Toby Gillies Buddhist Meditation

insight meditation

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.