There is a story of the Buddha that epitomizes what it is that can be gained through meditation practice. A student once asked the Buddha, “What do you gain from meditation?”
“I gain nothing from meditation,” the Buddha replied.
“Why then do you meditate?” The student asked.
The Buddha gazed deep into the core of the student’s being. “It is not what I gain from meditation that is important,” the Buddha replied, “it is what I lose through the practice of meditation that is of the most importance. Through meditation, I lose fear, anger, doubt, hatred, worry, restlessness, anxiety, fear of death, and many more things. Through the practice of meditation I lose these and many more things, and it is then that I am able to experience my true nature.”
There is nothing to be gained from meditation; many people pursue meditation with the hopes of attaining supernatural powers or of receiving great spiritual boons or karmic favour. Yet, when one approaches the practice and discipline of meditation from such an angle they are bound to be disappointed, because they have set an expectation for themselves. The moment that an expectation has been set, then disappointment will surely follow; one has to remain open to all possibilities in the present moment.
Rather than setting an expectation as to the benefits that may be gained from meditation, it is best to practice for the sake of sitting itself. There is no higher goal, and no other end, than to sit and practice meditation. If through our practice we are able to lose something along the way, then this is wonderful. If not, this is also wonderful, for we have sat and adhered to our practice; we have succeeded simply because we have followed through with our meditation.
From my own experience, I can honestly say that I have never had an unfruitful sitting of meditation. Every time that I have sat, it has been a fruitful experience, whether it was sitting for two hours immersed in the bliss of satori, or whether I was hunched over and falling asleep, every single sitting of my life has had its given benefit. The renowned French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”
Again, this returns to the allegory of the Buddha losing undesirable states through meditation. All of our discontent is a direct result of the mind’s constant oscillation between the past and the future. The mind, invariably, cannot exist without a relationship to the past and to the future. Try this now, observe your mind and wait for the next thought to arise, invariably the thought will be one of either the past or the future, the mind itself does not exist in the here and now.
This brings up the legend of Hui Ko from the Zen tradition.
One day, after becoming frustrated with his restless mind, Hui Ko approached his teacher, Bodhidharma. “Master, my mind is so agitated, I am going crazy,” Hui Ko complained, “please help me to tame the mind.”
“Come back here in the morning,” Bodhidharma replied, “find your mind and bring it with you, I will tame it for you.”
Thus, Hui Ko spent all night searching for his mind, yet, he could not find it. He searched high and low, near and far, yet he could not find his mind anywhere. The next day Hui Ko returned to his teacher and said, “I cannot find my mind anywhere. It is neither here nor there.”
“You see,” Bodhidharma replied, smiling, “I have already tamed your mind for you.”
Once we realize that the mind is neither here nor there, we are in a position to progress in our meditation. This can deal a shocking blow to the ego. We all like to think of ourselves as someone distinct, and identification with the mind feeds our false sense of self. However, in order to realize our true nature, the Buddha-Nature inherent within us, we need to proceed beyond the levels of thoughts.
A Tibetan meditation master was once asked, “What is meditation?”
His reply was this: “When one thought has finished before the next one has arisen there is a gap, is there not? Well, expanding this gap is the essence of meditation.”
To expand the gap in between the thoughts, and to dwell unerringly in the present moment, this is the essence of meditation, and the idea of extending mindfulness to all of our daily activities then follows naturally. By practicing meditation regularly, we will be in a state of mindfulness in each moment that we are living. This is the essence of meditation, and this is meditation as life.
“Is Meditation just a Waste of Time?”
BodyMindAwakenging. N.p. 2009. Web. May 23rd, 2011.
Hoover, Thomas. The Zen Experience. New York: Plume, 1980. Print.