BUDDHIST MEDITATION: RESEARCH AND PRACTICE IN THE WESTERN WORLD 
Posted on November 20th, 2014

 Dr. Daya Hewapathirane  Richmond BC, CANADA     

AN INTEGRAL PART OF BUDDHISM

 Bhavana” or meditation practices are an integral part of Buddhism. Buddhists pursue bhawana as a part of the path toward ‘Nibbana’ (Nirvana in Sanskrit) which is the ultimate state of spiritual development for Buddhists. This is a state of supreme joy which comes from being entirely free from cravings and attachments. A person in this state has developed an intuitive wisdom which enables him/ her to see clearly the true nature of the world or the three characteristics of existence, namely, ‘dukkha’ (suffering), ‘anicca’ (impermanence or the transient nature of things) and ‘anatta’ (non-existence of a permanent self or soul). The path to Nibbana is the Noble Eightfold Path as taught by the Buddha.*

AWAKENING TO REALITIES OF LIFE

The mind is central to Buddhists. Gaining peace and tranquility of mind is of great importance to Buddhists. Buddhist meditation practices focus on inner transformation leading to calm and peacefulness. Inner transformation is attained by one’s own efforts. There are some deep rooted aspects of the human nature which keep clouding our mind, disturbing its calm, not allowing us to keep our mind at ease. They make our mind instable and keep it away from tranquility. These deep rooted aspects of human nature are referred to in Buddhist teachings as ‘Lobha, Dosha and Moha’  or greed, hatred and delusion respectively, which are considered as the three mental poisons. They cause us to like and get attracted to certain things and to dislike and run away from other things (aversion). They are responsible for unwholesome deeds that we commit as we travel through life. On a psychological and emotional level they prevent us from seeing things from a balanced perspective and because of them, our sense of reality is always twisted and distorted.

Buddhist meditation practices help one to develop a state of consciousness leading to a state of awakening to realities of life, to self understanding, and eventually to the ultimate meaning of life. In other words, meditation helps one to unmask the causes of one’s stress, discontentment and suffering and to dispel one’s mental confusion. It helps one to develop one’s understanding of oneself that comes from a clear view of reality. Buddhist meditation is definitely not a means of escaping reality. It helps one to develop emotional intelligence, self regulation, and empathy necessary for successful relationships to face interpersonal challenges and eventually to experience true happiness.

PRIMARY METHODS OF BUDDHIST MEDITATION

Buddhist Bhavana or meditation consists of a variety of techniques that help to raise human consciousness to a higher level, bringing one’s mind to a state of equilibrium.

Samatha” and Vipassana” are the two common types of Buddhist meditation or methods of mental development. Samatha is the development of tranquility and Vipassana is the development of insight. Samatha aims only at concentration whereby the individual is constantly conscious of one object and this concentration is directed along a single channel of one-pointedness until a serene mental tranquility is reached.  It is noteworthy that this form of mental development does not bring about an understanding of reality, nor of its cause and effect. It brings only tranquility.

Vipassana on the other hand, purifies the mind to enable it to gain insight. Insight means wisdom which enables one to see that mental states and matter are impermanent or transitory, unsatisfactory  or suffering, and non-self or impersonal. Vipassana is realization of the three signs of being-  anicca” (impermanence), dukkha” (suffering), and anatta” (non-self), by direct insight at a deeper level of awareness at a intuitional” plane where it is actually experienced as a psychological fact.  According to Buddhist teachings, what we regard as self or ego or soul are miscomprehensions arising from lack of knowledge of absolute truth about these so-called entities. In reality ‘self’ is but a very rapid continuity of birth and decal of mental states and matter.  Insight has as its function, the destruction of all hidden defilements, cravings and wrong views. Insight will enlighten us to the true nature of mental states and matter or in other words that mental states and matter are not lasting, they bring about suffering. One can begin with Samatha or the development of mental tranquility and after having achieved concentration, one can proceed to vipassana or the development of insight.

Metta” or Maitri”  bhavana or compassion or benevolence meditation is another important form of meditation in Buddhism. The word Mettā (Pali), Maitri (Sanskrit)  implies loving-kindness, benevolence, friendliness, amity, good will,[  kindness, close mental union (on same mental wavelength), and active interest in others. It is taught as a meditation that cultivates our natural capacity for an open and loving heart that evokes compassion, joy in the happiness of others and equanimity. This practice begins with the meditator cultivating benevolence towards themselves, then one’s loved ones, friends, teachers, strangers, enemies, and finally towards all sentient beingsMettā signifies friendship and non-violence, “a strong wish for the happiness of others” and also less obvious or direct qualities such as showing patience, receptivity, and appreciation.  Benevolence is a very specific feeling – a caring for the well-being of another living being, independent of approving or disapproving of them, or expecting anything in return. Practice includes reciting specific words and phrases in order to evoke a “boundless warm-hearted feeling,” or visualizing suffering and wishing well for those beings. Meditation on loving-kindness is very beneficial as it is conducive to mental peace and happiness.

Observance of the basic rules of discipline prescribed in the teachings of the Buddha, is an essential preliminary step toward proper development of contemplation,, attainment of mental tranquility and gaining of insight through Buddhist meditation practices. For the lay-folk these rules comprise the eight precepts which Buddhist devotees observe during periods of meditation:

  1. refrain from destroying living creatures. 2. refrain from taking that which is not given. 3. refrain from sexual activity.                                                                                                          4. refrain from incorrect speech.                                                                                                     5. refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.                                                 6. refrain from eating at the forbidden time (i.e., after noon).                                                                   7. refrain from dancing, singing, music, entertainments, beautifying the body.                               8. refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place.

MEDITATION AS THE MEANS TO SELF UNDERSTANDING

Meditation is the one and only key to understanding and discovering your true nature.

Self understanding at the deeper level, means complete awareness and understanding of one’s inner self”, and realization of the true nature of what one conventionally understands as oneself or self”.  This calls for wisdom or a higher degree of mental development.  It is such a mind that can understand reality and states of mind which it has never known and experienced before. It takes practice, perseverance and patience.   Such a mind can be developed through the practice of meditation in the teachings of the Buddha about 2600 years ago.

Meditation is the key component to opening mysteries in a person’s mind. During meditation, one withdraws from the external world, not affected or bound by thoughts, sensations and their effects, and reach a state in which one feel’s at peace. With peace, comes the end to fears and expectations, and the ability to see yourself as you truly are. For centuries, meditation has been practiced with the conviction that it will bring a deeper understanding of the self. Another conviction in the practice of meditation is that understanding the true self is the key to understanding the nature of the universe. By unlocking the innermost mystery of who you are, you are free to commune with the ineffable mystery penetrating all existence.

At the deep level of self understanding, one realizes that an individual is made up of five aggregates which are – the body or the physical form, sensations, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. These five aggregates are referred to in Buddhism as skandhas”. These aggregates are constantly changing, and they are mere processes that are transient but function continuously in an ongoing basis.  The tendency is for individuals to consider these fleeting transient ‘skandhas’ as ‘self’ and cling on to an illusion of a permanent self. Identification with a self results in craving for possessing and possessing results in attachment. Clinging on to these attachments brings about craving and greed and which leads to fear, hatred, jealousy and prejudice which in turn results  in stress and suffering. Attachment makes it difficult to be free. The spiritual path is always one of letting go. The more we let go of our attachments the more is the possibility to overcome stress and suffering and be free. Complete self awareness is possible only to those who have advanced in the development of their mind through regular meditation. From what can selfishness and egotism proceed if not from the concept of “self”? If the practice of any form of meditation leaves selfishness or egotism unabated, it has not been successful.

ADVENT OF BUDDHIST PRATICES TO THE WEST

 Buddhism is practiced by increasing numbers of people in the Americas, Europe and Oceania. Buddhism-based Meditation is becoming a lifestyle among some sections in the Western world. It has become an element in the daily routine helping them to cope well with stress, anxiety and sorrow, and develop a happier, healthier and fulfilling life. Meditation is the most direct way to self-understanding at the deeper level and to realize inner happiness. As far as the USA is concerned, an important reason for the flowering of Buddhist practices was the popularity of Zen among the counter culture poets and activists of the 1960s, due to the writings of  D.T.Suzuki, Alan Watts and Philip Kapleau. In addition, in the 1970s, a number of Americans who had served in the Vietnam or the Korean wars stayed back in Asia for a period and being inspired by Buddhist spiritual practices, eventually ordained as monks and upon returning home, became influential meditation teachers. Some established Buddhist centres such as the Insight Meditation Society of America which was established in 1975 in  Massachusetts on the initiative of American Buddhists such as Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, and Joseph Goldstein. The program at this centre is rooted in the Theravada tradition focused on the teaching  and practice in ‘vipasssana’ or insight meditation and  metta” or  loving-kindness meditation (Until the recent past, this Buddhist Centre offered an in-depth correspondence course entitled Insight Meditation,  with 24 audio CDs and an 88 page workbook).

DALAI LAMA AND THE MIND AND LIFE INSTITUTE

 The Holy Dalai Lama and Kelsang Gyatso are among the better known Buddhist monks who have been actively involved in the promotion of Buddhist spiritualism, in particular Buddhist meditation and related scientific research  in the Western world. Perhaps the most widely visible Buddhist monk in the west is the Dalai Lama, who first visited the USA in 1979.  In 1987, there was a meeting of three visionaries – The Holy Dalai Lama, Adam Engle a lawyer and entrepreneur and Francisco Varela a neuroscientist.  They agreed that science had become the dominant framework for investigating the nature of reality but they regarded prevailing scientific approach as an  incomplete one. Whereas science relies on empiricism, technology, objective” observation, and analysis, the Dalai Lama, Engle, and Varela were convinced that well-refined contemplative practices and introspective methods could, and should, be used as equal instruments of investigation, instruments that would not only make science itself more humane but also ensure its conclusions were far-reaching.

This initial meeting with the Dalai Lama, was followed by  a series of dialogues bringing together scientists from various disciplines and contemplatives and resulting in the establishment of the Mind and Life Institute at Massachusetts in 2003, as an institute committed to building a scientific understanding of the mind as a way to help reduce suffering and promote human flourishing. To accomplish this, it is necessary to foster interdisciplinary dialogue between Western science, philosophy, humanities, and contemplative traditions, supporting the integration of first-person inquiry through meditation and other contemplative practices into traditional scientific methodology.

The first public dialogue on the interface between Buddhism and neuroscience was held at MIT in 2003.  As a result of that meeting, further studies of various interfaces between neuroscience and the meditative disciplines were initiated in laboratories of several prominent universities in USA.  These collaborative studies revealed the extraordinary capacity of the human brain for plasticity that underlies the development and cultivation of positive human qualities such as compassion. There were concerted efforts to scientifically study the clinical application of meditative practices as well as the physiological effects of meditation in both novice and advanced practitioners. These studies provided opportunities for scientists whose research is focused on basic mind-brain-body interactions to learn more about meditation and to contribute to an ongoing dialogue about the mechanisms by which meditation may influence physical and mental health. Mind and Life Institute soon became more than just a leader in the field of contemplative science. It became an incubator for discovery in all of the fields this new science touches. For almost 15 years more than 100 Buddhist monastics and lay meditation practitioners and many beginning meditators have participated  in scientific experiments at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and about 19 other universities. By the use of neuro-imaging and other technologies scientists are now able to study what happens in the brain during the major forms of Buddhist meditation practices.

The Institute’s impact has been chronicled in numerous best-selling books, including Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley;  Destructive  Emotions by Daniel Goleman; and The Dalai Lama at MIT by Anne Harrington and Arthur Zajonc; The Physiology of Meditation by Robert K. Wallace & Herbert Benson, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Mathieu; Mental Training Enhances Attentional Stability:Neural and Behavioral Evidence by Antoine Lutz; Mind Wandering and Attention during Focused Meditation: A Fine-grained Temporal Analysis of Fluctuating Cognitive States by Wendy Hasenkamp et.al., in Neurolmage, Vol.59, 2012, Mind of the Meditator by Mathieu Ricard, Antoine Lutz and Richard Davidson, in Scientific American, Vol. 311, November 2014.

Mathieu Ricard is a French Buddhist monk who lives in Nepal and USA. After completing his doctoral degree in molecular genetics in France, he went to the Himalayas devoting his time to meditation. Upon his return to the USA, he was deeply involved in sharing his knowledge and experience on meditation and was engaged in research on the effects of mind training on the brain. He later co-authored a study on the brains of long-term meditators, including himself. He is a board member of the Mind and Life Institute, which is devoted to meetings and collaborative research between scientists and Buddhist scholars and meditators. His contributions on the effects of meditation have appeared in Destructive Emotions (edited by Daniel Goleman) and other books of essays. He has been dubbed the “happiest person in the world” by popular media. Matthieu Ricard was a volunteer subject in a study performed at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s on happiness, scoring significantly beyond the average obtained after testing hundreds of volunteers.

Kelsang Gyatso is a Tibetan Buddhist monk, meditation teacher, scholar, and author. He has published many remarkable books on meditation showing how to apply it in daily life. He was instrumental in establishing many meditation centres around the world in almost every major city, with many hundreds of qualified meditation teachers and a flourishing ordained community. His initiatives show that Buddhist temples established by traditional Buddhist communities with the leadership of genuine monks, have the potential to be major centres promoting Buddhist meditation practices and thereby helping people throughout the world find true happiness in their hearts. It was Kelsang Gyatso who said a controlled mind will remain calm and happy no matter what the conditions.” Meditation provides the greatest single capacity for improvement and fulfillment in life – spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically.

 AN IMPORTANT  RESEARCH DOMAIN IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES

 Meditation practice has been subject to much research in several disciplines in recent years and publications on meditation, especially on mindfulness has proliferated in the Western world. The efficacy of meditation is supported by a growing body of scientific research which includes empirical research, practitioners self-reports and experimental data. Applied research has shown that mindfulness has a positive impact the human brain and thereby on people’s health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can alter brain patterns and behavior. Functional and structural neuro-imaging studies have begun to explore the neuroscientific processes underlying the positive effects of mindfulness meditation. Evidence suggests that mindfulness practice is associated with neuroplastic changes in the anterior cingulated cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, fronto-limbic network and default mode network structures which are integral parts of the brain  involved with emotion formation and processing, memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness.

Meditation has become mainstream in Western Medicine and Society. Today meditation practices are popularly adopted in the treatment of stress, pain, and a range of chronic diseases in both medicine and psychiatry. Meditation based in-depth research have made it possible to investigate the nature of cognition and emotion in the brain as never before, and to explore the interfaces between mind, brain, and body. This research has been of much interest primarily for those in the fields of medicine, clinical psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience as well as students in other related fields.

 RESEARCH ON METTA MEDITATION

Metta or Compassion meditation is a contemporary scientific field that demonstrates the efficacy of metta and related meditative practices. Richard J. Davidson has shown metta to induce changes in the tempo parietal lobe. Benevolence is the application of love to suffering. Metta is applied to all beings and, as a consequence, one experiences another of the sublime states: joy (mudita), which is true happiness in another being’s happiness. The benefits of metta practice are both extolled by ancient texts and increasingly identified by contemporary research. Buddhists believe that those who cultivate benevolence will be at ease because they will see no need to harbour ill will or hostility. Cultivating benevolence is thought to contribute to a world of love, peace and happiness. Meditation on benevolence is considered a good way to calm down a distraught mind and an antidote to anger. Someone who has cultivated benevolence will not be easily angered and can quickly quell anger that arises, being more caring, more loving, and more likely to love unconditionally. Compassion meditation and mindfulness meditation is complementary, going hand in hand enhancing the positive effects of both practices.

MINDFULNESS MEDITATION

Mindfulness or sati” is the seventh element of the Noble Eightfold Path which encapsulates the principal teachings of the Buddha. In the Maha-Satipatthana Sutta” or the Buddha’s discourse on mindfulness practice, both the object and the means of attaining mindfulness are clearly set forth. It states that mindfulness involves the detached observation of what is happening within us and around us in the present moment. Being fully mindful means being fully attentive to everything as-it-is, not reacting to or generating thoughts on what one experiences at the moment. In the practice of mindfulness the mind is trained to remain focused on the present moment and to accept one’s thoughts and responses without judgment. All inner interpretations of feelings and thoughts are disregarded or overlooked. It is a mental mode of being engaged in the present moment without evaluating or emotionally reacting to it. Regular mindfulness training helps to enhance and strengthen the brains ability to pay attention. It helps to increase one’s attention span, memory power, clear and focused thinking. As with any skill, regular practice of enhances the skill so that it arises naturally and spontaneously. With regular meditation one is better able to handle one’s emotions. Mindfulness involves self-discovery at the deeper level.  Mindful living leads to a more fulfilling and grounded life, being able to understand oneself and one’s environment without judgment. It is about waking up to your life and enhancing mental and emotional resilience. Mindfulness helps to create harmony in heart and mind and therefore in the world around you as well.

MINDFULNESS AS A PART OF PSYCHOTHERAPY 

In recent years there has been a growing interest in the practice of mindfulness as part of psychotherapy. Researchers are using brain imaging techniques to investigate the neurobiological mechanisms by which mindfulness practices work. Some psychotherapists find that mindfulness meditation as an adjunct to counseling and other treatments can help troubled people learn to release negative emotions and thought habits. After receiving mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, patients report noticing that negative thoughts lose their power over time. Mindfulness techniques were used to help children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder to concentrate, and for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder recover and now for professionals of various fields as a technique for developing focus, clarity and compassion. Research has shown that Mindfulness practice can be effective in managing depression. It can be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression.

Hospitals and community centres have started to offer courses on Mindfulness practices. Mindfulness entered the medical mainstream in the 1970s. Today, Mindfulness is taught and practiced in many prominent hospitals in the USA, Canada several other Western countries. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction” practice (MBSR) developed by the Medical School of the University of Massachusetts in USA has been used successfully to treat a wide variety of illnesses. Mindfulness exercises have helped alleviate suffering from psychological illnesses such as anxiety, panic disorders and phobias. They have become clinically proven methods for alleviating stress and chronic pain. An increasing number of Medical Centres worldwide now offer mindfulness based therapies for mood and other disorders. Many studies have revealed the effectiveness of mindfulness practices in reducing psychological stress. They have led to improvements in both mental and physical health, alleviating depression, anxiety, loneliness and chronic pain.  Mark Epstein is a well-known American Psychiatrist and Professor of Psychology, who is a practicing Buddhist who has written extensively on Buddhism and psychotherapy.

MINDFULNESS PRACTICE AND PROFESSIONAL PERFORMANCE

The ability of mindfulness practice to improve performance is one primary reasons for greater attention on Mindfulness practice in the West. Professionals and those of the corporate culture, but also institutions, companies, and nations are adopting ‘mindful’ practices and associated ‘compassion’ as management practices to an increasing extent.  Among some of these institutions are Google, the USA Military, especially the US Marine Corps, prisons, Social services work, LinkedIn networking site. In the US military mindfulness training includes ‘brain calming’ exercises to improve performance. Snipers benefit from mindfulness training. It enhances attention, concentration and aim. It is gaining ground as a useful practice  among prominent sports personnel including Olympic athletes and movie stars. Students who want to boost their performance and also parents, teachers or caregivers wishing to be more attentive to others’ needs may all find mindfulness training highly useful.

BUDDHIST ETHICAL PRINCIPLES UNDERLYING MINDFULNESS PRACTICE

In recent times, it has become common place for popular Western periodicals including the New York Times, Time magazine, and the latest 2014 November issue of the Scientific American to highlight Mindfulness meditation as their cover stories. This is reflective of the fact that meditation is fast going mainstream. There is growing interest among many in the neuroscience research of Richard Davidson, Antoine Lutz, Herbert Benson, Jon Kabet-Zinn, J.Schumacher, P. Grossman  and many others on how mindfulness meditation creates changes in the brain that helps in improving mental focus and in reducing stress. Their research helps to unfold  the magnitude of benefits offered by  mindfulness practice for people’s health and wellbeing,  and how it creates changes in the brain that helps in improving focus and reducing stress. Although lectures and public talks and discussions, publications, workshops, forums, seminars, courses, retreats and other forms of intense interactions on the subject of Mindfulness practices are conducted in the West, it is rarely and often casually that these Mindfulness Trainers and Experts” in the West, acknowledge the fact that they have learned these wholesome  practices from Buddhism. One reason may be the fact that these practices may not be of much appeal to the ordinary Westerner, if religion” or a faith tradition is associated with it.  Some people in the Western world appear to perceive erroneously that Buddhism is a religion or a belief system in the conventional sense. The trend among many modern day Westerners is to distance themselves from religion which they perceive to be a corrupt and outmoded  institution which has a divisive effect on society.

DIVORCED FROM ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITY

In the Western corporate culture, in the rush to secularize it, mindfulness or for that matter meditation in general has been turned into a technique divorced from ethical responsibility. In fact, its training and promotional ventures are highly commercialized often associated with a high price tag. Mindfulness in the Buddhist tradition is to transform one’s sense of self. It is not about attaining personal goals attached to personal desires. The goal of mindfulness practice is to liberate oneself from greed, ill will and delusion (loba, dosha moha” or the three main defilements in Buddhist teachings).  The real focus of Buddhism is on awakening, on coming to some insight or wisdom about our true nature. Without that, we cannot get at the real source of our ‘dukkha’or suffering. The benefits of deep meditation are the purification of oneself whereby the mind becomes calm and quiet.  By purification is meant the cleansing of the mind of greed, hatred and delusion which are the roots of all evil and suffering. It involves the removal of the five hindrances namely, sloth and torpor, sensual lust, ill will, agitation distraction and doubting and the eventual  overcoming of sorrow and misery, pain and grief. From the Buddhist perspective, the ‘mindfulness movement‘  that is becoming increasingly popular in the Western World is not addressing the most deep-rooted forms of human suffering or ‘dukkha’. In fact, it seems to be reinforcing the kind of self-centred individualism that seems to be the basic problem in Western society.

 GREATER INVOLVEMENT OF TRADITIONAL BUDDHISTS

In contemporary times, Buddhist monks of the different Buddhist traditions should be in the forefront in highlighting the spiritual benefits that can be derived through Buddhist meditation practices. However, it is a pity that only a few among the large number of Buddhist monks from traditional Buddhist countries, living in the Western world are actively involved in this increasingly popular trend in the West. One reason may be that of the language and cultural norms adopted in temple activities.

It is a fact that for most traditional Buddhists, their interests in temples and monks are virtually confined to the participation in rites and rituals. The greater mass of traditional Buddhists regard their Buddhist faith as an end-game strategy and a preparation for death. Also, the tendency among most monks is also to encourage and propagate these rites and rituals. With very few exceptions, rituals form the primary basis of interaction of monks and lay Buddhists living in the west.

In most temples in the west, the programs are very rarely focused on the core values and practices of the Buddha’s teachings that are of direct relevance to inner purification and development and to help free the mind  of mental distortions such as stress, worry, strain, anxiety, sorrow, depression, despair, displeasure, frustration, and exasperation. Most temple programs are not geared to help free the mind. The focus is not on meditation practices that help one to overcome the many pains and pressures of modern existence and to develop the capacity to better understand one’s life and help one to live peacefully and happily.

Lay Buddhists from all Buddhist traditions in the world are found in the Western world, especially in North America. Their involvement is highly limited, in the rising trend in meditation practices which has become mainstream today, being practiced even in neighborhood community halls. The overall benefits of involvement in and in actively promoting meditation practices in the many Buddhist shrines that they have established and patronize in the West, should receive greater attention.

Both the ordained and lay Buddhists have a responsibility to expose the younger generation growing up in the west, to meaningful Buddhist practices and training that lead them to higher levels of emotional maturity and inner development. It is a fact that opportunities to expose children to worthwhile Buddhist practices such as meditation are to a great extent lacking in most Buddhist temples established in western countries under the patronage of traditional Buddhists. Activities of most shrines focus more on a system of reverence and rituals. Opportunities should be made available for them to practice Buddhist meditation under the proper guidance of monks and grown-ups who are knowledgeable and dedicated to these practices. This will make them appreciate how meditation can help them find effective ways of dealing and coping with issues that they face in their daily lives, especially in their academic or professional lives. They will find useful ways of overcoming stress and pressures of modern existence, and developing and leading  happy lives.

STATE OF THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD

In the world today, we see that the impact of uncontrolled greed goes far beyond the individual level. We see how it creates economic disparities among nations and communities, and between countries. Besides, we see that the greed of the human race is undermining the right of other living beings to exist. Violence is rampant in the contemporary world. Some of the historical hatred is bound up with religious causes or identities, and finds expression in terrorism that is plaguing the world today.

The Buddha sought to help people minimize the destructive effects of the deluded impulses and in fact, to transform them into the impetus or momentum for happiness. The Buddhist approach to peace starts from the fundamental act of surmounting the inner poisons. Through spiritual practice the energy inherent in our deluded impulses can be transformed in its entirety into the illuminating flame” of enlightened wisdom and inner tranquility. The three poisons can be subdued so that they no longer produce confusion and disruption and no longer drive us to act in a strange and destructive manner.

Private spirituality and morality alone cannot address and contain overall suffering of others- or the community at large. Suffering has a social dimension and its relief involves engaging in the lives of others through compassion, sacrifice and service. This is the spiritual path observed by committed Buddhists. Merely feeling sorry for those who suffer or meditatively channeling compassion to them or performing rituals on their behalf is of little value today. We need to be more actively involved by finding more direct and tangible ways of helping the suffering and relieving them from their misery. This is a more meaningful spiritual path. As Buddhists, we are committed to relieve suffering of others, and promoting peace. Compassion towards all living beings is one of the fundamental goals of Buddhist life.

 According to the Buddha’s teachings, all living beings and indeed all phenomena are interdependent; all things occur and exist only through their interrelationship with all other phenomena and this fabric of relatedness is of infinite extent both temporally and spatially. Herein lies the basis for the principle of mutually supportive coexistence of all beings so central to Buddhist thinking. In Buddhism, greed, hate and delusion are not merely grounds of wrong conduct or moral stains upon the mind; they are the root defilements or the primary causes of all bondage and suffering. The entire practice of the Dhamma can be viewed as the task of eradicating these evil roots by developing to perfection their antidotes — dispassion, compassion and wisdom. These defilements cause harm and suffering both personal and social, and their removal brings peace. Meditation and other spiritual  practices taught by the Buddha are effective means for achieving their removal.

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane                                                                                                                       Richmond BC, CANADA                                                                                          [email protected]

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* The Noble Eight-fold Path consists of (1) Right Understanding or Samma-ditthi”, (2) Right Thoughts or Samma-sankappa”, (3) Right Speech or Samma-vaca”, (4) Right Actions or Samma-kammanta”, (5) Right Livelihood or Samma-ajiva”, (6) Right Effort or Samma-vayama”, (7) Right Mindfulness or Samma-sati”, and (8) Right Concentration or Samma-samadhi.  Of these eight factors the first two are grouped under the heading of Wisdom (panna), the next three under Morality (sila), and the last three under Concentration (samadhi). But according to the order of spiritual development the sequence is as follows:

  1. Morality (sila) : Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood                II. Concentration (samadhi) : Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration                     III. Wisdom (panna) : Right Understanding,  Right Thoughts .

Morality (sila) is the first stage on this path to Nibbana. Securing a firm footing on the ground of morality, a practicing Buddhist embarks upon the second stage on Concentration or Samadhi which involves the control and culture of the mind. Samadhi — is the “one-pointedness” or concentration of the mind on one object to the entire exclusion of all irrelevant matter. Concentration on respiration is the easiest to gain the one-pointedness of the mind. When one gains perfect one-pointedness of the mind it is possible for one to develop Insight or ‘Panna’  which enables one to see things as they truly are. Here the heavy burden of sorrow is relinquished, all forms of attachment are annihilated resulting in the attainment of Nibbana.

One Response to “BUDDHIST MEDITATION: RESEARCH AND PRACTICE IN THE WESTERN WORLD ”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Refrain from this and that is a bit stupid not practical in the real world. So get real, I say.Definitly not in Canada,

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