Although we often talk about meditation as the heart of Buddhist practice, perhaps it is more accurate to say that awareness is the heart of Buddhist practice. As well as meditation, this encompasses daily life awareness practice, which is sometimes called mindfulness or remembering; to remember to turn our full attention onto our immediate experience.
In a sense, we are aware all the time. We are never without awareness. Awareness is all that we are and all that we have. Experience always involves awareness. But we do not always remember to turn our attention to what we are experiencing. In order to do so, we need to keep waking up. So the daily life awareness practice is to remember to wake up to our immediate experience as often and as clearly as we can. This applies in the sitting and walking meditation as well. Our main problem, once we have started on the path, is to keep remembering our awareness practice.
We need to remember both to wake up to our immediate experience and to integrate whatever we learn from doing this into our whole way of being. This is done by remembering what we have learned and reflecting on its significance again and again.
This kind of remembering is a meditation practice in itself, and we call it daily life awareness practice. It doesn’t come easily to most of us, so we have to keep finding ways of reminding ourselves, such as by reading and listening to inspiring teachings and resolving again and again to try to be more awake and aware.
How to Support Your Meditation Practice Everyday
The way we live our life in general provides the foundation for our meditation practice. An open-hearted, generous, and kind attitude to oneself and others leads to positive actions and habits of thought that feed into the meditation, and the meditation feeds back into this kind of attitude to life. If we are always unquestioningly getting involved in actions that harm ourselves and others and distract us away from the path to Awakening, then it’s very unlikely we will get much benefit from trying to meditate.
A disciplined person who can keep to what they say they will do will find they can set up a regular meditation practice relatively easily. Without this kind of regular practice it is hard to get going.
On the other hand, by starting to meditate regularly, even if only for a five minute interval several times a day, that ability to discipline oneself can improve one’s daily life.
Not reacting with impatience is another quality that is important both in one’s daily life and as a support for the meditation. It is also a quality one learns in meditation. If we react to every little setback, thinking that we cannot practice meditation because of this or that problem, we will never get much benefit from it. We need to learn to keep going through thick and thin.
So when we become serious about our meditation practice, we need to take a good look at how we are living. We need to make our way of life the support for our meditation, and then bring the fruits of meditation into our life, for our own sake and for the sake of others.
Traditionally, Buddhist teachings emphasize the importance of making a strong connection with the Buddha, Dharma (his teaching) and the Sangha (his followers) before starting to meditate. However, I believe that these days people need to dive straight into meditation to discover its value for themselves. This, then, might give them the impetus to learn more about the Buddha and his teachings. In my view, training in meditation is the way to gain some first hand experience that would encourage us to have faith in the path.
Buddhist teachings also traditionally begin with exhortations to right living as a foundation for the path. How we behave is very important, but I find that it is most effective to let people discover this through their meditation practice. Meditation is the means by which we learn to recognise the inherent openness, clarity and sensitivity of our true nature. With perseverance we learn to trust this, and our behaviour naturally becomes more humane, generous, kind, honest, and open. It is a spiral learning process: As we are more mindful and humane in this way, the meditation naturally deepens. In other words, right living follows on from meditation just as much as meditation is founded on right living.
Lama Shenpen Hookham
This is an extract from Lama Shenpen’s book ‘Heart of Meditation – An Introduction to Formless Meditation Practice’, which is sent to those who join the Living the Awakened Heart Training and is also available from Amazon.
The Living the Awakened Heart Training is a structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at www.ahs.org.uk/training
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