Sitting meditation is the most widely practiced Buddhist method for clearing the mind and attaining enlightenment. The student sits in a lotus-like position or on a chair, hands palms up or clasped together for encouraging the flow and retention of energy in the body. The practitioner focuses on following his breathing. As thoughts arise, he allows them to pass without attaching to them, continuing his focus on breathing in and out. It is a beginner’s way of practice, and is commonly taught in conjunction with walking meditation. In walking meditation, the student similarly meditates when walking, but focuses on the movement of his legs and where his foot lands.
As the student progresses, other tasks are introduced as he learns the quieting of mind through daily life routines – sitting, walking, eating, working, shopping, or anything. This is action meditation, or meditation in activity, and can be practiced anywhere and anytime.
There are more advanced methods available in Buddhist disciplines. Mahayana Buddhism advocates the Chan (Zen) technique called “hua tou” (“origin of words” where “hua” means word and “tou” means origin or head) to examine the state of mind before words form or originate. Attending a weekend retreat open to all, I was introduced to the method -- in sitting position or in any form of activity – reciting a critical phrase as a question that seeks to arouse a critical profound questioning about true human nature, referred to as growing the doubt sensation. Popular questions are: “Who is mindful of the Buddha?”, “Who is dragging this body around?”, “What is wu (emptiness)?” and “Who am I?” It is not meant to be answered; it cannot be answered. The critical phrase repeated mentally, continuously, eventually grows a doubt sensation as to the incomprehensible answer to the critical question. Penetrating this doubt sensation leads to an experience of a state of mind prior to the formation of words. The true nature of reality is realized as it has always been, and this is enlightenment, seeing your true nature momentarily or for a longer time.
Another, second, advanced method for practitioners is Silent Illumination. The student focuses on the entirety of his present moment experience, not any singular quality of breathing or walking or critical phrase. When sitting, he considers the whole body experience, with awareness on inner nature. When walking and in other activities, he allows his mind to equally consider all that is in his present experience: sight, sound, smell, taste, and physical sensations, focusing on no one thing.
A perception Buddhists call direct contemplation is useful. Objects and things are not to be identified. No discernment, no judging. A flower not a “flower”, it is what it is as perceived: not red or yellow, not a carnation or a rose, not of a particular shape, or that it is on a stem. It is to be experienced as the eye – not the thinking mind – perceives it.
In recent years learning the three methods after having practiced various ways to enlightenment for many years, I personally find it useful to combine silent illumination with both breathing and hua tou methods, using one as appropriate and then switching to one of the others, as my mental state warrants. Breathing meditation is easy and can be done anytime; it is my fallback state. Hua tou requires me to produce thought (the question itself) and so it is useful when thoughts are dominating my mind. Hua tou sets an environment for dissipation of frivolous thoughts, breathing for dispensing with the hua tou question, and silent illumination as the end game when my mind is not greatly entangled with thoughts. However, any one method practiced diligently can lead to enlightenment, and Buddhist meditation instructors generally tell students to choose hua tou or silent illumination according to their preference and stay with it to enlightenment.
With mastery of our mental processes using these methods or those from other disciplines, we position ourselves for being in the present moment and obtaining enlightenment. Such mental practices calm and quiet the mind and give inner peace, even when enlightenment is far and distant.
About the Author
Arthur Telling has written numerous stories and articles on religion, philosophy, and metaphysics. His article, “A Different Jesus Message” appeared in the Nov. 2011 AMORC Rosicrucian Digest. Telling is also the author of “Johann’s Awakening” (a parody of Jonathan Livingston Seagull), and three novels including “Kaitlin’s Message,” exploring the secret sayings of the Gospel of Thomas. His web site is: www.arthurtelling.com