Serenity, Insight, Mindfulness Meditation

or to Put It Another Way,

Relax Your Way to Enlightenment

Meditation, as the Buddha taught it, is not a religion, but a practical method of bringing about joy, freeing you from life’s dissatisfactions, and advancing your spiritual growth by revealing your subconscious, your higher self, higher planes, and All That Is.

Meditation is not intellectual nor philosophical – it is experiential.

For a quick summary of the meditation steps, skip to the end of this presentation.

This topic is the most important insight I have learned in this lifetime - bar none. Next to this, all else pales into illusory insignificance.

If you gather all the wisdom of the world, all the wisdom of the great philosophers, the wisdom of all the religions, the wisdom of the sages, it can all be condensed into one word – kindness.

Practice kindness towards others and towards yourself. Practice it daily in full awareness - in mindfulness rather than mindlessness. Kindness brings happiness to yourself and others.

Every being wants happiness, yet life is a mixture of joy and suffering and true happiness eludes most everyone that is still asleep. In our basic nature we are happy and kind; however, unskillful mental states cause suffering to ourselves and others.

Life is constant change, nothing is permanent, there is nothing you can cling to outside yourself and find lasting happiness. Most people find this out the hard way.

However, there is a profoundness to life that escapes most people, not because it is beyond their grasp but because they do not look, instead they are asleep - busily caught in the spider’s web of surface delusion ultimately leading to dissatisfaction.

Meditation is a process that grants you freedom, joy and profound insight into existence.

There is a mistaken view that this requires extraordinary effort. That is a false view.

What it takes is relaxation and letting go. The “effort” required is - you must put aside all the excuses and sit yourself down and meditate morning and evening for 5 minutes or more. After you start, all effort must cease, and you relax. The “effort” is in sitting yourself down. Once you sit down, you relax.

In fact, on the days you least “feel” like meditating, you can benefit the most because meditation will release those “off” feelings and after meditation your day will be more productive.

However, there is a distinct difference between meditating and day dreaming.

In meditation, while relaxing you gently rest your attention on an “object of meditation” - the breath (“anapanasati” meditation) or a feeling of loving-kindness (“metta” meditation). When you find your mind has wandered off the object of meditation (and it will, many times), recognize this, release the distraction into the background, relax any tension you feel from that distraction, smile, return to the object of meditation, and gently repeat this cycle as necessary.

Daydreaming, on the other hand, is once you find yourself adrift in a thought, a vison, some sounds, some colors, etc., you stay with the enjoyment of these rather than gently return to the object of meditation.

There must not be a forced concentration. That only leads to headaches, anxiety, and frustration – especially if done on a meditation retreat of several days or more. Relaxation is the key.

Buddhist monk Bante Vamarlaramsi calls this the “6Rs” - recognize, release, relax, re-smile, return, repeat.

In the beginning your mind will wander incessantly – do not get discouraged – this is normal and do not fight it. This is called the “monkey mind” that is constantly distracted, restless, running here and there. Watch it as you would a playful child. It is a necessary part of the process as there is a lot that needs to be resolved and released in your life. This cycle, between drifting off and returning, will clear the dust as the days and weeks and months pass.

After practicing for several months, the mind will gradually become more settled and content. Then a subtler process of release continues. Each time your mind is carried off, think of it as putting a quarter in your piggy bank towards Enlightenment. Over time the quarters add up. So, do not be dismayed or frustrated. Relax.

What could this ridiculously easy technique possibly do? Isn’t it going to get boring? Over time you will be amazed, in awe, in rapture on how it benefits your life.

On the days you meditate, your daily life will “flow” better, you will reach your goals more easily. On days you “can’t find the time” to meditate, your day will have distractions, false starts, and misdirection. Gradually you realize skipping meditation is counterproductive and less fulfilling.

What is “enlightenment”? Ultimately, enlightenment is joy and freedom from suffering. It is freedom from the three poisons (see below). It is freedom from needing anything in this world to “make you happy”. It is a happiness and satisfaction not dependent on outside circumstances. It is freedom from samsara (the cycle of birth, death, rebirth in the earthly and heavenly realms.). It is your Buddha nature that has come forth.

There are two interrelated parts to this:
• Living a moral life – practicing kindness, releasing yourself from delusion, greed, hatred, and laziness.

• Purifying your mind so it is released from the surface spider’s web of illusion and fully realize your essential nature is joyful - independent of external circumstances.
All these aspects are what meditation is about.

Why a moral life? Because the “three poisons” ruin your life.

The “three poisons” are delusion, greed, hatred. They tangle you in a web of pain and deprive you of peace of mind.

Delusion is mistaking the false self as the real self, it is realizing there is more to life than the ultimately unfulfilling ephemeral surface glitter.

Greed’s aspects are clinging/grasping/stealing/lying.

Hatred’s aspects are ill will/resentment/revenge/violence.

These three poisons will ruin your life but these three poisons have antidotes.
• Insight is the antidote to delusion.

• Generosity and letting go of craving/obsessions are the antidote to greed.

• Compassion and loving-friendliness are the antidote to hatred. Hatred does not stop by hating. Hatred stops by not hating.

Meditation is the daily homework and your life is the practical workshop in releasing the three poisons and releasing yourself from delusion/suffering/dissatisfaction.

By alternating between your daily life and meditation, the two reinforce each other and you can release the hold of delusion, clinging/grasping, and ill will/resentment and learn how to let go of suffering/dissatisfaction, and uncover the profoundness that lies beyond this foolishness.

What if some of your past actions are “unforgivable” or your past experiences too painful? The reality of yesterday is gone – you cannot change it. Yesterday ended last night – today is a new day.

In life, there are no guarantees. You only have today and possibly tomorrow. If you can make some amends – do so. Otherwise, focus on bringing joy into your present. Over time, all will be released, and your life will become fulfilled.

Will power will not do the job. You cannot will and discipline yourself to rid yourself of delusion, greed/hatred, to let go of suffering/dissatisfaction and realize your birthright of profound joy. Why? Because will power and discipline cannot reach the depths of mind where feelings, thoughts, and the subconscious reside. It is like trying to use a hand shovel to move a mountain.

To reach these levels and release these you need a powerful tool and that tool is meditation. This tool is your lightsaber in the battle of life. It is your cool rain the scorching desert. It is your hot bath in the depths of winter.

In essence, meditation is simple, but thousands of books have been written about it and its efficacy. It is simple to do, but not so simple to make the effort to sit yourself down and do it consistently each day. Consistency is the key. When you are consistent, each day builds on the previous, otherwise you backslide.

No one is going to hand you freedom and liberation; we each must earn it by doing the work. Dying won’t help. If you are not liberated now, you will not be liberated after death either. Today is all you have control over. Today is your day in the sun. Do not waste today’s opportunity.

The Buddha says everyone is responsible for their own liberation from suffering – no one can do it for you, not even the Buddha. The Buddha can only show the way. He further says, follow the procedure and your success is guaranteed. Every moment you are either on the path to misery or on the path to liberation – it is your choice.

There are three steps:
Abstain from unwholesome actions (bombing, killing, stealing, cheating, wrong livelihood, etc.)

Perform wholesome actions (friendliness, kindness, charity, etc.)

Purify the mind through meditation.

The Buddha says rituals distract you from the path. For example, it is like getting a doctor’s note for your illness. Some people take this note, get the medicine that is listed, take the medicine and are cured.

Others take the note and put it on an altar in their home and put a photo of the doctor on the wall, they put flowers on the altar and chant to the note and bow three times to the doctor every day, day after day, and they light incense and pray to the doctor and the note. Then as time passes, they do not understand why their illness has not going away.

The first person followed the instructions. The second person did rituals instead.

After death, some end up in the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (delusional cravings that cannot be satisfied, like always hungry), if they haven’t done the work that needed doing in this life. However, do not be worried about death. If you live your life right, then death is a promotion – something all will celebrate on the other side.

Release from delusion/suffering/dissatisfaction is what the sages call “enlightenment”. It sounds profound and it is, but don’t let that intimidate you – it is your birthright as a human, no matter what your history. You do not have to settle for less. To quote Joseph Goldstein, “enlightenment is “freeing the mind from those mental states that cause suffering to oneself and others.”

Below are some books that will expand on the principles I have outlined.

This is the cream of the crop of books that I have found useful that give you a solid foundation to build on.

These books cover the basics:
“Life is Meditation; Meditation is Life”, by Bhante Vimalaramsi. This one book says it all. It clears up the mysteries and controversies. It shows where some of the commentators on Buddha’s teaching have got it wrong. In simple language, he outlines the essence of Buddha’s teaching. Even if you have read 1,000 books on meditation, you need to read this one. Bhante Vimalaramsi also speaks via YouTube videos,

“Buddha’s Map – His Original Teachings on Awakening, Ease, and Insight in the Heart of Meditation”, by Doug Kraft. Doug, a student of Vimalaramsi, takes you through his own experience of meditation through the 8 jhanas to the doorstep of Enlightenment offering "rare and intimate insight to the meditative states Buddhist monks are not allowed to discuss."

However, if you read any of these books but do not practice the technique, you have wasted your time.

Just reading gets you nowhere. It is like looking at a photo of a wonderful meal but not sitting down to eat it. You actually have to sit down and do the technique (also known as “meditation”, “practice” or “sitting”).

Practice is of the essence and practice is your homework.

Start with 5 minutes morning and 5 minutes evening. After a few months, increase to 10 or 20 or 30 minutes. After a few more months, increase to an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening if you can find the time. After a year or two, do a 10-day retreat each year. A retreat allows you to reach depths you never imagined possible. A tenday retreat reinforces and accelerates your practice. Even a weekend retreat will give you a relaxed clear mind and a
fresh start on the weeks ahead.

One hand washes the other. Practicing joy in daily life accelerates joy in meditation. Joy in meditation accelerates joy in daily life. Practice kindness.

When observing the breath your attention is on every part of your body - first in parts, then in flows from head to feet and feet to head, then your entire body as a whole. Beginners focus attention on the nostrils. This is beginner’s preparation for the more advanced attention on the entire body observing the real bodily sensations like heat, cold, itching, muscle tension, pains, touch of clothing, etc. According to the Buddha, every bodily sensation is tied to the subconscious. When you observe these sensations, the mind releases old habit patterns (sankhara) from the unconscious – ultimately leading to freedom from misery (enlightenment).

For something so simple to accomplish something so profound seems counter-intuitive. However, Buddha says, regardless of the simplicity, it works.

On meditation retreats, I taught myself to go easy with this and be okay with the wandering – letting dhamma guide me (laws of nature, the essential qualities of the cosmos and one’s own nature). If you take this easy approach, the anxiety "caused by meditation" subsides.

Prior to retreats, I had not been aware that I had a small degree of forcing of my attention on the breath. It took this pressure cooker environment of a retreat for me to realize this. Previously I mistakenly thought I was not forcing my attention, but 15 hours of meditation per day showed me otherwise. It manifested as acute intense anxiety and frustration. Once I let go of this forcing, the anxiety and frustration dispersed, and progress continued. This “insight” is one example of why this is also called “Insight meditation”.

The goal is not to have your attention stay on the breath but to be okay with it (no craving or aversion) when the mind wanders – just observing, casually letting it effortlessly go back to the breath. You are training yourself to let go of trying to control things you cannot and to not feel frustrated by this. I finally achieved this when watching the breath.

On retreats, people have some extraordinary experiences. But flashy experiences are not the goal - they are just scenery along the way. The goal is more profound and cannot be accurately described to those that have not been there. It is like trying to describe a visual scene to someone who is blind. Words cannot convey the true meaning.

In the Buddha’s time (500 BCE), meditation practices of many types were already well developed. Before his “Awakening” (Enlightenment), the Buddha tried them all but found them lacking – each would only take you so far, then plateau, without bringing about Enlightenment. Finally, he unlocked the secrets and discovered the method outlined in this article and he “Awoke”. Then he spent the next 45 years teaching others, awakening hundreds.

According to Zen legend, when the Buddha realized enlightenment he said, "Isn't it remarkable! All beings are already enlightened!" This "already enlightened" state is called Buddha Nature. The task is not to attain enlightenment but to reveal it. Buddha Nature is not something we have, or strive for, it is what we are when we wipe off the dust. Meditation wipes off that dust.

If you are doing this the way the Buddha outlined, you will feel immediate benefits – the Buddha said this practice is good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end. So, start today.

In our busy, hectic lives, remember - “Don’t just do something - sit there!”. It makes all the difference.

May your life be blessed.

Summary of Mindfulness Meditation
• Practice kindness in your daily life.

• Each morning and evening sit down for at least five minutes per day, more if you have the time, close your
eyes, relax and gently put your attention on breathing.

• Feel and scan your body from the top of your head down to your toes. Back and forth a few times. Release
any tension you find.

• As you relax and breathe, when you find the mind has wander off (and it will many times), be grateful that
you awoke and realized the mind was adrift.

• Release and let go of whatever mind-stuff the mind has wandered to (thoughts, images, colors, visions,
feelings or sounds), relax and release any tension from that distraction, smile (this smile is very important) and gently bring the mind’s attention back to the whole body awareness of the breath and bodily processes. Do not concentrate or force your attention, just allow it to stay lightly with the breath.

• If you feel strong emotions, let them play out and dissolve (joy, bliss, anger, depression, sadness, etc.). Do
not suppress them. Let them work themselves out as you are lightly with the breath. Laugh if you need to; cry if you need to, then lightly back to the breath. Repeat as needed.

• If you are feeling your breath and there is mind-stuff in the background, that is okay, let it be. However, if
the mind-stuff carries you off, when you realize that happened, no problem, let it go, relax, smile and back to the breath. There must not be a forced concentration. That only leads to headaches, anxiety, and frustration.

The goal is not to have your attention stay on the breath but to be okay with it (no craving or aversion) when the mind wanders – just observing, casually letting it effortlessly go back to the breath. You are training yourself to let go of trying to control things you cannot and to not feel frustrated by this.

• When mind-stuff carries you off, practice the “6Rs” - recognize, release, relax, re-smile, return, repeat.

• Over time, this simple technique will work wonders beyond your expectations and profoundly improve your
life. The most important part is – sit down and meditate every day – even if all you have time for is 5 minutes.

• The more you practice this, the deeper the experience will be. Going on a two-day to ten-day mediation retreat can bring you to depths well beyond your current life experience. On a retreat you can have many experiences including the complete cessation of thoughts which is profound and indescribable.

This is the gift of the Buddha to you. The entire purpose of Buddha’s life was to bring this method to you.

Phra Buddhasurintaramongkol, Isan, Thailand. © Design Pics / Chris Upton / Getty Images

Over time you will experience a profoundness to life that cannot be described or overshadowed by life experiences. A “peace that passes all understanding.” A connectedness to the entire universe and beyond. A realization that you are an eternal spiritual being having a temporary human experience.

For something so simple to accomplish something so profound seems counter-intuitive. However, Buddha says, regardless of the simplicity, it works.