Contemporary life in North America is becoming more and more stressful. We realize that if we blindly follow the cultural expectations of our consumer society, our lives will be endlessly frantic, uptight, harried and superficial. North Americans are increasingly looking to Asian methods of meditation to calm their minds and harmonize their lives.
Traditionally, Shin Buddhism has limited it's meditation practices to sutra chanting and recitation of the Nembutsu (Namo Amida Butsu). Today, however, there is an increasing demand from within our temples and from those wishing to join us, for "quiet sitting" meditation instruction in addition to chanting meditation.
One of the main teachings of Buddhism is that we have two levels of mind - our everyday rational mind, and our underlying Wisdom Mind. The Wisdom Mind is the deeper intuitive part of ourselves that can be experienced during meditation. This Mind is not part or ourselves that can be experienced during meditation. This Mind is not part of ourselves, but belongs to Amida Buddha If we compare our mind to a deep lake, the ordinary mind is the surface water subject to waves and storms. Our Bodhi Mind (Pure Mind of Buddha), however, is like the calm water at the bottom of the lake.
Ordinary mind is compared to monkey chatter, endlessly filled with compulsive thoughts and insatiable cravings. Living solely within our ordinary common sense mind is like living as a hamster, endlessly spinning around in his exercise wheel, inside his cage, never getting anywhere.
This everyday mind is useful for analysis, problem solving, and managing our day-to-day affairs; however, everyday mind can never give us a deeply fulfilling human life. If we give in to it's endless craving, our lives become very unsatisfactory, and we pass away at our death with a deep sense of regret.
Meditation practice allows us to touch our inner consciousness of "pure awareness", from which springs tranquillity, wisdom, compassion, and a sense of the Oneness of all things.
Meditation also teaches us perseverance and patience. If we imagine an untrained mind as being like a tightly filled balloon, it explodes apart easily and loudly when hit. A daily meditation practice acts to soften our emotional reaction time, just like a soft balloon does not break when hit. A soft balloon accepts an outside blow, as a temporary indentation, and then responds slowly. Similarly, a person who meditates regularly does not react angrily and rashly toward outside influences. He receives his challenges thoughtfully and with careful self reflection; then responds from his Higher Self.
"Into our hands will be put the exact results of our thoughts."
Meditation also teaches us how to control our lives. Before beginning a regular meditation practice, a person simply reacts thoughtlessly to tragic events and personal challenges. After practicing meditation daily, a person under stress is able to reflect carefully on the cause behind the cause behind the cause of her suffering, and can let her innate Wisdom Mind lead her to the best course of action.
We can then access our "Buddha Nature" deep within, and can behave in balanced and non-violent ways. Meditation also allows us to detach from the endless cravings and dissatisfaction that is built into us all, as human beings. If we can find even a glimpse of our inner Buddha Mind, meditation every day acts to amplify and strengthen this Higher Awareness, making it easier to find it, as an anchor, in times of stress.
How to Meditate
Imitate, if you can, the posture of Shakyamuni Buddha seen in statues of the seated Buddha. If you cannot feel comfortable in this posture, another sitting posture, which is commonly used in Jodo Shinshu is the Seiza position, Seiza is a formal way of sitting in Japan, with both feet tucked under your body and the hands placed gently folded on the lap. If you find that none of the above postures are comfortable, you may sit in a straight backed chair with your feet flat on the floor.
When you pay attention to your breath, you are unaware of your thoughts. Your thoughts come from your everyday mind. Your awareness of your body breathing in and out, comes from Amida's Mind - the Mind of Bodhi. Try to place your attention on your breathing, rather than on your thoughts.
As you become more comfortable, begin to recite "Namandabu", on your exhalations. Say it silently to yourself. Sit in this way for twenty minutes. Breath in and out, reciting "Namandabu" on your exhalations. After a moment or two you will discover that you have forgotten to watch your breath and say "Namandabu", because the mind naturally wanders. Gently return to watching your breath and reciting "Namandabu" on your exhalations. Then after awhile, you will notice again, "I'm thinking!" Gently return to watching your breath and reciting "Namandabu." At the end of twenty minutes, put you hands together in "gassho", bow to your shrine, and say "Thank you" silently to Amida Buddha's All-Compassionate Wisdom, continually bringing you ever closer to Enlightenment. Extinguish your candle.