“There are three stages to all Buddhist practice called listening, reflecting and meditating. In fact these three stages are integral to any effective learning or process of discovery, even if usually we do no more than touch on each stage. The art is to give sufficient attention to each stage.
Listening: First we need some input. We need to hear, see, sense or read something that inspires us to reflect and meditate. You have ‘listened’ by reading and responding to the material given so far.
Reflection: Reflection is the process of thinking about and then contemplating the significance of what has been heard, seen, sensed or read. For instance, after reading sections about the Indestructible Heart Essence in the Living the Awakened Heart Training, thinking about the concept of heart and relating it to your own experience is the beginning of this process.
Having listened, thought, questioned, listened and thought again, you need to contemplate the significance of what you have discovered.
For example, if you found a precious diamond, you would examine it, gather information about it and then reflect on it. You would ask yourself if there could be any mistake, was it really a diamond or was it a fake, was it really yours or not and so on. Then, when you were sure, you would start to contemplate the significance of that.
You would contemplate the significance of its being beautiful, valuable and difficult to come by; you would contemplate the fact that it was yours to make use of and how it could be used. In this way, through the process of reflection, the full impact of its significance and value would gradually sink in.
Without this process you might, even though you knew it was valuable, simply let it slip through your fingers like a lost opportunity.
Meditation: Here meditation means integrating what has been heard, seen, sensed or read, into one’s being so that it starts to express itself in the way that one is and the way that one lives one’s life. It follows on naturally from reflection. The meaning for meditation given here corresponds to the Sanskrit or Tibetan terms that are usually translated into English by the word ‘meditation’ (Sanskrit bhavana; Tibetan gom).
Admittedly, the English word ‘meditation’ is not usually used as precisely as that. These days, it is often taken to mean emptying the mind, getting rid of thoughts, calming or relaxing the mind. ‘Emptying the mind’ and ‘getting rid of thoughts’ can be misunderstood to mean making the mind blank. From the Buddhist point of view, this would be a negative thing to try to do.
Thoughts in themselves are natural and harmless. Calm and relaxation are the welcome effects of the whole of the Buddhist path. Meditation practised with the single goal of ‘trying to be more calm and relaxed’ can have all sorts of negative results. Many people think meditation is a technique for improving concentration.
From the Buddhist point of view concentration is one of a number of faculties or factors that are needed for effective meditation. Meditation can be thought of as a centring process that involves balancing these factors, any one of which can have harmful effects if carried to an extreme.
Meditation, according to most English dictionaries, involves deep thought, reflection or contemplation. Under ‘contemplation’ the New Chambers Dictionary has ‘attentive viewing’. Although this definition does not limit contemplation to conceptual thought, it does not capture the meaning of meditation as used in Buddhist discourse.
For Buddhists, meditation is attentive viewing that opens into a process beyond the conceptual, thinking mind; it involves becoming one with what is being ‘viewed’ and understanding that what is being viewed is profound and significant.”
Lama Shenpen Hookham
This is an extract from the Indestructible Heart Essence book, one of the course books from Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training.
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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