Can I listen to music when I meditate? Or use an object to focus on?

A student writes:

Can I listen to music when I meditate, or use an object to focus on as a support for my shamata meditation practice?

Lama Shenpen:

There’s an on-going conversation we are having in the sangha about Shamata and Vipashyana and this will come up more this year as we discuss how to take our meditation deeper. Some people are not able to engage properly with vipashyana because they just haven’t enough Shamata [calm abiding], and sometimes the reason is that they are too tense and so relaxation needs to be their first step.

Others are too loose so focusing on a single object helps to bring the focus back to a single point in order to settle and integrate the mind and body enough to be able to develop vipashyana. People vary a lot in this respect so we are going to have to learn from experience, what works best for what kind of people.

I think listening to music would be relaxing and perhaps even help settle the heart and mind so that it could then focus attention – then there would need to be a recognition of one’s own mind – not just latching onto sense objects like music or whatever, that could distract the mind away from what is going on itself so it still can’t settle in itself – then that is not the meditation we are looking for in terms of developing insight into the nature of mind.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

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