Buddhism’s appeal to Westerners lies in its philosophical approach to life. Its foundation is the idea that through practise and experience, we can transform our minds. We can change our thoughts and attitudes towards ourselves, other people and the world around us. After all, the essence of all the Buddha’s teachings is “to tame this mind of ours.”
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts, we make the world.
By training our minds to be continuously aware of the present moment and to remain undistracted, we can realise, for ourselves, the ultimate Truth, with a capital ‘T’, or absolute reality within which we exist … or not …
And bringing the practice into our lives, begins with being like the Buddha. Or at least aspiring to be like the Buddha.
The practices we use to train our minds are not unique to Buddhism. That is why they have far reaching appeal. All the spiritual traditions have used techniques of focussing on one thing or repetition and disregarding all other thoughts as the pathway to changing the mind, purifying the heart and to ultimate wisdom. And activating the relaxation response which fosters healing.
Buddhism is particularly flexible. The Buddha taught over 84,000 techniques, recognising that no one vehicle suited each person. He simply taught that we should inquire, investigate, analyse and experience for ourselves. Find out what works for us. And not just simply accept what he had to say.
But have you, like me, ever wondered why, if the Buddha is not worshipped in the same way that Jesus and the Virgin Mary or Krishna and Ganesh are, a large statue of the Buddha can be found in just about every Buddhist temple?
I have just come home from 10 days of retreat in Myall Lakes where I and 500 others received loving and compassionate teachings from the Tibetan Buddhist lama and author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche. We covered training our minds, impermanence and the uncertain hour of our death. And we meditated, resting our minds in their natural great peace.
And finally I understand the purpose for a Buddha statue or image. It’s to inspire us. To arouse the qualities of the Buddha in us. It’s for being like the Buddha.
What do you think of when you look at an image of the Buddha? Does the facial expression speak to you? Or do you feel something within, perhaps a stillness, as you take in the posture of the Buddha?
It really is quite a powerful image. It evokes peace, equanimity, love, compassion and stillness.
When we sit to meditate, we want to sit like the Buddha. Upright. Balanced. And still. Why?
Because the great masters have said that if the we adopt the right attitude and posture, if the conditions are right, then the meditation will spontaneously occur. That is why we emphasise posture when teaching meditation.
Our body and our mind are connected. When our body is balanced, our mind is too. When our mind is restless, our body is too. When we bring stillness to our body, or relax it, our mind will follow. Eventually. So in our practice, we try to sit still, even when we want to scratch. When our foot goes to sleep. When our shoulder seizes up.
Because meditating is about being like the Buddha – still, undistracted by physical sensations, thoughts and emotions. Just allowing whatever arises to pass away in its own time. And if we absolutely have to move, then we try to do so while maintaining that centre of stillness, that equipoise of the Buddha.
Of course, we don’t want to be stiff and rigid. Keep the spine straight but relax the rest of the body. Just find that sense of ease and comfort in the space that is neither too relaxed so that you’re slouching or so stiff that you are tense. Relaxed and at ease.
And that is how we begin to train the mind. How we begin to let go of aversion and reaction or even attachment to so-called good feelings, how we stop judging things that arise as good or bad. We just allow our thoughts, sensations and emotions to come when they’re ready and go when they’re ready. We just rest in the stillness across which these things travel.
If you find it difficult to sit still when meditating, you might like to consider meditating with your eyes open and resting them lightly on an object that evokes stillness for you. It might be a statue of a Buddha or another icon, a candle or a photo of an inspiring person or scene. Or you might be lucky enough to have a view of the ocean. You can watch the horizon that remains still, no matter how active the waves are.
And when you are in a class, hopefully your teacher or instructor is able to hold the space effectively and model this stillness for you. By just resting in a relaxed yet aware state. By being present. By being like the Buddha, even just for a short time.
What inspires you to be still? What brings stillness and peace to your mind? Are you able to be like the Buddha? Share your experience and what works for you in the comments …
Be happy. Be well.
And so be it.
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
Meditation: An In-Depth Guide by Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson
If you want to learn how to meditate, new courses are starting on 10 February 2016. Details are HERE >>>>
Please note the change of date. I apologise if this causes you any difficulty.
And be sure to check out the upcoming events page for workshops and free events HERE >>>>