Meditation classes through November 2019

Why is it that everyone seems to advocate the practice of meditation these days? What can meditation do for me? Why should I invest time to learn about the practice, and then to continue daily meditation?

What is happening in the world?

Our modern culture perpetuates a constant search for meaning. We want to know that our life matters, that we are behaving well, and a good person. We spend a surprising amount of time assessing ourselves and then comparing our lives with others. Much of what informs these comparisons comes from the media of various types. Social media serves up other’s pretences of the ‘good life’. We have no time to delve more deeply. No one has time for a trip to the library so we take the immediacy of a Google search to inform. But no matter how clever the algorithm Google and social media serve up a variable quality news soup.

The answers we are fed by broadcast media, social media and Internet searches is necessarily a shallow representation of life.  As we move from text to audio to video as the primary mode for our media consumption what we are encouraged to believe is increasingly a surface level, artificial reflection of the world. The regurgitation of this in endless gossip among friends gives reinforcement.

Where does meditation come in?

More and more people discover that meditation is an altogether new way of learning. We learn from within, from our interior perceptions, discernments and insights. We unveil our personal understanding of the world. Meditation helps make sense of the world and shows how we reflect our true selves back into the world.

Through meditation we realise that the mass media interpretation of the world is leading us down the garden path. It’s taking us away from ourselves and our sense of being, absorbing us into the mass conception of roles and responsibilities. These are projected onto us by others and our own lack of a sense of true self demands that we conform. But in meditation we find our path to freedom from conformity, from any restriction at all. We have a way of freeing ourselves from external expectations and discovering and then enacting our true nature.

This true nature is at once individual, and yet universal in sharing consistent qualities. Chief among these consistent qualities is a sense of happiness that is pervasive, ever-increasing, self-sustaining and fulfilling. This happiness comes to dominate our meditation and leads to its ultimate expression in a continuous state of delight or bliss.

So in this way meditation resolves the search for meaning. We each resolve it within ourselves. We know our purpose. We know our value. We know how that can benefit all those around us.

Melbourne Meditation classes through November

In our classes throughout November we explore these and many other aspects to the practice of meditation. We draw on the vast wisdom in the ageless teachings of the meditation masters from Tibet. This Tibetan Buddhism is a rare and precious gift to the modern world at a time when we most need it. Our classes are taught by a Tibetan Buddhist monk, Toby Gillies.

Classes will continue with an introduction for newer people from 7 to 8pm Tuesday night. In the advanced classes we continue examining the stages of spiritual development in the path to enlightenment. This class is from 8 – 9pm.

The final class for 2019 will be on Tuesday, November 26. Classes will begin again in 2020 on Tuesday February 4. This final session for 2019 will be a joint class students of both the introductory and advanced classes and will begin at 7:30 PM. As is usual for the last class of the year the session will include a blessing ceremony and taking refuge and commitments.

Classes are held in the Main Hall, Augustine Centre, 2 Minona Street, Hawthorn. Cost is $25 per class, payable on arrival.

How meditation and karma create you

 

Why did you become the person you are? How will you become the person you would like to be? What is it that creates the circumstances you encounter in life? How can meditation influence these circumstances? Understanding how meditation and karma create you and shape your future puts everything within your grasp. This article will show you how to make the most of karma. 

 

The subject of karma always provokes a lot of discussion in our meditation classes. It is a fascinating subject to explore and explains much of what is obscure in the way life unfolds.

 

What is karma?

 

Karma is action. We act through body, speech and mind. Every action has a result. There is thus cause and effect, and karma is both. How you think, the things you say and do, all have consequences. These are the effects of karma and they do not only affect others, but also you. In fact, all that you do to others you will one day experience happening to you. (Cause and effect may not happen in one lifetime as I explained in this article on reincarnation.)

 

Because every person acts, everyone is under the influence of karma. When people act as a group, they come under the influence of group karma and also their individual karma. As every action is an interaction, there is a complex web of inter-related karmic cause and result.

 

 I have explained the process of karma in more depth in this essay on ‘How Karma works.’ But for now, let us look at how karma shapes you as a person.

 

How we accumulate karma

 

The person you are now is the sum of all you have done. You are a product of your karma. So everything we have ever thought, said or done is the karma that we have accrued. Karma not only determines who we are now, but what we are experiencing now and what our future experiences will be.

 

Right now each of us is the product of some good and some bad karma. We are all imperfect human beings. Because of that, we can expect to experience some good and some bad circumstances. We will have our fair measure of happiness and suffering according to our previous deeds. 

 

But, whenever bad things happen to us, we can respond with good karma. We can break the bad cycles and foster the good ones. We can stay in the good karma zone all the time.

 

How do we make good karma all the time? 

 

It doesn’t matter what circumstances we encounter, we can always create good karma. Sure we will encounter difficulties, pain, suffering and danger. But, we can respond to this with patience, wisdom, focus and compassion. By acting like this, we generate good karma. That way, we do not remain trapped in the cycle of anger, harm and pain. We become free of that cycle of negative reaction. Instead we make something worthwhile out of hardship and difficulty. 

 

When we encounter good things, pleasant people, praise and success, we can respond with gratitude and humility. Again, with these attitudes we make good karma. We can acknowledge the dependent nature of these things. Doing so, we avoid hubris, attachment and selfishness and the cycle of bad karma and suffering.

 

So the important thing in understanding karma is to see the need for more good karma and to diminish the prevalence of bad karma. We can do this any time. 

 

The impulse for physical action and verbal action is a mental action. Mental action, our state of mind, is key in determining how much good, and how much bad karma we create. So, right in this very moment we can approach things with mindfulness, compassion and wisdom. Then we will even create good karma as we finish reading. (If we finish, that is!)

 

 

The states of the mind to cultivate and those we abandon for the sake of karma

 

Our good states of mind, virtues, give rise to good karma so it is vital that we encourage, foster and improve our level of virtue in this very moment. We need to grow strong in love, deep in wisdom, expansive in compassion. We must strengthen our generosity our ethics and care for others. These virtues serve both oneself and others. They bring happiness, peace and joy into our relationships and personal experience. Acting that way now is the karma for a better future.

 

When wise to karma we let go of the habit of non-virtue. We can do this immediately. Because we see the destructive nature of angry reactions, we seek to be free from this karma. Likewise with our greedy self-interest and slavery to envy. Seeing the problem, we want to be free.

 

So the great purpose of the practice of meditation and mindfulness is to move our mindset away from non-virtue and to stabilize it in virtue. Thus we cut off the source of bad karma, the actions that create suffering for oneself and others. We grow and develop virtue, the source of good karma, the actions which generate happiness.

 

Meditation and the need for virtue

 

Meditation is best defined as cultivating virtue. With meditation we train the mind in developing virtue. Thus, meditation itself is a most virtuous karma. In meditation we develop mindfulness, awareness, focus, concentration and insight. These are virtuous states of mind and the karmic causes of ever greater happiness. Further, in meditation we cultivate the virtues of love, compassion, wisdom, generosity, ethics and so forth. These are the karmic causes of many good conditions and expanded happiness. They can also be the causes for your eventual Enlightenment.

 

Everybody enjoys more good  karma. We can thus be mindful in creating good actions. But we can also start and maintain a regular daily meditation practice. When directed well, these meditations will end the effects of negative karma. They will propel our life through positive karma. In the long run they will bring us to Enlightenment.

 

Karma as cause and effect, creator and created

 

So our character, the person we are now, is the effect of our previous karma. What we do now is the karma that will produce the person we become. Our karma is our creator.

 

Two people of differing character encounter a poor person, homeless and sleeping on the street. Each will respond according to their karma. 

 

One person has a history of thought, speech and deed conditioned by anger and self importance. It will irritate him, the unsightly mess blocking his way, and he will fume at a public nuisance. 

 

The other, perhaps with a history of Tuesday meditation classes, may see an object of compassion, a person who has lost their way. They see an opportunity for generosity and caring. 

 

One person creates negative karma, the other creates positive karma. One makes a positive future for themselves by a virtuous response. The other does the opposite. They act according to the person they have become because of their karma. So where did that begin?

 

With karma, how did it all begin and how will it all end?

 

There is little point in trying to trace each karmic result to its cause. In this article I gave a few examples, though, to just emphasise the principle. 

 

Karma abides within consciousness and, as I explained in this article, consciousness is a continuum with no start or end point. As cause and effect is without beginning or end, there is not much point trying to get your mind around such an infinity. Nor is there any point trying to find an absolute beginning. 

 

But, what can end is bad karma. We can stop all bad karma and remove that of the past. With that we can bring all bad conditions and suffering to a permanent end. 

 

That is the role of meditation, to rid ourselves of bad karma and suffering as soon as possible. How soon that happens depends on how you practice and the guidance you gain. 

 

Concentration: the stages and process of development

Concentration: Calm Abiding meditation

 

We need to improve our capacity for clear concentration and like everything it gets better with practise. This article aims to explain the stages of developing concentration and the methods used to accomplish each stage. On the basis of concentration we can develop calm abiding and by combining that with analytical meditation we can further refine our level of meditative absorption. Here is how to do it as discussed in our recent Buddhist meditation classes.

 

The place to practise in retreat

 

We need a suitable place to to make our meditation retreats.  Retreats are best in peaceful, pleasant environments. Make it not too remote. You need convenient access to food, water, clothing and other necessities. Find a safe, peaceful place where you are secure and relaxed, a location blessed by your teacher.

 

Find a pleasant environment. You need clean food, water, fresh air, good views and a moderate climate as they are conducive to good health.

 

Have a helper to look after you.

 

To practice, cultivate little want. Be content and moderate with food, clothing, accommodation.

 

Have modest needs.  Avoid trying to improve your conditions or other distractions.

 

Abandon many activities. Avoid being busy and involved in projects, meetings and tiring things.

 

Commit to an ethical life.

 

Abandon non-virtue.

 

Start with shorter periods of meditation. This will allow an intensity of concentration for the shorter duration. You can lengthen the sessions in time.

 

 Regular daily meditation

 

Most of us will develop our meditation through a daily practice integrated with our normal lifestyle rather than in a full retreat environment as set out above. If possible it is nice to have at least some of the features of a retreat setting, but mainly we need a place where we feel safe and comfortable and are able to secure the physical necessities of life. We should have access to a meditation teacher who can guide our practice as part of our lifestyle.

 

The obstacles to calm abiding and their antidotes.

 

There are five main obstacles to calm abiding and eight antidotes to them. They are:

 

Laziness, the first obstacle to concentration

 

The first obstacle is laziness, a lack of interest in cultivating calm abiding. Laziness will manifest as sluggishness, boredom, disinterest and dullness. It is present before and during your practice.  Laziness can be procrastination, an attraction to meaningless schemes, or delusions of incapacity.  We overcome laziness with four antidotes.

 

First develop confidence in calm abiding. This arises through recollecting the benefits of calm abiding. Calm abiding meditation brings bliss, clarity and stability. These enable psychic abilities and transform sleep into meditation. Calming meditation decreases the influence of delusion and negative karma.

 

The second antidote is developing interest in the practice by reflecting on the benefits of meditating. You compare this to the disadvantages of not meditating. A plus of calm abiding is to increase your ability to cut non-virtues.  They are  the source of your suffering.  Calm abiding  increases virtuous states.  These are the source of ever greater happiness and enlightenment. Meditation practice decreases suffering, sickness, grief, sadness, and depression. Meditation overcomes addiction, anger, attachment, jealousy, tension, agitation, mental distortion and emotional distress. At the same time meditating increases peace, happiness, contentment, clarity and relaxation. It enhances health, emotional balance, mental wellbeing, enlightenment, love, compassion and wisdom. To practise meditation is an easy decision!

 

The third antidote to laziness is joyous effort. This is an enthusiasm for the practice.  Joyous effort arises from taking the time to appreciate the joy, or bliss, and the peace of meditation.

 

The fourth antidote to laziness is pliancy. Pliancy is an increased serviceability of both body and mind. Serviceability is the ability to direct our mind toward virtue at will.  We are no longer held back by patterns of non-virtue and suffering

 

Forgetfulness, the second obstacle to concentration

 

Forgetfulness is failing to remember the meditation object.

 

The antidote to forgetfulness is mindfulness.  Mindfulness is a non-forgetfulness of a familiar phenomenon. It is the antidote to forgetting the instructions of the meditation practice. With mindfulness we become familiar with the object of meditation. We stay with the object avoiding distraction.

 

Interruptions, the third obstacle to concentration

 

Dullness and excitement are interruptions to your concentration. They each have gross and subtle levels.

 

Gross dullness is present when the object of meditation is stable but unclear. You are mindful of your meditation object, but unclear. Gross dullness is thus different to sleepiness. Here you lose the object of concentration altogether.

 

Subtle dullness is where you are mindful of your meditation object. You have stability and clarity, but that clarity is not intense. Your concentration is strong, your mind holds the object with clarity, but the fine focus is not present. Subtle dullness arises because the mind has lost its vitality.  It has relaxed the strength of focus on the object and becomes loose. When we overcome subtle dullness, the mind adheres to its object.  It remains fresh, sharp and energetic. It keeps the fine focus which gives intense clarity.

 

Excitement is an unsubdued mindset, an attachment led astray by tempting objects. Excitement is the most insidious form of distraction and is difficult to control.

 

Gross excitement is where your mind loses its object of concentration.

 

Subtle excitement is where you keep your focus on the object of concentration.  But a subtle part of the mind, below the level of conceptual thought moves toward an interesting object. An illustration is water moving beneath a layer of ice. The ice is stable on the surface but underneath the water moves. This subtle movement of the mind will lead to gross excitement and losing the object.

 

The antidote for the interruptions of dullness and excitement is awareness. Be alert.  Awareness acts as a spy looking for interruptions. You focus on the object of meditation. But part of your attention watches for dullness or excitement.

 

Failure to apply antidotes, the fourth obstacle to concentration

 

The antidotes act to overcome excitement and dullness.

 

Make a small change when you are able. If you see a lack of clarity, lift your attention and energise your mind. Tighten your concentration somewhat.

 

If you detect attention drifting, settle your mind.  Emphasise relaxing and loosening your awareness. Sense your mind settle with ease. Let it be a bundle of straw that flops when you loosen the rope holding it together.

 

You may discern that too much effort to overcome dullness causes agitation.  Likewise too much loosening to overcome excitement will produce dullness. So avoid too much or too little. Balance clarity with stability, and vividness with relaxation. Aim for a relaxed alertness, or for just resting the mind on its object. Consider tuning a guitar string. You aim for not too tight and not too loose. But with a balance of correct tuning, the sound is perfect. Tune the mind the same way.

 

If tuning concentration is not enough, we need to spend time on specific opponents. We then focus on the following opponents.

 

To oppose dullness you might meditate for a time on a brilliant light. You could focus on an uplifting and energising theme such as the mind of enlightenment. Meditate on the inspiring.

 

To oppose excitement you can sober the mind. Contemplate suffering and impermanence. Generate compassion for beings caught in the cycle of samsara.

 

Then come back to your meditation object.

 

Over-application, the fifth obstacle to concentration

 

The problem here is continuing to apply opponents when no longer needed.  In time your concentration is free of dullness and excitement.  Then the opponents become an obstacle to an effortless concentration.

 

The opponent to over-application of the antidotes is equanimity. We hold an effortless concentration.  This comes through familiarity with single pointedness.  An experienced car driver drives effortlessly. He need not focus on when to change gears, or when to turn the wheel. It is effortless and natural.

 

The nine levels of improving concentration

 

We overcome the five obstacles using the eight antidotes. With this your concentration will improve through nine stages.

 

1. Setting the mind

 

You orient your mind to the object.  When you can hold it for a minute, you have set the mind on the object.

 

2. Settling with continuity

 

This involves lengthening the period of holding the object to five minutes at a time.

 

3. Patching concentration

 

You can patch up a tear in your robe. No need for a new robe.  When distracted you patch up your concentration. You reset the object straight away. No need to begin again.

 

4. Close placement

 

With a strong effort the mind remains on the object.  Because of the power of mindfulness you do not lose the object. Dullness and excitement still occur. So you must continue to practise the opponents.

 

5. Controlling

 

Now you can control dullness and excitement. During the earlier stage your mind became withdrawn.  This withdrawal carries the danger of subtle dullness. But gross dullness and excitement no longer occur.

 

6. Pacifying

 

The effort used to subdue subtle dullness over invigorates the mind.  Now subtle excitement becomes the main danger.

 

7. Complete pacification

 

It becomes difficult for dullness and excitement to arise. You overcome them with a slight effort. The distinction between this and the sixth stage is that at the sixth you remain wary of dullness and excitement.  At this seventh stage they no longer concern you.

 

8. Single-pointed concentration

 

You can concentrate on the object with no interruption of dullness or excitement. With a slight effort you hold your concentration for as long as you wish.

 

9. Concentration with equanimity

 

Here you have an effortless concentration. It results from practice and familiarity through the eighth stage.

 

 How you progress

 

With effort

 

There are interruptions during stages one and two. You have an abundance of dullness and excitement. You hold the object of concentration for only short periods. At the first stage you notice how uncontrolled your mind is.  At the second stage you gain a slight sense of how your mind takes rest.

 

Through mindfulness

 

From the third to the seventh stage the interruptions are present. They become weaker stage by stage. You manage them much better.

 

With awareness

 

Dullness and excitement cease at stage eight and nine. You still need effort to concentrate at the eighth stage, but no longer at the ninth.

 

Effortlessness

 

Once you have gained the ninth mental stage you can concentrate for as long as you wish.  Decide the period for which you want to meditate and then begin the session. You have no obstacles to pure concentration. It is a perfect focus

 

Calm Abiding meditation

 

Calm abiding comes after the ninth stage. It is when you gain pliancy, or a blissful serviceability of body and mind.  The special bliss of pliancy comes from familiarity with the ninth stage. This bliss is greater than any pleasure of the desire realm of cyclic existence.

 

A person will generate agitation and thus delusions in relation to ten objects.  The ten are the five sense objects plus the objects of attachment, anger and ignorance and the opposite sex—male or female. With calm abiding you experience tranquillity in relation to these objects, not the delusion.

 

Calm abiding is the foundation for the higher meditative absorptions. These form the basis of real psychic powers and clairvoyance. But the main boon of calm abiding is that you have the mental power to penetrate the nature of reality. With that you end suffering, you finish with samsara forever. It is the basis of enlightenment.

 

 Signs of attainment

 

The mind can purify afflictions.

 

When in meditation, pliancy is quickly generated. Pliancy is a serviceability of body and mind such that they are easily turned to virtue

 

Even after meditation, features of pliancy remain. In daily activity, coming and going, the body and mind are at ease, comfortable and capable.

 

During meditation all gross objects disappear. It is as though the mind is mixed with space.

 

On finishing a meditation you have the sense of spontaneously gaining a body.

 

Fewer delusions are developed. Those that occur are weak and can be easily overcome.

 

Grasping at the objects of the desire realm no longer occurs

 

One is free of harmful intent.

 

Lethargy and a lack of energy for meditation cease.

 

Mental agitation and confusion no longer occur and doubt is overcome

 

Your felt-experience is as though your mind has the stability of a great mountain.

 

Mental clarity in such that it appears you could count the individual atoms in a wall.

 

Refining concentration

 

Having developed calm abiding we can further develop our concentration through eight levels of concentration: the eight meditative absorptions.

 

We use a combination of analytical meditation and single-pointed meditation to attain each of the eight levels of meditative absorption. This involves the following five contemplations.

 

The mental contemplation of individual knowledge of the character

 

Mental contemplation arisen from belief

 

The mental contemplation of thorough isolation

 

Mental contemplation of analysis

 

The mental contemplation of final training

 

We use these five mental contemplations to move progressively through each of the eight meditative absorptions.

 

The eight meditative absorptions

 

From the first level to the highest and most refined level of meditative absorption the eight are as follows.

 

1. First meditative absorption

 

2. Second meditative absorption

 

3. Third meditative absorption

 

4. Fourth meditative absorption

 

5. Infinite Space meditative absorption

 

6. Infinite Consciousness meditative absorption

 

7. Nothingness meditative absorption

 

8. Peak of Cyclic Existence meditative absorption

 

The first four correlate to the four levels of the form realm while the second four correlate to the four levels of the formless realm.

 

The Form and Formless realms in relation to the desire realm

 

The structure of the realms of samsara from highest to lowest is:

 

Formless realm

 

Form realm

 

Desire realm

 

These are as follows (again from highest to lowest):

 

Formless realm

 

Peak of cyclic existence (thus still within samsara)

 

Nothingness

 

Infinite Consciousness

 

Infinite Space

 

Form realm

 

Fourth meditative absorption (eight levels)

 

Not low

 

Great perception

 

Excellent appearance

 

Without pain

 

Not great

 

Great fruit

 

Born from merit

 

Cloudless

 

Third meditative absorption (three levels)

 

Vast bliss

 

Limitless bliss

 

Little bliss

 

Second meditative absorption (three levels)

 

Bright Light

 

Limitless Light

 

Little Radiance

 

First meditative absorption  (three levels)

 

Great Brahma

 

In front of Brahma

 

Brahma type

 

Desire Realm

 

 God (deva) realms (six levels)

 

Controlling others’ emanations

 

Enjoying emanation

 

Joyous

 

Without combat

 

The thirty-three gods (Indra etc.)

 

Four great kings

 

Titan (asura) realm

 

Human realm

 

Ideally we use the good fortune of rebirth in the human realm to practice dharma and free ourselves from cycling up and down these realms of samsara. To reach enlightenment and be forever free from these realms of samsara we engage in practice of the five Mahayana paths. These are:

 

Path of merit

 

The path of preparation

 

Path of insight

 

The path of meditation

 

Path of no-more-learning

 

 Animal realm

 

 Hungry ghost (preta) realm

 

 Hell (Naraka) realms (two lots of eight levels)

 

Hot hells

 

Reviving

 

Black line

 

Crushed together

 

Cryin 

 

Great crying

 

Hot

 

Boiling

 

Most torture (avichi)

 

Cold hells

 

Blistering

 

Bursting blisters

 

Groaning

 

Moaning

 

Chattering teeth

 

Split like a blue lotus

 

Split like a lotus

 

Split like a great lotus

How meditation develops understanding

It is through regular practice that meditation develops understanding. We see increasingly more deeply into things and develop a clear insight over time.

 

Meditation develops understanding

 

Exploring how we use meditation to develop understanding is an important component of all our meditation classes. We learn how to gain a genuine meditative insight.

 

A genuine meditative insight is a life transforming experience. We escape the conditioning of our mind.
Meditation cuts through our earlier mental conditioning and opens huge opportunities for positive growth and development.

 

Mental conditioning

 

Everything we do, say or think conditions our mind. It sets up habit patterns. The imprint on consciousness of these are karmic seeds. We carry karmic habits from everything we have ever thought, said or done. Groups of seeds of similar type create the karmic patterns. These patterns of conditioning shape our behaviour going forward. They are the subconscious impulses which determine how we act and react.

 

For example, if we have a great number of seeds of anger, they will become a dominant pattern.  Those seeds will ripen into us becoming violent.

 

We may alternatively accumulate a great number of seeds of love.  That dominant pattern will ripen into more peace and happiness.

 

Thus at first in our spiritual practice we need to work with our conditioning.  We aim to release ourselves from the negative patterns and strengthen all virtuous patterns. By doing this we stop negative karma and create positive karma.

 

Making change often meets with resistance from the old attitudes that are the basis of negative conditioning. To cut through we will need stable new meditative insights.  We generate these through the three wisdoms.

 

Three wisdoms.

 

By using the three wisdoms, meditation develops understanding. We need to change our mental conditioning. Beyond this we need insight to free ourselves from conditioned existence and become enlightened. Attaining meditative insight involves progressing through three levels of wisdom. They are:

 

(1) a wisdom arising from listening,

 

(2) a wisdom arising from thinking

 

(3) a wisdom arising from meditation.

 

The first is a somewhat feeble and unstable insight, but the basis for the following two. The second is stronger and supports the third. It is the third which becomes an indestructible insight.

 

Wisdom arising from listening

 

Here we listen to teachings or advice on a new way of viewing ourselves and our life. It may be a teaching on karma. We could learn of the qualities of enlightenment. We examine the nature of happiness and well-being, or suffering and its source.  In listening to these teachings we come with an open and enquiring mind. We adopt a positive attitude to the teaching and the teacher and are thus open to learn. By not being critical and fixed, we avoid being like the three vessels.

 

The three vessels

 

The student is like a vessel. The teacher pours the teaching into the vessel.  As the practice of meditation develops our understanding, we should avoid being three types of a vessel.  Avoid being a vessel with holes, one with dirt in it, or an upside down vessel.

 

When we pour water into a vessel with holes it will leak out. This is like listening to the teachings without mindfulness and concentration. Whatever we hear we forget.  Apart from a nice evening out listening to an interesting monk, we gain no benefit.

 

When we pour water into a vessel with impurities, they pollute it. This is like listening to the teachings with a poor attitude. It might be jealousy, competitiveness or the intent to gain special advantage.  We may want to become the most knowledgeable person on the planet. An impure attitude will pollute and distort the teaching so that there is no benefit.

 

When we pour water into an upturned vessel, it will hold nothing. It does not matter how much we pour or for how long.

 

This is like having the attitude of ‘I know best, I know more than anyone.  Nobody can tell me anything. This teaching is so poorly delivered that it brings no benefit’. It is a closed mind, wrapped up in its own ego-driven certainties. This person will never learn.

 

We gain new insight by listening with an open, inquiring mind. What we hear will at least be a reminder of a valuable insight even if it is only a tiny one. We then have something to work on.

 

This wisdom of listening is the basis of the next wisdom.

 

The wisdom arising from thinking

 

Whilst being open to new information, we are careful to avoid accepting anything we hear on face value. We need to investigate and examine whether what we hear told holds true to our testing.

 

The Buddha said: ‘Do not accept what I say out of respect for me, but test it and analyse it. Then if it makes sense to you, if you find the methods work, you can accept it or reject it as you see fit.’

 

If we just take things on faith, we allow ourselves to be further conditioned by someone else. However, by thinking through the teachings we develop a deeper, more valuable level of insight.

 

This is a wisdom arising from thinking. We develop our own conclusions.  If these then bring success in practice, we will develop confidence in the teachings. This wisdom arising from thinking is stronger than the wisdom arising from listening.

 

Without this discriminating wisdom the opinions of others will sway us.  We flip-flop and float about like paper in a storm. The latest, most charismatic presentation sways us this way and that.

 

The wisdom arising from meditation

 

Our wisdom arising from thinking still operates at the conceptual level of mind. It is not yet a direct perception or direct knowing of something. We get at it only by way of concepts. No matter how logical and intellectually sound these concepts are they are still not a strong enough way of knowing to be counted a true insight.

 

To gain a deeper, direct and unmistaken intuitive knowing we need meditation. We must join analytical meditation with single-pointed concentration. This combination of analysis and calm abiding leads to a non-conceptual bare awareness. It is a full realisation of the teachings.

 

Such a meditative insight is an unshakeable clear knowing.  It re-assembles our perspective on life and all aspects of our experience.

Learning with mindfulness and meditation

Having taken up the practice of meditation, we enter a new phase of learning with mindfulness meditation.

Learning mindfulness meditation

 

Learning mindfulness meditation establishes a platform for a life of continued learning and discovery. It is a very useful foundation for the development of wisdom and it is wisdom which puts an end to the suffering cycle of life, or samsara.

 

Seeing through samsara

 

The painful dimension of life is samsara. It is the outworking of our accumulation of past negative actions. That negative karma comes from non-virtue. All non-virtue arises from ignorance making it the root of the problem. Remove ignorance and we take out non-virtue, negative karma and suffering all at once. Way to go.

 

Wisdom is our antidote to ignorance. The ability to see through ignorance with wisdom ends the pain cycle that is samsara.

 

Cultivating wisdom

 

There are many aspects to wisdom, but one is the clarity it gives us in the ability to see through appearances. Ignorance is to believe things exist the way they appear. Anything which causes us to doubt those certainties breaks down ignorance. By investigating the nature of things we see through appearances.

 

The spiritual practitioner is thus a subversive. He or she will not fall into line with accepted views.  Rather, we question and challenge these views. It is tempting to go for the comfort and convenience of adopting the beliefs of others.  We could profess a faith in these beliefs for the sake of acceptance.  It’s easy to go with political correctness and let others form our views.  But we find true wisdom in questioning, thinking and forming our own judgement. The process of challenging ideas and thinking things through leads to a genuine understanding. It is this which sees through ignorance. To take on beliefs with a mind of blind faith can only increase ignorance.  It will thus only bind us more to samsara.

 

Encouraging analysis

 

The Buddha always taught in a way that encouraged those listening to think about what he was saying. He did not present a creed to hold and defend against the unbelievers. For this reason he taught at many levels. Some teachings seemed contradictory. His purpose was to present teachings which challenged us to develop wisdom.  Wisdom arises from attentive listening, deep thinking, and strong meditation. Presenting contradictory views was his way of stimulating thinking. In time we see them as a skilful way of guiding us gradually from coarser to more subtle views.

 

Any process which helps our wisdom will always improve our quality of life. The spiritual path is the path of developing wisdom. It is a path of continual learning.

 

The great teachers have always encouraged robust discussion and debate.  It gets us to a deeper level of understanding. Question and answer, whether processed by oneself or in a group, fosters wisdom. Once we begin down that path differing philosophies do not cause confusion.  They present opportunities for deeper and more refined exploration.

 

An opponent’s diametric view of something challenges us to determine which is the more useful.  Finding which makes more sense deepens our wisdom. It can lead us through the mystery of paradox as is prominent in the Zen approach.

 

All this is contrary to the non-thinking approach where two opposite views leave you tossing a coin.  The outcome decides which tribe you join, support and defend. One is a process of learning while the other is lazy blind belief.

 

Familiarisation

 

Another important part of the spiritual journey is constant reminding. We may develop an insight while listening to a teaching or meditating.  But back in the day to day of ‘nothing-but suffering’ we forget our insight. We need constant reminders.  This makes a regular meditation practice so important.  Another reminder is to hear the teachings again and again. It helps provide the constant reinforcement we all need. You can never hear enough teachings and never hear them often enough. It always helps.

 

Meditation is to cultivate virtue. It is again a process of constant reminder. You acquaint yourself with virtue. Consistency becomes powerful.

 

Learning with Mindfulness

 

By learning mindfulness meditation we can be mindful through our daily activities. We can be mindful at work, with family and social obligations.  It is another form of familiarity which fosters a life of learning. With mindfulness there are many ways to learn from everyone and everything around us. Events will challenge our patience and compassion. They will remind us to be generous. Some people and events will point out our faults by causing us pain.  At other times they will give encouragement to our virtue by stimulating our joy. We will find opportunities to exercise our wisdom to solve problems.  We can always enliven our love and compassion in the way we engage our relationships.

 

Mindfulness helps us remember the teachings which apply best to our situation. We deal well with the here and now and bring our virtues to it.

 

Learning with Meditation

 

Learning mindfulness meditation allows us to see more. We come to know the subtle forms and energies which shape our existence. In meditation we can rise above the conflict and confusion of the day to day and take a panoramic and wise view of the world and see more clearly our place and purpose within it. With meditation we are always learning and find there is ever more to discover.   

Traditions in conversation

Meditation today: Traditions in Conversation

 

On Friday, February 23 presented at the Colloquium, Meditation today: Traditions in Conversation. It was held at the Melbourne University of Divinity. There may still be some places available. If you are interested in a copy of the notes from the day, please get in touch through the contact page.

 

The event was from 9.00am to 4.00pm, Friday, February 23, 2018.

 

The venue:

 

Melbourne University of Divinity

 

Centre for Theology and Divinity,

 

29 College Crescent, Parkville.

 

The programme and speakers are listed below.

 

Meditation today: Traditions in conversation – Event Brochure

 

In February 2018, leading experts in meditation from different traditions will gather at the University of Divinity.  They aim to discuss the evolution of meditation and its relevance today.  The contributors are experts and practitioners of meditation.  They are recognised as contributing to research and practice in several areas. They cover historical studies of meditation with a variety of religious traditions of meditation. Others examine the science of meditation, in its clinical and therapeutic uses, and the use of meditation in education settings.

 

This Colloquium is the outcome of collaboration between The Contemplary, Confluence and the University of Divinity

 

Meditation today: Schedule

 

9.00am Arrival, welcome, tea and coffee

 

9.25am Meditation in the Chapel

 

Charles Potter

 

9.45am Ancient practices of meditation: Stoic and Christian

 

Associate Professor Matthew Sharpe (Deakin University)

 

Dr. Cullan Joyce (University of Divinity, CTC and Confluence)

 

10.45am Morning Tea

 

11.15am Religious Meditation: How is it relevant today

 

Associate Professor, Reverend Dr. John DuPuche (University of Divinity, CTC and Confluence)

 

Venerable Toby Gillies (Buddhist Monk)

 

12.15am Lunch

 

1.00pm The Science of Meditation

 

Dr. Petrina Barson GP (The Contemplary)

 

Dr. Anette Webb

 

2.00pm Afternoon Tea

 

2.15pm Meditation and Education in Theory and Practice

 

Janet Etty-Leal (Meditation Capsules, Meditation Australia and Confluence)

 

Christopher Morris (University of Divinity, CTC)

 

3.15pm Panel Discussion

 

All speakers

 

3,45pm Response and Farewell

 

Associate Professor, Reverend Dr. John DuPuche (University of Divinity, CTC and Confluence)

 

Associate Professor Matthew Sharpe (Deakin University)

 

Presenters – morning sessions

 

Associate Professor Matthew Sharpe teaches philosophy and Deakin. He has published on the history of Western conceptions of philosophy as a way of life and is working on a co-authored monograph on the subject. Professor Sharpe has a particular interest in Stoic philosophy, and the Roman Stoics Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. He is also co-translating a volume of essays in the area by the renowned French classicist Pierre Hadot.

 

Dr Cullan Joyce lectures in philosophy at Catholic Theological College. His doctorate is on the thought of Maximus the Confessor, a pivotal Early Christian ascetic. He is researching how Maximus’ work relates to contemporary studies in meditation. He is the founding director of Confluence.

 

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. He is Associate Professor at the University of Divinity and an Honorary Fellow at the Australian Catholic University, and chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese. He has a doctorate in Sanskrit, specialising in Kashmir Shaivism and is interested in its interface with Christianity. His book: Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as Elaborated in Chapter 29 of the Tantrāloka was published in 2003; Jesus, the Mantra of God in 2005; and Vers un Tantra Chrétien in 2009 (translated as Towards a Christian Tantra). He has written many articles in these fields. He leads an interfaith ashram on the outskirts of Melbourne. His website is johndupuche.com

 

Venerable Toby Gillies has been presenting courses in Buddhist philosophy and the theory and practice of meditation since 1980. Toby was granted full ordination in 1986 and accepted into the Sera Jey Monastic University in Mysore India. He has completed a study of the five major fields: Logic, Phenomenology, Ontology, Transcendental Wisdom and Monastic Discipline. Toby teaches these fields and the esoteric Vajrayana (tantric) theory and practice. He has conducted numerous group and solitary meditation retreats ranging from two weeks to five months in duration.

Presenters – afternoon sessions

 

Dr Petrina Barson is a certified teacher of the Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) originating at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. CCT is a program which draws from traditional contemplative practice and the science of mindfulness and compassion. She has been teaching CCT to medical students at the University of Melbourne since 2014. Dr. Barson is involved in research into outcomes of this program amongst medical students and is an Honorary Fellow in the Department of General Practice. She is a long-term member of a progressive Christian community, which inspires and supports the understanding of compassion.

 

Dr Annette Webb is a Consultant Paediatician, Gastroenterologist and Clinical Hypnotherapist. Her MD doctoral thesis was in the area of mind body therapies for Chronic and Complex Abdominal pain. Annette has been meditating since she was a child and has completed formal qualifications in Mindfulness and Stillness Meditation therapy. Annette was employed as a staff specialist at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Monash Children’s Southern Health and Cabrini Hospital’s In Melbourne and is currently in private practice. She continues to utilise meditation practices in her personal and professional life.

 

Janet Etty-Leal specialises in bringing Mindfulness to life: developing and delivering meaningful programs, instilled with thoughtful, creative pedagogy to a range of persons and institutions. With many years of experience, her program is informed by neuroscientist and leading educational visionaries, including the work of Professor Martin Seligman, Alfie Kohn and Dr Norman Doige (The Brain that Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing)

 

Christopher Morris is a lecturer at the Catholic Theological College Melbourne in Christian Spirituality and in a Graduate Course in Meditation. He is a PhD candidate focussing on the Christian wisdom tradition. Christopher is also a spiritual director and oblate of the Camaldolese Benedictines.