Why is there so much mention of practice in the Dharma (teachings) of the Buddha?
It is important to recognise the importance of practice. Practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for the practice. Without practising mindfulness, you will only know the theory of mindfulness. You will see through your direct experience the value of practice. Mindfulness helps overcome confusion, stress and unhappiness to realise freedom of being and freedom to explore the depth of practice. Those who cling to practice will never know freedom. Those who reject practice will never know freedom. Those who respond to practice will come to know freedom of being.
Is a three-month training course long enough to establish ourselves in mindfulness practice?
You will see through your experience. Explore the necessary tools to establish yourself in daily mindfulness practices for clarity and wisdom. It is important to remember consciousness has the capacity to experience events in an infinite number of ways. We need a sustained commitment, regular meditation practice and an ongoing sense of learning.
Have you addressed all the issues involving mindfulness practice?
Let me make use of the analogy of the Buddha. You go into the forest and you pick up a handful of leaves. This handful of leaves reflects all the leaves in the forest. A worthwhile practice contains more than enough leaves to contribute to peace of mind, staying true to love and wise action. It is not necessary to pick up too many leaves. Explore methods and techniques, which contribute directly to depths of meditation. Please bear in mind regular application of practices will reveal calm and insight.
Some mindfulness courses have made no mention of the Buddha. Why do you quote the Buddha?
I endeavour to keep as close to the Buddha’s teachings as possible. His discourse offers practical steps to apply mindfulness. I believe it is valuable to address the benefits and the limits of the spiritual, as well as conventional experiences. If you exclude spiritual experiences from the application of mindfulness, then mindfulness becomes limited to a branch of psychology. Mindfulness makes a valuable contribution to inner well-being involving an authentic exploration of consciousness and its contents, conventional and spiritual. Scientists have long since recognised that we only employ a small percentage of our potential. If you know access to the deep levels of your inner life, you will know psychological well-being functions as one step on the ladder of authentic transformation.
Is there a difference between calmness meditation and vipassana meditation?
These meditation practices belong to the same family. Firstly, they originate from the direct teachings of the Buddha and sages of different traditions. The Theravada tradition and the Buddha refers to calmness meditation (samatha) leading to a depth of serenity, inner absorption and an established equanimity. Vipassana means insight. Insights emerge within and outside meditation practice. Vipassana is not a technique but often an emergence from mindfulness and meditation. In samatha meditation, the meditator focuses on a particular object, such as the breath or an external object, a candle flame, a plant or religious image. In vipassana, the meditator focuses on the characteristics of the object such as impermanence, unsatisfactory aspects (to cut through clinging) and impersonal nature (not I, nor mine). Mindfulness/calm/insight work together in the process of transformation, of letting go of clinging, to reveal natural freedom.
How do I know when I am practising samatha meditation?
Samatha develops the capacity to focus on an object enabling relaxation and composure of mind. Most meditation practices with a method support the development of samatha. As you develop peace of mind, you develop the potential for further clarity and insights to arise.
Some Buddhists, who practise vipassana, seem to be very serious meditators. Their practice seems to make them serious people. If I practice a lot, will I also become a very serious-minded person?
I tend to agree with your general perception. Samatha meditation includes the experience of happiness and joy, as well as other beautiful experiences of the heart. Some Western meditators forget the importance of happiness. They have identified themselves with concentration, equanimity and the perception of the three characteristics of existence, namely impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-self. Practice to find insights into impermanence rather than identification with these perceptions. Experience the natural arising of happiness and joy in meditation. Recognise the importance of the connection between mindfulness and happiness. Be receptive to the subtle and gross experiences of happiness. We can delude ourselves into thinking that happiness expresses an attachment to a perception, experience or event. Natural happiness does not depend on attachment, nor on goals.
How deep can we go with our practice?
Happiness plays an important part in emotional, psychological and physical well-being. Such experiences expand the cells enabling us to feel more, breathe more easily and enjoy the awe and wonder of the ordinary and the everyday. Depth includes touching the depth of suffering. We may need the wise counsel of others or find ways to bring calm and insight to these experiences. The path of transformation includes absorption into presence, a wide range of spiritual experiences and liberating insights. Insights from the deep often feel like immense gifts.
What do you mean by stress?
Stress has become one definition of dukkha, a Buddhist word covering all forms of suffering. Dukkha includes stress, depression, despair, unhappiness, anxiety, emotional numbness, anguish, obsessions, unresolved aggression, addictions, greed, hate, delusion, narcissism, relentless thinking and much more. These are gross expressions of dukkha. Subtle expressions of dukkha include conceit, desires, body image, self-satisfaction, being out of touch, self-interest, blind spots and taking anyone or anything for granted. These attitudes make it difficult to handle change, address certain thoughts and an inability to get tasks completed. Some people have the habit of constantly comparing of themselves with others, favourably and unfavourably. Naïveté expresses itself with the belief that our problematic experiences will change once we get our life together. We examine our attitudes and the circumstances around us. Mindfulness/meditation/wise reflection function as factors towards unravelling the complexities and pressures of states of states of mind.
What are the forces within that contribute mostly to stress?
Two forces often triggering stress show as the desire to get things done and the fear of not getting things done. These two forces rub up against each other. We call the result stress. Stress also reveals itself as thinking too much about something. Practice includes inquiry into these two forces, so we relate to our tasks, commitments and concerns with wise attention. The movement of pleasant feelings and desires form attraction towards the object. We feel aversion to our mind such as when we prevaricate. Such forces of attraction and aversion inhibit creative expression and fulfilment. We often find fault with time. “I don’t have enough time.” That thought is a statement of stress. Seeing the emptiness of stress releases energy, love, unification of mind and a wise response to situation