An Introduction to Buddhist Meditation

The mental exercise known as meditation is found in all religious systems. Prayer is a form of discursive meditation, and in Hinduism the reciting of slokas and mantras is employed to tranquilize the mind to a state of receptivity. In most of these systems the goal is identified with the particular psychic results that ensue, sometimes very quickly; and the visions that come in the semi-trance state, or the sounds that are heard, are considered to be the end-result of the exercise. This is not the case in the forms of meditation practiced in Buddhism.

There is still comparatively little known about the mind, its functions and its powers, and it is difficult for most people to distinguish between self-hypnosis, the development of mediumistic states, and the real process of mental clarification and direct perception which is the object of Buddhist mental concentration. The fact that mystics of every religion have induced on themselves states wherein they see visions and hear voices that are in accordance with their own religious beliefs indicates that their meditation has resulted only in bringing to the surface of the mind and objectifying the concepts already embedded in the deepest strata of their subconscious minds. The Christian sees and converses with the saints of whom he already knows; the Hindu visualizes the gods of the Hindu pantheon, and so on. When Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the Bengali mystic, began to turn his thoughts towards Christianity, he saw visions of Jesus in his meditations, in place of his former eidetic images of the Hindu Avatars.

The practiced hypnotic subject becomes more and more readily able to surrender himself to the suggestions made to him by the hypnotiser, and anyone who has studied this subject is bound to see a connection between the mental state of compliance he has reached and the facility with which the mystic can induce whatever kind of experiences he wills himself to undergo. There is still another possibility latent in the practice of meditation; the development of mediumistic faculties by which the subject can actually see and hear beings on different planes of existence, the Devalokas and the realm of the unhappy ghosts, for example. These worlds being nearest to our own are the more readily accessible, and this is the true explanation of the psychic phenomena of Western Spiritualism.

The object of Buddhist meditation, however, is none of these things. They arise as side-products, but not only are they not its goal, but they are hindrances which have to be overcome. The Christian who has seen Jesus, or the Hindu who has conversed with Bhagavan Krishna may be quite satisfied that he has fulfilled the purpose of his religious life, but the Buddhist who sees a vision of the Buddha knows by that very fact that he has only succeeded in objectifying a concept in his own mind, for the Buddha after his Parinibbana is, in his own words, no longer visible to gods or men.

There is an essential difference, then, between Buddhist meditation and concentration and that practiced in other systems. The Buddhist embarking on a course of meditation does well to recognize this difference and to establish in his own conscious mind a clear idea of what it is he is trying to do.

The root-cause of rebirth and suffering is avijja conjoined with and reacting upon tanha. These two causes form a vicious circle; on the one hand, concepts, the result of ignorance, and on the other hand, desire arising from concepts. The world of phenomena has no meaning beyond the meaning given to it by our own interpretation.

When that interpretation is conditioned by avijja, we are subject to the state known as vipallasa, or hallucination. Sañña-vipallasa, hallucination of perception; citta-vipallasa, hallucination of consciousness, and ditthi-vipallasa, hallucination of views, cause us to regard that which is impermanent (anicca) as permanent, that which is painful (dukkha) as a source of pleasure, and that which is unreal (anatta), or literally without any self existence, as being a real, self-existing entity. Consequently, we place a false interpretation on all the sensory experiences we gain through the six channels of cognition, that is, the eye, ear, nose, tongue, sense of touch and mind cakkhu, sota, ghana, jivha, kaya and mano (ayatana). Physics, by showing that the realm of phenomena we know through these channels of cognition does not really correspond to the physical world known to science, has confirmed this Buddhist truth. We are deluded by our own senses. Pursuing what we imagine to be desirable, an object of pleasure, we are in reality only following a shadow, trying to grasp a mirage. It is anicca, dukkha, anatta - impermanent, associated with suffering, an insubstantial. Being so, it can only be the cause of impermanence, suffering and insubstantiality, since like begets like; and we ourselves, who chase the illusion, are also impermanent, subject to suffering and without any persistent ego-principle. It is a case of a shadow pursuing a shadow.

The purpose of Buddhist meditation, therefore, is to gain more than an intellectual understanding of this truth, to liberate ourselves from the delusion and thereby put an end to both ignorance and craving. If the meditation does not produce results tending to this consummation - results which are observable in the character and the whole attitude to life - it is clear that there is something wrong either with the system or with the method of employing it. It is not enough to see lights, to have visions or to experience ecstasy. These phenomena are too common to be impressive to the Buddhist who really understands the purpose of Buddhist meditation. There are actual dangers in them which are apparent to one who is also a student of psychopathology.

In the Buddha's great discourse on the practice of mindfulness, the Maha-Satipatthana Sutta, both the object and the means of attaining it are clearly set forth. Attentiveness to the movements of the body, to the ever-changing states of the mind, is to be cultivated in order that their real nature should be known. Instead of identifying these physical and mental phenomena with the false concept of "self," we are to see them as they really are: movements of a physical body, an aggregate of the four elements,(mahabhutas) subject to physical laws of causality on the one hand, and on the other, a flux of successive phases of consciousness arising and passing away in response to external stimuli. They are to be viewed objectively, as though they were processes not associated with ourselves but belonging to another order of phenomena.

From what can selfishness and egotism proceed if not from the concept of "self" (sakkayaditthi)? If the practice of any form of meditation leaves selfishness or egotism unabated, it has not been successful. A tree is judged by its fruits and a man by his actions; there is no other criterion. Particularly is this true in Buddhist psychology, because the man is his actions. In the truest sense they, or the continuity of kamma and vipaka which they represent, are the only claim he can make to any persistent identity, not only through the different phases of this life but also from one life to another. Attentiveness with regard to body and mind serves to break down the illusion of self; and not only that, it also cuts off craving and attachment to external objects, so that ultimately there is neither the "self" that craves nor any object of craving. It is a long and arduous discipline, and one that can only be undertaken in retirement from the world and its cares.

Yet even a temporary retirement, a temporary course of this discipline, can bear good results in that it establishes an attitude of mind which can be applied to some degree in the ordinary situations of life. Detachment, objectivity, is an invaluable aid to clear thinking; it enables a man to sum up a given situation without bias, personal or otherwise, and to act in that situation with courage and discretion. Another gift it bestows is that of concentration - the ability to focus the mind and keep it steadily fixed on a single point (ekaggata, or one-pointedness), and this is the great secret of success in any undertaking. The mind is hard to tame; it roams here and there restlessly as the wind, or like an untamed horse, but when it is fully under control, it is the most powerful instrument in the whole universe. He who has mastered his own mind is indeed master of the Three Worlds.

In the first place he is without fear. Fear arises because we associate mind and body (nama-rupa) with "self"; consequently any harm to either is considered to be harm done to oneself. But he who has broken down this illusion by realizing that the fivekhandha process is merely the manifestation of cause and effect, does not fear death or misfortune. He remains equable alike in success and failure, unaffected by praise or blame. The only thing he fears is demeritorious action, because he knows that no thing or person in the world can harm him except himself, and as his detachment increases, he becomes less and less liable to demeritorious deeds. Unwholesome action comes of an unwholesome mind, and as the mind becomes purified, healed of its disorders, bad kamma ceases to accumulate. He comes to have a horror of wrong action and to take greater and greater delight in those deeds that are rooted in alobha, adosa, and amoha - generosity, benevolence and wisdom.

Anapana Sati

One of the most universally-applicable methods of cultivating mental concentration is anapanasati, attentiveness on the in-going and out-going breath. This, unlike the Yogic systems, does not call for any interference with the normal breathing, the breath being merely used as a point on which to fix the attention, at the tip of the nostrils. The attention must not wander, even to follow the breath, but must be kept rigidly on the selected spot. In the initial stages it is advisable to mark the respiration by counting, but as soon as it is possible to keep the mind fixed without this artificial aid, it should be discontinued and only used when it is necessary to recall the attention.

As the state of mental quiescence (samatha) is approached, the breath appears to become fainter and fainter, until it is hardly discernible. It is at this stage that certain psychic phenomena appear, which may at first be disconcerting. A stage is reached when the actual bodily dukkha, the sensation of arising and passing away of the physical elements in the body, is felt. This is experienced as a disturbance, but it must be remembered that it is an agitation that is always present in the body but we are unaware of it until the mind becomes stabilized. It is the first direct experience of the dukkha (suffering) which is inherent in all phenomena - the realization within oneself of the first of the Four Noble Truths, Dukkha Ariya Sacca. When that is passed there follows the sensation of piti, rapturous joy associated with the physical body. The teacher of vipassana, however, is careful never to describe to his pupil beforehand what he is likely to experience, for if he does so, there is a strong possibility that the power of suggestion will produce a false reaction, particularly in those cases where the pupil is very suggestible and greatly under the influence of the teacher.

Devices in Meditation

In kammattana, it is permissible to use certain devices, such as the earth or colour kasina, as focal points for the attention. A candle flame, a hole in the wall, or some metal object can also be used, and the method of using them is found in the Pali texts and the Visuddhi-magga. In the texts themselves it is to be noted that the Buddha gave objects of meditation to disciples in accordance with their individual characteristics, and his unerring knowledge of the right technique for each came from his insight into their previous births. Similarly with recursive meditation, a subject would be given which was easily comprehensible to the pupil, or which served to counteract some strong, unwholesome tendency in his nature. Thus, to one attracted by sensual indulgence, the Buddha would recommend meditation on the impurity of the body, or the "cemetery meditation." Here the object is to counterbalance attraction by repulsion, but it is only a "skillful means" to reach the final state, in which attraction and repulsion both cease to exist. In the Arahant there is neither liking nor disliking: he regards all things with perfect equanimity, as did Thera Maha Moggallana when he accepted a handful of rice from a leper.


The use of the rosary in Buddhism is often misunderstood. If it is used for the mechanical repetition of a set formula, the repeating of so many phrases as an act of piety, as in other religions, its value is negligible. When it is used as means of holding the attention and purifying the mind, however, it can be a great help. One of the best ways of employing it, because it calls for undivided attention, is to repeat the Pali formula of the qualities of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, beginning "Iti'pi so Bhagava - " with the first bead, starting again with the second and continuing to the next quality: "Iti'pi so Bhagava, Arahan - " and so on until with the last bead the entire formula is repeated from beginning to end. This cannot be carried out successfully unless the mind is entirely concentrated on what is being done. At the same time the recalling of the noble qualities of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha lifts the mind to a lofty plane, since the words carry with them a meaning the impresses itself on the pattern of the thought-moments as they arise and pass away. The value of this in terms of Abhidhamma psychology lies in the wholesome nature of the cittakkhana, or "consciousness-moment" in its uppada (arising), thiti (static) and bhanga (disappearing) phases. Each of these wholesome cittakkhana contributes to the improvement of the sankhara; or aggregate of tendencies; in other words, it directs the subsequent thought-moments into a higher realm and tends to establish the character on that level.

Samatha Bhavana

Samatha bhavana, the development of mental tranquillity with concentration, is accompanied by three benefits; it gives happiness in the present life, a favorable rebirth, and the freedom from mental defilements which is a prerequisite for attainment of insight. In samatha the mind becomes like a still, clear pool completely free from disturbance and agitation, and ready to mirror on its surface the nature of things as they really are, the aspect of them which is hidden from ordinary knowledge by the restlessness of craving. It is the peace and fulfillment which is depicted on the features of the Buddha, investing his images with a significance that impresses even those who have no knowledge of what it means. Such an image of the Buddha can itself be a very suitable object of meditation, and is, in fact, the one that most Buddhists instinctively use. The very sight of the tranquil image can calm and pacify a mind distraught with worldly hopes and fears. It is the certain and visible assurance of Nibbana.

Vipassana Bhavana

Vipassana bhavana is realization of the three signs of being, anicca, dukkha, and anatta, by direct insight. These three characteristics, impermanence, suffering and non-self, can be grasped intellectually, as scientific and philosophical truth, but this is not in itself sufficient to rid the mind of egoism and craving. The final objective lies on a higher level of awareness, the direct "intuitional" plane, where it is actually experienced as psychological fact. Until this personal confirmation is obtained, the sphere of sense perception (ayatana) and sensory-responses remain stronger than the intellectual conviction; the two function side by side on different levels of consciousness, but it is usually the sphere dominated by avijja which continues to determine the course of life by volitional action. The philosopher who fails to live according to his philosophy is the most familiar example of this incompatibility between theory and practice. When the direct perception is obtained, however, what was at its highest intellectual level still merely a theory becomes actual knowledge, in precisely the same way that we "know" when we are hot or cold hungry or thirsty. The mind that has attained it is established in the Dhamma, and pañña, wisdom, has taken the place of delusion.

Discursive meditation, such as that practiced in Christian devotion, is entirely on the mental level, and can be undertaken by anyone at any time. It calls for no special preparation or conditions. For the more advanced exercises of samatha and vipassana,however, the strictest observance of sila, the basic moral rules, becomes necessary. These techniques are best followed in seclusion, away from the impurities of worldly life and under the guidance of an accomplished master. Many people have done themselves psychic harm by embarking on them without due care in this respect. It is not advisable for anyone to experiment on his own; those who are unable to place themselves under a trustworthy teacher will do best to confine themselves to discursive meditation. It cannot take them to enlightenment but will benefit them morally and prepare them for the next stage.

The Practice of Metta Bhavana

Metta bhavana is the most universally beneficial form of discursive meditation, and can be practiced in any conditions. Thoughts of universal, undiscriminating benevolence, like radio waves reaching out in all directions, sublimate the creative energy of the mind. With steady perseverance in metta bhavana a point can be reached at which it becomes impossible even to harbor a thought of ill-will. True peace can only come to the world through minds that are at peace, If people everywhere in the world could be persuaded to devote half an hour daily to the practice of metta bhavana, we should see more real advance towards world peace and security than international agreements will ever bring us. It would be a good thing if, in this new era of the Buddha Sasana, people of all creeds could be invited to take part in a world-wide movement for the practice of metta bhavanaand pledge themselves to live in accordance with the highest tenets of their own religion, whatever it may be. In so doing they would be paying homage to the Supreme Buddha and to their own particular religious teacher as well, for on this level all the great religions of the world unite. If there is a common denominator to be found among them, it is surely here, in the teaching of universal loving-kindness which transcends doctrinal differences and draws all being together by the power of a timeless and all-embracing truth.

The classic formulation of metta as an attitude of mind to be developed by meditation is found in the Karaniya Metta Sutta(Sutta Nipata, Khuddaka-patha) [See appendix]. It is recommended that this sutta be recited before beginning meditation, and again at its close, a practice which is invariably followed in the Buddhist countries. The verses of the sutta embody the highest concept to which the thought of loving-kindness can reach, and it serves both as a means of self-protection against unwholesome mental states and as a subject of contemplation (kammatthana).

It is taught in Buddhism that the cultivation of benevolence must begin with oneself. There is a profound psychological truth in this, for no one who hates or despises himself consciously or unconsciously can feel true loving-kindness for others. To each of us the self is the nearest object; if one's attitude towards oneself is not a wholesome one, the spring of love is poisoned at its source. This does not mean that we should build up an idealized picture of ourselves as an object of admiration, but that, while being fully aware of our faults and deficiencies, we should not condemn but resolve to improve ourselves and cherish confidence in our ability to do so.

Metta bhavana, therefore, begins with the thought: "May I be free from enmity; may I be free from ill-will; may I be rid of suffering; may I be happy."

This thought having been developed, the next stage is to apply it in exactly the same form and to the same degree, to someone for whom one has naturally a feeling of friendship.

In so doing, two points must be observed: the object should be a living person, and should not be one of the opposite sex. The second prohibition is to guard against the feeling of metta turning into its "near enemy," sensuality. Those whose sensual leanings have a different orientation must vary the rule to suit their own needs.

When the thought of metta has been developed towards a friend, the next object should be someone towards whom one has no marked feelings of like or dislike. Lastly, the though of metta is to be turned towards someone who is hostile. It is here that difficulties arise. They are to be expected, and the meditator must be prepared to meet and wrestle with them. To this end, several techniques are described in the Visuddhimagga and elsewhere. The first is to think of the hostile personality in terms ofanatta - impersonality. The meditator is advised to analyze the hostile personality into its impersonal components - the body, the feelings, the perceptions, the volitional formations and the consciousness. The body, to begin with, consists of purely material items: hair of the head, hair of the body, skin, nails, teeth and so on. There can be no basis for enmity against these. The feelings, perceptions, volitional formations and consciousness are all transitory phenomena, interdependent, conditioned and bound up with suffering. They are anicca, dukkha and anatta, impermanent, fraught with suffering and void of selfhood. There is no more individual personality in them than there is in the physical body itself. So towards them, likewise, there can be no real ground for enmity.

If this approach should prove to be not altogether effective, there are others in which emotionally counteractive states of mind are brought into play, as for example regarding the hostile person with compassion. The meditator should reflect: "As he (or she) is, so am I. As I am, so is he. We are both bound to the inexorable Wheel of Life by ignorance and craving. Both of us are subject to the law of cause and effect, and whatever evil we do, for that we must suffer. Why then should I blame or call anyone my enemy? Rather should I purify my mind and wish that he may do the same, so that both of us may be freed from suffering." If this thought is dwelt upon and fully comprehended, feelings of hostility will be cast out. When the thought of loving-kindness is exactly the same, in quality and degree, for all these four objects - oneself, one's friend, the person toward whom one is neutral, and the enemy - the meditation has been successful.

The next stage is to widen and extend it. This process is a threefold one: suffusing metta without limitation, suffusing it with limitation, and suffusing it in all of the ten directions, east, west, north, south, the intermediate points, above and below.

In suffusing metta without limitation (anodhiso-pharana), the meditator thinks of the objects of loving-kindness under five heads: all sentient beings; all things that have life; all beings that have come into existence; all that have personality; all that have assumed individual being. For each of these groups separately he formulates the thought: "May they be free from enmity; may they be free from enmity; may they be free from ill will; may they be rid of suffering; may they be happy. For each object he specifies the particular group which he is suffusing with metta: "May all sentient beings be free from enmity, etc... May all things that have life be free from enmity, etc." This meditation embraces all without particular reference to locality, and so is called "suffusing without limitation."

In suffusing metta with limitation (odhiso-pharana), there are seven groups which form the objects of the meditation. They are: all females; all males; all Noble Ones (those who have attained any one of the states of Sainthood); all imperfect ones; all Devas; all human beings; all beings in states of woe. Each of the groups should be meditated upon as described above: "May all females be free from enmity, etc." This method is called "suffusing metta with limitation" because it defines the groups according to their nature and condition.

Suffusing with metta all beings in the ten directions is carried out in the same way. Directing his mind towards the east, the meditator concentrates on the thought: "May all beings in the east be free from enmity; may they be free from ill will; may they be rid of suffering; may they be happy!" And so with the beings in the west, the north, the south, the north-east, south-west, north-west, south-east, above and below.

Lastly, each of the twelve groups belonging to the unlimited and limited suffusions of metta can be dealt with separately for each of the ten directions, using the appropriate formulas.

It is taught that each of these twenty-two modes of practicing metta bhavana is capable of being developed up to the stage of aappana-samadhi, that is, the concentration which leads to jhana, or mental absorption. For this reason it is described as the method for attaining release of the mind through metta (metta cetovimutti). It is the first of the Four Brahma Viharas, the sublime states of which the Karaniya Metta Sutta: "Brahmam etam viharam idhamahu" - "Here is declared the Highest Life."

Metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha: [see Nyanaponika Thera, The Four Sublime States, Wheel 6.] loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and detachment, these four states of mind represent the highest levels of mundane consciousness. One who has attained to them and dwells in them is impervious to the ills of life. Like a god he moves and acts in undisturbed serenity, armored against the blows of fate and the uncertainty of worldly conditions. And the first of them to be cultivated is metta,because it is through boundless love that the mind gains its first taste of liberation.

Loving kindness as a Contemplation
Metta Sutta

From the Sutta Nipata, verses 143-52
(Spoken by the Buddha)

What should be done by one skillful in good
So as to gain the State of Peace is this:
Let him be able, and upright, and straight.
Easy to speak to, gentle, and not proud,
Contented, too, supported easily.
With few tasks, and living very lightly,
His faculties serene, prudent, and modest,
Unswayed by the emotions of the clans;
And let him never do the slightest thing
That other wise men might hold blamable.
And let him think:) "In safety and in bliss
May creatures all be of a blissful heart.
Whatever breathing beings there may be,
No matter whether they are frail or firm,
With none excepted, be they long or big
Or middle sized, or be they short or small
Or thick, as well as those seen or unseen,
Or whether they are dwelling far or near,
Existing or yet seeking to exist,
May creatures all be of a blissful heart.
Let no one work another one's undoing
Or even slight him at all anywhere;
And never let them wish each other ill
Through provocation or resentful thought."
And just as might a mother with her life
Protect the son that was her only child,
So let him then for every living thing
Maintain unbounded consciousness in being,
And let him too with love for all the world
Maintain unbounded consciousness in being
Above, below, and all round in between,
Untroubled, with no enemy or foe.
And while he stands or walks or while he sits
Or while he lies down, free from drowsiness,
Let him resolve upon this mindfulness
This is Divine Abiding here, they say.
But when he has no trafficking with views,
Is virtuous, and has perfected seeing,
And purges greed for sensual desires.
He surely comes no more to any womb.
Anapana Sati: Meditation on Breathing

by Ven. Mahathera Nauyane Ariyadhamma
Gunawardana Yogashrama Galduwa, Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka

Homage to the Blessed One, Accomplished and Fully Enlightened Anapana sati, the meditation on in-and-out breathing, is the first subject of meditation expounded by the Buddha in the Maha Satipatthana Sutta, the Great Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness. The Buddha laid special stress on this meditation, for it is the gateway to enlightenment and Nibbana adopted by all the Buddhas of the past as the very basis for their attainment of Buddhahood. When the Blessed One sat at the foot of the Bodhi Tree and resolved not to rise until he had reached enlightenment, he took up anapana sati as his subject of meditation. On the basis of this, he attained the four jhanas, recollected his previous lives, fathomed the nature of samsara, aroused the succession of great insight knowledges, and at dawn, while 100,000 world systems trembled, he attained the limitless wisdom of a Fully Enlightened Buddha.

Let us then offer our veneration to the Blessed One, who became a peerless world-transcending Buddha through this meditation of anapana sati. May we comprehend this subject of meditation fully, with wisdom resplendent like the sun and moon. Through its power may we attain the blissful peace of Nibbana.

The Basic Text

Let us first examine the meaning of the text expounded by the Buddha on anapana sati. The text begins:

"Herein, monks, a monk who has gone to the forest, or to the foot of a tree, or to an empty place, sits down cross legged, holding his back erect, arousing mindfulness in front of him."

This means that any person belonging to the four types of individuals mentioned in this teaching--namely, bhikkhu (monk), bhikkhuni (nun), upasaka (layman) or upasika (laywoman)--desirous ofpractising this meditation, should go either to a forest, to the foot of a secluded tree, or to a solitary dwelling. There he should sit down cross-legged, and keeping his body in an erect position, fix his mindfulness at the tip of his nose, the locus for his object of meditation.

If he breathes in a long breath, he should comprehend this with full awareness. If he breathes out a long breath, he should comprehend this with full awareness. If he breathes in a short breath, he should comprehend this with full awareness. if he breathes out a short breath, he should comprehend this with full awareness.

"He breathes in experiencing the whole body, he breathes out experiencing the whole body": that is, with well-placed mindfulness, he sees the beginning, the middle and the end of the two phases, the in-breath and the out-breath. As he practises watching the in-breath and the out breath with mindfulness, he calms down and tranquilizes the two functions of in breathing and out-breathing.

The Buddha illustrates this with a simile. When a clever turner or his apprentice works an object on his lathe, he attends to his task with fixed attention: in making a long turn or a short turn, he knows that he is making a long turn or a short turn. In the same manner if the practitioner of meditation breathes in a long breath he comprehends it as such; and if he breathes out a long breath, he comprehends it as such; if he breathes in a short breath, he comprehends it as such; and if he breathes out a short breath, he comprehends it as such. He exercises his awareness so as to see the beginning, the middle and the end of these two functions of breathing in and breathing out. He comprehends with wisdom the calming down of these two aspects of in-breathing and out-breathing.

In this way he comprehends the two functions of in-breathing and out-breathing in himself, and the two functions of in breathing and out-breathing in other persons. He also comprehends the two functions of in-breathing and out-breathing in himself and in others in rapid alternation. He comprehends as well the cause for the arising of in-breathing and out-breathing, and the cause for the cessation of in breathing and out-breathing, and the moment-by-moment arising and cessation of in-breathing and out-breathing.

He then realizes that this body which exercises the two functions of in-breathing and out-breathing is only a body, not an ego or "I." This mindfulness and wisdom become helpful in developing greater and more profound mindfulness and wisdom, enabling him to discard the erroneous conceptions of things in terms of "I" and "mine." He then becomes skilled in living with wisdom in respect of this body and he does not grasp anything in the world with craving, conceit or false views. Living unattached, the meditator treads the path to Nibbana by contemplating the nature of the body. This is an amplified paraphrase of the passage from the Maha Satipatthana Sutta on anapana sati. This meditation has been explained in sixteen different ways in various suttas. Of these sixteen, the first tetrad has been explained here. But these four are the foundation for all the sixteen ways in which anapana sati can be practised.

The Preliminaries of Practice

Now we should investigate the preliminary stages to practising this meditation. In the first place the Buddha indicated a suitable dwelling for practising anapana sati. In the sutta he has mentioned three places: the forest, the foot of a tree, or an isolated empty place. This last can be a quiet restful hut, or a dwelling place free from the presence of people. We may even consider a meditation hall an empty place. Although there may be a large collection of people in such a hall, if every one remains calm and silent it can be considered an empty place.

The Buddha recommended such places because in order to practise anapana sati, silence is an essential factor. A beginning meditator will find it easier to develop mental concentration with anapana sati only if there is silence. Even if one cannot find complete silence, one should choose a quiet place where one will enjoy privacy. Next the Buddha explained the sitting posture. There are four postures which can be adopted for meditation: standing, sitting, reclining and walking. Of these the most suitable posture to practise anapana sati at the beginning is the seated posture.

The person wishing to practise anapana sati should sit down cross-legged. For bhikkhus and laymen, the Buddha has recommended the cross-legged Position. This is not an easy posture for everyone, but it can be gradually mastered. The half cross-legged position has been recommended for bhikkhunis and laywomen. This is the posture of sitting with one leg bent. It would be greatly beneficial if the cross legged posture recommended for bhikkhus and laymen could be adopted in the "lotus" pattern, with the feet turned up and resting on the opposite thighs. If that is inconvenient, one should sit with the two feet tucked underneath the body.

In the practice of anapana sati, it is imperative to hold the body upright. The torso should be kept erect, though not strained and rigid. One can cultivate this meditation properly only if all the bones of the spine are linked together in an erect position. Therefore, this advice of the Buddha to keep the upper part of the body erect should be clearly comprehended and followed. The hands should be placed gently on the lap, the back of the right hand over the palm of the left. The eyes can be closed softly, or left half-closed, whichever is more comfortable. The head should be held straight, tilted a slight angle downwards, the nose perpendicular to the navel.

The next factor is the place for fixing the attention. To cultivate anapana sati one should be clearly mindful of the place where the incoming and outgoing breaths enter and leave the nostrils. This will be felt as a spot beneath the nostrils or on the upper lip, wherever the impact of the air coming in and out the nostrils can be felt most distinctly. On that spot the attention should be fixed, like a sentry watching a gate.

Then the Buddha has explained the manner in which anapana sati has to be cultivated. One breathes in mindfully, breathes out mindfully. From birth to death this function of in-breathing and out-breathing continues without a break, without a stop, but since we do not consciously reflect on it, we do not even realize the presence of this breath. If we do so, we can derive much benefit by way of calm and insight. Thus the Buddha has advised us to be aware of the function of breathing.

The practitioner of meditation who consciously watches the breath in this manner should never try to control his breathing or hold back his breath with effort. For if he controls his breath or holds back his breath with conscious effort, he will become fatigued and his mental concentration will be disturbed and broken. The key to the practice is to set up mindfulness naturally at the spot where the in-breaths and the out-breaths are felt entering and leaving the nostrils. Then the meditator has to maintain his awareness of the touch sensation of the breath, keeping the awareness as steady and consistent as possible.

The Eight Steps

To help practitioners in developing this meditation, the commentators and meditation masters have indicated eight graduated steps in the practice. These eight steps will first be enumerated, and then they will be explained in relation to the actual meditative process.

The eight steps are named: counting (ganana); following (anubandhana); contact (phusana); fixing (thapana); observing (sallakkhana); turning away (vivattana), purification (parisuddhi); and retrospection (patipassana). These eight cover the whole course of meditative development up to the attainment of arahatship.

(i) Counting

Counting is intended for those who have never before practised anapana sati. It is not necessary for those who have practised meditation for a considerable period of time. However, as it is expedient to have a knowledge of this, counting should be understood in the following manner.

When the meditator sits down for meditation, he fixes his attention at the tip of his nose and consciously attends to the sequence of in-and-out breathing. He notes the breath as it enters, and notes the breath as it leaves, touching against the tip of the nose or the upper lip. At this time he begins to count these movements.

There are a few methods of counting. The easiest is explained thus: The first breath felt is counted as "one, one"; the second as "two, two"; the third as "three, three"; the fourth as "four, four"; the fifth as "five, five" and so on up to the tenth breath which is counted as "ten, ten." Then he returns to "one, one" and continues again up to "ten, ten." This is repeated over and over from one to ten.

The mere counting is not itself meditation, but the counting has become an essential aid to meditation. A person who has not practised meditation before, finding it difficult to understand the nature of his mind, may think he is meditating while his mind runs helter skelter. Counting is an easy method to control the wandering mind. If a person fixes his mind well on his meditation, he can maintain this counting correctly. If the mind flees in all directions, and he misses the count, he becomes confused and thus can realize that his mind has wandered about. If the mind has lost track of the count, the meditator should begin the counting over again. In this way he should start the counting again from the beginning, even if he has gone wrong a thousand times.

As the practice develops, there may come a time when the in-breathing and out breathing take a shorter course and it is not possible to count the same number many times. Then the meditator has to count quickly "one", "two," "three," etc. When he counts in this manner he can comprehend the difference between a long in-breath and out-breath and a short in-breath and out-breath.

(ii) Following

"Following" means following the breath with the mind. When the mind has been subdued by counting and is fixed on the in-breathing and out-breathing, the counting is stopped and replaced by mentally keeping track of the course of the breath. This is explained by the Buddha in this manner: "When the meditator breathes in a long breath, he comprehends that he is breathing in a long breath; and when he is breathing out a long breath, he comprehends that he is breathing out a long breath."

Herein, one does not deliberately take a long in-breath or a long out-breath. One simply comprehends what actually takes place. The Buddha has declared in the next passage that a meditator trains himself thinking: "I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body, and I shall breath out experiencing the whole body." Here, what is meant as "the whole body" is the entire cycle of breathing in and breathing out. The meditator should fix his attention so as to see the beginning, the middle and the end of each cycle of in-breathing and out-breathing. It is this practice that is called "experiencing the whole body."

The beginning, middle and end of the breath must be correctly understood. It is incorrect to consider the tip of the nose to be the beginning of the breath, the chest to be the middle, and the navel to be the end. If one attempts to trace the breath from the nose through the chest to the belly, or to follow it out from the belly through the chest to the nose, one's concentration will be disrupted and one's mind will become agitated. The beginning of the in-breath, properly understood, is the start of the inhalation, the middle is continued inhalation, and the end is the completion of the inhalation. Likewise, in regard to the out breath, the beginning is the start of the exhalation, the middle is the continued exhalation, and the end is the completion of the exhalation. To "experience the whole body" means to be aware of the entire cycle of each inhalation and exhalation, keeping the mind fixed at the spot around the nostrils or on the upper lip where the breath is felt entering and leaving the nose.

This work of contemplating the breath at the area around the nostrils, without following it inside and outside the body, is illustrated by the commentaries with the similes of the gatekeeper and the saw.

Just as a gatekeeper examines each person entering and leaving the city only as he passes through the gate, without following him inside or outside the city, so the meditator should be aware of each breath only as it passes through the nostrils, without following it inside or outside the body.

Just as a man sawing a log will keep his attention fixed on the spot where the teeth of the saw cut through the wood, without following the movement of the teeth back and forth, so the meditator should contemplate the breath as it swings back and forth around the nostrils, without letting his mindfulness be distracted by the breath's inward and outward passage through the body. When a person meditates earnestly in this manner, seeing the entire process, a joyous thrill pervades his mind. And since the mind does not wander about, the whole body becomes calm and composed, cool and comfortable.

(iii) Contact and (iv) Fixing

These two aspects of the practice indicate the development of stronger concentration. When the mindfulness of breathing is maintained, the breathing becomes more and more subtle and tranquil. As a result the body becomes calm and ceases to feel fatigued. Bodily pain and numbness disappear, and the body begins to feel an exhilarating comfort, as if it were being fanned with a cool gentle breeze.

At that time, because of the tranquility of the mind, the breathing becomes finer and finer until it seems that it has ceased. At times this condition lasts for many minutes. This is when breathing ceases to be %felt%. At this time some be come alarmed thinking the breathing has ceased, but it is not so. The breathing exists but in a very delicate and subtle form. No matter how subtle the breathing becomes, one must still keep mindful of the contact (phusana) of the breath in the area of the nostrils, without losing track of it. The mind then becomes free from the five hindrances--sensual desire, anger, drowsiness, restlessness and doubt. As a result one becomes calm and joyful.

It is at this stage that the "signs" or mental images appear heralding the success of concentration. First comes the learning sign (uggaha-nimitta), then the counterpart sign (patibhaga-nimitta). To some the sign appears like a wad of cotton, like an electric light, a sliver chain, a mist or a wheel. It appeared to the Buddha like the clear and bright midday sun. The learning sign is unsteady, it moves here and there, up and down. But the counterpart sign appearing at the end of the nostrils is steady, fixed and motionless. At this time there are no hindrances, the mind is most active and extremely tranquil. This stage is expounded by the Buddha when he states that one breathes in tranquilizing the activity of the body, one breathes out tranquilizing the activity of the body.

The arising of the counterpart sign and the suppression of the five hindrances marks the attainment of access concentration (upacara-samadhi). As concentration is further developed, the meditator attains full absorption (appana-samadhi) beginning with the first jhana. Four stages of absorption can be attained by the practice of anapana sati, namely, the first, second, third and fourth jhanas. These stages of deep concentration are called "fixing" (thapana).

(v) Observing -- (viii) Retrospection

A person who has reached jhana should not stop there but should go on to develop insight meditation (vipassana). The stages of insight are called "observing" (sallakkhana). When insight reaches its climax, the meditator attains the supramundane paths, starting with the stage of stream entry. Because these paths turn away the fetters that bind one to the cycle of birth and death, they are called "turning away" (vivattana).

The paths are followed by their respective fruitions; this stage is called "purification" (parisuddhi) because one has been cleansed of defilements. Thereafter one realizes the final stage, reviewing knowledge, called retrospection (patipassana) because one looks back upon one's entire path of progress and one's attainments. This is a brief overview of the main stages along the path to Nibbana, base on the meditation of anapana sati. Now let us examine the course of practice in terms of the seven stages of purification.

The Seven Stages of Purification

The person who has taken up the practice begins by establishing himself in a fitting moral code. If he is a layman, he first establishes himself in the five precepts or the ten precepts. If he is a bhikkhu, he begins his meditation while scrupulously maintaining the moral code prescribed for him. The unbroken observance of his respective moral code constitutes purification of morality (sila-visuddhi).

Next, he applies himself to his topic of meditation, and as a result, the hindrances become subjugated and the mind becomes fixed in concentration. This is purification of mind (citta-visuddhi)--the mind in which the hindrances have been fully suppressed--and this includes both access concentration and the four jhanas.

When the meditator becomes well established in concentration, he next turns his attention to insight meditation. To develop insight on the basis of anapana sati, the meditator first considers that this process of in-and-out breathing is only form, a series of bodily events--not a self or ego. The mental factors that contemplate the breathing are in turn only mind, a series of mental events--not a self or ego. This discrimination of mind and matter (nama-rupa) is called purification of view (ditthi-visuddhi).

One who has reached this stage comprehends the process of in-and-out breathing by way of the conditions for the arising and cessation of the bodily and mental phenomena involved in the process of breathing. This knowledge, which becomes extended to all bodily and mental phenomena in terms of their dependent arising, is called the comprehension of conditions. As his understanding matures, all doubts conceived by him in respect of past, future and present times are dispelled. Thus this stage is called "purification by the transcending of doubt."

After having, understood the causal relations of mind and matter, the meditator proceeds further with insight meditation, and in time there arises the wisdom "seeing the rise and fall of things." When he breathes in and out, he sees the bodily and mental states pass in and out of existence moment after moment. As this wisdom becomes clearer, the mind becomes illumined and happiness and tranquility arise, along with faith, vigour, mindfulness, wisdom and equanimity.

When these factors appear, he reflects on them, observing their three characteristics of impermanence, suffering and egolessness. The wisdom that distinguishes between the exhilarating results of the practice and the task of detached contemplation is called "purification by knowledge and vision of the true path and the false path." His mind, so purified, sees very clearly the rise and cessation of mind and matter.

He sees next, with each in-breath and out-breath, the breaking up of the concomitant mental and bodily phenomena, which appears just like the bursting of the bubbles seen in a pot of boiling rice, or like the breaking up of bubbles when rain falls on a pool of water, or like the cracking of sesamum or mustard seeds as they are put into a red-hot pan. This wisdom which sees the constant and instantaneous breaking up of mental and bodily phenomena is called "the knowledge of dissolution." Through this wisdom he acquires the ability to see how all factors of mind and body throughout the world arise and disappear.

Then there arises in him the wisdom that sees all of these phenomena as a fearsome spectacle. He sees that in none of the spheres of existence, not even in the heavenly planes, is there any genuine pleasure or happiness, and he comprehends misfortune and danger.

Then he conceives a revulsion towards all conditioned existence. He arouses an urge to free himself from the world, an all consuming desire for deliverance. Then, by considering the means of releasing himself, there arises in him a state of wisdom which quickly reflects on impermanence, suffering and egolessness, and leads to subtle and deep levels of insight.

Now there appears in him the comprehension that the aggregates of mind and body appearing in all the world systems are afflicted by suffering, and he realizes that the state of Nibbana, which transcends the world, is exceedingly peaceful and comforting. When he comprehends this situation, his mind attains the knowledge of equanimity about formations. This is the climax of insight meditation, called "purification by knowledge and vision of progress."

As he becomes steadfast, his dexterity in meditation increases, and when his faculties are fully mature he enters upon the cognitive process of the path of stream-entry (sotapatti). With the path of stream-entry he realizes Nibbana and comprehends directly the Four Noble Truths. The path is followed by two or three moments of the fruit of stream-entry, by which he enjoys the fruits of his attainment. Thereafter there arises reviewing knowledge by which he reflects on his progress and attainment.

If one continues with the meditation with earnest aspiration, one will develop anew the stages of insight knowledge and realize the three higher paths and fruits: those of the once-returner, non-returner, and arahant. These attainments, together with stream-entry, form the seventh stage of purity, purification by knowledge and vision. With each of these attainments one realizes in full the Four Noble Truths , which had eluded one throughout one's long sojourn in the cycle of rebirths. As a result, all the defilements contained within the mind are uprooted and destroyed, and one's mind becomes fully pure and cleansed. One then realizes the state of Nibbana, wherein one is liberated from all the suffering of birth, ageing and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.


Births like ours are rare in samsara. We have been fortunate to encounter the Buddha's message, to enjoy the association of good friends, to have the opportunity to listen to the Dhamma. As we have been endowed with all these blessings, if our aspirations are ripe, we can in this very life reach the final goal of Nibbana through its graduated stages of stream entry, once-returner, non-returner and arahatship. Therefore, let us make our life fruitful by developing regularly the meditation of anapana sati. Having received proper instructions on how to practise this method of meditation, one should purify one's moral virtue by observing the precepts and should surrender one's life to the Triple Gem.

One should choose a convenient time for meditation and practise with utmost regularity, reserving the same period each day for one's practice. One may begin by briefly reflecting on the abundant virtues of the Buddha, extending loving-kindness towards all beings, pondering the repulsiveness of the body, and considering the inevitability of death. Then, arousing the confidence that one is walking the very road to Nibbana walked by all the enlightened ones of the past, one should proceed forth on the path of meditation and strive with diligent effort.

Facets of Metta

by Sharon Salzberg

A pearl goes up for auction No one has enough, so the pearl buys itself -- Rumi

Love exists in itself, not relying on owning or being owned. Like the pearl, love can only buy itself, because love is not a matter of currency or exchange. No one has enough to buy it but everyone has enough to cultivate it. Metta reunites us with what it means to be alive and unbound.

Researchers once gave a plant to every resident of a nursing home. They told half of these elderly people that the plants were theirs to care for -- they had to pay close attention to their plants' needs for water and sunlight, and they had to respond carefully to those needs. The researchers told the other half of the residents that their plants were theirs to enjoy but that they did not have to take any responsibility for them; the nursing staff would care for the plants.

At the end of a year, the researchers compared the two groups of elders. The residents who had been asked to care for their plants were living considerably longer than the norm, were much healthier, and were more oriented towards and connected to their world. The other residents, those who had plants but did not have to stay responsive to them, simply reflected the norms for people their age in longevity, health, alertness, and engagement with the world.

This study shows, among other things, the enlivening power of connection, of love, of intimacy. This is the effect that metta can have on our lives. But when I heard about the study, I also reflected on how often we regard intimacy as a force between ourselves and something outside ourselves -- another person, or even a plant -- and how rarely we consider the force of being intimate with ourselves, with our own inner experience. How rarely do we lay claim to our own lives and feel connected to ourselves!

A way to discover intimacy with ourselves and all of life is to live with integrity, basing our lives on a vision of compassionate nonharming. When we dedicate ourselves to actions that do not hurt ourselves or others, our lives become all of one piece, a "seamless garment" with nothing separate or disconnected in the spiritual reality we discover.

In order to live with integrity, we must stop fragmenting and compartmentalizing our lives. Telling lies at work and expecting great truths in meditation is nonsensical. Using our sexual energy in a way that harms ourselves or others, and then expecting to know transcendent love in another arena, is mindless. Every aspect of our lives is connected to every other aspect of our lives. This truth is the basis for an awakened life. When we live with integrity, we further enhance intimacy with ourselves by being able to rejoice, taking active delight in our actions. Rejoicing opens us tremendously, dissolving our barriers, thereby enabling intimacy to extend to all of life. Joy has so much capacity to eliminate separation that the Buddha said, "Rapture is the gateway to nirvana."

The enlivening force itself is rapture. It brightens our vitality, our gratitude, and our love. We begin to develop rapture by rejoicing in our own goodness. We reflect on the good things we have done, recollecting times when we have been generous, or times when we have been caring. Perhaps we can think of a time when it would have been easy to hurt somebody, or to tell a lie, or to be dismissive, yet we made the effort not to do that. Perhaps we can think of a time when we gave something up in a way that freed our mind and helped someone else. Or perhaps we can think of a time when we have overcome some fear and reached out to someone. These reflections open us to a wellspring of happiness that may have been hidden from us before.

Contemplating the goodness within ourselves is a classical meditation, done to bring light, joy, and rapture to the mind. In contemporary times this practice might be considered rather embarrassing, because so often the emphasis is on all the unfortunate things we have done, all the disturbing mistakes we have made. Yet this classical reflection is not a way of increasing conceit. It is rather a commitment to our own happiness, seeing our happiness as the basis for intimacy with all of life. It fills us with joy and love for ourselves and a great deal of self-respect.

Significantly, when we do metta practice, we begin by directing metta toward ourselves. This is the essential foundation for being able to offer genuine love to others. When we truly love ourselves, we want to take care of others, because that is what is most enriching, or nourishing, for us. When we have a genuine inner life, we are intimate with ourselves and intimate with others. The insight into our inner world allows us to connect to everything around us, so that we can see quite clearly the oneness of all that lives. We see that all beings want to be happy, and that this impulse unites us. We can recognize the rightness and beauty of our common urge towards happiness, and realize intimacy in this shared urge.

If we are practicing metta and we cannot see the goodness in ourselves or in someone else, then we reflect on that fundamental wish to be happy that underlies all action. "Just as I want to be happy, all beings want to be happy." This reflection gives rise to openness, awareness, and love. As we commit to these values, we become embodiments of a lineage that stretches back through beginningless time. All good people of all time have wanted to express openness, awareness, and love. With every phrase of metta, we are declaring our alignment with these values.

From this beginning, metta practice proceeds in a very structured way and specific way. After we have spent some time directing metta to ourselves, we then move on to someone who has been very good to us, for whom we feel gratitude and respect. In the traditional terminology, this person is known as a "benefactor." Later we move to someone who is a beloved friend. It is relatively easy to direct lovingkindness to these categories of beings (we say beings rather than people to include the possibility of animals in these categories.) After we have established this state of connection, we move on to those that it may be harder to direct lovingkindness toward. In this way we open up our limits and extend our capacity for benevolence.

Thus, next we direct lovingkindness to someone whom we feel neutral toward, someone for whom we feel neither great liking nor disliking. This is often an interesting time in the practice, because it may be difficult to find somebody for whom we have no instantaneous judgment. If we can find such a neutral person, we direct metta toward them.

After this, we are ready for the next step -- directing metta toward someone with whom we have experienced conflict, someone toward whom we feel lack of forgiveness, or anger, or fear. In the Buddhist scriptures this person is somewhat dramatically known as "the enemy." This is a very powerful stage in the practice, because the enemy, or the person with whom we have difficulty stands right at the division between the finite and the infinite radiance of love. At this point, conditional love unfolds into unconditional love. Here dependent love can turn to the flowering of an independent love that is not based upon getting what we want or having our expectations met. Here we learn that the inherent happiness of love is not compromised by likes and dislikes, and thus, like the sun, it can shine on everything. This love is truly boundless. It is born out of freedom, and it is offered freely.

Through the power of this practice, we cultivate an equality of loving feeling toward ourselves and all beings. There was a time in Burma when I was practicing metta intensively. I had taken about six weeks to go through all the different categories: myself, benefactor, friend, neutral person, and enemy. After I had spent these six weeks doing the metta meditation all day long, my teacher, U Pandita, called me into his room and said, "Say you were walking in the forest with your benefactor, your friend, your neutral person, and your enemy. Bandits come up and demand that you choose one person in your group to be sacrificed. Which one would you choose to die?"

I was shocked at U Pandita's question. I sat there and looked deep into my heart, trying to find a basis from which I could choose. I saw that I could not feel any distinction between any of those people, including myself. Finally I looked at U Pandita and replied, "I couldn't choose; everyone seems the same to me."

U Pandita then asked, "You wouldn't choose your enemy?" I thought a minute and then answered, "No, I couldn't." Finally U Pandita asked me, "Don't you think you should be able to sacrifice yourself to save the others?" He asked the question as if more than anything else in the world he wanted me to say, "Yes, I'd sacrifice myself." A lot of conditioning rose up in me -- an urge to please him, to be "right" and to win approval. But there was no way I could honestly say "yes," so I said, "No, I can't see any difference between myself and any of the others." He simply nodded in response, and I left.

Later I was reading the Visuddhi Magga, one of the great commentarial works of Buddhist literature which describes different meditation techniques and the experiences of practicing these techniques. In the section on metta meditation, I came to that very question about the bandits. The answer I had given was indeed considered the correct one for the intensive practice of metta. Of course, in different life situations many different courses of action might be appropriate. But the point here is that metta does not mean that we denigrate ourselves in any situation in order to uphold other people's happiness. Authentic intimacy is not brought about by denying our own desire to be happy in unhappy deference to others, nor by denying others in narcissistic deference to ourselves. Metta means equality, oneness, wholeness. To truly walk the Middle Way of the Buddha, to avoid the extremes of addiction and self-hatred, we must walk in friendship with ourselves as well as with all beings.

When we have insight into our inner world and what brings us happiness, then wordlessly, intuitively, we understand others. As though there were no longer a barrier defining the boundaries of our caring, we can feel close to others' experience of life. We see that when we are angry, there is an element of pain in the anger that is not different from the pain that others feel when they are angry. When we feel love there is a distinct and special joy in that feeling. We come to know that this is the nature of love itself, and that other beings filled with love experience of this same joy.

In practicing metta we do not have to make a certain feeling happen. In fact, during the practice we see that we feel differently at different times. Any momentary emotional tone is far less relevant than considerable power of intention we harness as we say these phrases. As we repeat, "May I be happy; may all beings be happy," we are planting seeds by forming this powerful intention in the mind. The seed will bear fruit in its own time.

When I was practicing metta intensively in Burma, at times when I repeated the metta phrases, I would picture myself in a wide open field planting seeds. Doing metta we plant the seeds of love, knowing that nature will take its course and in time those seeds will bear fruit. Some seeds will come to fruition quickly, some slowly, but our work is simply to plant the seeds. Every time we form the intention in the mind for our own happiness or for the happiness of others, we are doing our work; we are channeling the powerful energies of our own minds. Beyond that, we can trust the laws of nature to continually support the flowering of our love.

As Pablo Neruda says:

Perhaps the earth can teach us, as when everything seems dead in winter and later proves to be alive.

When we started our retreat center, Insight Meditation Society, in 1975, many of us there decided to do a self-retreat for a month to inaugurate the center. I planned to do metta for the entire month. This was before I'd been to Burma, and it would be my first opportunity to do intensive and systematic metta meditation. I had heard how it was done in extended practice, and I planned to follow that schedule. So the first week I spent directing lovingkindness towards myself. I felt absolutely nothing. It was the dreariest, most boring week I had known in some time. I sat there saying, "May I be happy, may I be peaceful," over and over again with no obvious result.

Then, as it happened, someone we knew in the community had a problem, and a few of us had to leave the retreat suddenly. I felt even worse, thinking, "Not only did I spend this week doing metta and getting nothing from it, but I also never even got beyond directing metta towards myself. So on top of everything else, I was really selfish."

I was in a frenzy getting ready to leave. As I was hurriedly getting everything together in my bathroom, I dropped a jar. It shattered all over the floor. I still remember my immediate response: "You are really a klutz, but I love you." And then I thought, "Wow! Look at that. Something did happen in this week of practice."

So the intention is enough. We form the intention in our mind for our happiness and the happiness of all. This is different from struggling to fabricate a certain feeling, to create it out of our will, to make it happen. We just settle back and plant the seeds without worrying about the immediate result. That is our work. If we do our work, then manifold benefits will surely come. Fortunately, the Buddha was characteristically precise about what those benefits include. He said that the intimacy and caring that fill our hearts as the force of lovingkindness develops will bring eleven particular advantages:

  1. You will sleep easily.
  2. You will wake easily.
  3. You will have pleasant dreams.
  4. People will love you.
  5. Devas [celestial beings] and animals will love you.
  6. Devas will protect you.
  7. External dangers [poisons, weapons, and fire] will not harm you.
  8. Your face will be radiant. 9) Your mind will be serene.
  9. You will die unconfused.
  10. You will be reborn in happy realms.

People doing formal metta practice often memorize these eleven benefits and recite them to themselves regularly. Reminding ourselves of the fruit of our intention and effort can bring a lot of faith and rapture, sustaining us through those inevitable times when it seems as if the practice is not "getting anywhere." When we consider each of these benefits, we can see more fully how metta revolutionizes our lives.

When we steep our hearts in lovingkindness, we are able to sleep easily, to awaken easily, and to have pleasant dreams. To have self-respect in life, to walk through this life with grace and confidence, means having a commitment to nonharming and to loving care. If we do not have these things, we can neither rest nor be at peace; we are always fighting against ourselves. The feelings we create by harming are painful both for ourselves and for others. Thus harming leads to guilt, tension, and complexity. Sleeping easily, waking easily, But living a clear and simple life, free from resentment, fear, and guilt, extends into our sleeping, dreaming and waking.

The next benefit the Buddha pointed out is that if we practice metta we will receive in return the love of others. This is not a heartless calculating motivation, but rather a recognition that the energy we extend in this world draws to it that same kind of energy. If we extend the force of love, love returns to us. The American psychologist William James once said, "My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items I notice shape my mind." Perhaps this is partially how this law works -- opening to the energy of love within us, we can notice it more specifically around us.

It happens on other levels as well. If we are committed in our lives to the force of lovingkindness, then people know that they can trust us. They know we will not deceive them; we will not harm them. By being a beacon of trustworthiness in this world, we become a safe haven for others and a good friend.

The next set of benefits the Buddha points out promises that if we practice metta we will be protected. Devas, and other invisible beings, are classically taught as part of the Buddhist cosmology, but we don't have to believe in the intervention of invisible forces in order to comprehend how the practice of metta protects us. This assertion does not mean being protected in the sense that nothing bad will ever happen to us, because clearly the vicissitudes of life are completely outside our control. Pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, and fame and ill repute will revolve throughout our lives. But nevertheless we can be protected by the nature of how we receive, how we hold that which our karma brings us.

Albert Einstein said, "The splitting of the atom has changed everything except for how we think." How we think, how we look at our lives, is all-important, and the degree of love we manifest determines the degree of spaciousness and freedom we can bring to life's events.

Imagine taking a very small glass of water and putting into it a teaspoon of salt. Because of the small size of the container, the teaspoon of salt is going to have a big impact upon the water. However, if you approach a much larger body of water, such as a lake, and put into it that same teaspoonful of salt, it will not have the same intensity of impact, because of the vastness and openness of the vessel receiving it. Even when the salt remains the same, the spaciousness of the vessel receiving it changes everything.

We spend a lot of our lives looking for a feeling of safety or protection; we try to alter the amount of salt that comes our way. Ironically, the salt is the very thing that we cannot do anything about, as life changes and offers us repeated ups and downs. Our true work is to create a container so immense that any amount of salt, even a truckload, can come into it without affecting our capacity to receive it. No situation, even an extreme one, then can mandate a particular reaction.

Once I had a meditation student who had been a child in Nazi-occupied Europe. She recounted an instance when she was around ten years old when a German soldier held a gun to her chest -- a situation that would readily arouse terror. Yet she related feeling no fear at all, thinking, "You may be able to kill my body, but you can't kill me." What a spacious reaction! It is in this way that lovingkindness opens the vastness of mind in us, which is ultimately our greatest protection.

Another benefit of cultivating of metta is that one's face becomes very clear and shining. This means that an unfeigned inner beauty shines forth. We know in life situations how mind affects matter, how if we are enraged about something, it shows in our face. If somebody is full of hatred, it shows in the way they stand, the way they move, the way their jaw is set. It is not very attractive. No amount of make-up, jewelry, or embellishments bring beauty to a sullen, disgruntled, angry face. In just the same way, when someones mind is filled with the rapture of lovingkindness or compassion, it is beautiful to see the expression of light, of radiance, on their face and bearing.

With the practice of metta one also has a serene mind. The feeling of lovingkindness generates great peace. This is the mind that can say, "You are really a klutz, but I love you." It is a feeling endowed with acceptance, patience, and spaciousness. This great peace allows union with all of life, because we are not relying on changing circumstances for our happiness.

The peace of metta offers the kind of happiness that gives us the ability to concentrate. Serenity is the most important ingredient in being able to be present or being able to concentrate the mind. Concentration is an act of cherishing a chosen object. If we have no serenity, the mind will be scattered, and we will not be able to gather in the energy that is being lost to distraction. When we can concentrate, all of this energy is returned to us. This is the potency that heals us.

If we practice metta, another major benefit is that we will die unconfused. Our habitual ways of thinking, acting, and relating to life tend to be the ones that are strongest at the time of death as well. If we spend a lifetime feeling separate, apart, cultivating anger, giving way to frustration, to fear, to desire, that will likely be the mental-emotional environment within which we face our death. But if we have lived our life in a way that honors our connectedness, reflects our oneness, and cultivates caring and giving, that is likely to be how we will die.

The last specific benefit the Buddha spoke of was being reborn in happy realms as a result of filling our hearts with lovingkindness. The potential for rebirth again and again in various realms of pleasure or pain is part of the Buddhist worldview. For someone who subscribes to this vision of life, rebirth in a realm where one can attain liberation is most important. For those who don't subscribe to this vision, the benefits of metta can surely be seen to come to us in this lifetime.

Metta is the priceless treasure that enlivens us and brings us into intimacy with ourselves and others. It is the force of love that will lead beyond fragmentation, loneliness and fear. The late Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba often said, "Don't throw anyone out of your heart." One of the most powerful healings (and greatest adventures) of our lifetime can come about as we learn to live by this dictum.

Sharon Salzberg
Beginning Insight Meditation

For the beginning meditator I believe it would be helpful to establish an order in the various steps taken in meditation. First, then, it would be wise to establish a place of quiet to which one may retire daily and not be interrupted in his endeavors. Then wash carefully face, hands and feet. Better yet, if time permits, take a cleansing shower and put on loose, comfortable clothes. It is wise to meditate at the same time daily to establish a habit. I do it at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. when the birds begin to retire in the evening. Then when you begin to meditate consider your posture. With spine erect and a spirit of awareness be mindful of sitting without strain but with complete alertness. Now you are ready to begin. But, first, some introductory thoughts.

As Sujata states in his little book Beginning to See, "Meditation is the best thing you can do for yourself." However, it is far from the simple thing it may seem to beginners. It takes a strong urge to peer deeply within oneself and beyond it. It takes discipline and willingness to go farther than merely trying to escape or sidestep personal problems one may have.

Why meditate? There are many reasons. But those that stand out most strongly are learning to think clearly, and to dispel ignorance, illusion, greed, hatred and craving. This is the road to Nirvana or Nibbana through which one must lose all clinging to "self." The feeling of having a self is highly resistant to extinguishing. It is persistent and devious. Often one may feel it has vanished only to have it crop up again. Only by diligence and persistence -- and the road for many may be long -- can victory over it be achieved.

You are seated now, cross-legged on the floor, in a quiet chamber. In lotus position, if you can, or in half-lotus, or even on a chair if disability precludes otherwise. Keep your head erect and balanced lightly on your shoulders. Still, do not strain; be comfortable, relaxed and attentive.

The first stages of meditation should be simply observation of breath. Concentrate on the nostrils where the breath flows in... out... in... out. Be aware of the touch of air as it strikes the passage through the nostrils. In fact be aware of everything and nothing. This sounds contradictory. Yet it is really not. For this is no time to daydream, to entertain vagrant and migratory thoughts. You are aware of your physical posture. Then you forget that also. You are aware that the past is dead, that it is gone. Yet specific consciousness of your whole preceding life is absent. The future does not yet exist. All you have is "right now"... the in... out... in... out rhythm of the breath of life.

The idea is to "empty the mind," to get rid of all "garbage," all fleeting and intruding thoughts. Simply to breathe -- in out -- in out, never forcing the breath. You are not even the breather, but the breathing breathing you, the you, which as time goes on, will grow more and more vague as it begins to dissipate, disappear.

Just allow the mind to feel the "touch" of breath as it flows in and flows out. In your first sessions think of nothing more. You will find the breath thinning out as it becomes more subtle and finer until in time you begin to feel you are not breathing at all. This is the calming of the breath flow. It becomes very pleasant and satisfying.

I keep a candle burning in the meditation chamber. It serves two purposes, maybe three. At first, if the mind wanders, it serves as a point of focus. The eyes, at first observing the candle, soon close, lightly, easily, by themselves. But even through closed lids one feels the presence of the light. One can see it in one's mind's eye. It restores the mind's wandering back to the present. The second purpose is symbolic: to me it signifies the Light of the Dhamma, the doctrine on which the meditation is based. And finally, it makes for a pleasant, lovely atmosphere. Incense, flowers, Buddha sculpture are nice but really not necessary. One can, in truth, meditate anywhere, any quiet place where there can be no interruption. Wherever you meditate, if it is at home and you have a telephone, it is wise to remove the receiver to avoid incoming calls.

Bear in mind that the place of meditation is not of key importance, but it is wise to return to the same place at the same time daily so that the habit of meditating becomes established. The Buddha meditated under a Bodhi tree where he achieved enlightenment. An advanced meditator can choose almost any place and it will serve his purpose -- a crowded market place, a burial ground, a cave, a park or a refuse dump. In his inward turning he becomes totally oblivious of his surroundings; or, contrariwise, makes the very surroundings, as he advances deeper and deeper into meditating, the subject of his thoughts. The important thing to remember is that these thoughts must be schooled and channeled. They must be kept "on center."

But you, now, are still in your beginning stages. Untoward thoughts will persist in entering your mind. This is only natural. You will be amazed at how many and how trivial these intrusions can be. You must learn, however, to treat these intruders with courtesy. Do not shove them away in anger. Be gentle, kindly. Label each one -- past -- present -- future? Worthy? Unworthy? Animosity? Vanity? Desire? Egotism? Your very act of branding them will assist in their cessation. As they begin to disappear, your mind will gently return to your nostrils, your breathing. It will grow quieter and quieter.

Other hindrances will obtrude themselves. Noises will penetrate your consciousness -- children playing and shouting, buses or airplanes passing. Label them as you do other passing thoughts. Keep centering on the breathing, the slowing inflow, outflow. In time the noises, too, will vanish. Whenever you find yourself "out there," bring yourself gently back to "here" and to "right now." When you have been able to accomplish this "no thought" for at least a half hour, your breathing will have slowed to a point of almost indistinguishable rhythm, to "it" breathing "you" and not the other way around.

I find it helps in all of this to keep a semi-smile on my face such as that of the Buddha. It aids in brightening the mind, makes it happier.

At this point in your beginning meditation, if you have been at it a half hour or longer, you may terminate it if you wish or continue as before. Or you can go on to extend metta or loving-kindness. This meditation subject is good because it eliminateshatred, envy, anger and self-pity. It accomplishes love for all, destruction of self, sympathetic joy, and a good feeling for every being or non-being that lives or has left this life. Your extension of loving-kindness should reach out to encompass the earth, the universe. You will find it difficult in time, to snuff out the life of even the smallest insect.

In extending loving-kindness it is of great importance that you first love yourself. In the right way, of course. You accomplish this by ridding your thoughts of all "impurities." Think to yourself "I will rid my mind of every defilement: anger, hatred, ignorance, fear, greed, craving. I will make my mind clear, fresh and pure. Like a transparent window is my mind. Then with my stain-free mind, I pour out thoughts of loving-kindness, of love and of kindness."

Try to get a mental image of each one you are extending this loving-kindness to. Get into that person. Feel his or her personality enter your own being and direct your feeling straight into the mind and heart of that individual. You will find in time, that there is a sort of mental telepathy emerging. You will feel the warmth of response. Do not dwell on this. Go on to the next person and the next and next. Bring forth all the warmth and kindness of your spirit and instill this into the being or non-being it is directed toward. If you do this once or twice daily, your horizon will widen. You will find yourself directing these vibrations to all beings and non-beings who have entered your consciousness, without exceptions. This will include brand-new acquaintances you hardly know. People you do not even know but see pass by regularly or irregularly down the street. All who live. All who have died. Known and unknown. All animals, insects, trees. Everything organic and inorganic. And in this outflowing there will ride your self, vanishing into the all-inclusive.

When you have completed this meditation sitting, later try a walking meditation, and, in this, think of the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha; that all beings are born to suffer, etc. Then go on to find the "way out"; the way out and the "end" of suffering. Find this secure path and incorporate it into your daily life, and, this accomplished, find Nibbana right here on earth!

A Personal Observation

When I first came to Sri Lanka from America, I had just about given up all hope of living. The doctors in America had provided me with maybe twenty-five different drugs for a very bad heart condition and other ailments. We fled America, my husband and I, to live out our lives among peaceful surroundings -- in the heart of Buddha-land. Shortly after arrival, what with the long trip and thoughts of death, I truly was dying. I had a myocardial infarction and was taken to the hospital. I found the hospital conditions so deplorable, I felt it would be better to die in bed at home. Consequently, I left the hospital. My husband had found a lovely home for us and there I waited to die. After much pain and emotional upheaval my husband found an anagarika, a Buddhist lay brother, who came to our home and performed a miracle, or to state it better, pointed out to me the "path" that I shall follow for the rest of my days here on earth. This monk-like follower of the Buddha, the Anagarika Tibbotuwawa, instructed me in meditation.

We went through four stages and in time I threw out all drugs, and the life "here and now" became clear and meaningful. Many strange things began to occur in the course of meditation. First I began to feel that I was on another plane of consciousness. I no longer had a self, sick or otherwise. I was at one with all, all of us in a new world, with all non-beings too. I found that the "ego" that nearly wrecked my life was now gone. I felt reborn, and extended my meditation to vibrations of loving-kindness. Thought messages I call them. Then one morning a friend called from America. On the phone he said that he had received my message. He was elated beyond belief, thanked me and promised to come here in the near future. The strangest of all was a telegram from my sister. She asked if we could accommodate her at our home in three weeks. I nearly had a heart attack! My sister is seventy-eight years old. I had heard no word from her for fifteen years. Yet I had been sending her "thought messages" of loving-kindness, and her image was growing clearer and clearer -- even before arrival. She was "with me" even before arrival. At age seventy-eight she had traveled half-way around the world to see me. When she arrived she said she had had a compelling urge to see me. We were both delighted and, to my amazement, she meditated each evening with me and said she had never known such "peace and love" as she found in our home.

She could not remain with us, as I had hoped, but had responsibilities at home that she felt better able to cope with now. She left, adding, "I have promises to keep -- and many miles to go before I sleep."

These few experiences have been so uplifting that now, even though I never proselytize, many young people come to me for instruction in meditation. Recently a young man from Switzerland came to our home. He felt he was dying of rabies ("rabbits" he called it in broken English). I was so sure he did not have this disease that I suggested that he meditate with me and Anagarika that day, and he seemed pleased with the experience. Well, this young man came not only each evening, but also every morning at 5:30 a.m. bringing fresh flowers for the Buddha. He left, after three weeks of intensive meditation and instruction and reading of the Dhamma, well and happy and full of ideas to help suffering humanity.

There are, of course, many ideas I have omitted which are advanced procedures in insight meditation, the three stages which usually follow the concentration on breathing. These are body, feelings, perceptions and consciousness, ultimately expressing themselves in "the mind experiencing pure mind." I feel, however, that the reader can find these steps in many publications that have been released on this subject. If this booklet helps the beginner with just a little insight into the "way" and the "why" of meditation, this will be my happiness.

Is Buddhism a Religion?

This is a question which is often asked. It really depends upon how one defines religion. If it is thought of as a belief in a supreme being to whom one prays for redemption, security, favors or relief from suffering, then, no, Buddhism is not a religion. The Buddha himself never claimed divinity -- only clear-sightedness and purity of apprehension of truth through deepest intuition, leading to equanimity and enlightenment. He was a great and rare individual but not a god. If some simple and mistaken few have elevated him to godship and worship him with requests for favors and special dispensations, this does not alter the situation one bit.

It seems that in these troubled times, as, indeed, since time immemorial, man has felt the need to have a faith in a supreme being, one who could redeem him from "sin" and relieve his suffering. This is a great fallacy. If indeed there were such a being, why should he be asked to give redemption? Isn't it more important for man to redeem himself? This is what the Buddha believed. Man, he said, is born to suffering. Life is suffering. That is the first of the Four Noble Truths he enunciates -- that thereis suffering. In the Second Truth he points out that all suffering has its origins which we must learn to understand, because this is the only way we can arrive at the Third Truth, which is that cessation of this suffering can be achieved. His Fourth Truth clarifies the way out from suffering via the Eightfold Path which we will discuss later.

Therefore we ask, if Buddhism is not a religion, what then is it? Our reply is: Buddhism is a way of life, a philosophy, a psychology, a way of thinking, through which we may ourselves take on the responsibility of determining how our life-bearing kamma (karma) will work out for us. Meditation is one of the procedures of mental discipline and purification through which we may begin to learn such responsibility.

Many young people have come to me saying, "How can I embrace Buddhism without destroying my own beliefs and culture?" I tell the Christians among them to think about the precepts of Christ. Are they so totally opposed to, and different from, those of the Buddha? Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal or commit adultery. The ethical injunctions among the Ten Commandments -- are they not almost exactly the same as the precepts of the moral life laid down by the Buddha (the Five Precepts)?

I tell them that the Dhamma, the sacred texts of Buddhism, are much more voluminous and explicit than those of the Old and New Testaments and commentaries. The Buddhist texts are, in fact, elevenfold as extensive and contain an enormous range of wise teachings, none of them derogatory to the faiths of other creeds. He did not deny the existence of deities, but he did reserve scepticism as to the infinity of their duration, their omnipotency, their powers to help mankind in every kind of urgency. Have these gods and messiahs, which we of Western faiths have been prone to believe in, been sublimely successful in the mitigation of human suffering, hunger, sorrow and affliction? The answer is open to doubt.

So to these young Christians I can say, "Believe in Christ if you wish, but remember, Jesus never claimed divinity either." Yes, believe in a unitary God, too, if you wish, but cease your imploring, pleading for personal dispensations, health, wealth, relief from suffering. Study the Eightfold Path. Seek the insights and enlightenment that come through meditative learnings. And find out how to achieve for yourself what prayer and solicitation of forces beyond you are unable to accomplish.

There are many young people who believe that God answers their prayers. Does he? Is prayer-answering the purpose of a supreme being? A young man recently came to us asking for food and shelter. He was young, able-bodied, and, yes, intelligent. We received him, fed him and gave him a room for several days. When it became apparent that this fellow had no intention of ever leaving, we felt he should go off on his own. He was highly indignant! When he left we asked him if he intended to work and earn enough to take care of his own needs. He answered, "No, God will provide.

If I follow his light, that is enough. He will take care of me!" If there is a God, why should he take care of able-bodied young men simply because they have unreserved and total faith in him, when there are so many really unfortunate, desolate people who really need help? Did God provide for the millions of Jews in concentration camps who were slowly gassed to death en-masse, their agonies of asphyxiation often lasting a full half-hour, before they were incinerated in German ovens? Is he there offering respite each day to the millions who are dying of cancer and other agonizing diseases all over the universe? Does he provide for all the masses of people, victims of floods, disasters and earthquakes, who are homeless and starving daily throughout the world?

Yes, believe in a God, if you will, I tell them, but don't ask, ask and ask. Don't beg. Provide, as best you are able, for yourself first. Then fill your heart and mind with love, with metta, and help, to the fullest possible extent, in the relief of suffering among others. This is the answer I give them. But cease your petitioning, your constant solicitation for private preference.

A Jewish girl from Israel came to meditate. She felt happy and calm in meditation, but she was worried. She said, "I do not want to forget my heritage. I was born in Jerusalem and am steeped in Jewish tradition." I answered her: "No problem. When you finish meditating, say the 'Shmah'!" This is the ancient prayer of the Jews to be said each morning of their lives and on their deathbeds. It consists of the words, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." This, to those of the Jewish faith, may be a solacing thought, one that may yield them comfort, I told her. There is nothing in Buddhism, as a matter of fact, denying the right to believe in God if you so wish. Yet it must be pointed out that Buddhism places deityship on quite a different plane than monotheistic and polytheistic religions do. Still, with all your beliefs intact, you can benefit from much that Buddhism teaches, for instance from Buddhist meditation. We are all inter-related in common suffering. Even the word religion, derived from Latin, means joined or linked. Just as the word yoga also means the same, united. Whether this is expressed through a belief in a deity or not is of less importance than the fact that we recognize and accept the wonder of our common interrelationship. Certainly, I told her, there is nothing in the practice of Judaism that denies man's common relationship. The young lady was satisfied. As far as I know she sill meditates daily and recites the "Shmah."

Sometimes it is said that the Buddhists worship idols. Why all the incense, oil lamps, flowers set before Buddha-images? You must understand, I tell these young people, that the Buddhists are merely expressing their reverence for a great man of overwhelming vision and insight, one of the wisest teachers that ever lived, a man who laid out a whole way of life an a means of alleviating sorrow, strife and suffering. When they bow to him with hands clasped before them they do so in reverence and worship. But the meaning they attach to "worship" is not that of Western religionists. They ask nothing for their separate selves, no intercession of gods, no personal favors. Why is that? Because the Buddhist, neither in his life practice nor his philosophy, believes himself to be a separate being, a singular self, apart from others. Therefore, lacking separate personhood, there is noone for whom preference is sought. For the Buddhist "worship," then mean praise, reverence, a desire to imitate and be like the Buddha, to follow his ways and show appreciation for his teachings. He offers them no dispensations or favors, only a body of wisdom contained in the Dhamma which, if they but apply it to themselves, amounts to self-dispensation. In essence this means dispensing with all vanity, clinging, attachments, greed and ignorance, which may yet hamper them from being like the Buddha and aspiring to the perfection of being, which he in his life attained when reaching Nibbana here and now!

The great American statesman Thomas Paine said, "My mind is my church." In this statement he reiterates the belief of the Buddha. Buddhists do not believe it is necessary to have a middleman intercede between them and the perfection of the Master they chose to emulate and be like. In Buddhism there is no need for priests, ministers and preachers to pray for them in churches or temples. The Buddhist monk teaches, not preaches. He teaches man to find his way. He teaches purity of mind, and compassion, and love for all beings. He does not perform marriage service, but devotes his life only to teaching and scholarship and study, and to continuing self-purification through meditation, so that he can be an example to others.

Who may become a Buddha? And how does one become one? These are questions frequently asked me. The answers are that one has to enroll or join nothing, sign no document, be initiated by no baptism, nor disavow any other belief. All he has to do is to begin to live as Buddhists live, to find inspiration in the Buddha, to like and reverence his teachings, to begin to try to follow his Eightfold Path and, through meditation, to seek to gain merit and purity. To aspire, in fact, to become a Buddha himself! For Buddhahood is not a limited society. It is open to all. Many have attained it. Even the Buddha himself, in previous lives (so goes one of the legends built around him) chose to deny himself release through Nibbana and chose rebirth so that he might stay on and teach others.

Now let us examine the Buddha's remedy for the ending of suffering. A friend of mine once said, with respect to this, "It is all very simple: practice right thought, right speech and right action! Very good and very important. However, not so fast, my friend! All of the Eightfold Path is necessary, not just the small part of it you mention. It is all beautifully interrelated. There must be right understanding with right speech. There must be right action. There must be right effort. And with the right effort must follow right livelihood. And for all of these steps to work, think of them as steps. You don't get very far just moving up one step and remaining there. You have to combine them, join them, link them, and finally, climax them with still one more step to reach the top. And that step is right mindfulness.

How beautifully all these hang together like pearls on a necklace. But now think for a moment about what is meant by "right": that is to say, the rightness of speech, thought, action. Few pause to think what "right" means within this context. Does it mean right as opposed to wrong? Perhaps it does. And then, again, perhaps it doesn't. How many of us are able to discriminate at every juncture of our lives what is right and what is wrong? Does right, then, mean appropriate? Appropriate action, appropriate speech, etc.? Appropriate means suitable, suitable for the occasion. Is that always so easy to determine? What, then, does the Buddha's use of the word right come down to? Does it not come down to the fact that he is pointing out that there is choice, and that we have choice, that we can go this way or go that way, and that it is up to us and not him, and no god or supreme being, to determine our way? Is he not saying that this choice or volition amounts to our own kamma? And that while a lot of it is predetermined through our past lives or genetically, however you want to think of it, we can still alter, correct, change, refine re-aim this kamma, change its course? We and nobody else! And does not all of this point back to such qualities of action, speech, and thought, as are characterized as greedy, selfish, hateful, hostile, hurtful? As opposed to such qualities as generousness, selflessness, lovingness, kindliness, helpfulness? Do you not see that the Buddha is telling us to look behind words and not to accept them for their face value but for their internal, shall we say nuclear, meanings?

So we return again to the question as to whether Buddhism is a religion. In the sense that it offers us a moral code helping to conjoin us in the living together of a better life, yes, it is a religion. For that is the inner or nuclear meaning of religion --relinking, rejoining. But if Buddhism is taken to imply belief in a supreme being who rules the universe and can be bribed to alter his decisions by our prayers and solicitations for personal preference, it is not a religion. And this Buddhism does not do. Well, then, the Christian may argue, man without God, without conscience, without a ruler of the universe, will revert to bestiality. Is this not like saying a being can't exist without a taskmaster? Are we then children? So weak that we can't exist without being "told" what we can and cannot do? How can we justify this?

The answers should be obvious. Man can rely on himself. Man can train his mind to right thinking, not because thereby he will be saved by a righteous God, but because right thinking will lead him on to the path of final liberation from suffering, which consists of right moral conduct, right meditation and right wisdom.

Now look at Buddhism. Does it not look up to you rather than down to you, treat you as an adult rather than a child, not demand and command, but patiently teach and instruct what practically amounts to the same thing? The Buddha states that we are heirs to our kamma, that we make it, form it, and that what we do in this existence does affect our lives in the next one. However, in Buddhism, there is no need of beating our breasts and heeding authoritarian demands that we repent. We can rise up out of our sloth and torpor, out of evil and ugliness, by "following the path." If it were true that without a vengeful God man would be less than human, how do we justify the existence for thousands of years of Buddhists living in peace and love with each other?

Christ and Buddha were alike in many ways. It is not my intention to disparage anyone's belief in Christ. Christ said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Buddha said, "Show compassion and loving-kindness to all beings." God said to the Jews, "Do not unto others that which you would not do unto yourself." This is what Christ later said in reverse, positively, but with the same meaning. It was Moses who interpreted the words of God to his people, but for that reason they did not clothe him in divinity, nor did he do so himself. Where the Buddhists and Christians part company is the Christ's followers accorded him divinity, whereas Buddha's disciples accord him reverence as a great being.

Why Is There Suffering in the World?

Buddha had taught (and I refer to The Buddha, for there have been many and you, yourself, may have the aspiration to one day be one), that it is man's clinging to the idea of separate selfness which is the cause of his suffering. Implicit in separate selfhood is egotism and craving. This is illusion, the basic illusion. The man who "prays to God" expresses craving. He is a clinger. He wishes something for self, is egotistic. Even the idea of a God expresses the thought of an extension of his egotism into a future life -- in heaven or wherever. The prayer craves for a beautiful painfree future or continuation of the present. In return he promises his God to be of good behavior.

Buddha teaches that beauty is fleeting, life is impermanent and transitory, that pain and sorrow are an outcome of the craving egotistic self. That craving is our suffering. Craving implies cravenness. To be craven is to fear. Fearfulness is suffering. Life is fearful.

There is suffering in the world because the fearful, fearing self continues in its illusion of lonely separateness. The separate self clings to its fears, its self-seeking, its pleading, hoping, craving. "Give me," it implores its God, "help me." What is the Buddha's answer to this? Does he not say, "Cleanse yourself of the self-idea, of its greed, hatred, ignorance"? And what is this ignorance? Is it not our ignoring, our refusal to see the basic illusion of selfhood?

We finally return to meditation again, to why we meditate. Meditation is a way, the Buddha's way of self-cleansing, self-elimination, of freeing the mind of its attachments to the impermananent and illusory. Through meditation we learn to detach the self from its assumptions, to realize that ego is substance-less, to free our mind from its defilements and illusions; to approach, through wisdom and compassion, the ultimate cessation of suffering which comes with Nibbana, the utter abandonment of our selfhood. In this no eternity is sought, no endless continuity. And no annihilation. For, since there is no one, what is there to annihilate? Or to eternalize?

In a way of thinking, is not this a kind of sublime mysticism? A creed or belief that yields unseeking equanimity, quietude and the end of suffering? Since all being, in the end, is mystery; since trembling , transitory being is but an illusory drop of water in a depthless ocean, why not accept it as so?

Those who crave for and pray to gods often achieve thereby a kind of mental purification. Even the prayers of sceptics often achieve the same result. If prayer brings relief and quietude, remission of suffering, it cannot be bad. But what if the relief is unlasting? Apart from the notion that prayer implies a dependency on external or supernatural authority, which I have no reason to bring into question, it definitely is based on the idea of a self as opposed to an other, and of bringing the two together in a sort of bargaining process. But what if we can accept the idea that there is no self to begin with and therefore no one to do the bargaining? I am reminded, in conclusion, of a little story:

A Christian missionary found a Chinese priest chanting in a temple. When the Chinese had finished, the missionary asked him: "To whom were you praying?" "To no one," replied the Chinese priest. "Well, what were you praying for?" the missionary insisted. "Nothing," said the Chinese, The missionary turned away, baffled. As the was leaving the temple the Chinese added, kindly: "And there was no one praying, you know!"

I have learned that through meditation one comes to appreciate vistas of truth in no other way attainable; and that if one does not come to understand totally and unquestionably the fullest depths of meaning possible as to the causes of suffering, one does at least arrive by painful experience and mindfulness to comprehension of its imponderability and immensity. I see it in a personal way, in my seventh decade, in severe and frequent anginas, in arthritic pains which make sittings so difficult that I must frequently change positions during meditation, or do standing meditation. I see it in my deafened and daily worsening hearing, the dimming of my eyes and in the realization that in the course of minding my breath and giving consideration to the dissolution of every component of my body, anicca, impermanence, is the source out of which this suffering or dukkha flows. Out of this impermanence, too, I sense the vastness of the illusion that we possess anything life abiding, continuous and distinguishable selfhood and that the epitome of suffering arises from this basic illusion -- that there is a "one," a "self" which is suffering or sufferable.

The facts of suffering, its truth, and the facts of impermanence as well, are widely recognized by most religions. All accept the basic tragical quality of life. Where Buddhism goes forward from the rest is in the maintenance and espousal of the theme of no-self. Life, death, impermanence and suffering then become but a process in which, in an ultimate and fundamental sense, there is no personal participation. From this notion comes release, emancipation and enlightenment. As phenomena we may continue to go on until the ultimate collapse of our bodies and death overtakes us. But since no self is any longer engaged in the process, it becomes depersonalized. We are no longer subjects or even objects of calamity, despair, disease. Disturbance, dejection, worry, dread, anguish, decay, enfeeblement, senility, no longer concern us. Serenity and equanimity come with a new wisdom reflecting our detachment not alone from these negative emotions but also from the positive ones such as longing, craving, hoping, desiring, wishing, clinging. Because, whether we realize and attain the positive results or goals sought through these emotions, or do not, there is continued suffering. We suffer if we fail to attain them and there is disappointment. If we do attain them, they are impermanent, suffer their own kind of decay, and out of this loss we suffer as well.

The goal, in the end, becomes the even-minded depersonalized middle course wherein irritation, aversion, uncertainty vanish. Hate and animosity become impossible. One is neither submissive nor rebellious. We transcend the need for personal love or hate. Quietude comes to us. Release. These are the goals of insight or vipassana meditation, whose aim is release from suffering. How close we come to realizing them will depend on the quality of those we seek out to teach us and on our own assiduity in the mindfulness with which we seek, through our meditation, to arrive at the other shore.

For inspiration to write this little booklet I wish to thank my good friend and teacher, Anagarika Tibbotuwawa. I also wish to thank my husband for his kindly suggestions and excellent editing.

May all beings be well and happy!