In Buddhism, meditation can be practiced sitting on the cushion or chair and in any other daily activity throughout the day. When sitting, the breathing method is commonly used by beginners and for calming the mind before continuing with more advanced methods. Two advanced Mahayana Buddhist methods are the “hua tou” (word head), the student continually repeating a critical question to eventually skillfully penetrate to the state of mind before the formation of words and “silent illumination” where there is a conscious continuous full experiencing of the present moment.
Sitting meditation is the most widely practiced Buddhist way 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 the method of watching and following his breathing. As thoughts arise, he allows them to pass without attaching to them, continuing focus on breathing in and out. It is a beginner’s method of meditation 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 – walking, eating, working, washing dishes, cleaning the car, painting the walls, 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. The student recites a particular phrase in the form of a profound question, intended for piquing the mind, 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. Practitioners could also focus on what comes before the critical phrase, becoming more aware of what exists before the formation of the words of the critical phrase. 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, even if 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 way of perceiving, called direct contemplation is also occasionally used. 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.
Buddhist meditation instructors generally tell students to choose hua tou or silent illumination according to their preference, and to stay with one method and persevere to enlightenment. Oftentimes, when the mind is filled with thoughts, practitioners can settle down the body, breath and mind before starting on hua tou or silent illumination. By the breath method, practitioners can watch their breath and count one on the first outgoing breath and continue counting to ten for each succeeding outgoing breath. After ten, the practitioner goes back to one again and continues to ten until the practitioner feels his mind is calm and quiet and ready to begin hua tou or silent illumination.
With mastery of our` mental processes using these methods or those from other disciplines, we position ourselves to be in the present moment and to gain enlightenment. Further regular practice of such mental practices can calm and quiet our mind, give inner peace and reduce stress and thus enable us to be more productive and successful in life, work and relationships.
With what we have -- just “body, breath and mind” – we can begin our meditation practice. Local Chan (Zen) centers offer free or low-cost classes and weekend retreats, for beginners and serious practitioners. The two-thousand-plus year ancient history of Buddhist meditation practices offers Westerners new to the practice the good guidance of trustworthy meditation instructors whose purpose is to open society to this exciting journey leading to mental development, peace of mind and enlightenment.
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