Why Meditate?

Note: The following is a summary and paraphrasing of Ayya Khema’s Being Nobody, Going Nowhere. Boston, Mass.: Wisdom Publications, 1987. It’s the best book on Buddhism I know of.

Meditation is not something extra. It is not a hobby to be done in our spare time. It is essential to our well-being. We are all sick and meditation is the medicine. Medicine is of no use if we don’t take it. Don’t just read the label, swallow the pill!

Everything is mind-made. Most lives are lived in dreams of the past and the future, good and evil, likes and dislikes, yes or no, mine and yours.

But, the mind can only do one thing at a time. If you are meditating, you cannot do anything else. The dream ends. Thinking stops. Awareness and calm sets in.

Calm is the means. Insight is the end. The means are essential and necessary but they must never be confused with the end. Without calm, we cannot have clarity and insight.

When there’s no one thinking, there’s no ego confirmation. Non cogito ergo non sum. I do not think, therefore I do not exist. If there is no one, how can there be any suffering?

Thinking is suffering no matter what we think. Learn to think what you want to think (or to not think at all) and when one learns that one need never be unhappy again.

Meditation is practicing non-reaction. In meditation, we experience a feeling. We learn to not react to that feeling and then to let go of it. The more skillful we become at not reacting, the quick and easier will be the results. But full attention must be on the use of the tool – not the result.

What is felt in the meditative experience, one knows. What one knows from experience, nobody can dispute. Intellectually, we can know that thoughts and feelings are phantasms. But, if we still react to them as if they are real, do we really know?

There is no substitute for experience. When we see that we don’t need to pay any attention to our thoughts, it becomes easier to drop them. When we see that we don’t have to react to feelings, it is much easier to stop reacting.

Going back to the breath again and again will lead us toward the attainment of calm. Thought is not an intruder trying to bother us. It’s a teacher trying to teach us. As thoughts arise, we can acknowledge them, label them and let them go. Just as we can see a bird, or a robin, recognize it and go back into a larger awareness experiencing being outside.

In the last analysis we are all our own teachers and our own pupils and that is how it should be. But we need to know what to look at in order to be taught by it.

In meditation we have the opportunity to get to know the mind – the thinking that’s going on – and learn not to get involved with it. Most thoughts the mind produces are much better experienced, acknowledged, and dropped.

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