How to Use Meditation to Become a Buddha
Posted by tnorbu on 3 Jul 2012 . Filed under: Bodhicitta
There are three types of meditation that are employed by a Bodhisattva to advance on the path of Buddhahood—“calming meditation,” “analytic meditation” and “placement meditation.” In addition to these three types of meditation, we can also refer to two other types of activity—“mindfulness” and “alertness.” A Bodhisattva employs mindfulness and alertness both during meditation and during his or her activities outside of meditation. All three types of meditation, mindfulness and alertness are coordinated during a meditation session, and the results of meditation are integrated into a Bodhisattva’s activities outside of meditation. This process is used to develop a particular attainment of the Bodhisattva way of life—the life of universal loving that culminates in becoming a Buddha.
When people talk about “meditation,” they often have in mind calming meditation. In calming meditation, the mind attends to something, such as the breath, in order to calm the normal busyness of the mind and banish painful thoughts and emotions. You cannot effectively employ the other two types of meditation unless you have a calm mind. There are many other benefits of calming meditation. A calm mind is warm and pleasant and a mild form of joy naturally arises from it. Also, copious research shows that health benefits are associated with calming meditation. The pleasure and health benefits of calming meditation are a mere taste of the bliss and health benefits that come from the Bodhisattva’s virtue of concentration, which could be described as the peak of development of the ability to do calming meditation. Bodhisattvas employ calming meditation at the beginning of a meditation session which includes all three types of meditation, because one cannot effectively engage in the practices of analytic and placement meditation with an agitated or distracted state of mind.
After calming the agitated mind, a Bodhisattva, or budding Bodhisattva, begins doing analytic meditation. During analytic meditation, one ponders thoughts that can influence you to develop a particular pattern of thinking or feeling that is a step on the path to becoming a Buddha. This process of pondering influential thoughts eventually results in experiencing a thought or emotion that is an attainment on the path to Buddhahood. There are three types of influential thoughts used by Bodhisattvas in analytic meditation—reasons why a particular belief is true, the benefits of feeling or thinking in a particular way and the disadvantages of not feeling or thinking in a particular way. As an example, I will discuss an attainment related to the development of Bodhicitta. Bodhicitta includes the feelings of love and compassion for all sentient beings, and we have to develop these feelings because we do not naturally have them. One way to develop these feelings relies upon the psychology of kinship bonds. We naturally develop kinship bonds with those whom we view as similar to ourselves in a way we find salient. So, one might use the following chain of reasoning to develop a sense of kinship with all sentient beings: “I easily form a kinship bond with people whom I share some trivial characteristic such as being fans of the same sports team (or sharing a hobby, being residents of the same town and so forth). All others are just like me in that they suffer from many problems and pains, and wanting to eliminate suffering is far more important than wanting a sports team to win. So, I can and should look upon all others as my kin.” One could use this chain of reasoning in analytic meditation until the conviction that the conclusion, “I can and should look upon all others as my kin” arises strongly and clearly in one’s mind. When this thought arises, it is time to begin placement meditation.
In placement meditation, we familiarize ourselves with a thought or emotion by maintaining it at the center of our attention. Calming meditation is like this, in that the center of attention is maintained on the breath. Continuing with our example, when the thought “I can and should look upon all others as my kin” arises, you stop reviewing the thoughts that caused you to come to this conclusion, and you focus your attention on the conclusion for as long as you can. If this thought is lost due to distraction or dullness, you must return your attention to a bright focus on the thought. If you lose your focus, you may be able to regain your focus immediately by just reminding yourself that you are trying to focus on this thought, but sometimes the thought is completely forgotten. If the thought is completely forgotten, then you return to analytic meditation and re-acquire it. Then you return to placement meditation on it.
After this type of coordinated meditation session, you try to remember your meditative object during your daily activities outside of meditation. Continuing with our example, when you come into contact with others, you think to yourself something like, “This person is one of my kin, because she (or he) is a fellow sufferer.” Over time, this process of integrating a thought or feeling developed in meditation with your activities outside of meditation deeply embeds this thought or feeling into your character. In our example, you would eventually always think of others as your kin, and, because we naturally love our kin and have compassion for their suffering, eventually you would develop universal love and compassion.
Mindfulness and alertness are utilized in all three types of meditation and during one’s activities outside of meditation. By ‘mindfulness,’ I mean attending to the content of one’s mind. For example, in placement meditation, we assign to a part of our mind the task of noticing what is at the center or our attention. By ‘alertness,’ I mean being alert to the characteristics of the objects of our consciousness. Alertness determines if the object of consciousness is what we wish to have as a mental content, or if it is not. We must use these capabilities as mental guards to inform ourselves when it is necessary to exert effort in order to keep to the mental task we are trying to perform. We must maintain our focus on our breath, for example, during calming meditation, upon the influential thoughts we have decided to ponder during analytic meditation and upon the desired thought or emotion during placement meditation. We also must use mindfulness and alertness outside of meditation so that we can notice when we are or are not thinking and feeling in the desired way in the relevant circumstances.
Coordinating these three types of meditation in the manner I have described and integrating the results of meditation into our daily activities outside of meditation is a powerful method for developing attainments on the path to Buddhahood. If you have never or rarely practiced even calming meditation, the task may appear daunting. If this is the case, it may be a good idea to begin to develop the capacity to do calming meditation by considering the fact that your disturbing thoughts and emotions are preventing you from experiencing the peace and happiness that arises in calming meditation. Tell yourself that you can and should let go of these disturbing mental contents and be mindful of and alert to when they have taken over your mind. Then spend a few moments focusing on your breath. In this way, you will begin to exercise the skills used by Bodhisattvas to train their minds, and eventually you will master these skills.