'Prayer is talking to God; meditation is listening to God'
Starting a spiritual journey often entails looking for inspiration, guidance and insights from others who have travelled similar paths. Once you begin delving into the backgrounds of some of the world’s great prophets, masters, spiritual teachers you discover that almost all accessed a higher Truth, by going within.
On the Buddhist path, battling the ego to liberate the mind through meditation is a fundamental part of the journey and as the Buddha’s life shows, it is a battle and journey worth taking. For as Prince Siddhartha discovered, only by turning inward are we able to realise our true potential and in doing so, transcend suffering in its entirety.
For years the Prince searched for an answer to this very problem 'why do we suffer and how do we transcend it?'. It was a search that eventually led him to Bodhgaya where he sat beneath a Bodhi tree for seven weeks, absorbed in sustained, contemplative meditation.
During that time he analysed, came to understand and finally experience, the true nature of all existence, including his mind, a vast, stainless, pristine awareness, unencumbered and limitless in potential.
He also discovered he was not unique - everyone was blessed with this same ‘Buddha nature’. He saw all of his past and future lives, understood how karma worked, recognized the changeable, impermanent, empty nature of all phenomena and that ignorance of this fundamental fact was the root cause of all suffering.
He understood that because we are unaware, don’t know of or recognise that inherent, enlightened aspect at the very core of our being, our entire existence is spent identifying with and through the ego - our false notion of a permanent self or “I“. That it was this delusion that gave rise to all our problems and issues and subsequent suffering.
And, fortunately for us, the Buddha also saw the path that was needed to fully transcended this endless cycle. When he finally rose from his reverie, the Prince had become a fully enlightened Buddha. Without meditation the Prince’s story would have read very differently, the Buddhist path would not have come into existence.
I have met many people who struggle with meditation. They all say the same thing, “I cant get my mind to stay still long enough to focus”. When I started out on this path, I struggled with it to - at times I still do. It can be a hard thing sitting down with the intention of stilling a monkey mind that would rather be jumping and dashing all over the place.
Quite simply, our minds are not use to being still. Even when we sleep, our minds are engaged, overflowing and immersed in restless dream imagery. From the moment we first draw breath in the world till the time we leave it, our minds are continually bombarded with sensory stimuli. Superficially speaking, satiating our senses and desires is what we are all about. Is it any wonder then that for some of us, meditation can be nothing more than a battle?
And what about peace? Meditation is suppose to be a peaceful practise which generates great calm. But trying to subdue the mind can be anything but peaceful - it’s not surprising that many people give up in despair. Is it really possible or even necessary to tame our monkey minds anyway?
If however, like Prince Siddhartha Gotama, you have reached a point in your life where you feel the urgency, the undeniable need to embark on some serious 'soul searching', then as the Buddha’s example clearly shows, mastering the mind through the simple yet often difficult act of meditation is crucial to uncovering great, inner truth.
Meditation allows us to look at ourselves through a microscopic lens with complete and at times raw, honesty. And more often than not, we don’t want to look at ourselves - to do so can be very confronting. Often, we would rather do anything else than turn our attention inward, to closely assess and address our bias, prejudice, hang-ups and issues. It is much easier to ignore our faults, deny their existence, shift blame to someone else - even the world in general, than to have that hard and honest, much needed internal dialogue with ourselves.
But to fully understand, to discover and learn the truth about who and what we really are, the exact nature of our true potential, we have to go deep inside ourselves. Uncover and sift through the layers, to find and expose the jewel that is buried deep within.
Perseverance is fundamental to successful meditation. Like anything else, you get better at it the more you do it, so that eventually,
' [...]we create an inner space and clarity that enables us to control our mind regardless of the external circumstances. Gradually we develop mental equilibrium, a balanced mind that is happy all the time, rather than an unbalanced mind that oscillates between the extremes of excitement and despondency.
If we train in meditation systematically, eventually we will be able to eradicate from our mind the delusions that are the causes of all our problems and suffering. In this way, we will come to experience a permanent inner peace, known as "liberation" or "nirvana". Then, day and night in life after life, we will experience only peace and happiness'.
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