After 49 days of deep meditation, Siddhartha Gautama became “Buddha”. Before that he was a defunct former-prince searching for an exsistence free of luxury and excess. He had been shielded from human suffering his whole life and had no concept of what life was or how the human condition actually felt. He tried many paths --including total asceticism and self-mortification, but those proved too extreme for his body and spirit. So one day, he plopped down under a Bodhi tree and refused to get up until he had found “the Truth”. He rose nearly two-months later enlightened and became the de facto leader of a movement that would sweep the world for millennia to come.
The cornerstone of Buddhism is the ability to meditate; to separate one’s mind, body and spirit from this world and reach a more serene, tranquil state where the pettiness and cycles of human life do not consume precious energy and thought. There are different goals to for meditating as well. For instance, samatha meditation focuses on the ability to focus single-pointedly whereas vippassana meditation is aimed at comprehension of a true reality. Regardless of the types, the history and the importance, I have to admit that I’m having a hard time grasping meditation.
I try, though. I try every night and every morning to reach a state of pure relaxation and I’m having a hard time doing it. I won’t stop trying; it’s too important for the religion. I want to discuss some of my frustrations with it though.
Meditation has been popularized, westernized and secularized. My original conceptions of meditation all include American comedies from the 1990’s where silly characters apparently drifted into the meditative world and were shown either floating above the clouds or, in Jim Carrey’s case in Ace Venture 2: When Nature Calls, in a ghost-like state hovering around a temple, shouting at monks. This, of course, is totally fine for movies, but it has certainly created a faux-expectation for how this process works and what the end-result should be.
I’m reading piles of Buddhists texts and literature; adhering to my ethics; worshiping as prescribed and living within the restrictive mold that is required of me, but when it’s time to sit down and meditate, I’m still not reaching the relaxed state I should be. One might ask, “What do you think about when meditating?”
To that, I have no answer. Meditating, for me, comes in layers and I can’t get through many of them. The first task is to shed the day’s pettiness from my mind. I usually manage to tuck that stuff away after five or ten minutes. After that’s been conquered, I enter an extremely non-pointed stage where my mind is jumping from the obscure to dream-like scenarios. If I beat that stage, then I start to focus on a world free or offices, buildings, money, cars, obligations and responsibilities. It sounds like I’m on my way, but in fact it was not relaxing getting there in the least. I had to battle those thoughts and if that’s what it takes, then I’m up for a challenge, but I started to think: Most temples are surrounded by the natural world. I used to be an avid camper and Thoreau-lover in my younger days, so I’m fully aware that the human connection to nature is powerful.
So, tomorrow, I’m going to dim the lights like usual; sit cross-legged in front of my Buddha statue and I’m going to play a “sounds of nature” track on repeat. I’m hoping that the sounds will assist my mind in placing itself in a natural environment where it’s easier to peel-away the layers of my daily life and perhaps, I will be able to have a more battle-free meditation.
After training myself like this for a few days, hopefully I’ll be able to drift into a more meditative state a little more smoothly. It’ll be hard regardless of music and I’m determinded to understand and experience the power of meditation.
Also, my wife and I are planning a weekend at a mountain-top temple in central Korea in a couple weeks. This won’t be the tourist-friendly temple stay either. It’s going to be the real deal.
Hopefully, I’ll be ready.