How to Practice Meditation?
Steve Jobs once said that it was meditation that increased his intelligence and in turn awakened his creativity and innovation. Also many people have achieved different levels of enlightenment through meditation. In this lecture, Khenpo Sodargye will guide you through the whole process of how to meditate. To maintain a posture like that of the Buddha, what practical benefits can it bring to us?
“When we observe the nature of the mind, a conceptual thought that arises is usually like a rising wave, which even though it seems to be a separate object, is made from the same water that is within the ocean.”
Resolving Daily Life’s Problems with Dharma Practice
A Few Words of Feelings for Being Here
I’m very pleased to have been invited to Georgetown University to talk about Buddhism with the professors and students who have gathered here today. The reason is that I’ve been interested in science since childhood, and since all of you are pursuing higher education, I’m sure that through discussion, you’ll become more interested in Buddhism.
Despite the age gap that exists between us, we have a similar interest in today’s discussion. Of all the many different kinds of settings and the many different groups of people that I have encountered, it is my preference to be among open-minded people in an atmosphere of higher learning.
To begin with, regardless of whatever practice we are engaging in, Buddhism teaches that we should hold to the knowledge that human life is very precious. To attain a human body is extremely difficult because it requires many causes and conditions to come together in a particular way; this is especially true of obtaining a human body with all of one’s faculties intact.
It is even more difficult to truly embrace the Dharma. Although you may be eager to follow Dharma practice, genuine practice is not that simple. There are many things by which the youth of today, can become easily distracted, and so, not many have the capacity to truly delve into the Dharma teachings. Personally speaking, I would say that, whether or not you take refuge in Buddhism, it is important to take an interest in basic Buddhism and to actively learn as much as you can. Why? Because Buddhism can help us solve life’s most basic problems. While scientific and other research can also provide us with spiritual or physical help, personally I feel they are not as efficient as Buddhism. If we actively practice Buddhism, we can actually deal with many of life’s issues much more easily.
For instance, when we get sick, we won’t suffer that much if we have Dharma practice. The same is true for death: when that moment comes, people normally experience tremendous fear; however, much of this end-of-life fear can be dispelled through Dharma practice. Also our lives have so many problems, such as family conflicts and the suffering due to not getting what we want. Fortunately for Buddhists, all of these kinds of problems can be more easily handled through Dharma practice.
I often think about how much gratitude I owe to my parents and teachers. My parents gave me a healthy body, and my teachers taught me knowledge of the world. Nevertheless, I owe even more to the gurus who offered me the Dharma teachings. Once again, to prioritize to whom I owe the most in my life, I would say everyone else is second to my guru. He is the one that has made the most impact in my life, because I feel nothing in my life is comparable to the Dharma, in terms of its value.
I have traveled all over the world, have been exposed to many luxuries and riches, and have received the respect of many people, but I don’t see that as being of much essence or value. What, then, is the most essential thing to me? I truly believe, whether for this life or the afterlife, that the genuine Dharma is the only thing that makes my life meaningful. Therefore, I hold incredible gratitude and respect for my guru.
Speaking of my personal experience, my father has passed away, and my mother is still alive. I did feel sad for my father’s death but never shed tears or felt sorrow. However, since the time my root guru, His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche, entered parinirvana ten years ago, even today I can’t stop recalling him, and I may even cry over my loss when I’m alone.
Similarly, when I came to the U.S. for the first time, Trungpa Rinpoche had already entered parinirvana. His students could not keep from weeping whenever they heard his name. Most of his American disciples have this kind of devotion to him, and their devotion is very consistent and sincere. This is primarily due to the power of the Dharma as well as the benevolence of their guru.
In our secular lives, we have had so many teachers during the study of our Bachelor, Master and Doctoral degrees, yet it’s unusual for us to burst into tears whenever we think of their names. The power of the Dharma and the blessings of gurus are very hard to be expressed in common words; they, therefore, seem unbelievable to those who rarely practice or do not accept Buddhism. However, when the Dharma merges with one’s mind, one accepts this naturally.
I believe that in the future, everyone here will be grateful for what your teachers taught you, whether it is Dharma or secular knowledge. You are quite young now, but in time, you will understand that without the blessings of teachers we can hardly achieve anything in our life. I believe you will develop such a conviction in the future.
In our secular lives we have had so many teachers during the study of our Bachelor, Master and Doctoral degrees, yet it’s unusual for us to burst into tears whenever we think of their names. The power of the Dharma and the blessings of gurus are very hard to be expressed in common words; they therefore seem unbelievable to those who rarely practice or do not accept Buddhism. However, when the Dharma merges with one’s mind, one accepts this naturally.
Intelligence and Faith Are Both Indispensable
There are two aspects of Dharma study: the research related aspect and the practice related aspect. The first aspect involves logical or rational study, as well as the study of history and historical literature. Those that do research of this kind based on conceptual thinking we call historians. The other aspect does not allow for much conceptual thinking, but focuses almost entirely on practice. Continuous practice is the main thing. For both aspects, we need a certain level of intelligence. Otherwise we will not even able to understand the historical aspect. So first we need intelligence. If we begin practice but lack the requisite intelligence, we’ll soon be misled by incorrect perspectives and deviate from the correct path to enlightenment. So, I cannot stress enough how important it is.
In addition, faith is also necessary. Lack of faith prevents us from embracing the Dharma. For instance, some scientists or non-practitioners do not believe in the power of meditation or the blessings brought by the chanting of mantras. They neither believe in nor admit the existence of blessings. Actually, all of us need faith in all aspects of life. Without faith, we can never succeed. So we can see that combined with that understanding, we also need intelligence. Both intelligence and faith are indispensable.
Many universities are currently researching Buddhism. However, without any real form of active practice, their pursuit of purely academic research won’t help them to solve any real problems. On the other hand, for Dharma practitioners, a lack of intelligence won’t allow them to succeed either. So, once again, both intelligence and faith are indispensable.
Of the many methods of practice, meditation is probably the most essential. There are various meditation techniques; among them, mindfulness meditation is very important. This means to cultivate stillness of the mind so that it is not disturbed by conceptual thoughts.
What is the benefit of suppressing conceptual thoughts? Almost everyone has various thoughts about their lives and their future. We feel desire when seeing a pleasing person or object, or develop anger when being offended by a person or object, or experience jealousy, arrogance and many other emotions. All of these can harm us both physically and mentally. If we are able to put aside all thoughts and rest our minds within a realm of pure emptiness, we can experience the delight of being blissful and peaceful. This kind of meditation can benefit us in many ways.
Many people have achieved different levels of enlightenment through meditation. What practical benefits can meditation bring? It can increase your intelligence and give you a more calm and focused state of mind. For any work you are engaged in or any career you choose, it can help you to achieve greater and more efficient access to success.
Take for example the founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. According to his biography, he attributed his innovative ability to his meditation practice. When he was a young man, he went to India to learn the Dharma. Probably most of you are familiar with his story. In his biography, he said that it was meditation that increased his intelligence and in turn awakened his creativity and innovation, which allowed him to offer so many work opportunities and change so many people’s lives. So it can be said that the root of his innovation is related to the power of his meditation practice. So meditation can play an important role in our lives.
Suppose you are not happy today; just observe your mind. What’s its color? Is it white or red? Does it have a shape? Is it square or circular? Is it in the upper part or in the lower part of the body? Is it inside the head or somewhere else? When you look into your mind, you will notice the so-called mind is like space that exists nowhere. If you can’t find the mind, then there’s no basis for your suffering. This is a superior method.
The Method of Meditation
When we meditate, we should maintain a posture like that of the Buddha: this is called the Seven-point posture of Vairochana. What is its specific benefit? When studying pyramids built thousands of years ago, scientists recognized that the shape of the pyramids shares a similar form to the Vairochana posture, which is a kind of triangle. It was found that flowers and grass left in a pyramid without water or sunlight for long periods of time will not wither and die. Scientists acknowledge that this is likely due to the pyramid’s unique shape, although they cannot explain it further. The same relates to the relative shape of our body. The Vairochana posture facilitates our attainment of peace and happiness and holds incredible power to dispel emotional afflictions; this has also been acknowledged by many scholars.
So if you can practice every morning or evening at work or at home, and dedicate 5, 10, 20 minutes or even 1 hour to meditation a day, it will greatly benefit both your body and your mind. When we first start meditating, it is not easy to maintain the Vairochana posture or abide in the non-conceptual mind. It may even seem that there is a lot of resistance. First, the body is not used to it; second, the mind is easily distracted, this is something that seems uncontrollable. Yet it’s normal to have difficulties at the beginning. Gradually, meditation will bring you bliss and comfort that non-meditators cannot imagine.
There are various ways to meditate, and today I’d like to focus on Vairochana’s seven-point posture. Please first sit and cross your legs in the vajra posture, fold your hands in the meditation mudra, keeping your shoulders open and back, your chin tilted slightly forward, while fixing your gaze right at the tip of the nose, and letting your tongue gently touch your palate. If you can sit in this way and meditate, as I just mentioned, this special pyramid posture will bring you tranquility and peace. Let’s just imagine if you lean to one side or if you’re walking around randomly, it would be difficult to feel inner peace. A good meditational posture is a big help to your mind. This can be confirmed by your own practice. This was also taught by Buddha.
Other than this posture, there are many other forms but most of them may not be as efficient in helping us to achieve tranquility. The Vairochana posture has great merits and virtues. Among the many meditational methods we are aware of, either originating from Hindu or other traditions, this method is considered to be the most superior. Therefore it’s advisable that we meditate in this manner.
Now please put your left hand underneath your right hand and sit up straight.
There are seven points to consider:
The 1st point is to sit in the lotus position: it’s better to sit in a full lotus posture, but this is okay.
The 2nd point is to put your hands flat.
The 3rd point is to straighten your spine.
The 4th point is to naturally relax your shoulders.
The 5th point is to slightly tilt your chin, not too far forward or backward.
The 6th point is to rest your eyes by gazing at the tip of your nose.
The 7th point is to let your tongue touch your top palate.
You should try your best to achieve these seven points. It is not advisable to open your eyes too widely or close your eyes completely. You should keep your eyes open naturally and focus your gaze at the tip of your nose. This is how our bodies should be positioned. Now let’s try to keep this posture.
Another way is to rest your hands on your knees, but other than that, everything else is the same. This is called the “Posture of the Resting Mind at Ease in its Natural State.” Now let’s keep our hands flat and not think about anything. Just meditate and observe the nature of your mind. Let’s give it a try.
There are different ways to observe your mind. You can start with thinking nothing. When a thought arises, just let it go—don’t get caught up in it—and just return to the open, sky-like mind. This is a way to suspend your active mind and keep it still.
Another way is to watch your mind. For instance, when you’re suffering, just observe what the nature of the suffering is. In this way, you will begin to watch your own mind. Suppose you are not happy today; just observe your mind. What’s its color? Is it white or red? Does it have a shape? Is it square or circular? Is it in the upper part or in the lower part of the body? Is it inside the head or somewhere else? When you look into your mind, you will notice the so-called mind is like space that exists nowhere. If you can’t find the mind, then there’s no basis for your suffering. This is a superior method.
When we have suffering in our life, we feel it strongly. However, if we examine it closely, there is no inherently-real, solidly-existing entity. Since the mind doesn’t exist as a solid entity, the suffering arising from the mind doesn’t exist either. In fact, no scientist has ever been able to find an entity called the mind. According to Buddhist teaching, everything is emptiness. Emptiness is not just a concept. The nature of all phenomena does not truly exist.
While it is difficult for us to suspend all thoughts, it is not difficult for experienced practitioners. If you are not able to do this, then just sit straight and recite a mantra. This also can help us to achieve inner peace. For example, Manjushri is the embodiment of wisdom and his mantra is Om Ah Ra Pa Tsa Na Dhih. Avalokiteshvara is the embodiment of compassion, and his mantra is Om Mani Padme Hung. You can recite these mantras, which naturally relieve suffering in your heart. In Tibet, there are many people who have recited Mani mantras hundreds of millions of times. Many people in the Han regions, including many scholars from various universities, often recite the Mani mantra, the Vajrasattva mantra and others.
Reciting mantras truly has blessing power; it is just like the potency of medicine, which is intimately understood by doctors but not by the average layperson. There are many Buddhist texts explaining the power of mantra and the relative merits of reciting them. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to quote them. Like taking medicine, it can heal your sickness. Reciting mantras can ease your suffering. I suggest we do some Mani mantras together later. It is good if you can concentrate on reciting, but even if you can’t, there are still many benefits.
It’s better to have a formal transmission before reciting. I will give you the transmission first. Then we can recite the mantra together.
First is the mantra of Guru Padmasambhava: Om Ah Hung Benza Guru Pema Siddhi Hung.
Next is the mantra of Shakyamuni Buddha: Om Muni Muni Maha Muniye Svaha.
Next is the Manjushri’s mantra for increasing wisdom: Om Ah Ra Pa Tsa Na Dhih.
Next is the mantra of Vajrasattva for purifying obscurations: Om Benza Satto Hung.
Next is the mantra of Avalokiteshvara for increasing good fortune and merit for this and the next life: Om Mani Padme Hung, or Om Mani Padme Hung Hrih. You can recite in these two ways.
Okay, let’s do some Mani mantras together. Later you can keep reciting mantras whenever you have the time. You’ll find it will bring success in your ventures, help ease your mind and heal your sicknesses. Just as doctors accept that dietary supplements can benefit the physical body, secret mantras also have their universal benefits and power. Practicing the mantras, and furthermore, engaging in virtuous activities can bring you inner peace and true happiness.
Now if you have any questions about Buddhist philosophy or your own practice, we can discuss these together, and if you feel that I have explained something incorrectly, please feel free to correct me.
How Can Buddhist Practice Help to Achieve Success?
How Can Buddhist Practice Help to Achieve Success?
First of all, thank you for being here. It’s a very nice talk. We’re all honored to have you here. My question is about success. You mentioned success in the talk a couple of times, and so I just want to know, to a Tibetan Buddhist, what is the definition of success? Particularly since most of us are westerners here, it seems to me that it may be something that’s very different in different cultures. So, spiritually speaking, what is success?
I think the eastern and western views are quite similar. For example, we know medicines are beneficial to health. Even if not all medicines are 100% effective, authentic medicine does produce certain positive results. Both the East and the West admits this. Similarly, chanting mantras and practicing virtue will benefit all aspects of our life. Of course it requires many conditions to attain such benefits. Nevertheless, it will make you easily succeed in anything that you dive into, just like the right medicine will treat the illness that it is intended for. By practicing virtue or chanting mantras, you will likely succeed in anything that you pursue. It could be understood in this way.
Thank you again for coming. For someone like me, and others who are very inflexible and find the meditation or the seven-point posture uncomfortable and even painful, what kinds of exercises or stretches would you suggest?
Whenever we start to learn anything new, everyone feels challenged at first. Whether it is sitting in Vairochana’s seven-point posture or taming the mind, it is always difficult in the beginning. Nevertheless, if you persevere in your practice, you’ll find this posture is very effective in controlling your body. I’ve met many intellectuals who initially had a strong resistance to Buddhism. But after studying for a while, they rationally discovered that Buddhism is very good for them and for others.
Take prostrations as an example. There is one particular person that I know; he didn’t want to do prostrations, because he thought his body couldn’t do it. But gradually, he started to do prostrations, and out of a group of many, he was the first one to finish 100,000 prostrations. So continuing to practice will undoubtedly make a difference. With consistent practice, anyone can overcome their inherent difficulties. I believe that everyone can find himself or herself capable of achieving what they initially find challenging. We can certainly make progress in improving body posture within a short time. As long as we keep practicing, we can definitely succeed in doing practically anything.
Thank you for sharing with us. What are the biggest differences you see between your Tibetan students and the American students you have had a chance to teach?
As I explained before, the character of the Tibetans is similar to those of westerners. Tibetans attach great importance to their commitments. Once they’ve made a promise, they will keep it any way they can.
I talked with a Tibetan teacher yesterday. She knows a lot of Han students who give her the impression that they are not very stable. They very easily begin to believe in something and then later drop it just as easily. She teaches Tibetan and most of her Han students couldn’t persist in studying. But I notice that many scholars here have kept up their study of Tibetan and are going deeper. Nowadays, among the masses of Han Chinese, very few can understand Tibetan. But among Westerners, many master Tibetan very well, not only orally, but also in its written forms.
So regarding your question about the difference between Tibetans and westerners, I think they are quite similar. Tibetans do not easily believe in things. They seem to be more stubborn and persistent, while Han Chinese are much more ready to accept something in the beginning and may initially show great passion for it, but then, they might be ready to forsake it in the next minute. Anyway, I personally think there are many similarities, yet also some differences due to traditions and customs. The similarities are mainly in the aspects of steadiness and integrity. Although some young Tibetans living in cities today have gone through some changes, generally speaking, the character of Tibetans is quite similar to that of westerners.
Khenpo, during my meditation practice my thoughts are usually all over the place, and I’m not very successful. But sometimes I have some stillness and some awareness of the way my thoughts move. Frequently I find I still hold onto the thought that, “Now I’m meditating,” and that becomes another kind of a concept, a concept of meditating. I am wondering if you have some advice about that.
As far as practice goes, I have the perspective of having studied the Dharma for more than 30 years. I feel very happy that I have been able to study so much Dharma in my short lifetime. However, pure theoretical study is actually not enough. Genuine practice is of great importance. I myself haven’t devoted too much time to meditation and always seek to deepen my own meditation practice by going on retreat when I have the time.
Professor Bogin said he felt that he couldn’t go deeper into meditation, but I imagine that he’s probably being quite humble when he says that. Based on his teaching and theoretical experience, this is not hollow praise, as he unquestionably has a deep understanding of the Dharma. As for the question about the subtlety of thoughts in meditation, this is elaborated on in many texts of Vajrayana practice. If we cannot recognize the nature of the mind, then we still have the concept of the watcher and the watched. This is our habitual pattern.
But when we observe the nature of the mind, a conceptual thought that arises is usually like a rising wave, which even though it seems to be a separate object, is made from the same water that is within the ocean. A rising thought disappears as immediately as it arises. It arises and disappears at exactly the same time. This is elaborated in great detail in the Dzogchen teachings. At first, there are both gross and subtle levels of thought, like the water of a steep waterfall or that of a flowing river. Gradually it will be like the still water of a calm ocean. At that point, all the waves of thought are quieted down. Observing the nature of thought is a special instruction that can completely eliminate subtle thoughts. But this requires a long-term dedication to meditation.
Now I’d like to leave you with this amulet, which contains Condensed Prajnaparamita. As you know, the most condensed wisdom sutra is the Heart Sutra and the Condensed Prajnaparamita is the longer one. If you wear it, you can accumulate a lot of merits. Even though some of you may not believe in this, you can still keep it as a souvenir. The Condensed Prajnaparamita represents the essence of the Buddha Dharma. Also I want to present a gift to Professor Bogin: it’s a golden Buddha statue that I had specifically custom made with many supreme elements contained inside. It has been blessed and consecrated by over 20,000 monks and nuns.
Finally, I would like to say Tashi Delek to everyone. I hope that with your knowledge of the Dharma, you will be able to be of benefit to many sentient beings. Many thanks to all of you.