A Golden Ring

An Introduction to Buddhist Meditation

by Dr. Yutang Lin | 21,073 words

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Chapter 8 - Proper Conditions For Meditation Practice

1. Time

A good time for meditation is when one"s spirit is fresh and one feels like doing it. After a nap or waking up in the morning is usually a suitable time for meditation. An experienced practitioner would at times have a natural desire to go into meditation. When one"s mind is preoccupied with worldly considerations it is not very useful to practice meditation.

Choose a period in one"s daily life when one is unlikely to be disturbed and one"s spirit is usually fresh, e.g., early in the morning, and set it aside for daily practice of meditation. Routine practice will soon become a habit; and the force of habit will help one continue to practice meditation. Since the profound effects of meditation usually takes many years to surface, forming such a habit is essential to success. During daily practice one should refuse to be disturbed, thereby ensuring concentration. One might consider this period as preparation for the inevitable death process when one will need to concentrate on maintaining one"s peace of mind.

Beginners should not strive for long sessions of meditation; rather they should start with fifteen to thirty minute sessions. In this way meditation will not become a hardship but an enjoyable activity. However, it is better to practice several times daily so that it will soon become a habit.

2. Place

A quiet and undisturbed place, especially if it is an altar room or retreat room, would be ideal. Preferably where the air is fresh and the light is soft. Ideally the fresh air flows across in front of the practitioner and no wind blows directly toward him. Bright lights tend to cause thoughts to ramble while dim lights would induce a dull and sleepy mind; therefore, light adjustment is very important.

3. Attitude

You should be neither too tense nor too loose. Do not be overly critical of one"s own progress or the lack of it. Be relaxed and natural, understanding that meditation practice is a long term cultivation and that the achievements will come naturally in time but cannot be rushed. Do not expect too much, too early; simply be patient. Do not tire yourself by overdoing it and consequently burning out your interest in meditation. The attitude of a diligent nurseryman working in a tree nursery should be imitated.

4. Body

4.1 Maintain a moderate, bland diet by avoiding foods, which are too greasy, too pungent, too spicy, etc., and eat only a moderate amount of food. Stop eating as soon as you sense fullness. Eat regularly and avoid snacks.

4.2 Practice meditation only when one is neither hungry nor full. One should wait for at least thirty minutes after a meal before practicing meditation.

4.3 Pay attention to personal hygiene and maintain a clean and orderly habitat.

4.4 Do a proper amount of physical exercise daily.

4.5 Before meditation do some physical exercises to relax the body; after meditation walk slowly for a while to help regulate blood circulation in the lower body.

4.6 The ideal posture for practicing meditation as prescribed in books is difficult to assume for many beginners. The main reason is that their bodies are no longer supple enough to sit cross legged, owing to their lifelong ill habits and daily tensions. In fact, the ideal posture is usually achieved only after years of practice. Beginners need not be discouraged by their inability to assume the ideal posture. Just sit with legs bent and one leg resting on top of the other, or simply sit naturally.

Serious practitioners may do exercises to loosen the tendons of their legs and thereby achieve the full lotus posture. The following exercise was taught by Yogi Chen and described in Chapter Seven of his monumental work "Buddhist Meditation" (Some other supplementary exercises are also described there):

[While sitting on a carpet,] take one foot by the ankle, holding it from underneath with the opposite hand. Place the other hand on the knee of the same leg. Raise the ankle with the first hand and press down upon the knee with the second. Then release the foot so that it strikes the ground [i.e., the carpet].

4.7 After urination or bowel movement one should wait fifteen to thirty minutes before practicing meditation. After meditation one had better wait fifteen minutes before urination or bowel movement. This is to allow time for the transition between meditative state and normal state of the body.

5. Clothing

Wear clothing that is loose and comfortable especially avoid tight trousers. The amount of clothing should keep one warm but not hot. Cover the legs with a blanket or towel during meditation to protect the joints from cold, wind and moisture; otherwise, one may develop arthritis eventually.

6. Cushion

Sit on a carpet or a cushion, which is larger than one"s sitting area. According to the teaching of Yogi Chen, one should not use an additional small cushion to raise the buttocks even though that will induce ease of sitting in the full lotus posture. Otherwise, the flow of inner air cannot be forced by the full lotus posture to go upward and thereby help induce good meditation.

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