Our Buddhist meditation classes this year expand on the method of combined study and practice contained in the Lam Rim. Have you ever wondered how Buddhist philosophy and the practice of meditation work together? Why is this integration of theory and practice so powerful?
Our Buddhist meditation classes explore this dynamic using the Lam Rim structure explained below. The aim of this time tested approach is to get the most from meditation practice, to achieve the best possible result – a result that both embraces and exceeds our common aims in life. We employ meditation and mindfulness to attain common and supreme goals.
The practice of meditation, of course, transcends worldly goals. Worldly attainments will bring a temporary happiness, but conceal real and lasting happiness. This is because worldly happiness always relies on an external source or an outer attainment. The praise of a person we love and respect may make us feel happy, but that happiness only lasts until the praise turns to criticism. Getting to the top in our field may fill us with satisfaction and joy. But it, too, only lasts until someone outdoes us.
Meditation can help us achieve such ordinary goals. It can definitely make you a better person and improve your self image. But the result will not last because it depends upon externals. Externals always change. We cannot rely on them. Because of this we look for new ways to improve ourselves, or new achievements to add to our list of accomplishments. But it is like drinking salt water. We think we are quenching our desires and achieving satisfaction, but only become thirstier and need more external confirmation.
The method used in our Buddhist meditation classes this year
How meditation is used in Buddhist practice is different. Here the fundamental aim of our meditation practice is to reach enlightenment. Enlightenment is a state free from any suffering. It is a state of lasting, unchanging bliss and peace. The attainment is internal. It transforms the mind. Through that we also transform body and being. With enlightenment we achieve a blissful state of peace and joy, complete freedom from any form of suffering or disadvantage. This remains constant, no matter the external circumstances in which we live. It does so because we generate Enlightenment within.
We aim meditation practice towards enlightenment. But better health, wealth and so forth, can come along with it almost effortlessly. We improve all worldly concerns when they become secondary to enlightenment. This is because the path to enlightenment purifies negative karma and accumulates great merit through our positive karma. Karma will determine both mundane (health, wealth) and extraordinary outcomes such as Enlightenment. But it is enlightenment alone which secures the perfect benefit for both self and others.
The role of Lam Rim study
The Tibetan Buddhist teachings of the Lam Rim summarise meditation as a path to Enlightenment. Lam means path, Rim means stages. Lam Rim presents the stages of progressive spiritual development. It shows the way of inner transformation leading to enlightenment.
The practice of Lam Rim involves both study and meditation. We study the text – extensive in range and deep in meaning. An understanding helps to direct our meditation practice in a way that brings enlightenment.
With Lam Rim classes we deepen our understanding. We use meditation as a tool of inner discovery. We also cultivate specific states of mind, or realisations, leading to enlightenment.
Confidence in wisdom
This approach mirrors the Buddha’s advice not to just absorb things at face value, but to explore more. He and all Buddhist gurus encourage listeners to use what they hear as the stimulus to develop their own wisdom. We are encouraged not to take the teachings as dogma but to test them with our own critical analysis, our own trial and error. If, through our efforts, we find the teachings sensible and useful, we can adopt them if we wish. If not, we reject them and find what resonates and suits us more.
Such practice develops confidence in our own discernment. It enables us to know the truth when we encounter it. Ultimately no one else can tell you the way it is. Only you can discover what is true. What others tell you is their view. It is your view that matters and the more wisdom you cultivate the better you can guide yourself and others.
By studying the Lam Rim we learn many meditation techniques in a way that helps to become more enlightened. From a practitioner’s point of view the Lam Rim is one of the most important books ever written. It presents the deepest truths and broadest perspective in a way that is accessible to study and effort.
In the Tibetan tradition we consider Lam Rim the best summary of the vast range of Buddhist thought. Once we are familiar with Lam Rim, we can see where any other text or teaching, whether Buddhist or non-Buddhist, fits into our practice. We also avoid the trap of sectarian views as Lam Rim is a journey toward truth. Anyone, of any background culture or beliefs, can use a process of discovery. Religious and secular can enjoy the practice of Lam Rim.