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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Meditation Guilt.

(gassho)

As I'm sure you've noticed, I've been away. I needed a break. I took some time to empty my mind of everything Buddhist and simply live my life. I was holding onto Buddhism too tightly and needed to let go for awhile, so that I didn't loose perspective. It was a great reminder that even Buddhism itself can be an attachment. The time-off has reinvigorated my mind, my writing and commitment to the Dharma.

Today I wanted to write about meditation guilt. What do I mean by "meditation guilt?" Well, often the perception in western society of Buddhism is a religion centered upon meditation. Hollywood gives the impression that Buddhists are epitomized by a statuesque monk sitting endlessly for hours. While that is partly true, most can not maintain the commitment and practice of monks--they are essentially the professional athletes of meditation. If we expect to meditate like the monks do then we are surely setting ourselves up for disappointment, disillusionment and failure.

Traditionally, meditation hasn't been as central to the average Buddhist's life as is often the case in America. Kusala of the "Urban Dharma" blog elaborates:
For the most part, laity in immigrant Buddhism, like laity in Asia, don't engage in meditation -- a practice for the ascetic monks who are imitating the Buddha's lifestyle of renunciation. They don't expect to become enlightened beings like the Buddha.
Yet it seems a lot of "American Buddhists" are obsessed with meditation. I think some feel that meditation is a bit like prayer in Christianity. The perception being, if you aren't meditating daily then you are somehow "failing" as a Buddhist. The truth, of course, is that expecting to meditate daily like the monks is like expecting yourself to run a marathon without the time, body and training that regular runners can afford to give to their fitness. Monks have the luxury of not having a job and living in an environment where all worldly burdens are stripped, enabling the kind of focus and dedication needed to maintain a steady, meditation regime.

Does that mean meditation is pointless for non-monks? Or, that we shouldn't meditate? No, not at all. I think any monk would encourage meditation but I think we have too many expectations about meditation. We have to be realistic if we are going to stay committed to the Dharma, long-term. We expect ourselves to live up to a standard that few can do, and when we can't do it we punish ourselves with guilt. The guilt is truly unnecessary when you simply accept that you don't need to worry so much about enlightenment in this lifetime. Unless you are a monk, most of us Buddhists are just trying to be a better person for not just family, friends and strangers but for ourselves, too. Meditation is a wonderful way to re-calibrate and remind ourselves to stop and enjoy the moment. As well as the beauty and peace of being alive, in this moment, together--as one.

If a lay Buddhist finds they can, and want to meditate daily then by all means continue. I encourage meditation as a beneficial tool in dealing with the chaos of societal demands for greed, hatred and delusional thinking. However, don't expect yourself to be the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh or even the average monk. I am of the belief that the number of monastics is low compared to the general population because their karma has prepared them for this moment for countless lifetimes. We don't have to become monks or "marathon meditation masters" to benefit to be faithful Buddhists.

Use this life to become better people, so that perhaps in a future life we will be ready, able and willing to reborn into better circumstances. The beauty, compassion and optimism about Buddhism is that we can be reborn anew each lifetime, so that we have plenty of opportunities to develop along the path of enlightenment. I think a lot of convert Buddhists (who are former Christians, like myself) still harbor the absolutism of that belief system. We haven't fully abandoned the subconscious fear of "not getting it right" in this one lifetime. In Christianity, of course, there is only this lifetime to "get it right" and if you "fail," that's it--no more chances. I think we still harbor that "all or nothing" mentality as newly converted Buddhists, which is often carried over into our expectations of meditation practice.

If you can meditate daily then obviously you'll get more from such a regular practice, but even irregular meditation can bring benefits. The key is to not feel guilty because you can't meditate like the monks--not many can. You aren't a "bad Buddhist" if you can't formally meditate daily. Besides, there are numerous forms of meditation, such as walking meditation. As you walk, you focus on your breath to be fully present in the moment and aware of the oneness between yourself, the natural world and those you encounter upon your walks. As well as being aware of how we are apart of the greater family or sangha of humanity. It is an active form of meditation that the physically restless often find easier and more beneficial. If you need other suggested ways of meditation, look into the writings and teachings of Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh.

~I bow to the Buddha within you all~

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9 comments:

Bic Tran said...

The way I see it:
Of course there are many, many lifetimes. But it critical that the next one would be one level higher, and not lower. Buddha had said it is difficult to meet Dharma, and it is very difficult to be born a human. Because only human (at least on this planet) could realize the Buddhahood. Life is short, and death is unpredicatble. The Bardo Thodol said: Death is real, comes without a warning, and cannot be escaped. IF we don't strive ceaselessly, what chance do we get at the moment of death to escape Samsara? The chain of the 3 poisons: Greed, Anger, Passion is very hard to break. And without conquering them it is guaranteed that we will be reborn in Samsara. We wish to take a break, but death does not wait. So brother work hard, really hard in what ever way you feel comfortable to free yourself from the bandage of 3 poisons, and secure for your self a btter reincarnation.
Of course the above is only my personal belief.

Bic Tran said...

The way I see it:
Of course there are many, many lifetimes. But it critical that the next one would be one level higher, and not lower. Buddha had said it is difficult to meet Dharma, and it is very difficult to be born a human. Because only human (at least on this planet) could realize the Buddhahood. Life is short, and death is unpredicatble. The Bardo Thodol said: Death is real, comes without a warning, and cannot be escaped. IF we don't strive ceaselessly, what chance do we get at the moment of death to escape Samsara? The chain of the 3 poisons: Greed, Anger, Passion is very hard to break. And without conquering them it is guaranteed that we will be reborn in Samsara. We wish to take a break, but death does not wait. So brother work hard, really hard in what ever way you feel comfortable to free yourself from the bandage of 3 poisons, and secure for your self a btter reincarnation.
Of course the above is only my personal belief.

Hanzze B said...

This might help a little out of ever turning wheel:

http://vanaradari.blogspot.com/2012/10/freiheit-von-der-buddhanatur-freedom.html

Nathan said...

We can have the aspiration to awaken in this lifetime, and also let go of the desired results. The dynamic tension of this situation is a great place to practice, whatever practice ends up being. I think you're right about meditation and unrealistic expectations amongst converts about how much and how often. The view many of us have of what constitutes the life of an average seems skewed to me as well. They don't just sit, or mostly sit. Most have daily work to do as well, including relationships with others, lay folks and monastics, to tend to. I think many of us have in mind the hermit monk, or lone wandering monk, when we think of marathon meditation. And yet, awakening comes on it's own terms, through whatever means or medium. I think it's best to keep rousing that aspiration, and do as Bic Tran said - keep working hard in whatever ways might free you from the poisons.

zenpresence.com said...

I think that for the lay person, meditation is a tool to try to live more authentically. If we are being mindful in our daily lives, the frequency is not important. It is a tool to bring us to see things as they are. Use as necessary.

Dan @ ZenPresence

Kyle Bennett said...

Meditation is something that should come with ease. It should not feel like a task or work. It should be a very natural part of the day. Everyone has ten or fifteen minutes they can spare each day to be still and quiet the mind. Feeling guilty about meditating tells me that there was a certain amount of pressure to force it into each day. The perception should be one of relaxing it into each day. Also, meditation comes in many forms. One can meditate while driving, cleaning dishes, laundry, or making tea. Meditation is any time that one is mindful of their thoughts. It can be applied at many different times throughout the day. Sitting meditation and walking meditation are options, but they are not the only options. I encourage meditation, but I also think it should be done without any pressure as to when or how. It should be part of the daily flow, wherever it will fit into the time each day.

Million Dollar said...

Buddhist study in western n eastern has big different approach. ya, many western think that meditation is a way or only way to get enlighten. Im here to say that Meditation is NOT a way to get enlighten. it just a way to relax your mind, just like sleeping. this is a very wrong perception among the western Buddhist. come back to reality, dharma in our daily life. NOT in your "dream"

happyhonkers said...

Certainly it's pointless to feel guilty if we don't meditate daily, but I think that meditating daily is easier than we tell ourselves. We think we have to sit for 20 mins or more, but actually even 30 seconds of sitting upright in bed and clearing our mind before we leap into the day is incredibly beneficial.

Meditation is the training for us to be able to effectively work with our thoughts and emotions in everyday life, so to think that only monks can do it daily and use that as an excuse not to meditate cuts you off from developing the skill that will enable you to live a happier life. (I'm not saying that you're advocating that, just that there is a danger of people thinking like this)

gadmin said...

I have reflected a paragraph of this article in http://unbosqueinterior.blogspot.com/2012/11/medida.html

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