serious and aim to help people who practice them sincerely, and do so with success all over the world.

The second type of offer is the teaching of meditation on the part of qualified teachers who have received and practiced the techniques of a true lineage, but who choose to teach to an audience that does not necessarily have an interest in being a buddhist. These can be very beneficial depending on the right motivation, an altruistic teacher and your honesty with regards to their own ability. Personally I consider it very valuable the work of these teachers, because they approach the personal benefit and social of these practices to people of other traditions that do not access easily to participate in a traditional group. Sometimes these same teachers have several groups, some traditional and others heterodox.

The third type of offer is the traditional. Groups that are declared heirs of an authentic lineage, that have a master or teacher who has the guide of your tradition and where it is practiced more or less as it has been doing throughout the centuries. Usually in these groups may also participate in a “non-buddhist” and take advantage of the richness of this tradition, not sign or accept it completely.

It is important to note that, for the buddhists, the proselytizing is not something desirable. It is best that an atheist or a christian you hold in your teaching and enriched it in their own terms with the tools that buddhism offers, before he leaves his community and tradition.

As the teachers say: “The banquet of Dharma is served, depends on you what and how to take advantage”.

How to start and to practice meditation?

At this point it will be clear that the path of each is unique. However, in general lines, I can recommend the following from my experience.

In the first place, it is important to know meditation centers of various schools and if possible, have contact with Teachers. In this stage, one should assess whether the teacher or the group deserves our trust. Traditionally, attempts to identify some indicators that allow us to trust in a teacher. Among them: who is disciplined, serene, that you have calmed your emotions, that is motivated exclusively by the love and compassion and have an understanding of reality superior to that of their students. In addition, I have found that the centers have reliable do not promote criticism of other lineages and provide literature and make reference to teachers from various schools, in addition to having good relations with other centres.

Once we have defined a teacher or center that deserves our trust, at least initially, it is advisable to concentrate and not to seek to practice instructions different. As we said before, the methods can vary and lead to confusion, although the place where they are going to be the same.

Usually all the centers offer instruction in Shamatha or Shinay meditation basic to abide in calm. Receive and practice this meditation as an experiment. Practice it in the center and ask all the questions necessary to be clear about the method and take time to practice it one or two times a day at home. Return to the center each time to share the experience with the teacher or instructor so that it can correct or recommend changes in the technique according to the characteristics of each one.

Whether one chooses to be called buddhist or not, the support of a community is of great help for the progress in the practice of meditation, which is why it is recommended to attend regularly.

Dedication and final words

The purpose of this text is to make available those who read a scenario that allows you to get in touch with the practice and knowledge that will help you in your pursuit of happiness, and strengthen your altruistic attitude.

I dedicate any positive consequence of this effort to the happiness of all who suffer. If there is some truth to this, or beneficial in these words, I owe it to the kindness and wisdom of my teachers. Any error or inaccuracy is due to my poor understanding and I assume full responsibility.

It may all be happy and free from suffering!


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