Chapter Two: Sitting Meditation

In this chapter, I will explain how to put into practice the principles learned in the first chapter during formal sitting meditation. Sitting meditation is a simple meditation exercise that can be performed sitting cross-legged on the floor or even on a chair or bench. For people unable to sit up at all, a similar technique may be employed in the lying position.

The purpose of formal meditation is to limit our experience to the fewest number of objects in order to allow for easy observation without becoming overwhelmed or distracted. When sitting still, the whole body is tranquil and the only movement is when the breath enters and leaves the body. When the breath enters the body, there should be a rising motion in the abdomen. When the breath leaves the body, there should likewise be a falling motion. If the movement is not readily apparent, you can put your hand on your abdomen until it becomes clear.

If it is difficult to perceive the motion of the abdomen even with your hand, you can try lying down on your back until you are able to perceive it. Difficulty in finding the rising and falling motion of the abdomen when sitting is generally due to mental tension and stress; if one is patient and persistent in the practice, one’s mind and body will begin to relax until one is able to breathe as naturally sitting up as when lying down.

The most important thing to remember is that we are trying to observe the breath in its natural state, rather than forcing or controlling it in any way. In the beginning, the breath may be shallow or uncomfortable, but once the mind begins to let go and stops trying to control the breath, the rise and fall of the abdomen will become more clear and allow for comfortable observation.

It is this rising and falling motion that we will use as our first object of meditation. Once we are able to observe the motion of the abdomen without difficulty, it will serve as a default object of meditation for us to return to at any time.

The formal method for sitting meditation is as follows: [1]

1. Sit with the legs crossed if possible, with one leg in front of the other, neither leg on top of the other. If this position is uncomfortable, you can sit in any position that is convenient for observation of the abdomen.

2. Sit with one hand on top of the other, palms up on the lap.

3. Sit with the back straight. It is not necessary for the back to be perfectly straight if it is uncomfortable; as long the movements of the abdomen are clearly discernible, any posture is okay.

4. Close the eyes. Since the focus is on the stomach, having the eyes open will only distract the attention away from the object.

5. Send the mind out to the abdomen; when the abdomen rises, give rise to the clear thought, silently in the mind, “rising”, and when the stomach falls, “falling”. Repeat this practice until your attention is diverted to another object of awareness.

Again it’s important to understand that the clear thought, “rising” or “falling” should be in the mind, which should be focused on the abdomen. It is as though one is speaking into the abdomen. This practice may be carried out for five or ten minutes, or longer if one is able.

The next step is to incorporate all four foundations into the practice: the body, the feelings, the mind, and the dhammas.

Regarding the body, watching the rising and the falling is sufficient for a beginner meditator. At times, one might wish to also acknowledge the position of the body as “sitting, sitting”, or “lying, lying” if it is more found to be more conducive for clear observation.

In regards to feelings, when a sensation arises in the body, one should fix one’s attention on it, discarding the abdomen and focusing on the sensation. If a feeling of pain should arise, for example, one should take the pain itself as a meditation object.

Any one of the four foundations may serve as a meditation object, as all four are aspects of reality. It isn’t necessary to stay with the rising and falling of the abdomen at all times. Instead, when pain arises, one should observe the new object, the pain, in order to clearly understand it for what it is, rather than judging or identifying with it. As explained earlier, the meditator should simply focus on the pain and create the clear thought, “pain, pain, pain, pain…” until it goes away. Instead of getting upset about the pain, one will see it for what it is and let it go.

When happiness arises, one should create the clear thought, “happy.” When one feels peaceful or calm, one should create the clear thought, “peaceful,” or “calm” until that feeling goes away. Here, the object is to avoid clinging to the feeling, which would create a dependency on it. When one clings to positive feelings, one will be inevitably dissatisfied when they are gone.

Once the sensation disappears, one should return to the rising and falling of the abdomen and continue observing it as “rising” and “falling”.

In regards to the mind, if thoughts arise during meditation, one should acknowledge them as “thinking”. It doesn’t matter whether one is thinking about the past or future or whether one’s thoughts are good or bad; instead of letting the mind wander and lose track of reality, bring the mind back to the reality of the thought with, “thinking”. Then return to the rising and falling and continue practice as normal.

In regards to dhammas, when the mind gives rise to liking, pleased by a certain experience, create the clear thought, “liking, liking”. When disliking arises – anger, boredom, frustration, etc. – create the clear thought, “disliking, disliking”, “angry, angry”, “bored, bored”, or “frustrated, frustrated”. When laziness or drowsiness comes up, create the clear thought, “lazy, lazy”, or “drowsy, drowsy”. When distraction or worry arise, “distracted, distracted” or “worried, worried”. When doubt or confusion arise, “doubting, doubting” or “confused, confused” and so on.

Once the above hindrances subside, bring the mind back again to a clear awareness of the present moment by focusing on the rise and fall of the abdomen.

Formal meditation practice has many benefits,[2] the first being that the mind will become more happy and peaceful as a result. By cultivating the habit of clear awareness of reality, the mind will become happier, lighter and more free from stress and suffering that come from judgement and clinging. Most meditators will experience states of bliss and happiness after a few days of meditating if they are diligent and systematic in their practice. It is important, of course, to recognize that such experiences are simply a fruit of the practice and not a substitute for proper practice itself. One must acknowledge them as one would any other experience, as in “happy, happy”, or “calm, calm”. Nonetheless, such feelings are a true benefit of the practice that one can see for oneself even after a short time practicing meditation.

The second benefit is that one will begin to understand oneself and the world around in ways that are not possible without meditation practice. One will come to see clearly how one’s own mental habits cause one to suffer; how external stimuli are not really a cause for suffering or happiness until one clings to them.

One comes to see why there is suffering, even while one wishes only for happiness; how objects of desire and aversion are merely ephemeral experiences, arising and ceasing incessantly, not worth clinging to or striving for in any way.

Further, one will come to understand the minds of others in the same way. Without meditation, people tend to immediately judge others based on their actions and speech, giving rise to liking or disliking, attraction or hatred towards them. Through the practice of meditation, one comes to understand how others are a cause for their own suffering and happiness, and so one is more inclined to forgive and accept others as they are without judging them.

The third benefit of the practice is that one becomes more aware and mindful of the world around. Without the support of meditation practice, one might go through most of one’s waking day automatically without being clearly aware of one’s own actions, speech and thoughts. After cultivating meditative awareness, one will become more aware of one’s day-to-day experience of reality. As a result, when difficult situations arise one will be able to respond to situations with clarity of mind, accepting one’s experiences for what they are instead of falling prey to likes and dislikes, fear, anxiety, confusion, and so on. One will be able to bear conflict, difficulty, sickness, and even death, much better than one would have without the practice of meditation.

The fourth benefit, the true aim of the meditation practice, is that one will be able to rid oneself of the evils in one’s own mind that cause suffering for oneself and others; anger, greed, delusion, anxiety, worry, stress, fear, arrogance, conceit, and so on. One will see all mental states that create unhappiness and stress for oneself and others clearly as they are and discard them as a result.

This is an explanation of basic, formal meditation practice and the benefits it brings. At this point, I would ask that you begin to practice according to this method at least once before going on to the next chapter or back to your daily life. Practice for five or ten minutes, or however long is convenient, for the first time, right now, before you forget what you have read in this chapter. Rather than being like a person reading a menu, taste the fruit of the meditation practice for yourself like one who actually uses the menu to order a meal.

Thank you for your interest in meditation, and I sincerely hope that this teaching will bring peace, happiness and freedom from suffering to your life.

Notes:

[1] Please see illustration 41 in the appendix for two traditional sitting postures.

[2] The following four benefits are taken from the Saṅgītisutta, Dīgha Nikāya (DN 33).

Chapter Three

2 Comments

  1. When I acknowledge an emotion that arises in the mind, I find that I can quickly return to a clear state of awareness. This works well for negative emotions. But I find that when I acknowledge positive emotions, they tend to disappear, since even happiness is “merely [an] ephemeral [experience], arising and ceasing incessantly.” This has given me some difficulty. Do you have any advice?

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