In the teaching of Buddha, it is said that we are all naturally endowed with boundless wisdom, immeasurable compassion and infinite power or capability. Yet, because we have lost touch with these inner qualities, we rarely scratch beneath the surface of the potential that we possess. When we do come in touch with our true nature, however, we can truly be of service and benefit -- not only to our selves and our own best interests, but also to others and their needs.
So first, in order to truly help others, we must help ourselves. As it is said in the Christian tradition: "Charity begins at home." We can begin, first of all, by getting to know our own mind. In fact, the entire teaching of the Buddha can be summed up in a single line: to tame, transform and conquer this mind of ours.
Mind is the root of everything: the creator of happiness and the creator of suffering; the creator of what we call nirvana, and what we call samsara. Samsara is the cycle of existence, of birth and death, characterized by suffering and determined by our destructive emotions and our harmful actions. Nirvana is, literally, the state beyond suffering and sorrow; it can be said to be the state of buddhahood or enlightenment itself.
As one great master says:
"Samsara is mind turned outwardly, lost in its projections;
Nirvana is mind turned inwardly, recognizing its true nature."
"Mind turned inwardly" does not mean becoming introverted; it means really understanding the mind, in its true nature.
For when we speak about the mind, it has two main aspects: the appearance of mind, and the essence or nature of mind. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often describes these two aspects as "appearance and reality." Most of us think that thoughts and emotions are the mind. But thoughts and emotions are merely the appearance of mind, like the sun's rays, whereas the nature of mind is like the sun itself. When we are lost in the appearance of mind, we have no idea what the essence of mind really is. So the crucial point is the direction in which our mind is turned: whether it is outwardly looking, lost in thoughts and emotions; or inwardly seeing, recognizing its true nature.
If you tame, transform and conquer your mind, then you will transform your own perceptions and your experience. Thereby even circumstances and outer appearances will begin to change and appear differently.
One of the best ways to tame our mind is through the unique and profound approach of meditation in the Buddhist tradition of Tibet.
The first and most basic practice of meditation is to allow the mind to settle into a state of "calm abiding," where it will find peace and stability, and can rest in the state of non-distraction, which is what meditation really is. When you first begin to meditate, you may use a support: for example, looking at an object or an image of Buddha, or Christ if you are a Christian practitioner; or lightly, mindfully watching the breath, which is common to many spiritual traditions.
What is very important, the great Buddhist teachers always advise, is not to fixate while practicing the concentration of calm abiding. That's why they recommend you place only 25 percent of your attention on mindfulness of the breath. But then, as you may have noticed, mindfulness alone is not enough. While you are supposed to be watching the breath, after a few minutes you may find yourself playing in a football game or starring in your own movie. So another 25 percent should be devoted to a continuous vigilance or watchful awareness, one that oversees and checks whether you are being mindful of the breath. The remaining 50 percent of your attention is left abiding, spaciously. Of course, the exact percentages are not as important as the fact that all three of these elements -- mindfulness, vigilance and spaciousness -- are present.
Gradually, as you are able to rest your mind naturally in a state of non-distraction, you will not need the support of an image or the breath. Even though you are not particularly focusing on anything, there is still some presence of mind, that may be loosely described as a "center of awareness."
This undistracted presence of mind is the best way of integrating your meditation into everyday life, while you are walking or eating or caring for others -- whatever the situation. When you bring conscious awareness to your activities, distractions and anxieties will gradually disappear, and your mind will become more peaceful. It will also bring you a certain stability within yourself and a certain confidence with which you can face life and the complexity of the world with composure, ease and humour.
Profound Methods For Bringing Forth The Nature Of Mind
Then, on the most profound level, we can say that meditation is using the mind to recognize the mind. Or that it is simply resting in the natural state of your present mind, without manipulating or contriving.
There's a wonderful saying by the great masters of the past. I remember when I first heard it what a revelation it was, because in these two lines is shown both what the nature of mind is and how to abide by it, which is the practice of meditation on the highest level. In Tibetan it is very beautiful, almost musical:
chu ma nyok na dang,
sem ma chö na de.
It means roughly, "Water, if you don't stir it, will become clear; the mind, left unaltered, will find its own natural peace, well-being, happiness and bliss..." What is so incredible about this instruction is its emphasis on naturalness and on allowing our mind simply to be, unaltered and without changing anything at all.
Yet another profound way of describing meditation is this: allowing yourself to be simply and clearly present in the face of whatever thoughts, sensations or emotions arise.
The secret is where exactly your mind is: whether you are lost in the appearances of mind -- the thoughts and emotions -- or whether you are resting in the essence of mind -- in your real nature, in your true being.
Through meditation, when you reach the state of transcendence, you simply rest, as much as you can, in the nature of mind, this most natural state which is without any reference or concept, hope or fear, yet with a quiet but soaring confidence, the deepest form of well-being imaginable. As the cloudlike thoughts and emotions fade away, the sky-like nature of your true being is revealed, and, shining from it, your true nature, like the sun. And just as both light and warmth blaze from the sun, wisdom and loving compassion radiate out from the mind's innermost nature.
Since you have reached the state of transcendental wisdom, beyond your ego self, it is as if you have reached the summit of the highest mountain, from which you have a view over all, as well as a heartfelt understanding and insight into the needs of others. There comes a great opening of your heart in compassion, infused with a deep and pervasive love.
The more we are able to be in the nature of our mind, therefore, the more we will discover our wisdom, immeasurable compassion and infinite capability, and so develop an inner strength that is deeply nourishing.
As we connect with the purity of our inherent nature through meditation practice, what is revealed is our fundamental goodness, our good heart. Kindness, compassion and love simply exude. And the more we integrate the practice mindfully in our lives, the more we will find that not only are we in touch with ourselves, but completely in touch with others. The barrier between ourself and others dissolves. Negativity is defused, there comes a self-forgiveness, and all the harm in us is removed, so that we become truly useful and able to be of service to others.
If you would like to find out more about meditation, or try it for yourself, you can visit Whatmeditationreallyis.com. The site is part of a program that I have initiated which draws upon the wisdom of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in order to make the benefits of meditation available to everybody. It offers an introduction to meditation, video advice from different meditation teachers, as well as a blog and forum where you can discuss everything to do with meditation.