New Moon Day: Meditation I: Be Prepared I

February 6, 2008

This is going to be the first of a series of posts on meditation. I’ll start by talking about the prerequisites and how we can ensure we give our meditation the best possible start. In the subsequent posts I’ll move on to talk about the process of developing and maintaining a solid and reliable practice.

Be Prepared

Think of good preparation as being as fundamental to meditation as a good runway is to a jumbo jet. If the runway is full of holes and cracks and is covered in oil we’ll meet with disaster. If we haven’t paid attention to certain necessary factors of the path we’re also not going to have an easy time meditating. However, if the runway is clean and free of holes and cracks then the jumbo jet will take off nicely. Similarly, if we pay careful attention to the prerequisites of meditation we will soon be flying. We’ll begin by looking at the role of the moral precepts and of loving-kindness in our preparation.

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1. Excellent Moral Conduct = Unhindered Meditation

You could say that if a decent standard of morality isn’t observed when you try to practise meditation then it’s like that jumbo jet hasn’t even got a runway to take off from! It’s as fundamental as that! It tries to take off on waste ground that’s covered in rocks and holes and all kinds of obstacles. It’s a hopeless situation because it’ll never take off on ground like that.

The single most important point of keeping the moral precepts is to enable us to lead a life of ease and freedom from remorse, and therefore be able to undertake the essential work of concentration. As the Buddha said – “Virtuous conduct brings freedom from remorse, freedom from remorse brings joy…….happiness brings concentration.” So by keeping the precepts we lay a smooth runway from which our meditation takes off. Ajahn Chah once said something like the following: ‘Say you have someone who isn’t virtuous and they sit down to meditate. When they sit it’s as if they are wearing white clothes that are covered in mud, excrement and all kinds of filth. They cannot concentrate at all as they’re so conscious of the stink! Even others around them can’t stand to be near them! However, if a virtuous person sits down to meditate it’s totally different. It’s like they’re wearing the cleanest white clothes. They can meditate without trouble. They feel at ease and the meditation goes easily.’

When we sit to concentrate we look directly at our mind. This means we are very conscious of the traces that our actions leave in the mind. When we bumble along through life without meditating we do not see this. So when we do meditate we develop a sensitivity in regard to moral behaviour. As our meditation deepens so does this sensitivity. If we have done something unskillful, for instance we’ve told a lie to someone, then when we sit to meditate the memory of that action comes along and nags us. It’s like a little monkey is sitting on our shoulder and he keeps tugging at our ears and pulling our hair, whispering to us: “I’m not going to let you meditate! I’m not going to let you meditate!” As we could well do without this monkey hassling us we are meticulous with our precepts. Of course the more precepts you have the better. At the very least the five are kept. They are: to avoid killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and alcohol and drugs (we can never be reminded enough!).

All the great masters emphasize how development on this path is not possible without the firm foundation of morality.

And so being secure in our moral conduct frees the mind from worry and remorse. Remember that one of the characteristics of concentration is that we dwell one-hundred percent in the present moment. How will this be possible if we’re plagued by worry about what we’ve done in the past and the results that we might meet with in the future? Being impeccable in our virtue frees the mind in this respect. The mind can easily let go of the past and future and be where it wants to be – in the present. The Buddha actually advised us to contemplate our virtue as an object of meditation. Silanussaati (contemplation of morality) can be a powerful antidote to discontent in the practice. In preparation for our concentration we can do this practice. We think: “In this world of immorality, I stand firm in morality; I am a virtuous person!” You put a big smile on your face and feel happy at the thought of your virtuous life, and then you begin to meditate.

 

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2. Loving-kindness = Smooth Meditation

The opposites of loving-kindness which may trouble our meditation are ill-will and anger. So in preparation for our concentration we need to diffuse these if they are present. Even if they are not apparent to you there’s a pretty good chance there’s a little niggling aversion in you somewhere! You can think of anger and aversion as being strong side winds on the runway. The plane is moving along, preparing to take off, but these winds keep battering it from the side. They may be so strong that the pilot decides that it’s just no good and so he doesn’t take off at all. Even if the winds are not that strong and the plane does take off, you’re still going to have a bit of a rocky time in the air. So it is with our meditation. We need to still the side winds of aversion with metta, then we’ll take off smoothly.

The Buddha said that for one who has a mind of loving-kindness, concentration comes quickly. And so by spending a few minutes meditating on metta we cannot lose. You know what a piece of Blue Tack is like when you haven’t used it for a while. It’s hard and stiff and you can’t really use it. But if you put it in the palms of your hands and roll it up and down and around and warm it up, it becomes pliant and easy to use. Our meditation is the same. By practising metta first we warm the mind up and make it pliant. Then it can concentrate more easily. For a technique on practising metta see ‘Don’t click here!’ (which no doubt you’ve already clicked on!).

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Summary

So obviously you need to make sure you’ve got a runway in the first place! And then warm the mind up by contemplating your virtuous life and by developing metta. Your take-off is looking to be a successful one, but there are still a few little ways that it could be even better….

The next teaching in Dhamma Diary will be on:

The Half Moon Day, Thursday, 14th February

(I should probably talk about loathsomeness of the body on that day!)

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