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Monday, December 28, 2020

Mindfulness, Compassion, Nonviolence - 13

 How do Buddha’s teachings form the basis for different types of meditation?

Although Buddha himself learnt from the Vedas and practiced the austerities taught at that time in history, he rejected them. He said that one should not be indulging in all the attractions and run after satisfying all kinds of desires in life; but he rejected asceticism also. That is why he called his method “The Middle Way”. His method of approach to life and practice differ.

In Buddhist meditation, the focus is on this life and how to live here and now

Buddhist teachings give you specific steps which are easy to follow. No belief is needed in some energy center, the other world, strict rituals etc.

Buddhist teachings follow normal human psychology and the methods they teach such as calming, deep looking, compassion etc., have now been substantiated as valid by neuro-scientific studies such as functional MRI of the brain.

You can use  meditation to calm the mind and relax the body and stop there. It will still be useful.

But it can also be used for spiritual growth. In fact, any one from any religion can use these methods to concentrate on their prayers.

There are specific meditation lessons such as Forgiveness Meditation, Compassion Meditation and Gratitude Meditation to develop these positive attitudes.

Deep looking meditation can help understand one’s own self better. In this method we first learn to know what our strength is before we work on our problem area such as anxiety or fear. This is unlike the western system where a medical paradigm is used and therefore the focus is on the problem area, on the “mental disease”.

Although meditation techniques are not meant to treat psychiatric disorders, specific kinds of meditations may be useful as adjunct to standard forms of treatment in competent hands.

In simple terms, Buddha diagnosed human suffering just like physicians diagnose physical ailments. He just observed and  made the diagnosis: suffering is part of life and is real. Second, he said that the cause of this suffering can be found. Third, he said that it is possible to stop this suffering and that a treatment is available. Finally, he gave the treatment – in the form of Noble Eightfold Paths. That is why Buddha is called the “Physician of the Mind” in modern mental health literature.

For reducing human suffering and for spiritual and emotional growth, we must first be aware of our current condition and how the mind works. That is only possible if we learn to control the mind from running in different directions and pay attention to the present moment. We have to accept the fact that life is a mixture of happiness and suffering. We have to accept the present condition as is without judgement – not running away from it. Not burying it. We have to train our mind from not living in the past ruminating or living in the future worrying and in anxiety. We have to learn to avoid distractions and learn to focus. In essence, this is what is meant by the concept of “being mindful and living in the present moment”.

Next, we must learn that fundamental causes of suffering are desire, attachment, craving, clinging onto things and concepts, and not learning to let go. We must also learn abut hindrances to our ability to meditate and look at ourselves deeply. These are laziness, anxiety, delusion, doubt and distraction.

Before listing the Eightfold Noble path, Buddha said that suffering can be controlled, minimized or eliminated by retraining our mind. In other words, he suggested the possibility of neuroplasticity almost 2000 years back! Problems will be there, but we can learn to look at it differently through meditation. This is what is called behavioral therapy in modern terminology. These suggestions are found to be true by recent studies that show structural and functional changes in the brain following various meditation techniques. 

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