Kinds of meditation practices

Meditation practices (from MMT01 0:01:38.05 - 0:08:22.00)

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Meditation practices can be divided into various kinds. Among the breakdowns the one I find probably most useful is: there are those practices which are concerned with the practice of presence or being awake and present in your life. Then there are practices which transform energy and build a capacity and energy in attention. And then there are practices which we can call purification, but in a very, very broad sense of that term. That is they get rid of the stuff or change our relationship with the stuff that gets in the way of being present. Some examples may be useful.

Mahamudra, dzogchen in the Tibetan tradition, bare attention in the Theravadan tradition, shikentaza in the Zen tradtion are all examples of practice of presence. These meditations are usually very, very simple. You can say that basic shamatha, which is resting with the breath, also falls into this category. They're usually very simple, very little to do, very little to them and one quickly finds that simple does not equal easy. And if you're not actually doing the practice then you're doing nothing, you're just wandering. So that's important.

And the energy transformation practices vary tremendously. In the Theravadan tradtion you have techniques of body scanning, even noting practice can be used as an energy transformation practice. The cultivation of loving kindness is in some respects an energy transformation practice. In the Mayayana one usually relies more on compassion or the four immeasurables: loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. In the Vajrayana there's a whole host of energy transformation practices including most of the yidam practices and then the advanced techniques known as the six yogas of Naropa, for example. And there are a large number of other techniques which can be used to transform energy. All energy transformation practices are inherently dangerous because when you start moving things this way you never know exactly what you're going to run into. And you you can really run into blocks in yourself and it's good to know how to work with those blocks.

A third category is probably the largest category of meditation practices: purification practices. This includes again such practices as the four immeasurables but particularly things like meditation on suffering, meditation on impermanence in which you're using these practices to dismantle the operation of various reactive patterns. One of the simplest ways to understand the reactive patterns is from the Theravadan tradition, the three marks of existence which are, probably most of you know, impermanence: everything that's made of other things eventually falls apart. It passes, it's transient. The presence of suffering, all emotional reaction is by nature suffering. And you can say emotional reaction is the reaction we have to experience when we aren't able to stay present with it.

And then the third is non-self. That is there is nothing that we actually are. We are not a thing, even though we tend to go through our lives and operate as if not only we were a thing, we regard ourselves as being the center of the world.

A friend of mine puts it: "You're not going to survive life." Impermanence. "You're never going to get your emotional needs met," and "There's no one to be."

This runs so counter to most of western and American culture--you don't know whether to laugh or cry--which is based in ignoring death until you can't. If you're suffering somebody has done something wrong, so sue them. "What do you mean? I'm special, I'm unique" and you then we get into wonderful things like self-esteem etc., etc., which are endlessly problematic. I almost had a chance to have dinner with a person who started this California Comission on Self-Esteem and I was really looking forward to it. But it didn't come about.

Now, those are examples of purification practices.