Meditation has no name

The Meditation Without a Name by Piya Tan

Buddhist meditation works so well that during the last 50 years or so, mind scientists have made great progress in learn­­ing about it and using it to learn about our brain, the mind and healing. Medita­tion is often used as a complemen­tary therapy especially in cases where long-term treat­ment is needed. Meditation helps to signifi­cantly speed up the heal­ing process. And in some cases, such as stress management, even using meditation alone can be effect­ive.

Meditation is the Buddha’s greatest gift to the world. The Buddha made this contribution over 2500 years ago, and we can still benefit from it even today. This is a true transmission of the calm and clear mind that anyone who is open enough can receive.

Before the Buddha’s time, meditation was mostly a secret teaching by exclusivist gurus. Not everyone was allow­ed to learn it. Only those of the higher social classes would be taught by such priests.

With his awakening, the Buddha opened the door of sal­vation to all beings. He taught an­yone who came to him, from any class, or no class (the outcastes), the religious or the non-religious. As such, Buddhism is the first open reli­gion, not a tribal system. The reason for the open­ness of Bud­dhism, especially its meditation, is a natural one. An open mind is a healthy mind. Con­verse­ly, a closed mind tends to be fearful, stressful, even paranoid.

Buddhist meditation works so well that during the last 50 years or so, mind scientists have made great progress in learn­­ing about it and using it to learn about our brain, the mind and healing. Medita­tion is often used as a complemen­tary therapy especially in cases where long-term treat­ment is needed. Meditation helps to signifi­cantly speed up the heal­ing process. And in some cases, such as stress management, even using meditation alone can be effect­ive.

Due to its efficacy, meditation is now openly used by pro­fes­sion­al psychotherapists and the healing professions. We have, for exam­ple, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and Breath­work. The reasons for such professional labellings are partly because the meditation methods are selective and modified in terms of the the­ra­p­ist’s needs, and to distinguish one professional or commercial therapy method from an­other.

The New Age groups have Zen Yoga and Transcendental Medi­ta­tion. Religious groups and guru-centred groups have their own exo­tic names. What’s in a name? A selling point. Such labellings are clear­ly to attract followers and clients. Understandably, such groups use im­pres­sive publicity and media advertisings. The point is that a “named” meditation is necessarily a self-limiting one.

Early Buddhist meditation, on the other hand, has no name, and it comprises some 30-40 types of meditation. Even the popular word “meditation” is a modern one, which may give the wrong idea that prayer is involved. However, we can still use this word, bearing in mind that prayer is not intrinsic to Buddhist meditation. The Buddh­ist texts them­selves describe meditation as “concentration” (samā­dhi), “cultivation” (bhāvanā), dhyana (jhāna), and so on, de­pend­­ing on the method and purpose of the meditation. To “cultivate” the mind, we have to do it ourselves. No one else can culti­vate our minds for us.

Here are some pointers for taking up a safe and effective medita­tion method:

(1)    The teacher or instructor is himself a calm and friendly per­son. (Some teachers may dress in a bizarre way, which might suggest eccentricity, or a desire for power or status. Meditation is not about being well dressed, anyway.)

(2)    The teacher makes no claim to special powers for himself or to change your life, as your own meditation will work for you.

(3)    The teacher answers your meditation questions patiently in a clear and relevant manner, and does not ridicule or be­lit­tle you.

(4)    We feel generally good about the meditation, or feel calm­er than before.

Meditation is not about charismatic teachers or powerful gurus or famous masters. It is about spending quiet time with ourself, being at peace with ourself. As we enjoy the medita­tive peace, we leave more and more of our unhappy past be­hind us, and live more and more in the present, truly enjoy­ing (feeling joy) in the people we meet and in what we are doing.

Above all, one of the best benefits of meditation is that it makes us emotionally independent. We are not dependent on anyone or anything for our happiness. We are happy be­cause we have decid­ed to be happy. Then we are in a good position to fully live life, and to bring joy to others, too.

© Piya Tan, 2010

From Piya Tan, Revisioning Buddhism (2010), ch 27.

 

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